The emptiness of things left unsaid: Ridley Scott’s The Counselor

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One of the great things about spending most of the end-of-year holidays in Joeys is that one can go and see many films, even during the day, often back-to-back, and feel utter guilt free. To end 2013, I cooked prawns for my newly relocated mother and took her to a movie. Unfortunately, the opening was a strong indication that I had made a terrible choice for a mother-daughter outing.

For starters, I don’t think any single girl with very different sexual mores from her ma will fail to squirm during an opening scene where Penelope Cruz tells Michael Fassbender that she got wet fantasising about his “sweet face” between her legs, and watching him promptly realise the fantasy. I wished that I had sneaked in the half bottle of MCC we left at the house. This was not something we were going to talk about on the way home.

Things got worse after that, so, in a way, The Counselor was an appropriate way to end a fairly bewildering year. It had been a bit of a Yarborough, and I don’t feel at all bad about not achieving the goals I set for myself. In fact, the film inspired me to not set any goals for 2014. Although good things also happened, and gains were made, last year simply did not score a ten.

Ridley Scott should feel the same. If I had to choose favourite directors, his would not be the first name on my list. Iñárritu, Almodovar, the Cohen brothers, Scorsese, Cassavetes, Mike Leigh, Stephen Frears, Peter Weir and Gus van Sant are ahead of him. I am not sure why, seeing that he directed one of my favourite films of all time – Blade Runner – and others that I loved almost as much: Thelma and Louise, Gladiator, Alien, American Gangster. A few, less awesome in my book, were nonetheless taut, disciplined stories that were beautifully told: Body of Lies, G.I. Jane – Scott is a prolific filmmaker and a very good one.

So The Counselor was a disappointment. It is a thriller about an unnamed lawyer involved the murkier side of a clients business dealings, who pays, and pays. One is never sure why he gets himself embroiled at all. He seems to be doing well, he drives a flash car, lives in an expensive apartment, buys his fiancée a mother of a rock and takes her to the polo. He claims to his client/partner-in-crime that his “back is against the wall”, but you don’t see it. You learn that he resisted a similar proposition (from a fantastically colourful Javier Bardem) some years before. And from the off-screen, top-of-the-drug-chain POV, you never really understand why he is necessary for the deal.

Predictably, considering the darkness of the film’s universe, everything ends in a shit pile (literally) and our protagonist is left unredeemed. Not that redemption is a deal-breaker. Woody Allen is equally vicious with the eponym of Blue Jasmine, but his film is an intimate, acute and profoundly moving character study.

One does not get close to the counsellor, as much as one might desire to. It is impossible to connect with him; instead, one is cast in a mildly (although perhaps not so mildly, if you are watching with your mother) voyeuristic role where his only subtext is expressed through his relationship with a woman that he loves passionately. “Life is being in bed with you,” he tells her, “everything else is waiting.” This is a large declaration to a character who only has about four calls in the film.

Instead, the antagonists seem to get puzzling quantities of airtime. There are scenes with Cameron Diaz that have nothing to do with the story: a bizarre attempt at Catholic confession and a confounding pornography on a Ferrari’s windscreen. Why are we spending this time with her?

And you never really understand what many of the other charactersfascinating, flamboyant, with seriously philosophical monologues – are doing there. Very often one does not know who they are. They appear from nowhere; they are co-incidences on our hero’s highway to hell even though indications are that they should somehow be significant. Their job appears to be the closing of the barn doors after the horse has bolted. As some of the write ups and crits have remarked, much of the action happens off screen. Too much, I think.

There are good things about the film that get lost in the scrambling narrative: Bardem and Brad Pitt embrace their whacko roles with commitment and enthusiasm. One wishes that they were good guys. And the relentlessness of the narrow path onto which the counsellor strays, the consequences of his bad decisions and the cataclysmic backdrop are beautifully filmed, immaculately art directed and explored. But it is not enough to make it a good film.

My mother did not have much to say about the film as we drove home, other than that it clearly shows that drug trafficking was a bad idea. This, I think, is undisputed. But I could feel her notsaying a helluva lot more. I think that is what Ridley Scott did too, and as is often the case with things left unsaid, it may have been remiss.

