Sunday, 20 November 2011

Wuthering Heights - Andrea Arnold (2011)

  1. Wuthering Heights is a dour Andrea Arnold adaptation of Emily Brontë's classic English A'-level text.
  2. Arnold has made two excellent films: Red Road and Fish Tank. This is, if not quite a fully-fledged turkey, certainly nowhere near as good as either of them.
  3. During the 80s Arnold appeared as the foxy roller-skater, Dawn, on the children's Saturday morning show Number 73. If you've ever wondered why when anyone says 'Maidstone' you mentally append the word 'Kent' you know who to blame. If you were born around 1980 and a have a spare half hour for a disorientating dose of nostalgia click here
  4. Arnold's characters inhabit alienating spaces, they stalk across patches of wasteland or industrial estates, argue in car parks or dance in abandoned council flats. If you ever run out of petrol and find yourself trudging down the hard shoulder of a motorway, entertain yourself by imagining you're in an exciting Andrea Arnold adaptation of Rebecca.
  5. For the first hour or so of this overlong film the young Heathcliff (Solomon Glave) and Catherine (Shannon Beer) chase one another over the Pennines. No council estates here, just birds, beetles, rocks, mud, grass, rain and sky. And did I mention birds and rain and mud? And rain? After a while you may start wishing someone would introduce an episode of Rentaghost, just to leaven the mix.
  6. Unlike most adaptations this one concentrates on the childhood sections of the book, apparently to make Heathcliff's grief more poignant and believable. For Arnold cinema is the closest thing to sharing someone else's experience. Stuff like the uniquely isolating feeling of deafening wind in your ears, which no other medium could reproduce effectively. So during the extra-long first half she's trying generate sensuous memories that will tie us to Heathcliff and Cathy in the second half...
  7. ...only it doesn't quite work, and she has to keep introducing flashbacks to remind us of how the first half felt. Plus Kaya Scodelario and James Howson who play the older Heathcliff and Cathy don't either look, or seem, like the same people as their younger counterparts.
  8. In forensic science circles necrophilia is known as 'cold-cocking'.
  9. No-one in this film seems to care about getting soaked in the rain - despite the fact that keeping warm and dry must have been a life and death-type priority in 19th Century Yorkshire. Perhaps we're being invited to consider true love's elemental qualities. But you will probably spend most of the film thinking 'will someone please just shut that fucking door'.
  10. To be fair Wuthering Heights isn't an easy book to adapt, not least because the emotions it describes aren't realistic. In the novel they're smothered under layers of 19th Century story paraphernalia, framing narratives, eavesdropping, discovered texts and so on. Arnold has removed all this, she's also removed the dream sequence, and the gothic qualities of the house itself. She has removed the bathwater, but also the baby. In fact, Kate Bush's interpretation of the novel is far more faithful not just to its melodrama, but also its irony and intelligence. This film closes, not with Kate Bush, but Mumford and Sons, and so reveals its true sensibility. Like them, it proves you can strip back to the essentials and still end up sounding pretentious.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

The Ides of March - George Clooney (2011)

