Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Black Dahlia – James Ellroy’s other dark places

Doing what he does best, Ellroy combines reality with his fiction in large, violent doses on the screen; this adaptation of his bestseller successfully recreates L.A just after WW2. Two fighters – Fire and Ice (Hartnett and Eckhart) fight it out in the ring and then become partners in fighting crime. The Black Dahlia ( 121 minutes) goes over one of the most notorious unsolved murders in America; the grizzly killing of Elizabeth Short (Mia Kirshner).

As a film, it works as well as Ellroy’s novel – the language is too authentic for European ears, or for Americans under the age of 50, and the plot is intricate and difficult to follow. It’s a great film for all that and doesn’t pander to the blatant tastes of populist cinema – no car chases or shoot outs that rely on computer graphics for effect. Just a well told tale illustrating the ills of America, California, L.A., and Hollywood in particular.

The film centres around Hollywood wannabes and the riff-raff that come between them and fame – the graft, well known names – Mack Sennett is named in connection with what we now call scams in the building of Hollywood.

And there was Fiona Shaw as the crazed wife of the Scottish millionaire building magnate. Fiona Shaw as Ramona Linscott, the person who did murder Short – Ramona the insane, the crazed, mad with jealousy, who coolly puts a silver pistol in her mouth and pulls the trigger. Shaw gave as convincing, and as frightening a portrayal of a psychopath as it has ever been my misfortune to see on the silver screen. She was the stuff nightmares are made of.

Hillary Swank was equally convincing as the manipulative, murderous, pathetic daughter, Madeleine, clinging to Bucky (Hartnett) as the horrors unfolded.

And there was the audience, who, mostly not having read Ellroy’s book, or else having tried to read it and put it down as a genre they couldn’t hack, left the theatre in a sort of limbo – feeling they had watched something memorable, but not being able to recall just why it was so.
Robert L. Fielding

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Danny Deckchair – “d’yuh see it, mate?”

Proving more is not better, Rhys Ifans – the Welsh git in Notting Hill- stars in this Australian TV film that works - Deck Chair Danny directed by Jeff Balsmeyer. This is not a genre I usually get on with – the American equivalent where everything is perfect where there is no peeling paintwork on the screen door – no rusting barbie in the yard - no ordinary people next door, Australian TV films seem to do it better somehow.

I think it’s because they leave the semiotics – the non-verbal language of the sign - to the viewer. American film producers try too hard to get it right and in getting it too right, get it all wrong. I don’t want to see immaculately coiffured, already belipsticked people just getting out of bed – not a tussled hair out of place. I want more of how it is first thing in a morning – an unconscious smear of toothpaste on the top lip – that kind of thing.

If the tussling is done by the hairdresser, you can tell it’s designer tussled – that’s how American TV films feel – this was different.

A crazy plot – an unlikely flying deck chair (actually it wasn’t a deckchair at all, but a tatty garden variety) that flies once enough balloons are attached, and Danny leaves his regular life and gets a whole new one two blocks over.

I like to be given the chance to suspend my disbelief willingly – rather than having it taken from me – that’s the American way. The Australian way lets you in to construct part of the meaning – it’s a more socializing event altogether.

The characters help too, you don’t have anything done for you – it’s there; men with brewer’s goiters, mutton trying to look like lamb, cross sections of communities – paparazzi photogs, local losers, manhunters, and Rhys doing what he does best – mistaking mayonnaise for yoghurt – or was that Notting Hill. See, British producers can do it too.

Rhys flying over the Melbourne suburbs was so obviously computer generated that it was fun – it wasn’t overgood.
“It’s obvious, let’s make it look ******** obvious,” you can almost hear the producer bellowing through his cheap loud hailer.

The malevolent, jealous cop never really succeeds, like jealous cops everywhere, I suppose – the sub plot doesn’t take over at any point – a bit unlike reality, but you can’t show everything that could happen. That’s why I enjoyed it.
Robert L. Fielding

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Forrest Gump revisited

When Forrest Gump first hit our screens a colleague of mine wrote in the local press how the film was a sort of feel good film for Americans. He said that in a world in which the ability of the US to influence outcomes was diminishing, Gump gave people hope – that big things could be achieved if you wanted them enough, or had luck on your side – it could still happen for Americans.

I watched Gump on TV last night, and came to see it in a different light; instead of seeing it through the eyes of my friend, I thought it sent out an entirely different message – one still giving hope and encouragement, but in a realistic way.

Gump begins life with all sorts of handicaps, the most obvious one provided by the irons on his legs – his legs aren’t as straight as they should be. His IQ is low, making it necessary for his doting mother to have to do things she might not otherwise do. Gump gets into school despite his low intelligence.

He is persecuted for his 9appearance, his irons, and his low intelligence, but as his life progresses it becomes clear that he is gifted in ways that are not usual – this is a film, don’t forget, and film producers tailor scripts and scenarios to sell the films they make. Forrest Gump lands on his feet in whatever situation he finds himself.

He teaches Elvis how to rock n’ roll, gives Lennon the idea for one of his greatest songs, witnesses Watergate without being aware of it, and even moons to President Johnson. He also makes hay when every shrimp boat but his gets destroyed in a storm, and gets into Fortune 500 in the process.

Gump makes it without even knowing – almost without trying, but he doesn’t know it, or at least doesn’t allow it to affect him – one could say he is too thick to know what he has done. It is up to Lieutenant Dan to reinvest the money they make from shrimps into a ‘fruit company’ – Apple, no less.

Is the film telling us that the American dream is alive and well, or is it telling us that money doesn’t make a difference to our lives – or something entirely different. As I watched the final scenes, it seemed to me that it was saying, ‘It aint over till the fat lady sings!’

Robert L. Fielding