Thursday, June 30, 2005

Subtle, and complex

The sooner the film world accepts that Donnie Darko is a subtle ode to the joys of Scientology, the sooner the great mass of ill-informed and ignorant critics can sleep easy.

Also, in re-examining Jack the Bodice-Ripper flick From Hell the other evening, I was reminded of that film's complex message of the power of progress. In suggesting that late 19th century London was literally 'hell', the filmmakers are able to show us, the viewers, just how far we have come as a society in terms of medical efficiency. And while Harold Shipman may not have been everyone's cup of tea, at least his handiwork was a damn sight tidier than the messy surgical murderers of times past.



Wednesday, June 22, 2005


[As promised, a review of the film Anaconda, first published in 1997 - a halcyon year for cinema]

“You are such a flamin’ drongo!” hollers Ice Cube at one point in his new [see note above] film, Anaconda. He is addressing this outburst to a rather large green and yellow snake, which is attempting to wrestle him to the ground in a rather unsporting fashion.
The word ‘anaconda’, for those of you who may be slightly ill-informed due to your background or your own sheer stupidity, means ‘snake’, in much the same way as one might use the term ‘blowie’ when referring to a fly of hefty proportions. That this entire film is entitled Anaconda, then, suggests something of an about-turn for those wielding the large brown sticks in Hollywood marked ‘power’. After negating the contribution of colloquial language in modern cinema for so long, not only have the industry Demi-gogues (cheers) incorporated a prime example of this linguistic activity in naming an artwork in this fashion, they have also seen fit to cast undoubtedly the finest performer of colloquial speech in the film’s title role.
Yes, that’s correct. Title Role. Yes, that is correct. Title role. For, while it will go unnoticed by the majority of suburban parasitic consumers of the cinematic art, Ice Cube is the Anaconda that the promotional posters mention, casually, almost indifferently. As the musical piece ‘Numero Uno’, by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, from their breakthrough 1989 album “... And In This Corner” suggests, threateningly:

Snake Eyes, you lost chump...” (My italics).

This is an allusion to Ice Cube. In the years following the 1986 release of Jeff and the Fresh Prince’s album “He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper”, a bitter feud had erupted between the two camps. The track “Live at Madison Square Gardens” (an indication of one of the Fresh Prince’s greatest strengths, his lyrical literalism - it was, in fact, recorded “live” at Madison Square Gardens) contained the line “All the ladies in the house say ‘Ho-oh’”. Ice Cube’s lawyers objected to the use of this line, as they claimed it was a piece of intellectual property owned by the aforementioned Mr Cube, and that no lease agreement had been entered into. The lawyers representing Jeff and Mr Prince retaliated by suggesting that this argument was “insipid”. Thus the slanging match began. In “Numero Uno”, the Fresh Prince calls Ice Cube ‘snake eyes’, a reference to his childhood nickname, and particularly telling when it comes to this film.
It would seem, therefore, that the maturity of Ice Cube is now such that he can leave behind the childish taunts which plagued his existence for many years, and can indeed intercept and appropriate such abuse and use it for his own creative endeavours. Ice Cube struggling with a fifteen-foot long snake, then, is not merely Ice Cube struggling with a fifteen-foot long snake (as the Fresh Prince would probably have interpreted it), but a metaphorical struggle between Ice Cube and himself, between Ice Cube and his intellectual endeavours.
So the eyes peering out of promotional posters and magazine advertisements, while appearing to be those of a snake, are, to the observant film critic, most definitely the eyes of Ice Cube himself, gazing deep into the souls of passers-by, looking, searching for signs that others may have found their own true identity in a similar manner to Ice Cube himself. I fear he may be disappointed.When watching Anaconda (and I do recommend it - if the viewer is willing to watch it for the right reasons), realise that this is not a film. It is a highly personal and colloquially emotion-charged plea for help, from one of this generation’s most sensitive and passionate performers. I would challenge anyone to feel a closer, more personal bond with Ice Cube than I do now.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Len Blum: Irreverent Marxist Leg-Puller

