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About as eventful as someone chewing a piece of gum-mo
I first heard about Gummo about five years ago when the good old X Factor did movie week, where the contestants have to sing songs from films. Simon Cowell chose the song 'Crying' for Jamie Afro from the movie Gummo. Perhaps they should've said from Mulholland Drive, a much more well-known film than the mysterious Gummo. All of the judges were accusing Simon of being a cheat, "Who has heard of Gummo!?" screamed Louis Walsh. Then Harry Hill's TV burp did a hilarious sketch where he went out asking the public what their favourite film was and they all said Gummo. Like most of the viewers, I googled Gummo and discovered that it's often hailed as one of the most disturbing films of all time.
This prompted me to watch the trailer which absolutely scared the hell out of me for some inexplicable reason. But of course as a lover of all things disturbing, I digged further and found the clip of the boy in the bath which basically haunted my every waking hour. I vowed never to watch Gummo because I knew that it would just completely destroy my life. Unlike most people I don't find conventionally scary things scary. Daemonic possession I can deal with, ghosts, Michael Myers all don't bother me one bit. I get scared by strange things. For example, I consider the ending to Sleepaway Camp the scariest thing I've ever seen. However, now I'm a big hard man I decided to finally give Gummo a watch and to my surprise it hardly bothered me at all.
It started on a creepy note with a croaky voice narrating over a load of depressing, grainy images of a hurricane-stricken town. Then a half-naked boy in pink rabbit ears appears, prancing about on an overpass whilst a hideous song about a cockerel plays over. The whole scene is mildly bizarre and sets the tone for the majority of the film. Most regular cinema-goers would quit here, however no normal goer would be sticking Gummo in their DVD player.
The problem I had with the film is that it is plot less. Not many films can get away with being episodic or abstract. Ones I enjoy (off the top of my head) are Eraserhead, Under the Skin and more recently, Mr. Turner. However, all of these films inspire extremely divisive opinions. You either 'feel' them or you don't and I just didn't 'feel' Gummo. Nothing of interest happens and I didn't care for any of the recurring characters. I understand that the point of the film is that it has no point (I think) but it just doesn't interest me. The film is basically a series of sketches with the odd character who crops up now and again. We get the odd random documentary-styled snapshot of bizarre locals, such as a blind albino woman looking for love and director, Harmony Korine feeling up a Jewish midget.
Most of the film resolves around two boys who go around sniffing glue and killing cats. They also have other meaningless adventures involving visiting prostitutes and exercising to Madge. All of this sounds far more disturbing than it actually is. There's nothing explicit shown so you can't accuse it of being exploitative or shocking for the sake of it, there's not really much you can accuse it of. Surprisingly it's actually pretty boring and aimless. Some might see some sort of high art or intrigue in it, but I couldn't find any. I was kept glued to the screen because I was expecting something horrifically disturbing to happen any minute, but it never did.
I did still find the bath scene very disturbing though. The mise-en-scene is just so uncomfortable with the filthy walls and water. The sound of the boy eating the melted chocolate is also quietly revolting. The whole atmosphere of the film is raw and creepy, but I still can't really see why so many people consider it so disturbing. It's just so uneventful and ponderous. It seems like one of those horrendously pretentious art-house films made by self-absorbed directors trying something new. It all comes down to what turns you on though. I really enjoyed Harmony's latest Spring Breakers, but I know a lot of people hated it and it's not difficult to understand why. Gummo is love it or hate it and I'm definitely more on the hate side. I'll never forget it though.
Thou shalt not bore your viewer
OK I'm not quite sure what everyone else is watching because I decided to buy the Artificial Eye release of The Decalogue after hearing much hype about it. Stanley Kubrick even called it the only masterpiece he could think of in his lifetime. Everywhere you look you'll find reviews praising it to the heavens. Some people even confess to it changing their lives after watching. The only thing The Decalogue changed about my life is that it took ten hours away from it when I could've spent that time doing more interesting things like collecting stamps.
