Recent films

November 9, 2007

This is one in a very occasional series in which I blog about my thoughts on films I’ve watched recently, not least so that I can remember what I’ve seen. I haven’t been to the cinema very much recently, and missed the big late summer blockbusters (apart from the just-about-okay Die Hard 4.0). I really wanted to see the Simpsons Movie and Knocked Up, but those are two films that can safely be seen on DVD, I think. Anyway, as follows.

Death Proof: I saw this in the very appropriate setting of the Rio Cinema in glamorous Dalston. It has the usual Tarantino tropes of great music, self-consciously snappy dialogue (more on this later) and violence. Very bloody violence. It is filmed as a homage to the 70s and 80s grind-house movies Tarantino loved as a budding film geek, and as such is filmed on grainy film stock with some dodgy editing. This feature is rather undermined by the use of tracking shots and some admittedly spectacular stunt-work that looked far too professional to pass muster as realistic b-movie fodder.

Another flaw is the dialogue. It seems to me that, when writing the screenplay for this movie, Tarantino had somehow got it into his head something along the lines of “hey guys, here’s where I prove I can write for chicks as well as dudes!” The results are some of the most bafflingly turgid film dialogue I’ve ever seen, which seemed to go on for an interminable amount of time. Quentin, admit it, you just can’t write for women.

All this silliness (admittedly partly caused by the chopped then extended nature of this version of the film) is somewhat redeemed by the presence of the great Kurt Russell as the main bad guy, who does his Kurt Russell thing to great effect, and has some great lines (in particular, when getting his comeuppance after terrorising various innocent young women, his cries of “Oh God! Why me???” are pretty funny). The chase scenes are also undeniably exhilirating, and just about make things worthwhile. Overall, a bit of a misfire, though.

Zodiac: Based on the book of the same name, written by one of the protagonists in the film, this is about the notorious Bay Area series of murders, the perpetrator of which was nicknamed the “Zodiac killer”. It’s filmed in David Fincher’s trademark style, with lots of browns and greys, and has interesting sound design, with muffled dialogue.

The film is a police procedural, of sorts, except without any of the resolution that you might expect from films of that genre. Instead, you see the investigation getting hopelessly entangled, thanks to jurisdictional politics, police incompetence, and the intrusion of mass media. It is the latter that is the thematic key to the film, I think: Fincher seems to be saying that as soon as the media gets hold of a series of crimes like the Zodiac murders, the idea of a neat resolution goes out the window, as crackpots come out the woodwork, conspiracy theories abound, and the acts perpetrated by the murderer become eclipsed by the media entity that is “the Zodiac killer”.

The performances are uniformly excellent, with Mark Ruffalo particularly good as the Columbo-like detective left to solve the case. Jake Gylenhall is also pretty effective as a cartoonist who becomes obsessed with the case, eventually going on to write the book on which the film is based (self referential or what?) One thing that really, jarred, though, was the horribly blatant product placement for Coke, to the extent of having a scene set in a police station begin with the lines “the Coke machine is bust”. For such a well put together, meticulously scripted film, this just seemed bizarre.

The Science of Sleep: A funny one, this. I really enjoyed (despite low expectations, thanks to the presence of arch-gurner Jim Carrey) Michel Gondry’s last film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and was hoping for something similar here.

While it has something of the emotional punch and visual and conceptual richness of Eternal Sunshine…, it is also decidedly less satisfying. This is mainly because Gael Garcia Bernal’s lead character, Stephane, is basically a creep. To be more specific, a needy, stalking, emotionally dependant creep with mother issues and a very tenuous hold on reality. His dream sequences are supposed to be whimsical and charming, but in fact they come across as a bit, well, creepy.

Despite this rather large flaw, the film is touching, and certainly has the courage of Gondry’s convictions in terms of its visual brio. He seems to have a knack for taking the mundane, then going off at what almost seems like a 4th dimensional tangent. In this, I think he’s comparable to Terry Gilliam, and may perhaps suffer the same fate as Gilliam: eternally doomed to making films that never live up to those that he sees in his head. In fact, kind of comparable to the character of Stephane in this film.


2 Responses to “Recent films”

  1. […] recent films March 22, 2008 One in a very occasional series, in which I share some thoughts about films I have watched in the not-too-distant past. This time, […]

  2. […] The best information on the topic can be found at the source here […]

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