Kill List (UK 2011)

Realist genre?

I commented that Dead Man’s Shoes (UK 2004) unsuccessfully tried to meld realism and genre; Kill List tries to do the same and similarly comes unstuck. Writer-director Ben Wheatley’s film was critically praised so maybe I don’t get it  but I was desperate for it to end. Maybe – see Avengers post below – ennui has got a grip and I need to start doing something other than watching movies.

What I did like was the sound design that used bridges quite daringly, so the sound from the next scene started well before the cut. Performances were good and the low budget was spread very well in its use of Sheffield-area locations. The first 30 minutes, the domestic strife of the protagonist, is well set  up but when the film enters genre territory – he’s a hitman – it loses the plot (or me at least). We enter Saw territory with the extreme violence and I’m too old (bored) for that but, worse, when we reach the full-blown horror of… (spoiler alert!)…

Wicker Man territory I really could have cared less. Recent Hollywood horror has made the mistake of having unattractive teens as the protagonists so rather than worrying if they’re going to be ‘bumped off’ we’re actually cheering it (come to think of it, is that a subversion of the genre…?). And I really didn’t care what happened to this lot; even the cute kid.

What’s more, if you start in a realist vein then the horror elements should be rooted in reality. At least in Wicker Man the setting of an isolated Scottish island was sufficient to convince that the locals were doo-lally. But, in Sheffield? The Sight & Sound reviewer suggests that this might be a manifestation of post-traumatic stress syndrome, as the protagonist is a vet. It might have been but I didn’t see any clues.

Maybe genre shouldn’t be mixed with realism. Maybe we are at the end of genre; all the variants have been done and there’s nothing else to say… Maybe it’s the end of cinema!!! No, that’s definitely ennui.

Avengers Assemble (US, 2012)

The $1bn question?

What’s the point? $1bn and counting… I hereby declare I am too old to review ‘popcorn’ movies as I’ve seen too many of them. That’s not to say this is a bad movie, just when you get north of 50 there are many better ways of spending three hours of your life.

Homeland (US, 2011)

American TV dealing with the Other!

Although Homeland included some longueurs in its 12 parts, they were more than justified by the gripping feature-length final episode. But what was particularly extraordinary about the programme, co-produced by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation’s Fox 21, is that it actually dramatised why someone might become a terrorist. Whether the character of the conflict-full antagonist, Brody, was too politically sensitive for an American actor or not I don’t know, but Brit Damien Lewis was particularly brilliant. The British, it seems, do good villains!

Also innovative was the bipolar disposition of the the protagonist played superbly by Clare Danes. Not only female but also mentally ill leaving us with a delicious denouement in penultimate episode where the only person who knew what was going on was thought to be ‘mad’. Coincidentally another female lead, Saga Noren in The Bridge (Bron/Broen, Sweden-Denmark, 2011), is clearly autistic. It’s good to see drama ‘interrogating’ unusual mental ‘conditions which, hopefully, will allow people to understand them more.

It’s striking that one of the largest media corporations in the world is backing a slightly subversive drama. In creating a convincing characterisation, where a marine can be portrayed sympathetically as a converted Muslim, Homeland is offering an unusual representation of American’s great Other, Al Qaeda. However, this is diluted somewhat in focusing upon a particularly bad ‘apple’, in the form of the Vice President. America itself isn’t quite in the sights of the programme. That would be asking too much, even of a programme on the cable station Showtime.

Incidentally, it seems that gratuitous nudity was built into the script as a way of distinguishing cable content from network TV. I think it was in the second episode that, after an ad break, we went straight into a nude scene that was entirely unnecessary; I thought I’d accidentally switched channels (though to what station I do not know).



Le Havre (Finland-Fr-Ger-Nor, 2011)

Past and present intermingle

The best way of understanding (sort of) writer-producer-director Aki Kaurismaki’s universe might be through the answer he gave to a question, in May’s Sight & Sound, about whether he was his dogs’ agent:

‘No, my wife is. So it’s tough negotiation. When I start to write the screenplay, always on the third day my wife comes and says: “Is there any part for a dog?” She’s a good manager. And the dogs always remember their dialogue. The actors always don’t. I mean, the other actors.’

So far so batty. Kaurismaki’s universe is similarly surreal. In Le Havre the iconography of the ‘fifties (clothing, cars and interiors) is mixed with a modern tale of (illegal) migration. Kaurismaki’s melodrama focuses upon the solidarity of the working classes (also from a bygone age?) in the face of repression. The interiors of his  mise en scene emphasise turquoise, for reasons that escape me, but doesn’t half look good. It’s also good to see old, really old not just what’s old to young people, characters as protagonists. Little Bob and his band, performing in a charity concert to raise money for the protagonist, cuts a mean impression of Springsteen too.

The narrative focuses upon the attempts of a shoeshine, whose wife’s in hospital, to help a young African lad get to London to be reunited with his mother. He’s shadowed by a police inspector, tailored all in black, and helped, of course, by Laika; the all-important dog.