TONGUES ON FILM – MARCH 2011

by Ross Sharp

Some fillums …

“CHLOE” (2009)

The impossibly gorgeous Amanda Seyfried talks dirty to Julianne Moore.

Moore suspects her husband (Liam Neeson) is having an affair, and enlists Seyfried’s Chloe, a high-class prostitute, to see if she can entice him into a torrid poke or three and report back to her about the goings on.

Movies that base themselves on characters constantly talking about sex or constantly having it typically bore the living shit out of me. As David Mamet once wrote in an essay some time back, every time a film shows a sex scene, the movie simply stops. The plot stops, the story stops, and the characters essentially just roll around for a few minutes instead of doing anything even remotely interesting. We all know how it’s going to end anyway – someone mops up, you have a cigarette afterwards, and the sheets get washed on the weekend.

As matters progress, we come to realise that Chloe is not all she seems to be, and by the last third of it all, we’re firmly in B-grade melodrama with added psychobabble.

The performances are all quite good, and watching Seyfried in various stages of undress is certainly not unpleasant, but essentially, it’s “Fatal Attraction” with extra nude bits, minus the boiling bunny.

Knock yourself out.

“THE MESSENGER” (2009)

In 1994 Woody Harrelson starred in the worst movie I have ever seen in my life – Oliver Stone’s “Natural Born Killers”.

I’m sitting in the cinema, looking at this malignant cyst of hyperactive “LOOK AT ME MA I’M A FILMMAKER LOOK AT WHAT I CAN DO AND ALL THE THINGS I CAN SHOVE IN AND ALL THE MEDIUMS I CAN USE AREN’T I CLEVER MA LOOK I’M WAVING A CAMERA AROUND MY HEAD!!!!!!!!!”, loud, stupid, brainless, pointless and pretentious piece of utter fucking tripe and every fifteen minutes I think to myself “I’m leaving, this film is really giving me the shits”, but I stick around, and the reason I stick around is primarily Woody Harrelson.

And Juliette Lewis.

Their performances in that bloated clot of shitty celluloid waste were the only things that prevented me from gouging my eyes out with a melon-baller in abject despair and then running blindly and desperately from the cinema into the middle of Sydney’s George Street for a quick and instant “death by bus”.

Also, the fact I don’t generally carry a melon-baller around with me probably helped some, too.

But I stuck it out to the bitter, artless end, and it was all Woody bloody Harrelson’s fault. For that, he owes me beer.

Up until that time I had only ever seen his work in the series “Cheers” and thought of him only as a light (and quite good) comic actor who’d probably flit from lame to lamer sitcom for years on end, his ultimate fate a spot on “Celebrity Squares” or a “Where Are They Now” special, like so many sitcom stars from back in the day tend to do.

But I’m sitting in the cinema watching him let rip in the role of Mickey Knox in Oliver Stone’s cinematic toilet splatter and I’m thinking, “Fuck, he’s good! What a bloody good actor this guy is!”

Shame about the material he had to work with, but how wrong was I? I owe him beer.

I haven’t seen an Oliver Stone film since “Natural Born Killers”. I’d endured his previous dreary effort “Heaven & Earth” the year before, at one point turning to the friend I was with at the time and asking her, my voice cracking with emotion, “When will it end?”, and as for “The Doors” …

No.

Oliver Stone makes movies about Oliver Stone. He’s Ed Wood with a budget.

“The Messenger” is not an Oliver Stone movie.

But Woody Harrelson is in it, and fuck, he’s good.

Ben Foster plays a young Army Staff Sergeant who returns to the United States from Iraq after being injured and, with only a few months left to serve, is assigned to the Army’s Casualty Notification Team and partnered with Harrelson’s Captain Tony Stone. Their job is to inform the next of kin of those troops – their sons, their daughters, their husbands – that they have been killed in service. There is a strict and precise protocol to be observed in the execution of this duty, and Stone insists it be adhered to.

