What I Watched Last Week: 20/10/14 – Who’d win in a fight, Alfred Hitchcock or Ebola?

Are you concerned about Ebola? It’s a serious issue right now, and one that deserves our undivided attention. Problem is, just in the same way that contemplating our cosmic insignificance or stewing over that disgustingly botched handshake is unhealthy and unproductive, dwelling on the problem by reading up on its symptoms isn’t a sustainable way to lead our lives. Instead, we’re all ignoring it or making jokes about it or a little of both. I put it to you that reading this blog will help distract your mind from the impending doom of this devil-borne virus and, unless you’re an ‘AIDS’ worker in West Africa, will prove a more fulfilling waste of your time than fretting over an invisible, indestructible agent of death. Stay tuned for next week’s global crisis special: Contagion, Outbreak, Quarantine, Doomsday Virus and a little known 1996 Japanese flick called Ebola Syndrome.

Saboteur (1942) – 3/5

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Cast: Priscilla Lane, Robert Cummings, Otto Kruger

Saboteur

North by Northwest, Vertigo, The Wrong Man, The 39 Steps – these are all Alfred Hitchcock films which Saboteur is like, but alongside which Saboteur pales in comparison. Accused of rigging the plane factory explosion which killed his best friend, Barry Keane (Robert Cummings, not Hitch’s most enigmatic leading man it has to be said) becomes a fugitive, keeping one step ahead of the law in order to find the real saboteur. After stumbling across the shack of a blind man a-la-Bride of Frankenstein, Barry is set up with a svelte billboard damsel named Pat (Priscilla Lane, hardly Hitch’s most distinguished leading lady). Pat doesn’t share her kindly Uncle’s patness, seeing in Barry the dangerous criminal the radios and newspapers bill him to be. However, she bears cognisance enough to see that Barry is not the real culprit… but who is? Iz ze Germans, ov course! A well-executed ending atop the Statue of Liberty is nigh identical to N by NW’s Mount Rushmore cliffhanger, but you should watch it to see the hilarious birds eye shot of a Nazi falling to his death at 5mph.

The Selfish Giant (2013) – 4/5

Director: Clio Bernard

Cast: Connor Chapman, Shaun Thomas, Sean Gilder, Lorraine Ashbourne

TheSelfishGiant

Arbor (Conner Chapman) and Swifty (Shaun Thomas) are two Northern schoolboys born to families of intractable poverty. Bereft of their education after getting expelled, the lads waste no time in crossing over to the wrong sides of the tracks, literally in fact – their first criminal venture sees them stealing the copper wiring from some train lines. The mythical troll referred to in the films title is the irascible Kitten (Sean Gilder), a gruff scrapyard owner and gypsy sort who sees the boys’ desperation for money and eagerness to work as an opportunity to exploit them. Both Arbor and Connor have a knack for the illegal scrapping business, yet their firm friendship is tested by Kitten’s favouring of former traveller Connor by placing him in lieu of his horse-racing operation. What begins as a pretty standard warts-n-all study of working class life becomes by the end a near fantastical tale of struggle and betrayal, our two young heroes the beleaguered Davids to Kitten’s pie-scoffing Goliath. Also stars Finchy from The Office.

The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927) – 4/5

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Cast: Ivor Novello, ‘June’

TheLodger-AStoryOfLondonFog

Alfred ‘gentleman prefer killing blondes’ Hitchcock’s third ever feature film was this highly memorable silent whodunnit from 1927. In The Lodger, Hitchcock introduces a familiar, smog-smothered London setting with palpable Victorian Jack the Ripper vibes in which a series of murders by a nocturnal killer self-titled ‘The Avenger’ have left women afraid to step out from their doorways. Soundtracks to The Lodger will vary depending on which free source you choose to view it from, but of those available to stream this version’s score fitted most strongly with the eerie, looming presence of Ivor Novello’s lodger, the titular character and key suspect in ‘The Avenger’ case. The skeleton crew cast and minimalist set make it ideal for stage play adaptations, one of which I am excited to be seeing this week.

