The Color of Pomegranates

Dear reader,

Don’t seek in this post the review of the film The Color of Pomegranates, a film claiming to not be a biography of the poet Sayat-Nova, but is in fact merely striving to convey, by means of cinema, the pictorial world of that poetry. This post strives to convey not a review of the film, but merely a feel, by means of rambling words and poorly planned introductions, of how much the writer didn’t care for it one bit. pomegranate gauze Continue reading

Heaven and Earth Magic

I’m not going to waste any more time on this than I have to. Heaven and Earth Magic is, to quote John Cleese, a senseless waste of human life. It’s 66 minutes of crude, jerky, 1950s stop motion that pieces together to form not one single iota of sense. It’s the kind of film where trying to decode the nonsense and assemble some kind of coherent narrative would drive you utterly insane, because it’s nothing but objects and outlines, interacting with one another in increasingly bizarre ways. Any such plot that could be assigned to the goings-on would do so via great leaps of metaphor, and many threadbare external references applied.
Continue reading

Salo, or 120 Days of Sodom

The title of the book is 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. Must. Not Could. Not Should. Must. These are films that, according to the people who collated the list, are required viewing for anyone who wishes to live a satisfactory and fulfilled life, cinematically at least. They are essential for making you a complete person. Presumably this is because these films will impart some kind of life-affirming information, or perhaps they have some noteworthy impact upon modern cinema; a legacy to earn them a place in the annals of movie history. Or maybe, just maybe, the makers of the list are just fucking with us all, imparting some sadistic punishment for daring to think that watching far too many films results in anything other than a waste of time and a flabby midriff. Continue reading

Movie 43

After Baxter (Devin Eash) plays a YouTube prank on his older brother Calvin (Mark L. Young) and his friend J.J. (Adam Cagley), Calvin decides to take revenge. He sends Baxter on an online mission to find the mythical – and apparently fictional – ‘Movie 43‘, a video so foul and depraved that it’s been banished to the furthest corners of the internet, whilst Calvin fills Baxter’s laptop with pornography and viruses. Apparently the video will, if seen, bring about the end of humanity, the destruction of the world, and will make him pull his own penis off, and we are treated to all the videos that Baxter encounters on his search.Movie-43 Continue reading

Violence is Funny

Everybody has their own favourite Christmas films, and more often than not they tend to be those watched every year during your childhood. The ones you can quote line for line, and aren’t ashamed to admit you love. That’s the beauty of the Christmas film, by their very nature they almost have to be sappy, family-friendly, it’ll-all-be-OK-in-the-end schmaltz, and some are so much the better for it. Whilst A Christmas Story may not be my personal favourite, I can absolutely see why others may adore it, and you give me National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, The Muppet Christmas Carol or Elf every day of December and you’ll find it a difficult task to prise me from the sofa. But this post isn’t about any of those film, it’s about a series of films, all set over the holiday period, which I feel I should write about, because I love them so much. That’s right, it’s Home Alone.

