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diskant rewind: Mild Head Injury #4

Posted: September 5th, 2008, by Simon Minter

(Originally posted February 2002)

Mild Head Injury by Simon Minter

Well, I started 2001 with the high-hoped New Years Resolution of going to the cinema at least once a week. Needless to say that plan fell by the wayside pretty quick. So, 2002 started with the same resolution but with my fingers secretly crossed behind my back. When I say ‘going to the cinema’, you must understand that this can be extended to mean ‘getting a video out’ due to the exceptionally fuckwitted policy of my local Warner Village cinema (the only cinema I can get to easily) of only showing the most mainstream and popular films. So last year and this year so far has meant no ‘Ghost World’, no ‘Mulholland Drive’ and no ‘My Neighbour the Totoro’ but all the romantic comedies and action shitebusters I can stomach.

But it’s not all bad, you understand. I do get out into more than a five-mile radius from time to time, and am blessed with an ACTUALLY GOOD QUALITY Blockbuster nearby, so no need to start killing and burning stuff just yet.

This is supposed to be some kind of roundup of things that rocked my tiny, insignificant world last year (in a cinematic sense), so I’ll start incorrectly by frothing over LORD OF THE RINGS, even though I didn’t actually see it until this year. I expect most people have seen this by now? If not, you gotta. Yeah man you gotta. I know it’s more than three hours long; I know the books are hard going, but it’s a great great film. It follows the book (book one of the trilogy – the second two books will follow as two further films) pretty closely, and keeps just the right side of cutesy goblins’n’hobbits fun by never failing to take its subject matter seriously or pay it the respect due. The plot could seem scant (where’s that magic ring gone? let’s go find it) but there’s depth and philosophy there if you want it, and if you’re not consistently blown away by the beautiful magical settings and exquisitely executed set pieces then your seat’s facing the wrong way. There’s special effects aplenty, but this is no special effects movie, it’s one of the few to use effects to complete the vision of the director (Peter Jackson – he of ‘Bad Taste’, ‘Braindead’ and ‘Meet the Feebles’, bizarrely, and later the somewhat sinister ‘Heavenly Creatures’, which is worth checking out) rather than to round out the trailer with arbitrary explosions and monsters. I can’t really write about Lord of the Rings without slipping into ‘it’s ace! you have to see this!’ over and over again so I’ll leave it there.

Another ‘ace! see! etc.’ movie of 2001 was AMELIE; one for all your romantic fools out there. ‘Charming’ is the key word here in this French-made-and-set story of a naive young woman arriving in Paris and deciding to help out strangers in random ways, along the way finding friends, delight in her own actions and, of course, love. Aw. Does it sound like a load of old sentimental toss? I imagine so. Somehow it manages to skirt around sickbag territory though, partly because of the nice playing of the lead character (by Audrey Tautou) as a scatty, cheeky joker with a ‘naughty’ sense of humour, partly because of the bizarre situations set up along the way (which come together by the end of the movie in a surprisingly unexpected way) and partly because of the beautiful filming of the story – all rich warm colours and subtly off-the-wall angles and styles. Maybe it’s because I saw Amelie on my own at the cinema, keeping out of the cold, but it’s what the oft-used phrase ‘heart-warming and compelling’ was written for.

Enough of this romance and fantasy, though. What you’re all really after is CLASS A DRUG ABUSE. So TRAFFIC‘s the movie for you. You may think ‘Michael Douglas – Catherine Zeta-Jones – urk!’ as I did, but don’t worry. This is a fantastically low-key production, which could’ve so easily sensationalised its subject (the heroin trade – from producing it to taking it – the film’s loosely based on the old (excellent) Channel 4 series Traffik) but instead which treats it matter-of-factly and evenly. The story is multi-stranded and takes in many aspects of ‘the drug’ – why people use it, how politicians deal with it, how it affects people in different circumstances – and the story is left so very open-ended that you might think twice about getting involved in the heroin trade, as I know many of our readers are. It’s no ‘DRUGS! ARG!’ shock tale, it’s more documentary-like in letting the viewer decide who the good and bad people are. Also strange to see Topher Grace (of That 70s Show) in a ‘real, serious’ role – and doing admirably, by the way. Benicio del Toro is also on fine form with a typically simple-character-made-a-bit-odd performance.

