Archive for Dostoevsky

Retro Viral

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , on September 3, 2016 by dcairns

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Fiona watched Stranger Things avidly, but I only half-watched it. We both watched IT FOLLOWS. Retro electronica scores and sorta-period detail unite these two shows. Otherwise they’re pretty different.

I wasn’t too taken with Stranger Things because I recognized pretty much all the elements, and they were all drawn from a rather narrow pool of influences. The creepy child experiment stuff was new to Fiona, because I realized she hadn’t seen AKIRA — rectifying that tonight. The best I can say about the story world in this series is that the portal-to-hell stuff is more like a modern video game influence, or THE MIST, and transplanting it back in time into an ET/EXPLORERS 80s setting imparted what freshness the show had.

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IT FOLLOWS is arguable less successful overall — it doesn’t achieve a rounded, satisfying arc the way Stranger Things does (albeit a deeply conservative one, where outsider characters are conveniently erased and nuclear families preserved), but it has its own look and its own fresh central idea.

I felt the half-period/half-alternate-world schtick achieved precisely nothing in itself, and undercutting the reality of the milieu wasn’t really helpful to the fantasy, but I guess it spared writer/director David Robert Mitchell from having to accurately capture modern youthspeak. It’s the first sign of the dumbness that eventually derails the movie.

Well, not quite the first sign — during the opening shot, our first victim is introduced, desperately fleeing the unseen menace, which is, in best 80s slasher tradition, at this point represented by the camera eye itself.

“She’s in heels!” exclaimed Fiona. “Why is she in heels? Those are heels! Just kick them off!”

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Too late.

Though obviously Lynch-fluenced — in a way, this movie references the 80s the way BLUE VELVET referred back to the 50s — Mitchell has a pleasing camera style which is individual, seductive, and informs every shot. I particularly liked the high angles which don’t quite make it as POV shots. And the fondness for slow pans is refreshing. He also has a slightly prurient eye for young women’s bodies — I was beginning to wonder when we were going to meet a fully dressed female character — but this mild Larry Clark tendency still seemed honestly individual. Maybe it’s my Scots puritanism worrying unnecessarily.

But as the inanities piled up, he began to make me think of M. Night Shyamalan and Richard Kelly, whose neat ideas and visual confidence tends to be undercut by a tendency to be excited by really dumb stuff, to have fatal lapses of taste and judgement, and to fail to question themselves with sufficient rigour. All three filmmakers might at some future point resolve their problems and fulfil their early promise. Here, it’s the inane swimming pool plan that shows up the weakness in following through on a strong (if unpleasant) premise. It’s all downhill after that.

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Another sign of dumbness, though a counter-intuitive one. My friend Rolland is of the view that any time a movie quotes Dostoevsky, it’s a sign of stupidity ahead. Not that Dostoevsky is stupid, by any means, but he seems to appeal to people who aren’t as clever as they think. I guess everyone reading him for the first time gets all excited and thinks they’ve made a great discovery that nobody else knows about.  And they make the mistake of thinking that quoting him will raise the intellectual level of their venture. I’m interested in hearing if anyone can suggest exceptions to this “rule”. And is it worse when the extracts are read from a fictitious clamshell compact Kindle device?

The Influence of Anxiety

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 21, 2015 by dcairns

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Fiona was WILDLY enthusiastic about Richard Ayoade’s THE DOUBLE. I wasn’t quite sure if I was or not. I really like his first feature, SUBMARINE. But, just as the overt HAROLD AND MAUDE stylistic references in that film, while appropriate, don’t really help it secure its own standalone identity, the complex filmography of influences that make up THE DOUBLE sometimes made it seem to me like it was Frankenstein’s quilt or something.

BRAZIL hangs heavy over the film, although Ayoade and his team haven’t really borrowed anything specific — office cubicles are now such a universal workplace phenomenon as to be inescapable. The dystopian vision of bureaucracy comes straight from Dostoevsky’s literary source, and the only point of connection is that Ayoade and co-writer Avi Korine have chosen to set their film neither in 19th century Russia nor modern Britain, but in a non-geographic fantasy conurbation mingling British and American (and Australian) accents, with a muted colour palette and a lot of retro stylings. Once you accept this similarity of approach, you won’t find many particular points of connection.

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The movie manages to fold both Wilder’s THE APARTMENT and Polanski’s THE TENANT into its narrative. The titles of those films suggest an affinity, but they are in fact pretty different. The latter choice is intriguing because Polanski tried to adapt THE DOUBLE himself, only for star John Travolta to pull out over qualms about nudity — Steve Martin quickly stepped in as a replacement, at which point leading lady Isabelle Adjani (who was also in THE TENANT) fled, and the whole house of cards collapsed. Ayoade definitely isn’t setting out to make the film Polanski would have aimed for, but a recurring death leap, viewed from an opposing window, seems to have been transplanted almost intact from Polanski.

There’s business with an apartment key used to facilitate sexual liaisons — this is the APARTMENT connection. Ironic given Billy Wilder’s crude put-down — asked if he was going to see ROSEMARY’S BABY, he replied, “I wouldn’t touch it with a five-foot Pole.”

In resolving the story, a bit of FIGHT CLUB seems to have crept in — not anything specific, just a sense of “How can we make this dark yet somehow upbeat?”

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Fiona howled at this shot, though: “It’s his signature image — a woman staring balefully over food! It gets me every time!”

The casting is great, if possibly too on-the-nose? Jesse Eisenberg can embody a hapless nerd in his sleep, after all. It’s when he shows up as his nasty doppelganger that the film lifts off, with a new kind of energy powering it. The horror of the completely confident man. The trouble is, this is a Zuckerberg cut in two, so both the lovelorn nebbish and the blank-eyed sociopath are slightly familiar perfs.

Mia Wasiskowski can do no wrong. It’s lovely seeing Craig Roberts and Yasmin Page (and indeed Noah Taylor), the stars of SUBMARINE again. Wallace Shawn is a bit typecast, James Fox is a big tease, it’s interesting seeing comedy people Chris Morris and Tim Key, though there’s the risk of Guest Star Syndrome setting in. But both justify their appearances by being remarkable. And Cathy Moriarty!

The Japanese pop songs are the one rogue element — you can’t pin down any specific reference that’s being made — they just add to the alien atmosphere and provide something jaunty amid the bleakness. I liked them all and would like to own the soundtrack.

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Also, the film is brilliantly cut. The images sizzle against one another. This isn’t just a technical compliment, as in, “The editor has a good sense of timing/drama/comedy.” The shots are designed beautifully so that they smack together in a way that feels striking and genuinely original. Based on this alone, I’m prepared to call Ayoade one of our best and most exciting filmmakers, even if I can’t quite decide what I think of this film, a hesitation that would surely disqualify me from broadsheet film reviewing (although I get the impression some of those guys didn’t know what to make of THE DOUBLE either).

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Sidenote: I recently asked Richard Ayoade to be in a film I plan to make and he was nice, considered it, and then respectfully declined. Now his agency is helping us find an alternative. Am I resentful of Ayoade for spurning me? Am I grateful to him for considering me? Which version of Jesse Eisenberg am I behaving like? Who am I?