Len Blum is a man with an impressive screenwriting resumé. Not only was he responsible for the writing behind the Harold Ramis directorial/star vehicle, Stripes, but he also wrote what is believed by many to be Steve Guttenberg’s finest moment and the quintessential summer camp movie, Meatballs. Contrary to popular critical belief, I did not believe that Blum’s time had passed, that he had reached his peak. I felt that Blum was simply gearing up, biding his time until he could really let loose with a true screenwriting gem. And, I’m happy to say, I was quite right.
For it is Blum who is the driving force behind the single most important piece of cinema to be released in the past three years. The film is called Private Parts, and it goes far beyond even what I might reasonably have expected from the man I am touting as this generation’s most talented writer, in any field.
To the casual observer, Private Parts would appear to be a simple biopic of a loudmouthed egomaniac disc jockey, going by the name of Howard Stern. However, if one is au fait with Blum and his modus operandi, it becomes obvious that there is much more at work here. Blum, who railed against the oppressive dictates of the military, and military-mindedness prevalent in the modern world, in Stripes, could not simply let this film rest as a morality tale. No, layers of meaning and understanding are where Blum’s personal politics lie. And it is in this way that he has triumphed with Private Parts.
The sublime beauty of this film is in the overarching message which Blum couches in obscenities and references to lesbians. The crass, juvenile, penis and fart-related material disguises, or in fact accentuates, Blum’s elegantly constructed vignette, which is, in fact, a scathing critique of the moribund self-opportunism which dominates much of the social landscape of late capitalism. In portraying Stern as simply a self-serving, self-aggrandising American, Blum says to his audience: “Look! See what you’ve become? Nothing more than a ratings-chasing white trash scumbag, laughing audibly at your countrymen’s gullibility and ultimate stupidity. Stern may be dumb, but you, dear viewer, are an imbecile.”
Stressing this point is Blum’s early characterisation of Stern as a Weird Al Yankovic lookalike. This comparison is simple, and yet amazingly effective. (I think it is here, in these small moments of inspiration, that Blum’s genius truly lies.) Yankovic is a subverter and regurgitator of popular culture, selling to his audience that which they have already heard, but changing it slightly. Blum’s admiration for Yankovic has been well documented in the past, so I won’t dwell on it here; suffice it for me say that there has been a Weird Al reference in every single piece of Blum’s work to date.
Stern’s real life radio audience have already heard of his exploits with a naked woman in the radio studio - Blum cunningly changes this scenario only slightly by introducing Leslie Nielsen’s character as an interpreter for the deaf naked woman. Yes, that’s right, deaf. There is no end to Blum’s cheeky, irreverent Marxist leg-pulling on show. The woman is deaf because it is her nudity which is the essential element of the audience’s participation, and not Stern’s charisma in encouraging the aforesaid nudity. The nudity is an end to which capitalism has no means - the residents of the modern world desire nudity, but do not possess adequate tools with which to express this desire. The failure of late capitalism is in its inability to accept this paradox.
The appearance of AC/DC, then, performing a song other than ‘Who Made Who’ at a Stern celebration concert, exemplifies this point. If Angus and co. had performed that particular track, its poignancy and applicability would have become overbearing and misplaced within the film’s broader cultural context. ‘Who Made Who’ would have said to the audience: “Are we responsible for creating Howard Stern? Or are Howard stern and the forces behind him capable of creating us?” Instead, Blum opts to write in ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’ - once again, creating a diversion from the real issues, but in doing so, bringing the point home even more strongly than if it had been tackled head on.
In Len Blum, then, we have a screenwriter working beyond the call of duty. Operating, in fact, above the levels of the film’s target audience and playing it up, on a grand scale, for the critics and intelligentsia. If disappointed, or disillusioned, fear not - this is a perfectly natural reaction. Feel safe in the knowledge, however, that there are those, who you may not know, but exist nonetheless, who will savour this experience for what it truly is - pure cinematic genius.Bravo, Len Blum; bravo.

