Oscar Fever: Gasland

With the Oscars a mere 15 days away it’s maybe time to start casting our eyes over the flicks in the running. Last night I looked at the Best Documentary Feature nominee Gasland.

The USA is an energy hungry place, everyone knows that. The question is, how far will they go to secure and extract their own resources? Josh Fox’s film goes some way to providing the answer, and it’s not an answer that will give comfort to anyone with environmental concerns.

America’s desire to move away from it’s reliance on foreign energy (they’re maybe getting sick of all that expensive fighting) has led to the discovery and subsequent extraction of natural gas reserves held beneath US soil. The scale of these reserves are huge and although no timescale is given as to how long this bounty will last, the map coverage of the gas is immense and covers most of the US landmass.

So this is a good thing, no? Cleaner than oil and obtainable without treading on the toes of nations who don’t like you. This is surely the best option? Well, you would think so, until you witness the impact the extraction process is having on the people who live close to the wells.

Natural gas is tricky to get out of the ground and requires a process called Hydraulic Fracturing, or “Fracking”. This involves drilling into shale beds deep beneath the ground and pumping vast amounts of chemical laden water into the ground to literally fracture the shale surrounding the bore hole. This violent rupturing releases the gas. Landholders across the US were contacted and offered money by the energy companies to lease their land for drilling. For most, the promise of zero environmental impact and thousands of dollars was too tempting to pass up.

Josh Fox was also offered a deal to put a well on his land. New York state plans to start drilling and this was the catalyst for his voyage of discovery. Visiting houses with wells on their doorsteps he is shown example after example of environmental devastation. Water that comes out of the tap brown and sludge-like. Water that stinks of chemicals and is undrinkable. Water you can literally set on fire.

It’s difficult to see how they’re going to repair the damage.

And that’s to say nothing of the fumes from the drill sites. Fox meets numerous people who have respitory and brain ailments, all of which were never aparent before the drilling started.

“Prove it was caused by us” say the energy companies………

It’s an incredibly subtle, powerful piece of work. Ordinary people recount their experiences with incredible humility. There is precious little vitriol which is astounding considering what these people are going through. Every story told is a small piece of a HUGE, disturbing picture. Just like each small gas well (for there are 10’s of thousands) is a small part of a terrible problem.

The scale on which the United Stated is undertaking this programme is staggering and, thanks to George Bush and Dick Cheney (Ex CEO of Halliburton of course) the work was passed with exeptions from the clean air and water laws. Laws designed to not only protect the people, but the earth and it’s life giving commodities.

Will this film win the Oscar? Probably not. It is a fine example of direct action filmmaking though. Catch it if you can.

Trailer:

The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant

Forrays into the cinema of Rainer Werner Fassbinder are often fraught with traps and dangerous corners that leave you feeling lucky to have got out in one piece. My virgin voyage into his world was via QUERELLE, his final film made in 1982. This baptism of fire had me hanging out with oiled up sailors (a look that would be heavily borrowed by Jean Paul Gaultier) in an overtly homosexual murder intrigue. The next sample was taken from earlier in his career, 1974’s FEAR EATS THE SOUL, a reworking of Douglas Sirk’s ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS. This film saw him disregard the technicolor beauty of the original setting and decend on a grimy urban flat where frowned upon cross racial relations were added to the taboo of significant age difference. I mean, just consider the two titles: ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS ….. FEAR EATS THE SOUL. 4 words each with polar opposite effects on the psyche.

Both of these flicks, for all their hard work, are strangely rewarding. As is his 1972 film THE BITTER TEARS OF PETRA VON KANT.

Petra Von Kant (Played by Margit Carstensen) is an apparently successful fashion designer, she has the outrageously stylish gowns, she takes the important calls, she has a long suffering PA / Maid / Co designer (Irm Hermann) who caters to her every whim without a word spoken, and I mean literally. The girl, Marlene is her name, says NOTHING the whole flick but is a constant presence. Hovering, typing, serving. All the while with a steely, unnerving calm that forces you to evaluate the importance she holds in Petra’s life. Marlene appears to show no emotion but you know she is wracked with them. She reminds me very much, from a purely expressive point of view, of the masked Alida Valli in George Franju’s eerie 1960 flick, EYES WITHOUT A FACE.

The ever loyal Marlene

The Bitter Tears is just over 2 hours long and is set entirely in Von Kant’s bedroom space. Over this time we are exposed to her every contradiction. She’s strong yet pathetic, successful yet a failure, kind yet caustic. The single location potentially creates boredom issues and there are points when the stilted dialogue demands a lot of the audience but we are rescued by a cluttered visual style which includes hugely differing wall decoration, mannequins, random clutter, bizarre costume and wig changes, (Petra’s hair changes in every scene) exquisite framing, camera movement and character placement, all of which keep the eye stimulated whilst this awkward scenario unfolds.

