Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Cold Fever

It pleases Broog greatly when he is able to thrust aside the ineffectual resistance of your puny marketing machines and roil the smooth, ignorant flow of blinkered movie-going which is the lot of the average tiny human. The Great Critic, Equalled by None, is therefore delighted to draw to your miniscule and wretched attention this beautiful and unlikely road movie.

Set in Iceland, Cold Fever follows the pilgrimage of Masatoshi Nagase’s Hirata to the spot where his parents died. Hirata’s understandable desire to play golf in Hawaii rather than visit the frigid waste is swiftly submerged by the incredible landscape and the cheery lunacy of those he meets along the way. Many directors would have made Iceland itself the star of the show, and many actors would have had no chance of outshining that worthy volcanic island, but Fridriksson is no fool and affords the scenery only the time it needs before handing the movie squarely to his capable star. Nagase’s bewildered and mournful Hirata carries the narrative to a beautiful and moving consummation in the wilderness, leaving us richer in spirit. Broog requires that you go out and find this feast of the heart, rather than languishing in the pit and waiting for the well-marketed horrors of the inevitable SWAT 2: SWAT vs. The French.

Monday, September 27, 2004


Some filmmakers make narrative, others make art. Broog is by and large in favour of the immediate and painful execution of the latter, who plumb the depths of sepia melancholy and shunt the unwilling carriages of the mind into the sidings of depression using a locomotive powered by social guilt, angst, and experimental dance. The typical movie of this kind would have a name like Happy For A Day, and take the form of a meditation on creative block and sexual desolation rendered metaphorically by the protagonist watching a simmering kettle while performing jazz tap to a silent score, before finally killing himself with an overdose of laughing gas.

Hero would be this kind of movie if it weren’t for the fact that it kicks six different kinds of ass.

Rich, succulent, stylised, this is martial arts with the emphasis on art. The fight scenes are gorgeous, the excitement tempered only by a mournful, thoughtful soundtrack which seems to suggest that it’s all very well until someone gets hurt. Three different renderings of the same sequence of events provide a scanty plot framework within which the stars speculate on the connections between spirit and violence, then demonstrate the finer points of philosophical disputation with sharp-edged implements and lethal genius. There’s a sense of painful inevitability and loss, and a wistful suggestion of a better world without weapons running through the entire drama, but the story seems destined for tragedy whichever way you turn.

Layered, slow, elegant, a visual feast with a minimal plot, this would be the sort of thing Broog would go miles to avoid if it weren’t a stunning fight picture which somehow keeps you from chewing off your neighbour’s leg during the slow bits. Poetry in motion.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

The Star Wars Trilogy (Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, The Return Of The Jedi)

It is not Broog’s habit to write about the release of movies on Digital Versatile Disc, because Broog is very large and possessed of significant majesty and aesthetic genius, while television is a puny and wretched medium which encourages the creation of such dross as “America’s Dumbest Pastry Chefs” and “Men Who Sleep With Tiny Women Only To Discover They Are Garden Gnomes”. However, such is the significance of the original Star Wars trilogy in the world of film that the Arbiter of Artistic Truth will deign to recognise the long-awaited release with a few words.

The Star Wars series (from IV to VI) is a simple yet powerful heroic epic. The harsh Imperial uniforms and architecture recall Earth’s own totalitarian stylings in their ominous chic, and Alec Guinness’s Obi-Wan remains the finest on-screen teacher of mysteries western cinema has produced, the yardstick by which Morpheus of The Matrix and Mr. Miyagi from Karate Kid are measured. The new release sadly includes the bizarre alterations the ever-restless human Lucas has made to the flick: Greedo shoots first, and Obi-Wan’s initial entrance is preceded not by the sound of a howling monster but by a high-pitched yipping which suggests one of the Sand People has brought his miniature poodle along for the ride. None of which alters the fact that this is the story which still defines science fiction film.

The Empire Strikes Back is reckoned by film students and others of that dubious ilk to be the best of the three, in much the same way that this kind of human asserts a preference for the second Godfather movie; the middle picture in both cases is darker, more complex, and benefits from the first having done all the hard work of setting up a universe and introducing the characters. Return Of The Jedi is the least satisfactory, featuring as it does a clan of heavily-armed muppets whose initial intention of eating our heroes is transformed with the aid of some basic H. Rider Haggard ‘colonialist tricks to play on the savage races’ into a mighty alliance of rebel intent and guerilla know-how. The hilarious results somewhat weaken the pathos of the battle for Luke’s soul taking place high above.

All in all, Broog remains pleased by the movies, though he could do without the obsessive tinkering and the insane decision to include in the reworked version of Star Wars a sequence with a digitally created Jabba The Hutt which re-uses dialogue already heard in the earlier scene in the cantina. The originals are still the best. The prequels, however, should be avoided the way you avoid areas of river where the logs watch you with hungry eyes.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Billion Dollar Brain

Human memory is brief and psychologically distinct from human behaviour. Thus your runtish and bathetic civilisations sometimes repeat old dramas with the same verve with which the Hollywood machine inevitably remakes perfectly acceptable cinema in the image of cheap trash. Thusfar exempt from this sad trend is Ken Russell’s 1967 trenchcoater, in which the windswept Caine does what he did best as disreputable but indispensable Harry Palmer. The plot is too ludicrous to concern us here, featuring as it does a deranged Texas oil baron who despises Europe and believes himself to be embarking on a Crusade to free the world from an enemy whose evil makes this the only issue worth considering. Ed Begley’s General Midwinter is somewhere between a Nazi and a Klansman in his demagoguery, and his powerful orations are the disturbing core of this otherwise jaunty and soft-hearted espionage flimflam. Broog can only approve of Midwinter’s murderous approach to political debate, but was disappointed to note that no one is eaten during the course of the drama, although the pleasingly proportioned and admirably deceptive female Dorleac looks on several occasions as if she may devour Caine in one rubious bite. Fine entertainment with a sobering centre, much like eating live dolphins.