Growing up, I must have watched Home Alone and its sequel, Lost in New York, every Christmas since about 1995, but for some reason or another I hadn’t seen either of them for a good few years, so earlier this year I spotted the 4-disc boxset in my local second-hand DVD store for far less money than I would have been willing to pay, so I made a swift purchase and shelved them aside, looking ahead to Christmas when numbers 1 and 2 would be watched for the umpteenth time, and parts 3 and 4would be seen for the first. Well on the weekend before Christmas the time finally came, and was made all the more special by it being my girlfriend’s first viewing of all of them (quickly followed by her first viewing of The Muppet Christmas Carol, although I’ve yet to sit her down for Christmas Vacation).
Before watching, I was slightly apprehensive as to whether the first two films would live up to my memories, but I can attest that they are still amazing. There’s something about spending a considerable amount of time setting up the premise – Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) is, through a series of coincidences and mishaps, left alone at his family’s palatial home over Christmas whilst they are holidaying in Paris. After coming to terms with his situation and learning how to take care of himself and the house, his troubles are deemed far from over when two bumbling crooks, Harry and Marv (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern), pick the McCallister’s apparently empty house as the perfect target for a little festive theft, so Kevin must use every trick at his disposal to stop them.
This is the very definition of a film of two halves. The first half outlines Kevin’s predicament – his family waking up late after a downed power line, confusion at the taxi head count and rushing through the boarding gates – and introduces our hero’s nemeses, gradually setting up the life lessons that Kevin will have learned by the end of the film – the importance of both independence and family, ingenuity and friendship – whilst the second half is a monumental payoff, with the two crooks getting absolutely everything they deserve in a masterpiece milieu of slapstick, gurning and cringing (the nail through the foot, always the nail through the foot!).
The sequel manages to recreate the same sense of wonder and excitement at the prospect of being allowed to run amok with no adult supervision, but this time gives Kevin not just his home town to play with, but the entirety of New York City, complete with a grand hotel and a magnificent toy store to muck about in. Although the structure is almost exactly identical – Kevin argues with his family, is separated from them, thrives on his own, befriends an apparently scary local loner, runs into difficulties, thwarts the plans of Harry and Marv, rigs a house full of wince-inducing booby traps, uses the aforementioned friend to catch the thieves before being reunited with his family – it remains fresh by approaching each aspect in a new and interesting way. And it features Daniel Stern being hit in the face with a brick, four times. Stern’s subsequent defiant yell of “Suck brick, kid” when he is presented with the opportunity to retaliate is one of my favourite moments in festive cinema, up there with Jimmy Stewart’s life-affirmed canter through Bedford Falls and Andrew Lincoln’s title card confession to Keira Knightley. And Buddy the Elf being hit by a car.
The real universal joy of these first two films lies partly with the heartwarming morals and happy endings, colourful characters and the triumph over adversity of not just a child alone at Christmas, but his parents’ desperate attempts to reunite the family, but personally I believe the true unique quality that sets this duo apart from other festive fare is the violence, of which almost the entirety is directed towards Harry and Marv. Throughout the films they endure enough torment and torture to kill them many, many times, be it from five-storey falls onto concrete, toilet bowl explosions (after an impressive handstand from Harry), being crushed by numerous heavy objects (the nose-bending tool chest down the stairs is a personal highlight) or just being conked on the back of a head with a snow shovel. The beauty is, no matter how much the pair are put through, they can always get back up again and continue their chase of the kid at the other end of the string those paint cans are tied to. It’s a live-action cartoon, and made all the better by the expressions Pesci and Stern are able to contort their faces into. Pesci’s acting decision to channel Muttley in the second film does tend to throw me a little, but it fits the feel.
