Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Week in Review - 27/12/09

  • The Lovely Bones (Peter Jackson, USA/UK/New Zealand, 2009)
  • Sherlock Holmes (Guy Ritchie, UK/Australia/USA, 2009)

  • Network (Sidney Lumet, USA, 1976)
  • L'argent (Robert Bresson, France/Switzerland, 1983)
  • Breaker Morant (Bruce Beresford, Australia, 1979)
The Lovely Bones
I found this film OK, if not a little disappointing. With Wahlberg in it, it could almost be The Happening in terms of look and feel. I actually didn't mind Wahlberg in The Happening but his acting seems a bit weak here. Weisz and Sarandon don't really do much so it's left to the young actress Saiorse Ronan and Stanley Tucci, who seems to be channeling Bruce Willis (esp. á la The Jackal). Actually Tucci's is the surprise performance in the film and is very creepy.

I do like the metaphysical element and the way it's enmeshed with a slight horror element (much more maturely than most contemporary horror) and yet somehow the film doesn't seem to have the impact that it could. Perhaps it's because the film aims a little low, trying to please the masses with an otherwise difficult subject. It's actually quite conventional with some pretty blatant contrivances.

Heavenly Creatures remains my favourite Jackson film, and there's one scene that makes a nod to a particular scene in that film. The Lovely Bones is worth seeing as part of Jackson's work, but don't expect anything major.

Sherlock Holmes
I had no intention of seeing this film, but taking the kid for a bike ride and ending up at the local cinema, it was either Sherlock Holmes or a two-hour wait. The kid was about as impressed as I was - not very much. I think the film suffers from two major things: firstly there's Ritchie's kinetic style. Some love it, I don't. It appears sporadically, enough to remind you it's a Ritchie film, but not enough to spoil it completely if you're tired of his devices.

Secondly, the film tries to be too many things without focusing on what Sherlock Holmes was always about. It's got a bit of Harry Potter, a bit of Batman and Robin, Starsky and Hutch and so on. In the end, it's just another generic action film with little to distinguish it from all the other bland action films and certainly little that defines it as Sherlock Holmes.

People have raved about the production design. I'd say it's just OK, nothing special you haven't seen before. Mostly, it disguises its flaws by keeping it dark and grimy. A bit more colour would have been nice. And what's become of Robert Downey Jr, that he has to stoop to such bland roles? He may be a good actor, but here he's just playing a generic Robert Downey Jr character, the same as all the other bland comic ones. If you're a fan of his, I suppose you'd swoon to see more of the same, but for me it's all a bit tired and formulaic. Jude Law would have made a better Holmes, rather than the smart-arse Dr. Watson sidekick he plays.

Ultimately, I found the film quite laboured and it was a struggle to stay awake. I nodded off at least four times - and this is an action film! The action is itself completely run-of-the-mill, the humour is bland and the characterisations are bland. Lord Blackwood seems to be modelled on Valdemort, and the the twists surrounding him are predictable. What should distinguish the film from a zillion others like it, is the Holmes character and methodology, which has been mutilated beyond recognition and we're left with mediocrity. I can't recommend this to anyone.

I'd seen clips of Network over the years, it always looked good, and of course it is. I love satire, and this is so understated on one level (ie, the humour) and overstated on another. The anger is what fuels the narrative, whether it's Howard Beale, Maureen Dowd (the female, black communist - what a joke), the Ecumenical Liberation Army or Faye Dunaway's over-the-top television producer character.

Everyone's "mad as hell". You've got the network owner in his mad rant who is actually telling it as it is. Democracy and countries are an illusion. The Russians weren't sitting around a table discussing Marx - they were plotting business the same as the Chinese and the Americans.

Actually, there is so much insight in this film with its analysis of society, politics, money and yes, television networks, that I find it amazing that all this can make it into a mainstream film. I suppose like Lumet's Dog Day Afternoon, it shows how backward we've become (in terms of what can get made in the mainstream). The film pre-empts reality television by two decades, perhaps like the books 1984 and Brave New World, extrapolating into the future and actually being spot on. Where the networks were going all those decades ago was despicable, and yet we have descended much lower into the bowels of television hell. Man, if only we could make raw films for the mainstream like this today.

I've only seen a couple of Bresson's films, and they're decades apart. Wow, what an aesthetic! It'd be very hard to get away with this today. There is so little embellishment with fixed cameras and sparse dialogue, and the acting is so raw - at times quite clunky. I had no idea where this film was going, so when it went to where it did, it was a bit of a shock. It seems to have a social message, a critique of the social system and how an innocent person wronged can have disastrous effects. But it's also a meditation on money and its corrupting influence. The camera certainly dwells on the physical transactions of money.