Thursday, September 16, 2004


Nazis, elder gods, and pyrokinetics; a demon who files his horns with an industrial sander in order to fit in; milk and cookies: it can only be Hellboy. Broog went in with moderate expectations and emerged moderated. It is mysterious that a movie so obviously not destined for the shelves of the Bible Belt Video Club should play it so safe. Ron Perlman’s seven foot bad-ass infant is likeable, indestructible, and droll. The human Jones, voicing Abe Sapien, is slightly droller. Selma Blair is moderately conflicted as the exploding female Sherman. Bridget Hodson is fairly sexual as nefarious Nazi-ette Ilsa. Broog was concerned that he had accidentally wandered into a screening of Aliens vs. Frasier. If this movie were a building, it would be a bondage club which someone has inexplicably decorated in brown suede.

Friday, September 10, 2004

I, Robot

This is a movie of contradictions. There is so much product placement that the flick occasionally takes on the character of an ad break. The opening sequence touting branded footwear is so desperate as to verge on the tragic, and since it has no consequences in the film, Broog can only assume that the company in question paid through the secondary respiratory orifice for that much up front time. Your critic cordially hopes that the investment cripples their budget for the year and leads to those responsible being sold to him in burlap sacks for use as ballast.

On the other hand, the movie itself is engaging and exciting. Alex Proyas was responsible for the eerie and excellent Dark City, and his ability to convey a sense of sharks circling beneath placid water is once again in evidence in this more mainstream outing. More surprising is that Will Smith allows us to see him far less cozy and cuddly than ever before, and even his wisecracking has some sharp edges. Bridget Moynahan handles the chilly Susan Calvin well, and the Robot in question is an affecting blend of human and CG. Broog oohed and aaaahed and was entertained, but the film ultimately leaves you wondering what these people will achieve if they really cut loose.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

The Motorcycle Diaries

The face of Che Guevara is frequently to be seen on tight shirts worn by male and female trendinistas, but before there was a legend, there was of course a tiny human male who was something of a putz. Ernesto (not yet “Che”) is naive, gentle, idealistic, and desperate to get laid. Do not invest your hard-earned currency counters if you are expecting a mighty and moving drama of the forging of a Socialist Icon. This is instead a coming-of-age movie set in rural South America and touching on angers and debates which persist into the present. The performances are excellent, the images elegant, the young hero's asthma fiercely visceral. As travelogue and as documentary, this picture has much to recommend it, although Broog would have been glad to see more in the way of Che’s future as a contrast to Ernesto’s past. It is frustrating to be presented with the boy who is father to the man, replete with knowing nods to the future, and to be offered no picture of how these experiences affected the legend without whose weighty reputation it is unlikely the Motorcycle Diaries would have been filmed. In other words, Broog is delighted to see the young Che playing football with lepers, but feels cheated by a movie about a revolutionist which contains no revolution.

Monday, September 06, 2004

The Chronicles of Riddick

Pitch Black was a movie made on a smallish budget which contrived to be both exciting and just a little smarter than the average bear. The almost messianic and hypnotic voice of Vin Diesel drew us in from the outset, seducing and chilling in equal measure; more basic and less comforting than Fishburne’s Morpheus in The Matrix, Riddick ended up leading a ragtag band of survivors across the desert towards possible escape, and the question of whether Vin’s oiled convict was as bad as we were told, or whether he was a big bald teddy bear waiting to emerge from his monosyllabic and menacing cocoon, occupied any slack space between the assaults of scary monsters. The end result was something of a draw, leaving the ground open for further discussion of his possible sainthood and likely damnation.

Thus we arrive at the slaughterhouse of epic action cinema known as ‘The Chronicles of Riddick’, in which a religious militant hair-stylist played by Colm Feore brings uncomfortable clothing and bad coiffure to millions of innocents. Broog will not spoil the movie for you by detailing the plot, so here it is: Riddick goes in search of Jack, a child who was one of his protectees in Pitch Black. Jack has been put in prison and has transformed from a gawky androgyn to an entirely acceptably proportioned female jailbird with a laudable desire to scourge any foolish males who may take her washboard abdominals and rubious lips as an invitation to dance the horizontal hot-boy-human-on-girl-human-action dance. At the same time, the evil hairdresser emperor has despatched a brigade of mulleted supersoldiers to kill Riddick in case his male-pattern baldness threatens the emperor’s follicular hegemony. The consequences of this decision culminate in Riddick stabbing him in the head with a ceremonial cuticle knife, and therefore being offered the throne of the Universe.

There are islands of fun, but they are so few and far between as to add to the desolate Sargasso Sea of tedium. The interestingly amoral and capricious Riddick of Pitch Black is replaced by a crying-on-the-inside misfit who probably only wants to be loved, and the feral monsters of the darkness give way to armoured cannonfodder and little creepy humans with unusual noses. Sound and fury, big sets and small ideas, very, very bad hair; Broog was forcibly reminded of Highlander 2.