Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Shame - Steve McQueen (2011)

  1. Shame is a film about a man with an interesting and varied sex-life, starring Michael Fassbender, directed by Steve McQueen. 
  2. Seriously though, what red-blooded man doesn't have this much sex with strangers and prostitutes and webcam girls and female colleagues and porn and men all the time? What?
  3. If you're interested in Michael Fassbender's penis you'll love this. You don't even have to wait long, it's right there in your face in the first scene, waggling around a spare, soulless New York apartment. Apparently Steve McQueen insisted on Fassbender's being naked all the time on-set and, whenever he asked, 'what's my motivation here?' would simply point at the tip of his penis with a conductor's baton.
  4. This is the worst porno ever right? But, of course, this is a film about sex in a world where sex isn't fun any more. Fassbender's character, Brandon, is an addict. As is made abundantly clear, he uses sex compulsively because of a terror of intimacy. This not-very-subtle idea is stated in about 10 different ways. A female caller leaving an answerphone message for him over and over (it's almost like she can't get through to him), his inability to get stiff in the presence of woman who wants to know him (but it's fine with a prostitute later) and the 7-inch record of Chic's I Want Your Love, that's playing in his apartment when comes home (ironic!) and the fact he keeps asking his sister 'what do you want from me?' (she wants love, did you get that? Love).
  5. But there is a cruel irony at work here, where the addict's substance of choice ends up delivering the precise opposite of the thing it once promised. So the alcoholic who drank for conviviality ends up pissed and alone. And the sex addict who once fucked to feel loved finds himself unable to love. The look on Brandon's face during coitus is that of a mating dog, a creature compelled to do something, without having the first idea why it's doing it.
  6. It's pretty heavy stuff, so you can divert yourself by considering that Willem De Foe's penis was actually so large that Lars Von Trier had to use a body double for all the weird sex in Antichrist. And, according to model Janice Dickinson, Liam Neeson's cock is the size of an Evian bottle. So, those are the guys to beat.
  7. Brandon jogs listening to Bach's piano cantatas. Of course, these are variations on repeated theme, so, a clever touch in a film about repetitive compulsive behaviour, but who, really, listens to disco in their flat and classical music when they go jogging? If you had to think of a word for the film's symbolism it would probably be heavy-handed, which is two words.
  8. There are at least two meanings of the word shame. One is 'a feeling of humiliation brought on by the consciousness of wrongdoing'. The feeling we feel when our actions run counter to societal norms, according to Freud, a manifestation of the internalised society we each carry within us. Brandon, however, is living in a post-shame world. His boss discovering his browsing history is the worst possible thing that could happen - and yet there are no consequences, and he feels nothing. After all, how can the condemnation of authority mean anything when even that authority is literally shameless, cheating on his wife with Brandon's sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan)?
  9. Turns out the price of liberation from our own shame is the freedom to live out our desires, which are delusions of the kind that, ceaselessly pursued, will eat you alive. As Sissy says: 'We're not bad people, we just come from a bad place'. The other meaning of the word shame is 'a regrettable or unfortunate thing'.
  10. Carey Mulligan just looks so English and she has neither the face nor the voice to pull of a pretentious scatted version of New York, New York. The 10-Point Review literally fell asleep, twice, during the song, but that could just be that terrible post-coital exhaustion that usually kicks in after lunch don't you just hate that etc.?

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - David Fincher (2011)

  1. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a superior best-seller to blockbuster adaptation by David Fincher.
  2. Like Fight Club, this is way better than the book it's based on. Fincher and screenwriter Steven Zaillian, have stripped out most of the dross about industrial espionage and the Venger family history. Lisbeth's backstory is reduced to one intense vignette plus a menacing hint about her Dad. And there's none of the stuff to do with Venger having employed Blonquist's father in the 60s. All this makes it a leaner and tighter thriller altogether.
  3. Speaking of which, Fincher cast Rooney Mara from the Social Network, instead of Scarlett Johansson, whom he rejected for being too sexy (which you have to like him for doing on behalf of all men, just once). At first the camera approaches her with caution, giving us the hard angles of her jaw and hair. But as the film progresses Mara's body is photographed pornographically. Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with her body, but it is an unconventional sight in a blockbuster. Small-breasted and lithe as an eel, she's boyish, and never more so than when she's being handcuffed and sodomised (yeah, spoiler, if that's the word).
  4. Fincher seems to be intent on provoking several million hetero viewers to an experience of the 'queer' element of their own sexuality. For instance, during the rape did you walk out? Why not, were you enjoying it? And if that seems like an uncomfortable question, consider that this film is all about the terrible things that people won't admit to.
  5. If Fincher made the call not to move the action to the US it's not because he likes Sweden. Blonquist asks Harald, who sits surrounded by photographs of Scandinavian supporters of the Third Reich, why he doesn't redecorate. The exchange goes something like this:

    H:I'm the most honest
    B:In your family?
    H:In Sweden. My relatives want everything to have a shiny surface, like an Ikea table.

    Needless to say, this isn't in the book. Nor is this the first of Fincher's films to feature Ikea. As in Fight Club, the veneer hides something something far more savage.
  6. Martin Wenger's chamber of horrors is an upgrade from the cellar in the book, which is merely a basement, rather than a centre spread from Lairs Magazine. What else would be hidden beneath his sterile Scandi-house? Like interior design, like mind. It isn't quite fair, since Fritzl was Austrian, but the precedent does prevent you wondering too much about how he got the sofas down there without anyone noticing.
  7. Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor have put together a really intelligent score. You probably noticed the white noise as Lisbeth enters (she's a hacker, one who interferes), and the use of disjointed rhythms while they piece together disparate clues. Also that their cover of Led Zeppelin's Immigrant features a scream very like the one that Lisbeth lets out in the lift after her first meeting with Bjurman.
  8. Lisbeth's primal scream is important, it tells us that, fucked up as she may be, she offers the dark currents of her personality a clear channel into the world outside. The really evil people in this film are the hypocrites, the kind that live in a world of wheat-toned scatter cushions with a soundtrack by Enya. By breaking Martin Wenger's jaw she reveals his true face, as it would be if evil could be seen, and when she rides out into the forest after him they do so as the purest versions of themselves: a demon chasing a monster.
  9. The intro sequence is by Tim Miller at Blur Studio - not Kyle Cooper who did Se7en. As everyone keeps saying, it is like a James Bond intro, but there's a larger repertoire of fetish objects: guns, women, men, USB cables, rubber ball-gags and carnivorous plants, can you spot them all? And did it give you an erection? Just asking.
  10. You can buy Lisbeth's 'FUCK YOU YOU FUCKING FUCK' nightshirt here. But to distress it properly you'll need to really put the hours in spooning heavily-pierced bisexuals.