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Tim Burton "dark"? "Playful" would be nearer the mark. Hitchcock is dark, Aldritch is dark; almost any director you care to name is darker than Burton.

I admire Ed Wood. I love the silliness of Mars Attacks. Otherwise I've been disappointed.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is dreadful.

It travesties Dahl. Dahl is never sentimental. You want dark? Dahl is dark. Burton can't handle him.

Bleeagh- the gloopiness of that ending. One hug from Daddy and everything is fine again.

Every other Hollywood movie these days seems to be about little lost boys and their daddies.

I have a word for you- a bright shiny new word; I just coined it:


Whatever happened to Mommy, by the way?

But enough of that. Johnny Depp is a pretty good actor. He's too good for most of the dreck he appears in. Here he impersonates Michael Jackson. Which raises "dark" issues that Burton sweeps under the carpet.

And all that great White Hunter stuff with the Oompah-loompahs- racist or what?

And there's too much CGI. Everything looks beautiful, but there's no energy. The more I see of CGI the more I hate it. The airbrushed sheen of it. Unreal. Fakey. It's killing the movies.

This is supposed to be a kids' film, so why isn't it more fun?

The Gene Wilder version was gaudy and vulgar but it was tons of fun. The songs were better too.

To recapitulate: Sentimental, evasive, racist, fucked-up, dull. Let's add misogynist. Mrs Burton (Helena B-C) makes a token appearance stirring the cabbage soup, but otherwise it's nothing but boys in clover.

Ooh, daddy; no-one can love me the way you do!
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The heads explode as never before. The zombies eat their victims in all sorts of new and exciting ways.

It's great fun.

But the acting is as weak as ever. And this time Romero doesn't have the excuse that he can't afford the talent. If you can't get a decent performance out of Dennis Hopper it's probably because you're useless with actors.

Are we paying homage to Metropolis? That's nice.

The script is clunky. The post-9/11 references are gestural. It's not as if Romero has anything interesting to say about Bushworld.

And who's the blond guy- our notional hero? He's so uninteresting!

Give Sam Raimi a big budget and he remains individual and inventive. Such craftsmanship!

Give Romero a big budget and you expose his weaknesses. He becomes middle-of-the-road Hollywood. A little old fashioned if the truth be told.

The first three Dead films are masterpieces. This one is ordinary.
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Werewolves are fun, but they're not frightening. Is anyone out there frightened of werewolves? I mean, really frightened?

Didn't they shoot the last "real" werewolf in sixteen hundred and something? In rural France?

So if you're not living in rural France and the date isn't sixteen hundred and something, why should you be scared?

I know, I know, it's an archetype. The Beast within. Yaddayaddayadda.

So I just watched the Brothers Grimm. It has a werewolf in it. And I've been asking myself ever since, "now what was the point of that?"

Why make gothic movies when the gothic isn't scary any more?

The Japanese have a handle on what's really scary these days. What's really scary these days in girls with hair all over their faces climbing out of TV sets. But werewolves? Nah.

The only way to handle the gothic these days is to make it funny. The model is Ghostbusters. Don't you just love Ghostbusters?

I think The Brothers Grimm was trying to be funny. Leastways Heath Ledger fell over a lot.

But a script would have been nice.

And I could have done without the services of Matt Damon. (I had a revelation yesterday; I realised who Matt Damon reminds me of. He's an absolute dead ringer for Doug McClure who used to be in Bonanza or High Chaparal or something- only Doug McClure had more charisma.)

But, all in all, I think the comedy gothic horror has had its day. We want to be really frightened, not pretend-frightened.

Irony will only stretch so far.

Before it snaps *ping* like knicker elastic.
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I'm sick of CGI; give me good old handmade special effects.

There's more magic in a single frame of this movie than in the whole Potter franchise thus far.

Love the talking Rolls Royce. So that's where they got the idea for Knight Rider!

L'oiseau chante avec ses doights.

What is it with me and dead girls? The last movie female I fell in love with was Moaning Myrtle. Now I'm in love with Maria Casares.

Cocteau may have been gay, but surely he was in love with Maria too?

Me, him, the camera: we all love Maria Casares.
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Probably the best so far.

Great opening.

I'd like to have seen more of Eric Sykes.

Rupert Grint irritates me. Someone tell him that "less is more".

Bugger the story! I'd happily spend three hours taking the tour of Hogwarts.

Brendan Gleeson!

Brendan Gleeson's mad eye!!!

Are today's 14 year old boys really so behind-hand with the girls?

