15 October 2010

Playing Catch Up - Part 1; DVD Round Up 6

The Fog (1980) - Directed by John Carpenter.

Since getting back to teaching again I have naturally had very little time to do some illustrious and meaningful blogging on the few films I have managed to see over the past few weeks. I think I still need to watch more films at the cinema but I just don’t get the time and whilst DVD is an inexpensive alternative, it cannot really compensate for the appropriate context in which most films should be viewed. I still feel I need to blog about every film I watch but that would be sheer madness, right?, and very time consuming so in an attempt to catch up, here are some of the more notable films I have had the chance to see recently. As a side note, video essays are becoming an increasingly popular means of blogging about certain films; the work of Aaron Aradillas and Matt Zoller Seitz on the opening sequences to the films of David Fincher are exemplary in every way – check out their work over at the Museum of the Moving Image website along with many other great video essays.

AMERICAN INDIES

The Doors - one of the key bands of the 60s counter culture movement.

Released over the summer period, When You're Strange (2009), American Independent film maker DiCillo's riveting documentary on Jim Morrison and The Doors is helped by an ultra cool narration by Johnny Depp. Having seen Oliver Stone's biopic on The Doors which was a huge disappointment, the use of what appears to be quite rare archive footage constructs an image of Morrison as an overwhelming tragic artist who has been somewhat misunderstood as simply just another counter culture sex symbol who appears prolifically and out of context on all manner of consumer products. DiCillo represents Morrison as somewhat of an outsider and the iconic music of The Doors used throughout does go a long way in explaining their enduring appeal. It's easy to see why Depp seems to have constructed his own suspect maverick image around the imagery of Morrison as it sublimely beatnik in every respect. Courtney Hunt's Frozen River (2008) is yet another brilliantly directed study of working class lives but the focus on the relationship between two women gives this slice of social realism an added social subtext. Melissa Leo is best remembered for her work on David Simon's Homicide TV series and she brings a similar vulnerability to the role of a belligerent working class mother who find herself marginalised and a victim of poverty. The poignant denouement prevents Hunt's film from tipping over into despair.

HORROR

The British Horror Genre has produced a series of films in which the middle class comes under attack from the youth.

British director Paul Andrew Williams may be considered daring and original but unfortunately Cherry Tree Lane (2010) which sees a middle class family come under attack by a group of feral youth is particularly dubious in terms of the violence it represents and the representations of Black British youth. I think the situation parallels Haneke's Funny Games but the despairing and perhaps even stereotypical representations of working class youth, in this case Chav culture, quickly makes William's attempts at producing a relevant critique into a redundant exploitation picture with very little to say about British society today. Cherry Tree Lane has been labelled as a horror film but considering it feels more like a case of dystopian implausibility, I would have to say this one misses the mark completely. As far as remakes go, The Crazies (2010), is quite a successful updating of Romero's overlooked 70s original and whilst this shiny new version fails to replicate the strong ideological frissions, it does effectively reiterate many of the classic zombie tropes in a post-Bush context. In addition, the contamination of the water supply by a chemical virus as a result of government negligence preys upon current anxieties to do with corporate accountability. Maintaining the lineage of remakes, Robert Rodriguez's contemporary updating or should I reboot of John McTiernan's Predator, hopelessly re-titled Predators (2010), is an underwhelming film that features a pained Adrien Brody of all actors in the lead fighting off a swarm of alien predators. Strangely McTiernan's original avoided the exploitation tag by intelligently pitting the Alien creature against the physique of Schwarzeneggar but this attempt to re launch a familiar franchise is undermined by weak direction. Whilst Rodriguez should be praised for retaining the violence from the original film by the time Brody has morphed into a superman it all feels somewhat redundant. The Fog (1980) is one horror film of the Carpenter canon I hadn't seen so being able to catch this one finally on the Blu Ray format came as a refreshing experience on the back of so many disappointing horror films, many of which simply fail to grasp the naunces of genre cinema. A near masterpiece in suspense, Carpenter's film brings together mother and daughter Janet Leight and Jamie Lee Curtis whilst the device of the fog bringing with it aspects of guilt and trauma associated with the town's past is genuinely frightening. As usual, the hearbeat of the spectator is endlessly played out in the pulsating and endlessly chessy synth score by Carpenter himself.

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