Saturday, January 30, 2010

Two Noirs and a No-no

They Live by Night: Another unusual film-noir, focusing on a young couple on the run for a crime one of them did commit (the man, though the woman was complicit); while they attempt to set up a normal household in the wake of all this, getting married, renting a cottage and getting pregnant, the media are, in the background, sensationalising the whole affair, to the point where armed squads of police marksmen are sent out to apprehend a 23-year-old with a Saturday Night Special. The portrayal of small-town squalor is positively Steinbeckian, and Cathy O'Donnell as the girl looks scarily like Summer Glau.

Gilda: A more conventionally noirish film, and one aimed at a more commercial market, as Rita Hayworth gets two pointless song numbers, clearly intended as a hit tie-in single and a B-side. Don't let that put you off though, as it's actually a complicated plot about profiteering which is filtered through the story of one man's obsession with revenging himself on the woman who left him and married someone else; the setting, Argentina in the immediate aftermath of WWII, has the right mix of glamour and fascism.

The Wicker Man (2006 Remake): In and of itself, the idea of reimagining the population of Summerisle as "pagan Amish" who fled persecution to the New World has potential. What would such a group be like? How would they relate to modern-day neopagans? How would you convey the seductiveness of such a lifestyle, which was crucial to the original film? Why would they want to burn Nicholas Cage, who is plainly no virgin? Unfortunately, this take turns them into po-faced historical reenactors, with none of the original pagans' humour, music and sexuality, and never really answers the question of why they would want to burn Nicholas Cage (there's some brief guff about having to sacrifice someone connected to them by blood, but if that's the case, why him particularly?). There are far too many logical holes in the story to cover in a capsule movie review (just as an example, why would a community which actively repels outsiders have what seems to be a comfortable multi-roomed hotel? What was the point of the vignette at the start where Nicholas Cage fails to save a girl in an automobile accident?), but the stupidest aspect for me was that the whole thing came across as the kind of clumsy, awkward rant against feminism one might expect from a right-wing 1970s TV show. The Summerisle pagans are re-envisioned as matriarchs who oppress their men, seduce innocent outsiders to get pregnant and then deny them visits to their children at the weekend, and, from the look of the jars full of foetuses in the doctor's office, have lots and lots of abortions. I'm sure this is a popular movie with the sort of men who climb Buckingham Palace dressed as Spider-Man and unfurl "Fathers4Justice" flags, but give me Christopher Lee romping around in drag with Britt Ecklund any day.

Movie count for 2010: 13