Movie Review #42 / 250 : ‘PEEPING TOM’

I don’t normally do this, but, Spoilers.  Seriously.  There was sod all to talk about here unless I spoil a lot of it.  A good sign, I find.

Evening, WordPress.  Remember me?  I’m not sure I do.  I digress.  Let’s just crack on with talking about films, eh?

‘Peeping Tom’ is widely revered as a killer thriller tour de force.  It’s been in the cinema mill for absolutely donkey’s years, and from what I understand, it was one of the very first to push a cold-blooded psychopath to the forefront, to almost protagonist status.  It also got banned, cut, slashed, what-have-you, in reverence of the sheer gratuituous horror it purveys.

So, this got me thinking.  A film that’s maintained notoriety for well over fifty years has to still carry some sort of shock factor these days, doesn’t it?  I mean – Psycho still gets some people.  Christopher Lee’s fanged menace still sends chills. Peeping Tom is a film that I first heard about years back, and have been so mesmerised by the almost hushed chatter about its infamy that I’ve choked back several chances to watch it.  Maybe that’s why I’ve been away all this time – maybe I’ve been stunned by either its majesty, or by its brain-freezing horror.

Sadly, it’s neither.  Before I fly into my opinions (as I am wont to do, dear reader), let’s have a look at the plot.  Mark Lewis (Carl Bohm) is a bit of a weirdo.  A repressed, reclusive chap, he’s a jobbing cameraman for his local film studio, while taking bawdy shots of willing lasses for paying pervs.  Only thing is, Mark’s camera isn’t just his work tool.  He’s obsessively attached to it.  Disturbing accounts from his childhood unveil how he has a rather unsavoury habit.  That is, he gets his jollies from filming women, killing them, and capturing their final moments of terror on celluloid.  He then catalogues it all in his gloriously over-the-top filming library in his penthouse flat.  The film surrounds an unwitting new friend, his ground-floor neighbour Helen (Anna Massey), being sucked into his previously private world, and her incredibly slow realisation that the bloke she’s showing interest in is a bit of a psycho.

It’s a great concept.  There’s some brilliant story touches throughout that help establish Mark as a troubled man, one with a bit too much investment in his whirring little moviebox, and of course, in his thrill of knifing women in the neck while recording the moment to eat popcorn over (euphemism).  It’s a classic slasher story, only this one is vaguely different in that it foregrounds the killer as a protagonist.  Most of this genre sees an unwitting innocent or future victim pushed to the front of the story, with the killer acting as a forever shadowy menace, antagonising behind the scenes.  For its time, this is daring.  Absolutely so.  It’s most definitely creepy, and to have a story stitched so tightly into its character’s frankly mental childhood is a move unseen.  Sadly,. it doesn’t hold up against absolutely monstrous pieces of cinema such as Saw, but then, sadly again, that’s going to be expected.  Very much like I’d explained in my review of the original Ladykillers, concepts of humour and horror change.  They evolve, and stuff dates.  Sometimes terribly.  Often terribly, in fact.

Peeping Tom does actually date quite badly.  The performances aren’t amazing, and the characters are beyond paper-thin (excluding Mark).  While I’m taking into account time’s hideous weathering effect upon cinema, however, there is one element in this picture that I simply cannot escape scrutiny, nor childish derision.  If you’ve seen Peeping Tom, you know where I’m going, and you may skip to the end if you wish.  Mark is meant to be British.  He has a distinctive and inexplicably German accent.  Granted, his actor is German, so that’s a given, but – there is absolutely no piece of dialogue, nor story footnote, that alludes to why Mark should be German.  His Dad was British, we assume his mother was.  He was brought up and has lived in Britain all of his life.  Why does he have a German accent?!  Don’t get me wrong – Bohm plays his part better than anyone else in the picture – but it’s jarring.  It’s like if Norman Bates in Psycho had a French accent despite a blatant American upbringing and heritage.  It’s a really weird touch that I can’t un-notice.

