Thursday, 29 May 2008

Forbidden Art 2006

This Is My Blood
Yuri Samodurov, director of Moscow's Andrei Sakharov Museum, has been charged with inciting religious hatred. The charge relates to the exhibition Forbidden Art 2006, a survey of censored Russian art, including Alexander Kosolapov's This Is My Blood (2001), hosted by Samodurov's museum in 2007. Several of the exhibits are included in the book Blasphemy. The museum also hosted the controversial exhibition Caution: Religion! in 2003.

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Monday, 26 May 2008

Indiana Jones IV

Indiana Jones IV
The fourth film in the Indiana Jones series, Indiana Jones & The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, is similar in tone to the three earlier films, with wit and serial-style adventure in equal measure. Again, it's directed by Steven Spielberg and based on a story by George Lucas.

Unfortunately, these days Lucas can't resist CGI. (His Star Wars prequels were almost entirely computer-generated.) In interviews, Spielberg stresses how traditional the action sequences and special effects are, in keeping with those of the earlier Indiana Jones films (and Spielberg is known for his love of analogue film technology), yet there are still too many CGI elements here. The CG aliens in the finale are excusable, but rendering monkeys, insects, and waterfalls with CGI is just lazy.

As the rather clunky title suggests, the plot is a little convoluted. It's something about aliens from another dimension bringing civilisation to the ancient Mayans, though it results in exposition overkill. After all that exposition, only the most cursory of explanations is given for the incomprehensible events at the end of the film. Anyway, shouldn't Spielberg be done with flying saucers by now? (The film's MacGuffin object is inspired by quartz skulls which, while rumoured to be pre-Columbian artefacts with paranormal powers, are more likely to be 300-year-old fakes.)

The film is set in 1957, so the bad guys this time are Communist Russians. (Since the end of the Cold War, Russians have been replaced as Hollywood movie antagonists by Europeans and Arabs.) The lead villain, played by Cate Blanchette, never poses a real threat; thus, while the chase sequences are exciting, they aren't especially suspenseful, because Blanchette is not particularly scary. The 1950s setting also allows for comments on US domestic nuclear testing (in an eerily realistic mock-suburban test site) and paranoid anti-Commie witch-hunts, though these themes are dropped pretty quickly.

Harrison Ford is on form as Indy, and it's possible to suspend your disbelief that a man his age can still be an action hero. This time around, Ford is joined by Shia LaBeouf, who makes his entrance on a motorcycle in an homage to Marlon Brando's character in The Wild One. In one of Hollywood's least surprising plot twists, LaBeouf's character is later revealed to be Indy's son.

In the first sequence, there's a glimpse of the Ark of the Covenant, a subtle nod to the first (and best) Indiana Jones film, Raiders Of The Lost Ark. But how many of the new film's audience-members will get the reference?

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Bill Henson

Works from a photography exhibition by Bill Henson have been removed by Australian police from Roslyn Oxley9, a Sydney art gallery. The confiscated photographs are images of a naked teenaged girl. Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has described them as "revolting", and censored versions of some images have been shown by ABC TV in Australia.

Nude images of minors have been removed from galleries in the past, most recently a Nan Goldin photograph investigated, and subsequently exonerated, by UK police last year. Photographs of children by Robert Mapplethorpe, Graham Ovenden, Ron Oliver, Will McBride, David Hamilton, Tierney Gearon, and Annelies Strba have previously been investigated by UK police as potentially obscene. In America, the FBI investigated photographers Jacqueline Livingston and Jock Sturges, though ultimately no charges were brought.

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Saturday, 17 May 2008

HP/De Tijd

Dutch cartoonist Gregorius Nekschot has been arrested on suspicion of producing anti-Islamic cartoons. (He is the author of the book Misselijke Grappen, which includes provocative images of Mohammed.) Police have insisted that he remove eight cartoons from his website, though all eight drawings have been published in this week's issue of HP/De Tijd.

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Monday, 5 May 2008

Sweeney Todd

Sweeney Todd
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street, is a Gothic horror musical directed by Tim Burton. It stars Burton's regular alter ego, Johnny Depp, and co-stars Burton's partner, Helena Bonham Carter. (Depp and Bonham Carter both also starred in Burton's Charlie & The Chocolate Factory and Corpse Bride.)

