Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Decency Will Out

I’ve seen so many bad films recently I was in danger of actually self-combusting, so I thought it was about time I watched something decent:

The Vanishing, directed by Georges Sluizer, written by Tim Krabbé (the original Dutch film silly, not the godawful re-make with Kiefer Sutherland) (and thanks to Tom for pointing out that Belgium and Holland are NOT the same country. All I can say in my defence is that it's about time my medication was changed).

What a marvellous film this is. The first thing that strikes you is the fact that visually, it’s uncluttered, which is a perfect fit for the unpretentious way the film unfolds. The non-linear structure is beautifully handled, and in Sluizer’s hands is massively unshowy (imagine what would have happened had Tarantino got his hands on it – the thing would have announced itself with a deafening orchestra of bells and whistles). The two central performances – from Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu and Gene Bervoets – are great, although Bervoets does tend to chew up the scenery when it’s not really needed (Johanna ter Steege is certainly worth a mention as well). The Vanishing is also a superb example of what can be done with two protagonists (The Prestige is another, albeit more complex, example of this), which makes it formally interesting as well. And what an ending - brrr....

Ring, directed by Gore Verbinski, written by Ehren Kruger – avert your eyes purists, as this film is better than the Japanese original -and that's official! Perhaps it’s more culturally specific and therefore easier for my hopelessly westernised mind to tune into, but it’s genuinely frightening and more than a little more disturbing.

Eastern Promises, directed by David Cronenberg, written by Steve Knight – whilst it’s certainly not as good as A History of Violence, this is still a serious, sinuous piece of cinema. However, there was something about the screenplay that seemed a little overwritten, a little convoluted. One of the best things about A History of Violence for me was the elegantly simplistic way the narrative unfolded: coupled with Cronenberg’s unhurried direction, this made for absolutely riveting viewing. With Eastern Promises (what a terrible title, by the way), things are a little different. Without Cronenberg’s direction, the film would indeed resemble a feature length episode of The Bill, as Peter Bradshaw wrote in The Guardian – I think this is entirely due to the screenplay. Not that you’d immediately notice that it was overwritten or contrived, as Cronenberg’s expertise behind the camera keeps the whole thing firmly on the road without any danger of the wheels falling off.

Back to the movie landfill territory soon, as I have to sit through Vacancy. Zoiks!


Tom said...

*cough* Dutch, not Belgian *cough*

I might agree with you about Gore Verbinski's remake - the cinematography was certainly better but it's been so long since I saw either, I can't remember any significant differences.

Chip Smith said...

Thanks Tom - oh, the shame - why did I think it was Belgian? Duh(duly changed, thanks for the tip off)!

I saw the American remake of Ring first so I'm perhaps a little biased, but ambience-wise I think it's miles ahead of the original. And it's got Brian Cox in it! What more do you want?

Oli said...

Both Ring and Ringu are good, for different reasons. The remake does the clever thing of making sense to people who haven't seen the original, whilst wrong footing those who have.

Sadako is creepier than Samara, the original ending's done better, and the decomposed faces are scary but don't make sense because they keep the dialogue from the original ("Her heart just stopped!" - no it didn't! Look at her! She looks like she's been dead for a week!)

Oh, and showing the girl's face was a mistake.

But yeah, it's a very good film, and much more accessible to us Westerners because the protags act like, well, Westerners.

Chip Smith said...

I think the thing that really stood out for me from the remake was its visual design - there are lots of instances where it appears as if the film has somehow been shot in 2-D (lots of flat planes and not a lot of perspective), which I guess adds to the ambience. And for some reason the colour green plays a huge part throughout, but I'm not intelligent enough to speculate on why this is!

Jon Peacey said...

It's been an age since I saw either of the Vanishings but I know I infintely preferred the original. Totally agree about the uncluttered nature of the whole enterprise: possibly the sheer simplicity of the conception allows it to be thus. At least I think it was quite a simple plot. Been a long time. Just the merest thought of what QT would have done with it sends a chill down my spine. In fact these days anything with QT involved sends a chill down my spine.

