Wednesday, March 19, 2008


Can you feel the love tonight? I can. It feels like waves of love radiating through the screen, warm fuzzy pink clouds emanating from my modem. But where is it coming from? What's the source? Nope, it's not Elton John cozying up to Clinton - although that does merit a mention, just for the sheer oddness of it - but Final Girl's Hey, Internet, Stop Being Such Cynical Effing Doucebags Blog-A-Thon! I'll let the creator herself spread the gospel:
Write about a movie you adore. Write about a single movie moment you adore. A performance, an actor, a trailer you're looking forward to like crazy. Write about that time you went to the movies and what you saw made you so happy you wanted to make out with the screen. Write about that film you couldn't stop thinking about for days, and how awesome that feeling is.

In other words, for just one day, internet, don't be a cynical effing douchebag. Wear your heart on your sleeve and tell us all why you love something. That's not so hard, is it?
Ya got that? So, I really wanted to participate in this and so I started tossing ideas around. At first, I couldn't get Scorcese's vastly underrated Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1973) out of my head, especially the scenes involving Ellen Burstyn and her son, played with brittle, precocious hilarity by Alfred Lutter. Their water-fight, the extended driving scenes, the "shoot the dog!" joke - I love their relationship in this film, because it feels so fresh, so unclichéd, so true-to-life. Sadly, I don't own it on dvd (yet!), but it did remind me of another mother/son film that I do own; Gloria (1980). In the case of John Cassavete's nod to the gangster genre, Gena Rowlands isn't actually Phil's mother, but she's as good as. When the little fella's family get killed in a brutal, yet somehow trivial, mobster killing, Gloria takes reluctant charge of him. Cue a lengthy (some would say too lengthy) series of escapades through the bars, seedy hotels and public transport of New York city. There are many pieces to love in this messy, flawed yet invigorating film, most of them having to do with Gena Rowlands. Check out her character introduction; first we see a shot of her smoking, though a keyhole

After espying Gloria, Phil's father turns to the camera, pauses for an exagerated length of time and then makes this face

and says, "It's Gloria" in a tone of voice that nobody would ever use in real life, ever. It could possibly b
e described as frustration + bewilderment + exasperation + humour + the director told me to say it like we were shooting clips for the trailer = "It's GlOOriA!" I can't even adequately describe it and as I can't take sound clips, you're going to have to take my word for it. It's great though, especially as it occurs 11 minutes into the film. The exagerated line-reading would make perhaps an iota of sense if it were the very first scene, but we've just been spending time with the Dawn family. Don't worry though, they're about to get blown up in a few minutes by the gangsters who are milling about in the foyer saying things like "Nice staircase they got here" and wearing shirts like this

Ooh. Threatening.

Anyway, everybody in the family is a target and so Jeri Dawn tries to foister her youngest kid, Phil, onto Gloria, who really just needed to borrow some coffee.

She isn't wild about this idea.

GLORIA: Hey, Jeri, you know I'd do anything for you. But...I don't like kids. Especially yours.

Well, too bad Gloria. Because the kid is yours. Here's where the film starts to get really good. Gloria drags Phil (literally) back to her apartment, to protect him from the mob. She's not really the most competent babysitter and Phil is hardly the most obliging child. It's the most awkward babysitting ever.

Gloria: I've got some goldfish in the bedroom. You wanna play with them?
PHIL: *blank stare*
GLORIA: You wanna play twenty questions?

PHIL: *blank stare*

GLORIA: How bout watching the tv for a while? *pause* Hey, can you understand what I'm saying to you?
GLORIA: (to her cat) Where's my boy, eh? Yeah. Come on, big fella. There's my baby. Yeah. You like him? You like cats?

From then on, the film just gets better. The plot meander along lazily, gaping plot holes are neatly side-stepped, nothing is ever fully explained, characters develop and grow before suddenly reverting back to how they were before - and I LOVE IT! Seriously, I would be perfectly happy to watch this film constantly on a loop for the rest of eternity. So, without further ado, here are my top 5 favourite things about "Gloria", in no particular order.