After a strong first hour, “The Messenger” begins to devolve somewhat into an “on the road buddy movie”, but you don’t really mind one bit, as the performances, from both Foster and Harrelson, from Samantha Morton as the widow to whom Foster’s character is drawn, and the entire supporting cast are simply stunning from beginning to end. You also don’t mind one bit because it’s the first hour contains the notification scenes, and these are truly gutwrenching, heartbreaking scenes to watch. If there’d been too many more of them, I think I would’ve been reduced to a quivering nervous wreck by the end of it, all curled up and huddled in a corner and crying for my mama.

Harrelson’s character reminded me a great deal of Robert Duvall’s Bull Meechum from “The Great Santini”  and, far as I’m concerned, his is a performance equal in strength to that of Duvall’s.

Which is saying something.

“GET LOW” (2009)

I’d like to see a movie which put Robert Duvall together with Clint Eastwood and Gene Hackman and James Garner and Sissy Spacek and Ellen Burstyn and Julie Christie. And Ellen Page.

It would be a western. Obviously, there would be horses.

And I would have to be wearing rubber underpants to watch it. Also, I would squeal like Ned Flanders when it started and when it finished I would buy a ticket to the next session and watch it all over again.

“Get Low” stars Robert Duvall and Sissy Spacek, so we’re only twenty five percent of the way there, but that shall suffice for now. It also features Bill Murray, which is very fine, and Lucas Black, whom I didn’t recognise as the kid who played Caleb in the series “American Gothic” from 1995 until I clocked his name in the closing credits. He has done hisself a whole lotta growin’, and he is very fine, too.

Felix Bush (Duvall) has cut himself off from society for forty years, living a hermetic existence deep in the woods in a prison of his own making as penance for something he has held himself responsible for all those years ago. Upon receiving the news of the death of an old friend, he decides that the time has now come for himself to “get low” and so he sets about organising his own funeral party whilst he is still alive, enlisting the town’s funeral parlour manager (Murray) and his young assistant (Black) to get it done.

Beautifully filmed, shot through with gentle humour and expertly acted, “Get Low” resembles a traditional shaggy-dog American folktale, the type of story one would tell from a rocking chair on a verandah, watching the sun set in the distance, occasionally pausing only to sip on a homemade lemonade or spit a stream of chewing tobacco at a mangy dog.

Anthony Lane from The New Yorker

“The great discovery that (Bill) Murray has donated to cinema is that the drug of deadpan need not be a downer; bewilderingly, it can be an upper, even when you clearly have a heap of things to be down about, plus a face that looks like yesterday’s cinnamon Danish. It’s a treat to see that doughiness set off against Duvall’s severity. Add Sissy Spacek, effortlessly natural as a former flame of Felix’s, now widowed and flickering with regret, and we get a rich spread of dramatic styles. Those three actors have a combined age of almost two hundred. There must be youngbloods in Hollywood who can match them, but none spring to mind.”

Robert Duvall’s presence in a movie is enough reason to see it anyway (unless that movie is “Days of Thunder” … God help us all, he had to deal with a script that had him giving a pep talk to a fucking car. The money must’ve been very good).

A May release date for Australia is indicated, but I’m not sure whether that’s for a cinema release or a DVD. You may as well just go and buy the bloody thing from the States.

Or do that other thing.

“WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO AUNT ALICE?” (1969)

Geraldine Page plays a mad, bad, off with the bats and out of the belfry socialite whose husband has died with a mountain of debt and left her naught but a wristwatch, a pair of cufflinks and a stamp album.

To make ends meet and keep living in the manner to which she has become accustomed, she goes into the housekeeper killing business, hiring them, conning them out of their savings, then bumping them off and burying them in the backyard. Under a palm tree.

Page grabs the screen from her very first scene and never lets it go, not so much chewing the scenery as blasting it into insignificance. You cannot take your eyes off her.

And then Ruth Gordon turns up about twenty minutes later (this was made the year after Gordon won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for “Rosemary’s Baby”) and grabs the screen back, and from thereon you’re in actor heaven watching two absolute masters let rip in a most magnificent fashion.

I picked this up for four bucks from Amazon last month, and you really couldn’t ask for a better way to drop a couple of coins in return for a hundred minutes or so of pure joy.

