Author Archives: leerobertadams
You spend a lot of time gazing into the eyes of Scarlett Johansson’s alien temptress in Under the Skin, Jonathan Glazer’s obtuse adaptation of Michael Faber’s acclaimed novel. You also spend a long time scrutinizing the expression on her face, which is usually as enigmatic as the Mona Lisa’s. If the eyes are the windows to the soul, does this creature have a soul? What is she thinking – or is she just computing? The facial expressions are like ones we use, but does she share any comparable emotions with us?
Questions such as these arise because Glazer has stripped the story to the absolute minimum. We are given almost no information about Johansson’s character Laura. In his last film, Birth,Glazer left it up to the viewer to decide exactly what had happened. In Under the Skin, he pares it down even further, so there is almost no dialogue to help us along. We’re left alone to draw our own conclusions.
I could’ve robbed my company blind in my last job. With intimate knowledge of their processes and systems, I could’ve created so much confusion that I would be safely esconsced in a bar somewhere in Buenos Aires, spunking my way through half the loot before they even realised something was wrong. The reason I didn’t? Because I’m an honest person. I believe in the basic goodness of humanity, and believe that most people on this planet are generally honest and decent, which is why I think the Heist Movie performs such a valuable function to society.
The great thing about a good heist film is that you get to feel part of a caper for a couple of hours. The best examples have a clearly defined prize, and make it clear who or what is being robbed. You get to be involved in the planning, make your own judgements on the cleverness of the plan, and enjoy the thrill of the robbery without any personal risk. Many heist films simultaneously withold vital information from the viewer – The Sting and Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven are good examples – so that while the viewer feels part of the scheme, they are also deceived by a final rug-pull at the film’s conclusion.
“It’s a funny old world,” W.C Fields once said, “A man’s lucky if he gets out of it alive.” When he was dying, a friend visiting him in hospital found him reading the Bible. Why? “I’m checking for loopholes.”
Those two quotes, in a round about way, sum up why I don’t like Harold and Maude. Life is hard at times, a knackering, exasperating accumulation of circumstance that sometimes leaves one wishing for a quieter life…oblivion, for example. But no-one gets out alive, and there are no loopholes. One may not have signed up for this shit, but to check out early is a dereliction of duty.
They say the Devil gets all the best lines, which is perhaps why most actors are drawn to the darker side of human nature during their careers. It is often the actors with a “nice guy” image that make the most startling transformation – one of James Stewart’s finest films was Vertigo, playing out Hitchcock’s fetishes as the obsessive cop Scottie Ferguson; Henry Fonda’s warm blue eyes famously because the stone-cold glare of a killer in Leone’s Once Upon A Time in The West.
It doesn’t always work out, though – Jim Carrey in capable of playing baddies and morally dubious characters, but his misguided The Number 23 stank out theatres the same year as Kevin Costner potrayed a serial killer in Mr Brooks. Carrey’s alter-ego looked just like an evil Ace Ventura, and was impossible to take seriously.
Mr Brooks isn’t much better, but luckily Costner is an inspired choice as the title character, a successful businessman who aso happens to be a meticulous serial killer. Costner has played bad guys in the past, most notably as an escaped convict in Eastwood’s A Perfect World, but is usually associated with upstanding, honest types – Eliot Ness in The Untouchables; Ray Kinsella in Field of Dreams; Jim Garrison in JFK.
Yasujirō Ozu‘s Tokyo Story is a film I would urge anyone to see, because I can’t think of another film that matches it for such simple and profound emotional truth.
In twenty years as a film buff, I’m ashamed to say that I’ve had a blind spot when it comes to Japanese cinema. My prejudices were probably strengthened by the few examples of J-horror that I’d seen. The end of Ringu was so pant-wettingly scary that it almost got me a free month’s rent – my flatmate was so frightened he offered to let me off if I’d let him sleep in my room that night. Yet the preceding two hours or so were pretty much how I expected Japanese films to be – chilly, inscrutable, oblique.
There are few films with the diabolical aura of William Friedkin’s The Exorcist. The story of demonic possession built its fearsome reputation during the long years of exile from videotape – while it was not included in the BBFC’s list of banned films via the Video Recordings Act 1984, it became an unofficial member of the “Video Nasty” club. BBFC censor refused to issue a home video certificate, thus depriving a generation of latchkey kids with access to their dad’s video card the joys of a head-spinning, pea-soup-puking, spider-walking little girl, and the brave priests who try to save her.
Nowadays, the special effects sequences look a bit creaky and rather tame compared to what our torture porn era has to offer, but what is left is a film of undeniable power.
I’ve never been a big fan of movies with just the character’s first name as a title – it creates so much expectation. What is so special about this individual that I’m on first name terms with them before the opening credits roll? I think – what will the trials and tribulations of Arthur, Annie, Alfie or Paul tell me about the world around me, or more importantly, the world within me?
So Arthur’s a rich pisshead; Annie’s an annoying ginger orphan; Alfie just wants to get his leg over with a bit of crumpet; and Paul is a slacker alien voiced by Seth Rogan. Then I think – so what? Let’s watch something else instead.
Movies titles with just the surname fare slightly better – at least Bullitt sounds like a hard name, matching Steve McQueen’s inscrutable hero. Perhaps it was Shakespeare who created such high expectations, naming some of his most famous plays after the eponymous character – Macbeth & Hamlet for example. But the Bard could get away with it, a) because Macbeth & Hamlet are pretty cool names, and b) he was alright at creating memorable characters to match the anticipation generated by the title.
Julia gets away with it too. The name itself is pretty mundane, and the film is based on another first-name-titled movie, John Cassavette’s Gloria; but it does feature an absolutely enormous central performance by Tilda Swinton. In fact, if I could write a one-word movie review for Julia, borrowing the rather obnoxious exclamation mark from Oliver! – I would just write: TILDA!
The plot summary of The Descendants makes it sound about as much fun as watching a club-footed farmer drown some kittens – a man prepares for the imminent death of his wife while trying to track down the man she was having an affair with. Without the marquee name of George Clooney attached, viewers might be forgiven for thinking the film is a disease-of-the-week movie that somehow found its way onto the big screen.
Luckily, the film is fronted by one of Clooney’s finest performances as the harrowed husband, fully deserving of his Oscar Nomination, and as with his more recent Nebraska, director and co-writer Alexander Payne shows his keen eye and ear for the nuances of family life.
Video Krypt has now reached 20,000 hits! That’s enough people to fill Meadow Lane, the historic home of Notts County FC. Judging by some of the terms people have searched to find us, it would be one of the weirdest home crowds in the Magpies’ 150 year history…
“Ben Stiller Tropic Thunder Shirtless” – Yes, someone out there apart from Ben Stiller’s wife thinks that Ben Stiller is a a hunk, and wants pictures of him without a top on. So I hope whoever it was enjoyed my review of Tropic Thunder: Tropic Thunder – Get Some Again!
Sunshine on Leith is a workmanlike crowdpleaser adapted from the musical of the same name, a story of two squaddies told in large part by the songs of The Proclaimers. The game cast breezily warm the cockles and the songs serve the slender plot well before the film’s torpid mid-section gets bogged down in maudlin marital melodrama.
It will take a very hard hearted person to actually dislike Dexter Fletcher’s sophomore effort as director, but for all its good intentions, I was just hanging around for the Edinburgh duo’s two biggest hits to make an appearance by the end.