Personally, I thought The Ring was absolutely terrible, quite possibly for pretty much the same reasons that you preferred it. I found The Ring was fancy for no reason (I found the photography on it unnecessarily fancy- while the original had that wonderful East Asian clarity and simplicity allowing the story to unfold within the frame), padded, given over-driven character stories, had a more hysterical style and followed the US story model more closely, something which I increasingly seem to be rejecting. ;) One of the major pluses, for me, with Ringu was the relentlessness and horrific morally wrenching ending.

Do the Protags of The Ring act more like Westerners or do thay act more like Americans and we just assume that that's how Westerners act because we see so much Americana? The British certainly still act in a very stiff upper-lip sort of way whether they're looking for lost children of faced with bombs on trains. Keep an eye on the news when the next disaster happens: we're terribly sanguine about it all!

(And I really didn't need that thing with the horse on the boat- that seemed only there to make the audience upset.)

Bugger, I've rambled!

Jon Peacey said...

Forgot to mention that I was looking forward to Eastern Promises until I heard it was from the pen of Steve Knight when my enthusiasm waned- I think I was the only person who just didn't really get what the fuss was about with his Dirty Pretty Things.

Chip Smith said...

I don't think Steve Knight's script for Eastern Promises is marvellous by any stretch - I think what keeps it on the straight and narrow is Cronenberg's direction. In the hands of someone like Michael Winterbottom, I'm sure it would be a complete disaster!

Now, talking abut Ring, I happen to really like the scene with the horse on the ferry! It's unusual and strange, and seems designed solely to load the film up at that point with a real sense of foreboding. I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree on this one, although it has been a while since I saw Ringu, I must admit.

Jon Peacey said...

In the hope of joining you in the tank labelled career suicide I would like to add, 'nearly anything in the hands of Michael Winterbottom might be a complete disaster!'

I'd also add Frank Cottrell-Boyce to that as well: it could be said that good Cottrell-Boyce scripts get screwed up by Winterbottom but I'd say that Cottrell-Boyce may not necessarily be that wonderful to begin with- Saint-Ex, Hilary & Jackie and Millions... these are not particularly good films... but far beyond (and below) anything else Pandaemonium. Have you seen this film? It's a crime against film-making! And none of them directed by Winterbottom. I suspect that the British critics are so desperate for a homegrown 'great film' and/ or hit that some films are praised beyond their actual quality. I think this happened with Dirty Pretty Things... helped along with a liking for the subject matter within certain sectors of the media.

However, I'd then qualify (castigate) myself by mentioning that I did think the Cottrell-Boyce/ Winterbottom parnership worked very well on Welcome To Sarajevo and 24 Hour Party People. (There are a couple of other films I haven't seen yet, so can't comment on!) My suspicion in the end is that the real problem is that both Cottrell-Boyce and Winterbottom work way too fast and don't put enough thought into some of what they're producing.

You are the first person I've found who liked the horse on the boat thing: neither my tutors nor fellow students could work out why it was there! I shouldn't have said 'absolutely terrible' that's not strictly speaking true... it's just not the original. I think maybe I just like my films to look a bit more classical and pictorially clean.

Dirty Pretty Things... a film that only remembers it's a thriller in the last 5 minutes!

Chip Smith said...

I've written about Code 46 (another Cottrell-Boyce/Winterbottom mash-up) on this blog before, and yup, it's pretty terrible. The conclusion I cam to was that it was a half decent script ruined by a pointlessly 'visual' treatment - but as you point out, maybe C-B isn't all he's cracked up to be in the first place. Winterbottom works at a frenetic pace at the best of times, and I think this is reflected in the almost casual, offhand way he seems to treat his narratives.

Top tip: stay well away from Nine Songs! (and anything else by WInterbottom, come to think of it).