TONGUES ON FILM – MAY 2010

by Ross Sharp

Here are just a few of the movies I’ve caught up with this last month …

“ZOMBIELAND” (2009)

The trailer was good.

Nothing really happens in this film. We meet the characters, they all go on a long drive together, they wind up at an amusement park, they kill some zombies, and then they drive off.

That’s about it, really.

There’s a few giggles to be had, no scares or tension whatsoever, you just don’t feel there’s anything at stake here.

Bill Murray turns up in a pointless cameo, and Woody Harrelson’s always worth watching, but if neither of those actors tickle your fancy, you needn’t bother.

One thing …

Would all these lazy-arse critics kindly stop comparing any and every horror/comedy to “Shaun of the Dead” please?

For fuck’s sake, enough already.

“AVATAR” (2009)

IT’S VERY BLOODY LOUD THIS MOVIE!!!1!! …

I imagine if I’d seen it at a cinema, my tinnitus would’ve kicked in something awful.

I had almost been tempted to make a rare foray into one of those soulless boxes of tack we call the multiplex to sit amongst the texters and tweeters and other noisy tittering tools who lurk in such places now to see what the fuss was all about, but the hype really began to get on my nerves (3D!3D!3D!3D!!!1!) and I simply lost interest …

Take THAT, relentless multi-million dollar publicity machine! Nyah!

Now, there’s no denying that, visually at least, “Avatar” is quite the spectacle and an awesome thing to behold, like the mother of all Yes album covers. Or Osibisa. Does anyone remember Osibisa? I certainly don’t.

The story and characterisation however are about as deep as a puddle of piss in a desert and make the 1930’s space operas of E. E. “Doc” Smith seem positively labyrinthine with complexity by comparison.

Yet I do not think James Cameron had any desire to make anything other than a rather simple, straightforward and visually spectacular space opera, aiming to appeal to the broadest possible audience (hence the “PG” rating), so I have to disagree with Paul Byrnes of the SMH who claimed Cameron “wants to be Kubrick but hasn’t the cojones” or that the film “represents a failure of nerve”.

That seems a little churlish, as none of Cameron’s films could ever be considered deep or even intellectually challenging on any level. I don’t think he’s trying to be Ingmar Bergman, for Christ’s sake. Essentially, he makes action-adventure films, bad guys versus good guys, impossible odds, worlds and lives at stake. And I think he does them rather well, and certainly a damn sight better than the rubbish Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer fling at us on a regrettably regular basis.

I have fast run out of patience with purely CGI effects-driven blockbusters (“2012” anyone? I fell asleep half-way through that thing), so I was fully prepared to hate this film and dismiss it as a half billion buck cartoon, but, in all honesty, what I can say is that “Avatar” held my attention for its duration and didn’t piss me off.

That’s getting to be quite the rare occurrence these days.

As for the quality of the performances (what was Sam Worthington’s accent about?), there were some actors in the movie, and they did some … um … acting

I think.

I’m not quite sure, really.

“THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT” (2009)

The Amityville Horror.

In Connecticut.

Amityville is not in Connecticut, it’s in Suffolk County, New York state. Connecticut is next to New York state. Rhode Island is on the other side. Of Connecticut, that is.

Now you know.

I would recommend you watch this film simply to appreciate the sheer awfulness of the score.

It is an abomination. It is awe-inspiringly atrocious. After thirty minutes of it, you will find yourself screaming at the television, “Just SHUT THE FUCK UP and FUCK OFF!” It clusterfucks every single scene and moment in the sloppy manner of a football team on a solitary girl. If there’s a calm moment, it goes “La-di-da-di-da”, if there’s an eerie moment, it goes “Oooooooooooooh-om-om-om”, and if there’s a scary moment, it goes “BANG! SQUEAL! SCREECH! RAH-RAH-RAH!!!” like a spastic child in a cupboard full of pots and pans.

It’s fucking horrid.

So now you know.

“NETWORK” (1976)

Listen, Warner Bros., if you’re going to issue a “2 disc special edition” of one of the finest, most literate and brilliantly acted movies of the last half century, it might be an idea to pay a little attention to the quality of the print and clean it up some first, you think?

Because the print on offer here is bloody awful. It’s fuzzy in parts, faded in others and scratched up to buggery.

There’s one point, I swear, it looks as if the film has slipped its sprockets and drops halfway down the screen for a second or two. I mean, for fuck’s sake …

Yet, and yet, and yet … aside from concerns about the print, “Network” still retains its power to enthrall after almost 35 years simply by virtue of an absolutely stunning screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky (voted in 2006 by the Writers Guild of America one of the top ten scripts of all time), tight and unfussy direction from Sidney Lumet, and an ensemble of powerhouse performances from William Holden, Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway, Robert Duvall, Ned Beatty and Beatrice Straight (who picked up a Best Supporting Actress Oscar on the strength of just one scene lasting less than 5 minutes).

Writing in 2000, Roger Ebert observed of “Network” …

“Seen a quarter-century later, it is like prophecy. When Chayefsky created Howard Beale [Peter Finch], could he have imagined Jerry Springer, Howard Stern and the World Wrestling Federation?”