During the visit of a cousin, Von Kant is introduced to her friend Karin (Hanna Schygulla) with whom she immediately falls in love. On the pretense of discussing a potential modeling job, she invites Karin back where a mini courtship ensues and Karin is invited to move in. Although Von Kant’s fragility is alluded to in previous scenes, it is the arrival of Karin that proves cataclysmic. There is a real special directorial flourish here that really floats my boat and should be looked for if you happen to view the film. Look out for a HUGE power swing over the span of a single cut. One would assume that, being adapted directly from a play, this point would be an act change, and it is cinematically of course. The juddering effect of such a theatrical approach on screen is extremely pleasing.

The final act of the film is not easy to watch. There seems to be a desperation in Fassbinder’s characters. He himself was a troubled individual and this comes through in the work. Nevertheless, it is not impossible to feel sympathy for these people. The darkest recesses of the human emotional spectrum are sought out and pulled to the fore here. As an audience, we recognise, and perhaps forgive them because it is when we are at our most emotionally venerable that we are capable of actions far beyond what would be perceived as normal.

The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant can be rented here

Or bought here and here

Resident Evil: Afterlife

IN EYE POPPING 3D!! ……..

…….. Sheer rubbish.

Bedevilled

Mitchell Leisens’ 1955 effort BEDEVILLED is not without it’s problems but, being his penultimate film before going into television, presents an accommodating audience with enough to at least make it interesting.

There’s little written about this film, IMDb have only a dusting of reviews, all bad, and the normally thorough database people have even neglected to mention the involvement of Art Director Alfred Junge who dealt with the art department on Hitchcock’s original version of THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH and on King Vidor’s THE CITADEL.

Steve Forrest stars as Gregory Fitzgerald, a highly unlikely looking priest to be. One can only assume that this casting choice was deliberate as the conflict between religious destiny and temptation is the central theme of the film. Accompanied by a fellow apprentice, he flies to France for a 3 day stopover before heading to the seminary which will see him robed. The plane journey provides Fitzgerald with his first test. Leaving his friend to deal with air sickness, the chiseled padre heads into the planes’ bowels for a bite to eat. Within seconds he’s met a beautiful French fashion type named Francesca (played hilariously by Simone Renant) who only seems to be in the story to occasionally progress the plot. The woman immediately feels drawn to Fitzgerald, he does, after all, have “a face like a man”. And so, after a short discussion, she slips a card into his hand which is both an invite to her fashion show, and the phone number to her Paris apartment. This man, who is on the final journey to becoming a fully fledged man of the cloth, chooses not to reveal his profession, even when pressed. Is he ashamed? Does he doubt his path? This, of course is what we’re supposed to think.


A feast of priests

Once in Paris and dropped of by the delectable Francesca (she won’t be seen again until we need her) the guys meet their host for the short stay and a dinner meeting is arranged for that evening.

Enter the siren.

Jumping into a taxi to meet his host, his ride is hijacked by Monica Johnson, played by Anne Baxter of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS and I CONFESS fame. This devil in a red dress will seriously put a spanner in the works of what was supposed to be a relaxing few days in gay Paris before Fitzgerald fully gets in league with the boss upstairs.

And this is where the film really starts to unravel….

It transpires that the girl is on the run, fingered for a murder she supposedly didn’t commit but villains like the villain chasing her aren’t the kind of villains who will take a girl at her word. That much we get, that much is ok.

In helping this dame out and going beyond the call of duty to keep her safe, the film tells us they come together. The problem is we don’t SEE it. There is a lot of running about. a lot of serious looks, a car chase, a lot of dramatic arm grabs and a serious expository scene at Napolean’s tomb……

……. There’s not an ounce of chemistry, however, not anything that would lead us to believe that this guy is doing anything other than helping her out. Fitzgerald repeatedly keeps his impending priest-dom under wraps but this does nothing to prepare us for the scene later in the flick when she goes in for a kiss ….. And yet we know it’s coming because we’ve seen it so many times before. Now I’m all for the subtlety in the delivery of that information. Leisen should be commended, it’s a neat idea and says so much without words. It can only really work when there is chemistry between to the two leads and we don’t have that here. The acting actually makes William Alwyns’ score seem heavy handed as we come to rely on it for emotional injection.

After lots more running about…. Across some nice roofs, good job Alfred, in fact let’s have a look:

…. And

After lots more running about we inevitably end up in a church where truths are told, secrets revealed and decisions made.

This flick doesn’t have the bite of NO MAN OF HER OWN, made only 5 years earlier, but is essential viewing for those of us who love Leisen’s work.

Here’s something else I love about it:

The film features the most blatant “waking up in bed with flawless make up and perfect hair” scene in cinema.