1. The many faces of Phil.

John Adames won a Razzie for this, his one and only screen appearance (he actually tied with Laurence Olivier!) and his performance is regularly siezed upon as being one of the worst examples of child acting in the history of film. I don't agree; he's supremely annoying and whiney, but that's partly because its how the character is written. He speaks every line as though it's causing him actual pain to say the words, but look at that face!

2. Gloria' s face when she sees herself on television.

3. The quasi-romance between Gloria and Phil. It's a love/hate thing, one minute he's asking her if she's ever been in love and trying to stroke her hair, the next he's all "Bye, chiquita! Bye, little sucker!". They're like an old married couple, really.

4. The clothing. We have Gloria's red satin dressing-gown, the ridiculous wig she gets landed with and the newest line from the My 'lil Pimp Clothing range.

5. Bam!

That's it.

Hey, internet! Stop being such cynical effing douchebags! Take a leaf out of Phil's book; his whole family have just been killed, he's been wearing the same awful bell-bottoms for days, his only guardian is a gangster's moll and he won a Razzie. Yet somehow, he's still happy.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Eggs. A golf-club. A remote control.

Why did I watch Funny Games, Michael Haneke's 1997 psychological, meta, 'horror' film'? The answer is simple; the director's shot-by-shot remake arrives on Irish shores soon (it opened this weekend in the States) and I wanted to watch the original before I saw the new version, because I'm nerdy like that. After watching it, I'm excited about seeing the new one. The draw of seeing how Tim Roth and Naomi Watts, two fine actors whom I like very much, react to the awful events that they are subjected to, is substantial. Naomi Watts, incidentally, is one of my Actress picks (see below) and while I very much doubt this will win favour with the Academy, I have a feeling there'll be a rigorous campaign and critical buzz attached to it. From the trailer and a few screengrabs which are floating around the net, the remake looks very clean and bright, unlike the original (a stupid point, perhaps, but I dig the white, crisp streamlined look that's such at odds with the dim graininess of the original). Plus, it's in English, which will add an extra dimension of unease to my viewing. While the original's German created an extra welcome barrier between me and the characters, I have a feeling the harsh starkness of hearing their pleas in English will have the adverse affect. Before last night, I had never even heard of Susanne Lothar and was only marginally familiar with Ulrich Muhe, but I've seen Naomi Watts and Tim Roth countless times. I don't know if this'll will add to or detract from the terror, but we'll see.

The premise of Funny Games is simple. Two eerie, polite men in their 20s terrorise an affluent family of three in their summer house. That's it, really. By that description alone, you'd be forgiven for assuming it was your run o' the mill genre flick, a "torture porn" film created for and by those with the adolescent boy mentality. Well, you'd be forgiven until you saw the name Haneke was involved. If you're at all familiar with the Austrian director, you realise that what you're getting into is something much more intellectual, more challenging, more infuriating. More disturbing. And let me warn you, although nearly every instance of violence occurs off-screen, this film is disturbing. Muttering feverently under your breath disturbing. Nails digging into palms disturbing. Clutching a soft, cuddly toy like you haven't clutched so hard since you were a toddler, disturbing. At one point, I found myself singing softly under my breath as a means of half distracting myself! It's not just because of the "your imagination is scarier than anything a director could construct" old chestnut that is regularly trotted out. This clichéd maxim readily applies to FG, but the feeling of unease that this film generates is not because of that alone. The creeping dread that descends over you has to do with the way in which the film implicates you in the violence. You're the voyeur, you're the one causing these awful events by the very fact that you choose to watch this film. That's another point, you never forget that what you're watching is a film.
It's unrealistic and uber-stylized. There's a scene (I won't say what it is, but if you've seen it you know what I'm talking about) where Haneke pretty much gives his audience the finger, messing with your head and your preconceptions of what a film should be. Apparently, this scene is the reason why people have such negative reactions to the film. I can understand this stance, but it didn't make me hate it. In fact, the scene made me appreciate the film more; by not allowing the narrative to function as a straight-forward film, it made it clearer that this was something to be appreciated as an intellectual exercise, rather than a thriller in which good prevails, the bad guys get their come-uppance and all is right with the world.

