Blue Eyelids (Párpados azules, Mexico, 2007)

Trying to connect

Trying to connect

It’s good to see films about the marginalised in cinema. In this case the characters are, I suspect, hardly at the margins in society though they are in cinema: the lonely. If lonely people are to be portrayed then we should be able to sympathise with them, however the protagonists of this film are so vacuous that it’s no wonder they have no close relationships. So empty, in fact, that they take their cue from a film, the titular Blue Eyelids, on what to say and what music to listen to. They don’t even talk about the weather and there is a lot of rain.

Then there’s the old woman, a sort of fairy godmother, who dispatches birds to keep the lovebirds together. If that sounds magical you would be mistaken as it comes across as absurd. I may be missing something: is it an anti-romance, creating expectations before emptying them out of the film? Certainly the scene with Marina’s sister appeared to come from a telenuevola, and the meeting of the protagonists is as inevitable as a film ending (this one didn’t end quickly enough), but there was no satisfaction when the characters did get together: was that the point? It included a brilliant ‘excruciatingly bad sex’ scene but that was the ‘high’ point.

Maybe the mangled genre conventions and clunking narrative would not have mattered if it’d been directed with any competence. During Marina’s and Victor’s first meal together, in a restaurant, the camera dollies back as if leaving them; then dollies back for the non-conversation, that the characters habitually have, to continue. At a bar, the dancing is shown by two right-to-left pans and a right-to-left tracking shot, interspersed by ‘mangled’ montage (by that I mean the shots appeared random in seeming to isolate people, who would be significant later in the scene, but who in fact weren’t). A scene in a park is interspersed by ‘establishing’ shots outside the park; extreme close ups, with shallow depth of fields, were the norm but I don’t know why.

This was bad narratively and stylistically or was I missing something? Comments below.

PS Roy Stafford found more to like than me.

Gone Baby Gone (US, 2007)

Are the lumpen proletariat beyond redemption?

Are the lumpen proletariat beyond redemption?

When will Casey Affleck stop mumbling? He mumbled his way through Jesse James and he mumbles his way through this convoluted thriller. The plot’s noirish enough without having to hang on his every mangled word. This delivery worked in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) because it suited the character; he was not revealling everything about himself, here it works against the moral clarity his character is meant to embody.

This being a noir narrative, but not in visual style, we can expect to step into a place where morality, if it exists, is not as ‘we’ know it.  Gone Baby Gone guides us through a poor area of Boston, Mass. and, for the most part is engaging enough however it has a terrific final 30 minutes. However, I wonder if the narrative is mangled a little too much to manipulate audience’s viewpoint. For example, the protagonist has two voice overs, at the start and in the central section, placing him as our guide to the seedy side of Boston. However, crucially, at the climax (I’m not going to spoil) we get information that the portagonist, Patrick Kenzie, is not party to which, minutes later, is then reiterated in flashback just to make sure we’ve got it. It’s a narrative cheat that spoils the tour de force ending only a little.

The underworld Kenzie guides us through is the ‘no hope’ poor or, what Orwell prize blog winner NightJack calls, the ‘evil poor’. The suggestion is these are people for whom nothing can be done; so nothing should be tried. This is politically contentious, to say the least: ‘hey why waste money on benefits for these people who are no good anyway?’ As is always the case, the problem is the burden of representation that rests on films that bother to include the underclass; as they are so rarely represented then when they are shown the representation becomes representative.

In this film the ‘evil’ mother creates an exquisite moral dilemma for Kenzie so, dramatically, it’s terrific; but leaves an uncertain taste.

Little Children (US, 2006)

The 'frump's' cleavage

The 'frump's' cleavage

I really enjoyed this edgy melodrama, paedophile lurking in the shadows of his mother’s house, though it is a bit too knowing about it’s own cleverness. Flaubert’s Madame Bovary is heavily cited in this tale of middle class adultery and though Kate Winslet is excellent as the frumpy housewife, her casting does undermine the narrative. Pretty boy, played with excellent vacuity by Patrick Wilson, is meant to fall for ‘plain Jane’ but Winslet doesn’t have a frumpy body. Once Winslet said ‘yes’ no doubt the financial backers followed suit but it does create a dramatic problem.

Also knowing is the novelistic voice over, it is based on Tom Perotta’s novel, that gives an ironic distrance to the action that suggests we are superior to the characters whereas it’s highly likely we are the same as them; the sick paedophile aside. The wry commentary is funny but it’s at the expense of the film which is meant to be about the immaturity of the cossetted, but desperate, housewives and husband portrayed. It’s an example of a ‘smart movie’ that flatters i’s audience with an edgy narrative but allows them to wallow at a superior distance.

