Thursday, April 27, 2006

27th April 06 - Tsotsi

Some people say I have a heart of stone. Maybe because I don’t like to emote in public. I’d rather hold in my feelings and let them fester until they erupt in bouts of depression or rage. So when a film makes me shed a tear, it’s a safe bet to say it’s got some power. Some films, like When Harry Met Sally or (in my foolish teenage years) Titanic, can chip at the stone and create a little hole and thus a few tears. Very few films manage to blast the rock away completely. This is one of them.

Tsotsi (Oscar winner for best foreign language film) is about a thug (‘Tsotsi’ literally means ‘thug’) who comes into the possession of a baby, which makes him question his approach to life. It’s a pretty simple story, but it doesn’t need any more than that. This film is all about the emotion. And right from the start it got me.

Now, when I talk about emotion I don’t mean ‘weepy weepy tear-jerker’. I mean it just made me feel. The opening mugging scene chilled me to my very core. It’s not that it’s particularly gory – I’m completely desensitised to violence on film anyway. It’s just the reality of a horrible act. And it’s the reality of the film that is strike one in the attack on my defences. This film deals with poverty – we’re talking little kids living in concrete cylinders. I’ve seen ‘poverty films’ before, and let’s be totally honest here. They make me shudder, but I can’t relate them to my perfect white middle-class world. We all watch them and see the dusty grounds and crappy little huts and think ‘god, that’s awful. But it’s not here.’ It’s so removed from our own existence that we may as well watch a sci-fi. But Tsotsi balances the shanty towns with towering cities and quiet little neighbourhoods. Places that we know. And then it cuts back to flats built on wobbly bricks with metal sheets for doors. Ouch.

Strike two is Presley Chweneyagae, who plays the title role. He could have gone through the whole film without saying a word and it would still have packed the same punch. We see just enough of his past to get why he is what he is, and the rest is explained through his eyes. Crikey, those eyes can convey everything he’s feeling as clearly as a big caption coming up on the screen. And as he stares mournfully at his new child companion, we start to see it through his own tortured childhood. That baby is one tubby, gurgling little cutie. And I’m not even a big fan of babies, especially babies in films. They could’ve gone down the ‘bumbling guy can’t figure out how to handle bawling baby, oh the hilarity’ route. But they didn’t. Sure, it’s amusing as he discovers the joys of a full nappy. But it’s not clown-like comedy. It’s touching. And, for me at least, it’s always darkened by this underlying fear, brought on by my own pre-conceptions of what happens in films about bad guys who aren’t bad at the core and try to do good. I won’t say whether I was right or not. But as the film built to its climax, my fear of what would happen grew and grew. The more I watched, the more I cared, the more I feared what was going to happen, and the more I knew that if it was to happen I was going to handle it badly. At the end I was experiencing so much emotion that my stomach was crumpling under the pressure (I’m pretty sure it wasn’t due to too much ice cream.) My tears mirrored Tsotsi’s. I couldn’t help it. And afterwards I was left with a wedge of emotion in my throat that was so big it took at least an hour to subside.

I know I’ve said previously that I’m not a big fan of weepy films (see Brokeback Mountain.) But this film wasn’t exactly ‘sad’. It was just… I can’t even put it into words. I will say that anyone who feels nothing after watching this film doesn’t just have a heart of stone – they’re soulless evil. Tsotsi makes the much sought-after 8.5. S’good.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

19th April 06 - Junebug

I actually woke up this morning and forgot I had been to the cinema last night. Oh dear.

Junebug is one of those rare films where I went in knowing absolutely nothing about it. It makes a nice change to watch a film with no expectations. This was a conscious choice, by the way. I’m not one of those idiots who don’t know anything and blindly stumble into the cinema (who fall on two levels – the general dimwit: ‘I didn’t know the Producers would be a musical!’ And the dangerously dense: at the end of Fellowship of the Ring ‘is that it? Where’s the end?’)

Anyway, it took me a while to figure out what I thought of this film. On the one hand it has moments of, well, not brilliance, but ‘fairly good-ness’. Gentle humour, kooky characters, a lolling plot that softly lifts up ideas about relationships and family. It’s inoffensive, amusing, and offers enough tid-bits to ponder (compare the three relationships and see how those that at first appear strongest may well be the least likely to succeed.)

On the other hand, this is one of those films that feels twice as long as it is and makes you feel very tired at the end. There’s endless shots of nothing, with no sound (not an easy film to eat Skittles to) and very little point. If you scrape the bottom of the arsey analyst’s barrel, you could maybe come up with ‘oh, they’ve shown that car reversing up that long drive to show the backwards nature of the area’, but really that’s pushing it. You get the backwards nature of the area with all the scrotum paintings, anyway. There’s no need for anything else.

So, if you took a pair of scissors to this film and cut out all the shots of empty rooms and forests, then you’d get a sort of interesting film with sort of interesting characters and a sort of interesting plot. As it is, you get a sort of interesting film with huge chunks of boring fluff. At every piece of fluff I decided the film was slow and pointless, but there were just enough sparks of fairly good-ness to stop me from disliking it. So what score do I give it? If I was the editor, then it would have reached 7. As it is, it makes 6.5.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

12th April 06 - Inside Man

You can look at this film in two ways.

