22 January, 2010

Surfin' Multiplex: Enduring Ian Dury, The Road, Daybreakers, 44 Inch Chest + Avatar 3 v 2 D

Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll

Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll might be subtitled "Enduring Ian Dury", this is a mostly standard biopic that doesn't shy from portraying the downsides of it's subject. Embodied by the excellent Andy Serkis, Dury is mercurial, flamboyant, tortured, dictatorial and selfish. Bearing the brunt of his personal whims and drug use are his wife Betty (Olivia Williams), his lover Denise (Naomie Harris), his son Baxter (Bill Milner), these relationships, and the quality brought by the actors to them is what really sustains the film. Sadly the film gives fairly short shrift, almost as much as Dury seems to, to his band and colleagues. Chaz Jankel is left mostly as a cipher, being wheeled on for a few "writing of the song scenes", and his departure from the band shown as symptomatic of Dury's inability to see the needs of those around him.

The film makes good use of the relationship between Dury and his son Baxter as counterpoint with Dury's relationship with his Father (Ray Winstone) shown in flashbacks as similarly absent, and also the source of the childhood trauma of being shipped, post-polio to a "craft" boarding school with a harsh regimen to give trades to disabled children. Perhaps too much of a meal is made of this as the film glosses or skips over his later academic achievements and his career as an artist. But it does give a form to the film, along with a sporadic framing device of Dury presenting the action as part of a show as narrator, these keep things from slipping into the biopic trap of merely box ticking events between birth and death.

I've heard some criticisms of this film as merely showing Dury as unpleasant and perhaps talentless. I would disagree, the film revels, as did Dury in the ripe and robust use of language, even if this does descend, at times, to working bits of his lyrics into dialogue. Dury neatly bridges the patter songs of music hall to what became rap. His work is redolent in slang, puns and bawdy humour. Whilst I am a fan of his work, I was not that aware of his story. This film offers a good look at the man a pugnacious genius verbalist, a treat for fans, and not a bad intro for the rest.

FOOTNOTE: Sadly, I never saw the man perform live, I had tickets to his last tour, and Dury passed two weeks before the show. Right selfish bastard!

The Road

The Road, based on the post-apocalyptic novel by Cormac McCarthy, and directed by Aussie John Hillcoat, is kind of like The Road Warrior as directed by Ingmar Bergman. Deliberately paced, beautifully shot, and brilliantly acted, it tells the story of a father (Viggo Mortensen) and a son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) travelling through the landscape of a crumbling world after an unspecified disaster destroys nature and civilization.

When it focuses on the father son relationship it is strikingly affecting, the son is the father's reason to live, to protect and teach to survive, but the son also struggles to act as his father's moral compass in an every man for himself future.

However, I couldn't get into this film at all. I appreciate that the set-up is meant to be metaphorical, or perhaps mythic, but my rational mind kept picking apart the wealth of implausibilities that this version of the future presents, and frankly it kept throwing me out of the film like a pair of particularly logical bouncers keeping me out of the absurdly stupid club. Listing all the guff would be overly pedantic and mean spirited, so I present a mere two examples:

SPOILER warning: these will not spoil the plot in any significant way, but may spoil your enjoyment of the film as shining the light of logic on these aspects did for me.
1. In the film's bleak vision all animals have died and all crops have failed (leaving aside what would do that without killing humans...?!?), and the survivors scavenge for tinned goods, some turn to cannibalism. At one point our protagonists stumble on an enclave of cannibals, who have a cellar full of live captives. Why? They have nothing to feed these captives, so how can they get any nutrition out of them while they waste away. It's not even that old logical conundrum of feeding the rats to the cats and the cats to the rats, the cats and rats are all dead. The only sensible thing to have done would be to slaughter them as captured (the peak of their nutritional value) and cure the meat for storage. Otherwise the law of diminishing returns kicks in like a mother.
2. In the pitilessly grimy future, where not a single building is undefiled, or room left tidy, everyone dresses like a homeless bum with falling apart shoes. Now any devotee of apocalyptic genres, or even the zombie subgenre, knows that if most of the population dies leaving the cities and towns empty, and the shops... there's a wealth of free merchandise. I could maybe accept that perhaps, in the future of doomed humanity, thriftshop chic might become the rage, or you might want to die in your favorite outfit, BUT, unless whatever killed all the animals and crops also destroyed FOOTWEAR there's no excuse for bad shoes when you can pick up a new pair in every town you stumble through. Perhaps in their hunger they've all gone a bit Chaplin-in-The-Gold-Rush.