And ten years on from that, we’ve since seen commercial news and current affairs shows decay into mostly mindless infotainment programmes (“Next up, the story about the miracle jeans that are guaranteed to take three inches off your thighs!”), and so-called “reality” programmes infect practically every minute of the airwaves (“The Farmer Wants a Wife”? Who on earth is supposed to give a flying fuck and why?), Lumet and Chayefsky’s devastating hatchet job on the networks plays out like a documentary on the inner workings of Fox (Fox’s Glen Beck, he of the teary chipmunk cheeks, has previously compared himself to Howard Beale … methinks Mr. Beck can’t quite see the irony there).

“Network” is of course renowned and remembered mostly for the (justly famous) “mad as hell” rant from Beale, however there’s soooo much more to be savoured in this film than just that. Every single line of the script bristles with anger and intelligence, and in every scene, the actors forgo the dreary tat of mumble-mumble naturalism and swing into Chayefsky’s heightened dialogue with furious and ferocious commitment, managing to smash the ball, not so much out of the park, but over state borders.

Finch picked up a posthumous Best Actor Oscar for his performance, but I’ve always preferred William Holden’s quieter, more nuanced role as Max Schumacher, the network news head. Holden’s face is simply a marvel to behold, a sculpture of a life lived hard, carved in flesh. He too was nominated for Best Actor along with Finch and, according to Bob Thomas’s (out of print) biography “Golden Boy”, was bitterly disappointed at missing out, as he felt he’d done some of the best work of his life. And he had, damn straight he had.

Four years later, Bill Holden was dead, having bled to death alone in his apartment after getting drunk, slipping on a rug and hitting his head against a side table. He wasn’t found for four days …

… “Sunset Boulevard”, “Born Yesterday”, “Stalag 17”, “Sabrina”, “Picnic”, “The Bridge on the River Kwai”, “The Wild Bunch”, Clint Eastwood’s “Breezy”, “Network” …

William Holden was a goddamned giant. And a true gentleman too, by all accounts.

Now, in spite of the crappy print on offer in this 2 disc “special edition” (not available in region 4, get it from Amazon), it’s well worth forking over the bucks for the extras, which include a lengthy documentary on the making of the film, an interview with, and overview on Sidney Lumet and his career, and a fascinating talk show appearance with Chayefsky from the 70’s. There’s also a commentary track from Lumet on the feature, for those who like such things.

Here is the scene with Holden that Beatrice Straight won her Oscar for. She deserved it …

 

“THE OMEN” (2006)

Richard Donner’s 1976 original had a great many things going for it – a good cast with Gregory Peck and Lee Remick in the leads, a cracking story that just barreled along, and Jerry Goldsmith’s marvelous score.

And so, with these fond memories, I had made a point of avoiding John Moore’s remake until now.

And all I can say about it is this – “Why?”

Why did you bother? It’s not that it’s particularly horrible, it’s just … the same, only much less so.

There are some fine British actors featured, notably David Thewlis and Pete Posthlewaite, and I did enjoy Mia Farrow’s turn as Mrs. Blakelock, but the point of this remake is completely lost on me.

It’s the same movie. With a facelift. The original didn’t need a fucking facelift.

You’ve already seen this if you’ve seen the original. And after seeing this (if you’re up for wasting a couple bucks), you’ll only want to go back and watch the original again, because it’s a damn sight better.

You have scripts and directors with original concepts and ideas who spend years, sometimes decades adrift in development hell, and some dense cunt in a suit in Hollywoodland gives this the green light?

What a complete and utter waste of time and money.

Dickheads.

“RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY” (1962)

Wonderful.

Sam Peckinpah had more than his fair share of run-ins with studio heads over the course of his career (most notably with the odious Jim Aubrey of MGM over “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid”, and a man about whom never a good word has been said), and “Ride the High Country”, Peckinpah’s second feature, was dumped into a few second rate cinemas with nary a peep of publicity on its release because Sol Siegel, MGM’s chief executive at the time, loathed it.

Critics, however, begged to differ, with both Time and Newsweek claiming it as one of the ten best films of that year, and over the subsequent passage of time, it has come to be regarded as one of Peckinpah’s best, and a precursor to those themes he would examine at greater length and depth in his 1969 masterwork “The Wild Bunch”.

Two aging ex-lawmen and old friends (Randolph Scott and Joel McCrae) team up to escort a gold shipment from a Sierra mountains mining camp back to civilisation. They’re accompanied on their journey by a young woman running away from her fundamentalist father and a young male hothead with a little too much lust in his loins for his own good.

Sounds like the cue for a whole bunch of tired, predictable and worn old western clichés, but this is a Peckinpah movie and events and relationships unfold in rather dark and unsettling fashion (there’s a grotesque wedding sequence in a whorehouse that’s worthy of David Lynch) after a fairly conventional first half hour.

In fact, the only thing that’s tired and predictable about “Ride the High Country” is its quite sappy and often inappropriate score, but that was an aspect of the film Peckinpah had no control over at the time.

You can pick this up for about ten or twelve bucks, the print is first class, and there’s a twenty minute feature included where Peckinpah’s sister reminisces about his early life and upbringing.

And after that, you can go watch “The Wild Bunch” again.

I did.

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