Monday, January 30, 2012

The Skin I Live In

Pedro Almodóvar's latest must-see is one of the best films of 2011.

The last ten years have seen Spain reaffirming itself as the most productive breeding ground for top quality cinema.

Álex de la Iglesia (La Habitacion del Niño), Guillem Morales (Los Ojos de Julia), Jaume Balagueró (REC, Fragile), Rodrigo Cortés (Buried) and Juan Antonio Bayona (The Orphanage) are only a handful of directors typifying Spain's current cinematic run of form.

And that's without counting, of course, one of country's most celebrated film-makers, Pedro Almodóvar (of Volver fame), whose latest film The Skin I Live In (original title La Piel Que Habito) is one of his most remarkable ever.

Put bluntly, Almodóvar's films are generally weird. But I mean good and watchable weird. Never pretentious or self-indulgent, let alone overly arty and elitist, which is this blog's pet hate. You can watch almost every Almodóvar film and expect the seediness and the various quirks along the way to finally make sense at some point.

By the time you've spotted the twist coming or have clocked it altogether, the story will have drawn you in so much that you'll simply want to find out how or why right until the very end.

Given how rich and carefully textured the plot is, there's not much we can reveal about The Skin I Live In. Even the slightest clue may easily turn into the most irritating of spoilers.

The film is in one go horror, psychological thriller, crime, film noir, and distorted love melodrama as well. All the while, underlying ethical questions are posed over the extent to which Frankenstein-like medicine can go.

But, while most directors would have lost the plot trying to juggle too many genres at the same time, Almodóvar pulls it off handsomely.

His rich colours and obsessive themes are not, unlike many other directors, cheap gimmicks, fillers or clever tricks. They are integral part of his narrative.

The film is also the moment when Antonio Banderas, one of Spain's most famous actors, reaffirms his acting credentials. Often slammed as wooden, here he's absolutely superb, oozing mystery and charisma and carrying the whole weight of the film from start to finish.

Watch The Skin I Live In and you'll lose yourself into its slow but intense pace and into its intriguing and relentless buildup, while the different ends of the same web gradually come together against a backdrop that is both creepy and fascinating at the same time.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Rite

Add a 't' in front of the title and you get the general idea.

How many films can be made about exorcists and possessed women (and why is it always the women, by the way, have you noticed...?) swearing in several languages before people realise that it's totally useless?

How many times, before producers actually decide to pack it in and focus their attention and cash elsewhere? The troubled, sceptical priest under the guidance of an older, wiser maverick. The mandatory car accident. The chained sweaty woman telling them both to fuck off. In Latin too. The cross and the prayers, the spitting and the red eyes, the premonitions, the insects and the lot...

This one here comes about 35 years too late, as it would only matter to those few souls who never watched The Exorcist and its multiple spin offs and rip offs.

If there's one thing the makers of The Rite got almost 100% right, that was the film title. They forgot to add the letter 't' in front of "Rite". Then it would have made sense, Anthony Hopkins or not.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Vanishing on 7th Street

When the apocalypse is so dull that you can't wait for it to come.

There's an unwritten rule in cinema, etched in capital letters, as old as the first reel to reel.

And it goes as follows. The fact that a director may have been behind a decent film and the fact that a story plot may also sound vaguely intriguing are no guarantee of a good film.

Brad Anderson may have been the man behind both Session 9 and The Machinist, and his latest Vanishing on 7th Street may also sound like your perfect so-called "post-apocalyptic" story. Unfortunately though, it's painfully weak as well as way too flimsy and badly acted to actually go anywhere.

For all the amount of semi-deserted, mysterious-looking and Twin Peak-esque scenes set in an old neon-lit bar, the plot is simply too feeble and anemic (yes, thanks thesaurus) to strike any chord with the viewer.

Not to mention that Hayden Christensen and the other actors are so wooden that, put next to Pinocchio, they would positively make him look like Plastic Man.

Which wouldn't be so bad were it not for the fact that character development is below zero.

The thrills evaporate after about fifteen minutes as you quickly realise that a single episode of the Teletubbies will carry more suspense than this pap.

What seem to be the only four survivors to a mysterious plague that snatches people away, are just sitting there, fiddling with ice cubes and fuel, and periodically wailing that they have lost their kid/mum/colleagues/ex wife.

That's all they seem to be saying. And after you've heard the same lines 7 times in a row you just start hoping for the entity to put the inept four out of their misery once and for all.

As for the apocalypse, it must be the most docile one to be ever conjured up by a cinematic mind.

The same monstrous thing that hits people in an instant in the first part of the film, is later on so slow that even a snail would crawl back to safety once they twig that they're about to be snatched.

Vanishing on 7th Street is like a fantastic initial idea that crashed into the worst of writer's blocks within ten minutes.

Which, given how crowded the post-apocalyptic genre is starting to look, makes this film even more redundant.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Facebook statuses debunked*

Type one- Bored shitless

- "Enjoying the evening at home with a candle. Nice to have some chillout time!"
- "Had lovely day in the garden. Wonderful............."