Incidentally, collecting stamps is actually what the final episode is all about and is what sums up the whole ten hour affair. Dull. Every single episode is as dull as dishwater from the dreary music to the drab Polish landscape. I don't mind depressing films, in fact most of my favourite ever films are majorly depressing (Requiem for a Dream, Dancer in the Dark etc.) but The Decalogue is just dull to the point of being almost unbearably boring.
I was filled with hope after the first episode which is easily the best of the lot. Whilst it was very slow and uneventful, I did feel drawn into the lives of a single father and his son. The whole episode kept my attention right up until the devastating finale. However, once I popped on the second episode I found myself suddenly struggling to stay awake. Unfortunately, this was the case for the vast majority of all the episodes.
The problem I found was that each story was barely enough to fill a half an hour running time, yet each episode is one hour long and you feel every minute. I never cared about any of the characters (apart from the first episode) and all of the stories are so uneventful and dull. Some are so dull that I can't even remember them. I spaced it out watching one episode a week. I heard that some people watch all ten episodes in one go and the idea of doing that just fills me with horror.
Perhaps I am being a little unfair though as none of the episodes are appalling. They're all well-acted and competently directed, the screenplay is just so uninspiring. The idea of setting it all in the same apartment is interesting but none of the characters ever become linked in a clever Magnolia kind of way. The only episodes worth watching are the first and sixth. The short film about killing one is extremely overrated and far far less interesting than it sounds on paper.
The Babadook (2014)
If it's in a word, or it's in a look, if you're after great horror, you're in luck!
"The best horror movie in years" tends to be the key phrase to use when describing a genuinely good horror film. However, I think modern horror tends to get a bad reputation due to the amount rubbish produced. We've had endless Paranormal Activity films which seem to make big money and the appalling Human Centipede movies seem to make big noise, but these films aren't especially 'good'. Unfortunately though, they tend to overshadow the fantastic horror films we have been getting recently such as: You're Next, The Sacrament and Cheap Thrills to name a few. The Babadook can now pop itself onto that list. In fact, I'd say that it's easily the best and scariest supernatural horror film since the underrated Sinister.
The Babadook still seems to get quite a lot of criticism for some reason though. To be fair, the trailers do make it look like some sort of run-of-the-mill jumpy ghost story, so perhaps audiences were disappointed when they got a film full of rich characterisation, domestic drama and psychological depth. I wasn't. The Babadook certainly isn't your typical supernatural horror film though. We're not even given a glimpse of the Babadook himself until about 50 minutes into the film, but this doesn't matter because the central themes and characters are so strong.
There seems to be some debate as to whether this is a supernatural or psychological horror film. Some think that it leaves it up for the viewer to decide, but I thought that director Jennifer Kent was making it quite obvious that this was a film about a woman going mad. It's very much in the same vein of The Shining and Repulsion as our hero slowly descends into a total schizophrenic onslaught of terror. As a result, we're given a much deeper and character-driven film about grief, motherhood and madness.
The heart of the film is the relationship between a mother and son. Both actors are pretty extraordinary, especially the mother played by Elsie Davis who gives an incredibly strong and shattering performance. Many have described the boy as the most annoying child to ever appear in a film, which is a pretty bold statement and one which I wouldn't necessarily disagree with! The decision to make the boy as painfully annoying as chewing a wasp is an extremely conscious one though as we're put directly into the shoes of the mother. Amelia finds her son extremely hard to love as she subconsciously blames him for the death of her husband. By the end of the film we end up feeling as crazy as Amelia!
The first hour is actually a very sad one as we see Amelia become slowly isolated from people as her life becomes increasingly more hectic. No one seems to understand her grief and no one wants to know her because of Samuel (the impossibly annoying son). Therefore her descent into madness is a wonderfully realistic one. It's also quite frightening. I'm not one to get scared in horror films, I can watch The Exorcist on my own and feel no fright what so ever, however there were some scenes in The Babadook which made my hair stand on end. The last half hour basically just tries its best to scare the trouser off you and it succeeds! Jennifer Kent is extremely masterful in creating tension and scares. I can't think of one jump scare in the entire film which is so unusual and commendable. Instead, we're left terrified from nightmarish imagery and sounds. I dare anyone note to get chilled to the core when the Babadook is hovering over the bed chanting 'baba-dook-dook-DOOOK!'