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Bottoms Up, Tom

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So. For the New Year, some years ago, I resolved again to go back to gym. I saw Evan (über-physio) for the first time about this time – late January.  After exchanging good wishes he asked me if I made any resolutions, and I said, yes, I am going back to gym this year. He looked slightly amused. So go then, he said, it’s almost February. And I think I went.

Going back to gym never featured again in my annual list of good intentions. I now just try to carry on going, regardless of the size of the gap between visits. One day, one week, one month: in a sense the gym resolution is the opposite of the quit-smoking one. Mercia Axon told us (Smokenders) that people who say that they had, in the past, stopped smoking for a week, a month or a year, only to start again, did not really stop. They only took a break. I now try to apply that principle to the gym thing. I don’t have to go back; I can just carry on going. It works in a weird way.

I make a list every year even though, strictly speaking, I have only ever managed to stick to one resolution – the one to recycle. In a fragment of a 702 discussion I heard in the car early in Jan some expert told Redi Hlabi that resolutions are more likely to be kept if they are linked to a personal value, or if they are seen as long-term goals, rather than do-or-die ultimatums. This explains the recycling thing. This, and the fact that I installed a simple and manageable system, based on Nicola and Ofer’s, in my kitchen.

Every now and then I separate plastic and cans – the wine bottles have their own special place – and drive to the Melrose dump where I can feel even more virtuous if I tip the guy that helps me offload R10. Of course, when the visits to the dump are too infrequent, the wine bottles become a rather embarrassing mountain in the shopping trolley I use to haul them past the neighbouring flats, down in the lift, through the foyer and into the garage. Sometimes I manage to hide them under the plastic, but I am always convinced that Esther and Joe from next door are watching through the peep hole and judging me.

Anyway. My resolutions this year include un-cluttering my life and my flat, cooking new things, learning new things, seeing friends more, making my world bigger (not sure yet how, but working on a couple of things) and to blog more often.

What I should have resolved instead is to no longer see any Tom Cruise movies. I once decided not to see any more Charlie Sheen films, and I have stopped paying for anything starring Sarah Jessica Parker last year, but I am not sure if those efforts were, strictly, on the resolutions list. I considered that their agents may just have chosen crap scripts for them, but SJP shares the CAA stable with Cate Blanchett and George Clooney, who have both managed impeccable filmographies. On the other hand, she also shares it with Tom Cruise, whose Jack Reacher was a colourless and incredible affair, flailing in spite of its excellent bad guys – Jai Courtney and Werner Hertzog – and Robert Duvall. The main characters, Reacher and Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike), lawyer, love interest and rebellious daughter of District Attorney Alex Rodin (Richard Jenkins), are a poorly defined, dull pair with absolutely no raison d’être. We have no idea who Reacher is – a fuzzy history expediently revealed in the dialogue only makes him more impenetrable – or why Helen decides to defy her father. If there has ever been a good lesson in how not write a back story, Jack Reacher would be it.

The film was so bad that the entire franchise it was supposed to launch has apparently been canned. One might suggest that director Christopher McQuarrie sticks to writing screenplays (The Usual Suspects, Valkyrie and The Tourist) where he seems to know his craft. Anyway, I resolve to forego Tom Cruise movies in future. Excluding, maybe Mission: Impossible 5, in spite of the fact that McQuarrie may direct, again. They do seem to be getting better and better. (Does this mean I am already resolving to break my resolution?) Maybe I’ll wait to hear what Barry says. I think 2013 is going to be a very good year.

Poor show

I think when you watch a romcom and at the end, when the main guy and his true love find each other, you are sorry, then the movie is not a success.

I also think that Patrick Dempsey will never make the same seamless transition from heartbreak hospital doctor to Hollywood A-list leading man that George Clooney did. I suspect he has the wrong hair.

