Having been away attending the Film and History conference in Chicago this week, I’ve found myself needing to catch up on my work, my sleep, and my consumption of healthy food. Plus, I find my blog gathering moss in my absence. I don’t have time to write an involved article that you might find useful or interesting, so I’m just going to write one of my random stop-gap posts to keep the blog-ball rolling.
I thought about writing about The Happening, which, stuck for better options, I watched on the plane. I don’t like those little screens, but I don’t find it easy to sleep or read on planes, so Tuesy and I watched something that we probably wouldn’t have watched otherwise.
The reviews for M. Night Shyamalan’s latest film were pretty dire, and I’d grown tired of him a while ago. I still think Unbreakable is one of the best superhero movies ever made. It’s beautifully composed, slow, weighty and clearly built out of love for the genre – unlike TV’s Heroes, it makes a fine stab at imagining a superheroic body in a real environment, without resorting to CGI, flying or external underwear. Signs started off along similar lines, showing an alien invasion of Earth in exactly the way most of us would actually experience it – cowering in the basement, poring over CNN for glimpses of the unfolding catastrophe. But it lost me at the point where our protagonists, rather than being sideline observers, turned out to be God’s chosen people for thwarting the attack with the least plausible weapons imaginable (if exposure to water is fatal to you, you’d better make sure that you don’t invade when it’s raining – and try not to breath in any air, either). It was Catholic moralising smuggled in under a cloak genre deconstruction.
But I still admire Shyamalan’s ability to craft a creepy, spine-chilling set-piece – it’s worth remembering how important The Sixth Sense was in making quiet, shivering foreboding fashionable again at a time when horror films were stuck in a rut of self-aware knife-wielding maniacs. The Happening has a few such moments, in scenes where characters, afflicted by a mysterious viral condition, start to kill themselves with whatever they have to hand. A cop kills himself with his service revolver, which is picked up by the next person to pass by his corpse, setting up a domino cascade of identical deaths. A man calmy lies down in the path of a rogue lawnmower. It’s the matter-of-fact display of macabre moments that makes these scenes effective: Shyamalan recognises the uncanny shudder that can be induced when the supernatural is made to seem like an ordinary occurrence, the world shifted only slightly off balance. It’s an interesting idea to have a faux-9/11 emergency caused by an invisible foe: far be it from me to tell a film-maker how to do his job, but it would surely have been more pertinent to leave it all unexplained, its source phantomic, if indeed the subject is paranoia in a modern, self-interested society. I won’t give away the solution, save to say that it’s quite laughable. And Mark Whalberg’s performance is jaw-droppingly dopey. His “romantic” exchanges with Zooey Deschanel sound like the random dream-state musings of head-trauma in-patients that occasionally coincide by chance. It did help me to sleep, though, and that’s probably the worst things you can say about a purportedly scary movie.
Oh, I thought I wasn’t going to write about The Happening? Too late. It’s a terrible film, but still not as terrible as its reviews might have suggested. Then again, nothing short of a syphilitic death could have been as bad as those reviews. I just wanted to mention Empire magazine‘s latest cover, and explain why it sits at the top of this post. I had meant to cancel my subscription to Empire a long time ago. I’ve been a regular reader since it launched in 1989; I’d been reading Film Review since A Passage to India was on the cover (though I seem to remember I was more keen on The Neverending Story, which was also featured, and which has just been given one of those 80s nostalgia DVD re-releases), and Empire just seemed a lot brighter, cooler and better written. I outgrew it, bored to distraction by its endless “Best Ever…” lists and its unhealthy reverence for George Lucas. But it also became my casual half-awake reading fodder, just as some academics I know happily give their brains some downtime with a flick through Heat magazine or Take a Break! or some such. Anyway, to cut this shaggy dog story short, I was about to cancel my subscription to the magazine which I barely read anymore (perhaps I was just hoping that a complete set of back-issues might some day be worth something to some over-monied, eBay-trawling nerd), when they suddenly win me back by saying nice things about my book in a four-star review in their latest issue, and I decided to give them a reprieve until… no, that’s not what I wanted to blog about either. No more shameless book plugging, I promise!
What I really wanted to do in this post was ask a question. I haven’t been following the build up to J.J. Abram’s Star Trek, which is no doubt the subject of a locust-storm of speculation and viral marketing. So, I’m hoping someone can fill me in. I haven’t seen Star Trek since I was a child, except for rewatching the first two movies for research purposes, so I may be missing something, but can anyone explain why, judging from the cover-shot of Spock and Kirk, the new film seems to be performed by a sixth-form drama group? Personally, I think they should have gone the whole hog and gotten Screech from Saved by the Bell to play Spock. That would have been really brave.
Sorry if this post wasted your time. I plead jet-lag, and I just wanted to keep things ticking over.
