Everyone’s a dick but me

Do you know these films? A man in the lead role and the underlying basis for it is that everyone’s a dick but him?

He always flicks the middle finger to authority. “That’s funny, you look more like a sack of shit in a cheap suit,” he’ll say to his boss (That won’t get him fired, because he’s being protected by someone who owes him a favour).

There’ll be a love interest and the dynamic is: she falls in love with him despite the fact that he’s always pissing her off. He started flirting with her the second time they meet. That’s the only way she knows he’s interested in her. She’ll keep wondering if she’s making “a mistake”.

And he’ll be doing “one last job” which, of course, is to atone for the biggest fuck-up of his life.

Halfway through the movie – you can probably time your watch to it – there’ll be a scene where this ol renegade makes a bad judgment call. Everyone loses confidence in him (everyone but The Girl) and he gets busted down to “issuing parking tickets in Alaska”, or some such degradation. How, how will he make his way back to the centre of the story? Edge of the seat stuff.

We watched one of those films over the weekend.

The man who has a lot of experience and gets hunches, versus the new kid, who represents the new techniques, which are BULLSHIT.

Yurusarezaraumono, yeah, that’s right: Yurusarezaraumono

We watched this Japanese remake of Clink Eastwood’s Unforgiven. The first question is, Did you realise this had been done? You’ll never recognize the name (“Yurusarezaraumono”) but it came out in Japan in 2013, apparently.

You’re watching it going “that guy’s Gene Hackman, that guy’s Morgan Freeman.” They lash in all this stuff about the end of the Shogunate (which you know nothing about), the crushing of the Ainu people (whom you’ve never heard of), and give a bit of a subtext about the birth of modern Japan, the fall of the men who used swords and the rise of the men who used guns (which you don’t spot, your wife does).

Ken Watanabe stars as Clint Eastwood. Likeable Ken, who’s currently playing the King of Siam on Broadway. The scenery’s beautiful. You could watch it for the scenery, and the curious feeling of having this story transposed…You start to think: maybe every country should remake Unforgiven. I’d like to see it set in Sicily and Ireland and Argentina and…

An eighteens movie

We watched Basic Instinct last week.

The first thing that struck me was: this is an eighteens movie. I can’t think of a movie made in the last few years – a popular, mainstream kind of movie – where you’d say it was an eighteens movie. But Basic Instinct is. Jesus, the first scene. It’s not only sex – it’s sex where a woman is on top. That was probably prohibited in American until 1992. And then it’s violent as hell all of a sudden. A short while later, the Michael Douglas character rapes his ex-girlfriend (but it’s 1992, so I suppose the audience was supposed to think he was just coming on too strong).

The next thing that strikes you is: this is a shit movie.

And then half an hour after that, when you’re surprised you’re still watching it, you think: this isn’t a shit movie. And you start wondering if it’s just you or is the screenwriter, Joe Eszterhas, referencing Vertigo all the time: those car rides around San Francisco, the shots of the city’s streets, the platinum blonde, the uncertainty about two of the women – which is the real one (in this case, the real killer)?

The Philadelphia Story

I ducked off work to see The Philadelphia Story yesterday. In the last two weeks I’ve really started doing this. It’s not normal, I know, and I’m doing it because everyone keeps saying “go to the cinema while you still can”.

The baby’s due in two weeks.

So it was an early afternoon showing. 1.45. You know what that means. 1.45 on a week day in an art house, membership-based cinema. I was the only one there under sixty-five.

And I realised it was a blessing. The film was released in 1940, about five to ten years before most of the audience I watched it with was born. But there must be some rule about comedy: that your taste is shaped by the comedy that was popular not just in your childhood but in the years before you were born.

Because they loved it. I saw the film years ago and I didn’t like it, but seeing it with these over-65s…I’m telling you…In the opening scene Katharine Hepburn kicks Cary Grant out of the house. She breaks one of his golf clubs, smashing it across her thigh. And his reaction? He marches up to her – and face palms her to the ground. Yeah. A move that you rarely even see in rugby – a pure face palm. Next shot is her on the ground, with that “why you pesky little…” look on her face. And the over-65s – more than 2/3s of them women – they loved it.