This love in the first films of all things potentially disabling and dismembering was surely the reason for my high hopes for parts three and four. I had of course heard that these films were sub-par at worst, and disappointing at best, but I had assumed this would be because the film-makers hadn’t understood that you need to have that balance of the gentler, expositionary first half, before the riotous free-for-all of a conclusion. I’d anticipated the directors (The Smurfs’ Raja Gosnell and Teen Wolf’s Rod Daniel, rather than Chris Columbus) would have settled for the most basic of premises before unleashing a never ending torrent of flamethrowers, anvils and rocket-packs, but it turns out I could not have been more wrong. Instead of the expected violence-fest, there was a seemingly endless amount of set-up with so little pay-off I almost missed it completely. Home Alone 3 at least puts a little effort in, but the traps set are far less ingenious and incapacitating than in the previous installments, with at one point of the crooks (four this time, none of whom have done enough to remove Home Alone 3 from their top four films on IMDb) being forcibly restrained by nothing more than a weak hose pipe going off in his face, and they all go through a lot worse than what ultimately immobilizes each of them. Also, where in the first two films Kevin’s isolation was accidental, here Alex (Alex D. Linz) is left home alone on purpose, and only for a few hours at a time, when he’s home sick, his parents are at work and his siblings (including a young Scarlett Johansson) are at school. The fact that at the end of every day the rest of his family comes home to surround him with safety kind of ruins most of the tension. My main issue though, other than the lack of Daniel Stern and Joe Pesci, or a John Candy/Tim Curry-style comedic actor in a supporting role, is that the villains are international terrorists on the trail of a misplaced microchip hidden inside a remote control car Alex has recently acquired. The first times around the crooks were a pair of bumbling ne’er-do-wells who couldn’t find a bag of cement if it fell on their heads, so their being bested by a bratty kid is almost plausible, but this time the crooks come equipped with enough plans and gadgetry that it just becomes silly, and not in the way it’s supposed to.
All of this is fine, however, in comparison to Home Alone 4, a film which justifiably was only released as a TV movie. It tries to bring back the character of Kevin McCallister (Mike Weinberg, hands down the worst child actor I’ve seen) and Marv (French Stewart), but this time Kevin’s parents are separated, and Kevin runs away to spend Christmas with his Dad (Jason Beghe) and his mega-rich new girlfriend (and potential fiancé) Natalie (Joanna Going). Natalie lives in an ultra-modern, remote controlled house complete with a butler and maid, and the British royal family are coming to stay for the festive period. Marv and his girlfriend Vera (Missi Pyle) plan to kidnap the young prince, but weren’t expecting the young Kevin to be around and get in the way. I have four main problems with this film, other than the aforementioned acting talent on display. The predominant one is that, in a film series called Home Alone, and in which the previous three installments have all featured a child being abandoned and left to fend for himself; at no point in this film is Kevin actually alone. The maid and butler are always there somewhere, and if they are ever both unavailable for assistance, this isn’t made clear until after the events have taken place, so you spend the entire time just waiting for help to arrive. Secondly, there’s a twist signposted early on that so obviously wants you to think one thing that the only possible alternative becomes abundantly clear, yet is portrayed as a dramatic surprise when it is eventually spelled out. Thirdly, this is a film in the Home Alone series, yet there’s barely any traps laid out for the crooks to fall into. I’m going to spoil it a little now, but I strongly advise you not to watch this film, which makes it OK in my book. The whole point of the Home Alone films is for a kid to find novel ways to injure trespassers using household objects and toys, but this is almost entirely ignored. The only trap Kevin actually sets is a large frying pan rigged behind a door to bash someone in the head, and he even has to stand next to it to release it. Granted, seeing French Stewart being smacked in the face with a swinging pan is still pretty damn funny, but I really wanted more. A stereo playing one of the crook’s voices doesn’t make sense, and setting up a revolving bookcase to spin faster when there’s people trapped inside is nowhere near what could have been achieved with so much gadgetry to hand. Oh, and the elevator that can’t go up so gets stuck between floors? Well why not just go down or force the doors open? Ridiculous. Anyway. My fourth and final problem is the film’s final shot, when Kevin looks into the camera and instructs his voice-activated remote-control, that apparently only controls the house, to alter the weather patterns and make it snow. I hate this kind of thing, and this may well have just replaced Sex and the City 2 as the worst film I’ve ever seen.
So, other than one smirk-inducing frying pan to the face, there is absolutely no reason to watch Home Alone 4, and don’t bother with part 3 either, just watch 1and 2, every Christmas, forever.
Home Alone: Choose Film 8/10
Home Alone 2: Choose Film 8/10
Home Alone 3: Choose Life 3/10
Home Alone 4: Choose Life 1/10