I could kick Harry and Ron for being so mean to the Patel sisters.

When it comes to emotional interplay, these scripts are pretty sketchy and predictable.

Hire better writers!

Frances de la Tour is just so sexy!

The dragon was cool. So were the mermaids.

Loved the maze. Pity they didn't do more with it.

I'm not scared of triffids; is anybody?

When you've seen one Dark Lord you've seen 'em all!

This one is a little lacking in the nose department.

Why can't Dark Lords be pretty?

I think I'm in love with Moaning Myrtle.
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My fascination with Peter Sellers has a lot to do with him looking like my father.

It's something to do with the forehead. And- harder to pin down- with the way he carries himself.

There are shots in Being There where it's definitely my father up there on screen.

Being There is one of my favourite movies. I watched it again last night. Sellers made a lot of cruddy films- many of them cruddier than they need have been because of his appalling behaviour on and off the set (Blake Edwards reckons he was certifiably insane)- but Being There is immaculate.
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I just watched a little of Dr Strangelove. One of the things about Sellers is how quiet he is. There's George C Scott clowning away, working his socks off, giving this big, splendid, hammy performance- and Sellers, as the president, doesn't try to compete. He keeps it tight and straight and bides his time and then, when he's got the screen to himself- and he's on the phone to the Russian premier- off he goes into this wonderful, dead-pan, comic riff. What an artist!


Mar. 1st, 2006 08:47 am
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I didn't like Monster. Charlize Theron reminded me of Doris Day as Calamity Jane. I couldn't believe she'd won an Oscar for a performance which struck me as nothing but strut and prosthetics.

Last night, I got to see Nick Broomfield's documentary, Aileen, The Life and Death of a Serial Killer. I wanted to find out if the real Wuornos reminded me of Calamity Jane. She didn't.

The real Wuornos was funny and fiesty and scary and real She came through the prison doors to give her interviews, surrounded by goons in uniform, and she was the only human being in the room. It was hard not to warm to her. Given the way she'd been fucked over by everyone in her life- from her relatives to her lawyers- it was remarkable she wasn't madder than she was.

Towards the end she was sabotaging her own appeal because she wanted to get it over with and be with Jesus.

And Jeb Bush has happy to oblige her because it fitted in very nicely with his re-election plans.
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I caught a bit of The Private Life of Henry VIII last night. Kinda serendipitous; since I happen to be in the middle of writing about the old lad for the new Purchas book and this was a lesson in how to do it- with a jokey irreverence based on real affection. What a terrific film it is- veering in tone from Carry On Henry to domestic tragedy, but held together by Laughton's wonderfully affecting performance, Korda's swift direction and the overall stylishness of the production! I remember being shown it at school and taking it seriously- as if it were a history lesson- and entirely missing out on all the remarkably naughty jokes.

Laughton and Elsa Lanchester playing cards on their wedding night- what fun! And the Katherine Howard episode- encompassing Henry's doting self deception and his genuine grief for his adulterous young wife- how positively Shakespearian!
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Ken Russell, the veteran film maker, is preparing to release home made movies on the Web. He's got a project lined up called Braveheart Meets The Loch Ness Monster.

Russell made some very bad films back in the day- Tommy, Gothic, the Boyfriend. His work for the cinema was characterized by a total lack of subtlety and a failure to understand the need for pacing. Occasionally- as with the male nudity in Women in Love- he broke through barriers that needed breaking.

But before he stepped up to the big screen he did some amazing work on TV. Everyone of a certain age remembers his short film about Elgar- with the camera tracking a small boy as he rides his pony across the Malvern hills- but even better was his uncharacteristically moving film about Delius- A Song at Sunrise. And then there was his boat-burning film about Richard Strauss with it's bosomy Teutonic maidens, priapic caveman and nazi rapists. Back in his TV heyday each new Russell opus was a national event and, latterly, a national scandal.

I'm glad he hasn't mellowed and I'm glad he's back on the (very small) screen.
I don't suppose Braveheart Meets The Loch Ness Monster will be any good, but wouldn't it be fun it it was!
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I remember Close Encounters as being huge. Seeing it on DVD it turns out to be a surprisingly intimate film about the break-up of a marriage.

There are three early Spielberg films that come straight from the heart.
Close Encounters, E.T. and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Since then he's seemed unsure of himself.

Close Encounters is a New Age movie. It thinks that humanity is on the brink of transformation. I guess the New Age is over now. E.T. has given way to the invading Martians of War of the Worlds.