The Road is (ir)redeemably bleak, whether you apply the ir to the redeemable, will depend on whether you can see past the fuzzy mythic post apocalypse to the heartbreaking core of the struggle of father to provide a future for his son. This will probably garner some nominations, although Mortensen and his beard may split the vote.


From the sublime but ridiculous, to the sublimely ridiculous. Daybreakers posits a future where majority has been turned to Vampires, leaving humans as a dwindling food source to be farmed. Well, they aren't being farmed too efficiently, stuck on a wall ala Matrix and drained of blood, and apparently if there's not enough to go round vamps mutate into a dangerous feral form. To bad no one promotes the use of "Free Range" humans, but the satirical eye of the film makers extends only as far as suggesting coffee bars will be offering O-neg instead of Venti Latte.

Ethan Hawke, looking so gaunt it would seem that he wants to grow up to be Stephen McHattie, is a Haematologist hoping to develop a synthetic substitute to end the enslavement.

I'm fucking sick of Vampires! There are so many (bloody) Vamp films and TV series, it's a wonder we don't have an Oscar category for best fanged performance. That said, a world of mostly vampires seems to be the logical conclusion of the above.

At least, this story of underdogs against the evil rulers and their military doesn't take itself seriously (see Avatar for that), so is pretty good fun. Ethan gets thrown in with a Human resistance group looking for a vampirism cure, Willem Dafoe does his grizzled old timer as the first accidental ex-vamp, Sam Neill as the corporate bad guy gets to chew more than just the scenery, and there's a few brief moments of well lit gore (welcome after the poorly lit horror noir of the last decade).

Avatar 3 v 2 D

I took a spare moment to re-watch the last half hour of Avatar, thanks to the staggered running at the multiplex, first in 3D then in 2D. I'd heard much made of the up to 30% colour loss in 3D, but I was truly surprised how much more vibrant and bright the colours are in the 2D version of Avatar.

What's more surprising is how an obsessive perfectionist like Cameron would allow the sullied 3D version to be released without having worked out a solution to this problem. Given how murky the colour in the 3D is in comparison, one can only explain Cameron's embrace of 3D as overcompensation for its obvious flaws or perhaps just to avoid questions about "unobtainium" and impossible floating mountains.

44 Inch Chest

The day's viewing comes full circle with Ray Winstone (Ian Dury's distant father earlier) starring in this ensemble piece from the writer's of Sexy Beast. Ray's been cuckolded by wife Joanne Whalley; his mates Ian McShane, Tom Wilkinson, John Hurt and Stephen Dillane help him kidnap the cuckolding boyfriend so he can "deal" with him. While waiting for this "dealing" they sit around and talk, and bicker and talk, and rabbit, and talk, and....

Great ensemble cast, ripe east end hardman dialogue (it's Pinter meets Manchild meets Lock Stock), and not a hell of a lot going on except the mind fuck of indecision in Ray's "I love her" but beat seven shades of shit out of her for leaving, then catatonic with guilt and impotent vengeance etc.... It's not so much predictable as limited to so few possibilities that seeing them play out is a bit of a chore. I think it would have been more enjoyable as a stage play, where the flavour of the speech and the immediacy of the performances would have given the dimension that is otherwise lacking in this flatly filmed chamber drama.



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