Sweeney Todd was adapted from a Broadway musical, and it does feel quite stagey at times. I'm not especially a musicals fan, and the songs in this film haven't won me over. The production design, acting, and direction are all excellent, however. London is much more convincingly realised than in Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, and Depp and Bonham Carter's characters both have suitably pallid complexions. Of the supporting cast, Alan Rickman and Timothy Spall play according to type but do so superbly.

When Depp first holds his cut-throat razor, we recall Edward Scissorhands, and the similarity is increased due to Sweeney and Edward's equally wild hair (shared by Burton himself). Sweeney is a less sympathetic or misunderstood character than Depp's other roles for Burton, though, despite the Grand Guignol-style tragic climax.

Maxim Goes To The Movies

The 300 Movies You Must See Before You Die!
This month's Maxim magazine is a special Maxim Goes To The Movies issue, and includes a list titled The 300 Movies You Must See Before You Die!, divided into genres and other (occasionally odd) categories. (Musicals have been deliberately excluded.)

There are actually slightly more than 300 films included, because original films and their sequels are counted as single entries. The Lord Of The Rings I, The Warriors, Fight Club, A History Of Violence, Star Wars V, and Terminator II all appear twice, each in two different categories.

Comedy
  • The Big Lebowski
  • Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy
  • Kingpin
  • Monty Python & The Holy Grail
  • This Is Spinal Tap
  • Borat: Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan
  • Airplane!
  • Animal House
  • Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery
  • American Pie
  • Bachelor Party
  • Bananas
  • Beverly Hills Cop
  • Blazing Saddles
  • Caddyshack
  • The Cannonball Run
  • Clerks
  • Dazed & Confused
  • Duck Soup
  • Dumb & Dumber
  • Election
  • The 40-Year-Old Virgin
  • Ghostbusters
  • Groundhog Day
  • Happy Gilmore
  • Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle
  • It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
  • The Jerk
  • Modern Times
  • The Nutty Professor
  • Office Space
  • Old School
  • The Pink Panther Strikes Again
  • The Princess Bride
  • Raising Arizona
  • Sixteen Candles
  • Some Like It Hot
  • Trading Places
  • Vacation
  • Wedding Crashers
  • Wet Hot American Summer
  • Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory
  • Young Frankenstein
The Master Class
  • Breathless
  • Citizen Kane
  • La Dolce Vita
  • Seven Samurai
  • The 400 Blows
  • The Seventh Seal
  • Un Chien Andalou
War
  • The Deer Hunter
  • The Bridge On The River Kwai
  • Dr Strangelove
  • Apocalypse Now
  • Black Hawk Down
  • The Dirty Dozen
  • Gallipoli
  • The Great Escape
  • M*A*S*H
  • Platoon
  • Saving Private Ryan
So Bad They're Good
  • Glen Or Glenda?
  • Showgirls
  • Airport 1975
  • Barbarella
  • Battlefield Earth
  • Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls
  • Death Race 2000
  • Phantom Of The Paradise
  • Reefer Madness
  • Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
  • The Toxic Avenger
Sequels That Are Better Than The Original
  • Bride Of Frankenstein
  • Evil Dead II
  • Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan
  • Superman II
  • Terminator II: Judgment Day
  • Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back
Rebels
  • Cool Hand Luke
  • Taxi Driver
  • Sid & Nancy
  • Easy Rider
  • Billy Jack
  • Dirty Harry
  • Dirty Mary Crazy Larry
  • Ferris Bueller's Day Off
  • The Graduate
  • A History Of Violence
  • The Hustler
  • The King Of Comedy
  • Network
  • One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest
  • Raging Bull
  • Risky Business
  • Smokey & The Bandit
  • Three Days Of The Condor
  • Trainspotting
Classics
  • Lawrence Of Arabia
  • Kind Hearts & Coronets
  • The Adventures Of Robin Hood
  • Ben-Hur: A Tale Of The Christ
  • Casablanca
  • Double Indemnity
  • Metropolis
  • The Night Of The Hunter
  • On The Waterfront
  • The Third Man
  • Touch Of Evil
  • Vertigo
  • White Heat
  • The Wizard Of Oz
Sci-Fi/Fantasy
  • Starship Troopers
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back
  • Alien I-II
  • Back To The Future
  • Blade Runner
  • Children Of Men
  • Close Encounters Of The Third Kind
  • ET: The Extra-Terrestrial
  • King Kong