Unless of course you had a hot and promising date with Scarlett Johansson and needed to buy a rubber.

Hubba, hubba.

That will never happen, by the way.

“LET ME IN” (2010)

Not the wisible twavesty everyone was expecting.

A decent enough remake of the Swedish original from 2008 for those Americans who cannot read and cannot read subtitles, though as I watch most DVD’s with subtitles on anyway, the point of it all was a little lost on me …

“Subtitles!? Subtitles!? I ain’t gonna go pay money for a fillum and be ‘spected to read it! You s’posed to watch a fillum, goddammit, you ain’t s’posed to reads it! Here I am, goin’ to the movies, mah leg hurts, mah butt hurts, mah chest hurts, mah face hurts, and like that ain’t enough, I gotta go pee all over myself, an’ they ‘spect me to read shit? That’s faggot stuff, that is! That’s strictly for fags!”

Director Matt Reeves gruesomes things up a bit, but not too much, omits a whole bunch of characters, and maintains a reasonable pace throughout without going all “Cloverfield” on our arses (thank the heavens!). Chloe Moretz and Kodi Smit-McPhee are perfectly swell in the leads, but it lacks the pervasive and chilly sense of melancholy that made the original so stark and haunting.

At least they didn’t make Moretz’s vampire sparkle in the sunlight.

VAMPIRES DON’T FUCKING SPARKLE IN THE FUCKING SUNLIGHT, THEY BURN, YOU DENSE, SAPPY LITTLE DOUCHEBAGS!!!

I’ve never seen that film.

I’d rather hammer tacks into my eyeballs with a stiletto heel.

“PEACOCK” (2010)

When a script indicates that a character is afflicted by a psychological disorder of some sort, an actor will often assume certain characteristics to show this to us – a tic, a grimace, various gestures or other such business. When this happens it then becomes the director’s responsibility to tell the actor to knock it off and simply concentrate on the words of the script and communicate those words to us without all this squirmy, actorly nonsense.

Film is not theatre.

Unfortunately, the director of “Peacock” did not tell Cillian Murphy to knock it off and his performance in the lead role of John sort of lost me about five minutes in because of it.

John is a painfully shy young bank clerk in the town of Peacock who, as the voiceover during the opening credit sequence indicates, was thoroughly fucked up by his late mother. In the wake of her death, John has assumed another identity, a woman by the name of Emma. No one in town is aware of this woman’s existence until, one day, a train flies off the tracks that run close to his house and into the backyard where “Emma” happens to be hanging out some washing at the time. As neighbours rush over to offer assistance, “Emma” retreats to the sanctuary of “her” house, and the neighbours, knowing very little of John and his quiet and reclusive ways, assume that she is his wife.

Inevitably, intrigue then ensues throughout the town, and the main source of conflict driving the whole thing along is which personality, John or Emma, will ultimately emerge as the dominant.

It’s an interesting concept, and Murphy is much more convincing as “Emma” than he is as John, largely because all of the tics and mannerisms that he’s seen fit to saddle John with disappear. The supporting cast includes Bill Pullman, Susan Sarandon and Keith Carradine and the film has one of those soundtracks that irritatingly insist on noodling along under every fucking scene and never shutting up.

But, despite those few quibbles of mine, this is not a bad film by any stretch of the imagination, so it’s a little surprising to find that it went straight to DVD in the United States.

Honestly, how exasperating it must be to be a filmmaker now, spending years putting a thing together in which you believe, gathering a fine and experienced cast, and after all that effort, to be denied a week or two’s run in some select cinemas in a few major cities; to have people come and see the product of all that furious effort, write a review or three, and, if it doesn’t break any box-office records or win a swag of awards, at least you can comfort yourself with the knowledge that people left their houses to come see your quiet and decently done little independent movie, and many may have left liking it.

As of this writing, “Peacock” has only two reviews over at Rotten Tomatoes, both quite favourable, so don’t let my nitpicks put you off, maybe I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind.

Oh. And it has Ellen Page in it, also.

That was my excuse.

I like her.

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