So please, if you’re going to watch this film at home – go out and round up the oldsters.

American Beauty, 15 years on

We watched American Beauty again. I couldn’t take it this time. It felt cynical – everything was smooth – the acting, the direction, everything. But I kept wondering: What is it saying?

There’s the old man with a mid-life crisis story (quit your “soul-destroying” job, tell your dickhead boss what you really think of him, and buy a car you always dreamed of – a 1970 Pontiac Firebird in this case).

And there’s the feel-good twist on this: maybe throwing your life into chaos (reconnecting with your twenty-one year old self and perving on your daughter’s friend) is a liberating thing (“today can be the first day of the rest of your life”).

You have the well-worn ideas that form the backdrop to this: Suburbia is stifling – lives of quiet desperation – the American dream might be hollow on the inside – most people don’t live, they merely exist – and so on.

And then there’s the beauty stuff. The famous plastic bag scene. “I need to remember…Sometimes there’s so much…beauty in the world. I feel like I can’t take it, and my heart is just going to cave in.”

What I’d like to know is, can you still take this? I swallowed it when I was 17. The line is delivered perfectly, and it’s backed by that Thomas Newman piano – the same kind of Brooks Was Here piece that he used in the Shawshank. I love that piano. I wonder how many “meaningful” lines in movies couldn’t be delivered to that backing music.

But the message – “sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world” – it seems like no one believes that but everyone likes to be seduced by it, from time to time.

Pouring Chocolate over Babette’s Feast

We started watching Babette’s Feast this afternoon. Danish film. Won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1987.

We gave it twenty-five minutes. Couldn’t stick it. It’s adapted from an Isak Dinesen story – transposed might be a better word. A lot of telling, not a lot of showing. That was annoying, but worse was the look of it. I’d love to see if you could stick it for half an hour. It’s a period piece made in the late Eighties and it looks it from head to toe.

[I think John Huston was well aware of this problem and that’s why he shot most of The Dead indoors; it’s more forgiving that way]

So we stopped it before we found out anything about Babette and why she was throwing a feast.

And then I looked at the back of the DVD case – and this is what I wanted to ask you about. Does this ring a bell?

A woman comes into a small, conservative rural community. She’s “mysterious”. Soon she convinces some locals to try something “truly outrageous – a gourmet French meal!”…Her feast “scandalizes the local elders…Just who is this strangely talented Babette, who has terrified this pious town with the prospect of losing their souls for enjoying too much earthly pleasure.”

Is this not the plot of Chocolat (the book was published in 1999, film released in 2000)?

Mysterious French woman – local elders (replace Lutherans with Catholics) – small, conservative rural community (replace Jutland with Gers, France) – reduce the gourmet meal to chocolate…


Lose Control

I was coming home the other night and I saw the first poster for Fifty Shades of Grey, the film. It’s such an interesting time for that film to come out – in Ireland – because the most sensational sadist–bondage murder case has just occupied the whole country for a week. The jury has retired.

The remains of a 30-something woman, Elaine O’Hara, were found in 2013. You can Google the ins and outs of it. We have a full record of all the text messages sent to her by the man who is on trial for murdering her. Elaine was a depressive, had mental issues, and was a masochist; the man (a family man, an architect, a man from an impeccable suburb) was a sadist. Among the texts he sent:

  • “I’m a sadist. I enjoy others’ pain. You should help me inflict pain on you and help me with my fantasies.” (April 2012)
  • “I want to stick my knife in flesh while I am sexually aroused. Blood turns me on and I’d like to stab a girl to death some time.”
  • “If you ever want to die, promise me I can do it.” (Ms O’Hara responded: “Yes, I promise, sir.”)
  • “I know you want it. Thirty seconds to slip into oblivion.”

Everyone has been talking about the trial – everyone shocked and etc, etc.

So I was just wondering – in two weeks’ time – how many of the people who are shocked by this stuff will be heading in to see Fifty Shades – with its tagline “Lose Control” – the soft, playful, acceptable face of bondage?