  • Planet Of The Apes
  • Star Wars IV: A New Hope
  • Terminator I-II
Horror
  • The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
  • Night Of The Living Dead
  • Dawn Of The Dead
  • Carrie
  • The Exorcist
  • The Fly
  • Halloween
  • Jaws
  • A Nightmare On Elm Street
  • Psycho
  • Rosemary's Baby
  • The Shining
  • 28 Days Later
Non-Boring Documentaries
  • Brother's Keeper
  • Don't Look Back
  • Hoop Dreams
  • Pumping Iron
  • Richard Pryor: Live In Concert
  • When We Were Kings
Conspicuously Gay Straight Movies (Beyond Top Gun)
  • 300
  • Fight Club
  • Spartacus
  • The Bear
  • The Lord Of The Rings I: The Fellowship Of The Ring
  • The Warriors
  • X-Men
Westerns
  • The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly
  • The Searchers
  • Jeremiah Johnson
  • Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid
  • High Noon
  • High Plains Drifter
  • Tombstone
  • True Grit
  • Unforgiven
  • The Wild Bunch
Buddy Movies
  • The Last Detail
  • Top Gun
  • Superbad
  • Deliverance
  • American Graffiti
  • The Blues Brothers
  • Breaking Away
  • Glengarry Glen Ross
  • The Goonies
  • Lethal Weapon
  • The Right Stuff
  • Saturday Night Fever
  • The Shawshank Redemption
  • Stand By Me
  • Stripes
  • Swingers
  • The Warriors
Conspicuously Gay [Patrick] Swayze Movies
  • Next Of Kin
  • Red Dawn
  • Road House
  • The Outsiders
  • Youngblood
Action
  • The Matrix
  • Rocky I-IV
  • The Road Warrior
  • Batman
  • Batman Begins
  • Battle Royale
  • The Bourne Identity/Supremacy/Ultimatum
  • Braveheart
  • Clash Of The Titans
  • Die Hard
  • Enter The Dragon
  • Face/Off
  • First Blood
  • 48 Hours
  • Gladiator
  • The Incredibles
  • Kill Bill I-II
  • The Lord Of The Rings I-III
  • Predator
  • Raiders Of The Lost Ark
  • Speed
  • Spider-Man
Non-Gratuitous Nudity!
  • Wild Things
  • Fast Times At Ridgemont High
  • Carnal Knowledge
  • Angel Heart
  • Body Heat
  • Boogie Nights
  • Coffy
  • Jackass: The Movie
  • McCabe & Mrs Miller
  • Mulholland Drive
  • Poison Ivy: The New Seduction
  • Revenge Of The Nerds
  • Ten
Essential James Bond Movies
  • Casino Royale
  • Goldfinger
  • The Spy Who Loved Me
  • Live & Let Die
  • You Only Live Twice
Arthouse
  • City Of God
  • A Clockwork Orange
  • Annie Hall
  • Withnail & I
  • Midnight Cowboy
  • Badlands
  • Bicycle Thieves
  • The Conversation
  • Do The Right Thing
  • The Elephant Man
  • The Last Picture Show
  • Repo Man
  • Rushmore
  • Short Cuts
  • There Will Be Blood
Mindbenders
  • Akira
  • The Rocky Horror Picture Show
  • Beetlejuice
  • Blue Velvet
  • Brazil
  • Donnie Darko
  • Edward Scissorhands
  • Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind
  • Fight Club
  • Memento
  • Pink Floyd: The Wall
  • The Manchurian Candidate
Best Movies With Puppets
  • Being John Malkovich
  • Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story
  • Team America: World Police
  • The Dark Crystal
  • The Muppet Movie
  • Weekend At Bernie's
Cops
  • To Live & Die In LA
  • Bullitt
  • Hard-Boiled
  • Bad Lieutenant
  • Chinatown
  • The Departed
  • Donnie Brasco
  • Fargo
  • The French Connection
  • RoboCop
  • Seven
  • Shaft
  • The Silence Of The Lambs
  • The Untouchables
Criminals
  • The Godfather I-II
  • No Country For Old Men
  • Bonnie & Clyde
  • Reservoir Dogs
  • Atlantic City
  • Bad Boys
  • Bloody Mamma
  • The Boys From Brazil
  • Boyz 'N The Hood
  • Carlito's Way
  • Casino
  • Crimes & Misdemeanors
  • Dog Day Afternoon
  • The Getaway
  • Get Carter
  • GoodFellas
  • Heat
  • A History Of Violence
  • In Cold Blood
  • The Long Good Friday
  • Mean Streets
  • Midnight Express
  • Natural Born Killers
  • Pulp Fiction
  • River's Edge
  • Scarface
  • Sexy Beast
  • Sin City
  • Super Fly
  • True Romance
Movies You Need To See Once But Are
So Traumatic You Never Need To See Again
  • Leaving Las Vegas
  • Million Dollar Baby
  • Requiem For A Dream
  • Schindler's List
  • United 93
Some Like It Hot is the 1959 comic masterpiece, not the obscure 1939 comedy. Casino Royale is [presumably] the recent version rather than the 1960s spoof, Ben-Hur is the William Wyler version, and Scarface is the Brian de Palma version instead of the Howard Hawks original, but otherwise the list is refreshingly free of remakes. Note that Carrie is de Palma's 1976 horror film, not William Wyler's 1952 romantic drama.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Adaptation