The Babadook is so much more than just a 'scary' film though. It carries so much depth if you're willing to read into it more. It has a genuinely interesting and engaging character at the centre of it and is willing to throw the audience right into the middle of her mental breakdown. It's also really well-made, especially considering the teeny weeny budget. The production design is pretty outstanding and the infamous Mister Babadook book itself is beautifully made. This is a film which horror fans should welcome to their bosom. It's genuinely scary, masterfully directed and has a super screenplay to match. What more could you want? It's also a great advert for contraception if your partner is starting to get broody.
The Holy Mountain (1973)
The only Alejandro Jodorowsky film I had seen prior to The Holy Mountain was El Topo. I thought El Topo was one of the weirdest films I'd ever seen with a gunslinger traipsing around the desert with a naked child on his back and encountering a corrupt town full of disabled people. Could things get much weirder than that? Yes they bloody could. You know a film is going to a little bit off the wall when it has the line, "Your sacrifice has completed my sanctuary of 1,000 testicles." El Topo seems as deadly realistic as a Michael Haneke film compared to Alejandro's The Holy Mountain. I made a list of weird movies a while ago and placed Eraserhead as my number one weirdest. If I were to revise that list, I'd definitely place The Holy Mountain directly behind Eraserhead. It's that weird.
Casual moviegoers beware. This is a film funded by John Lenon and Yoko Ono so it isn't your average Owen Wilson cosy romcom. Within in the first half hour we're bombarded with bizarre imagery. A man who looks like Jesus walks around a dreamlike town full of frogs in clothes getting blown to smithereens, Jesus statues made out of sponge cake, armless dwarfs, sex in the street and eyeless paedophiles. All of this section is told without dialogue bar a few screams and Baldy Man styled gibberish.
I was so taken back at the sheer amount of strangeness. Every single shot has severely strange imagery in it. It's like a Salvador Dali painting coming to life and the pacing is so fast, especially in the first act. There's no point trying to read the symbolism because too much happens, too quickly. The best thing to do is just let the film wash over you like some sort of fountain of oddness. Even after reading some ideas on the film I still have no idea what any of it means. However, my guess is that Alejandro isn't a fan of religion or weapons, but he is a fan of nudity and animals. In fact, I'm pretty sure that they cleared out London zoo to make this film.
The second act takes a slower pace, but is no less bizarre. The production design in this section is pretty astonishing. I was particularly astounded by the rainbow room which seems like something from another world. A kind of plot does kick in with our Jesus hero meeting a 'master' (played by madman Alejandro Jodorowsky himself) who plans to take him and a bunch of increasingly bizarre misfits on a quest to meet the gods. We're introduced to nine new characters in quick succession. All of them have a detailed backstory involving everything from orgasm machines to testicle collections. This section does get a little repetitive and lengthy but it's entertaining nonetheless.
The rest of the film follows the oddballs on the quest to meet the gods. Compared to the weirdness overload we've been having, this section does feel a little less weird so it's less memorable. I do have to say though that it acuminates into one of the best endings to a film I've ever seen. It's incredibly jarring and the most postmodern thing I've seen since The Cabin in the Woods.
So what else can I say about The Holy Mountain? As its trailer states, it's a film which defies conventional plot and criticism. It's like a piece of art or music. It's something you have to feel and depending on what you felt, you either like it or you don't! As a connoisseur of the weird, I really liked it. It definitely leaves an impression and leaves you with an army of images you won't forget in a hurry. Unfortunately, it's not quite as hypnotic and dreamlike as it could've been thanks (or no thanks) to Alejandro's directing style. The film feels quite detached and objective. I think the film would've been stronger if it was seen more through the eyes of the Jesus character. The reason I love David Lynch films so much is that he takes us on an experience with the characters. Alejandro shoots like we're just spectators and so part of the experience is lost.
The Holy Mountain is still an extraordinary film though. It's rich and full of surrealist imagery. It's almost like the ultimate surreal film with so much impenetrable symbolism crammed in to make your brain melt. Most average moviegoers won't make it pass the first ten minutes, but then again why would an average moviegoer attain a copy of The Holy Mountain? For the rest of us weirdos, this is unmissable!
