TONGUES ON FILM – APRIL 2010

by Ross Sharp

I’ve seen about 30 films the last couple months, but various upheavals and changes and so forth here in the “real” world hasn’t given me much of a motivation to compile a blog about them all or even keep a record. So here’s just a few from the last couple weeks …

“THE LOVELY BONES” (2009)

I’ve not read Alice Sebold’s book, but when Peter Jackson’s adaptation was released it met with decidedly mixed reviews. And many of these negative reviews seemed to be critical that the movie was not the book, and that Jackson had left out the scenes dealing with the murder and rape of Susie Salmon.

On the latter, Jackson (obviously quite pissed off) responded

“In making the film for ourselves, I personally have no interest in witnessing or watching or filming a fourteen year old girl being murdered and raped, and so when I read criticism where people say why did we leave out the murder scene, I’m thinking, how much of the murder and rape did you actually hope to see? I mean, were you looking forward to that? Have we disappointed you by not actually including that? Well, we’re really sorry, but there’s a lot of internet porn that you can go enjoy to your heart’s content, but don’t expect to come and see it in our film. We’re entertainers, and I don’t find anything about the murder of a fourteen year old girl to be entertaining in the slightest, so therefore it’s not in our movie.”

… and to which my response is “A-fucking-men for that”.

I loathe graphic rape scenes in films. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should show them. I have a fully functioning brain, I can fill in the gaps, all you need do is imply what is taking or has taken place and leave the rest up to the audience. And if some of that audience are disappointed that they haven’t had their creepily voyeuristic tendencies and fantasies fulfilled, well, fuck them. Let them knock themselves out at a Gaspar Noe or Virginie Despentes festival if that’s what they’re after.

And as far as the film being a different animal from the book, this is the type of pointless criticism that really gives me the dribbling shits. A book is one thing, a film is another thing entirely, they are two completely different mediums, deal with it. Once a filmmaker has optioned a book, all bets are off. It’s not a sacred artifact for Christ’s sake.

Now, with that out of the way, all I can say is that I loved this movie. Unlike some, the fantasy scenes did not bother me at all, in fact I found them a welcome respite from the scenes of a family consumed by grief and loss. And unlike some, I did not feel this an overly sentimental film but rather an accurate portrayal of an average family, one that’s neither all Waltons Mountain, white picket-fence la-di-da, but nor are they constantly at each others throats. There seems to be this habit with many filmmakers who wish to portray family life to swing between two extremes, from all-consuming destructive dysfunction on the one hand to fairy floss fantasy and buckets of daisies on the other, but I really feel Jackson struck precisely the right balance in his movie.

The performances are first class, the cinematography is astounding, and the editing (especially in the last 30 minutes where the suspense is ratcheted up to eleven) ranks as some of the best I’ve seen.

Here’s what Louise Keller from Urban Cinefile had to say …

“Jackson’s greatest achievement in this gripping film is to successfully connect the two worlds of his creation. The first is the suburban reality of an average family, complete with financial restraints, house rules, a loving relationship and the lurking dangers of society’s misfits. The other is one where the shedding leaves of a tree become a flock of birds, oceans extend forever as giant ships encapsulated in bottles sail, cornfields glow in a golden haze and the light of a lighthouse symbolically searches for the whisper of absence. He uses restraint and excess in equal quantities and the result is a gloriously multi-faceted rainbow that extends from the heavens to the mud and slime beneath the pot of gold.”

Yes.

“PARANORMAL ACTIVITY” (2007)

No, there’s nothing new here. Yes, it was hyped to the hilt, to the point where it would’ve been impossible for it to live up to expectations. No, there is nothing particularly accomplished about the style or execution of it and no, it probably won’t stand up to repeated viewings when you know how it all pans out.

But I liked this film very much and here’s why …

Making a movie is very, very fucking hard. It is not a day at the office. It is not a routine thing with a routine set of rules. There is no formula to it. It requires enormous reserves of resilience, patience and perseverance; it requires dedication, passion and enthusiasm that may often border on the reckless; it demands compromise; it is unforgiving and deflating at times and exhilarating at others.

