Category Archives: Film

David Fincher’s ‘The Social Network’

An entire 20 minutes is a long time to search for something on the internet.  Especially when one is so used to locating answers immediately.  If anyone else was agitated enough about the superb song choice (and cover) on The Social Network’s new trailer, I believe it is Scala’s version of Creep.  Stirring stuff.

Update:  I haven’t been able to stop listening to this track; and the more I listen to it, Fincher’s choice of song reveals deeper levels of meaning.

Surveillance studies holds the notion of a ‘function creep’.  This is when one presents personal information to a specific organisation for a specific purpose; saying whether you are a vegetarian to the airline company, for instance, so they can give you a meal to your tastes, or a DNA swab for the purposes of a criminal investigation.  These pieces of data can then be used by that company, or sold on to other companys, for alternative uses.  That an airline knows you are a vegetarian could result in Quorn emails littering one’s inbox, or, rather more extremely, the DNA sample could prevent one from purchasing cheaper life insurance – having revealed some genetic default that will make you an investment risk further on in life.  One’s personal details gather a ‘function creep’ in this way.

With so much information offered to Facebook in an almost dizzying struggle for an online presence, The Social Network trailer’s use of ‘Creep’ steeps its images in a paranoid gloss; the girls of Scala’s choir make the English words they whisper strange and unknowable, an off-screen presence that will forever be beyond one’s peripherals.  For privacy is no longer tangible in a world accelerated by technology and mediated by surveillance.

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The Ghost Writer (a review)

There seems to be a weighted significance in every shot of The Ghost, albeit a mundane significance in most; a glance at a page, a turn of a tap, the ex-Prime Minister resting his hands on a full-wall window.  There is not a wasted shot, but, then again, it could easily have shed many of them.  It’s a paradox vital to the decent mystery thriller.  One is uncertain of the unrest – the mysterious mood and the cause itself – so every element is granted a lingering suspicion.  Some objects fade in the narrative.  Others drop out to return at a pivotal plot reveal much later, almost cathartic in its recognition and the pursuing uttering of “Of course” to oneself in the theatre’s night.  There is a wonderment of companionship when the character on-screen realises something the very moment you do; mouth agape, important document dropped to floor, popcorn missing the mouth to collect in the lap’s rubbish tip.

It is a restrained film in its editing and pace.  And hardly any violence depicted at all.  Then why is there such foreboding?  Alexandre Desplat’s score (flickering between a Christmassy enchantment and booming threat) is too inconsistent and sometimes invasive to warrant for much.  The film’s stormy weather is effective, but often blows into cliché.  It lies in the traces of violence and perversity left in each scene.

Pulsing lights are frequent; warning lights on the back of a ship, outside an estate’s entrance gate, the beating illumination of a ringing mobile phone, the island’s lighthouse.  The set design is also important.  Adam Lang, the ex-Prime Minister, decorates his house with a series of nightmarish paintings.  Red is persistent, in an introspective Rothko way, and is scattered in violently in them.  As though the war crimes Lang is accused of took place in his very house, so complacent in his position, or maybe, so haunted by his decision, they are left there scarring the walls.

However, it is in the dialogue and actors where the tangible menace most evidently lies.  They issue their threats in the most disguised form – plain delivery!  When Ghost (Ewan McGregor’s ‘ghost writer’ is never given a name) boards Lang’s plane, he remarks that this is the first time he has flown on a private jet.  “Let’s hope it’s not your last”, replies Lang’s assistant, Amelia Bly.  Said in such a discarded, sarcastic way, as so often happens in reality, becomes a snarling threat – given emphasis by the suspicion and paranoia compounded beforehand.  As I noted before, the pace is restrained, but in the way a rabid dog is restrained; forcing its way closer and closer, bearing its teeth and tongue, back paws pushing the earth aside – but always inches away.  Teeth are bared in these dialogues, enough to remind you of what remains on that leash – and the inevitable knowledge that its handler will hold on for only so long.