If you want more drugs, then BLOW might do ya. Can’t say it really did me, mind. It seems a good idea in theory – a look at the cocaine trade from the dealer’s perspective, with Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz amongst others, but in practice comes across as the flimsiest of storylines presented as a series of ‘look at what people wore in the 70s/80s/etc.’ self-consciously amusing scenes which doesn’t ultimately make a lot of sense. It’s like the cocaine elements of Boogie Nights have been given a movie of their own, but without any of the style, authenticity, real humour or honesty of that movie.

A number of Japanese films grabbed my attention last year, not least RING, which on paper sounds like the worst B-movie horror plot ever: there’s this videotape, right, with this odd film on it, and if you watch it you have to make somebody else watch it within a week or you DIE !!! But it’s something to do with the combination of the film being Japanese (i.e. making it seem alien to us Westerners), slow-building and non-shock-tactic-y, and so damn weirdly made, that made it really scare the shite out of me. Explaining how it scared me could well spoil it for those of you who haven’t seen it, so I won’t do that, I’ll just say that if you prefer proper psychological horror to gore-frenzy horror, this’ll do your mind in. RING 2 – the sequel, surprise surprise – was something of a disappointment though, being an extension of the original plot but in a considerably more convoluted and confusing way. Odd.

More Japanese craziness (if you want it) can be found in AUDITION, the happy clappy tale of a lonely man who uses his connections in the movie business to find a wife through the medium of an audition. Unfortunately the seemingly-perfect wife candidate he finds turns out to be a fucking psycho nut with a penchant for piano wire and acupuncture needles. ‘ow’, went the increasingly-uncomfortable audience. Like Ring, this movie benefits from a certain otherworldliness and slow-building technique to build up the tension ’til your head implodes.

BATTLE ROYALE – another Japanese ‘weird film’, presents us with the situation of a collapsed society which deals with the problems in its violent schools by selecting a random class, dumping them on a monitored and controlled island and letting them (or rather, forcing them to) kill each other off. On TV. So this obviously sounds like a great idea for a movie, you may think? And of course it is. But something went wrong in the production process for Battle Royale, as it ends up being an overly and gratuitously violent (and it takes some going for me to say that), super-simplistic, and almost childish ‘let’s watch people running about on an island’ ordeal with an exceptionally bizarre – not in a good way – ending. If this idea for a movie appeals, I’d say check out SERIES 7: THE CONTENDERS, which takes a similar storyline (adults hunting each other down for TV fame) but treats it like several episodes of ‘police! stop! videos!’ or some such programme and is short enough to get its point across and stop before it becomes a chore.

I’ll wind up soon, I think, as my rambling will otherwise know no bounds. Let me leave you with a brief list of other movies which I enjoyed over the past year, and which – hey – you guys can too:
THE HOLE (British scary film, Thora Birch, should be cheesy but for some reason isn’t, twisty-turny storyline)
ALMOST FAMOUS (this IS cheesy, 70s rock stars followed by teenage journalist, but it’s oh so sweet, and the music’s boss)
REQUIEM FOR A DREAM (by Darren Aronofsky (of PI fame), it deals with addiction of all kinds, intense to the point of headaches for the viewer)
ONE NIGHT AT MCCOOLS (comedy, all-star lineup, stupidly ‘clever’ plot about several men becoming obsessed by a beautiful woman, but for some reason I dug it)
MEET THE PARENTS (more comedy, with De Niro (!) on perfect straight-faced nutter form)
CHOPPER (the true story of Mark Read, Australian psycho ‘crim’ with a some-would-say-chequered history, it’s edge-of-seat horrible but morbidly fascinating)
and finally…
BUFFALO 66 (one of the finest films ever. a must see. YOU MUST SEE.)

Simon Minter

Simon joined diskant after falling on his head from a great height. A diskant legend in his own lifetime Simon has risen up the ranks through a mixture of foolhardiness and wit. When not breaking musical barriers with top pop combo Sunnyvale Noise Sub-element or releasing records in preposterously exciting packaging he relaxes by looking like Steve Albini.


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