Despite that last point, it doesn’t really ruin things.  But I was pretty underwhelmed.  I think, taking into account the passage of time, the evolution of taste, and my expectation given its holy reverence, seeing Peeping Tom as being anything other than disappointing from the off was perhaps a massive given.  A shame, really.  It’s an absolute milestone of cinema.  And it’s pretty damn creepy.  But, here’s the thing – you won’t care.

BEST BIT : Mark unveiling his grand scheme to Helen in the last two minutes of the film.  Superb last-minute unveiling, it has to be said.

WORST BIT : Mark’s accent.  Or the awkward sequence where that bloke goes in to the newsagent’s to buy porn.  You know, the one that lasts about twenty minutes.  Still.  Has to be the accent.

RATING : 4 / 10.

UP NEXT : ‘GROSSE POINTE BLANK’.  God, I hate Minnie Driver.  But John Cusack is always worth watching.  This could be messy.  Good to be back, folks… here’s hoping I can stick with it!

Advertisements

Movie Review #40 / 250 : ‘VIDEODROME’

I’ve been lost for words in my reviews previously. Whether that be down to the movie I’ve seen having awestruck me into abject silence, or whether I’ve been dumbfounded by the likes of M Night Shyamalan or Paul Blart, this phenomenon has reared its ugly head before. Only, this time, I think ‘confused’ was what the director was aiming for.

Yep, we’re back to David Cronenberg, who I last looked at in my review of The Fly, which as it turns out, I hugely enjoyed. Videodrome precedes Fly by a few years, but this didn’t deter me – I’m sure all Dave’s films are as enjoyable and as gripping as the last. Right?

Videodrome… God. Erm. Even Writing the synopsis is tricky. Videodrome focuses on the main protagonist, the sleazy Max Renn (James Woods), an executive for a pornography-and-violence TV channel way off into the (obviously dystopian) future. Via an equally sleazy video pirate, Renn comes across a transmission of simulated torture like he’s never seen. He immediately wants hold of this project for his own station – despite being warned from most angles. It transpires that Renn should have heeded warnings while he could, as the transmission not only starts to play with his own perception of reality, but also leads into a much more sinister project beneath the surface.

That’s really as basic as I can dilute it. The first half an hour builds up to a revelation you were expecting from the first few scenes onwards, and from then on… just get incredibly surreal. Like the world in which Renn inhabits, the movie’s narrative, and its reliability, start self-destructing before our eyes. The horrific twists slide in almost effortlessly and without warning or indeed much foreshadowing – and by the final act, the viewer (well, definitely me, in any case) is left at a bit of a loss as to what in the name of all that is holy is going on.

Let’s focus on the positives. The acting, for the most part, is actually pretty natural. There’s very little ham in the characters. That, as you’ll soon discover, is left up to the amazing visceral body horror that genuinely puts other rubbery guts-and-gore scenes out of films like The Thing to shame. The effects here are just as shocking, and as effective, as those that Cronenberg would pick up again for Fly a few years later. The pacing is also marvellously speedy, with little time spent on exposition, or on allowing any one scene in particular to get stale too quickly.

This is all fine. This would all be put to brilliant use if the story, the twists and turns, and revelations, weren’t so confusing, nor haphazard. Videodrome prides itself on being a philosophical work; and it’s unfortunately clear that this self-awareness clouds the enjoyment factor. For anyone paying even close attention, this is a verychard film to follow – but, as a ‘surrealist’ movie, I guess that’s already a given.

While Videodrome is definitely memorable, it’s probable it actually suffers from its advanced pacing – very little about the scary future the movie is based in is given any airing, nor are we given much chance to digest the various lumps of surrealism that fling themselves full on into our faces. It seems to be a movie focused on honing and delivering its message in the way it sees fit, neglecting the needs of the audience somewhat. This is why, despite it being pretty damn impressive in visuals and concepts, I was left pretty underwhelmed.

PRO: Great cast, great visuals and effects.

CON: Actually suffers from lack of exposition and extended sequences. Confusing and twisting narrative. Excludes the audience.

