2012 Film Challenge #61 - Rubber

There was a point in 2011 when I found myself quite excited by a trio of forthcoming horror films. Each looked wonderful, and each promised a brave new vista of terror which would, I thought, transcend the dreary drudgery of torture porn and slasher remakes that seem to form the backbone of modern horror.

Monsters, the giant jellyfish caper with homemade SFX, was every bit as serene, graceful and stirring as it promised.

Troll Hunter I've not seen yet.

Rubber was a film about a killer tyre. How could that possibly be anything less than marvellous?

I bought it last Christmas and only got around to watching it last weekend.

Oh, I should have listened to the warnings.

Except, they weren't warnings at all. They were reservations.

It's a gimmick, I was told. It'll be about as marvellous as those people who describe themselves as “mad” and “bubbly”.

It will only revel in its quirkiness and, as such, be a waste of everyone's time.

No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.

It's a film about a killer tyre called Robert who has the ability to make people's heads explode!

How could that possibly be anything less than marvellous?

For just the very reasons expressed in those reservations.

Spend a lot of time watching films and you acquire such tremendous powers of prophecy that are to be ignored at your peril, sir.

Rubber opens by breaking the fourth wall. As anybody who's seen Holy Mountain through to the end will attest, this device can have remarkably life-affirming effects.

Rubber, though, deploys the device to not only draw attention towards how stupid is the film you're about to watch, but also towards just how stupid are those who made it.

We are given a list of the great “no-reasons” in film history. You know what a “no-reason” is. It's something that's in a film just because it is. Why should everything have to be explained?

But if you're going to open your film with such meta ideas, at the very least you'd want to put some thought into what you're about to say, wouldn't you?

For the examples of “no-reasons” we're given are not “no-reasons” in the slightest.

First of all, we're asked to consider why E.T.'s brown.

Why is that even a thing?

Then we're invited to ponder upon why, in Oliver Stone's JFK, “why is the President suddenly assassinated by some stranger?”

Because he was. Quite possibly by some shady underground group who had vested interests in the US remaining in Vietnam.

The stupidest “no-reason”, though, relates to The Pianist: “How come this guy has to hide and live like a bum when he plays the piano so well?”

Because he's Jewish and on the run from the Nazis.

Jesus Christ.

I can't think of any “no-reasons” from the top of my head, but I know that I'd be able to list two or three good ones were I to set aside as little as twenty minutes to do so.

Perhaps the whole idea is that these “no-reasons” have reasons. Perhaps this feeble and ridiculous opening gambit is designed to invite us to think on a certain level; to question everything through questioning nothing.

In reality, though, it's a clumsy, faltering vomit of an opening that inspired nothing but instant revulsion.

And it gets worse. Much, much worse.

All the action in the film is watched through binoculars by a group of film buffs on a hill. Throughout the film, they comment on proceedings in such terms as would be spoken by nobody who ever has or will draw breath.

At one point, they even comment upon how boring they're finding the whole thing.

Congratulations. Now I'm wondering why this 80 minute film seems to be taking longer to watch than Ben-Hur.

It's a terrible shame that Rubber's so preoccupied with how clever it is. The scenes of Robert the tyre finding his feet (so to speak) are strangely beautiful, like Bambi on the ice.

Similarly, the whole thing's shot in an exhausted, washed-out bleached bleakness which makes you feel the heat, the dust and yearn for a cold drink or shower.

Had they just focused upon telling the remarkable story of a sentient tyre with the ability to make heads explode for no reason, they'd likely have struck off-beat cinematic gold.

But no. At one point they must have realised just how clever they are, the results being the cinematic equivalent of an inebriated party guest who's outstayed his welcome and is wearing a lampshade on his head.

Or perhaps more likely, they realised that a film about a tyre has no legs. They had to pad out a wafer-thin story through drawing attention to just how wafer-thin it is.

In any case, it's a sad, unfortunate failure.

Saddest of all, though, is that this car-crash of a film is still infinitely preferable to the scores of tired old torture porn and slasher remakes out there.

Oh no, I'm so disappointed I'm getting predictable.

You knew I was going to close with such remarks, didn't you?


2012 Film Challenge #60 - Rope

The best episode of Psychoville – the post League of Gentlemen frolics of Reece Shearsmith and Steve Permberton – was that which reunited them with Mark Gattis. For thirty glorious minutes, the triumvirate was whole once again, and all was right in the world.

This episode was particularly remarkable in being achieved in one single, continuous take. It saw mother/son serial killer team the Sowerbutts visited by an amateur actor (Mark Gatiss!) in the wake of a murder.

I didn't know it when I first saw it, but the whole episode was an extended homage to Hitchcock's Rope. And only now I've realised that Psychoville managed to out-Rope Rope. So to speak.

