Sunday, 23 November 2008

Could I Trouble You For A Foot Massage?

Death Proof (Quentin Tarantino, 2007)

Watched: 23rd November 2008
Where: On TV

Sometimes I wish I was 15 again, not often but sometimes. Watching Death Proof was one of those times. Actually pretty much every Tarantino film makes me wish I was 15 again, right from the first time I saw Pulp Fiction (Tarantino, 1994) and just as much so with Death Proof. Death Proof has all the ingredients needed for my 15 year old self: Sexy girls, fast cars and faster crashes, great conversation and the ability to bring out the trainspotter in me to be the first to have seen all the films Tarantino quotes. The other joy of being 15 again would be just to re-write the film for my blog. Yes, the joys of being 15 again, writing a review would have been fun, but life is not quite that simple if you want to try and understand what is happening, not just repeat what you see.

I find it so easy to become lost in the world created by a film, sometimes this makes bad films interesting and for me makes Bond films the greatest movies ever made. Thank goodness I've never started watching Star Trek... Death Proof and in particular all of Tarnatino's movies get me completely lost when I try and understand what world they live in. Tarantino's world is spun together with quotations from the history of trash cinema, the people that live in his world are usually amalgamations of the characters from these movies. However, sometimes we forget that the real world is all around them. Tarantino blurs this distinction when we have the things that make us think they are quotes from the distant past, or products from the real world but are in fact Tarantino's own concerns, like the Big Kahuna Burger and Red Apple Cigarettes, to name just two. When someone in Tarantino's world tries to enter the real world it is not a pretty sight, The Bride (Uma Thurman) trying to look after her daughter in the opening scenes of Kill Bill (Tarantino, 2003/2004) whilst ending up in a big fight.

Death Proof is a film spoofing/paying homage to the 1970s Grindhouse movies, which I can't say I have ever really watched. Though with a little help they can be explained:

"What is a grindhouse movie? Here's my best definition: it's a movie that makes
you want to run, not walk, to the nearest shower, but leaves you unable to
decide whether the shower should be hot or cold" - Tim Lucas - Sight and Sound - June 2007

Probably the best thing about Death Proof is how simple it all seemed after watching it. Just like that film for a 15 years old. However, the problem with Death Proof is that it cannot exist in isolation. It forms part of the Tarantinoverse which you could spends years researching, ticking off your trainspotter list of quotes, (self) references etc. As usual with Tarantino in doing this alone you are missing the point. The films work in their contrasts, conflicts and copies, not only their references and stories.

"Grindhouse audiences are seldom sated by blood and nudity alone; they also
want to see ageing actors crawling on their stomachs across the
broken-glass-strewn floors of scripts they would have snubbed in their
Tim Lucas - Sight and Sound - June 2007

Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) is a relic, just like those before him, think pretty much the whole cast in Pulp Fiction Vince Vega (John Travolta) and Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) are killed on contemplating a way out of their Tarrantinoverse, Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis), the boxer is trying to settle down with his partner. Jackie Brown (Pam Grier) is trying to give up a life of drug smuggling. In Death Proof it is no different. In Warrens bar, the outsiders Dov and Omar mock Mike, "Dude fucking cut himself falling out of his time machine."

Stuntman Mike is trying to interfere in the world of women, the world as it is, outside the Tarantinoverse. Mike's only way to get a thrill and stay alive is to run them down in his death proof car, it keeps him in the world. Outside of the car Mike is the weak, vulnerable nobody than those outside the Tarantinoverse see him to be. The two parts of Death proof show this. The first part is within Mike's world, Warren's bar (where Tarantino pours the drinks and makes the rules) the girls, despite their initial attitude seem based in Mike's time, they need help, Pam (Rose McGowan) asks for a ride home and Warren sets her up with Stuntman Mike who eventually kills all the girls with his death proof car. Mike is left with minor injuries and gets away with the crime. Part one is the grindhouse. In part two, the girls are out there again: the lips, the legs, the feet. They seem so close to Mike, as if they are offering themselves to him.

