Richard Kelly's Southland Tales
Posted by Andrea Hubert
I've devised a very simple test to check if you're ready for Richard Kelly's Southland Tales. If you had to watch Donnie Darko more than twice to work out Kelly's weird time travel tunnel thing – you're not ready. And you probably never will be.
Southland Tales has been viewed as a contentious sophomore effort ever since the first version was savaged and booed by critics at Cannes last year. The new improved version, having been cut and remodelled more times than Victoria Beckham, is just as dense and impenetrable as the original, and just as mind blowing. Set in a futuristic Los Angeles, it weaves so many stories together, it's impossible to extract the strands and separate them into any semblance of a coherent plot - so the trick is not to bother. Instead, just let the wickedly creative vision of Richard Kelly wash over you like a giant toxic tsunami of film noir-esque weirdness, whilst enjoying a cast that takes some of Cinema Americana's finest creations (The Rock, Buffy, an ex-Mouseketeer, and Stiffler) and perverts them into something brand new.
It's 2008. Texas has been bombed into oblivion. In an apocalyptic California, cyberspace is under federal control of US IDENT, a think tank formed under the Patriot Act. A fuel shortage threatens to destroy the world until a mysterious German company arrives with an alternative product. Boxer Santaros (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) is a movie star with amnesia, twiddling his fingers and writing apocalyptic film scripts with porn-star-turned-reality-TV-star Krysta Now (Sarah Michelle Gellar) who’s in cahoots with a neo-Marxist group attempting to bring down the all powerful government (and if there's only one reason to see this film, it has to be watching Sarah Michelle Gellar say the words "If you want to fuck me, you can fuck me NOW"). Meanwhile, cop twins Roland and Ronald Taverner (Seann William Scott) are trying to find each other, and their memories. All explained by an animated overview and narrated by Justin Timberlake, who plays a drug-dealing war veteran with a penchant for musical numbers. And that's only a taster of the spider web that is Kelly's vision.
Kelly describes it as "a comedy about the end of the world". As pithy descriptions of impossible-to-describe films go, it's not half bad. Part thriller, part apocalyptic sci fi, part futuristic fairy tale, part musical, and so monumentally difficult to follow that it’s like taking acid with Lewis Carroll and Philip K Dick, whilst lost inside an eighties version of Space Invaders armed with a machine gun made of pudding. So to sum it up in a sentence that everyone can appreciate – it's like nothing you've ever seen before. Oh, and it's got Buffy the Vampire Slayer playing a porn star. Enough said.
Southland Tales is out on Friday December 7
Posted by Andrea Hubert
Director Ridley Scott may be a little seasoned to lay claim to the "next Martin Scorsese" title that critics often hand out to anyone professing a love for the streets, but he's certainly giving New York's finest an epic run for his money with American Gangster. Set in the Big Apple and spanning the 60's and 70's drug wars, Scott tells the true story of Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington), the first black man to undercut the Italian mafia and get away with it. Lucas, a true example of the kind of American entrepreneurial nous that turned Bill Gates from geek to billionaire, was the first drug dealer to cut out the middle man, sourcing his heroin direct from the jungle in Thailand during the height of the Vietnam War and importing it back to the US in military coffins. Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe) was the honest cop who brought him down, and together the two of them exposed the rampant corruption in the NYPD that perpetuated New York's drug scene for decades.
It's almost impossible to define the profile of a Ridley Scott movie. How can you pigeonhole the man who brought us two of the best loved (and polar opposite) films of the last century – Bladerunner and Thelma & Louise. Not to mention Alien, Black Rain and Gladiator (and without mentioning last year's cringeworthy A Good Year). But while the story of Lucas is undeniably compelling, it's Scott's dissection of the true essence of the American Dream that's the real star of the show, and perhaps his true forte. He's careful to depict the ruthless drug baron as a caring family man, the honest cop as a drunken womaniser, blurring our perception of right and wrong till we find ourselves rooting for Lucas even when he shows his most brutal side. When Lucas, holding up a packet of Blue Magic heroin, proclaims "Brand names mean something", it's the kind of humour one comes to expect from a Ridley Scott movie. Remember when Thelma robbed the liquor store? She sure was polite about it – because in Scott's America, even criminals have a code of ethics, and good manners go a long way. And as far as entrepreneurial talent goes, Scott's right up there with Lucas and Gates, purely for pulling off all of the above.
While American Gangster may not be as multilayered as those films like Goodfellas or Gangs of New York that it inevitably draws comparison to, the fact that it's entrenched in a dazzling truth gives it a punch that fiction often can't provide. With almost every scene punctuated by tableaux of scabbed up junkie arms or overdosing addicts covered in blood, he's certainly not glamorising his source material. And watching Washington and Crowe battling it out on the big screen serves to remind us that for every rehab starlet with barely an ounce of talent, there are still some bona fide movie stars working in Hollywood that make a big bucket of popcorn taste just that bit sweeter.
American Gangster is in cinemas now.
Jesus Camp - The Movie
Posted by Andrea Hubert
With the flux of gruesome torture flicks currently holding court at a cinema near you, you might have had a gut full of horror films. But there's something much, much scarier afoot, something more disturbingly horrifying than anything Eli Roth could think up to torment hapless young teenagers. It's summer camp, kids….but not as you know it.
Jesus Camp is one of the scariest no-blood-no-guts films ever to come out of Middle America. Hell, it's probably the scariest thing to emerge from America full stop, and that's including the right to bear arms. Kids On Fire, an evangelical summer camp in North Dakota, is run by Pastor Becky Fischer. Only instead of campfire songs and midnight feasts, there's group sessions of tongue-speaking and mass prayer with a side of political brainwashing, complete with a cardboard cut out of George W Bush for some light idolatry before tea time.
