Monday, 31 May 2010

Dennis Hopper was a terrifying man. But that's why we loved him.

A lot of things in David Lynch movies have freaked me out. The man does freaky and unnerving better than anyone else. When I watched Blue Velvet however, Dennis Hopper cranked things up a notch. He took David Lynch's blueprint and created and embodied a monster. And it was terrifying. But that is what Dennis Hopper did better than anyone else. In many ways Lynch and Hopper were a perfect marriage; demented, strange and, sometimes, just plain scary.

Even though we knew it was coming, the news of Dennis Hopper's death brings with it the shock of knowing we will never again see him devouring the scenery and upstaging every other actor in a film. He rivals Alan Rickman for the ultimate movie villain and always delivered with style and intensity. Sure he was in a few duds, but even in films such as Waterworld he emerged, eye-patch and all, with dignity.

He may have become typecast in his post-Blue Velvet career but there's one thing that's been consistent throughout his career; he has always been a brilliant actor. From his early work with James Dean to writing, directing and starring in the classic Easy Rider, Hopper has always displayed his talent. He was a true maverick; hard living and difficult to work with but producing the goods to keep him at the peak of the business. Hopper was the kind of strong and intense character that is all too rare in Hollywood these days. He will be missed.

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Tuesday, 25 May 2010

The finale may have disappointed, but Lost's place in history is assured.

Even the most die hard of thanks would have admitted it was a thankless task. Take a show that has built up six years worth of mythos, confusion, twists and turns and make an ending that rewards the fans for keeping the faith. In the end, the Lost finale didn't quite live up to the promise, but it gave it a damn good try. The final twist may have left fans angry and confused but all that led up to that point was deeply engrossing; hearts were warmed, connections were made, and tears were shed. Many of the more angry reactions to the finale suggested that we had wasted six years of our lives, but despite the confusion and the unanswered questions the fact remains that those six years were spent watching one of the most mind-boggling, frustrating and just pure entertaining shows ever made.

Funnily enough, one of the biggest problems that Lost had to deal with is the fact that the answers to the big questions just weren't quite as fun as the questions themselves. Not since Twin Peaks has a show had so many mysteries and bizarre events to keep you hooked and desperate to know the meaning behind a show that was essentially nonsense. Because that is what the show was; try explaining the last six seasons to someone who's never watched Lost and you'll realise how ridiculous it all was. We kept faith because the characters were so engaging, the twists so unexpected, the plot and production showing an ambition not seen in television before.

No matter what you think of the ending, it is hard to deny that for six years we were treated to a show that had a mark of quality that few shows had. Sometimes this went beyond the meandering plot and became something truly special; 'The Constant' is not just the show's best ever episode but it could (and should) go down in history as one of the greatest standalone T.V. episodes of all time. On top of that some great actors were given the opportunity to embody some of the most unique, complex and fascinating characters we've seen. Terry O'Quinn as Locke and Michael Emerson as Ben Linus are just two examples of actor and character perfectly matched.

You may not be completely satisfied with the ending, but for the strong attachment we felt towards the cast, the pathos, and the endless twists and turns it was worth watching. We went from polar bears and electro-magnetic bunkers to time travel and beyond. Lost, it was a hell of a journey. You will be missed.

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Monday, 24 May 2010

Holocaust films and the issue of repeat viewing.

Films about the Holocaust are placed in a fairly unique category. There is no doubt that classic films, some of the best of the last 20 years, have been made on the subject. But, by their very nature and the sheer brutality of the subject matter they become extremely difficult to watch. This is far from being a criticism; telling the stories of the Holocaust is highly necessary and cinema has a crucial role to play in ensuring we never forget the evil acts of the concentration camps and ghettos. Several generations have passed since the Second World War, and though the younger of us will probably never have the slightest inkling of its horror, we can at least begin to get a grasp of it through cinema.

Once we have seen these events put on screen, they become very difficult to watch again. I know many people who regard Schindler's List as a brilliant film but very few who have seen it more than once or twice. Indeed, I have relatives from Germany who cannot bring themselves to watch these films at all; a mistake in my eyes. Even Life is Beautiful, which made the audacious attempt to derive comedy from the harshest of situations makes difficult repeat viewing.

It is here that we come to a film that somehow manages to buck this trend, despite including one of the most brutal and shocking scenes imaginable. I refer to The Pianist, a film that was showing late at night on television last week. I happened to stumble on this film at the exact moment this scene takes place; an elderly man in a wheelchair is mercilessly dumped from a fifth story window before scores of innocent Jews are gunned down. It is arguably the most shocking moment in the film, yet it is utterly believable and leaves you dumbstruck by its power. I watched the film in its entirety yet again. The Pianist is a film that is no less shocking than any other Holocaust film, indeed it is more so than most, but it is a film that demands repeat viewing.