5/10. Not terrible. Not in the slightest. But, despite it having been critically lauded, it’s perhaps a little too thick on the surreal to be transferable to a general audience. But then, it’s not for a general audience. It feels like a blockbuster movie that decides it’s an arthouse film halfway through. How am I going to cope with Naked Lunch?!

MOVIE REVIEW #39 / 250 : STAR WARS : RETURN OF THE JEDI

Well, strike me silly.  You wait two weeks for one review, and two come at once.  What a treat, eh?

Alright, alright.  It’s hardly been long since I last trod into the world of intergalactic Jim Henson puppets, but having been left on such a low note from my last review, I felt I needed to get myself a guaranteed kick from somewhere familiar.  I’d rated New Hope as 8, and Empire as 9.  Things can only get better, right?

So, basically, things pick up in Jedi where Empire left off, as you’d hope, really.  The main gang set off to get Han Solo out of carbonite and out of intergalactic crook Jabba the Hutt’s swinging underground lair, and this naturally leads to scenes of chaos, fighting, more chaos, more fighting and talk of the force.  Only this time, it’s final.  The stakes are higher as the dreaded (and more to the point, informed) evil empire begin building their second Death Star, and up the ante on both annihilating the rebellion, and naturally Vader still has unfinished business in wrangling his son Luke to the Dark Side.  This time around, there’s ewoks, too.  Annoying doesn’t cover it.  But, never mind.

It’s kinda sad to draw this saga to a close (before you say it, no.  Check the list.  NO.  Forgot to include them here, but, no.  NO.), but Jedi pulls everything to a suitably dramatic and, of course, explosive close.  There’s even more reliance here upon lengthy action sequences (can’t say too much of this stuff is my kind of thing, but hey, think about what we’re dealing with) than there is in the two preceding films, and it’s definitely more interesting to look at.  What Empire was missing was the weird legion of beasties that clogged up the Mos Eisley cantina in New Hope – fans of rubbery weirdos will be well at home in Jabba’s palace, and the new monsters that are introduced here are fantastic.  Not much gets added to the story nor the saga as a whole other than a climax, though – Jedi is the archetypal closing chapter, so it’s probably a bit late to be wading in with much more on the story front.

What sets this finale apart from any other, though, is that it’s not rushed.  Oh, no.  Not by halves.  The story may be thin, but every last drop is milked – everything that can blow up, does.  It’s not the shaggy dog story of Empire, and nor is it the complete story of New Hope – it’s an all-singing, all-dancing bookend, basically.  I still definitely appreciate Empire more for its contribution to the story and for its character development – Jedi takes this development and, admittedly, doesn’t do much with it – but ensures that there’s still a few tricks up the old plot sleeve.  There’s a few unexpected character twists along the way that bring everything to a really satisfying conclusion.

Ewoks are annoying.

So, yeah.  I really don’t have much left to say about Star Wars.  It’s been a long time coming for me to finally sit down and appreciate all three of the original films (even though the version of Jedi I’ve just watched had HAYDEN CHRISTENSEN show up as a hologram for ten seconds), but I’m really glad I have.  Like I’d said initially when I first sat down to watch New Hope all those weeks ago, I don’t think I’ll become one of those people that dresses up as Boba Fett and shells out £600 to go geek it up with hundreds of people that have analysed how many trees appear in the woodland chase sequence in Jedi… not yet, anyway.

PRO : Visually amazing, brilliant visual pace and variety, great acting, awesome score.

CON : Action sequences milked to high heaven.  Little plot on top of Empire.  Ewoks.

7/10.  I like to think the first two were better, but it’s a great finish.  The end of an era.  I’ve watched the original trilogy, and the end of what has probably been the dullest set of reviews on the whole of the blog.  Right then.  Now what?…

MOVIE REVIEW #37 / 250 : ‘STAR WARS : THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK’

Aaaand we’re back!