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
It's nice to see that George Miller has mellowed in his old age
Slow, uneventful, boring, and subtle. These are some of the words you'd never hear from any sane person describing Mad Max 4. Before I dig deeper I should probably let you know that I'm a twenty year-old man who only recently watched the original Mad Max trilogy, so I don't have any nostalgia attached to them. The first Mad Max film is genuinely considered mediocre by most people apart from proud Aussies, and my opinion was pretty much the same. It didn't leave a particularly lasting impression.
The Road Warrior, however, is generally considered as one of the greatest action movies of all time. I was expecting a full-on action fest (much like Fury Road) but unfortunately what I got was a ponderous seventy minutes involving Max titting about with a colony of people protecting fuel before ending with a spectacular car chase. I was quite disappointed and can name several older action films that are far better than The Road Warrior (Terminator 2 and Hard Boiled to name two). Beyond Thunderdome is generally considered as the worst of the lot but to my pleasant surprise I actually enjoyed this the most out of the trilogy! It might have something to do with me being a massive Tina Turner fan, but I thought there was more action and better characters than the other two films.
After being largely underwhelmed by the Mad Max trilogy, I had my expectations for Fury Road lowered. Pretty much every review I've read has been astonishingly glowing with many hailing it as one of the best action films of all time, but didn't they say that about The Road Warrior? Fury Road is directed by the same George Miller, a man now in his seventies who hasn't directed an action film since Beyond Thunderdome and whose recent credits include Happy Feet and Babe: Pig in the City, Mad Max 4 is bound to be pretty weak, right? Wrong.
Believe the hype. Mad Max: Fury Road is an incredible feat. I have no idea how George Miller managed to pull out something so utterly spectacular out of his bag. Fury Road is the best action film I've seen since The Raid and has some of the best stunt work since The Dark Knight Rises. In my opinion it leaves the original Mad Max trilogy lying face down in the dust. Fury Road is the great big throbbing war machine whilst the original trilogy is some old rusty bicycle. The first ten minutes of Fury Road is far better than anything from Mad Max 1-3 and the entire two hour film definitely contains far more action than the first three films put together. Fury Road is amazing.
It opens with an epic monologue from our new Max, Tom Hardy. Mel Gibson never did anything for me as Max. In fact, the character of Max never did much for me. I much prefer Tom Hardy as Max. His accent may be as muddled as Stu's tan in Mrs. Doubtfire but I think he has much more of a presence than Mel Gibson ever did. His famous interceptor is destroyed within the first five minutes which is obviously symbolic. Just like James Bond getting shot in the opening of Skyfall and a TV exploding in the opening of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, the interceptor getting totalled represents a new era of Mad Max. George Miller has completely cut the ties from the original films and quite rightly so! We get thrown into a huge world and feel fully immersed. The imagery is huge and epic. It feels like something from Lord of the Rings with some powerful masked weirdo sitting on a giant cliff and spilling gallons of water to his loyal pale-painted followers. The villain in Fury Road is basically Aunty Entity on acid and curiously similar to Tom Hardy's very own Bane. He's a brilliantly memorable villain who has his very own breast milk farm and an army of seriously sexy wives.
It occurred to me about three quarters of a way through the film that I actually cared about the characters on the screen, which I've never felt before during a Mad Max film (apart from Tina of course). The action still comes first, but there's still some character development to keep you interested in the thin plot. Some have complained that Charlize Theron's Furiosa character takes over from Max but that didn't bother me at all. I love strong female characters and Furiosa is definitely that! I cared about the clan of oddballs and their goal. Enough, anyway, to make me care about who is in the action.
Talking of action. Fury Road's action sequences are every bit as amazing as you've heard. It's a total intense onslaught of revving action from start to finish. Within the first thirty minutes, we're plunged into a fiery sandstorm with a furious army of vehicles in hot pursuit. I sat there completely mesmerised by what I was watching. There's a jarring moment shortly afterwards where Max slowly awakes from a pile of sand and the slowness of the scene is so bloody jarring! Ninety minutes of Fury Road is just pure full-throttle action. It's amazingly executed with so little CGI and jaw-dropping stunt work. The final chase sequence is completely exhausting.