Made of Honour – eTV’s chick flick offering this evening – is a terrible film, so bad that I cannot spend a lot of time on it not even to slag it off. Director Paul Weiland honed his skills in TV comedy; according to the IMDb copious episodes of Mr Bean were what prepared him for this dull romance, and it shows.

Weiland nearly overcame his unfortunate professional beginnings when he directed Rosanna’s Grave, which was charming and well constructed and weighed down only by the bewildering variety of non-Italian Latin actors faking Italian accents. Ok.  I exaggerate. Only both the leads were non-Italian Latins. Whatever.

But MoH clunks along, cringe by cringe, to a predictably unlikely happy ending. I fantasised that Tom (Patrick) would just keep on going back to NYC, instead of grabbing a horse and racing along the shores of a Scottish loch to say those three little words to the woman about to marry Kevin McKidd (also a Grey’s Anatomy vet) in order to win her heart after being inspired by a sheep dog to do so. But of course he did not, and the film would be poorer for it if it was possible to be poorer than utterly destitute. In the city of cinema, Made of Honour can’t afford a trailer in the park, and grabs some shuteye on a bench in the early morning hours when its aching extremities and hunger pangs are eventually numbed by sheer exhaustion. Really.

“No!” I silently willed Hanna (Michelle Monaghan), taking another sip of Hartenberg chard. “Marry Colin (Kevin) instead!” (In my book he was all the yummier for being an actual Scot.)  Of course she didn’t, and I suspect that when she eventually said “I do” to McDreamy on a New York city rooftop, she was sorry.

Or not. Either way, it would have been easier, probably, to suspend disbelief in the tooth fairy. If one had to choose.

Liev, is that you?

I have been watching a bit of video lately that was actual cinema. One film came with great cred – it was directed by Ang Lee and it received excellent reviews from darling. The second one only had its DVD cover to speak for it, but it was pretty convincing. Beathur (it is rare not to find an acquaintance at the Killarney Video Corner during peak hour) and I joked about the language of DVD covers – they always say “brilliant”, “unmissable” and so forth, in quotation marks, as if these words were used by someone other than the director’s girlfriend or the producer’s mother.

Both films, I am sorry to say, were disappointing. It could be that I was not really in the mood for these… types of films, or that the sound on my TV is failing, like the hearing of an octogenarian.

Either way, I thought that Taking Woodstock was funny and well cast and consisted of the most wonderful textures; it was full of gentle irony and witty art direction and none of the above could really save it from being unbelievably dull. I had to fast forward over the scene of the main oke (dunno) tripping on acid in a very beautiful, flowery replica of a late-60’s combi painted in psychedelic greens and oranges while being ménage-a-trois’d by two flower children. Liev Schreiber was reassuringly drop-dead handsome, EVEN in a blonde wig and a pink dress, and EVEN he could not rescue what was essentially a big old period wank. I approve of wanking, of course, and want to make it clear, therefore, that I did not think it was all bad. Just bad enough.

I am watching the second film right now, even as I write, so that should serve as irrefutable proof that DVD video covers can lie and often do. It is a fairly serious indictment of a film if one can follow its plot for two hours while baking bread rolls and writing a blog. The Air That I Breathe is a four-hander of sorts – four different stories of four different characters that are connected, in the most unlikely of ways, through a character nick-named “Fingers” and played by Andy Garcia. I lost interest in the first five minutes, when it became clear that Forest Whittaker was going to repeat the performance that Neil Jordan taught him for The Crying Game. I think Neil realised that Forest could not really carry a film, in spite of Neil’s excellent instruction, and we know that Forest’s calls on the movie were not many. It seems that that may be the only performance that Forest has in him. He could be doomed to repeat it until he does not receive a lifetime achievement award from the Academy. Either way, Forest dies in the 22nd minute of the film and I was puzzled for the rest of movie about why he was there in the first place. I never saw The Last King of Scotland and now I think I never may.

Stellar performances by Kevin Bacon, Brendan Frazer and Sarah Michelle Gellar could not save the film. Was it about love? Redemption? Sacrifice? Who the fuck knows. I am too bored to even Google it. And anyway, the bread rolls have proved beautifully and are ready to go in the oven.