  1. The Ides of March is an ok political thriller directed by the actor George Clooney.
  2. It's a film about ambiguity: no one in it is quite what they seem.
  3. For instance, you might consider Clooney to be a likeable, bankable, but ultimately lightweight Hollywood star. But no, no, no, it turns out he's a director of worthy political thrillers starring fidgety actors' actors like Paul Giamatti and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
  4. George Clooney's face can sell anything, from Steven Soderbergh's Ocean franchise films, to proprietary brand coffee machines. This is a pretty weird state of affairs, and there's probably no-one who finds it weirder than George Clooney.
  5. Clooney enjoys a reputation for both intelligence and niceness. You can almost imagine him being embarrassed by the power of his face as an instrument of economic gain and this embarrassment registering as a certain wilful perversity in its deployment. It's like he's levying a kind of boredom tax on the use of his face. This, perhaps, explains why he often appears in complex, slow-moving films like Syriana, The American and Good Night, and Good Luck.
  6. You see, there was time, just after he left ER, when he might have been an action star: running around in a polo neck, shooting things, etc. Only then he started making films with Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Brothers. Maybe it was then that he realised clever films tend to privilege dialogue and cinematography over action, and perhaps this is why all his films feel like they've had the action systematically sucked out of them. The word that comes up a lot is restrained. The discovery of the body, the final argument between Gosling and Clooney are all studiously under done in this movie. Like a not-very-intelligent person who maintains a reputation for intelligence by not saying much.
  7. Ryan Gosling is great in this film. Sadly he doesn't stamp through anyone's face, but he does do some high quality flirting. The flirting is based largely on double bluff, which is one of the film's motifs. It's neat, like the way that when you break off a piece of broccoli it looks like another tinier piece of broccoli. Actually the scenes between Gosling and Wood are the best here, but then they're also the most reminiscent of Julia Roberts' scenes with George Clooney in Ocean's Eleven.
  8. Don't worry, Evan Rachel Wood was born in 1987, so she's not actually a teenager. But she is, technically speaking, 'the devil's candy'. The idea of a sexually confident 20 year old woman, raised on a diet of MTV and hardcore porn, is the modern replacement for the sexually submissive female lead of the past hundred years. But she's not a threat, because it turns out that the price of that sexual confidence is emotional instability, an abortion and then death (oops, spoiler, sorry). BTW, are we really expected to believe that she poons Gosling because she needs $7000? And that there is no-one else at all that she could ask? Come on.
  9. The screenplay is based on a play by Beau Willimon called Farragut North. The Ides of March is, as you well know, a quotation from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, a play that is synonymous with political duplicity and betrayal. But it also refers to a date, March 15th which is not slightly relevant to this film. It's almost as though they've chosen the most famous line in Julius Caesar, because quoting Shakespeare makes you look clever. Restrained? Or just strained?
  10. Ryan Gosling appeared in the Mickey Mouse Club for two years alongside Justin Timberlake. All the face-stamping and intern-fucking in the world is not going to turn you into Jack Nicholson after that. But at least he's trying.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn - Steven Spielberg (2011)

  1. The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn is the gayest movie to appear on general release since Gus Van Sant's Milk.
  2. Whether Tintin is gay is a facetious question, like whether or not Lady Macbeth has children. Outside certain obscure hentai Tintin is absolutely sexless. But the informing principle of this film, and of all Tintin stories, is gay.
  3. Tintin is a young man with a taste for 'adventure'. These 'adventures' always involve the pursuit of some species of MacGuffin, in this case, model ships. In fact the MacGuffins are functionally interchangeable, masks for a libidinal urge that leads Tintin, with clockwork regularity, to the docks. 
  4. Whenever he visits the docks Tintin is inevitably cornered by two or three heavily-built men and either chloroformed or assaulted with a phallic object like a rubber blackjack or cosh. Very often he awakes to find himself bound, and gagged. You'd think, under the circumstances, he might just avoid docks and shipyards. But oh no.
  5. When the John Williams score kicks in over the seaplane taking off from the crest of a wave you may well be aware of the sensation of your buttons being firmly pushed. This won't stopped them being pushed.
  6. What about that scene where Tintin is thrown violently around a cabin filled with sailors while Captain Haddock watches from the doorway? In fact, by that point you've probably started to think of the film as a really intense gay porno for children. But don't worry, all the sex has been substituted for 'adventure'.
  7. Georges Prosper Remi, or Hergé, gets a good deal of stick for being a sinister fascist, not just because he was a keen scout, but because during the occupation of Belgium the Tintin strip appeared in the Nazi-controlled paper, Le Soir. And it's not like the stereotyping of black people, Arabs, South Americans, Russians and Jews was limited to that period of his career either. Spielberg has had the rights to Tintin since the 80s - but he probably had to make Schindler's List first didn't he?
  8. Tintin's best friends are his toy terrier, a hairy alcoholic and two moustachioed, co-habiting bachelors. There's nothing to see here.*
  9. In modern gay argot the word for a beefy, hirsute gay man is a 'bear', the word for a correspondingly lithe, ectomorphic and hairless gay man is a 'twink' or 'chicken'.
  10. The only woman in Tintin is the opera singer Bianca Castafiore. She is a comic character, distinguished by her high-pitched voice, a female secondary sexual characteristic which all the other characters find intolerable.
*Hergé died from an HIV-related infection in 1983, but he caught it from a blood-transfusion. He remains a national hero in Belgium.