Fury Road is eye popping. I felt like Toe Cutter before he collides into a lorry in Mad Max 1 for most of it. Let's just hope that the sequel will be like The Raid 2. It could easily get better by putting as much focus on character development and plot as well as the action. The Raid 2 did exactly that and produced one of the best films of the twenty first century. As it stands though, Fury Road is a gigantic, towering achievement. You can almost feel the testosterone sweating off the screen. The Fast and Furious franchise can well and truly sod off.
À ma soeur! (2001)
Fat is fabulous
Sex-obsessed director, Catherine Breillat has only gone and done another film about sex! Well, actually Fat Girl is over a decade old now so she's done a few more sex-related films which I'm yet to see. In fact, Fat Girl is my very first taste of Catherine Breillat and I'll definitely be tucking in for more if they're all as tasty as this one. For those who don't know, Fat Girl tells the story of a chubby 12 year-old gal and her sexy fifteen year-old sister who may as well be called Lolita.
The film is pretty short and simplistic but it definitely leaves a lasting impression. I suspect that most people would find it boring because the scenes are extremely long and drawn out. The longest bit must be the extended foreplay scene in which Lolita and her fancy man are on the verge of doing the dirty deed. Not one moment of the film bored me though. I found myself sucked into its atmosphere of stark realism and drawn to the engaging characters.
I was also really impressed with the young actors. Anaïs Reboux who plays the fat girl in question was particularly enthralling. It's important to bear in mind that she was only twelve years-old at the time of filming and it's a fairly challenging role to play which deals with adolescence, sexuality and sibling rivalry. There's a lovely tender moment between the two siblings where they lay on the bed and joke together. It feels very genuine and just goes to show how brilliant the two actresses are and how realised their characters are.
The film builds up to an awkward car journey which ends in a genuinely unexpected and shocking way. Many people have condemned the ending for being shocking for the sake of it; however I don't think that's true. If you pay attention to the first 70 minutes you'll spot a lot of foreshadowing and find that it actually has a lot of meaning which is important to the overall story. I think it's just the sudden change in tone which people find jarring and off-putting. I'm all for unpredictability though.
Quite a lot of people also complain that the film is basically child pornography masquerading as art. The BBFC even cut the DVD release of the film "relating to potential harm, to address the specific danger that video enables the scene to be used to stimulate and validate abusive action." I'd disagree. The scene in question isn't gratuitous (I watched the uncut Australian version) and in my unprofessional opinion isn't harmful or erotic to the rational human mind. It's also very important to the themes of the story.
Prudes should also note that the sexy sister was actually eighteen years-old at the time of filming and that the erect penis is actually prosthetic! It is a graphic film, but it is also a film all about sex and sex does tend be to be graphic. I'm not sure why people get so disgusted about graphic sex scenes in films. We all have sex in real life so why is watching it on a screen so repulsive? Anywho, Fat Girl is not a porn film. It is an interesting story about sexual awakening. It's beautifully acted and directed, and also has a wonderfully immersive atmosphere. I'd particularly recommend it to fans of the new French extremity and European art films.
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
This ain't no Mickey Mouse s@#!
I remember when I saw Full Metal Jacket for the first time. I must've been about fourteen or fifteen years old and decided to watch it when it was on late at night of a weekend. I remember being compelled by the first 40 minutes (although finding it slightly repetitive) and finding the rest of it completely boring and aimless. Fast forward five years later to present day and you'll find me currently going through the whole of Stanley Kubrick's filmography and sticking on Full Metal Jacket for a second time. Have my opinions changed? Yes they have.
I no longer find the first 40 minutes repetitive. In fact, I think the first 40 minutes of Full Metal Jacket is one of the best things Stanley has ever created. The first 40 minutes are so strong that the rest of the film is unfortunately left in its shadow, but more on that in a bit. This half perfectly illustrates the conversion of human beings into cold, emotionless killers. Right from the off the recruits are stripped of their names and instead given labels. They're all made to have the same hairstyle (or lack of), same clothes and shout only when shouted to. All of them even act like robots when training in unison. All except Private Pyle.