Turning back the clock

I have been inundated with requests for me to republish some of my earlier reviews, and, thanks to my generous nature, I have acceded. Today and tomorrow I will be unleashing two classic film critiques onto the wondrous internet. The first will follow shortly.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Political 'Sin'ema

Hey – don’t adjust your head. Sin City is meant to look this way.
The brainchild of director Robert Rodriguez (last seen in action with his epic ‘Spy Kids in Mexico’ trilogy) and comic book guy Frank Miller, Sin City is a film shot in black and white. And that’s not a reference to the overarching morality of the piece – that’s the colours (or lack thereof) it employs. In the main.
This is a stunning piece of cinema audacity, as the black and white (or monochrome, as we say) artistic direction serves to remind the audience of times gone by – because in those days, films were ONLY shot in black and white. Sometimes, it seems, the introduction of colours has only served to confuse matters.
Black and white is evocative – it allows us, as audience members, to pretend to be old people, reminiscing about things that never happened to us, and tutting loudly at the popcorn noises made by our neighbours, despite the fact that we ourselves may previously have let out a noisy fart, but had not bothered to acknowledge it.
In this way, Sin City is entirely reminiscent of a Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis Sunday matinee, but not on the televisions we use in our homes – on the big screen we have paid money to sit in front of, and the carpeted walls that pummel our ears with sounds of all kinds.
A brave, foolhardy, and ultimately triumphant decision. Kudos to all involved.
But that’s not all.
In my writings (above) you, dear reader, may have been lulled into a false sense of black and white acceptance – a kind of cinematic integration, if you understand my esoteric sense of humour. Even if you don’t, its okay – that’s not your fault.
However – and this is important – the film is not just in black and white. Do not misunderstand me. It is black and white, of that you can have no doubt. But it is not just in black and white. The italicised ‘just’ is vital.
For almost without our noticing it, elements of colour are included in the film. A red dress. Some yellow blood. Some red blood. A yellow monster. It is all there, if you look hard enough.
What Rodriguez and co have inserted into the film is a series of subtle, subconscious warnings. Warnings about the dire political state the world – and by extension us (as we live in the world) – finds itself in.
If you were paying attention two paragraphs ago you would have noticed that I used the words ‘yellow’ and ‘red’ to describe the colours that insinuate themselves into the film. These are the only colours we see onscreen.
(At some point a girl has blue eyes, but I believe this was a mistake on the filmmakers’ behalf, occurring during the process of blacking and whiting the very movie itself.)
The use of red is a subtle reminder that the evils of communism may have subsided, but are still very much a threat to our ‘black and white’ way of living. Is it any coincidence that red is used when someone is shot or hacked to pieces, or when some probably diseased prostitute consorts with our hero? If you answered yes, you should turn your eyes away now. Because the correct answer is no.
And what of the use of the colour yellow? Is it any surprise that the greatest communist menace at large in the world today is the Chinese, who some people say actually are yellow? (In fact, they are not literally yellow. Rather, the use of the word suggests their moral cowardice.)
And what is the most terrifying moment of the film? It’s when the big YELLOW monster comes chasing after Bruce Willis and his daughter. Luckily, Bruce defeats the monster and symbolically rips off its genitals. The Chinese threat has been emasculated. But for how long?
In the end, Sin City provides us with a morality tale. We can be comfortable living in our normal black and white world. But we must be eternally vigilant, keeping our eyes peeled for red or yellow invasions, and ripping off their genitals when we have the opportunity.
Sin City is a propagandist masterpiece.

Friday, June 10, 2005


Greetings, and welcome to my 'online' presence. From here, I will be dissecting and explaining what films mean. They are an important art form.