Rope was made in 1948, a time when films were still made by capturing images on film. At 24 frames a second, the longer you filmed something, the larger would have to be the cannister in which the film was kept. It was thus utterly impractical and thus impossible to film any shot lasting more than ten minutes. After ten minutes, the cannisters simply became too big. And if the cannisters were too big, no cinema would show your work. So why even bother with long takes, genius?

Because you're Alfred Hitchcock.

With Rope, what feels like a single 80 minute take is actually comprised of ten shorter takes, each between four and nine minutes in length. The takes blend seamlessly together, with the screen blacking out when a character passes before the camera, for instance. There may even have been a few direct cuts, but having developed this strange habit of closing my eyes for a fraction of a second every few seconds, I would have missed them.

Hey, my eyes just get too dry otherwise.

So whereas Psychoville succeeded in one continuous shot for their Rope homage, Hitchcock cheated a little.

Credit where it's due, though. The Psychoville boys had just half an hour to fill. Also, Hitchcock was attempting what was, in 1948, literally impossible. That you only notice his bag of tricks when subjecting the results to scrutiny I think merits him a shiny or two.

It starts with a fatal throttling of a Harvard student by two of his friends. They're Nietzsche scholars, interested in the idea of the superman. Morals and ethics are for weaklings. They've killed because they can. And just to compound their superiority, they host a party minutes after murdering – with the body hidden in a chest in the middle of the room in which takes place the mingling.

Unfortunately for them, one of their guests is one of their old teachers, Mr. Rupert Cadell (James Stewart!) It was he who instilled those unfortunate ideas of superiority, so not only has he blood on his hands, he's also on to them. Right from the start, he seems to know what's going on.

This makes for an eighty minute reminder that I really should spend more time watching Hitchcock. His films are gripping like those conversations so tense you feel on the verge of vomiting from which you cannot walk away.

No wonder the gentlemen of Psychoville spent thirty minutes paying tribute.


2012 Film Challenge #59 - Play Misty For Me

So far this year I've watched werewolves, zombies, Satanists, ghosts, white worms and self-righteous serial killers.

Nothing so far, though, has freaked me out as much as the demented, obsessive Evelyn in Play Misty For Me.

This was the second Clint Eastwood film viewed in a week. And, whilst Firefox was tedious and plodding, this, his directorial debut, was engrossing, disturbing and unforgettable.

Mr. Eastwood plays Dave – a jazz DJ with a voice like chocolate silk who plays smooth music for lovers. He's very much paving the way for Alan Partridge's Deep Bath.

Because his show radiates orgasms, he gets himself a stalker. Every night she phones in to his show, asking him to play Misty. Eventually they meet, and things get clingy and creepy very, very quickly.

I sometimes make the mistake of visiting the IMDB boards. You can play a fun little game with them in seeing how long it takes for a perfectly innocuous thread to descend into personal attacks. It happens to every thread eventually. I believe the record for consecutive non-pyschotic posts is seven.

Anyway, there was talk on the Play Misty For Me boards of misogyny. Because no back-story is offered for Evelyn, it seems that some assumed that she's intended to represent all women, everywhere, with men being their long-suffering prey.

But not only does this analysis completely ignore all the sane and reasonable women in the film, it also ignores the context in which the film was made. I understand that to portray a man as butch as Clint Eastwood in such a subjugated role was unprecedented in 1972. Back then, men were men and women cooked things and sewed. Play Misty For Me eschews these gender roles. You could almost call it enlightened, were it not for the outrageous gay stereotype.

Of particular interest, though, must be the footage shot live at the Monterey Jazz Festival. Cannonball Adderley!


2012 Film Challenge #58 - We Were Soldiers

War films are action films, I suppose. At their worst they try and do for you what other action films try to do: satisfy that deep seated human urge to see things explode. Things like bridges, tanks, submarine depots and heads.

At their best they set out to demonstrate that war is a pathetic display of humanity at its worse, in which ordinary people do unspeakable things to each other in the name of a cause beyond their comprehension.

We Were Soldiers, I think, does just that. It can stay.

It stars Mel Gibson, so you know that there's going to be no small amount of madness visible onscreen even before the air is peppered with the electric popcorn.

His character seems to see war as a very good thing. To his assembled troops and their wives he says that whilst in America they're attacked for their race or religion, in war such labels cease to matter.

He doesn't go as far as pointing out that the reason such things cease to matter is because people are generally more concerned with the abject horror and misery of man's inhumanity to man than they are with petty prejudice, but heigh-ho. Swings and roundabouts.

Mel's character also happens to be a praying man. He asks God to ignore the “heathen prayers” of his enemies and to assist him in killing them and sending them to hell.

Jesus Christ. I wouldn't be surprised if that line wasn't in the script to begin with. I suspect it may have been added at the insistence of Mel.