Fischer's agenda – and one she's perfectly proud to declare – is to create a summer camp that doubles up as an intense training ground for born-again Christian children to become an active part of America's political future, and to (in her words) "take back America for Jesus". Happily comparing her kiddie mountain retreat to a terrorist training ground, she teaches them that the best thing they can do is lay down their lives for the gospel. Oh, and that fat people are lazy and aren't touched by God. A casual observer might start to lose faith at this point – Pastor Fischer is a good 300 pounds herself. Guess she's eschewed a good old fashioned jog around the lake for playing on that Creationism videogame that the kids seem to love so much.
If it sounds like fodder for a Hollywood horror classic, here's something even scarier – statistics. Over 25% of the US population are Evangelical Christians. That's 80 million people – more than enough to determine an election. And the Kids On Fire Summer Camp is all about getting their votes in the bag. As the old saying goes, it's scary because it's true.
So there's really only one thing to do. Either go to the ICA next week and watch with open mouth as the fat lady sings, screams, and insists global warming is a fallacy. Or do what I did – get the DVD and create your own drinking game to drown out the truth. I found that doing a shot every time I heard the phrases "Harry Potter is an enemy of God", "The Lord told me to tell you…" and my personal favourite "We are going to break the power of the government!" made watching this latest scary movie a lot more palatable.
Oh, and when you hear the sentence "I'm not sure I believe in the bible" uttered by a small child with balls of steel, down a pint. And don't worry - it only happens the once.
Jesus Camp, showing at the ICA from Nov 23
This Filthy World
Posted by Andrea Hubert
Since the infamous scene in 1972’s 'Pink Flamingos' that saw super tranny Divine eat dog shit, John Waters has been considered one of modern cinema’s most anarchic, boundary blasting filmmakers; the bastion of bad taste, the prince of the perverse. Even as he began, in the mid nineties, to make films for Hollywood studios, he never lost his delight in dancing on the dark side. This is, after all, the man who turned underage porn star Traci Lords into a respectable actress, and made Kathleen Turner a serial killing soccer mom.
But the man’s got more than one trick up his bodily fluid stained sleeve. 'This Filthy World', filmed in 2006, is a beautifully distasteful hour and a half of Waters’ brand of vaudevillian comedy, a languid trawl through his journey from young gay freak living in blue collar Baltimore, to Hollywood legend and self proclaimed “filth elder”. Punctuating his flamboyant stream of consciousness with references to his earlier lesser known films such as 1968’s 'Eat Your Makeup' (starring Divine as an obese Jackie Kennedy re-enacting JFK’s assassination), Waters invites us into his weird world, where an obsession with serial killers, childbirth as masturbation material, angry strippers called Zorro, and a re-enactment of a conversation between Michael Jackson and Charles Manson is merely a warm up. Waters' perverted verbal diarrhoea is as stimulating as the poppers he freely hands out to his audience.
Whether its his view on drugs (“I don’t really have an outfit suited for a K-hole”), his views on adult babies (“They’ve ruined sex for everybody”), Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ (“An S&M movie for the whole family to enjoy”) and all-lesbian armies (“They’d find Bin Laden for sure”), one thing is certain – this world is certainly filthy. And for a small, but truly beautiful percentage of that, you can thank the man himself.
John Waters: This Filthy World is out on DVD on November 19th.
Serial killers are the new black
Posted by Andrea Hubert
When an actress hits a career slump, they either have a nervous breakdown or do one of those disturbing “forty and fabulous” Playboy centrefold shoots that everyone publicly applauds and privately uses as punishment wallpaper for naughty children, creating an entirely new meaning to the term “panic room”. But what about the actors whose careers have been rockier than Amy Winehouse’s nasal passages? Too old to play the brawny hero, too young to play the wise old mint-pushing granddad, and too white to be as cool as Samuel L Jackson. The answer? Bring on the serial killers.
Who, really, was Kevin Spacey before Seven? When we open a bottle of Chianti, whose face invariably pops up but Sir Anthony Hopkins? Sure, he was more funny than scary, but Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman turned the child star into a man. The perfect comeback, it’s an ageless, colour-blind role that pays dividends in both artistic merit and job satisfaction. Perhaps that’s the key to why Kevin Costner and Kurt Russell are so wildly convincing in two of the most searing performances either has ever given – Costner as the title character in Mr Brooks, and Russell as Stuntman Mike in Tarantino’s latest offering, Death Proof. On the one hand, you have an affable, nerdy type, Mr Brooks, who, when not winning accolades like Man of the Year, spends his free time embroiled in cold blooded, highly efficient murder. In bold contrast, Russell’s rather showier Stuntman Mike stalks groups of women before using them as human skittles with his car as the bowling ball of death.
Looking back at the roles that preceded, we have Costner as mentor to Ashton Kutcher’s Maverick-lite lifeguard in last year’s The Guardian, doing stunts an old man should never do, in a film with dialogue so painful, even a coma patient would wince. And if you were wondering what happened to the legend that was once Snake Plisskin, he was last seen in 2005 helping Dakota Fanning rescue a horse with a broken leg in Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story. If anyone was ever justified to play serial killing misogynists, it’s Costner and Russell. Most satisfying of all would be to get Mr Brooks and Stuntman Mike in the same room as all the unsatisfactory characters both of them have played over the years. Seeing that mulleted, American Robin Hood get a speeding car to the face would pretty much make my year.
Mr Brooks and Death Proof are both out in cinemas now.