April 1, 2012


This is first in what I assume will be an ongoing new feature here at rockets and robots are GO! With my primary focus for the year being my MA, I'm not going to have anywhere near the amount of time I would usually spend on writing up reviews for everything I see at the cinema. It's unfortunate, but the blog just cannot be my sole writing focus for the year. However, I am determined to keep this blog as something of an online journal of my cinematic viewings so, at the end of every month those films that I have yet to write up individually (usually retro or classic films) will be featured here.

To kick it off:
Poster design by Mark Carroll

British artist-turned-filmmaker Steve McQueen's Shame is a stark look at one man's addiction, the depths he sinks to and what it costs him. It doesn't pull punches and really doesn't shy away from showing anything and everything. And that is graphically shown in the first few minutes of the film with Michael Fassbender's Brandon wanders to and fro in his fancy apartment, absolutely starkers and yes, his cock in full view. 
But despite all of the nudity and the subject matter this is no erotic film. It is, in fact, entirely un-erotic, the sex and nudity being frank, matter-of-fact or entirely hollow and emotionless.

Brandon is a charming, well groomed and intelligent man with a job he seems to enjoy and is particularly good at. He has a nice enough apartment, no doubt expensive. He enjoys a drink with the lads. He is a sex addict. He picks up random women from bars or employs prostitutes. He spends his night's at home hollow-eyed and hunched over his laptop, surfing the internet for porn. He's not picky where he gets his fix from and, like most addicts, manages to keep it all secret from his boss and workmates.

This perfectly structured life of Brandon's is interrupted and thrown around by the arrival of his sister Cissy (Carey Mulligan), a singer who has decided to stay for an indefinite period of time. There is a lot of history between these characters hinted at, rather than spelled out. There is that sibling closeness, followed by Brandon blowing up at having to constantly "look after" Cissy.

McQueen allows scenes to run and run, the takes lingering and only cutting away when it becomes absolutely necessary. In this way, he allows the film to really get under your skin; to soak into you. The camera doesn't look away and, thus, neither can you. This long-take technique never becomes pretentious or allows itself to become a distraction to the viewer but instead is just another tool in McQueen's director's toolbox.

When you have a director who is using long-takes, it helps to people the film with actors who are really at the top of their game. Fassbender and Mulligan, two young British actors who have really broken out in the last couple of years, own the frames. Fassbender is an actor who projects and easy charm and charisma, as evidenced in Inglorious Basterds and as the globe totting Erik Lensherr in X-Men: First Class, and Shame is the first time I've witnessed that dark side he is capable of. 

Mildred Pierce
(Wellington Film Society screening)

The Film Society kicked off it's mini-season of noir films on 35mm with this Joan Crawford starring classic (recently remade with Kate Winslet in the title role). And thanks to the truly horrendous and spoilt daughter of the heroine, it was no less a difficult watch than Shame.

Mildred Pierce begins with a death. From there the story of how we reach that death is a tale told by Mildred to the cops. Mildred is a strong, independently-minded woman who has always wanted to do the best for her two daughters, especially eldest Veda. Poor Mildred is a woman used and abused by all the males close to her though; her cheating first husband, her close friend Wally and her lover/second husband Monte. They all use Mildred in different ways, the only half-way decent one being the cheating first husband Bert.

Michael Curtiz (Casablanca and the Errol Flynn starring The Adventures of Robin Hood) directs the screen legend as Mildred opens her own restaurant which becomes a flourishing chain. Veda sees the business as nothing more than money for her to buy things. This girl, this incomparable brat of a girl, is one of the most horribly selfish, materialistic and mean-spirited characters I've ever had the displeasure to witness. She truly cares not a whit for anyone or anything past herself and her own enjoyments. When Mildred finally whips round and slaps the hussy a well-deserved open right hand, I cheered.

A film that grips you rather than has you gripping the edge of your seat, the tale takes its twists and turns but is nowhere near as lurid (to modern eyes) as the advertising would have us believe. Instead Mildred is a strong woman in a man's world played by a strong woman in a man's world.

It Happened One Night
(Embassy Retro Showcase)

This is in fact the first Frank Capra film I've ever seen. Yup, including It's A Wonderful Life. Starring Claudette Colbert and Gone With the Wind's Clark Gable It Happened One Night puts modern romantic comedies to shame.

Colbert stars, luminously, as heiress Ellie who is, essentially, held under house(boat) arrest by her wealthy father. Actually, these opening moments, to modern eyes, give the feeling that this is going to be anything but a romantic comedy. More like a horrifying thriller.

But she escapes! Huzzah! Because she is in love with (and married to, though Daddy wants an annulment) Westley, who is in New York. Penniless but determined Ellie sets out from Florida to New York, travelling by bus. It is on the bus she bumps into Gable's drunken newspaperman, Peter Warne. He is a character of the age; an intelligent, charmingly drunk reporter of strong moral character(ish). He's a fast talker and a bit of a wise ass, though she's no slouch in that department either.

These two knock each other about cross-country, Warne looking out for the heiress who has little idea how the world works outside her sheltered life. And, surprise surprise, they find themselves falling in love. It's a light-hearted romp, with plenty of sparkling dialogue brought to life by two actors with a fine ear for it and actual chemistry together. 

No comments:

Post a Comment