And so, when a guy says, “Fuck it, I’m gonna make a movie and I’m gonna do it this weekend” and then pulls it off by staying within his or her means and manages to avoid the usual slasher/psycho/torture bullshit and show some restraint, create an atmosphere, and not feel the need to fill every moment of time with pointless noise and cinematic trickery, I’m gonna stand up and say, “Bravo, well done. “A” for effort.”

Because I am fed up to the fucking back teeth with so-called “horror” films that insist on equating “horror” with endless streams of gore that amount to little more than a 90 minute exercise in how to dismember a bunch of people in novel and ridiculous ways. “Let’s push the envelope”, they say, and the only envelope pushed is one’s patience (cf. the execrable “Deadgirl” which I mentioned back here, or the recent remake of “Last House on the Left”). Whatever happened to “suspense”, to “tension”, to holding a few things back, building a sense of dread, to cutting away, to simply suggesting a thing rather than flapping it all up close in our faces.

So director Oren Peli, armed only with about 35 grand and a cast of four decided, “Fuck it, I’m gonna make a movie”, and he’s made a pretty good one, all these things considered. Using restraint, and long, tense silences, no crappy CGI effects, no over-indulgent gratuitous gory bullshit, and, in its final moments, I jumped and went “fuck!”

Therefore, it worked. For me, at least, it achieved its aim.

Bravo, well done. “A” for effort.

But whatever you do next, Oren, don’t try to make this same thing over and over and over again just because this one was a success.

Because nobody wants to be the next M. Night Shyamalan, do they?

No. They most definitely do not.

“JENNIFER’S BODY” (2009)

If “Mean Girls” were an episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”.

Current Hollywood “It” girl Megan Fox proves surprisingly versatile by shifting effortlessly from her acclaimed role as the inflatable sex doll in “Lars and The Real Girl” to the ruggedly demanding part of Jennifer (demanding in that it requires Fox to walk about and talk a bit, often at the same time), a high school sex-bomb who eats boys (and not in a good way).

Jennifer’s been abducted by some wannabe rock musicians who’ve been meddling a little in the dark arts and need a virgin to sacrifice in order to achieve their lofty fantasies of fame. Only Jennifer’s not a virgin, doesn’t die, and returns from her ordeal with a mighty big appetite for young male sweetmeats.

As you do.

Amanda Seyfried (Sarah from “Big Love) plays Jennifer’s former BFF who gets a mite miffed when Jennifer sets her ambitions to a mouthful of her own bloke and sets about to busting Jen’s balls.

Diablo Cody’s screenplay is littered with irritatingly twee noughties variety Valley Girl speak. It’s fucking rubbish and bloody annoying. Ignore that and you may enjoy this film. Or you may not. It does has its moments, some of which are very fine indeed, and any single one of those certainly beats the living crap out of the entirety of this next one …

“HALLOWEEN II” (2009)

Following a preview screening of his movie, director Rob Zombie approached a studio executive for some feedback …

“What did you think?”

“Well, Rob … Yes … You’ve made a film.”

“Yes. What did you think of it?”

“Well … it’s a film. Isn’t it? A film.”

“Yes.”

“Yes. And in colour! Fancy that.”

“Um …”

“A film in colour. And a talkie to boot. A talking film in colour. My, my.”

“I see. And what did you –”

“What did I …?”

“Think. Of -?”

“Ah …”

“I –”

“Yes?”

“Um …”

“Well … I, I … I have a meeting now, Rob.”

“Oh.”

“Yes, Rob. A meeting. Time is precious. Yes?”

“Yes.”

“Yes … Of course, time is precious. Precious indeed. Please excuse me …”

“Perhaps later?”

“Perhaps. Yes. I’ll have my girl call you …”

“I could –”

No. I will have my girl call you. Later. Goodbye, Rob.”

“Thank you.”

“Goodbye, Rob.”

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