The first is from the perspective of the Easter holiday teenage pleb. This is your basic ‘bank robber vs hostage negotiator’ as seen in films like ‘The Negotiator’. Not exactly a new concept. There’s the clever robber, Clive Owen, with his usual ‘trying to be cool by speaking slowly in a silly accent’, and the kooky detective, Den-ZEL Washington, whose mouth and speech patterns are so much like Adam Sandler’s I wouldn’t be surprised if they were brothers, apart from the obvious difference of course. There’s an extra notch to the plot as Jodie Foster, who has the weirdest shiny legs I’ve ever seen, is called in to protect a very sensitive item inside the bank. And that’s about it. The robber’s plan is sort of clever, but the end reveal isn’t jaw-dropping, just makes you go ‘oh’. It’s fairly enjoyable, but a bit too long.

The other perspective is from the person who reads things and knows that the director is Mr Spike Lee, who likes to make statements about things, you know, like racism blah blah. This is what I’ve read, anyway, because the only other Spike Lee film I’ve seen was Summer of Sam, which I turned off half way through due to rigid boredom. I was younger and therefore less intelligent, so I could have been wrong. I doubt it, though. Anyway, Spike has things to say, so what’s he saying with this tale of bank robbery? The answer is lots. Some points are strikingly obvious (“Nazis are bad” – oh really? You’ve so changed my view of the world) and forced down your throat (let’s have a scene with little Tommy playing a violent video game for no reason other than to highlight the violence of video games and rap, how clever). Other points sort of pissed me off. Example: put all the hostages in masks and they all look the same. Oh look, race is inconsequential, we’re all just human beings. Look how the police react when one mask reveals a white man, and the other reveals a Sikh. Racism is bad. Very true. But how come masks can conceal race, but not big titties? The women in this film are either sexual objects or (the intelligent one, of course) the essence of evil wrapped in skirt. Come on Spike – you’ll stick up for one ‘ism’, but what about the others?

Anyway, you don’t learn much about Clive Owen, so whether he wins or loses doesn’t really matter. Denzel is good, but isn’t he always. The plot is reasonable, but not mind blowing and with a few little holes (how did the robber know about the ‘sensitive materials’?) And the messages are convoluted and a little bit arsey.

BUT, despite all this, I didn’t hate the film. In fact, I sort of enjoyed it, in a brainless way. With Spike on board, it should have had a meatier message. But on face value, this is a robber vs. negotiator film that’s pretty good. Wouldn’t watch it again. Didn’t change my life. But it killed a couple of hours. It makes a rating of 7.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

5th April 06 - The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

No matter how many times they said his name, I still can’t pronounce Melquiades. But this doesn’t matter too much, because the majority of cretins haven’t heard of this film, and the few who have can understand if you say "that Tommy Lee Jones film, The Three Burials" and then mumble something Spanish. Anyway, the first cinema trip in two months, and a refreshing film to kick off my return with. Three Burials is a ‘Western’ in theory, but set in the present day (clue: mobile phones and celebrity magazines) and with cowboys but not Indians. Plus I liked it, and I rarely like Westerns. They’re all the same. Little towns, Clint Eastwood (with his squinty little eyes, or “acting”) a shoot out, the end. I know that’s a generalisation, but that’s how my young eyes see them.

Anyway, the first half is a jumbled mix of scenes, jumping back and forth without using ‘visual cues’ like different colour tones aka many other films that jump back and forth. A lesser person may have had trouble understanding which scene belonged where. However, I found this approach intriguing, a sort of Pulp Fiction-esque style that wasn’t hugely necessary, but made the simple story have more depth, as I gradually added more information to the plot that was forming in my brain. The second half straightens out into a normal narrative structure. And what a strange narrative. At times amusing, sometimes affecting, there’s shots of humanity (very generous humanity at that) and beautiful scenery and clippity clop horses. And it ends without a massive resolution. It reminded me of a scene from Adaptation (one of my favourite films) where Charlie Kaufman says he wants to create a film where there’s no character arcs. Apart from Mike Norton (Barry Pepper – the creepiest looking person in the world) who sort of learns a lesson, though it’s a pretty easy lesson to learn (random shooting is bad, m’kay) no one else really changes. This I like. I’m fed up of neat films (Crash – ooo we’re all racist but we’re really good at our hearts and we learn beautiful lessons and we’re up our own LA arses) and this was just simple. Different enough to be interesting, but simple enough not to piss me off.

My one gripe is with ‘Pete’ (Tommy Lee Jones, with big sad puppy eyes). I don’t know much about Pete, or why he did what he did, or if he’s a little bonkers, or why he’s a little bonkers. It gives him an air of mystery, yes, but I couldn’t connect with his character in any way. He was just a blank space to me. I was waiting for something to give me more of a hint of who he really was. There were little nuggets, but just too small to be satisfying. But, I’ve sat and thought about him. And films that make me think are generally good. So that’s my opinion. Three Burials is generally good. It makes the magic rating of 8.