Archive for Netflix

Physician, eel thyself

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 3, 2021 by dcairns

I’d been curious to see A CURE FOR WELLNESS since it came out in the benighted year of 2016 but not curious enough to, you know, see it. But it’s on Netflix now so I finally did.

First impressions from the trailer confirmed: it’s a very handsome film. It was shot by Gore Verbinski’s regular guy, Bojan Bazelli and designed by Eve Stewart, who does Tom Hooper’s films, which I dislike on sight but which undeniably always have “a look.”

It didn’t scare me, but it sometimes repelled me, and I have a fairly strong stomach, being Scottish. There’s some dental abuse, done with ECU CGI relish, but it was nowhere near as disturbing as MARATHON MAN’s famous (drill) bit, which made do purely with terrific performances, creepy pacing, disturbing angles and surprisingly Pinterish dialogue. No magnified teeth were needed.

What’s with the eels? There’s an explanation of sorts, but it’s strangely unimpressive. I find I’m not as disturbed by eels as Verbinski and his team want me to be. They’re good and repellent in THE TIN DRUM, writhing from a horse’s head washed up on a beach. Even when they’re administered orally to the film’s anti-hero (Dane DeHaan, whose character — a shitweasel of the first water — I never liked, but whose performance was rather admirable — I hope his career continues) in a passably revolting moment, they didn’t really bother me. Maybe the CGI effect is to blame: the prosthetic beasts laid out in an alchemist’s lab seemed more upsetting. Things with real textures have more power.

The film is damn long — on the one hand, I appreciated the measured pace for its novelty, on the other hand I found the intrigue at the spa insufficiently intriguing, the revelations not startling enough, so it dragged a bit.

I believe we can trace this one back a long way. Back in 1999, Verbinski was fired from the cannibal romp RAVENOUS. Antonia Bird took his place in a hurry and turned out an entertainingly daft thriller. Maybe my favourite of her films, since I don’t respond too well to social realism, and I always found fault with her camera choices — whirling round an embracing couple with the sun flaring into the lens; close-up on hands clenching together in a sex scene, cliches not wholly redeemed by the novelty of the same-sex relationship portrayed (the film is PRIEST). It’s a shame the film that impressed me most was a relatively impersonal one, and had AB’s life not been cut so tragically short I’m sure she’d have made something I could honestly love.

Verbinski gave some interview somewhere about having wanted to make of RAVENOUS “a modern ROSEMARY’S BABY,” which is baffling, considering that the eventual movie was so essentially just a bit of gory froth. But with WELLNESS (rubbish title: wants to sound sinister but just sounds bland), he’s done his best to fulfill that early ambition. The slow pace; the accretion of details that largely spells out the plot for us but leaves us wondering if it’s all in the mind; the conspiracy and the supernatural history and all that.

[THIS IS ALL WRONG: SEE COMMENTS!]

But the exotic look of it robs it of the quasi-realism that makes Polanski’s film of Ira Levin’s novel so creepy. I just didn’t believe in the film’s world. There’s no credible reason, after all, for the isolation tank, setting for a major eel attack, to be the size of a reactor cooler. The locations are stunning, and their reality does help the film, but it all feels far more like a fairy tale than a psychological thriller, and fairy tales are usually short and speedy rather than prolonged and lugubrious. I can’t prove that Verbinski’s approach couldn’t have worked, I can only attest that for me it didn’t work.

But it’s a gorgeous looking film, and the bigger-than-usual-for-this-sort-of-thing budget lifts it out of the regular categories, even though that’s kind of regrettable because the movie’s underperformance probably cost us Del Toro’s AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS.

Escapism

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 17, 2021 by dcairns

It’s true that Netflix has a lousy classic film selection, except that there are some oddities like EROTIKON and some commedia al’Italia you would expect to find, which we should be thankful for.

