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Film Review by Stephen Philip, June 2005
Sin City - We Don't Live Here Anymore - piracy - new Von Trier - The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael
A lot of PR fizz accompanies Sin City to these shores. Frank Miller, author of the hip noir graphic novels on which it is based, has written the screenplay and co directed the movie with Robert Rodriguez. It's the kind of slavish adaptation that gets geek kids excited but will leave the rest of us cold. Visually and technically it's a tour de force - shot in silvery greys, rich blacks and hot white that positively shimmers, with the occasional splash of colour. But where's the heart of the story?
It may take its cue from Pulp Fiction but minus the irony and sharp characterisation. Three stories of avenging cool guys saving wayward 'broads' from a tortuous death interconnect. So Bruce Willis, the ex gumshoe, having protected a girl from abuse when young has to save her again when she's older and making a living as a stripper. Clive Owen has to defend his prostitute lover from a sexual sadist and Mickey Rourke, under a heap of prosthetic make up, sets out to avenge the death of a hooker with a heart of gold. Enough already! The sexual politics - lamely spinning on the madonna/whore axis - are stuck in the 1940s along with the retro Mickey Spillane references. It dispenses casual sexism with such abandon that you wonder whose comic book fantasy was this actually made for?
An idyllic opening image, we see two couples dancing in an isolated house in the country; sensuous, intimate, the laughter is easy and they are close friends. But who's kissing who in the truck outside? What's lurking beneath this sheen of middle class comfort and ease? We Don't Live Here Anymore by John Curran, based on the work of 1970s novelist Andre Dubuss, is the kind of compelling domestic drama that US indies do so well.
Laura Dern plays a troubled housewife, simmering with a quiet anger at the state of her marriage to the laid back academic Mark Ruffalo. Her frustrations drive her to drink and in turn he accuses her of neglecting housewife duties - the sexual politics are a mite anachronistic here too.
Laura's right to be anxious as Mark is having an affair with Naomi Watts, a relationship framed by guilt, lust and a desire to escape. Naomi's husband and Mark's best friend, Hank, makes a pass at Laura. Mark thinks this is fine, he has his own reasons to encourage an affair between Hank and his wife. It's all the messy stuff of human desires, unable to be contained within the confines of their marriages. To paraphrase filmmaker Jean Renoir, everybody has their reasons and the appeal of the film is to dissect these motivations with emotional realism.
Piracy, Piracy! It's the biggest threat to Hollywood cinema, the studio moguls cry. A new law signed by George W makes camcordering theatrical releases punishable by up to three years in prison. They say the studios are losing $3.5 billion in potential earnings each year. But overseas DVD profits are estimated to be about $11.4 billion. The lost earnings figure assumes those buying crappy copies of DVDs would be willing to shell out top dollar for the genuine article. Hollywood argues the monies lost could have been used to make better movies. Oh really? Not simply used to inflate the studios' bank accounts then? They could always drop the DVD prices to wrong foot the pirates... or am I missing something?
Cannes 2005, and more from the ever brilliant Lars Von Trier. Manderlay takes on the themes of racism, slavery and the moral hypocrisy of the US ruling class. For him it is 'quite clear' it can be seen as alluding to President Bush's efforts to impose democracy in Iraq.
Another movie influenced by the Iraq war is The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael by Thomas Clay. It ends with a controversially violent scene that has divided critics. The director justified its inclusion by saying it was about bringing home the reality of war and violence to people's ordinary experiences. Furthermore 'It's about the way that values and ideals which allow Iraq or Nicaragua to happen are being expressed in subtler ways in our own society'.
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