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Two movies have opened recently that revolve around style. One is a documentary about a filmmaker who is known for his, the other is a film by a director who has it.
How one reacts to De Palma, the new doc by Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow about the director, first name Brian, who really made his mark in movies with the horror film Carrie, may depend on how you feel about the filmmaker’s films in general. For me, De Palma, who is the only talking head here, it’s his show all the way, is only as interesting as his movies, which means that once we get to Blow Out, it’s all down here from there.
His earliest films tended to be of the independent sort, made on a shoestring budget, if that. They may not have always looked as professional as a Roger Corman production, but they had a fresh hipness to them and gave us such actors as Robert DeNiro and Jill Clayburgh.
His most successful films, when it comes to a meshing of auteurism and box office, came with the movies that were heavily influenced by Alfred Hitchcock, films like Carrie, Dressed to Kill and the aforementioned Blow Out. There was something so kinetic and thrilling in his combination of individual style with Hollywood slickness that gave these films a certain electricity. Read the rest of this entry »
Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright have been very successful in the past in combining two genres and/or styles in one film. They began, of course, with the hysterically funny, zombie satire Shawn of the Dead (perhaps the only living dead film that has shown one whiff of originality since the early days of Dawn of the Dead and Return of the Living Dead). Hot Fuzz, their next venture, was a buddy cop film combined with that peculiar genre of the British cinema, the something is rotten in the state of a Miss Marple like quaint English village mystery/horror film.
The World’s End, as their new outing is called, is a combination of the old friends reuniting years later story with a sci-fi, Invasion of the Body Snatchers hook, line and sinker. The basic idea is that a slacker alcoholic (played by, who else, Simon Pegg) looks to relive his youth by talking his more successful friends into returning to the scene of their high school graduation so they can do what they didn’t do then, travel the Golden Mile—that is, go on the piss and have a pint at twelve different pubs, ending up at the conveniently and titularly named The World’s End; but they arrive at their home town in time to find that immigration reform is in full swing as the city will just let any alien in that wants to come.
I would like to say that three’s the charm here, but it looks like Pegg/Wright tried to light one two many cigarettes with the same match. I’m afraid to report that this time the dynamic duo never quite manages to bangers and mash these two genres together in any satisfactory way. In fact, it’s somewhat of a bollocks up operation all around (FYI, google search is great for finding British slang).
The screenplay is sloppy and never seems well thought out. The introduction of the sci-fi elements are clunky and out of nowhere at best (elegant is not a word that immediately leaps to mind in describing the structure here). The story never really makes a lot of sense (though I must say, everybody works their bum off—see FYI note above—to hide the fact, though they can’t quite do it). It felt like the reason for the invasion took a lot of constant explaining, over and over again, including a lengthy scene at the climax where the movie almost literally stops so it can all be explained yet again. And even after all that, though I sorta, kinda got it, I’m still not sure I did.
It all ends with one of those apocalyptic finales that is oh, so popular these days (I tell you, an apocalypse follows one writer home, and suddenly every writer on the block wants one of their own). But for me, this was so out of place with the rest of the movie, it just reinforced everything I had thought about the movie up ‘til then. In fact, it felt like one of those endings that was thrown together because no one really knew how to resolve the blasted, bloody (FYI, etc.) thing in the first place. In the end, the whole movie comes across as one of those great ideas that once agreed upon, no one quite knew what to do with it.
What it does have, though, is one of those spot on ensemble casts that outside of perhaps Woody Allen and the late Robert Altman, can only be found in British films (see Quartet, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and almost any Harry Potter film). It’s a talent we just don’t seem to have mastered locally since the days of the studio.
This illustrious list of thespians is headed by Mssr. Pegg, who gives a desperate and intense performance playing a desperate and intense character. Supporting him are Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine and Eddie Marsan, one and all with remarkable chemistry and comic timing of the crack variety. They lob their often funny and/or witty lines at each other as if they were playing ping pong with a Monty Pythonesque rhythm. The give and take is so pitch perfect, it’s like being in a storm where the thunder comes almost immediately upon the flash of the lightning.
Unfortunate to say, I didn’t quite find that enough to compensate for the faults here and all in all, perhaps its best to say that The World’s End is just a bit of a cock up and let it go at that.
I went to see the new indie Dark Tourist (or as it’s sometimes called The Grief Tourist, which is a better name, though perhaps a bit too esoteric—though after watching the film, I did wonder why anyone would ever think doing something not esoteric could possibly help the movie commercially) at one of the local LCD (lowest common denominator) theaters; you know the kind, the one that shows blockbusters and other crowd pleasers. I’m not sure how Dark Tourist ended up here; whatever else you may think of it, the last thing you would accuse it of being is LCD.
No, Dark Tourist is about as indie as you can get. It revolves around Jim, a night watchman by night, what’s called a “grief tourist” by day, someone who travels from tragic location to tragic location, often the scenes of monstrous crimes, just to check it out. That’s not the only odd thing about Jim: he’s scared of germs; has more than a touch of OCD; and is a sociopathic liar. So far so good, and Michael Cudlitz (of TV’s Southland) does a nice, unsettling job of playing the title roll, at least for the first two thirds.
But a little more than halfway through, the film starts going a bit wibbly-wobbly. One problem is that the movie starts at such a high level of tension, mood and anxiety (it’s one of those indies in which everything looks overcast, filmed as if a storm is about to deluge itself at any moment) that when the director Suri Krishnamma and writer Frank John Hughes try to up the ante and throw in a shock or two, the movie suddenly becomes a little camp and over the top (accompanied by unintended tittering). It probably doesn’t help that the shocking twists are only shocking in that you can’t believe the writer and director would think they are shocking in 2013. And then as the writer tries to explain why Jim is the way he is, the less persuasive the movie becomes (the basic theory seems to be: gang raped as a young boy and you’ll grow up to become OCD and a serial killer of pre-op transsexuals—I can’t really prove the cause and effect wrong, I’m no psychiatrist, but it does feel a wee bit on the questionable side to me).
At the same time, it must be said that the movie does have is a first rate supporting cast with special to be taken of the sorely, sorely missed Melanie Griffith, an actress who has yet to receive her due, and who gives a touching and deeply moving performance as a kind hearted waitress that Jim treats very cruelly, as well as Suzanne Quest, in a strong performance playing one of the shocking twists.