The story of Private Pyle's descent into madness is one of the most memorable put on film. At first we find his physical and mental inabilities amusing with the electrifying Lee Ermey shouting hilarious insults at him and Pyle failing miserably at obstacle courses. However, as it progresses the constant bullying becomes incredibly disturbing. There's a fantastically dark moment where all the private's team together to beat Pyle late at night with some soap. In the end you can't help but feel sympathy for him.
It all accumulates to the most powerful moment in the film where Pyle goes totally insane in the toilet. Everything in this scene is flawless. The brooding music, Vincent D'Onofrio's haunting performance, the lighting, and the directing. All of this makes for an incredibly atmospheric and frightening scene with a chilling pay-off which is both surprising and unforgettable. The trouble is, how can you follow this scene? The answer is, you can't. So far the centre of the film has been the relationship between Vincent D'Onofrio and R Lee Ermey, thus with these characters gone a new film begins.
We're plunged without warning into Vietnam, however unlike my fifteen year-old self, I actually didn't find these parts boring. I just get frustrated because I'm not entirely sure what Stanley is trying to say. We sort of get little snapshots of life in Vietnam with Private Joker bobbing about and meeting folk. The film doesn't really go anywhere, yet it still remains largely interesting, just nowhere near as interesting as the mesmerising first half. I did like the prostitute encounters though and thought they had a lot of interesting things to say about humanity.
The film suddenly gets really good again when the team encounter a sniper. For Stanley Kubrick, it's actually a fairly conventional war scene, albeit brilliantly done. It's full of tension, remains gripping and feels very real. It's incredible to think that the whole Vietnam sequences were filmed in London! Stanley then turns to his unusual self when the group encounter who the sniper is. It's a very uncomfortable and haunting moment which results in the famous Mickey Mouse chant at the very end.
I'm not entirely sure what Full Metal Jacket is trying to say, but I'm sure that Stanley has popped in a load of horrendously clever hidden metaphors which still haven't fully been worked out yet. The whole film is of course a visual feast with superb directing from Stanley. However, content-wise I don't think it's as strong as his previous Paths of Glory. Full Metal Jacket may be much better in the technical department, but it feels uneven. Joker is nowhere near as interesting as Pyle and so the film begins to sag in comparison. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the film farm more than when I first layed eyes upon it and will certainly be giving it some more watches!
My God, it's full of frogs!
I've been looking forward to seeing Magnolia for ages now. There Will Be Blood was my first taste of Paul Thomas Anderson and has rapidly become one of my top five favourite films I've seen. Then I saw Punch-Drunk Love which I think is a little underrated, and then Hard Eight (or Sydney as it should've been called) which is a striking debut, and then there's Magnolia! Many cite it as the best film ever made and Paul himself has even gone on record saying that he'll never do a film as good as Magnolia again. That could well be true.
Whilst at the time of writing, I still do prefer There Will Be Blood, there's no denying the marvel of Magnolia. Its sheer audacity is enough to be respected, yet somehow Paul Thomas Anderson (why is his name so frigging long? I'm just going to call him Paul) manages to handle this great big beast he's created with flawless ease. Magnolia is basically like Love Actually with lots of little separate stories going on which are loosely inter-connected with each other. However, Paul isn't too concerned with love. He's more interested in the bleaker side of life such as: child abuse, drug addiction, rejection, loneliness and regret. For most people, the idea of a three hour long film with all these themes would be a turn off. However, I'd urge you to stick with it.
To be honest, I loved Magnolia from the moment it began. It tells three stories within the first five minutes in the whimsical style of Amelie. They're expertly told, but also quite misleading. We're lead to believe that the big story which is about to follow will end in a way which connects all the characters, but it never does. Or at least, they don't come together as explicitly as the first three stories told. These first five minutes would make a superb short film of its own, alas it's just a warm-up for the main event. Suddenly the depressing One is the Loneliest Number starts to play as the titles bloom out of a brilliant magnolia flower.