AND I have a research report to write. Which is another story all together.

Notes on a Friday morning

I saw Jozi last night.

It was everything that the reviewers said it was: charming, endearing, off-beat and left-of-centre amusing, but in the end, no great shakes. (Sorry Robbie.)

What people did not say was that the team had a fantastic and rare opportunity to make a really interesting, and funny, and GOOD movie about Johannesburg. They had some money, they had the time (from conception to completion about four years, I think I heard) they had big-time producers that backed them and WANTED to make a film with them and considerable talent, to boot.

And they produced something that is amusing, but not in any way  impressive, or even particular.  I would call it, really, our first decent TV movie? I feel a little disappointed. (And I really thought the art direction was below par. It looked a little like a student film, from that point of view.) But anyway.

More entertaining by far, unfortunately, is the world at large this morning!

I don’t know where I have been but apparently Beki Cele will now be called “General Cele”. According to the Times this morning, the decision was approved by Cabinet. I am not surprised that they make time to spend on these issues, as discussions about corruption, crime and service delivery must be boring the shit out of them. Upping the rankings of the more colourful panjandrums must be a welcome diversion.

In a letter to the paper Prof Kader Asmal asks,

“Has the Cabinet taken loss of their senses, especially as another proposal was to change the name of the service to ‘Force’ as the deputy minister of police [Fikile Mbalula] with his enormous knowledge of warfare, now desires a military force, which presumably has been discussed in all ANC structures.”

His point is the militarisation of the police services, but I think that by exposing such whimsy as the passing of “idiotic proposals”, he is finally calling a guava a guava.

Also interesting is Gwede Mantashe’s suggestion that Julius’ “kill the boer” invocation at UJ this week should be seen in a “historical context” and that as such, there was nothing wrong with that particular bit of hate speech. Perhaps he has come to the conclusion that Julius really can replace him single-handedly with Fikile Mbalula in 2012, and is hedging his bets.  If we were really perverse, we could argue that Fikile is already building an army (see above) to prop up a classic African military regime. I can just see him and Julius in their camouflage and cigars, tossing valueless currency from the windows of a black state-of-the-art 4×4 in the middle of a two hundred meter convoy.

I sit at my desk of our new offices. The Nelson Mandela bridge is two blocks from my chair. The mid-morning Friday traffic is unhurried and smooth.

Anti-Friday

I like to say that my favourite position is on my back on the couch in front of the TV. I have others, I guess, but on a Friday night, this one is the undisputed champion. I have just witnessed the blossoming of yet another ugly duckling on Style by Jury (my personal version of Shabbat) and am engaging with e-tv’s Friday Action Night: Predator vs. Alien.

It has been a helluva week. I socialised like a teenager, going out no less than twice in the middle of the week. The District 9 premier on Wednesday night was probably the biggest social event I have been to since my (only ever) trip to the Loeries in 1995. (Shut up.) I loved the film without reservation, because I believe it has no pretence. It is a wonderfully constructed, wickedly witty and utterly irreverent. (I am tossing any resolutions I may have had about cutting down on the adjectives in the last few months and I am letting rip, just for tonight.) The Admiral (celebrity film critic of whom we are not worthy) was not impressed. He did not like the ending (for reasons which I thought were bullshit; for me the ending was faultless) and objected to the fact there were no good black role models in the film. I pointed out that there were no good white role models either, but he disagreed, suggesting that the hero was a “cool guy”.

I don’t think the Admiral really understands that to Afrikaners who feel that they that have not only survived their historical baggage but overcame it, a thick-moustache’d, thick-accented, racist white Afrikaner male, in charge of what amounts to the forced removal of another race to a location out of sight of the status quo, is not a cool guy. Sorry Admiral, but Wikus (played by Sharito Copely) the worst example of what J Krishnamurti calls a “dull” person. The fact that he hooks up with someone he persecuted does not redeem him and it does not save him, and it certainly does not make him cool. He pays. The irony of his waiting is as thick as peanut butter.