By the way, I don't want to see War of the Worlds. I don't want to watch Spielberg pissing on his younger self. Also it's got Tom Cruise in it.

Close Encounters can be read as a religious allegory. It's about a man who sacrifices everything for the Kingdom of Heaven.

So what happens next? Does Richard Dreyfuss learn the wisdom of the ages, or does he get the anal probe?


Jan. 14th, 2006 12:09 pm
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Hoffman is the movie Peter Sellers wanted to wipe from the record. He even tried to buy the negative so he could burn it.

The character he plays is a creepy little perve. Boy blackmails girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back. I'm never sure whether films and plays about misogynists are necessarily misogynist in themselves, but I guess this one probably is. Sellers gets to say things like "Every pretty girl is like a flower garden with a compost heap at the bottom" and sing parlour ballads about wife murder.

Initially he wanted to play the character with an Austrian accent and lots of pratfalls. But the director challenged him to do it straight. So he did. The outcome is something very like a self portrait. The void shows through.

I've read the Life and I know what a swine he was, but Sellers is one of the very few actors I really love.
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The critics gave this one a hard time, but I thought I'd like it and I did.

It's not laugh-out-loud funny, but it keeps up a constant drizzle of tiny, small absurdities and sight gags. And of course it stars the great Bill Murray, who gets quieter and more mesmerisingly watchable with each succeeding film.

Wes Anderson (too many Andersons in Hollywood already!) is a great stylist. He creates zany, alternative universes, only a little off to the side of the one we all know and love. You could lose yourself in this one.

If Life Aquatic isn't eventually elevated to the status of cult classic I'll eat my patented Zissou diving helmet with special built in bunny aerial for the reception of music underwater.
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Wagon Master is the quintessence of John Ford. All his favourite things distilled into one short, almost plotless western. It's very beautiful. A Wordsworthian lyric about high rocks and fast rivers and simple human decency.


Dec. 6th, 2005 04:50 pm
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I watched part of the new German movie about the death of Hitler last night. It taught me that Hitler was a very bad man and more than a little bonkers in the nut. An hour and a half passed and he still hadn't chowed down on the cyanide capsule so I did some research and discovered there was another hour and a half to go. Good grief. I was feeling so tired it hurt (though this wasn't Hitler's fault) so I switched off and went to bed.

It's been said this film shows the Germans finally coming to terms with the Adolf Hitler experience. O, no it doesn't. What it does is load everything onto Hitler. He's this apelike loony, shambling around, twitching uncontrollably, throwing tantrums and tossing his sweaty locks, while all the other nazis- big or little- exchange embarrassed looks behind his back and react to events in ways that are variously courageous, noble, compassionate, sensible, stoical or- at worst- tragically misguided. Himmler is politically savvy, Goebbels is admirably loyal and as for Speer- well, Speer is a hero. So the moral of the story is we Germans are a thoroughly decent lot and the Third Reich was all down to one gibbering troll who somehow, unaccountably became our leader.

Please Miss, it wasn't me; it was him!

The Gift

Nov. 12th, 2005 11:31 am
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The Gift is the movie Sam Raimi made before he was handed the Spiderman franchise.

I like Raimi's style. His films have nice clean lines.

And I adore him for creating Xena.

And for the Evil Dead (especially part II)

The Gift is a whodunnit with added spooks. Ever since I started writing fiction myself, I find I watch this kind of thing with a technician's eye, analysing plot-lines, anticipating twists.  This ain't bad, but Agatha Christe would have done it better.

Cate Blanchett is wonderful. That goes without saying.

She's a psychic. She's tormented by her ironically named "gift". Beat-up, decomposing, drowned people turn up in her bathroom and she doesn't like it one little bit. Psychics in filmland are always tormented by their gift- as opposed to real life psychics (like Derek Acorah) who are sleek and flourishing.

Is Derek Acorah ever bothered by beat-up, decomposing, drowned people manifesting themselves in his bath-tub? I doubt it.

The beat-up, decomposing, drowned person is played by Katie Holmes- Tom Cruise's latest squeeze. I was wondering what she looked like.

(This paragraph has been suppressed out of respect for the Church of Scientology.)

Keanu Reeves plays racist, wife-beating, redneck scum. I applaud him for wanting to broaden his range. I don't understand the popular prejudice against Keanu. OK, his facial muscles don't work, but he fills the screen; What more do you want from a film star?

I guess the writers (one of whom is Billy Bob Thornton) had seen The Sixth Sense and thought, "We'll have a slice of that."

Formulaic.   I wasn't going to say it, but now I have and I'm not going to take it back.