By the film's end, I felt hollow, but not unhappy. I wasn't trembling and I didn't require a viewing of Clueless or The Incredibles, both of which I had lined up in case I needed a post-viewing boost. It was difficult to fall asleep afterwards, but because I was thinking about my reaction to the film, about what it all meant, about how people would react when it's released here. I wasn't terrified of two men breaking into the house (although I do admit that the shot of the golf-ball rolling in a slow circle on the wooden floor will stay with me for a good while). I do get the feeling that I'm not exactly the target audience. If the film is intended as a polemic against those who queue in their droves to watch teenagers be slaughtered, the "gore hounds", the people who really appreciate a good finger-slicing scene, I'm not included in this category of film-lovers. Running quickly through a mental list of my favourite films, violence only lurks at their peripherary and gore is almost non-existant. I've never responded well to acts of onscreen violence, ever since I watched Scream at a sleepover when I was 11. The scene where Drew Barrymore is being dragged across her lawn with a hook in her neck, whimpering scratchily to her parents, stayed with me for a long time....I've still never gone back and watched that film because it upset me so much the first time. Undoubtedly, it's probably a lot tamer than what I've imagined, but I still have no desire to revisit that scene. That's the same reason why I've never seen a "Saw" film, why I don't ever plan to see "Cannibal Holocaust" or "I Spit On Your Grave", why horror (with a few notable exceptions) isn't usually my cup of cinematic tea. If I were somebody who enjoyed this, I daresay I would have been even more disturbed and uncomfortable with this film, but I'm not and I wasn't.

I wouldn't recommend Funny Games to everyone, not by a long shot. I wouldn't even say I enjoyed it, per se, but it does provoke a reaction. By holding the camera still for interminably long sequences, for sustaining a fine balance between horror and ridicule, for treating the viewer as an accomplice (and not a very bright one at that), Haneke's film forces you to question the reason for your viewing of it, bullies you into thinking long and hard about the art of film and violence and the way in which the two intertwine. For me, it dredged up that memory of Scream, which I hadn't really given any thought to for years. I don't regret watching it for a second, although it was sometimes unpleasant.

The trailer for the remake is weird. Seriously, "In The Hall of the Mountain King"? Cheesy as all hell, that piece of music is. I'm guessing that's just something they've added in for the trailer, because if Haneke has included it in the film, he's probably lost his marbles. The overwhelming silence is such an integral part of the original and its inclusion in the trailer is completely overblown and hilarious. That said, the much-admired poster is truly something.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Actress Psychic Contest


Just a quick note before I run back to hit the books (with a stick, naturally). Nathaniel Rogers of The Film Experience has opened the floodgates for his annual Actress Psychic Contest.
If you're at all interested in the Best Actress contest, have a masochistic streak or are a compulsive gambler, head on over and make your predictions. The entering criteria are simple; pick 5 women who have films opening in 2008 and throughout the year there'll be a running tally, with points being allocated for awards, publicity, critical buzz and a whole host of other bits 'n bobs. It's all very mathematical and complex, but all we have to do is send off an email with 5 names and then start praying that our picks will amount to something. For those of us who need a little reminder of what's to come in the cinematic year ahead, Nathaniel has helpfully provided a comprehensive list of 50 or so women who could be making waves with their coming films. My 5 names are listed below:

Anne Hathaway - Dancing with Shiva
Rachel McAdams - The Time Traveller's Wife
Julianne Moore - Blindness
Naomi Watts - Funny Games
Kate Winslet - Revolutionary Road

I submitted this line-up mere minutes ago and I'm already filled with doubts. The list is skewed towards the young end of the actressing scale and leaving Meryl Streep out of any line-up seems foolhardy, but I'm sticking with these five. I strongly doubt this will reflect the 2009 Oscar nominations (except maybe Winslet and Moore), but my five could possibly whip up some excitement between them on the publicity circuit. I have Hathaway and McAdams for the publicity trail, Winslet and Moore for the prestige spot and Watts for the critical approval/leftfield spot. I think my picks are a little too scattered and perhaps
too beholden to my own personal biases, but we'll see how this goes. Expect many updates, upsets, curses and perhaps some minor miracles (i.e. Funny Games not being branded "too dark" for major buzz) as the year progresses.