Adaptation
Adaptation was directed by Spike Jonze, and stars Nicolas Cage and Meryl Streep. It was written by Charlie Kaufman, one of the most fascinating contemporary screenwriters (who also wrote Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind).

Cage plays a character called Charlie Kaufman, a fictionalised version of Kaufman himself. [Subsequent references will be to the character, not the real writer.] Cage also plays Charlie's brother, Donald, who is credited as co-writer of the film, though Donald Kaufman is a purely fictitious character. Charlie is hired to adapt a book, The Orchid Thief, into a screenplay; he hopes to produce a profound, true-to-life script, though he spends months on frustrated false starts. Donald, meanwhile, writes a formulaic thriller screenplay which is immediately optioned. Unable to create a compelling narrative from The Orchid Thief, Charlie decides to follow the book's author, Susan Orlean; surprisingly, her secret (and totally fictionalised) double-life is a far more fascinating screenplay subject, providing the character arcs and suspense that Charlie had dismissed as unrealistic.

Adaptation is incredibly self-referential, recalling films about the frustrations of film-making such as 8½ and Stardust Memories, and the novel Tristram Shandy (and thus the film A Cock & Bull Story). The film is not only about Charlie's Orchid Thief adaptation, it is his adaptation, as all of his ideas have been incorporated. His voice-over in which he runs through several potential film openings echoes Woody Allen's opening monologue in Manhattan.

All About Eve

All About Eve
All About Eve, starring Anne Baxter and Bette Davis, was directed by Joseph L Mankiewicz. Baxter plays Eve Harrington, a seemingly devoted fan of the actress Margo Channing (played by Davis, who smokes throughout the entire film). Margo takes Eve under her wing, initially taken in by Eve's faux humility and innocence. It later transpires that Eve is calculating and ambitious, exploiting Margo's insecurities about impending middle-age.

Baxter has the title role, but the film is largely a study of Davis's Margo, who is far more realistic than Eve. Davis is sensational: alternately cynical, compassionate, warm, and bitter. By contrast, Baxter simply goes from too-good-to-be-true to scheming bitch. The greatest scene, showcasing Davis's impressively unglamorous performance, is the party sequence, in which a drunk Margo warns her guests: "Fasten your seatbelts; it's going to be a bumpy night!". The party also features a scene-stealing cameo from Marilyn Monroe, in the same year as her bit-part in The Asphalt Jungle.

The two leading men, especially Hugh Marlowe, are rather bland, though George Sanders, as an oily gossip columnist, is more interesting. The ending (in which the cycle begins again, with a young girl ready to do to Eve what Eve did to Margo) is disappointing, considering the otherwise sophisticated, witty script.

While the film is set on Broadway, the script includes regular industry in-jokes and barbs about Hollywood. Rather than a backstage theatre story, it might be more accurate to call it a behind-the-scenes film, and it's one of the very best of its kind.

The Top 100 Films Of All Time

Top 100 Films Of All Time
On Saturday, The Times published a list of the Top 100 Films Of All Time, chosen by a selection of the newspaper's film critics led by James Christopher. The list is deliberately revisionist and provocative, hence its intentional omission of established classics like Citizen Kane. (Kane as the world's greatest film may be a cliche, but it's still an essential film by any standard.) There are actually 102 films on the list, as the entry for Pather Panchali also includes two subsequent films about the Apu character.