In theory, Wikus is at least as offensive to us (see above) as Kenneth Nkosi saying “Ja baas” to his white military commander is to, well, Carlo Matabane. Carlo was so incensed that he told everybody at the after party at the Rosebank Hotel that he can also do clichés and that he was going to make a film about black men raping white women.

In my mind’s eye I saw the headline “HOLLYWOOD BOX OFFICE HIT BOMBS WITH SA BLACKS”. And not only, actually. Old white lefties, left and right, all were upset and quite damning. There were accusations of it being “obvious” to which Ken Kaplan responded, well, Shakespeare is also quite obvious. To say that the film was riddled with clichés would be an understatement, but I think they were its modus operandi, and when it comes to suspension of disbelief, they are not per se offensive. There was the beginning of a parody-vs.-satire discussion at the bar, but I found it a waste of time for one in the morning. (In spite of the time and the consumption, I feel that I really nailed the definition of each when asked to.)

What part should have been written for the good black role model? I asked Mandy at an earlier stage between drinks. There were no good guys in the film, really. She thought the lead could have been black. Why? I asked. Why make the lead a black guy for the sake of being politically correct? Are we so guilty that nothing can be OK, or funny, or allowed to be original, without it having been PC’d?

There was much more, of course. The Apartheid parallels: the forced removals, the isolation in townships, the absurd discrimination based on fear and ignorance, the violence of people stripped of humanity and dignity… the images stopped short of people being covered in car tyres, doused with petrol and set alight. And then, the most chilling line of the film… “one prawn, one bullet”. One should perhaps not be surprised that it hit a nerve. Even so, the cliché was edgy and raw and I think it held up the mirror to everybody.

And let’s face it: is it not at the end of the day, in a country full of arseholes of all colours, the white man that is still short of redemption?

I don’t know. It is really possible to simply watch the film, be completely taken in by its utter South African-ness, the accents, the familiarity of the Johannesburg skyline, and be amazed that Americans bought it, lock, stock, and smoking AK47’s.

Anyway. Predator kicked alien ass, and the news proclaims that taxi drivers disrupting the BRT service on September 1 will be arrested and have their taxis confiscated. And the subject of Caster Semenya’s gender ambiguity will most certainly ruin her chances of retiring a running legend in ten-odd years’ time. Have you heard her telling her doubters to “go to hell” on the radio? She sounds like a guy. She looks like a guy. But tonight there are reports that racism might be the cause of the suspicion that she might be male. Caster’s teacher went on record on SABC3 to say, “White people don’t like it when black people win.” Only in this country would you actually see such a gross generalisation presented as legitimate opinion on the news. It is a little embarrassing, and does depress one a little.

I suppose history teaches us that we will never get over the race thing. So we can live with it or move to Spain. I bet Friday night on the couch will be at least as much fun over there.

Potchefstroom 2: Return to the Big Screen

It was a great opportunity to get in a whole chunk of quality time with my father. This means sharing the joy of surfing through a hundred channels on DSTV and settling, ultimately, on something neither of us are sure the other one really wants to watch. On Saturday night this happened to be Conan the Barbarian; we resolved to get some chocolate on Sunday morning to sweeten Sunday night.

Watching Conan again did give me the opportunity to verify the verbatim version of Deon du Plessis’ favourite line from a movie. (I so make lemonade, I swear.) The version I found (and used) in Kevin Bloom’s article was “Find the enemy, crush him, and hear the lamentations of the women.” This is wrong.

In answer to the question, “Conan! What is best in life?” he responds, “Crush your enemies. See them driven before you. And hear the lamentation (sic) of their women.” It is posed by the sages of the East, where “language and writing were made available” to our bulging warrior-slave.

For a moment I was amazed by the insight of the 1980’s Hollywood film classic. True fans will be happy to know that even as I write, there is another Conan movie (not a remake, which “implies a new version of an original script” but a “franchise restart”, according to IMDB) in production in Hollywood. This is so hot off the press that no actors have even been signed yet. This is important, because as I understand it, in Hollywood the life of a film starts like this: Quentin has a conversation with Uma, and then they get money to make a flick even before they have a script.