Friday, March 7, 2008

My Dinner with...

It's meme time!

1. Pick a single person past or present who works in the film industry who you'd like to have dinner with and tell us why you chose this person.

This is a headscratcher; not only are there numerous technical virtuosos,
who wouldn't necessarily spring to mind straight away, yet who would be fascinating to dine with (I'm thinking of people like Roger Deakins, Christine Vachon, Philip Glass, Colleen Atwood) but the sheer plethora of chatty actors, directors and scriptwriters that I wouldn't mind sitting down with renders my answer to this question dependant on whatever mood I'm in. If you'd asked me a week ago, my answer would have been Sissy Spacek. On any number occasions, it could have been Pedro Almodóvar, Laura Linney, Cary Grant, Roz Russell or Donald O' Connor. Dinner-table manners have to be taken into consideration; Robert de Niro circa 70s would be fascinating, but according to Jodie Foster, he wasn't such a great lunch partner back then. Likewise, I'd have a million questions for Alfred Hitchcock, but he'd probably play some awful practical joke on me and leave. So, I'm looking for somebody intelligent, verbose and who I'm assured will be polite and warm, somebody who I have many questions for but who remains a bit of a mystery, and somebody who I've recently been watching. Todd Haynes, care to join me for dinner?

2. Set the table for your dinner. What would you eat? Would it be in a home or at a restaurant? And what would you wear? Feel free to elaborate on the details.

I'm afraid of poisoning any potential dinner guests, so we'd head out to the city for our meal. Maybe
Acapulco, the Mexican place on Georges Street. Not only is it my favourite restaurant (I'm going there tonight, actually) but it adds a certain ping of intertextuality referencing to our evening. Its a casual enough place, so we wouldn't have to dress up fancily - although Mr Haynes has proved that he can scrub up as well as he dresses down. After the meal, we could drop into a cafe for some coffee and maybe a slice of cake, in honour of our shared birthday (Jan 2nd).

3. List five thoughtful questions you would ask this person during dinner.

1. You graduated from Brown with a degree in semiotics. Perhaps as a result of this, your films have been dismissed by some critics as university projects, dominated by intellect rather than emotion. How do you respond to this?
2. I've noticed you tend to surround yourself with superb actors and technicians. Especially in a film like "Far From Heaven", which functions as a real "team effort", between your script, Julianne Moore's acting, Elmer Bernstein's score, Edward Lachman's camera and Sandy Powell's
costumes. So, on one hand you cultivate an air of intense collaboration, yet there's also a very singular vision dominating all of your work. Do you see filmmaking as a solitary or collaborative pursuit?
3. Did you experience even a small twinge of disapointment when I'm Not There was almost roundly passed by during awards season? I don't think you've ever been a director who tries to court awards, but your latest had great critical buzz.
4. Are there any actors who you'd love to work with, but haven't yet? What about Julianne Moore, any plans to write another script for her? She has a tiny part in I'm Not There, but I'm harking back to films such as [safe] and Far From Heaven, films that showed me that Moore is a great talent, rather than just a lousy mother who mopes around on swings.
5. Finally, what music are you listening to at the moment? I already know we share some tastes; Haynes directed a Sonic Youth video (and Kim Gordon has a cameo in I'm Not There). He has also made biopics of Bob Dylan, Karen Carpenter and Glam Rock; and these feel more like personal obsessions, rather than studio-urged projects. What's your favourite Sonic Youth album? Mine is either Daydream Nation, Goo or Murray Street. Care to recommend me any other musicians you're into? How about we trade mixtapes?

I can't think of 6 people to tag for this, but anyone who comes across it is free to run with it. That means you, Ann Marie, Damien et all. Thanks to Piper for the original idea and Emma for the tag.