Wednesday, 23 July 2014

New Worlds: Episode 4

"I dream of a vast continent, a republic where millions of men live in liberty."

So, New Worlds is over with a whimper, and I notice that, unlike The Devil's Whore, it caused nary a stir at the time and, mere months later, is pretty much forgotten. So what went wrong? Well, it's dull, for a start, with forgettable characters entirely lacking in charisma. And then there's the didacticism. While there's nothing wrong with looking at the past through the eyes of the present- it only exists in those terms, after all- New Worlds goes too far in putting modern sentiments into Restoration mouths.

The Devil's Whore managed to square this circle, looking at the "Good Old Cause" through the eyes of the contemporary Left examining its own heritage. Yet the characters were all of their time. Here we have Whigs expressing modern values, unhistorical attitudes to the Native American genocide, and crude use of dramatic irony in the many hints that the USA is set to exist in ninety years time. Most notably, the concluding bit of text doesn't even mention the Glorious Revolution of 1688, an elephant in the room that demonstrates a crude attempt to avoid a Whig interpretation of history which values the post-1689 constitutional settlement and trying to put a modern Leftist slant on, well, Whigs.

Charles II continues to be an I characteristically miserable bastard, and then dies right on schedule. Abe Gough is tortured, but escapes execution and buggers off to Boston to embark on a career as the authorial voice. Chris Finch from The Office is still around. There is much examination of the fact that Massachusetts is founded on the genocide of local tribes, and conflict with the King's representative that crudely foreshadows the 1770s ("I am here to remind Massachusetts that it is a colony and not a republic"). Hope is a bit racist. Sidney is horribly executed. Beth's mixed race baby is shunned, and reclaimed by it's fatger's moribund tribe. The Monmouth Rebellion happens. Etc. Etc.

This is actually the best of the four episodes, and moderately involving to watch. But by now it's far too late. 

Saturday, 19 July 2014

L'Arrivée d'un train en gare de La Ciotat (1895)

Yep, it's the first horror film. Cringe with terror as the train seems about to run you over as you sit there is now of the first cinemas somewhere in France...

This is yet another curiosity of early cinema, on which it would be pointless to pass any value judgement. It goes to show, though, that this sort of elementary footage had such power in those early days. It would be some years into the following century before elementary film grammar was established.

It's well worth forty-nine seconds of your time to watch it on YouTube...

The Cheese Mites (1903)

Have a look for this on YouTube; it's a partly lost film but 49 seconds exist, of some cheese mites through a microscope. It was originally a short film, bookended by scenes of a bloke being put off his meal.

It's rather pointless expressing any opinion, really, but the context is interesting; one of a series of scientific documentary short films being shown at a time during which film was still something of a novelty.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Secret Window (2004)

"I did those things so you didn't have to."

It's increasingly unusual to see Johnny Depp in a film where he's neither playing Captain Jack Sparrow nor being directed by Tim Burton. Here he is, though, on one of those Stephen King-penned thrillers that are, by sheer coincidence, making up an increasingly large proportion of the films I'm blogging.

It's a typical Stephen King thriller, right down to having a writer native to Maine as the hero, and it makes an excellent film with a superb twist. The interplay between Depp's dishevelled Morton Rainey and John Turturro's menacing hick, John Shooter, is disturbingly effective, as it has to be for the film to work.

I won't say anything about the twist, except to praise it in vague yet fulsome terms. But every storytelling beat is perfectly placed for this thriller to have maximum effect, as we should expect for a film based on King's work. There are nice touches; Depp's performance in general, of course, and the use of cigarettes (he's supposed to be giving up) to denote Morton's mood.

The twist is especially neat, especially as life increasingly mirrors the short story under dispute. This is a well executed, deeply satisfying and underappreciated film.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

The Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence (2011)

"Is this the perverted film you've been talking about?"

Oh, you just knew I had to blog the sequel.

This is much more splendidly disgusting than it's predecessor, which inevitably failed to live up to its stomach-turning reputation while being a perfectly decent standard issue horror. This is much more genuinely horrific, and not just in terms if the obvious body horror.

We now find ourselves, in a nicely metatextual move, in a world in which the previous film was just that- a film. The scene shifts to England, a bleak and monochrome England of run-down multi-storey car parks and barely inhabitable flats, areas redolent with poverty and the scent of violence and sexual abuse. Within this dark world we meet the weird, tragic Martin, a tragic and virginal loner who lives with his mum, endures a dead end job and is at the bottom of society. He is obsessed with The Human Centipede. He's also at the bottom of society and a very damaged and creepy young man, who punishes his own sexual urges by sand papering his own genitals; repression and arousal in a single act.

It's made clear, though, that it's not the film that made him this way; unsurprisingly, this horror film is not pushing a tabloidy, reactionary message about violent films be getting violence. It is Martin's environment that has made him what he is, and that environment is very dark indeed. 

Martin's mum is a horrible bully who bleakly and pointedly makes sure her son knows how she longs for death, and his dream hints clearly at his abusive childhood. Both he and his mum live in fear of their thuggish neighbour. His pet centipede seems to symbolise his late abusive father. This is a dark, dark world before we mention any of the human centipede stuff, a world in which the camera never looks at things straight on, as though to emphasise how alien this life is to the presumed middle class audience of this film, which is shot just like the art house flick that it isn't.