Magnolia has over ten main characters and by some sort of miracle, Paul manages to develop each one deeply. Each character is so rich with detail and each has a story which manages to be thoroughly engaging and entertaining. If I were to mention what I loved about each character and their story then this review would probably be as long as the screenplay for Magnolia, so I'll just mention a couple of my absolute favourites. Probably the most extraordinary character arc is Tom Cruise's character, Frank. We despise him at the start with his disgusting misogynistic ramblings, however as his arc goes on we see him turn from cocky a prat into a vengeful and weeping little boy. Paul gives us just enough to suggest why his character is the way he is, yet leaves enough ambiguity to let us come to our own conclusions.
Another fascinating character is Donnie Smith, the child star who's now all grown up and forgotten. His story is arguably the most moving. He's a drunk whose lost his job and is hopelessly in love with a barman who doesn't love him back. One of the saddest parts of the film, for me, was when Donnie got drunk at the bar and started rambling about how much love he had to give. What makes all these stories so engaging is that they're all so identifiable, or at least will be. We've all felt alone, we've all felt love, we'll all have to cope with dying or seeing a loved one die etc. this is perhaps the secret to Magnolia's greatness.
The acting is also brilliant across the board. Tom Cruise is an actor I normally can't stand, yet here he's Oscar-worthy. He's been given such a complex character to play and he plays it with terrifying ease. The iconic moment when he confesses his hatred to his dying father feels almost too real. Julianne Moore is also another one who stands out. Her hysterical suicidal outbursts are almost exemplary. I also loved Philip Baker Hall as the game show host dying of cancer. At first he's a character who you feel deep sympathy for until you find out the dark secret he's harbouring. The scene where he confesses his secrets to his wife is another stand-out moment.
Paul's directing is nothing short of masterful, as ever. It might not have the same Kubrickian shots like, Punch-Drunk Love and There Will Be Blood had but there is still a distinct style which holds the film together. I loved the long and involving tracking shots and some of the editing was extraordinary. At times it reminded me of a Christopher Nolan film as there are several powerful moments in Magnolia where stories all come together with one character narrating over a different unconnected image involving another character. It's difficult to explain, but it works and creates a superb mood. There's even an inspired moment where all the characters burst into song, thus unifying them even further.
Magnolia really is the definition of a masterpiece. You can tell that Paul set out to create the greatest film ever made and he has pretty much succeeded. It's such a magnificently rich, deep and emotional film. In fact, it's so deep that it would take you at least three viewings to totally appreciate it all. It's a brave piece of work and even features a moment of bizarre surrealism towards the end which should feel completely out of place, but doesn't. Magnolia works on so many levels. It's not so pretentious that it's inaccessible to average movie-going audiences, however if you want to dig deeper into it then there's more than enough there to allow it. I certainly can't wait to experience it all again.
The Wicker Tree (2011)
You might've heard of a film called The Wicker Man? I've not seen the Nicolas Cage version, but I know it's legendary for being bloody awful. No, I'm talking about the original film from Robin Hardy which featured Edward Woodward becoming embroiled in an increasingly disturbing mystery accumulating to one of the greatest endings in movie history. After a thirty year absence from the big screen, Robin Hardy himself decided to film a sequel called The Wicker Tree. We're allowed to get excited because it's the original director coming back to do it all with a cameo from Lord Summerisle himself! I remember watching the trailer when it came out and thinking that it looked really promising with its surreal, unsettling imagery. The trailer didn't reveal anything about the plot, and after seeing the film I can see why.
The Wicker Tree is complete shitake mushrooms. I'm not quite sure what Robin Hardy has been doing for three decades, but he must have been going through some sort of hideous artistic crisis. Maybe he's become a drug addict because he must've been smoking something unsavoury when he was behind the camera for this. The film follows a couple of young, Bible bashing Americans going on a pilgrimage to Scotland to spread the word of God. Just in case you're not sure whether they're American or not from their strong Texan accents, they're complete with cowboy hats and have to sing a country song every five minutes. Our virginal hero, Beth Booby, is even a famous country singer despite having a fairly crap voice.