Combat Academy

George Clooney strikes again. Looking up his C.V., I’ve got at most four more films I have immediate access to until I get to one that’s even half decent (From Dusk Till Dawn), and that’s skipping six I can’t find yet! My god his early career was appalling. And then straight after Dusk I’ve got the one-two double punch of One Fine Day and Batman and Robin. I am really beginning to regret this decision, but its too late now.

Anyway, Combat Academy. In case you hadn’t guessed from the title and the 1986 release date, this is an attempt at a rip-off of the hugely popular Police Academy, down to copying the poster style and title typography, but this time set around a military school. However, the key area they failed to take inspiration from is in the use of colourful, quirky characters, engaging yet entertaining performances, and the inclusion of actual jokes. There’s even a commanding officer with a tank-bound pet. They can’t even blame it on coincidence either, as director Neal Israel was on script duty for Police Academy.

Two high school pranksters, Perry and Max (Wallace Langham and Keith Gordon) are kicked out of school on the first day back from summer vacation, and are sentenced to spending a year at Kirkwood Military Academy, due to having 238 separate acts of hijinks each on their permanent records. Two hundred and thirty eight. I’m pretty sure some point before the 50th time he found a herd of pigs in the library their headmaster would have instilled some discipline, contacted the authorities or just flat out killed the little shits. Anyway, the kids’ parents are disappointed in their kids (Perry’s dad is John Ratzenberger! Hell yes!) and don’t mind too much to see them be sent off to learn a few lessons in obedience, but the guys themselves are less than happy with the situation. However, seeing as Max at least is one of the least likable leads I’ve ever watched in a film, I had to agree with the parents. Max is a dick. Plain and simple. He incessantly causes havoc around himself purely for kicks, and doesn’t give a moment’s thought to repercussions to himself or those around him, particularly the stuttering, nervous Perry whom he drags down with him wherever he goes. And Keith Gordon is certainly no Steve Guttenberg, and his overuse of obnoxious, predictable and hokey one-liners just makes him all the more detestable. Perry on the other hand is somewhat likable, but is such a wet fish that he fails to register.

The two rub their commanding officers, George Clooney and Kevin Haley, up the wrong way early on, but by this point I’d stopped paying too much attention to the meagre plot – there’s a thief in the academy, some visiting Russian cadets, Perry falls in love and Max is trying to pull a Mahoney and get himself kicked out – and focused instead on the terrible performances on display here, particularly from Kevin Haley, who is possibly the most wooden an actor I’ve ever seen. It doesn’t help that he’s partnered up with Clooney for several scenes, but still. In fact, none of the actors seems to be in the same film as one another, at least in the sense that for the entire 96 minute runtime there isn’t a drop of chemistry between any of them, including the two leads who have apparently been best friends for over a decade.

The closest the film comes to a comical character is in the academy’s science teacher Col. Long (Richard Moll), who aims for eccentric but overshoots to certifiable. Amongst the rest of the cast, look out for Danny Nucci (Titanic‘s Fabrizzio), Elya Baskin (Spiderman‘s landlord) and Sherman Hemsley (George Jefferson). Of the leads, Keith Gordon went on to become a TV director, working on the likes of Dexter and House, whilst Wallace Langham played Kirby, the guy who signed in the Hooper family at the pageant in Little Miss Sunshine.

Elsewhere, the film suffers from an outrageous 80s soundtrack and the worst effects shot in any film, ever, when Max attempts to show off some kind of stunt during a paintball match that probably was supposed to involve him throwing his gun high in the air and catching it again, but which he clearly fumbled so they used the footage of him throwing it, then played it backwards for 2 seconds to make it look as though he caught the gun again. Did director Neal Israel, who directed the Tom Hanks classic Bachelor Party, really think he was going to get away with that? Not on my watch, bucko.

There are plenty of missed opportunities for comedy to be mined too. Firstly, the pranks the pair pull are all either incredibly tired or have no resounding effect on anything – lockers explode whilst people standing nearby remain oblivious, and switching the signs on the restrooms is just hokey, pre-teen nonsense. 
So, is there any reason at all to watch this film? If so, I can’t think of it. It is entirely devoid of anything approaching humour, features some very heavy handling of moral issues – Clooney’s Major Biff Woods (yes, that’s his name) just wants to please his Daddy – suffers from a hastily tied up resolution via an out of character rousing speech, hideous acting and completely and utterly fails to be comparable to even Police Academy 7: Mission to Moscow.

