Thursday, March 23, 2006

I'm feeling kindly...

Two of this week's UK releases are real growers. I'm upgrading André Téchiné's lucid and moving Strayed to a B+ — I still think the final reel's flawed, but I'm going to be going back for another look — and John Turturro's Romance & Cigarettes to a B—, because it's a total mess with wonderful things in it, and I'm finding it hard to shake.

In other news, Inside Man is a Spike Lee film for people who don't like Spike Lee films, into which category I rather neatly fall. It often stalls, and it's all a teeny bit crude and trumped-up, I have to say, but I marginally prefer its businesslike genre housing to the interesting but overpraised and seriously trumped-up 25th Hour.

Looking forward to everyone else's thoughts on these.


darkcypherlad said...


Hello, I'm new to your blog. I like what I see so far. Re: Strayed, if I had to assign it a grade, I'd give it an A minus--the first hour is masterful and I can't remember any serious decline in quality in the second.

On an unrelated note, I'm very curious to see why you liked The Hill Have Eyes so much. I haven't seen it, but I'm still recovering from the sour taste of Aja's last film, which topped my worst of 2005 list.

Keep up the good work!
Jason aka DarkCypherLad (

tim r said...

Aha! (Or should that be "Aja!"?) Welcome Jason. Here we can bring Nick into the debate, if he's game. I hated Haute tension (aka Switchblade Romance, in the UK) too. Absolutely loathed it: I think I gave it an F. It was ghastly, cynical, and made no sense, right? The Hills Have Eyes is kind of ghastly and kind of cynical but makes quite a bit of sense, to me, and I was fascinated by how dusty, apocalyptic and mysteriously underpopulated its version of America is. Very much an outsider's vision, I'll grant you, and there are notes of von Trierian mockery in there which some may find hard to take, but, speaking as an outsider, an arresting and troubling one.

Nick's given it the F treatment, which is always enough to make a friendly critic stop in his tracks, and despite seeing it twice already, I won't deny that I'm having second (third?) thoughts at this point. I hope those who haven't seen it don't mind me leaping ahead slightly with my analysis; I'll try not to spoil anything.

I can see how people might find it just nasty and reductive, on various levels. Despite the deployment of tomandandy's score, which I'll maintain is brilliant, there's a slightly hollow, gloating quality to the Pyrrhic victory at the end, and it rams home the Stars and Stripes stuff a bit too hard: I'm not sure we need The Star Spangled Banner being sung by a hideously deformed housebound mutant to get the point. Some of this certainly struck me on the second viewing. But I don't think this tendency towards overstatement is fatal to the movie — horror needn't be subtle to be potent, on its own terms — and I don't think it remotely suggests the Republican family gets what's coming to them. (I'm not sure anyone's really arguing that, but it's an important point to make.) I felt real pity and sympathy for the victims in this, which is not something that the usual backwoods dismemberment-fests (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre remake, say) generally prompt in me. In that movie I couldn't care less about who was getting slaughtered, and that's what fundamentally separates the good from the bad, to my mind, in the horror genre: whether you care. Compare also the truly terrible Hostel, in which everyone's just loathsome, or the Saw films.

I do actually want to hear the arguments for why this film's abhorrent, empty, pointlessly sadistic, or whatever people think it is, because I can't say I found it to be any of those things and I rather expected it would be. For a horror director, I'll add that Aja strikes me as suddenly and surprisingly good with actors: he gets really strong perfs out of Dan Byrd and Emilie de Ravin in this, and a pretty good one from Aaron Stanford. There are human begins at stake in this movie, goddammit! The overall tone, to me, is one of chilling irony, the subtext, in a nutshell, the mutant state of American conservatism, the outlook acidic but scalding.

I really had written Aja off as a slick sadist; I'm not now, and I'm happy to defend this movie even as a few nervous reservations start creeping in. It's tough to stomach, but I do think it's genuinely interesting.

Anyone else seen it?

Goran said...

I despised "The 25th Hour". To me, it was the "Crash" of its year: artificial, earnest and overwrought. Overall, I'm not much of a Spike Lee fan - I think I admire Do the Right Thing a bit more than I like it - but maybe once I find the 4 hours to see Malcolm X, I might change my mind.

On the topic of Téchiné, Tim, I'm curious if you've seen his latest, Changing Times with Deneuve and Depardieu and was wondering what you thought of it? (I was a big fan.)
Strayed played at a film festival where I live a couple years ago and I was very much considering seeing it, but all the reviews I read of it were very reserved, so I chose to watch another movie instead. Now I can't even find it on video anywhere.

Also, Haute Tension just came out at my video store and I have the option to see it for free, but I just can't my bring myself to. Same with Wolf Creek. (Saw made me never wanna watch another snuff horror movie.)
I'll tell you what I think of The Hills Have Eyes when it comes out on video and I can see that for free too. But I'm not too happy about the concept of remaking Wes Craven.

tim r said...

I think Malcolm X was the first Spike Lee film I saw, and I remember finding it pretty tedious. But I would have been, like, 14. The ones I have most time for are Jungle Fever (really) and the fascinatingly livid and scratchy Bamboozled; I find Do The Right Thing quite a bit too soapboxy, and 25th Hour for me is only really interesting around the edges, when the pretentiously and implausibly conceived Norton character is taking a breather.