Martin uses his job as the car park security guard to murder and kidnap, and has gone to great lengths to lure Ashlynne, actress from the earlier film. It is clear from his drawings that he plans a much bigger centipede. Soon, indeed, he has eight people including a pregnant woman, soon joined by Ashlynne.

The human centipede is just the body horror, though; the most horrific thing about the film is the dynamic between mother and son. It is when he kills her, and then eats a meal with her corpse, that the film's darkest moment arrives. In shirt succession he then proceeds to violently kidnap the thuggish neighbour and kill his psychiatrist, whom he observes doing sexual things that he, a virgin, unable to attract girls and therefore fearful of and disgusted by sex, could never do.

He has his twelve "segments", and we slowly see the build-up to the horrific surgery to come. The surgery is amateurish, involving a staple gun and very little hygiene. The pregnant woman soon dies, her baby still alive. 

The surgery is over, and Martin is ecstatic, feeding his "centipede" with dog food and tinned soup. He delightedly encourages defecation into the mouth of the person behind, right down the line. Urrrgh. He masturbates, and rapes the woman at the back. It's all very disgusting.

Suddenly, the "dead" pregnant woman awakens. She's about to give birth; fleeing, she locks herself in the car with a crazed Martin trying to get in. As Martin leaves the scene the "centipede" splits, the thug bleeding from his mouth. Martin returns to see several smaller centipedes. Enraged, he shoots them until he runs out of bullets, and then starts to behead them with a knife. By now this is pure Grand Guignol. His death, with a centipede up his arse, seems entirely appropriate. 

This film is quite, quite disgusting and is everything that it's predecessor wasn't. It's also a rather good little character study with a message behind the gore; create a marginalised underclass and this is what you get.

Despicable Me 2 (2013)

"Good day, Mr Sheepsbutt."


This is a bloody good film and well funny although, of course, it's now impossible for Gru to be a proper super villain again. Instead he works for a group of comedy special agents while having a love interest, looking after his daughters and losing Dr Nefarious to a proper supervillain. It's a predictable set-up, but who cares; it's funny.

Seeing Gru playing the part of dad to his three cute little girls will never stop being funny, and the birthday party at the start is hilarious. Not quite so comedic, but heartwarming nonetheless, is his developing relationship with Lucy Wilde. Her introduction, though, having a gadget for everything, is highly amusing.

Also amusing is the idea of Gru now using all his supervillain stuff to, er, make jam. The minions are funny and cute, obviously. My favourite scenes are probably the ones during Gru's date with that horrible conformist woman. And, when it seems that plot convenience is to separate them, there's a hilariously tense scene with Gru trying to pluck up the courage to pick up the phone and ask her out. Inevitably, the girls end up with a new mum.

All of that sounds excessively soppy for a comedy, and it is, but again who cares as there are laughs aplenty. This is just as good as it's predecessor.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

New Worlds: Episode 3

"Our lives will never change until the kings are torn from their thrones."

This episode, we get Native Americans being all noble savages and that in ways that, while trying hard not to be racist in their depiction, may cross the line into patronising as all depictions of tribal societies inevitably do. We also get interesting political discussion which shows us how the die-hard republicans of the Good Old Cause morph slowly into Whigs, keeping an outward show of monarchy but sidelining it to the extent that one Ancien Regime French ambassador once famously refused to accept that England was a monarchy at all after 1688. This is not a Whig script, of course; it is still interested in the history of the Left and not that of Liberals such as myself who are, while way to the left of Clegg and those dangerous Orange Book entryists, are not from that tradition.


Beth survives transportation and meets a sort of proto-Squanto, proceeding to go predictably native and to act as the hand-wringing, post-colonial mouthpiece of our authorial voice. The King proceeds to be a right bastard, and Angelica's house goes to one of a Judge Jeffries' mates who isn't very nice to the staff, allowing us to see a bit of proto-Chartist class conflict. There's a lot of proto-this and proto-that in this somewhat Marxist script. There's nothing wrong with this, of course, but I wish the script had put equal attention to giving the characters a little depth. None of them come across as anything more than ideological mouthpieces.

Beth and her new Native American mates soon run up against John Hawkins, Henry Cresswell and their equally genocidal Puritan mates in Massachusetts which, once again, it is instructive to see depicted as the frontier. Abe, meanwhile, gets involved with the Rye House Plot. Ted, now back in Massachusetts, finds his beloved Beth now married to the dastardly Henry Cresswell. And the whole Commonwealth of Massachusetts gets a bit of a bollocking on behalf of the King, who is on the Indians' side, sort of. One of the Massachusetts Bastards, incidentally, is Chris Finch from The Office.

Beth's presence in the tribe is discovered, and our RP accented Yankees Hope and Beth resume sleeping together, now a much naughtier thing than it was before. Ned soon becomes outraged at the fact that not only his love rival but also his father are, as William Goffe had put it, "land pirates". Soon enough the tribe is wiped out in a nasty bit of germ warfare. Such is the original sin of America, and it is a very English sin.

The political subtext is entertaining, I suppose, but in the absence of characters in whom one can take an interest it's all there is to grab hold of, and it's not exactly subtle. New Worlds continues to disappoint.