For The Ghost is a very entertaining and engrossing thriller.  But this is also its main flaw.  In its conclusion (which is as redemptive as the final scene in Michael Clayton, oddly enough also starring Tom Wilkinson), it conforms and contorts into all the conventions typical of its genre.  The conspiracy theory is revealed.  Everything is once again black and white.

This is in opposition to the scenes before it, which pose some interesting questions – questions, might I add, which prompt a response from one, which makes one contemplate.  The thriller narrative, of course, doesn’t want to accommodate an ambiguous ending, where one would leave the cinema still contemplating, and instead neatly wraps things up.  One question posed, which I found the most intriguing and the film’s greatest moment, arose when Ghost confronted Lang about the conspiracy theory which lay beneath the accusations of war crime.  Lang, at its end, is invigorated with anger – not of an arch-villain, but of a real, regretful human being.

He shouts that if he could do it all again, he would make airports have two queues; one with no searches or regulations, with everyone’s liberty and freedom intact; the other controlled strongly, with checks and intelligence sourced from torturing terrorist suspects.  Which one then would parents send their children on? he venomously concludes.  That he says all this with such passion, yet aware of its own abhorrence, makes one realise that he is much like us.  He shares the same disgust of torture tactics, yet has clearly advocated its use.  But this has most probably made his country safer.  What, then, of us?  Of our complicity with this all?  The idea that the torture of few for the safety of many is a very uncomfortable truth, and it bursts from almost nowhere in a thriller film which has set Lang up to be a great evil.

Sometimes, when someone is placed in a position of extraordinary power, and makes decisions which impact the lives of many, it is very easy to consider them an embodiment of pure evil.  Sometimes they may be right.  But most of the time, I expect, and a case made in The Ghost Writer, they are hardly any different from us.  As uncomfortable as that may be.

The Blind Side (a review)

This film is poison.

And a poison in cinema is a very dangerous one at that.  Its malevolence comes from cinema’s ability to make you forget that you exist.  To completely immerse one in the fictional world it purports.  This is where the danger lies, because one is so invested, it is so easy to lose oneself – to become sucked in to a story and characters and beauty and flow, only to sacrifice all critical distance.  I was a victim to this myself in The Blind Side, leaving the theatre inspired and happy.  It took a good half hour and a viewing of Shutter Island to remind me how uncomfortable The Blind Side’s first half made me.

The Blind Side’s poison is an obsolete moral system.  I won’t delve into the more obvious corruptions The Blind Side possesses (that a good, Christian, white family can ‘adopt’ a black youth from the projects – as patronising and colonial as it sounds heart-warming and ridiculous).  The film’s more worrying aspect comes from its focus on Christian morality.

The film is set in Memphis, Tennessee, and firmly in the social sphere of white bourgeois Americans whose matriarchs spend their free time organising charity balls and fundraisers.  Yes, a good deed, but there’s something deeply repulsive and better-than-thou about that way of giving.

In The Blind Side, for instance, when a character performs a good deed, they are often commended by their supporting cast as ‘Good Christians’, as though ‘good’ is a quality that mere humans do not posses.  I always consider things in terms of being a ‘good human’, or more cliché, a ‘good member of society’.  Ironically, this, and the notion of a ‘Bad Christian’ fill up the film’s own blind side – present, yet ignored.

To complicate this, all characters who ‘adopt’ Michael Oher – be it the family, the football coach, the chosen University – benefit from it.  The Christian focus on charity has always been on the giver over the receiver, and this selfishness is displayed in full abhorrence here, but, in Blind Side style, is firmly ignored, suppressed and disguised as simply being a ‘Good Christian’.  Mrs. Tuohy gains a self-serving happiness from helping Michael; the coach gets a star football player; Mr. Tuohy pleases his wife by agreeing – there is no sacrifice here.  Oscar Wilde outlined such concerns…

‘Christ was not merely the supreme individualist, but he was the first individualist in history. People have tried to make him out an ordinary philanthropist, or ranked him as an altruist with the scientific and sentimental. But he was really neither one nor the other. Pity he has, of course, for the poor, for those who are shut up in prisons, for the lowly, for the wretched; but he has far more pity for the rich, for the hard hedonists, for those who waste their freedom in becoming slaves to things, for those who wear soft raiment and live in kings’ houses. Riches and pleasure seemed to him to be really greater tragedies than poverty or sorrow. And as for altruism, who knew better than he that it is vocation not volition that determines us, and that one cannot gather grapes of thorns or figs from thistles?’

