Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Drop Dead Fred (1991)


Last night I insisted to my girlfriend that I wouldn’t take notes while watching this as I had no particular intention of blogging it, as I often don’t bother blogging comedies- sometimes it’s nice to just watch a film. Then, today, it occurred to me that any film featuring both Rik Mayall and Carrie Fisher just had to be done. So here I am, blogging, with no notes.

It’s weird seeing Rik Mayall in a Hollywood movie; he just doesn’t seem to belong. Especially at this point in time, just pre-Bottom. And, yes, this film suffers a bit from the old-fashioned Hollywood disease of comedies having to be about characters learning some kind of emotional lesson and growing as a person rather than just being funny. But it works, and Mayall is outstanding, which is sort of the point.

Also outstanding is Phoebe Cates as Elizabeth, and Carrie Fisher is also good as, well, herself. The concept is deliciously silly, too, and it’s nice to see some cartoon-esque special effects achieved in live action rather than CGI. But there’s a serious subtext about emotional abuse, too; Elizabeth has been constantly bullied, first by her scary mother and later by her slimy husband, and Fred is a representation of the side of her personality that needs to be unleashed.

Perhaps the script is a little ho-hum at times, but Mayall’s performance elevates the film to something special. Well worth a watch.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Saw IV (2007)

“You think it’s over, but the games have just begun…”

John Kramer is dead. Very dead. So dead, in fact, that the film begins with his autopsy. But that doesn’t mean that we’ve heard the last of Jigsaw. Things have been set in motion from beyond the grave, and an unsuspected individual is carrying on the nastiness.

This film covers some edgier themes than its predecessor, but in spite of some extreme gore it doesn’t feel as sadistic, perhaps because of these themes. There’s a slightly stronger focus (relatively speaking) on character, with even John himself being given some greater depth in flashback, not that his past remotely justifies his actions, of course. Nevertheless, Tobin Bell is excellent as ever.

As before, a supporting character in previous films (in this case Officer Rigg) is promoted to a starring role because of the disturbingly high death count amongst his colleagues. Intricate and sadistic situations happen. There is blood. There is suffering, much of vaguely ironic. You know the drill by now. The references to previous filmed are becoming increasingly intricate, as are the concluding revelations. The “everything you think you know is wrong” factor gets bigger and bigger with each entry in the series.

And yet… well made though this is, and less gory than its predecessor (that, of course, is a relative statement!), the very serious themes leave a bad taste in the mouth. Child abuse and miscarriage are used, without much in the way of subtext, to titillate, and this makes me feel a little uncomfortable.

Time for an extended break from the Saw films, methinks. I’ll eventually be back to do the rest.

Repo: The Genetic Opera (2008)

“Happiness is not a warm scalpel!”

You probably haven’t seen this film. Not many people have. Let’s face it; a quirky, Goth, cyberpunk musical starring Anthony Stewart Head and featuring Paris Hilton is not exactly the easiest thing to sell. It’s genuinely awesome, though, and you gave to see it. Think of a cross between The Rocky Horror Show, Neuromancer and Jeremy Kyle.

It’s 2057, and everybody has replaced their organs on credit with a nasty, evil corporation which repossesses peoples’ organs if they default on their payments by getting a “repo man” to come and remove their organs with a knife, wherever they are. It’s a gloriously dark, cyberpunk premise. On top of that we have an addiction to plastic surgery on behalf of the idle rich (Paris Hilton is perfectly cast here!), a succession battle between the various feckless and debauched offspring of a dying tycoon, Rotti, rampant grave robbery for body parts, and various other nasty corporate doings. Most outrageous of all are the events surrounding the opera itself at the climax, especially the incredible story of Blind Mag, who shows that integrity still exists in this dark future, albeit at a terrible price.

It all looks great, too, the visual style being a cross between Goth and retro Victorian, and eschewing realism in favour of a consistent style. Particularly effective is the use of comic book panels to narrate the events of seventeen years earlier from several different perspectives.

The cast is superb, aside from Paris Hilton, but at least her performance is, er, appropriate. Anthony Stewart Head is superb in a multi-layered role, and his American accent seemed ok to this British viewer. The songs, too, I liked, often tinged as they were with an ‘80s Goth sensibility which meshes well with the cyberpunk setting. It’s interesting that the sets, while resembling a three-dimensional stage set stylistically, also remind me of music videos by the like of The Cult and Bauhaus.

