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diskant rewind: Mild Head Injury #12

Posted: October 3rd, 2008, by Simon Minter

(Originally posted August 2002)

Mild Head Injury by Simon Minter

Okay. OKAY! right. Moving on up! Woo. Here we go. I’m hoping that this column will be something of a halfway house between the shameless debacle of the last one (wherein I did write about nothing but gibberish), and those of the future (wherein I will cover interesting films in the hope of enlightening you to some non-Blockbuster fare.

I am now in Oxford, land of arty people and independent cinemas (or so I hope…) and yes! I have bought myself a shiny new silver space-age video recorder. This means that once I’ve got over slight agoraphobia and not-so-slight laziness, I will be making regular trips out to little steam-powered cinemas to catch all the weird and wonderful offerings available, and also scouring Blockbuster for the one or two good tapes they generally seem to have hidden behind the latest hit (with an ‘S’) movies. But this is yet to happen. So for now, I can do nothing more than present you with some reviews & opinions of the latest few films I’ve been seeing on video, which generally (although not exclusively, I hope) fall into the I’ve-already-seen-that category. Before I get going, a minor aside: is it just me, or has the quality of films being shown on television rapidly diminished lately? There used to be several ‘better tape that’ offerings I’d notice in the TV guide each week, generally on in the middle of the night, but just lately there doesn’t seem to be any action. Maybe it’s the gradual takeover of the airwaves by SPORT which is to blame. Grr.

First up: here’s an odd film which I felt compelled to buy upon seeing it cheap. GET WELL SOON (2001), starring Vincent Gallo (he of BUFFALO 66 fame) and Courteney Cox (of some programme called FRIENDS, apparently). According to the box, this is ‘a twisted romantic comedy in the spirit of There’s Something About Mary’. According to me, this is ‘a somewhat offensive attempt at making a quirky comedy, and simultaneously a waste of talent’. The premise is this – Gallo is a successful TV chat show host (in the mould of Leno, Letterman etc) who suddenly cracks on air, and decides to track down his childhood sweetheart (Cox) in New York, with a notion that getting back together with her will make his otherwise shallow, meaningless life take a fulfilling course once more. Not wanting to spoil the subtle, twisting plot, he does find her, and everything does turn out OK. Is that a surprise? It’s not a bad idea for a story – the weight of fame and adoration pushing a star to the brink of wanting to lose it all – but it’s strangely handled; Gallo’s particular reasons for losing it are not really explained, Cox’s initial reluctance to see him is not really explained, and the supporting characters are one-dimensionally ‘weird’. Several of the minor characters in the film reside in some kind of mental institution, seemingly for no other reason than to get some cheap ‘mad’ gags in there, and to reinforce all kinds of straight-jacket/mad-people-talking-to-themselves stereotypes. (Or maybe – hey – they’re sane, and so is Gallo, and everybody else is crazy. Huh ? No.)

I bought DERANGED (1973) on eBay after mixing it up with UNHINGED (1982) in a bid to try and satisfy my curiousity with banned early 80s slasher flicks. Imagine my surprise when Deranged wasn’t anything to do with ‘a deranged killer’ in the way the box would have me believe, but in fact a slow-moving, thoughtful hippy-type sci-fi movie in the style of SILENT RUNNING or DARK STAR. It’s a confusingly presented story; something to do with travelling back and forward in time in order to try and restart society after some kind of global ecological disaster. This involves a group of young people (akin to an early 70s hippy commune, unsurprisingly) doing their best to live peacefully and harmoniously, at one with nature and without emotional trauma. There is some DERANGED KILLER! action along the way, but not so as you’d really notice – it’s in no way the main theme of the film. That main theme, as with many films made at the time, is ‘don’t upset the planet, man, or you’ll pay for it’. Which, in a non-cynical way, is a good enough theme. Three interesting facts about this film: 1. there’s some excellent scenery in it, which I thought at first was painted, but is apparently actually in Idaho. 2. the film is also known as The Idaho Transfer. 3. the film is directed by Peter Fonda, he of EASY RIDER fame.

Mike Leigh’s MEANTIME (1981) continues his favourite themes of class, money and human interaction as seen in many films like ABIGAIL’S PARTY, LIFE IS SWEET and NAKED. As generally seems to be the case with Leigh’s films, MEANTIME is much more a character study than a precisely-scripted narrative of story. The basic premise is that of a dole-funded family dealing with everyday jobless life, and the comparison of their life with that of a more ‘successful’ middle-class family, and the local punks and pub-goers. Leigh pushes his actors to improvise as much as possible in order to create rounded, believable characters, and there are some great performances here including those of Tim Roth (a heartbreakingly shy/naive type whose repeatedly-reinforced lack of confidence borders on the mentally challenged), Phil Daniels (Roth’s brother, an arrogant and bitter type who seems angry about seeing his best days slip away from him) and Gary Oldman (a nihilistic punk who quite happily wastes away his days drinking and upsetting people). There aren’t any particular likeable characters in MEANTIME, but Leigh’s skill is actually making us care about these people and wonder why we don’t like these kind of characters, when essentially they’re not BAD PEOPLE but have just been dealt a bad hand by society.

To finish up, I’ll just briefly mention another couple of films which I happen to have watched recently, and reminded myself of why I like them. THE THING (1982), whilst obviously indebted to ALIEN, is still a powerfully tense and focussed ‘who can you trust?’ tale of aliens which can make themselves look just like you or I. John Carpenter’s direction, as with many of his other films, uses areas of dark and light, and carefully framed shots to slowly build up the tension throughout this film, with the gory special effects almost standing the test of time in their unpleasantly graphic nature. Like with a lot of Carpenter’s films, this is a very simplistic storyline, almost a high concept horror film, but it never seems cheap or exploitative.

SEVEN (1995), whilst also being gory and unpleasant, never seems cheap or exploitative either. I think it’s the serious nature with which both these films treat their subject matter – obviously, in SEVEN the subject matter should be treated more seriously, in that murder is real – but what I like about the film is the sheer style which runs throughout. It’s always raining outside; Kevin Spacey is chillingly detached from the events which unfold; the obvious link between the seven murders still doesn’t fail to shock in the ideas and details which seem to have been thought up for each one… it’s one of those strange, rare Hollywood films (don’t forget, Brad Pitt’s in it) which doesn’t talk down to the audience or seemingly curb itself for any reasons of getting a lower rating/bringing in a bigger audience.

That’s it for now. I promise that for the next one, I’ll have a whole bunch of interesting weirdy arthouse movies to tell you about. Failing that, I just borrowed Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, so I could go on about what a great, great movie that is instead.

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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