The paedophile, played with sick intensity by Jackie Earle Haley, is more than a monster as he’s also shown to be human. And the narrative arcs coelesce in a satisfying climax.

Star Trek (US, 2009)

Those that boldly went before

Those that boldly went before...

those who are boldly going now (before)

those who are boldly going now (before)

The new Star Trek has been, like Casino Royale, described as a reboot. Both were long running series that had grounded; the makeover for Bond was based on ‘going gritty and serious’ to distinguish it from Brosnan’s parody (though Connery had parodied too). Star Trek, however, had always taken itself seriously so that option wasn’t open. Producer director JJ Abrams has found a brilliant solution for this prequel: keep it serious and offer plenty of laughs but not at its own expense.

It is a ‘family film’ as it offers pleasures for all generations; for the old gits (like me) there’s remembering the original 1960s series – of which this is a prequel – and for the generation even younger that the original ‘Next Generation’ sequel, there’s plenty of satisfying action and special effects. The only thing that jars is that the Enterprise is more modern looking than the one it became in the 1960s; but then the narrative is based on a time paradox.

The writers, and actors, have convincingly given us the younger versions of the ’60s characters; only Simon Pegg’s Scotty doesn’t fit. Zachary Quinto is uncannily like Spock and Karl Urban’s ‘Bones’ captures DeForrest Kelley’s intonation very well. The set design, of the comos, is terrific; check out the end credit images and, as a summer (‘what summer?’) rollercoaster ride this will be difficult to beat.

Mad Detective (Sun taam, Hong Kong, 2007)

Am I shooting the right one?

Am I shooting the right one?

This has an interesting premise: it reverses the idea that cops who get too close to the psyche of criminals become disturbed by having the protagonist being mad in the first place. He can solve cases of ‘a body in a suitcase’ by being put in such a case and thrown down the stairs. So far so bizarre. He can also see others’ inner personalities so the antagonist is seen as being seven different people; resulting in a hilarious scene where our hero is beaten up by seven others.

However, the film certainly soon loses the plot and is tinged by racism – the ‘Indian’ references (South East Asians are the bottom of the racial heap in Hong Kong). It seems as if the producers couldn’t decide whether to be comedic, the laughs soon recede, or emphasise the pathos, our hero pines for the wife who’s left him; he literally sees his missing wife. The notion of divided personalities, and being haunted by ones we love, should have been really interesting. But, overall, the film throws its key merits away into incoherency. The ‘hall of mirrors’ finale, nodding to Welles’ Lady from Shanghai (1948), might have been a brilliant hommage, but by then I didn’t care.

Honeydripper (US, 2007)

The origins of rock 'n' roll

The origins of rock 'n' roll

John Sayles is a terrific independent filmmaker; by that I mean he’s a terrific filmmaker who works independently of the major studios, so his films are always worth watching, as is Honeydripper, though I wish it hadn’t been so predictable. Of course most movies are predictable but this too readily signposts where it’s going.

It concerns traditional bar owner, played very hangdog by Danny Glover, who’s going out of business because his competition has a jukebox. The film concerns his last ditch attempt to survive through the booking of Guitar Sam who, however, is hospitalised but a youngster’s… I’ll stop but it’s a film that’s almost impossible to ‘spoil’ with plot details.

The music’s great; the cinematography’s great – breathtaking beauty at the train station; the ending’s… I was a bit puzzled by Stacey Keach’s redneck sheriff (you know what he’s going to do) but there’s a threatening sexual undertone to what he says, about Glover’s wife’s cooking, that seems out of kilter with the rest of the film; maybe it’s just me.

Ghost Town (US, 2008)

'Oh no, I can see dead people'

'Oh no, I can see dead people'

I’m not sure when the current cycle of romantic comedies, a staple of Hollywood, began (late ’80s with When Harry Met Sally, 1989?) but I wish it would end. However, if it has to continue let it be in the vein of Ghost Town. Ricky Gervais’ comic genius gives the usual slush an edge; he isn’t credited as a writer but many of the lines are obviously ‘him’.

This was the first film I’ve seen using Virgin’s (a cable company) ‘movie on demand’ service in high definition. Three times the picture and sound broke down into a distorted mess, presumably caused by buffering problems. At £5 a watch I expect better! The picture quality, when it worked, was terrific; though this is hardly a film that needs HD, the autumn colours of Manhattan were gorgeous.