Not just in the land of moviereviewage (for tis a plentiful and prosperous land), either.  We’re back to the saga that’s been the bastion of science fiction for the past three decades, and the reason why autograph conventions exist.  It’s Star Wars!  And this one, word of mouth tells me, is the best of the original three.  In fact, it’s also touted as the best of the entire six.  Because, you know, no Jar Jar Binks.  God.  I can’t believe I made a Jar Jar Binks reference in 2012.  I’m firing these cultural phenomenon out of the barrel quicker than greased dysentry.

But, let’s set aside our revolting similes and dive right into Empire.  ‘Episode V’, as it’s subtitled, sees the returning cast (of whom I was about to name, but really don’t need to – seriously, you can name the six main protagonists off of the bat without seeing any of these movies) leading Darth Vader’s evil Empire on a merry goose chase across the galaxy, as said majesty of almighty doom is obsessively keen to track down young Luke Skywalker following the destruction of his Death Star hub in the last flick.  There’s alterior motives for Darthy heading after Luke though – and I wonder what they might be – and while the protagonists (and indeed some of the baddies) are thickly unclear on what the husky-voiced menace is truly plotting, much of Empire is a shaggy-dog story as Han Solo et al play an epic game of space chess with renegade fleets in a bid to secure the rebel alliance’s liberation.

The story follows two strands shortly after the off, with Luke following a message from beyond the grave to go into further Jedi training guided by a diminuitive green sage with the voice of Frank Oz, and Solo’s rag-tag crew playing cat-and-mouse with hapless Empire redshirts, eventually ending up at the home city of one of Han’s old compadres – however, the game, of course, doesn’t end there.  As I’ve rattled out previously, it’s rare anyone reading this won’t know Star Wars already – but, rules are rules, and if there is anyone yet to see Empire, fear not.  The plot exposition stops here, folks.  What follows is one of the most iconic film twists of all time, and a classic cliffhanger.

In fact, that’s what strikes me most about EmpireA New Hope was a stand-alone film, and it’s obviously framed as such – there’s a clear start, middle, and conclusion – no hanging threads, although the potential universe enveloping the story could allow for a bumload of additional adventures.  Naturally, this is why Empire strides into its story and picks up momentum so well.  Sure, the obligatory gratuituous panning text at the very beginning seals the gap between this movie and its prequel, but the first movie did such a good job of painting the colourful universe these characters inhabit that we barely need to concentrate to get into this one.  And, despite how short my plot description actually is, this one is crammed full of stuff.  I’m pretty sure I could sit through Empire five times at least before I’d be comfortable with having taken it all in.  It’s a basic story of good versus evil, with an unbelievably rich context.  I believe I said similar things in my review of A New Hope.  But, it needs repeating.  Doesn’t it?  Tough.

So, yeah.  Very little I can pick apart here.  Again.  The designs and effects for the late 70s/early 80s when this was produced and released are beyond fantastic.  There’s not a single string out of place.  Sure, the whole thing is cheesy as sin nowadays, but the whole thing is just so unavoidably epic.  Forget your notions of Harry Potter being ‘epic’.  Because I know you have such notions.  Don’t you?  Well, anyway.  As I watch more of the Star Wars saga, I appreciate more and more why it’s so insanely revered and obsessed over.  Again, I’m not likely to hot-foot it to a cosplay event in a Boba Fett costume (though I am to be guilty of attending this in June), but… you know what, it’s been said. Empirebuilds on the first movie as it no longer has a backstory to build up, and despite heavy reliance on long, drawn-out action sequences, it’s one of the most visually and aesthetically interesting films I’ve ever watched.

So, yeah.  That’s another one down.  I can’t tell if this is a shorter review than my last SW recap, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it is.  I think my Jedi review is probably just going to be OMG SPACE I LIKED IT, PRETTY VISUALS, EWOKS ANNOYING.  I’ll be checking into the final chapter of the big three later in the year.

PROS:Great visually, superb story world, well paced.  Well acted, even.  Frank Oz.