Choose life, 1/10

Bunuel Marathon

I’ve made no secret that I dislike the films of Spanish surrealist/Mexican politicist Luis Bunuel. I find his work arduous, unpleasantly illogical and disconcerting, so I thought it would be a good idea to remove the remainder from the list in quick succession, allowing for 8 films to be bundled together in another overlong post that no-one with a modicum of sense will ever read.

Our first is Belle de Jour, a senseless, semi-plotless effort typical of Bunuel, following Severine (the beautiful Catherine Deneuve) who behaves frigidly towards her husband of one year, but finds herself stepping out to work at a brothel without his knowing. What little plot there is is predictable – inevitably a lecherous friend of Severine’s husband visits the brothel and propositions her, with only Deneuve’s performance is worth watching. Mercifully, little intercourse is shown.
In the Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, I was shocked to find an almost coherent story running throughout, as six upper crust respectable people – drug dealers, no less – struggle to all come together for a meal, but are denied the chance at every turn, be it from confused calendars, a dead restaurant manager, a bout of pre-lunch nooky, a shortage of tea and the unexpected arrival of a branch of the military. There is indeed a certain charm to the story, nicely balancing the ludicrous dining catastrophes with the concern that the drug pedallers are being tracked by terrorists, but alas all this is blown to bits with interruptions from a tragic Lieutenant, telling of how his mother’s ghost told him as a child to poison his father, or a dream he had meeting dead people on a street. The bishop is also an unnecessary distraction, and the Inception-like dream within a dream finale adds nothing but disappointment.

It’s Catherine Deneuve again, this time playing Tristana, a woman in mourning for her recently deceased mother, who goes to stay with the lecherous yet refined Don Lupe. He spouts bizarre philosophies (“a woman only stays honest with a broken leg – and at home!”) which begin to rub off on Tristana as he makes several advances towards her yet she does not seem to object. She makes a point of always choosing between two things, so it’s safe to assume she will eventually be called upon to choose between two men, and she suffers from the kinds of bizarre, unexplained dreams that are Bunuel’s bread and butter. There’s a fair stab at an actual plot, but bland or irrational characters, large periods of time passing with little acknowledgement and an unsatisfactory, inconclusive ending mars the film.

After an unexpected yet poorly edited explosive opening that had to be rewound to work out who it happened to, That Obscure Object of Desire heads downhill. Using an annoying and repeatedly referred to narrative device of a man telling his story to other passengers in his train carriage, we hear of the events that led up to him pouring water over a woman on the train platform. The other passengers continually tell the man that his story is fascinating and remarkable, but it is nothing of the sort, concerning a duplicitous young women employed as a maid by the man, who leaves when he shows her affection, and bear in mind that the positive adjectives used to compliment the man’s story were written by the same person who wrote the story he is telling, making them nothing more than egotistical propaganda.

Los Olvidados began positively, but I’m sure not in a way hoped by those involved in its production. Expecting a 95 minute film, the DVD clocked in at a much more tolerable 76 minutes, so I settled down with a grin on my face at the extra 19 minutes I could spend asleep that evening. Having just escaped from prison, young gang leader Jaibo rejoins a band of youths and sets them up to rob a blind busker. The plan fails and one of their number is stabbed, so later the gang pelt the busker with mud and stones, destroying his instruments. All the gang members look at least a little alike and are hard to distinguish from one another, and there are few genuinely likeable characters in the cast. One young hoodlum steals food from his own mother, but to be fair, when asked if she loves him, the mother replies “Why should I love him? I don’t even know who his father is.” The film shows a mildly interesting look at those trying to escape a life they’ve been born into, but not a lot happens, and when it does it isn’t terribly interesting.