In this case, it seems that Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories seem to be at least as bankable as the conversation between a cinematic enfant terrible and his leading lady. On the other hand, it might mean that the credit crunch is forcing the studios to dig up old-and-hopefully-still-sexy formulae that have been lying fallow, and to give new muscles with a lilting Austrian/Russian/Dutch-something accent the opportunity to flex on the silver screen. For the price of, uh, I don’t know… Brad-Pitt-in-Troy or Russell-Crowe-in-Gladiator[1]… one can make a whole period piece with some lovely unknown, soft-chinned, brawny youth. I think that is pretty groovy.

My father did not mind a bit that Arnold could hardly sputter out “…lamentation of their women”, so impressed was he with the wonderful art direction of Conan the Barbarian. I think we can agree that the spectacular reinvention of Star Trek, for example, must forebode similar fortunes for a new Conan movie. Twenty years of SFX development will enable the filmmakers to produce the mind-boggling giant demons and breath-taking fight sequences that will render a plot wholly redundant. I think I will miss a bit of plot in the next chapter, but still, Conan 2010 is probably going to be fantastic Saturday afternoon viewing on a big screen TV.

My father bought a million-inch flat screen TV last year sometime and when I go to visit, we spend a lot of time in front of it. On Saturday morning we had to go shopping for stuff to make macaroni cheese and shepherd’s pie, so that cut into our TV time quite a bit, but beyond that, Conan was not even the most fun we had on the weekend. On Saturday there was wall-to-wall rugby. (Sometimes I am surprised at the wit that can emanate from my dad. I am personally deeply offended by Francois Steyn’s blonde locks. I hardly lay eyes on him without wishing that he would get a nice haircut like Schalk. But there was always something else about him, and my father finally clarified it for me. “Hy lyk of iemand hom ‘n klap gegee het wat hy nie verdien het nie,” he commented when I mentioned that Francois always looked a bit glum. It was a revelation. Of course that is what he looks like.)

Not that we watched TV ALL the time, of course. Before lunch we sat in the sun, had a pre-lunch glass of wine, and chatted. Not so much about the Bible this time. More about family. Some about my brother. I asked him if he ever thinks about the fact that Douw might never move back to South Africa, and I could see that it was impossible for him to talk about that, even though he tried. So I made a very stupid joke and I changed the subject. I think we spoke about the rugby and dead people instead. And about how people in our family die. Apparently on his side, my grandfather’s contemporaries “is almal dood van hartaanvalle.” I don’t know why we thought that was funny, but we smiled with real humour.

But I digress. On Sunday morning I slept late. When I got to the lounge, he was already there, catching the highlights of the junior boks’ failed campaign in the IRB Junior World Champs. There was nothing on the movie channels, we found after 20 minutes of surfing, and I had no particular needs, so we turned to ESPN.

Did you know that on ESPN, from about 9 am on a Sunday, they have back-to-back American fishing programmes until after lunch? We watched quite a few until it was time to get dressed and move along to the Fishmonger for father’s day lunch, and when we got back after two, there was still fishing on TV. Amazing. We watched a bit, and then it was time for me come home.

I got a bag of lemons from the laden tree, and kudu fillet from the hunting trip. It was a good visit. The road home was clear, the late afternoon gold with the sun on the dead, winter, Highveld fields. It was impossibly beautiful.

 


[1] I googled the highest-earning male actors in Hollywood, and at the top of the list, because of the last Indiana Jones instalment, was Harrison Ford, with USD 65 million in the last year. Others were Will Smith, Adam Sandler, Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, Denzel… not a single one under forty. I guess even in Hollywood it pays to pay your dues, and regardless of how flavour-of-the-month you are, you have to be Tom Hanks before you get 20 million up front.

Un-be-lievable

So, we went to see Gran Torino tonight. It is certainly a film of meticulously constructed meaning. Well done, Clint, one wants to say, even though the ending was kind of coming at you right from the beginning. In physical combat, boxing, kumite, free-fighting, call it what you will, it is called telegraphing. It’s the equivalent of your opponent telling you, I am going to hook you with the left, giving you ten seconds to prepare and then hooking you with the left. It’s just never going to hurt, because he is never even going to get close to you, unless you are unbelievably determined to get hooked with the left.

