Posted by: kfugrip | July 17, 2007

Often delayed

I haven’t felt like writing about the last few movies I’ve watched. Not because they aren’t good but because I have read a few film-related blogs out there and the level of writing in them is more involved and better than my blog. As a result I have decided to up the ante and write reviews that are more in depth. So, the added pressure (self-inflicted) has made the writing of reviews seem more like work and less like a fun thing to do. I’m fighting that. And away we go…

I’ve been, these past few months, on a Cronenberg kick, mostly in the “director’s commentary” realm. Videodrome, Naked Lunch, and The Fly are all films I “watched” while multitasking with other projects, whether they be web design or blogging. Dead Ringers, by David Cronenberg, is one of the films that I had not seen. I knew it’s reputation as an artistic achievement and it did not disappoint.

Dead Ringers is the story of the Mantle twins. So alike, are the twins, that they share relationships. In typical twin-cinema (is this a term?) fashi0n, one of the brothers is great with the ladies and the other is shy. If not for their relationship sharing the shy brother would never have sex.

The twins are also renown for their innovation in the field of fertility, female fertility, and their fame intersects them with Claire Niveau, played by Genevieve Bujold, a famous, pill popping, actress who is unable to conceive. When the weaker twin falls for the actress the relationship between the brothers begins to sever.

Cronenberg’s visual style is compromised by the technical constraints of shooting Jeremy Irons as the twins. Irons handles the dual roles masterfully and is able to differentiate the two brothers without lapsing into caricature. There were very few instances where I didn’t know which brother was in the scene. It was distracting at first, seeing how Cronenberg would incorporate both characters into a scene but the distraction didn’t last. I found that later in the film I paid no attention to the mechanics of how the Mantle brothers interacted and as such the Cronenberg styling resurfaced. Expertly composed shots, like the one of Elliot giving a speech before a wall of Greek columns, mixed well with a deft use of color. The color red played a large roll in the emotional content of the scenes. It was an interesting choice to make the operational uniforms red since the blood would have more difficulty showing on the screen.

The one thing that put me off was how unattractive Niveau was. Being that she was supposed to be a big star I would have thought a more attractive casting was in order. One could argue that the reasoning behind her casting was exactly the point but I found it took me out of the film. It’s not to say that Bujold gave a poor performance, I would say the opposite.

I’m looking forward to watching the film with commentary now, to hear what Cronenberg (who gives good commentary) has to say about the difficulties in shooting and the craft of making a movie like this, a movie with an oblique story, filled with symbolic flourishes and fantastic performances. I’m gushing but I did like the film and it’s one of the good ones that gets better the more I think about it. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea due to the bizarre nature of the story but as the 73rd film I’ve watched this year it was a good one. 4 stars.

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On Saturday I had a full day of activities, two of which were films. As I mentioned in my last post, I went to see Look Back in Anger, by Tony Richardson and Kes, by Ken Loach at Walter Reade (one of my favorite theaters).

The early film was Look Back in Anger, based on the play of the same name. This was Richardson’s directorial debut and it’s a powerful film, an indictment of the “angry young man”. Richard Burton plays Jimmy Porter, the aforementioned angry young man, and he spews the most articulate and insightful venom throughout the film’s 100 minutes. When he’s not playing jazz trumpet, Jimmy is taking his frustrations out on his upper class wife. Their small apartment is a battleground.

I don’t want to summarize the plot because I don’t think that the point. The point is the characters and their relationships. It’s a difficult film to describe in a way because the performances are so center and the characters feel so real and that overused word, three-dimensional, that I found myself wrapped up in their world. I’ll say that there is a pregnancy and people falling in and out of love, all around the whirlwind of rage that is Jimmy Porter.

Since this is social realism I must mention that the portrayal of class issues and racism was probably revolutionary at the time. It’s less so now but timeless. The issues that are present in this movie are relevant today. Like all good drama it’s hitting

I recommend this film and give it 4 stars.

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Kes is social realism at it’s best, a piercing and emotional look at the lives of people hidden from our screens. Billy Casper is a young boy, high school age, that lives in abject poverty in England. He works in the mornings delivering papers and steals chocolate and milk. His older brother works in the mines and his single mother has little control of the boys. Billy is subjected to a system, both in society as a whole and in his school, that beats him down. Not to say that he is forced to petty crime but he has very few options and no one is giving him any credit. There are many comments about how Billy can’t read, or barely can read, and we would believe them if we didn’t see the interest Billy takes in a book on falconry. It is while in the forest, during a poetic section of the film, where he finds a nest of kestrels and takes one to train. He begins training the bird and soon it is the only joy in his life.

I loved this movie. Loach is a powerful film maker and this is a masterpiece. It never dips into sentimentality, everything is played straight. I cared so deeply about this boy, Billy Casper, I wanted so for him to get out, to find a life that didn’t trap him in the horrible existence, but the film offers no such easy answers.

The cinematography is excellent and aids the telling of the tale. Grey interiors are juxtaposed against the brilliant colors of the forest and field where Billy finds and trains Kes is only the beginning of the depth with which Loach penetrates the subject matter. The performances, mostly by locals and non-actors, are great and believable. The teacher who shows Billy kindness in particular is good.

The scenes of Billy training Kes are engrossing, as well as the scene where he tells his class all about falconry. You know that this is the only time that Billy has ever been the center of attention when he wasn’t being bad. I found it very touching, thought it’s filmed in the most straightforward, almost documentary style. Loach is a master. He lets the material, and the performances, tell the story instead of overloading the piece with flashy technique.

This is above all a character piece. I can’t recommend this film enough. 5 stars.

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I don’t know what’s up next but I’ve been wanting to watch Our Man in Havana by Carol Reed (written by Graham Greene) or something by Edward Yang.

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Responses

  1. good reviews.

    i really wish i’d gone to see Kes with you.

    dead ringers was for me a 3…i kept thinking about it this past week and while everything you said was right, ultimately i just wasn’t that attached to the characters…despite the great performances.


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