My understanding is that the new Star Trek film is supposed to get back to Star Trek’s roots, whatever those are. Spock is being played by the fellow who does Sylar on Heroes, Scotty is being played by Simon Pegg and Kirk’s mother (that’s right!) is being played by Jennifer Morrison, of House fame. So it’s an all-star cast. Sort of. A coming of age teenpic/action movie doesn’t seem like an obvious creative direction for Star Trek to me, but I’m no Hollywood mogul so what do I know.
Whilst we’re busy destroying childhood memories, Wikipedia tells me that Screech has grown up into some kind of porn star. So he probably wouldn’t have been available anyway.
Reboots of major film franchises in recent years largely seem to have gotten off the bus at the corner of dark and gritty and it’s vaguely reassuring to me to see one leap off madly at the junction between remedial and cheese.
Yeah, maybe I come across as an old fogey when I say “Aren’t the Star Trek cast getting younger these days?” But they do look like children on the Empire cover. They should have trouble borrowing dad’s car for the evening, let alone piloting a starship.
His work is kind of trashy, but J.J. Abrams could be seen as one of those old-fashioned Hollywood ideas-men, a go-to guy for high concepts. Like Roger Corman with money, or William Castle with a suit jacket and a Starbucks tie-in.
I dread to think of the titles they thought up for the Screech-porn franchise… Yikes.
No way, you still subscribe to Empire? I guess Sight & Sound is my half-awake reading fodder, as it doesn’t usually offer much more these days. Cineaste, Film Comment and Film Quarterly are always solid, but I cherish my subscriptions to Vertigo and Cinema Scope more than anything else (the latter is unquestionably the best English language film magazine around). CineAction! is great, and it’s a real shame that the library doesn’t hold a subscription – the new issue has a lengthy piece on art cinema & Honour of the Knights (by Adam Bingham, who teaches at Sheffield Hallam) as well as Robin Wood on I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone. Could we get one, actually?
As for Star Trek, those airbrushed squirts on the cover look like they’ve just wandered in from the set of High School Musical. It looks lame.
Have you seen the new Bond yet? It’s remarkably ‘fast’, deeply indebted to the Bourne school of hyper-intensified continuity. The opening car chase sequence gives Ultimatum a run for its money…
Hey, don’t try and shame me!
It is about time we updated the library’s subscriptions. I remember telling them to cancel Film Review, but they may have carried it on, just to be completists.
I still hold a candle for Sight and Sound. It’s been so important to British film culture: I just wish they’d expand the letters page – I always get a kick out of its pedantry. The new issue of Film International (to be honest, I haven’t really read it before) has a good article on festival communities, and it’s at a special offer price of £3. Woohoo.
I haven’t seen the new Bond. The car chase in Bourne Supremacy was better than Ultimatum though – apparently the local authorities forbade them from driving over 30mph, so they had to suggest the speed through “camera tricks”. Still haven’t seen anything to top The French Connection, though I did like the brief low-speed, jump-start chase in Children of Men. Nice twist on the genre staple.
I was trying to watch some Im Kwon-Taek movies before I got snowed under with work this week. I’d recommend his ‘pansori’ movies, Sopyonje and Chunhyang if you haven’t seen them. The singer/narrator’s voice in the latter is astonishing.
Ah, yes, I had a look at the new issue of Film International in the BFI store and should have picked it up. Wallflower are devoting one of their Dekalog volumes to festivals next year, and it should be really good (an expanded version of Mark Peranson’s excellent article in the last Cineaste will be in it, for one thing). They had a special issue on Bazin a while ago as well – must check it out. Perhaps I’m being harsh on S&S, but when I hunt through back issues I start to pine for the older days. Nick James is no Gavin Lambert or Penelope Houston.
It’s ridiculous that the library has a subscription to Film Review and not Cinema Scope, CineAction!, Vertigo, etc. To be fair, I’m probably the only one who follows them, but that’s besides the point!
I ordered the Im Kwon-Taek set, but haven’t got round to it yet! Going to work my way through some Hong again next week – his new film Night & Day is superb, very relaxed and totally assured. Easily one of the best things I saw at LFF.
‘Scuse me, mate, but most of the cast of Star Trek is at least late 20’s-early 30’s, around the same age as the original actors in the 1960’s show. Obviously you’ve been so used to the characters of the previous TV shows/movies. that any young person is a threat to you. Well, they’re not a threat to me or anybody else, and I think that they did a great job essaying who Kirk & Co. would be as young people. At least Berman & Braga weren’t involved behind the scenes this time.
Hi, Solex – thanks for stopping by. I hope it was clear that the post was written before the film was released, and that my comment was a jokey observation that they looked extremely young. Yes, it’s probably because I’m a lot older than when I last watched Star Trek. I also thought they did a great job, and it should have made a bigger star of Zoe Saldana, even though she ultimately had very little to do by the end of the film.