There’s a political subtext too, of course, with the whole American debate about health provision, so alien to us socialistic Europeans, with our awkward questions about why state health care should be called “socialised medicine” whereas national armed forces are not called “socialised mercenaries”, or the police are not “socialised security guards” for some reason. This film is fundamentally all about a health system fully controlled by unregulated private insurers and, like much science fiction, an extrapolation of present trends.

Not to be spoilerific or anything, but the plot is simultaneously intricate and easy to follow, leading to a big, satisfying climax, if you’ll excuse the slight naughtiness of the phrasing. And it’s interesting that youth and hope belong to the women, with the patriarchal figures fading away.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Saw III (2006)

“Live or die, Jeff. Make our choice.”

Suddenly, after defending the first two Saw films, I begin to see a justification for the term “torture porn”. This is a much, much nastier film than its two predecessors, and the scene with Timothy Young and the “rack”, in particular, is extremely difficult to watch. This film is as good, as intricate, and as entertaining as its predecessors but the nastiness is starting to become excessive.

There’s a very strong connection to the first two films, as we see what happens to Matthews and the gruesome death of Kerry; the police procedural element has certainly not lessened. But the film centres around Amanda who, lacking Jigsaw’s “ethics”, does not give her victims a chance of escape. I certainly wouldn’t say there’s any moral distinction between them (they’re both sadistic serial killers who get off on power far more than being inspired by their claimed motives), but Jigsaw would. And he, of course, has set the whole thing up to see whether Amanda is worthy to be his successor. She isn’t, of course, but the means by which we discover this are the point.

So, yes, it’s good, as far as plot and intrigue go, and those are the selling points here, not subtext, character or moral profundity. But even in comparison to its predecessors it’s very dark. And the gore has definitely stepped up. We have a trepanning, with a power drill and no anaesthetic. We have, early on, the most sadistic scenarios yet, and that horrible “rack” scene, seen in bloody slow motion. To me this crosses some sort of undefined line. I’m a little nervous about proceeding with the series.

Still- John Kramer dies at the end. How can more films possibly happen?

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Saw II (2005)

“Live or die. Make your choice.”

I suppose it’s never been more predictable which film I’m going to blog next. Fear not, though: I’m not just going to rattle through all six Saw films one after another, so if you don’t like these films you can stay tuned. Before I start, though, I have to praise this film for respecting the intelligence of its audience and using Roman numerals in the title, something not many films do in these lowest-common-denominator times.

This film feels no more like a horror or slasher movie than the last one, and feels even more strongly like a police procedural, because that’s what it is. Like Columbo, this isn’t a whodunit so much as a whydunit: we already know who Jigsaw is, but that’s about all we do know. The plot twists and revelations are every bit as awesome as in the earlier film, but this time we have the added bonus of more screen time from the splendid Tobin Bell.

Jigsaw’s motives begin to become a little clearer; his motives appear to be sincere, although the sadism is genuine too. All of his victims are found wanting in some way, harsh though his moral judgements may often be, The deaths are horrible an d gloriously gory but, once again, not sufficiently so as to justify the “torture porn” reputation.

The central character, Detective Matthews, is corrupt, self-centred and, naturally, jigsaw’s true target. He can never quite be an audience identification figure, so instead we get Kerry, the flawed but honest detective. Matthews is slowly and
psychologically tortured although, interestingly, his son is not harmed, in spite of some petty criminal acts. This is done, and revealed, very cleverly (the footage is not live). If anything, the plotting is even more satisfying this time round, and we get some highly accurate skewering of reality TV to boot.

John Kramer’s motive for being Jigsaw is more than a little existential, to put it mildly. His characterisation may be somewhat superficial but there are real ideas at play here. Amanda, with her apparent Stockholm syndrome being revealed as having led to becoming Jigsaw’s accomplice, is a particularly disturbing and fascinating character.

Once again this is an excellent film. Nice soundtrack, too: it’s good to hear Mudvayne over the closing titles. Next time, though, it’s time for a bit of a break from the Saw films…