Thursday, 30 August 2018

CRYSTAL EYES

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time then you'll know I like a bit of giallo every now and again. Not all of them - like every genre and subgenre there are good and bad and sometimes the bad ones are very bad indeed, and I'd rather watch a good action movie than a rubbish giallo - but the best of them are some of my favourite films and even the second and third stringers usually have something memorable about them. The bonkers plotting, excessive violence, gratuitous nudity, vivid colours and cheesy lounge soundtracks can make for a pretty irresistible cocktail if you're in the mood for it. Attempts have been made to keep them going with films like Tulpa (which didn't really work but wasn't as hilariously terrible as the audience response at FrightFest 2012 suggested), Eyes Of Crystal and the Argentinian Francesca, but the traditional giallo has rather been out of fashion for a while and it seems the only way to bring it back is through nostalgia: meticulous recreation of the style and techniques as well as the genre's most familiar tropes and imagery.

Crystal Eyes (nothing to do with the aforementioned Eyes Of Crystal) is also Argentinian but it has the look, feel and sound of mid-80s giallo: not the Bava and Argento greats of the 1970s, but films like Nothing Underneath, the kind of direct-to-video fare that used to turn up on the rental shelves from Avatar Video. And they've gone to a lot of trouble to replicate that style, to the extent that if you didn't know it had been shot in 2017 then you couldn't tell it from the genuine article by looking. Setting it in the world of fashion and modelling (the stalking ground of so many gialli, from Blood And Black Lace to Strip Nude For Your Killer to The Red Queen Kills Seven Times) gives them the opportunity to go retro crazy with the terrible clothes and hair of the period as well as the electronic score.

A year after the accidental electrocution of colossally bitchy supermodel Alexis Carpenter in a freak champagne accident (giallo has never been the most rigorously realistic genre), her magazine is preparing a tribute to her...but her clothes are stolen and members of the fashion house are being viciously killed off by a masked maniac. Who could be responsible? In the end it doesn't really matter who the killer is: the joys of Crystal Eyes come from the art direction and production design achieved on a tiny budget, and not the smug satisfaction of having beaten Poirot to the correct solution. It works as a mystery anyway, with a few red herrings scattered around that I fell for, but its principal attraction is as a pin-sharp tribute to a genre gone by and on that level it's as much fun as I could have wanted.

****

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

CLIMAX

*

Let's start at the end, shall we? Such a very Gaspar Noe thing to do, to begin (as this one does) with the end credits scrolling downwards and finishing with the title, in the same way that I've started off with the star rating and left the spoiler warning till the end. Such a wacky maverick is our Gaz, such a japester: putting erupting 3D willies in Love (a film I kind of enjoyed), colossally long single takes in Enter The Void (a film I didn't much like), telling the whole story backwards in Irreversible (a film I absolutely hated)...and what now? Oh, let's have the last half hour of the film upside down. Let's do everything in dreamlike long takes. Let's back everything with a thudding, throbbing club soundtrack. Why? Because this is Un Film De Gaspar Noe.

Very few films have compelled me to bellow 15-certificate profanities into the howling wastes of Leicester Square within seconds of the lights going up, but Noe's newie managed it. Watching Climax left me feeling like I'd been poleaxed: subjected to the evil brain-mangling technique from The Ipcress File. I can't recall the last time I left a cinema so thoroughly battered and so thoroughly angry about it - probably Aronofsky's hideous Mother! (which I still refuse to put in lower case). I can't recall the last time I had the urge to just get up, walk out of the screening and not look back. Maybe I should have; I'm still wondering.

Climax, like all of Gaspar Noe's films (possibly excepting Seul Contre Tous because I haven't seen it), is not a plot-based movie. The shooting script was only five pages long and to be honest it wouldn't surprise me if the pages were A5 or A6 size because frankly you could get the whole thing on one sheet of foolscap and still leave lots of room for porny doodles. Following a successful rehearsal, a dance troupe wind down with a party, which would be great if someone hadn't spiked the sangria with LSD. From that point on, once the drugs take effect, everyone goes crazy as the party and the film spend the next hour descending into a sexual, violent and/or terpsichorean hell.

It has to be said that the young troupe fling themselves around the room and across the floor with precision and endless energy and, like a genuine stage performance, the big intricately choreographed dance number is done in one single take with no edits, and technically it's a very impressive opening. But Climax climaxes very early on with that third shot of the film: the first is a woman crawling through snow, the second is a static shot of a TV set playing interviews with all the characters (the screen is surrounded with books and VHS tapes that mirror or reference what happens later in the film). And having exhausted itself (and us) very early on it still has an hour or so of hysterical shrieking, deliberately nasty violence (including the brutal kicking of a pregnant woman) and the constant pulse of the soundtrack. You could also suggest that there are way too many characters to keep track of, none of whom are interesting and several of whom you'll want to royally slap the tar out of, but Climax isn't a character-driven film any more than it isn't a plot-driven one (we never find out who actually spiked the punch in the first place, because it doesn't matter).

Let's be fair: maybe there is a level of political allegory involved: the mixture of ethnicities, races, sexualities and attitudes could be a microcosm of French (or world) society as it breaks down - two of the black dancers bring one of the white dancers to the floor and draw a swastika on his forehead. Or maybe there's a religious allegory going on: the DJ is God and humanity/society stops dancing to his/His beat once the sangria (sang = blood) has been polluted? I mean....maybe. But wondering what it means and what things represent just reminds me of Mother! all over again.

