Talking Movies

February 28, 2013

Stoker

Oldboy director Park Chan-wook makes his American debut with a suitably twisted  tale of an alienated teenage girl’s growing suspicion of the motives of her  newly discovered relative, Uncle Charlie.

Stoker-2013-poster-1

India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) is a bright but withdrawn teenager whose  beloved father (Dermot Mulroney) dies on her 18th birthday. However,  his death is immediately followed by the arrival of his brother Charlie (Matthew  Goode); whose existence comes as a complete surprise to India. Her mother Evelyn  (Nicole Kidman) explains that Charlie has spent the past 20 years travelling the  globe on geological surveys and was estranged from his brother Richard. Charlie  decides to stay on at the Stoker Mansion and while Evelyn throws herself at him,  India maintains an aloof distance. But the mysterious disappearance of their  housekeeper Mrs McGarrick (Phyllis Somerville) followed by a visit from her  grand-aunt Gwendolyn (Jacki Weaver), who warns India to be wary of Charlie,  arouses her suspicions about Charlie’s shadowy past. She soon has concerns about  his present intentions as they start bonding…

Stoker looks and sounds amazing. The  colours are rich, and Park does amazing things with ambient sound; consistently  pushed to the foreground to incredibly unsettling effect giving the film a  sustained intensity of unease. One stunning moment in which the camera circles a  character, following a belt being deafeningly pulled off, creates an effect akin  to hearing the tell-tale warning before a rattlesnake strike. Park doesn’t hold  back on the Hitchcockian flourishes; the camera swoops away and pushes in  dramatically, observes characters eavesdropping, generates suspense from the  mere framing of innocuous dialogue scenes, and even features a memorably  diabolic shower scene. Park teases the audience magnificently, holding on back  on information at key points, and then complicating our interpretation of  certain images with additional back-story. Even performing a simple piano duet  written by Philip Glass becomes a deliriously transgressive experience.

But there’s a flipside… Wentworth Miller’s original screenplay lifts a  number of elements from Hitchcock’s 1943 classic Shadow of a Doubt, but doesn’t pilfer such  crucial traits as a sympathetic protagonist, likeable antagonist, believable  characters, or sustained ambiguity. I’m not sure a film set in Connecticut can  really claim to be part of the Southern Gothic literary tradition as it’s been  positioned, and in any case this is more Shadow  of a Doubt by way of Dexter than  Flannery O’Connor. And this isn’t just me seeing Dexter everywhere; as probably the most  original show of the last decade it’s unsurprising that ideas from it are  percolating. But Dexter DNA doesn’t  include ciphers masquerading as people. Goode’s unblinking Charlie is positively  reptilian, Wasikowska’s India is totally deadened, and Kidman’s Evelyn a mere  melodramatic type. The result is an anti-Hitchcockian emotional detachment.

Miller’s script rocked the Black List in 2010 but it’s the weakest link in  Park’s accomplished film, which lacks his Korean movies’ visceral punch.

3/5

March 15, 2010

Oscar Schmoscar

There’s been an odd prevalence of live blogs surrounding this year’s “goddamn meat-parade” – as George C Scott so memorably described the Oscars. This blog did not do a live commentary on the Oscars for three reasons. Firstly, I rather like sleeping at night and think that many other people share this strange attitude. Secondly, I don’t believe that even Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie writing together could possibly write anything funny or insightful enough LIVE! to justify a live blog. Thirdly, the Oscars are (whisper it) (no in fact bellow it!) POINTLESS!

There are 5,777 voting members of the Academy. These individuals do not have a better idea of what makes a great film than any other 5,777 random individuals around the world. There was a reason that JFK told Ben Bradlee what he’d learned from the Bay of Pigs was this – “Don’t assume that because a man is in the army that he necessarily knows best about military strategy”. If you doubt that consider these three facts.

The Academy in its wisdom thought that Alfred Hitchcock, director of The 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes, Rebecca, Foreign Correspondent, Shadow of a Doubt, Rope, Strangers On a Train, Rear Window, Dial M for Murder, To Catch a Thief, Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho and The Birds, was not truly exceptional enough in his field to win a Best Director Oscar.

The Academy in its wisdom thought that Ron Howard, director of The Da Vinci Code, was.

The Academy nominated both Apocalypse Now and Kramer Vs Kramer for Best Picture of 1979 and thought that the film which would have most impact on popular culture, which pushed the boundaries of film-making, and which would endure and be fondly remembered was…Kramer Vs Kramer. I love the smell of dumbness in the Kodak.

According to the Academy the best 10 films of the Zeros were Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind, Chicago, The Return of the King, Million Dollar Baby, Crash, The Departed, No Country for Old Men, Slumdog Millionaire, and The Hurt Locker.

Not Memento, Moulin Rouge!, The Two Towers, Master & Commander, The Bourne Supremacy, Good Night and Good Luck, Casino Royale, Atonement, The Dark Knight and The Private Lives of Pippa Lee.

Or Amores Perros, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Rules of Attraction, X-2, Mean Girls, Brick, The Prestige, Zodiac, Hunger and Up in the Air.

We don’t need the Academy to tell us that Christoph Waltz gave a great performance in Inglourious Basterds. We don’t need the Academy’s nominations to help us tell the difference between a good blockbuster with commercial clichés and a bad Oscar-baiter with its own set of equally rigid (but more idiotic because they’re ‘edgy’) clichés (Little Miss Sunshine, I’m looking at you). Maggie Mayhem tells Bliss in Whip It “Be your own hero”. Follow her advice, trust your own instincts…

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