I did see Changing Times, in Berlin last year, and really liked it. Despite Deneuve, I should say, who I find curiously inexpressive these days. Strayed is just lovely though. I can't quite work out why people got so sniffy about it. Do they think it's wartime kitsch? Can't see it at all.

Really don't bother with Haute tension, it's vile. And I'm no fan of Wolf Creek either, which I think is hypocritical and technically bungled.

I tend to like about one and a half horror movies a year — in 2004 it was Dawn of the Dead and a witty little thing called Dead End; last year it was The Machinist (if that counts) and bits of Land of the Dead; this year, so far, it's The Hills Have Eyes. Make of this what you will. The amount of crap I sit through though. Anyone else see Darkness? Boogeyman? Monster-in-Law?

Goran said...

I work at a video store so I watch a lot of trash too, which I would nevre agree to pay for (I did see Monster in Law, yes). And we've got a couple of copies of Dead End, which I'd never heard of until I started working there. Now you're telling me it's worthwhile? I spose, I might give it a shot then.

Re: Deneuve, I disagree with you completely. I thought she was wonderful in Changing Times. I could have sworn she revealed years' worth of detail in every tiny gesture. I loved her in it.

Now, the following isn't relevant to this post (I spose I could pretend it's vaguely relevant to Deneuve), but I'm really curious to know. I'm pretty sure I saw "Umbrellas of Cherbourg" pretty high in your personal canon (and lots of other lists). Now, I was very fond of it, I liked all the colours and things, and I'd be happy to watch it again, but I wouldn't consider it great (it had no emotional impact for me).

However, I just finished watching Jacques Demy's first movie, "Lola". This one, I adored and I don't see how someone could resist it. I was wondering if you'd seen it yourself and what your take on it is (because really, this one needs to be on at least as many lists as Umbrellas of Cherbourg).

tim r said...

No, haven't seen Lola. I should, obviously.

I liked Depardieu far more in Changing Times. Perhaps it's just me, but I find Deneuve a too self-conscious, grand-dame-ish presence in almost all her movies these days: it's like she's deigning them with her appearance, rather than digging properly into the roles. She was having far less fun than anyone else in Ozon's 8 Women, for instance. But we obviously disagree on this one. I may see it again if it does the rounds.

Dead End's great fun, resourceful on a tiny budget, and has a fantastically unhinged Lin Shaye in it. Annoying ending, but it's well worth seeing.

Mylo said...

I'd like to second the Dead End recommendation -using a concept that is almost so cliched that it makes it som ehat ironic and increases the enjoyment as opposed to feeling unoriginal- it has a very dry sense of humour and is tremendously quirky. Terrible ending though, but it can be ignored (and I think it knows its shit).
Hills Have Eyes I found to be alright. I think I may have been too desensitised at this point though, because I didn't find it (on its own terms) particularly scary or as vile as some others have. Knowing the original fairly well, the nastiest bit of the new version (a five minute sequence that is hard to miss) is almost a carbon copy of what went before, and everything that is 'new' appeared more routine and generic. But still, it was good fun at the cinema (and the cinema is where you should see it) and a damn sight better than Haute Tension which was like a calling card made from a razor blade.
I'm just sad to hear that A Day of the Dead remake directed by Zack Snyder has now been officially denied, I do love his Dawn of the Dead.

tim r said...

"A calling card made from a razor blade" — spot on! I'd love to arrange a screening of that movie for a roomful of hardcore feminist academics and record their expressions on the way out. But perhaps that's my own sadistic streak emerging... It's got to be one of the most intellectually insulting twists of all time, right?

The more I think about the allegory being pushed in The Hills Have Eyes, the glibber and more vituperatively anti-American it begins to feel. There's a patina of audience contempt there, too, no doubt about it, and it makes me uncomfortable even while I admit to finding that very discomfort oddly productive. When a movie as worthless as Hostel can make $50m, I've got to say I think horror fans urgently need to have their values questioned, and even mocked: in The Hills Have Eyes, the joke's on them. In any case, I do think there's more than one way to read it, and I'm still enjoying wrestling with the movie in my head: it's nagging at me more than anything else I've seen this year, certainly much more than, say, the vapidly propagandistic V for Vendetta. It's disappointing to me that even those critics who liked THHE (and it did get some surprisingly good reviews) weren't willing to explore those implications more. It's not exactly hiding them under a bushel. But reviewers tended just to call the movie very technically accomplished in a grim way and leave it at that. I also find it difficult to believe that many of them actually took the triumphalisms at the end at face value. No one ever sees quite the same movie, I guess.

Still, I've found intelligent responses to the film here and here. The Verhoeven comparison one of them makes is a valuable one. Also, can we just agree that, however much Alexandre Aja hates Americans, he does not hate them as much as the bloggers at Film Freak Central hate him. Oh no. Not by a long stretch. I'm sure it's very bad blog etiquette to cut and paste from someone else's comments, but what the hell: "I fucking hated the Hills Have Eyes remake--forty-thousand brothers could not with all their quantity of hate make up my sum--and I despise Alexandre Aja. He's a monkey with a loaded gun, you just can't trust him. He's undeveloped as a human being. He makes me long for the casual ignorance of Brett Ratner. I want to dance on the motherfucker's grave."

Now that's hate. I really am fascinated by how divisive this film is proving across the Web. Come on, someone, make a case for Hostel!