Beth Booby is like the anti-Miley Cyrus which is revealed in a hilarious sequence where Beth and her bo watch themselves on Scottish news performing like Katherine Jenkins in a Church. The news reporter then shows us what Beth Booby used to be like by popping on the world's worst music video featuring Beth line dancing in tiny shorts singing about how much of a harlet she is. All that's missing is her straddling a wrecking ball and licking a sledge hammer. It's an absolutely hilarious moment, just because it's so badly done. It sets the tone for the rest of the film. Her bo is a born again virgin just like his fiancé, although he still finds time skinny dipping and having sex with strangers in lakes.
The original Wicker Man became a cult classic after being re-discovered by some small cinemas in 1977. The same is likely to happen to The Wicker Tree, although this will of course reach cult status for all the wrong reasons. The film itself looks like some sort of shoddy Drama for ITV and the acting from the entire cast is even worse. I read somewhere that Joan Collins was going to star in it at one point and that really would've just been the cherry on top of the cake! Some of the cast actually look like they've just been dragged off their local Scottish street and forced to star in the film. My heart broke a little when the great Christopher Lee appeared for a pointless cameo, acting opposite a hopelessly wooden lad painting a bridge.
The attempts at intentional comedy are cringe-inducing and completely out of place. The film works much better when it's not trying to be funny. It definitely falls under the 'so bad it's good' category and is brilliantly entertaining all the way through. I must say that the attempts of Wicker Man-esque horror in the last 15 minutes got a bit tedious, because it felt like they were trying to actually generate scares. The rest of the film is a hoot though, for all the wrong reasons. It's as if some kids saw The Wicker Man, got hammered and decided to do a remake. It's extraordinary that it's the total opposite and Robin Hardy himself created this masterpiece of disaster. If I were to rate this film on quality, it would struggle to receive a 2/10, however as it's such a blast to laugh at I have to go higher.
Rich? Successful? Shiny new house? You're f@#%ed
I love a good home invasion horror film. There's something compelling about watching innocent people trying to survive an attack on their home. I even love the film's most people don't give a toss about like, Darren Lynn Bousman's Mother's Day remake. Kidnapped is a home invasion film in the purest sense of the word. It completely strips the whole idea to its bare basics and offers nothing new to the subgenre. However, what it lacks in originality it makes up for in its impressive execution, acting and intense atmosphere.
The opening to the film is one of the most uncomfortable moments. It follows a bloodied man waking up in the middle of nowhere with a plastic bag tied around his head. He stumbles around a foresty area, struggling to breathe with the bag suffocating him. Watching this made me almost feel as if I was being smothered! The cause of this effect is that it's filmed entirely in one long take.
In fact, you might be surprised to find out after watching that the entire 80 minute film consists of just 12 takes. This is even less than Michael Haneke's shots in Funny Games! These long takes create a chillingly realistic atmosphere. The shots aren't static either, there's always some claustrophobic sense of movement as the camera follows characters around the house. It's a technical marvel! I loved the sequence which showed the family moving into their new posh house. There's some very clichéd dialogue between the mother and teenage daughter about the Mum not letting the daughter go out tonight and the Dad not caring. It's not imaginative in the slightest, but the fluid camera-work makes it interesting. Once the intruders burst in, it's jarring and the intensity rises.
It doesn't add any new ideas, but thanks to the amazing camera-work and acting it places Kidnapped a cut above the other home invasion movies. I was particularly impressed with the girl's performance. I expect most people will find her hysteria irritating, but it felt so real and justified. Usually in these types of film, character behaviour is unrealistic or contrived in order to aid with the film's plot. Everything here is shown in a very realistic way. Put that together with the super-long takes and you've got something that feels more like a snuff film than anything else. To normal people this isn't entertainment, but horror fiends will find it arresting. The use of split-screen also succeeded well in building tension and creating claustrophobia.
Kidnapped might not have the same innovation as say, You're Next but it is an exceptionally well-made film. I was gripped throughout and impressed by the shocking ending which pulls the rug from under your feet. I would've liked it to have been longer and to create a few more original ideas for itself, but it's the directing which is its saving grace. It becomes more like an experience. In a sense Kidnapped is like a non-judgmental version of Funny Games. Whereas, Funny Games criticises you for watching it, Kidnapped is more concerned with giving its audience a slice of intense real life. Hollywood should just leave horror to the foreigners.