But I clicked on THE GREAT ESCAPE because I was in the mood for the smooth and unchallenging. I intended just to watch a little bit, but it’s been ages since I ran it and of course I ended up watching the whole thing. It’s kind of perfect. Of course, it shows war as being schoolboy fun, but escaping from a German POW camp — unlike suffering in a Japanese one — probably had aspects of being at school. Plotting to defeat the system was likely to be fun, with an undercurrent of terror.

We had to pause it at what felt like twenty minutes in, but turned out to be forty-nine minutes in. That’s how smoothly and efficiently and entertainingly it goes.

Elmer Bernstein’s theme is great, but all his scoring is great — when he’s not doing the march or the snare-drum suspense, he does oddly beautiful and tender things for Steve McQueen and Angus Lennie, or James Garner and Donald Pleasence. Harp arpeggios — well, we know he was a Bernard Herrmann fan. Did John Sturges temp-track these bits with tracks from Herrmann’s score for his own UNDERWATER? Probably not. (NB DEFINITELY not: see comments.) The only thing I’d question is the sudden happy music introducing fresh scenes right after tragic ones — but I bet they thought about that very seriously, and decided they couldn’t smooth things over, they had to make hard transitions to let everything play out with its full value.

Lots of Scots in this — four of them, to be precise, meaning that you rarely get a scene without some Scottish presence. James Donald and David McCallum have suppressed it, of course, but Angus Lennie and Gordon Jackson let it all hang out, and do a song and dance about it. Weird that Lennie, who’s magnificent, and John Leyton, who’s blander but very sympathetic, didn’t capitalize on this to find fame and fortune.

I like to think Leyton and McCallum meet up for regular cast reunions, the only ones left.

Birdbrained

Posted in Politics, Television with tags , , , , , on January 18, 2019 by dcairns

Hmm, Bird Box is quite offensive, really. Well made, compelling, but with a truly obnoxious concept, not quite at the heart of it, but close. I’d say it was operable: if you were concerned about defaming the mentally ill you could remove the offending material, replace it with something less fascist, and go about your business.

No way to get into this without some spoilers. As I say, the show is tense and involving so you might want to watch it first. But then you should think about what you watched.

Alien, windy things arrive on earth and everyone who sees them has to commit suicide. They’re like the little girl in KILL BABY KILL, or worse, THE WOMAN IN BLACK. That part isn’t offensive. It doesn’t say anything about real-world self-harm that I object to. It’s a pure fantasy concept.

But mentally ill people are affected differently. They don’t kill themselves, but they run about forcing other people to look at the that-which-must-not-be-looked-upons. The crazies in question include the escaped populace of an institution for the criminally insane, but also a hitherto harmless but weird guy who works at the local supermarket.

Tom Hollander is really good in this, by the way.

But what the show is saying, it seems, is that all mad people are basically the same, so that they might all be affected by an alien influence in the same way. And you can’t trust them.

Pretty clearly, if they’d made a show in which all black people or all gay people are turned into agents of the alien invader, that would have been seen as offensive.

Of course, insane people ARE different from any ethnic minority or sexual preference. But they’re also different from one another.

You could make a comparison with Joe Dante’s grim Masters of Horror episode, The Screwfly Solution, based on Alice Sheldon’s story. In that alarming anthology episode, an alien influence causes men to become murderously violent towards women when sexually aroused. The differences between that and Bird Box being that (1) you’d have to be a seriously butthurting male chauvinist to object to this premise. If the story is offensive to men, it’s offensive to the group who has the most power in human society. Also, this story touches base with our reality in several places: serious male-on-female violence is much more common than the reverse; the male sex drive and the aggressive drive are somewhat intertwined; making one gender kill another rather than procreate with it would be a wickedly effective way to exterminate a species. And (2), closely connected with the previous point, the makers of The Screwfly Solution and the original author pretty clearly thought about what they were saying and portraying.

The makers of Bird Box pretty clearly didn’t.

Bandersnatch is really good, though. Watch that.