I had fun. But not as much fun as I had with The Evil Dead. Those films are demented!

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Classical opera speaks a strange language.

If the soprano is doing lots of trill-embellished vocal gymnastics it doesn't mean she's a shallow drama-queen but that she's in the grip of some deep and disturbing emotion and I should be paying her close attention and not waiting for her to shut up so something more interesting can happen.

And if the baritone sings something simple and pretty, it doesn't mean that he's Mother Nature's Son; it means he's a heartless cheat.

Complexity = sincerity: simplicity = duplicity. It's a formulation that goes clean against my mid-20th century instincts.

We watched the Joe Losey film of Don Giovanni yesterday. This is Mozart made easy. If the piggy little romantic hero spends too long over his aria I can tune him out and enjoy the Palladian architecture instead.

This is Don Octavio I'm talking about. I don't know who the singer was, but he looked like Ernie Wise.

Otherwise the casting is splendid. Raimondo Ruggieri has eyes that shine in the dark. Kiri ti Kanawa is wonderfully demented as the madwoman in the attic.

My favourite character is the hermaphroditic page who acts as Don Giovanni's shadow. Yes, I know, s/he's not in the script. Dare I say that what I liked best about her/him is that s/he keeps her mouth shut?

Gorgeous music. Gorgeous and mostly over my head.

Like being confronted with a wall-full of hieroglyphics.


Oct. 21st, 2005 10:26 am
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Ingmar Bergman retired from film-making over twenty years ago.

Actually it was only ever a semi-retirement. He kept on writing screenplays and directing for television.

Now one of his TV projects has been given a cinema release. He says that Saraband will be his last film ever (yeah, but we've heard that one before.)

I was expecting something autumnal and valedictory. Bergman's Tempest. Not a bit of it. Saraband is as raw and horrid as anything he did back in the 60s.

Incest, love and hate, the old feeding off the young.

The critics are divided. A masterpiece or the mechanical reworking of old themes? I lean towards "masterpiece".

There are four actors. They're all good, but Borje Ahlstedt as the vampiric father is quite extraordinary.
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McCabe And Mrs Miller is a hippie western.

It is dedicated to the proposition that the world would be a happier place if we all lived in a big, jolly whorehouse run by Warren Beatty.

Unfortunately there are wicked men out there, who share Warren's love of money but not his principled devotion to whiskey and fine women, and they want to put him out of business.

Cue gunplay.

It would be a better movie if our hero didn't have such mean, calculating little eyes.


Oct. 3rd, 2005 10:21 am
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The epic is a Bronze Age art form. It comes out of a society where people were organised in small units- only one step on from tribes- and ruled by warrior elites.

The guys at the top of the heap were heroes. That's how they thought of themselves. And what they wanted to hear about were the exploits of other heroes (preferably ones they counted as ancestors.) Ordinary people barely exist in epic. They are ants, there to make up numbers, and to form a circle so the heroes can duel in the centre.

Carrying this art form over into the modern world is tricky. Society- or at least our view of society- is rather more complex. We don't have heroes the way they had heroes.

Which is why, I think, most epic movies are so unsatisfactory.

Hero (ha ha)- the Chinese epic that came out a couple of years ago- solves the problem by extreme stylisation. This isn't the real past, it's a mythical past. The film accepts the Bronze Age world view and puts it up there on screen without criticism or irony.

Lord of the Rings attempts something similar. If it's less successful it's because Peter Jackson isn't half so good a director as Yimou Zhang.

The average Hollywood epic goes for compromise. There's usually an attempt to insert a hero of Bronze Age forthrightness into a world that is conceived, in modern terms, as being at least moderately complex. In Gladiator, for example, our single-minded military hero chops his way through a corrupt and cruel world towards a confrontation in the arena with the Emperor himself- and I don't believe a frame of it. In societies as complex as Imperial Rome really was there are structures in place to contain and restrict heroism and make sure that pugs with a grudge don't ever get a shot at the main title.

The best epics are those in which the hero is properly integrated into his society. Hero achieves this by giving us a society of heroic simplicity. My pick as best Hollywood epic of all time- El Cid- does it by making the mismatch between the hero and his society the very pivot on which the drama turns. A man who truly believes in the Christian chivalric ideals comes up against a king who only pretends he does. Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar is a misfit, a magnificent lost cause, with a whiff (only a whiff) of quixotic absurdity about him. Heroism, instead of being a given, becomes the thing at issue. It is put on trial and tested and indulged when useful then sent on its way with a tear.


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