And possibly the most sexist line:

Francesca: “I made a fantastic mistake!”

Trevelle: “Well of course, you’re a woman”

That Felt Pen Aesthetic

Here’s the poster (again, we’re in Poland) for the Coen Brothers’ THE BIG LEBOWSKI….. I love the home made feel. It’s like the Polish distributers marched into a second year graphics design class and demanded results within the week. What you get is advertising that bursts with life without concealing the mechanics if its creation, you can see the pen strokes in the main text. And of course, they get a bit of quotation in there with the confusingly referenced line “I just bought that car last week”……. Very nice indeed.

The Art of Marketing

This little strand will allow me to post during times of high workload where the notion of sitting at a pc and formulating thought sits somewhere between impossible and fatal.

Cinema art (by this I mean posters mainly) and more importantly old or unusual cinema art is always pleasing. Let’s open in Eastern Europe with the Polish poster for Stanley Kubricks fleshy swansong, EYES WIDE SHUT…..

Whatever Works?

Ok, let’s start with the obvious elements that have been dealt with countless times in countless reviews for the latest Woody Allen flick, Whatever Works

This Film is not Annie Hall, Manhattan or Stardust Memories

Woody Allen has made another film that features an older man who finds himself admired, loved even, by an attractive younger female.

The above points will avoided from here on in, unless crucial for discussing plot.

I make no secret of my love for Allen’s work. It’s been a great source of inspiration in the past but I did prepare myself not to like this film. The main reason, strangely, is that he’s back in Manhattan. Having not made a flick in America since 2004’s largely underwhelming Melinda And Melinda, it was on a knife edge as to whether or not he could breathe life into characters stomping around his home town after 3 staid British efforts and a lush Spanish adventure.

I have to say though, Whatever….. Well, kind of Works…

Larry David plays our caustic protagonist Boris Yellnikoff. I like David’s portrayal of this character way more that I would have had Allen been sprightly enough to take the role. He’s positively loathsome, horrible, intollerant and cruel. Allen could also pull off such traits but often had an element of frailty infusing the performance that led you to let him of the hook. Yellnikoff’s frailty is so saturated in self pity it’s difficult to have any sympathy.

David’s Yellnikoff is the quintesential misanthrope.

An interesting nugget I upturned whilst researching the flick was that the screenplay has been knocking about in a drawer for quite a few decades. The film was to be made with Zero Mostel playing Boris but Allen shelved the project following the great man’s demise. This of course throws any theory of the picture being influenced by his relationship with Soon-Yi-Previn out the window. One has to assume that the central thread of the story always contained this imballance of age.

We are first given concise information regarding Yellnikoff’s makeup. The opening scene is similar in feeling to the opening of Broadway Danny Rose. Yellnikoff and his freinds sit round a Manhattan streetside table trading views of life and mortality. Yellnikoff launches into a tirade about the futility of religion which culminates in him addressing the audience directly. The 4th wall is torn down on more than one occasion in the film and although being a device not completely necesarry for the wellbeing of this picture, it is not used to excess and comes accross as kind of sweet. Yellnikoff isn’t only trying to get through to those around him, he’s involving us directly. Consulting the audience in the desperate hope that we’ll understand him. Think of the cinema queue scene in Annie Hall for an effect reference.

The plot is fairly simple and progresses with pace. (Allen is back in 90 min territory)

A bitter former Nobel Prize nominee who teaches chess (agressively) to kids goes home one night to find a vagrant girl (Evan Rachel Wood) sleeping in the alleyway by his house. He takes her in for a cup of coffee and finds her to be moronic but tollerable. He begrudgingly alows her to stay for a while to get herself sorted out and the girl quickly finds herself attracted to him.

Marriage ensues.

Conflict comes in the form of her mother who, on finding out her daughter is married to someone old enough to be her grandfather, tries to introduce destructive temptation in the form of a younger, handsome, more sensitive suitor. It’s round about this time that the notion of “Whatever Works” (for it’s meant to be taken literally) kicks in.

The central performances of Larry David, Evan Rachel Wood and Patricia Clarkson are very pleasing. Wood in particular plays her character with honesty and seems happy to go with her gut rather than playing a character in a Woody Allen movie. So I guess it all comes down to this….

Woody is reaching the twilight of his career and it could be argued that a film a year is starting to be too much, he’s stretching himself too thin. I would argue against this point. In a world where the most insipid films are given multi million pound budgets only to disappear without trace, I’m happy to pay my money to watch a Woody Allen picture. For although we may feels we’ve seen it all before, or what we’re seeing is a shadow if it’s former glories, there’s still enough good stuff in an Allen picture to justify him making it.

With Woody, you have a body of work rather than an opening weekend.