Monday, May 25, 2009
Thursday, May 21, 2009
2012 update: David Bordwell has a terrific analysis of the film, suggesting that Hitchcock employed creative and unusual solutions to the various problems presented by stage adaptation -- something of a counter-argument to those, including Hitchcock, who dismiss the film as a minor work.
Monday, May 18, 2009
Note: This film is part of the Watching Movies in Africa project. War Arrow played at the Corona, Royal and Regal theatres in Lagos in September 1956 (Lagos had roughly a dozen theatres at the time). I haven't been able to trace whether War Arrow was released in East or Southern Africa, but numerous films featuring similar themes - white/"native" warfare, "native" insubordination, guerrilla-style attacks, scenes placing white characters in peril - were banned in settler colonies such as Kenya, particularly at the height of the Mau Mau insurgency in the mid-1950s. Among the many titles banned in Kenya around that time was Budd Boetticher's Seminole, which would have recounted some of the same historical issues. Such films were generally passed without incident in West African countries, which had much smaller colonial populations: in the same month that War Arrow played in Lagos, four movies that had been banned in Kenya appeared on the Nigerian city's screens.
There's an excellent account of the film, with much of the Hollywood context, on the French website Dvdclassik.com.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
2008, Sweden, directed by Tomas Alfredson (original title: Låt den rätte komma in)
A remarkably wintry bit of work, Tomas Alfredson's film re-imagines the mythology of vampirism and anchors within a recognisable reality, finding a deep streak of tragedy within the more familiar horror tropes. The film works against the prevailing tendency to glamorise vampires - Twilight, Moonlight, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, True Blood - with the act of feeding depicted in brutal, messy, morally compromised terms, and these predators depicted as outsiders driven by their own desperate compulsions. What's most discomfiting about this is the idea that the vampire as a stand-in for the pedophile or even the killer - a threatening presence who is nonetheless strikingly similar to the rest of us, even if animated by very different drives.
Alfredson frames the vampire encounters within a coming-of-age tale, with a quiet boy turning to his odd young neighbour as he tries to escape from a routine regulated by constant bullying. There's no hint of romanticization, however: the young boy's vulnerability is his Achilles' heel in all of his encounters, and the solution to his bullying problems will lead him into more treacherous territory. The film has a circularity from which the deeper sense of tragedy emerges: boys become men, and men inevitably make choices and compromises they could never have conceived of as boys.
Alfredson is in absolute control of his material, slowly revealing information while building up his complex characters, and contrasting scenes of quiet winter sunlight with moments of startling violence: there are indelible sequences where a vampire enters a room uninvited - a component of the traditional mythology - and, later, in a scene of unexpected comeuppance in a swimming pool. His film is anchored by two remarkable performances from the child leads - part of a long tradition of strong youth acting in Swedish film - without which the narrative would have far less conviction.
Monday, May 11, 2009
There is, of course, a decent helping plenty of plot in Philip Pullman's work, too, which means that ideas such as the relationship between humans and their daemons - a fascinating set of questions about the consciousness and the conscience on the page - are given pretty short shrift here, and indeed aren't always even given satisfying visual form, because the film needs to end with the plot ready to be taken up again where the second book begins. The early sections of the film, in a re-imagined Oxford, are the most successful, mostly for the way in which they posit an alternative yet recognisable reality; as the action transfers to the north country, the CGI effects come to dominate the narrative, and there's no time any longer to linger on the human side of things.
Monday, May 04, 2009
Sunday, May 03, 2009
Friday, May 01, 2009
2009, US, directed by Gavin Hood
Wolverine isn't great art, but as a big summer movie it's great fun, at least up until the obligatory over-the-top conclusion in which even the limited logica established earlier in the film is thrown out the window. Despite their very different styles, Hugh Jackman reminds me of Bruce Willis: no matter what the material, both actors give 100% onscreen, and I can't help thinking that audiences notice and respond. I rather enjoyed Jackman's hosting of the 2009 Oscars: as silly as the opening song-and-dance number may have been for many viewers, the host gave it his all, which came across even on a small TV screen. The same is true here, with the downside that the film tends to miss Jackman's energy when he's offscreen (although Danny Huston is good in a villainous role). The early going tries to restore some of the smaller scale of the first two X-Men installments, and scenes of Logan/Wolverine's attempts to create a normal life are quite effective, recalling similar efforts - in a rather different context - in Gavin Hood's earlier Tsotsi. Inevitably, though, the film subsequently proceeds toward the kind of one-on-one face-off that seems to characterize the superhero genre, while also leaving plenty of sequel-friendly loose ends.