By shifting the attention away from the concentration camps to the squalor and destitute setting of the ghettos, The Pianist created an angle on the Holocaust we had seen little of before. We witnessed strong, proud characters slowly realising the desperation and hopelessness of their situation. In Adrien Brody (in perhaps the finest performance of the 21st century so far) we see a supremely talented man resorting to a desperate struggle for survival. The Pianist is the most human and personal of Holocaust films; the atrocities of the Nazis play second fiddle to the strength and resilience of the Jewish characters. Where The Pianist bears repeat viewing where others can not is that it works as more than a dramatic account of the horrors of the Holocaust, it works simply as a film. It may not be enjoyable to watch in the conventional sense, but the strong characterisation and pathos evoke a range of emotions that make re-experiencing it once in a while necessary, if traumatic.

The scene in question is below. If you haven't seen it in the context of the film, I urge you to watch The Pianist in its entirety. Be warned, its shocking stuff:

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Wednesday, 19 May 2010

One half of New Zealand's fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo to be the main villain in a big budget sequel?

Everyone loves Flight of the Conchords. Honestly, I've never met anyone who hasn't at least warmed to Bret and Jermaine's adventures in New York. So now the series has finished its fair to say everyone was interested in what they'd do next. If I'm honest with you, I never expected one of them to end up in Men in Black III. But Jermaine Clement will be...

I love left field casting, especially if someone has the balls to do it for a big budget blockbuster with a lot riding on it. I have no doubt that Clement's distant, detached style will suit well for playing a character we can only assume will be alien, even if it is difficult to imagine someone so likeable being a main villain. I'm very happy to see him moving on to bigger, if not necessarily better, things. But there's a 'but' here...who the hell was asking for another Men in Black movie?

Don't get me wrong, the original was a likeable film. It had a great sense of humour, some impressive effects for the time, and truly showcased Will Smith's ability as an A-list star. But there was something about it that was so...90's. The fact that its first sequel was so awful doesn't exactly help things either. Its been 8 years since that film was released; too long in my book. I'm sure the film will turn a profit, I just couldn't really care less about it.

The fact that Will Smith would return to the franchise doesn't exactly seem right either. All I can guess is that there's an absolutely massive pay-check involved. Smith's no Vin Diesel; he doesn't have to return to his old franchises that he'd previously 'outgrown' just to pick up some work. The man is box office gold and can pick and choose what he wants to do. Doing Men in Black III just seems like a step backwards.

Oh well, we'll have to see how this one works out for Jermaine. He's still got a bright future ahead of him whatever he does. In the meantime, here's some classic Conchords...

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Tuesday, 18 May 2010

You had me at "David Fincher to direct"

Well this is an interesting one. The remake of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea has been floating around for a while, and for good reason. As impressive as the Kirk Douglas classic was in 1954, and as outraged as fans of the original will be, this is good material for a modern update.

My interest in this film had been growing for a while until a simple, three letter name completely ruined everything; McG. Oh McG, we tried to give you a chance, we really did. You were given a summer tentpole and the opportunity to breathe new life into a classic franchise. We ignored your awful track record and your STUPID NAME (I honestly don't know what's wrong with Joseph McGinty) but you blew it and then you attached your name to 20,000 Leagues. I have never been so certain that a director would make a hash of his source material as McG and 20,000 Leagues, and when I heard that he was pursuing Will Smith as Captain Nemo my heart sank completely (don't even get me started on Hollywood's complete refusal to cast actors of Indian or Arabic origin in the roles they were literally born to play).

Anyway, thankfully this didn't work out and the project appeared to be in the doldrums for a while until this week we heard that David Fincher was attached to direct the film AND that Fox was planning a rival production to Disney's remake (the original novel is in the public domain). Its pretty obvious that whichever one of these films gets released first is going to be the winner as previous releases of near identical films would suggest but the mention of Fincher has really peaked my interest in the Disney project.

Fincher has never once made a film that wasn't at least entertaining (damn right I'm including Alien 3 in that) and has always had a unique and exciting visual style. I don't think doing The Social Network was a particularly good move, but I could yet be proved wrong. I just feel with the increasing unpopularity and controversy surrounding Facebook's privacy issues that Mark Zuckerberg's story is just one I don't really want told. I'd just love to see what Fincher does with a different kind of big budget film. Sure he's handled the cutting edge (Benjamin Button) and franchises (Alien 3 wasn't a bad film, dammit!) but 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea could be something very different, and, potentially, very fun. I'll be watched to see how all this pans out.

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