In Gran Torino, all “my name is Mr Kowalski” does, is prepare for the end of the film. Although this is how films are constructed, the writer and director usually tries to hide the details of the end as long as possible. If you can see how the film is going to end from the beginning without it being Romeo and Juliet (or ANYTHING famous by Shakespeare or Henry James or some old dead fellow)  then the filmmakers, usually, have a problem. 

Every single relationship in the film is forged in solely in order to make the end meaningful. There are no surprises, and very little feeling. And absolutely nothing that is original. We meet Walt Kowalski at the funeral of his beloved wife (“the best woman in the world”). He is a grumpy old man, and alienated from his family. Unusual, I know.

Then, for No Reason Whatsoever, towards the end of the first act, the oldest son and his wife come with gifts (all indicating their concern for his advanced age, which is kind of funny) on Walt’s birthday, and try to convince him to go into a “nice place, like  a hotel.” WTF? What for? To show that they do not understand him? To indicate that they want the house? You never see them needing the house, and anyway, the house is in an area where all the “Americans” have moved out of, according to the sour-puss octogenarian Hmong neighbour-woman.  It’s a piece of shit neighbourhood, full of immigrants  and gangs of all sorts of colours except white.

The non-gang immigrants are constantly gathering in large numbers with lavish quantities of absolutely delicious home-cooked food. They have, unlike Clint whose dull offspring produced dull offspring in return, strong family traditions that are rooted in history and that are reflected in the deep love and respect they demonstrate for each other.

One has the notion that the script originally had Walt living in a Mexican neighbourhood, but then Clint said to the Nick the writer, you know, that really has been done before… the xenophobic Vietnam vet, living next to immigrants, then he helps them, then he is accepted into the community, and then he is absolved. Wow, Clint, Nick could have said. Your are SO RIGHT. Let’s make the neighbours… hmm… some culture nobody knows about… I know! Hmong! And then the pro-ta-go-nist can be a KOREAN war vet. It’s perfect!

Done! Clint could have said. Great thinking! And in this way, we can also raise awareness of this culture… where it is RUDE, for example, to touch ANYBODY on the head! Are we hearing those famous five little words…?

Other, more colourful clichés include the loud music pumping through open windows of the gang’s car, the one fat, very mean gang member, and the neighbourhood barber with whom Walt happily exchanges gruesome cultural insults and expletives.

Oh Clint. The film is dreary. I am not only disappointed… I am also quite puzzled. If anybody knows how to squeeze an extra couple of hot salty tears from a girl when she really thinks it’s not possible to cry ANY MORE, it would be our friend Clint. I cried almost as much at the end of Million Dollar Baby as I did in Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark. But Gran Torino moved me not.

Jann was weeping of course, she is the ONLY person I know who cries more easily in a movie than I do. I mean, honestly, there is no reason to cry.  The whole thing is horribly on-the-nose. In the film, the great American multicultural neighbourhood is populated quite methodically. The barber is Italian, the builder, Irish. The gangs are Hispanic, black, and Asian (Hmong). It really is perfectly proportioned.

And slow. Holy crap, any slower and it would have shuddered to a halt shortly after the beginning of the final act. If I was not so well conditioned not to miss even a single frame of cinema, unless I was going to abandon it altogether (and that takes a lot… I sat through Hostel in its entirety, and that film was a complete shocker) I would have gone out for some extra pop-corn or something. Just to see if it was possible to miss something important.  

Gran Torino was, in spite of all this, a critical success, and Clint’s most lucrative film. It has taken, so far, more than $246 million at box offices worldwide.  Whatever problems the filmmakers had, it clearly did not prevent them from propping up a bank or two during the credit crunch. I don’t get it. Un-be-lievable.