But then if we are to think of the other characters, it is almost impossible to do so.  There is the father, the teacher, the coach, Big Mike, the little (annoying) brother – characters defined by their relationship to the story, not by character itself.  To simplify this further, the film only ever provides one motive per character.  There is no change or development and thus no satisfaction from the story.  Likewise – there are no obstacles.  Consequently, the film’s first half is almost without any pace or interest altogether.

For the poison works twofold.  We have a moral infliction on one hand, a lowering of cinematic standards on the other.  The Blind Side’s danger comes from convincing us that it has passion, originality and meaning – it has nothing of the sort!  We, as spectators, are beaten into an idiotic putty and sculpted as they please.

But like I mentioned at the beginning, I too was drawn in.  As soon as the film gathers a little tempo (through sports montage, a near impossible device to fail with), one starts to invest.  We cheer for Michael as we root for the family and their anti-racist stance (but, make no mistake, it is nothing but an expensive mask covering indifference).  Even S.J., the little brother, can somehow provoke a few chuckles.

However, this is The Blind Side’s great threat – that it can make one forget how awful and poisonous the film actually is.  Maybe the smoke and mirrors approach accounts for Bullock’s Oscar win; her face largely inexpressive, never fully conveying any significant emotion.

This film is a cancer.  It will infect both spectator and cinema itself.  It devalues the art.  Film is so much more than this, and as long as tripe like The Blind Side continues to be made, cinema will forever be shackled to its lowest points of mediocrity – Republican/Christian propaganda.

Shutter Island (a review)

A shock is an enjoyable sensation.  It’s an involuntary action, a muscle spasm from fright, and it comes not from your own mind or head, well at least not consciously, to catch one off guard.  It’s nice to know that one’s own body has the ability to surprise you every now and again.

The ‘shock’ from watching a film gains as much from the paroxysm as it does from the tease.  The aesthetics are now so common and recognisable that one will know when the shock is approaching.  We wait for the shock, and we love its build.  Its suspense.

Something lurks around the corner so violins begin to simmer, the camera barely goes faster than a creep.  We know what ti expect; a red herring, a false alarm; or a flailing knife or zombie or vampire or sociopath, an abrupt interruption of the suspense.  Like I said, it is a form of catharsis.  The shock relieves one from the suspense.  The shock is resolved and back to the narrative we go.

Shutter Island complicates this.  Yes it uses these same techniques and ends to build its suspense, and yes there are shocks and jumps; but they never seem to have a resolution.  Nightmare builds on nightmare whilst suspense spirals from their horrors.  The ‘shock’ is not an endpoint to our discomfort in Shutter Island, it is merely a reoccurring peak.  Instead of relieving us of suspense, Scorsese weaves it into the film’s very fabric, making it swirl here and break there, jaggedly spike up and then become so very faint, etching our response into a tormented Spirograph.

“Shutter Island starts working on us” wrote Roger Ebert in his review of the film “with the first musical notes under the Paramount logo’s mountain, even before the film starts.”  It’s an important element to point out.  Everything on-screen, and all that echoes from it, is constructed for disorientation.  Sounds don’t seem to match that which occurs.  Neither do the edits, it instead jumping from scene to scene with no indication other than setting.  Characters’ dialogue runs into and over the following scene, as it does too over some montage sections, giving the film a certain seamlessness to it, as though it’s all one subjective strain of thought – like the way one leaps from place to place within a dream, or from place to purgatory within a nightmare.

