Friday, October 29, 2004

The House of Flying Daggers

Zhang Yimou’s Hero was a Martial Art House movie; his follow-up is an action melodrama of betrayal and deception spiced with visceral violence and a disconcerting amount of dry-humping. Any number of rude assaults upon Zhang Ziyi’s wardrobe leave one shoulder bared and afford her the chance to deploy a now-familiar cringe of sullied virtue and school-girl reproach; Broog rapidly tired of this somewhat depressing method of wooing the lead female, and longed for an opportunity to introduce these gongfu fratboys to the concept of gender equality using his primary grasping limbs, a jar of honey, and nine thousand stinging ants.

As with Hero, the fight scenes are affecting, but the stylised face-through-raindrops approach is gone, replaced by a more conventional (if excellently realised) format. A powerful scene in a forest of bamboo remains lodged in Broog’s mind, but is not enough to make up for the fact that this is at root an extremely silly film in which people with knives buried to the hilt in their major organs trot around like playful antelopes when it is convenient for them to do so, and the plot-twists take on an Agatha Christie feel. Broog was tempted to lean forward and cry “I’m not lefthanded either!” or “I am your Father!”, but by then had fallen victim to a deep attack of not caring. Mei’s shocking final gambit aside, the movie is unexceptional, and even this moment of pathos is overshadowed by the inherent ridiculousness of what has gone before. Where Hero’s characters brought epic scale to their personal relationships, these protagonists bring the behaviour of teenagers to the battlefield. All that said, this picture moves away from poetry towards narrative, and - if it represents a director in transition - promises a next film which could renew the genre established by Crouching Tiger. Preferably without the dry-humping.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Alien vs. Predator

This movie burst from its stinky fondant egg in August, since which time Broog has been chasing it around with a sharp stick hoping to skewer and devour the thing before it can impregnate any Earth humans and breed more of its facile kind. Before dealing with the flick itself, Broog will take a moment to examine the heroes of the past.


Ridley Scott’s brooding original was infused with a sense of menace and laced with betrayal, paranoia, and fear. The comely alien infant exploded from John Hurt’s stomach and was met with prejudice and violence before finally being expelled by the admirably furious and desperate Ripley. The movie feels like The Shining in space, and exudes the same simple and horrible perfection of the pulp genre as Jaws.


The first sequel is effectively a war movie. Tiny humans assail an alien world and get eaten, paving the way for a girl-fight which rattles the chandeliers. Cameron’s film is tense, nervous, and once again washed with paranoia; someone made this happen on purpose.

Alien 3

The third movie takes away the heavy weapons and leaves our heroine stranded on a prison world to fight her nemeses. By now the feeling of deja vu is becoming overwhelming and the movie confronts it head-on; this is not Bruce Willis’s John McClane finding himself in another violent yet humourous situation, but Weaver’s increasingly traumatised Ripley who eventually must face her ultimate personal nightmare. Somehow, though, the franchise feels as if it has gone astray.

Alien: Resurrection

Jeunet’s movie consolidates Broog’s feeling of cinematic wonkiness. Despite a promising premise, strong performances and the ‘Aliens on their way to Earth’ ticking clock, the picture somehow loses its edge and even the perfect dolphin-skin gleam of multiple monsters cannot restore the sense of menace. The final creature is grotesque rather than appalling, and the energy is gone once Ripley writhes ecstatically in a bed of goo. Alien: Emmanuelle is not what we came to see.


The ultimate muscular showdown, McTiernan’s much-imitated no-brainer possessed a plain, testosterone charm. No noirish intensity here, just two non-verbal hardasses stalking one another with implements of mayhem. Sadly, despite repeated efforts, Broog has been unable to locate the reputed out-take in which the hero refers to his enemy as a metrosexual and suggests that he is a ‘big Girlymonster’.

Predator 2

A follow-up of questionable merit, the second movie took itself to L.A. and replaced the meaty Governor-of-California-to-be with cop Danny Glover. Somewhat incredibly, the human is not eaten at any point.


All of which brings Broog a reluctant full circle to Aliens vs. Predator. Your critic entered the Chamber of Viewing with dim hopes that beneath what was clearly a popcorn sales tactic there might lurk a scary and many-levelled cinematic experience which could balance the Alpha Male circus of Predator with the visceral nightmare of girl-Alien-on-girl-human combat which was the Alien franchise. And if you believe Broog’s hopes were fulfilled, Broog has some magic beans you might wish to exchange for a cow.

AVP is not an Alien movie. The intelligence which never deserted that franchise is entirely absent. Where much of the horrified tension of the Alien films derived from the moments between impregnation and eruption, here human chests burst swiftly and mostly off screen, lest we get uncomfortable. The parasexual element of Alien was always a source of deep unease, Giger’s chimera echoing Cronenberg’s body horror distortions. This movie is sanitised - like Professional Wrestling, it is campy and safe. In other words, AVP is the sequel to the clean cut and masculine Predator duology. Even here, however, the dumbing down has an adverse effect. If the Aliens are no longer scary, the Predators - essentially students in the process of flunking their badass exam - cannot be frightening either. In short, this sesquipadillion-earning hit should be reprocessed and fed to voles.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

Kerry Conran’s Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is subtle and nuanced. On the one hand it is a study of psychopathy, on the other, a pulp SF thriller. The richly-rendered CG backdrops which surround his anti-hero Polly Perkins (Paltrow) convey her sense of the world’s unreality, and his masterful use of a barrage of crossfades lends support to her perception of her own ontological uniqueness. Everything Perkins does - from her reported attempt to murder her lover (Jude Law) by sabotage to her decision to conceal vital clues which could save the entire Earth from doom - can be explained by reference to her own staggering egocentrism, which is so powerful as to eclipse all empathy and render her the perfect amoral being.

Harder to comprehend are the reactions of others to this flailing infant psyche. Her editor loves her, and the eponymous Sky Captain is caught in her strange web of psychosexual angst and mutual-betrayal-as-love, despite the presence in his life of the infinitely more attractive and capable Franky (Angelina Jolie), whose virtues include improbably sultry lips, better dress sense, and her very own flying battlegroup. With all due respect to Ms. Paltrow, Broog feels a lack of sympathy for any human male who cannot make the obvious choice: feed Polly to the random saurians and shack up with Franky in her mighty airborne lovenest.

The action element is equally frustrating. Sky Captain can fly from New York to Nepal without refuelling, but cannot make it from one part of that tiny country to another without a pit stop; military resources are stretched so thin that the nations of the world turn to a mercenary with a volcano hide-out to save them, but the Brits have a fleet of technobehemoths ready to lend out on a whim. Physics is conveniently mutable for the demands of what story there is, depriving the jeopardy of bite. People pop into and out of the narrative with only the briefest mention of their intervening travails, and supply answers to otherwise intractable problems as if gifted by the Gods. Conran’s mastery of CG does not excuse his lack of skill in the deployment of directorial commonplaces - there’s no sense of physical reality to be had from his shots. It is as if the non-existent walls get in the way of his setups and prevent him from revealing the world of his dreams. Law and Paltrow, unable to see the vistas which surround them, are off-key, out of whack with their surroundings, and frequently mellow when they should be tense. This is pulp SF using the genre as an excuse for its shortcomings rather than a springboard for genius. Broog’s verdict: proof of concept good, movie not good, writer/director needs to be chained to a film school and ridden like a pony.