Night Mail (1936) – 2/5

Directors: Harry Watt and Basil Wright

Cast: Stuart Legg, John Grierson

NightMail

Night Mail was a Conservative party funded project which adopted impressive new techniques in capturing high-speed footage from both land and air to document the improved national railway system, which in the 1930s had revolutionised the Royal Mail’s delivery process. Much affected by the socialist lyricism of Dziga Vertov’s Man With a Movie Camera, Night Mail approaches the mundane task of long-haul train transportation with irrepressible enthusiasm, presenting a holistic new world in which man, machine and nature can all co-exist and help to get the job done. Twenty minutes in and you’ll be ready to strap yourself to the lines at the nearest station to await your blissfully quick death, but when narrator Stuart Legg picks up the mic and drops the Earth’s first-ever recorded hip-hop track, you’ll be glad you waited it out. ‘Who you tryin to get crazy with ese? Don’t you know I’m loco(motive)?’

The Song of Ceylon (1934) – 1/5

Director: Basil Wright

Cast: Lionel Wendt

TheSongOfCeylon

Chaotically edited culture ‘study’ documentary filmed in South East Asia. As the mythically prolific, legendarily didactic British film producer John Grierson would later admit, these early politically funded documentaries by English directors were akin to peering ‘at goldfish in a glass bowl’. Too right. Thankfully, things have changed a lot; now we have people like Ross Kemp and Danny Dyer becoming the very gaping oddities that they were attempting to expose.

Dogma (1999) – 2/5

Director: Kevin Smith

Cast: Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Linda Florentino, Kevin Smith, Alan Rickman, Salma Hayek Chris Rock

Dogma

Dogma is what you get when an overtly atheist, potty mouthed stoner (Kevin Smith) uses his surge of Indy success to cast two big name up-and-comers (Ben Affleck and Matt Damon) in a trashy road trip movie with a divinely satirical ideation. Kevin Smith, who sets his film in New Jersey as per, doesn’t seem to have anything against Catholics – even the crazy ones seem lovable in a goofy sort of way – but he does take issue with the business of Catholicism as a whole. His method of bashing the bible bashers is to take on religion from a stance of direct interpretation: all the things that the Bible said happened, did happen – sure they left out a thing or two, such as Chris Rock being the thirteenth apostle of Christ, but it’s all pretty much kosher.

Linda Florentino plays some kind of unwilling prophetess whose job it is stop disgraced deities Loki (Matt Damon) and Bartleby (Ben Affleck) from entering a Mid Western church which, in a calamitous attempt to reconnect with the jaded public, has re-defined a key fragment of Christian dogmatic law which will allow the fallen angels to re-enter heaven and destroy the very fabric of existence. All’s good until Jay and Silent Bob show up without explanation or without anything to add beyond dick jokes. They contribute to the rapid tapering off of Dogma’s comedic intelligence, which came for the most part from Affleck and Damon’s lengthy theologian rants. A woeful finale reveals the limitations of the budget, as well as Kevin Smith’s imagination.

Mystic River (2003) – 4/5

Director: Clint Eastwood

Cast: Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Emmy Rossum, Marcia Gay Harden, Laurence Fishburne

MysticRiver

Popular opinion makes Mystic River a Sean Penn vehicle (he won the best actor Oscar), but it is a dishevelled, devastating Tim Robbins who lingers in the memory. Robbins gives an immensely unnerving – and also Oscar winning – turn as disturbed Bostonian Dean Boyle, a man whose normal, sporty, social childhood was put to and end when he was abducted by two paedophiles posing as police officers. Though we witness the tragic event at the very beginning there is no doubting its haunting power; it hangs over the rest of the film like an oily rag, and Clint Eastwood’s cunning camera work – combined with Brian Helgeland’s screenplay – repeatedly allude to the incident at the start, making it clear how the streams of the three central characters’ lives were irrevocably polluted by the abhorrent act. What a terrible analogy! Anyhow, much of Mystic River plays out like your typical gritty Boston crime drama ,with cons and ex-cons and cops and people who don’t trust cops and so on. For all of the fantastic performances – even better than Penn and Robbins is Emmy Rossum as the mousey house wife who thinks she may be harbouring a murder suspect – Mystic River can come off as prosaic when it clearly wanted to be operatic in its climaxes. Kevin Bacon and Laurence Fishburne bulk up the already formidable cast, doing a fun white cop/ black cop act, but despite the big names this is not Eastwood’s best.

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