And this is applied to the film’s supposed reality sections.  The dream sequences themselves could have been lifted straight out of those in Max Payne, as though there’s an emptiness to everything, that scenery changes when you walk further down this corridor of horrors.  And the snow falls.  Or is it snow?  They’re embers from the house fire your wife died in.  Or did she?

If this was carried out by a lesser director, the film would have collapsed in upon itself.  Yet with Scorsese’s experience, both aesthetic and narrative means to create doubt, mystery and suspicion are perfectly balanced and entwined.  Likewise for the film’s twist.  So many others have fallen to unneeded explanations in these instances, but Scorsese neither patronises or confuses his spectator.  The twist will undoubtedly anger some – not in controversy, but more in a short-changed way.  For those I recommend a second viewing.  There is a lot more at work in this film to be taken in at first watch.  And one must trust in Scorsese!

Additionally, the film’s final line still troubles me – as it did when it was first uttered, as it did on my half hour walk home.  Much like the film, it is a cryptic poem.  I won’t reproduce the words here as I believe that would lessen their first impact, but it’s those sorts of lines that give the narrative life outside of a 132 minute running time.

Shutter Island is a nightmare of a film, but in no way is that a bad thing.

David Arquette Vs Chris Jericho

I know that American in-house television audiences being moronic is common knowledge, with their screaming and clapping and HA HA OVERTHETOP GENUINE ROFL LAUGHING, but, not having watched one of these shows in a while, I was taken back by how annoying it all is.  It sounded as though audio from a roller coaster ride was being played in a pop-up internet window lurking somewhere behind my current one.

Thankfully, the clip I was watching was from a chat show interview with David Arquette, who I like even at the worst of times, and a surprise interruption by professional wrestler Chris Jericho.  And then, in a way that only bored and stoned script writers could hallucinate up – in one of those rare moments of clarity which beg to be asked “Why the fuck hasn’t anyone done this before?” – Jericho challenges Arquette to a wrestling match for the now defunct WCW World Heavyweight Title, Arquette changes into an acid fusion of Randy Savage and drunk Scott Hall, for them to finally settle their dispute in a karaoke rendition of “Total Eclipse of the Heart”.

Arquette sings with a perfect mix of out-of-tune voice and slightly-too-late lyrics, allowing even the prim to reminisce over all the best drunken nights you’ve ever had.  And Jericho, well, Jericho is the best in the world at whatever he does.

Watch here now.

Independent Spirit Award Trailer (late)

This was from a while ago (about a month, the awards have already been given out and Precious gained the most) but I just stumbled across this trailer for the Independent Spirit Awards.

Funny or Die really is something else.  However, I resent it heavily because I can’t figure out how to properly embed their videos.  In the meantime though, here be a link…

Independent Spirit Awards Trailer

Film Poster Art REVOLUTION

Reading Sight and Sound this morning I came across an article on Polish Film Posters.  I’d been introduced to this a few months earlier at the monthly BFI film quiz in a fatal picture round.  The concept is that all imported films have their posters designed by national artists.  Free from commercial restraints, the designers can indulge in thematic abstraction, or even childlike simplicity.  A few exhibitions run by Cinephilia have run over the last couple of months.

Then – reading The Independent this afternoon – I came across a like-minded article on the recent surge in graphic designers uploading their own interpretations of classic films (in poster forms) to the internet, to boost their own portfolios.  They hark back to Bob Peak or channel Saul Bass and almost give the films they promote a moment of freshness, as if they are to be released this very weekend and the entire world would experience them anew.

It’s such a progressive and productive notion, and one that surely can’t be too harming to the film industry, to give movie posters the space and liberty to transcend into something more artistic – of a much higher caliber than the increasingly similar output mainstream currently provides.  As Tim Walker noted, “Modern movie posters tend to follow a fairly banal formula…red and white for rom-coms, or cool blue juxtaposed with explosive orange for action blockbusters”.

Here’s a few examples of what could potentially decorate our billboards, provoking awe and thought, rather than our actor-filled, tag-line centered tosh…

Albert Exergian

Tavis Coburn

and my personal fav, Ibraheem Youssef