Inconclusive and pointless, Viridiana sees a nun visiting her sick uncle, only to find she is eerily identical to her deceased aunt. Her uncle, Don Jaime, is willing to do anything to prevent Viridiana from returning to the nunnery, though drugging her and pretending to rape her is a little extreme, as is hanging himself when his plan fails. Believing herself to be deflowered and therefore unable to return to her calling, Viridiana brings in some homeless people to help out around her late uncle’s house – much to the chagrin of her uncle’s other relatives – and the previously homeless do a less than acceptable job of helping out. Long periods of silence make it easy to drift off, as does the boring story with little to retain interest.

To begin with in Land Without Bread, I thought the worst part of this half hour documentary about an obscure poverty-stricken Spanish village in 1932 was going to be the production values, with a poor quality transfer resplendent with cracks and scratches, terrible sound and mistakes in the subtitles, bit it turns out I was quite wrong. The film is horrific in its depiction of a town where the only water source is a muddy stream running through it, children’s parents steal the bread their offspring bring home from the school and almost everyone is diseased in some way – a 32 years old woman looks at least 55, with a revoltingly bulbous goitre on her neck. We see a child with inflamed gums, and two days later she is dead. The only milk available is from the goats that thrive on the barren, rocky landscape, and is reserved only for the very sick, and goats are only used for their meat when they die of natural causes. At this point the film takes a turn. We see a goat fall from the rocks to demonstrate the previous point, and also a donkey being stung to death when a bee hive it is carrying falls off. After watching the film, I later discovered both events, each ending in the very real death of an animal, were both staged, with Bunuel even smearing the donkey with honey. Words fail me for home disgusting this is. A group of dwarfs are filmed as though the focus of a nature documentary (“Some are dangerous. They flee from people or attack them with stones. They are found at nightfall as they return to their village. We found it very hard to film them.”) There are repeated shots of a dead baby. This is a thoroughly depressing film that does not broach the subject of why the village’s inhabitants remain there, and it’s only redeeming feature is making the viewer grateful for what they have.

And finally, The Young One. Racism runs rampantly throughout this tale of a black man fleeing the accused rape of a white woman, and discovering an island inhabited only by a young girl and her abusive guardian. It’s a fairly straightforward plot, with the accused criminal attempting to leave the island, but there are bizarre and inappropriate sexual overtones between the girl and both men, especially because she is clearly underage, though no-one, not even the girl herself, knows how old she is. There isn’t as much wrong with this film as in most of Bunuel’s, but also nothing really noteworthy.

Belle de Jour: Choose life 5/10
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie: Choose life 6/10
Tristana: Choose life 4/10
That Obscure Object of Desire: Choose life 3/10
Los Olvidados: Choose life 5/10
Viridiana: Choose life 4/10
Land Without Bread: Choose life 1/10
The Young One: Choose life 6/10

Night and Fog

Why are so many of these films so goddamned depressing? And why are there two Holocaust documentaries on the same list? Surely Shoah covered enough in over 9 hours that a poxy little 30 minute doc isn’t going to add any more? Why is nobody satisfied until I see so many horrific images I can’t sleep at night? There is no possible situation where I could want to watch Nazis cramming 100 people to a train carriage, depriving them of water and light for days before bringing them to concentration camps where they are tortured and executed via experimental methods. I don’t want to see the skeletal role calls, or the results of eating the diuretic soup provided, the fingernail scratches in the solid concrete walls and ceilings of the gas chambers, meaning people were clamouring over the bodies of their friends to find a way out. Mountains of dead bodies, retained glasses and hair woven into cloth and sold by the kilo. I cannot possibly recommend watching a film that explains how they tried to make fertiliser from the skeletons and stretched out skin to draw pictures on. The image of baskets full of severed heads will stay with me for a long time, as will bulldozing the corpses into a pit. I implore you; do not watch this film unless you believe the Holocaust to be a myth. If you ever want to sleep again, do not watch this film.

Choose life 1/10