CONS: Ehhh… I’m gonna say I think some of the action is gratuitous.  I mean, it’s a sci-fi action thriller, so I’m missing the point here, but… well, if not, C3PO.  He did my head in.  Again.  If that’s the point of his character, well played.  I have half a mind to wager it probably is.

9/10.  An improvement on the original stand-alone, which leads in nicely to further never-ending prancing across the black void.  A great film to come back on.  Bring on some truly awful stuff, I’m ready for it!!

Movie Review #36 / 250 : ‘ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST’

Fun Fact! The main orderly in this is played by Scatman Crothers, aka the voice of Hong Kong Phooey. Didn’t that just blow your mind?

Cuckoo’s Nest is frequently cited as the greatest film of all time. Frequently. Short of upping Shawshank Redemption, Godfathers I and II, Casablanca, The Wild Thornberries Movie and Star Wars, if anything else. Upon watching it, it was initially kind of hard for me to get why. But I’ll come to my thoughts after the obligatory synopsis-sans-spoilers (to which you’re accustomed – if not, welcome!)…

Jack Nicholson is R.P. MacMurphy (aka Mac), a lazy but rebellious convict who’s been moved over from a prison farm to a mental institute after he showed symptoms of psychological disorder. From the start, we know he’s pulling a fast one. As Mac settles into what he assumes will be a cushier life amongst a host of colourful characters (a very young cast of Christopher Lloyd, Danny DeVito and Brad Dourif amongst them), he comes across the fearsome Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher), who rules the roost with an understated, but oppressive, fist.

Mac’s urge to cause mayhem for Ratched and to inspire similar rebellion in his fellow inmates takes up the focus of the story, as his methods of pushing Ratched to the brink fail to take off as brilliantly as he’d hoped. The road to revolution is a hard one, and there’s some truly brilliant moments in the last twenty-thirty minutes.

As plots go, it’s fairly standard. A newcomer to an old and battered-around regime comes along and is inspired to make changes, only to find it an uphill struggle. With a likeable and charismatic leading man in Nicholson, we’re behind him every step of the way. This is even taking into account that he is doing labour as punishment for the rape of a fifteen-year-old. This is established early on, though it really doesn’t impede on his protagonist status. We know he’s a bad’un, and we accept it. This is far more a story about the existing roll call of characters at the institute, and what will become if them.

Which is where I’ll come back to that thread I left dangling at the start of this entry. I really found it hard to pigeonhole Cuckoo’s Nest. Is it a thriller? Is it a black comedy? Is it a satire? And that’s when it dawned on me – it can’t be labelled. This film transcends so many themes, emotions and techniques that it simply refuses to be pigeonholed. Without being massively gushing, I think that’s bloody brilliant. There are moments of suspense, humour, despair and glory in equal measure. And I think it’s rare to get such a balance. Of the films I’ve watched so far this year, I’ve not seen anything that fires squarely on all cylinders.

Tying it up, it’s a great cast – basic characters, but even the background film have clear personalities – and Fletcher is quietly and modestly menacing enough to get you on side. There’s some great twists thrown about that mess with Mac’s grand scheme, and the ending marches right up out of nowhere. I’m not sure I totally enjoyed the last scene, but I guess it was necessary. It’s bittersweet, like much of the film.

PRO: Great characters, great performances, and as mentioned, a real genre-hopper.

CON: As the plot is nowhere complex enough to fill every second of running time (see The Prestige), it feels as if it’s stretched a bit thinly over the latter half.

OVERALL: 9/10. It’s clear to see why Cuckoo is so revered as it is once you’ve mulled it over. It’s very unique, and the performances are absolutely brilliant. It didn’t quite tick every box for me, somehow – while the climax, as I’ve said, is probably necessary – it does cultivate a massive downer. I can’t really downgrade a film because the ending wasn’t to my taste (and it’s based on a book, so they’re adapting after all).. but I think Mac is missing one last oomph at the end of his character arc. Plus, I do still prefer watching John Candy burning out a car, and Jeff Goldblum going ape-poopy.