Part two of Death Proof is in the real world, unfortunately for Mike the women hold the power. This is not Mike's world anymore. Where's Warren when you need him. When Mike enters his car he is death proof. In the second segment of the film, Zoe Bell, the stunt woman attacks Mike in his death proof car, she can ride the car strapped to its outside. The women can drive like men, the women can fight like me, they can do Mike's job better than him. Once Mike's out of the car he's a dead man, no longer death proof, no longer in control, stuck and startled in the real world. A creature of his time leaves death by the women his only option. Mike enters the real world in 2007 as a dead man. The reality of the situation is compounded by the fact that the stuntwoman Zoe Bell, who is playing herself in Death Proof, was Uma Thurman's stunt double in Kill Bill, reality has truly caught up with Mike, this time it's real. One day time catches up with you, you're not 15 anymore, not a movie star, this is the real world, get out of the movies!

Monday, 17 November 2008

How Many More Mistakes?

Film: Quantum of Solace (Marc Forster, 2008)

Watched: October 31st 2008
Where: Gaumont Parnasse, Paris

The James Bond films have been changing of late and I don't mean in personnel from Brosnan to Craig. Failure, mistakes and mistrust are at their heart. Not in the Cold War sense, but amongst the so called allies. The villain vs Bond is not the centre stage, instead it is M's decision making. In The World is Not Enough (1999, Michael Apted), it is M that falls for Elektra King's (Sophie Marceau) plan and places herself, the mission and the world in jeopardy. In Die Another Day (2002, Lee Tamahori), it is her that hires Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike) to check on Bond when she is working for the bad guys. Not one to learn from these mistakes she is the one who hires Vespa (Eva Green) to look after Bond despite Vespa being blackmailed in Casino Royale (2006, Martin Campbell). In Quantum of Solace it is her personal body guard that is found to be a member of the secret criminal organisation, Quantum. M's peers and allies are involved with Quantum and at times she mistrusts those who are her true allies. Whilst I remember the odd run in between Bernard Lee's and Robert Brown's M and Bond, the old Ms never called it wrong. Maybe those were different times and now one is allowed to make a mistake, or three. Like we have a Bond for our times perhaps we also have an M for our times to go with him.

The world of Bond is more ordinary than ever before. The villains blend in to their surroundings, they are more like eccentric CEOs and entrepreneurs than Assassins, and utopian dreamers. They are the villains of the cinema of Bush era politics. They are simple blackmailers and bomb makers rather than entertaining side stories. Perhaps this is because the Bond films have always been a slightly late to market mirror on the world. This is why the last two Bond films closely resemble those of Timothy Dalton played out at the end of the economic boom and the start of recession. The '80s ethos, music and fashion and politics of that time of Dalton's Bond very much mirrors the world today. Like Dalton, Craig's Bond is simple, pared down and blunt. Unlike Dalton, Craig's version of Bond is on drink, drugs; a step away from rehab and breakdown, more so than in Licence to Kill (1989, John Glen). I suppose this must be par for the course for secret agents these days, but then that's Bond, he is always the man of our times, it's what keeps him going and us interested in his stories.

Quantum is also the first Bond that is officially a sequel to the previous Bond, as usual James Bond is late to market. Sadly it seemed that few people were prepared to pair up Casino Royale with Quantum so we could watch it as the single four hour bond film that it really is. In the end we ended up with one slightly too long Bond and one slightly too short Bond. There is also something enjoyably Kitanoesque about Craig's Bond. The way he intentionally, bluntly and silently does the ridiculous with every intent to die and take everyone with him. However, unlike Kitano who always dies in a pool of blood, a hail of bullets, explosions or whatever else, Bond being Bond walks away.

Whilst Quantum is nothing new it has some great touches in the way Bond attempts to expose the bad guys. In particular the scene when he intercepts their communications at the opera causing them all to expose themselves as victims of his camera phone. This is a great Bond moment, a huge set piece coupled with a great bit of product placement. Like wise Bond getting smashed on the plane, drink after drink. No terrorists, no bad guys, no jumping out at 40,000 feet, this is our James Bond.

My favourite thing about Quantum is that whilst the story concludes all to nicely where it started at the beginning of Casino Royal, you still feel that the bigger picture is left unresolved and just like the classic Cold War Bonds the enemy is ever present. However, this time that enemy is the next big shot CEO bidding for government contracts, he is advisor to the PM, an American Diplomat for peace, a leading political figure in a friendly government. The enemy is there but so far he has yet to play his full hand, something S.P.E.C.T.R.E. was not the greatest at. My final feeling is that the fate of M is our fate as a viewer. When will there be a consequence for her actions and what will this mean?

