Wednesday, February 21, 2007

My week in film...

My journey into new Hammer horrors continues apace. Twins of Evil (1971) was an absolute delight, and showed me that I have underestimated Hammer's 1970s output. The photography was wonderful (cinematographer Dick Bush), and new director John Hough showed he could match the gothic atmosphere of the Studio's best work. It was certainly the finest of Hammer's Karnstein trilogy, a series based on the horror stories of Sheridan le Fanu, which opened splendidly with The Vampire Lovers (1970), plummeted severely with the dire Lust for a Vampire in 1971, and ended with this riveting and smartly crafted tale. Peter Cushing inspires both hatred in the early stages and sympathy later on: Despite his puritanical villainy, he seems to crumble before his wife, played by Kathleen Byron (of Powell and Pressburger's Black Narcissus).

Straight on Till Morning was made by Hammer in 1972, back-to-back with Fear in the Night. The director was the fairly unremarkable Peter Collinson, whose biggest hit was the uneven-if-entertaining The Italian Job in 1969. This is a far more interesting film than its pedestrian sister, however. There are no by-now-tired Sangsterian twists to elicit groans, but instead a fascinating pair of characters in Peter and Wendy, played by Shane Briant and Rita Tushingham. The film was slow in spots, but it had a pathos to it that doubtless will draw me back to it.

Johnson and I had a cinema trip on Saturday to see the very funny Hot Fuzz (Edgar Wright, 2007). In the post-Love Actually era, this kind of film gives me hope that the British comedy film is not destined to sink into a Richard-Curtis quagmire of triteness and manipulation. Not only was it funny, but it had a satirical edge that delivered a timely FU to the Daily Mail readers of Britain.

I also took in my first film by Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu, one of his more accessible films, a light comedy called Good Morning (1959). It was an amiable look at Japanese culture and family in the 1950s, and seemed to display many of the director's trademark habits, including the ubiquitous framing of shots through doorways and between pillars.

Also managed to catch Jacques Tati's Mon Oncle (1958) for the first time in several years, and it hasn't lost its brilliance a bit. So witty and insightful, with the clash of old and new, the worlds of Tati and his rich relatives, so deftly and charmingly realized in a uniquely cinematic way. I was torn between a 9 and 10 for the rating, with only the length (almost 2 hours) swaying me back towards a 9. I settled on a 10, however, because the film simply delights me.

And finally, I watched Todd Solondz's Happiness (1998). First off, I should say I have no problem with controversial issues being handled through humour. As far as I am concerned, nothing is sacred, and there is no topic that is off-limits for humour. I say that because Happiness is a very dark comedy that addresses very serious issues, namely paedophilia and child molestation. But I don't have a problem with that. My problem is that Solondz's film is so damned cynical. I couldn't detect anything redemptive in it. The film holds out no hope for its pathetic characters; I felt like I was simply being invited to sneer at them. And I really dislike movies with that kind of sensibility. It reminded me of Woody Allen's unpleasant 1995 comedy Deconstructing Harry: witty and impressive, but lacking in humanity, and displaying a positively cruel streak. I love irony and cynicism in films, but I think it must be tempered by humanity. I'm willing to concede I just didn't get Solondz: If that's the case, convince me.


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