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Weekly film round-up #1

Well, as narrioch and I love nothing more than a good film (apart from maybe a REALLY BAD film), we thought that we would make a weekly survey of our viewings a regular feature of this blog. So here’s our inaugural attempt! Spoilers below, so be warned…

Halloween (Rob Zombie, 2007). As keen followers of horror cinema, it pains us to say that this is undoubtedly one of the most pointless cash-ins that we have yet seen. Halloween follows the twenty-first century horror tradition of providing remakes and prequels for established classics, but fails to bring anything new to the genre – or to the long history of Michael Myers movies. Its only marked departures from the original are the inevitable increase in violent content, and the inclusion of a rambling explication of Myer’s psychosis. The film follows the tradition of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning and Hannibal in detailing the childhood tribulations of its bullied antagonist, but Zombie’s lengthy introduction to the main action is so shallow and poorly-scripted that it ends up being about as emotionally resonant as an advert for Toilet Duck. We are no moral arbiters when it comes to explicit horror, but the misogynistic violence of this film was pointless and grotesque. How many times do we need to see victims’ Achilles heels getting slashed as they try to crawl away from their killers? (Even if the answer to that was ‘once’, we’ve already seen it in the bag of pap that was Hostel). Halloween is another of Zombie’s homages to his favourite genre, but it is hollow and forgettable without the retro quirkiness of House of 1,000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects. We wish we could have liked it more.

narrioch’s oneliner: Zombie, I want my money back.

Shadows in Paradise (Aki Kaurismäki, 1986) is a deadpan, minimalist tale of trash collector Nikander and his faltering relationship with check-out girl Ilona. It’s a slow and elegiac film, which relies on an extreme simplicity of characterisation and plot – as did The Man Without a Past, the only other Kaurismäki film that I’ve seen so far. We really can’t think how best to discuss it, but we will certainly be checking out more of the director’s work.

narrioch’s oneliner: Sorry, I fell asleep.

The Kingdom (Peter Berg, 2007) is a mumbled, gung-ho, fallacious cinematic atrocity. With the statistics and stock footage of its opening credit sequence, Berg’s film begins with an attempt to imbue itself with pseudo-documentary status; as is compounded by the naturalistic, casual acting style of its leads, and by the intertitles which introduce key characters (no doubt an afterthought to relieve some of the film’s incomprehensibility). It features a group of FBI agents despatched to Saudi Arabia to investigate a terrorist attack. Unfortunately, with the exception of a few entertaining explosions, the events which follow are about as riveting as a dusty skirting board. The entire film is a bewildering mess and the characters so predictably shallow, ignorant and awful that the dangerous situations into which they blunder gave us a briefer adrenaline rush than putting fancy hats on our dog.

This film is suffused with the worst kind of AMERICA-ness, which comes to a grotesque climax in the appalling last scene. Firstly, the ‘good’ Saudi Colonel who helps the Americans is inevitably slaughtered; his survival would have been too problematic for the agents who would have had to leave him behind, despite the love of American television which codes him as a benevolent character. Secondly, the positive presence of the Colonel is utterly outweighed by the risible characterisation of all of the other Saudis. With the exception of the ridiculous prince character, the other Saudis are severely impoverished yet nevertheless equipped not only with an army’s worth of rifles, but with the most extreme hand-held munitions on the planet, including the giant bazookas which of course are just lying around in their dingy studio apartments. Thirdly, the film finishes with an aural bridge which only serves to exacerbate prejudice and paranoia as characters on both sides reveal their conviction that ‘we will kill them all’. However, there is a special place in our hearts for a moment so awful, we had to re-watch the scene to be sure that we hadn’t shared a hallucination. Throughout the film, characters repeatedly mention Abu Hamza, favourite pantomime villain of The Sun newspaper. Well, in one of the film’s final scenes, Team America break into an apartment and discover a family who are harbouring their terrorist grandfather. Just before he is blown away in a hail of bullets (by the way, how many machine gun rounds can it possibly take to dispatch about ten terrorists?) this man is identified by one of the agents as Hamza. Now, most of the dialogue in this film sounds like it is being spoken through latex ball-gags, so we thought that we had surely misheard. But no – the character is indeed cited on the credits as Abu Hamza, and it’s highly unlikely to be coincidental that this fictional man shares the name of the EVIL HOOK-HANDED DEMON. It says a lot about The Kingdom that its opening credits try to ape an impartial documentary, and its closing sequence ends with the intimation of the giant falsehood that American agents managed to discover and dispatch a man who in reality can’t be touched (and is probably living the dream in Coventry or some other English cesspit). If we hadn’t ranted so much about how bad this film was, you could consider us speechless.
EDITED TO ADD: I forgot to mention how much I hated the ‘quirk’ that was given to Jennifer Connolly’s character – the fact that she constantly had a supply of lollipops which facilitated a lame interaction between her and a Saudi child. Did the writers just read ‘Screenwriting for Dummies’ and decide it would be an interesting addition to the film if one of the protagonists had a cute little quirky trait? It was almost as horrible as Clive Owen’s eating carrots in Shoot ‘Em Up, which was really one of the worst films I have ever seen. Monica Bellucci, what were you thinking?

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