So painful that you can actually feel their boredom. Such nothingness rammed down their Facebook friends' throats on a half hourly basis is only parallel to their stunted social skills.

Type two- Reaction seeker

- "Omg...Worst travelling experience ever. Stuck in traffic for 5 hours :-(...."
- "I love my family and friends VERY VERY much. You know who you are and you are very special people...."

Saddos in this category are obviously motivated by instant online gratification. Also, they're clearly gagging for replies which will inevitably consist of a flurry of "awwww" or "u alright hunni?xxx" in the first instance and "awww bless you" and "love u2 babes, u r sooo special to me 2 xxxx" for the second.

Type three- Attention seeker

- "........Wish it had never happened.....:-( "
- ".......Thanks XYZ for making me very happy......."

The above statuses are obviously an attempt to compensate lack of attention/affection during childhood. And sure enough, various Facebook friends will deliver the goods with a battery of "why?what happened????" or " did XYZ do?..."

Type four- Spamming musician

- "Playing solo 2moro at the Bull & Gate supporting XYZ. Free entry!!!!!Get there early!!!!"
- "[my band] at [venue] tomorrow at 9pm.....Come and see us!!!!Club night to follow!"

This is the type of chap who'd invite you to gigs even if it's 600 miles away from where you live. No wonder their statuses tend to remain woefully ignored. Not afraid to constantly spam everyone on their "friends" list, 90 per cent of their social interaction consists of generally talking AT people about their band and, of course, "come to my gig next Friday".

Type five- Look at my baby

- "Little Jaden won't stop playin up. Cant get any sleep!!!!"
- "Cant believe my princess is 3 months today. Love u xxxxxxx"

Normally women, these have a tendency to change one part of their moniker to accomodate words like "proud mummy" or "happy mummy". Also, they're totally oblivous to how annoying they are with their relentless bombardment of trivial anecdotes of their little ones enjoying their new toys. As if anybody else gave a flying fuck. Not to mention the onslaught of their kids' photos. This type tend to be particularly unbearable round Christmas time.

Type six - The proto ironic one-liner

- "If the mayans were so good at predicting the future they'd still be here"
- "theres a guy in kings heath who puts a monkey in a pushchair"

These people (generally blokes) usually spend around ten to fifteen minutes conjuring up the wittiest possible contribution. They love to be thought of as witty, funny and hilarious, even though they aren't. Often twistedly double ironic and cryptic, they're also known for their penchant for posting bizarre pictures and plays on words. As long as it nets them comments.

Type seven- The "profound" cut and pasters

- "♥ Peace is not found elsewhere, it comes from within ♥"
- "Don't get confused between my personality and my attitude. My personality is who I am, my attitude depends on who you are ★☆★☆★☆".

Such specimens normally stuff their list of favourite pages with crassness like "Without Ant&Dec I'm a Celebrity is not worth watching", "Dont take a good woman for granted", "someday someone will come along and appreciate what you didnt" or "support Our Boys in Iraq/Afghanistan"....

* This post doesn't mean that this blogger has never been guilty of any of the above.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

From letters to grunts

Why vocal chords may go the wisdom tooth way as we increasingly interact by means of online grunts...

Once upon a time people living in different places would send each other letters. Maybe once a month, perhaps every fortnight, valuable time was devoted to the penning of what they'd been up to and all the important updates.

Then came the net and letters quickly gave way to emails. By the late 1990s, most people owned an email address, though it's difficult to believe that back then they often consisted of arcane combinations of letters and words like

The physical ritual of opening a letter may have been on the retreat, but the concept remained nonetheless: suddenly people would spot new emails in their "inbox" folder. If anything, there was a chance to communicate more quickly and more frequently.

Fast forward less than ten years and the concept of "social networks" (read Facebook) rang the death knell for good old-fashioned emails. Private messages became increasingly rickety as less and less was there to be said, given that constant "updates" and "wall pictures" of everybody's latest night out meant little was left to the imagination.

By 2011, with the advent of iPhones and iWhatsits, most "distance" communication turned even more stunted.

Most Facebook interaction now consists of some people constantly publishing statuses (ie "omg my nephew's so cute!....xxxxxxx" or "fucks sake, stinky bloke nxt2me on bus") which is then followed by regular rounds of Facebook friends "liking" them (by simply clicking on a thumbs up button) or, if they feel more dexterous with the keyboard, leaving comments ranging from "wow", "xxx" or "awwwww" to "OMG!".

Who knows. Perhaps the toll of said levels of stunted interaction on human evolution will be such that, in a few centuries, our vocal chords will go the wisdom tooth way and turn out too undeveloped to articulate proper words.

It may be that we even go full circle and return to caveman sounds, with our exchanges (whether in person or online), consisting of thumbs up, "OMG" groans, "lovely" grunts and scratching chk chk sounds emanating from the palate which, of course, will convey a round of "xxxxxxxxxx" in pure Facebook style.

As for the answer to "wat u bin up2" (if we manage to articulate that, that is), we'll just shove a proto-phone in front of our interlocutor's eyes and show them how we pulled faces to the iCamera in a nightclub.