I imagine Bresson is not everyone's cup of tea, but this affected me considerably. I've been discussing Cassavetes recently, and while the two directors' styles are very different, both have some commonality with their raw aesthetics. Cassavetes' films are usually quite volatile and emotional, Bresson the opposite. There is an emotional detachment, underscored by the frequent shots of people's legs as they walk past, devoid of dialogue. I feel I need to work through more of Bresson's work - L'argent was his final film.

Breaker Morant
Yes, it must be Xmas time, because I've watched 3 DVDs so far this week, about as many as I've watched in some years. Anyway, it's a good opportunity to whittle down the number of unseen DVDs in my collection, and I must be one of the last people to see this one. And wow, what a film, for it's day and even for today. A veritable who's who of the Australian film industry, it showcases many who have probably never done finer work since (Bryan Brown anyone? Or even Bud Tingwell perhaps).

This is, of course, an impressive local film and I remember when I was in the US in the 80s, whenever anyone found out I was Australian, they would always say "Oh, I loved Breaker Morant" (and Crocodile Dundee, but we won't go there). It really has a mature aesthetic, not unlike European art cinema, with a strong Australian flavour. I don't know how historically accurate it is, but it really has a lot to say about politics and political expediency, even in the context of current events such as the war in Iraq. It seems this guy Morant and Hancock got badly done by, even if they were scumbags. They were poorly done by by both their superiors and the British and Australian governments.


Gerard said...

I'm in the same boat on The Lovely Bones. I don't think it's deserving of the outright scorn it's copping in some quarters, but there's no escaping that a big opportunity has been missed. Heavenly Creatures is my favourite Jackson film, too, and while I'd never hope for him to repeat himself, everything which made that equally difficult concept work feels strangely absent here. Did like Tucci very much myself.

I saw Sherlock Holmes this morning, and had some fun with it, but that's largely down to Downey. If I'm honest, while I was pleasantly surprised to find myself enjoyed it for the most, it did leave me wishing I'd just stayed in and rewatched Sleepy Hollow again instead.

Paul Martin said...

Thanks for the comments, Gerard. The more I think about Sherlock Holmes, the more I hate it.

Jurguens said...

I haven't seen The Lovely Bones yet, but in my mind the old Peter Jackson died with The Lord of the Rings. There's a new Peter Jackson that makes mainstream films, and he's okay, but I miss the old man. Heavenly Creatures is an incredible movie in every way - I can't fault it. And his other early films including The Frighteners were so much fun that I forgive their flaws and keep laughing.

Network is a true masterpiece. A hilarious over the top satire with deep political and social commentary. And you're right, I don't see films like this being made nowadays.

Paul Martin said...

Jurguens, Heavenly Creatures is probably my favourite film from New Zealand and I agree with your comments about it. I haven't seen Jackson's early horror films but would like to catch them some time out of interest.

The Lord of the Rings are OK for me but nothing special (I got bored by all the CGI battles) and King Kong is visually spectacular but ultimately self-indulgent (too long mostly). Heavenly Creatures doesn't pull any punches, does it?

Jurguens said...

Heavenly Creatures is one of my favourite movies ever. Enough said.

I'm a crazy Tolkien fan. Notice that I say Tolkien fan, not The Lord of the Rings. I enjoyed Peter Jackson's movies despite their shortcomings, and their, sometimes, outright betrayal of the essence of the book, its characters, and Tolkien. I guess he said from the start that he was going to make his version of the story, and he did. Sometimes he made me cry out of emotion, sometimes of anger. But mostly, I thank him for making three movies out of something that I previously thought was impossible to make into a film.

King Kong was long and self indulgent, it was also pretty silly in some parts. But surprisingly... for some reason or other that I still don't understand I enjoyed it. I don't know how or why, but for me it worked.

I highly recommend his old movies but especially: Meet the Feebles (really sick and crazy humorous take on Sesame Street), Braindead (the funniest goriest movie ever made), and Forgotten Silver (a great mockumentary about the most important and historic forgotten filmmaker who surprisingly was a new zealander).

Paul Martin said...

That's high praise for Heavenly Creatures, indeed, Jurguens. I can understand that.

I've not read Tolkien's other books, though my son was asking me what we'll read together after we finish another fantasy series we're working through (Alison Croggon's Books of Pellinor). Maybe we'll give them a go.

My favourite of Jackson's renditions of LOTR was the first one, and the pinnacle was the rendition of the black riders, who appeared just as I imagined them. It kind of took my breath away. I always preferred The Hobbit to The Lord of the Rings, because of its focus on small, personal details. The strength of the trilogy is when it is similarly focused on the personal and becomes less interesting as an epic battle story. This is more so with the film, and for that reason, the final of Jackson's trilogy was the least interesting for me. I don't have a problem with Jackson making his version. That's what adapatations are all about.

There's no doubt that King Kong works well and it's an amazing spectacle. It's biggest indulgence is its length, around double of the original. Not so long after seeing it, the original screened late one night on ABC and I was impressed at how well it stands up over time (especially considering it's 77 years old), and I actually prefer it.