War, then. It's not all bad, is it? Look at the camaraderie. And the fact that nobody's being racist to each other. And aren't we having fun, flying around everywhere in our awesome helicopters?

But then the battle commences, and things get intense, graphically violent, stressful, horrifying and nauseating very quickly.

Two men splutter the same line seconds before death: “Tell my wife I love her.”

The latter, who receives some truly horrific burns severe enough to make the skin peel smoothly from his bones, had earlier sealed his fate by announcing that he had, that day, become a father.

It's hackneyed, but powerful all the same. Through featuring about 80 gruelling minutes of  prolonged battle, it draws you in to the extent that you can ignore the tropes and the flag waving.

It scores extra points in my book through not only treating the enemy as an entity in its own right (rather than just “the baddies”), but also through covering life at home as it continues whilst the battle rages.

The military wives might be lacking in strong personalities of their own, but it's nice that they're considered as being part of the whole sorry affair.

Best of all, though, is the arc of the journalist who jumps into battle with neither a helmet or a gun. I was convinced that he'd die within seconds, but instead he took pictures. Lots and lots of pictures.

It's a brilliant nod to Vietnam's status as the first war in which the media played a significant role. His hardened exhausted expression by the end, worlds apart from the inane witterings of the journalists flown in to photograph the spoils, perfectly reflects the changing attitudes to war that would be brought about by such hard-hitting coverage.

Thanks in no small part to the media's involvement, war would soon be shorn of all its romanticism and allure.

Which is perhaps why few war films from the first category were made after the 1970s.

Plenty of videogames, but fewer and fewer films.

2012 Film Challenge #57 - Firefox

My official job title is currently The Freewheeling Wizard of Ascent.

Earlier this week, I did something I've never done before: I undertook a business tip to an exotic alien city where I spent the night.

I don't know if you've ever been to Preston, but it's amazing. They've got these things.

But I was put up in a hotel where I was consistently stunned by the level of service I received.

I'd share the name of the hotel, but I would hate for you to think that I'm partaking in an adwords scheme.

But have you tried Pepsi? It's delicious, and so much more satisfying than stodgy old uncool Coca Cola.

Anyway, my hotel. I don't know why, but I'm for some reason just not used to people being nice to me. Every smile and courtesy somehow came as a huge pleasant surprise. And then I saw my room, which had a double bed and a choice of pillows (hard and soft) and a wall-mounted Imperial Leather dispenser, and I couldn't stop smiling for a few minutes.

But after dinner and a refreshing walk down the M6 to the nearest service station, I sat in my room and realised that I had a whole night of nothing ahead of me.

I tried reading the Gideon Bible (which are still left in hotels!) but it just terrified me.

So I put the TV on.

There was a Clint Eastwood film called Firefox; A cold-war spy thriller in which he has to steal an experimental fighter jet which can be controlled by his mind.

It was a joyless unhealthily stoic pile of stereotypical red-scare propaganda which I only watched because I was waiting for The Wicker Man to come on afterwards.

Now there's a film. One of the best. I watched it in bed.


2012 Film Challenge #56 - Garfield 2 - A Tale of Two Kitties

The first post after a brief spell of absence needs gravity.

So here's a review of Garfield 2 – A Tale of Two Kitties.

As talking animal comedies go, it was surprisingly good.

Surprising, because I hadn't heard a single good thing about it in the six years since its release.

Also, it's a CG realisation of something beloved to many. That's rarely a recipe for good times.

But it really wasn't bad at all.

Obviously, it was never going to scour a deep impression across anybody's existence. Yet it doesn't punch above its weight, and neither does it rely upon cheap pop culture references and puerility.

Instead, it delivers little over an hour of amusement.

Whilst I'm exactly the sort of person who'll frequently demand more from the films I watch, sometimes to be amused is enough.

Also, Bill Murray. He gives Garfield a lazy deadpan drawl, making him sound almost as though he's stoned or demented. It's a genuine pleasure to hear, and I could listen to him all day.

There's a strange set of politics surrounding the talking animal world. They can all communicate with one another, yet though they address the humans around them, it's implied that they cannot be heard.

Odie is a mute. Poor stunted intelligence.

It's also odd that only Garfield and his British doppelgänger are realised in CG. All other animals are tremendously well-trained sacks of animated flesh.

They assembled quite an impressive roster of voices to provide the witterings of these creatures. You can pretty much die happy once you've heard Bill Murray spar with Tim Curry. Bob Hoskins also lends his absolutely adorable growl to a loveable bulldog called Churchill.

Billy Connolly appears in the flesh. He's the baddy, and his wardrobe is fantastic.

This has taken ages to write. Who knew it would be so hard to justify your enjoyment of an also-ran sequel to a forgettable-yet-lucrative kids' film?