And I don't come from the Climax background anyway. Clubs and drugs have never been part of my life and never will be. I also have no connection to that sphere of music: even if some of the names in the endless scroll of music credits were familiar to me (Gary Numan, Giorgio Moroder, Daft Punk), the tracks themselves certainly weren't. The world of Climax is not my world. But the worlds of most movies aren't my world either: that's the point of movies, but the makers usually allow me a way in. Noe doesn't. So it's not surprising that the film feels like an ordeal: deliberately offputting, deliberately uncomfortable, deliberately and meticulously constructed to make me not like it. If that was the intention, then congratulations: you more than succeeded.

CONTAINS LES SPOILERS

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

GOLD

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND ROGERING

I love Gold. Not the Matthew McConaughey one, which I haven't seen yet but possibly might get round to at some point if there's not much else going on that day (it's really not high on my priority list), but the Roger Moore one from back in the 70s. I'll absolutely accept that it's not the greatest film ever made, it's probably not in anyone's Top Hundred... but for all the things wrong with it it will always be a film I have an entirely unreasonable soft spot for.

Well, maybe not entirely unreasonable. Having spent some childhood years in Malawi in the 1970s, and having enjoyed brief stops in coastal South Africa itself, I suppose such fondness is perfectly logical and only to be expected. At the time Gold played (censored) in Malawi cinemas I wasn't allowed to see it as I was only ten years old, and the film was obviously compromised on its later British VHS video release (the cut UK cinema version, cropped to 4:3 and atrociously pan-and-scanned) and screenings on ITV, where it was also cut. So it wasn't until recently, when an uncut widescreen DVD turned up (given away free on the front of the Daily Mail, of all things), that Gold could be properly appreciated.

There's a lot to enjoy, certainly: the magnificent Sir Roger Moore at his "how much more Roger Moore could he be?" peak, the gorgeous South African locations (including a flight through Oribi Gorge which always brings back memories of having been there and having stood on the Overhanging Rock), excellent villainy from the great Bradford Dillman, a rousing score by Elmer Bernstein that for me at least easily surpasses his more popular soundtracks such as The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape and is probably my favourite of his scores, the architecture of 1970s downtown Jo'burg, and love scenes between Rog and Susannah York that are slightly raunchier than those from his Bond films (and as much the reason for the 12 certificate as the slightly more grisly level of violence). There are Bond connections to enjoy beyond Moore: credits by Maurice Binder, three sets of song lyrics from Don Black, direction by Peter Hunt, 2nd Unit and editing from John Glen.

Okay, you can perhaps set against all that the controversy surrounding the film's production, openly shot in apartheid South Africa against the accepted standards of the time, but frankly it's too long ago to stay angry about it. It's mostly about the white guys but apart from just one full-on bellowing racist maniac character the colour issue is pretty much ignored (though it's odd to note that the one signifncantly featured black character gets a special annual pension for heroism that's less than Moore's character's monthly paternity bill). There's also some nastiness to the plotting, in which John Gielgud's international syndicate of bastards engineers a mine disaster to boost their shares in rival gold suppliers, and he casually arranges a parcel-bomb for a family Christmas breakfast because one of the members had offloaded his shares early (thus blowing up an uncredited Patsy Kensit) which leaves a sour taste, and beyond his scheme failing he doesn't get his comeuppance. Yes, but you know what? I don't care. There's so much good stuff I like about it, even if a lot of it is down to the location and period and personal nostalgia, that I can put up with the dodgy bits. Moore was always worth watching even in rubbish films, and for me Gold is one of his better ones.

****

LET THE CORPSES TAN

CONTAINZZZZZ ZZZZZPOILERZZZZZ

Disclaimer: I might have fallen asleep. I don't generally (although I thought I had when I saw Joseph Kahn's Detention at a late FrightFest screening, only to rent the DVD months later and find that I hadn't nodded off at all, it was actually like that) unless I'm really, genuinely, cataclysmically bored out of my head - and I'm afraid that I may well have been drifting in and out of this one. Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani have always gone for visual style rather than narrative content: the films are absolutely, astonishingly beautiful, with pretty much any frame being worthy of a gallery wall. Amer had no plot to speak of, just a trio of isolated, inconsequential moments in a young girl's life brought to the screen with the sublime visual artistry of peak Argento. The Strange Colour Of Your Body's Tears had the starting point of a story, with a husband arriving home to find his wife missing, but then broke down into the illogic of dreams, albeit magnificently designed and photographed.

The problem with Let The Corpses Tan is that it has a much more obvious narrative but this time the visual style gets in the way. It still looks great, but this time around there's an actual drama you're supposed to be interested in - and I wasn't. Too busy looking at it to get involved. A gang of thieves with a quarter of a ton of bullion hide out in a coastal villa, but they're not the only ones there: an author and his muse and a couple of local gendarmes. (This last sentence had to be constructed with the help of the IMDb because in all honesty the film's plot has largely drained out of my memory, leaving only fragments like last night's dream.)

A compilation soundtrack from Morricone, Cipriani, Fidenco and Frizzi make for some compensation, but it doesn't work dramatically: the music gives the film some feeling of Eurocrime and vintage Italian exploitation but the photography and pacing have none of the required grit, energy and urgency. Similarly, the crisp facial closeups and dazzling teal skies suck you into the film's beauty, but they act as a distraction from the narrative that includes graphic gunshot violence and bloody gore shots. I really wanted to like it, hoping that a strong A-Z story would thrive under Cattet and Forzani's visual eye, but the end result is a film that doesn't seem to know what it is: art movie or action thriller. A pity.

*