W. - The Man Maketh the Movie

Film: W. (Oliver Stone, 2008)
Watched: October 30th 2008
Where: Gaumont Parnasse, Paris

I did not think I'd have much to say about W, but I've ended up proving myself wrong. My initial impression of W. was that I was not sure why it was made when it was, or what it was supposed to say but maybe now I'm beginning to understand. The most controversial thing in W. is George Bush (Josh Brolin) the man, you actually begin to like him, feel for him and put yourself in his shoes... Perhaps it's because one expects something stronger and more controversial from an Oliver Stone picture, about telling a story otherwise dismissed. Not only that but even his technique (mixing real footage in with his story - or "truth" in with the "fiction") looks and feels a little unremarkable these days. Maybe it has been this way for a while and I've just not watched as much Oliver Stone as I have thought. However, one thing that is not missing in W. is that it feels truly American, as least as true as it can feel to someone from outside that society. W. feels like an American film, telling an American story about an American family that affects America.

W. looks at the three families that George W. Bush belongs too, his blood relations, the church and his political advisers. Whilst perhaps it is his father George Bush Sr (James Cromwell) and his blood relations that steals more scenes than anyone from the families the two remaining ones are equally important in the effect they have on Dubya's life. Bush is not as stupid as he is often shown to be, but he is not from the same stock as his father and this is something we and he are reminded of throughout the film. Bush feels like a failure in his Father's eyes, in his youth being bailed out of prison, helped out of the airforce and given opportunity after opportunity, all of which he spurned. Life for Bush changes a little with marriage, he becomes more settled, his wife, Laura (Elizabeth Banks) is a good influence on him and he makes more moves to find his place in the world. Bush also watches his father's continuous rise in the family business (politics) - helping out as campaign manager due to brother Jeb's (Jason Ritter) unavailability, as his father makes it all the way to president. Bush then watches Jeb enter the family business of politics and with it the accolades he gets from his father. Dubya then finds another family, that of the church. He becomes a born again, beats his battle with alcohol and decides it is his destiny to enter the family business too, much to the dislike of his father, who wants to focus on his other son, Jeb's career. This does not stop Bush Jr and he runs for Governor of Texas whilst Jeb runs for Governor of Florida. Bush Jr does himself no favours with his father again when he decides to run for president after an instruction from God. The family (Bush Sr) were all expecting Jeb to run for President, not George. They do not believe he will win. The rest there as they say is history.

The third family of Bush is the one we know all too well, his advisers. The frightening gollumesque Dick Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss) or Vice as he is called by Bush. His lovely spin doctor with him from day one of his political career who grows increasingly evil as his power increases. Not forgetting cameos from Condoleezza Rice (Thandie Newton) and poor old Colin Powell (Jeffrey Wright). The plotting of W and its skips in time work really well as we see how Powell and Cheney's relationship changes from the first Gulf War to the second where we see both of their true faces.

Perhaps W. is controversial after all, we are all used to seeing the public George Bush, his army of advisers, the rhetoric, the stumbles and the Iraq war. I think Oliver Stone felt there was more to say than just making another Michael Moore style inquisition into Bush and his cronies (Iraq, Oil, war on terror, etc). What we did see that was new is how much Bush wanted to be his own man, to make up for his past and to do something good, to be a man of the people. We also see his frustration at his failure of not being himself as President, taking advice and guidance from those with different ambitions to his own. W is a little bit of a frustrating film, there are great performances all round (especially from Brolin and Dreyfuss), a familiar story with a few new twists and turns outside of the established Bush story. However, there is something unsatisfying about W, why was it made now and for what purpose? Maybe we are missing the point and that this story is for another film. Somehow W. feels like There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007), what with the oil, and family difficulties, certainly some fun could be had reading one as an allegory of the other. It would have been fun to watch Bush Sr. beat his son to death when he decided to run for President though! Perhaps we are disappointed because there is no conspiracy about George W. Bush, perhaps that is the missing story of controversy and conspiracy from Oliver Stone.