The Top 100 Films are as follows:

1. Casablanca
2. There Will Be Blood
3. ET: The Extra-Terrestrial
4. Chinatown
5. The Shining
6. Vertigo
7. Kes
8. Sunset Boulevard
9. Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind
10. The Godfather
11. The Sound Of Music
12. Alien
13. 2001: A Space Odyssey
14. The Jungle Book
15. Apocalypse Now
16. Metropolis
17. Annie Hall
18. Don't Look Now
19. The Exorcist
20. The Wizard Of Oz
21. The Towering Inferno
22. The Breakfast Club
23. Some Like It Hot
24. The Philadelphia Story
25. Picnic At Hanging Rock
26. GoodFellas
27. A Clockwork Orange
28. Gone With The Wind
29. Duck Soup
30. Rebel Without A Cause
31. His Girl Friday
32. Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back
33. One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest
34. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
35. Withnail & I
36. Jaws
37. Beau Travail
38. Rear Window
39. The Graduate
40. Monty Python's Life Of Brian
41. A Star Is Born
42. Blue Velvet
43. Terminator II: Judgment Day
44. A Streetcar Named Desire
45. The Life & Death Of Colonel Blimp
46. All About Eve
47. Fargo
48. Shoah
49. High Society
50. Blade Runner
51. Cabaret
52. La Dolce Vita
53. Mildred Pierce
54. Roman Holiday
55. The Matrix
56. Whisky Galore
57. Raging Bull
58. Dr Zhivago
59. Pulp Fiction
60. The Crying Game
61. Rashomon
62. Taxi Driver
63. On The Waterfront
64. Do The Right Thing
65. The Thin Blue Line
66. Toy Story
67. The Piano
68. The Maltese Falcon
69. Cache
70. The Conversation
71. This Is Spinal Tap
72. Days Of Heaven
73. Great Expectations
74. Rosemary's Baby
75. The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly
76. From Here To Eternity
77. Pather Panchali/Aparajito/Apur Sansar
78. The Lady Eve
79. Deliverance
80. Tokyo Story
81. North By Northwest
82. Chungking Express
83. Spartacus
84. Festen
85. Dog Day Afternoon
86. Nosferatu
87. The Silence Of The Lambs
88. Wild Strawberries
89. Touch Of Evil
90. Trainspotting
91. Short Cuts
92. Breathless
93. Cool Hand Luke
94. La Haine
95. Grand Hotel
96. Lost In Translation
97. Point Break
98. My Fair Lady
99. La Belle & La Bete
100. Jurassic Park

Every film on this list is important in some way, but there should be more silents (there are only two) and more foreign-language films (there's nothing from Italy pre-La Dolce Vita, and nothing by Jean Renoir or Sergei Eisenstein). There Will Be Blood may be a modern classic, but is it really the second-greatest film ever made? (Note that The Maltese Falcon is the John Huston version, which is actually a remake of an earlier Roy Del Ruth film. Also, Some Like It Hot is the 1959 comic masterpiece, not the obscure 1939 comedy.)

Blood For Dracula

Blood For Dracula
Blood For Dracula was filmed by Paul Morrissey back-to-back with his Flesh For Frankenstein. (Antonio Margheriti is sometimes cited as a co-director with Morrissey, though the extent of his contribution is unclear.)

The two films are very similar: both star Udo Kier and a cast of other non-native English speakers concentrating on their lines so much that they forget to emote, both feature the incongruous Joe Dallesandro, and both are Gothic melodramas which culminate in campy violence. In both films, Dallesandro appears out of place not only because of his beefcake physique and American accent but also due to the attitudes of his characters. In Blood For Dracula, in contrast to the aristocratic lineage of every other main character, he plays a worker who hopes for a Communist revolution, adding the theme of class conflict to the traditional Dracula story.

Blood For Dracula is notable for the cameo roles played by two acclaimed directors. Roman Polanski (director of Chinatown) is great as a labourer playing cards in a tavern, though Vittorio de Sica (director of Bicycle Thieves) is almost incomprehensible as a down-on-his-luck aristocrat.