On the couch

There are very few movie scenes that I like as much as the one in America’s Sweethearts when Hal Weidmann (the wonderful Christopher Walken, cameo or not… what a great look they contrived for him) shows the “real” movie he made instead of another star-couple rehash of space/WWII-time-travel-type-flick.

I saw Days of Heaven for the first time about a week ago, and it moves straight to the top of the list, along with Dangerous Liaisons, Delicatessen and Blade Runner. (I have other favourites too, but these seats are uncontested.) In all of these films are moments that will always move me, even if I watched them for the 100th time.

The scene where Valmont (John Malkovich), dying in the snow, hands the damning letters from his lover and co-conspirator, the Marquise de Merteuil (Glen Close) to HER lover and his killer Danceny (Keanu Reeves), always makes me cry a lot.  I have seen the film more than ten times. I watch every frame with wonder, and remain astonished.

Delicatessen has its own magic. Caro and Jeunet made a mad, beautiful universe in which the horrors of human nature, as well as its most delicate beauty compete equally in a dark and comic love affair.

And finally… I would be amazed if I had to explain to someone why the moment in which Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), dying, explains the miracle of life to Deckard (Harrison Ford) in the incessant rain on a rooftop against the backdrop of a deconstructed cityscape is one  of the great ones in cinema history.  And the text…

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the darkness at Tan Hauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time like tears in rain. Time to die.

…my friend Katrien has never liked movies that featured men in tights as she finds them incredible. I am more likely to embrace these words as profound, and true, than, for example, “I’ll be there in five minutes…. I am already in Parkhurst” or even “I’ll call you.”

One cannot fail to notice that Death features large-ly in the great moments of great films. (Note to self: do the reading, write great blog about Death and movies/food/sex/drinking/life. Also address the fact that others may find less fatal moments meaningful.)  In  America’s Sweethearts, when Hal blows the top off the Hollywood-dream-couple-fantasy by revealing the miserable, fake little contrivances they call the perfect life, it is also a kind of death-moment. A dream dies, and Gwen (whatserface) and others want to kill the director. Oh, I so loved him in that part. And the movie as a whole, as a result.  Great moment.

I could go on about John Cusack, who gave superlative performances in The GriftersPushing Tin, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Grosse Point Blank, High Fidelity… I am going to stop now, but I don’t have to.  And, say what you like about Julia Roberts, when it comes to chick flicks, Pretty Woman and Erin Brockovitch (fewer great ones on that list, admittedly) only lose to Meg Ryan and When Harry Met Sally.  John and Julia together are funny and believable. And with Christopher… yay.

The only thing in the film that is Too Extremely Silly is the Doberman-vs-Billy-Crystal’s-crotch thing.  Why? Why? Why?

Ruth and I are driving to Agatha tomorrow. I think it’s going to be a good weekend.

Blade III, Underworld III and late nights

I am watching Blade III. I love vampire movies, I went to see Underworld III Rise of the Lycans on Saturday. Yay. But you know, Blade III… really.

It’s simply too easy for Blade to kill vampires in this episode, and Drake, who is supposed to be the ORIGINAL vampire,  very evil and INCREDIBLY powerful,  seems hardly more macho than Schofield’s brother in Prison Break. Just like a regular guy with fairly big muscles and suitably attractive with his shirt off. And he cannot even fly. He has to RUN up stairs through buildings. Where is his astonishing speed? Everybody KNOWS that you can hardly see vampires move for their supersonic velocity.

And THEN, in the Final Scene, he fights Blade in his HUMAN FORM.

How pathetic is that? Does he WANT to lose? Only towards the end does he assume his original creepy sort-of-metallic ancient rhinoceros-skin shape, and then Blade is almost done for. Humanus Nocturnus: the First, should be way more impressive.  And all that Mutual Respect stuff when Drake dies… his character has some serious arc-problems. He is supposed to be pissed, evil, and not give a shit.

Like Bill Nighy in Underworld. I think he is pretty scary, and seems evil enough for an original. At least the weekend has not been a total vampire write-off.

 The Woody Allen movie tonight is Husbands and Wives.  It’s 10.15. I am going to bed.