Rob Pearson’s Film Picks of the Week

March 6, 2009 by  
Filed under Features

all-about-eveAll About Eve – Monday, 12.50pm, Channel 4

When people talk about the Golden Age of Hollywood, they’re not talking about Hotel For Dogs.
Not even Marley And Me, hard as that is to believe. All About Eve is about as ‘Golden Age’ as you can imagine, brimming with wit and class, not to mention unforgettable characters. Hollywood is oft-derided for not having good roles for women, but here you can see two of the best ever: Eve (Anne Baxter) and Margot (Bette Davis). Made back in those heady days of female liberation, the 50s, this seems all the more remarkable as the years go by.

Margot is an ageing theatre goddess, one of the finest actors ever to tread the boards – and Eve an ‘aw shucks!’ obsessive fan, who is so perfect and dedicated and hardworking that Margot takes her in, as a sort of personal assistant. Soon though, the (gasp) younger Eve has acting designs of her own – designs on one of Margot’s parts. Margot’s growing paranoia about Eve starts to pull her apart, and Eve shows how perfection can actually be… sinister. She’s a real monster. In a prim, 50s kind of way, natch.

The deep immersion into the world of theatre does make this film kinda luvvie’ish – it’s even narrated by a critic (boo! hiss!) – which leads you to believe that its only use these days is to be haughtily chuckled at whilst being discussed at aspirational upper-middle class dinner parties. ‘Pass the Merlot, Tabatha, and didn’t you think that Eve’s character development was simply corking?’ – that kind of thing. But this deserves to play to a wider audience than that. The wit is lacerating, and the script shining in a fashion that has long since been consigned to the grave. It’s a shame, because with this much darkness, humour and such superb acting, you have to wonder quite why they don’t make ’em like this any more.

All that and a little bit of early Marylin Monroe, too. Perfect!

kung-fu-hustleKung Fu Hustle – Monday, 11.15pm, FilmFour

This cartoonish slice of kung fu delirium has more in common with Bugs Bunny than Bruce Lee. Starring director/co-writer/co-producer Stephen Chow (who should obviously think about working a bit harder) this film is what you get when sillyness and stupidity are done right, and when – unlike Rambo III, reviewed below – the filmmakers are actually in on the joke. Kung Fu Hustle comes loaded with OTT CGI (yay, acronyms) and fight scenes that acknowledge what this genre should be about: pure entertainment. Unfortunately, like many of the kung fu/wuxia films that it apes, it’s also brow-furrowingly convoluted, and comes bundled with some truly waffer-theeen characters. Very good fun though, and bursting with imagination.

im-a-cyborgI’m A Cyborg, But That’s OK – Monday, 11.50pm, Channel 4


Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. This film starts with a girl slitting her wrist, and then inserting two live wires into the bleeding wound. She thinks she is a cyborg – of course – and is carted off to an improbably fashionable mental institution, complete with lime green padded rooms. Directed by Korea’s Chan-Wook Park (of the wonderfully gory, and wonderfully wonderful Vengeance trilogy), this is not your average film. It is, in fact, acutely nutty.

Or maybe that should be ‘cutely nutty,’ because this is actually a romantic comedy of sorts. Young-Goon (stop tittering in the back!), our cyborg girl, shares a strange relationship with an institutional inmate – the compulsive thief, Il-Sun (played by an incredibly popular Korean singer’y chap called, er, Rain). Young-Goon – being a Cyborg – believes that she doesn’t need to eat, and so Mr. Rain needs to help her out.

The film is at its best when it delights in the weirdness of the mental hospital
, and the patients’ imagined ‘powers’. Cyborg Young-Goon, for example, can talk to lights and vending machines. One girl can only look at people through a mirror. One guy is so humble and apologetic that he walks backwards everywhere he goes. A fat lady believes she can fly by rubbing her socks together to create static electricity. But the film treats these crazies with a loving eye, rather than snarky mocking. In awesomely imaginative sequences, their fantasies come true – Young-Goon is seen with sci-fi style guns poking out of the ends of her fingers, violently mowing down ‘the white ‘uns’ – Let me explain: They’re the doctors and nurses of the asylum. Young-Goon is taking revenge for her granny, who was mistreated by them. Her granny, who thought that she was a mouse, and ate radishes all day. Young-Goon carries a computer mouse around to remind her of this, along with her radishy false teeth. And batteries – cyborgs need batteries. Otherwise their glowing toenail power indicators will empty.

Okay, sorry. The film is bursting with lovely details like that, and it sounds weird. But it is weird. This is highly convoluted stuff, and even at 1 hour 45 minutes, the film seems much too long. Some would be happy to strap its flailing arms down, give it some elephant-strength sedatives and wheel it over to the loony bin. But the violent flights of fancy, the whimsical weirdness and impressive inventiveness make this worth watching. Made with love and skill, it’s warm hearted, lovely madness – but madness all the same.

first-bloodFirst Blood – Tuesday, 10pm, ITV4

It’s almost inconceivable now, but back when this was released, Rambo wasn’t a muscle-bound joke. Sure, there’s plenty of killing, but this film fits more comfortably alongside harrowing, Oscar-y Vietnam vet films such as The Deer Hunter and Born On The 4th Of July. This is a simple story about a confused killing machine, one created by his country, left to rot in ‘Nam and released back into an American culture that doesn’t want him, or care for him. It’s almost, almost touching. But then, this is Rambo. He kills people (American people, interestingly), blows stuff up, and there are apparently unironic exchanges of dialogue such as:

“Are you telling me that 200 of our men against your boy [Rambo] is a no-win situation for us??
“You send that many, don’t forget one thing.?
“A good supply of body bags.?

Which is cool. Not exactly going to win any Pulitzers, but it’s cool. It’s grounded in the horror, the horror of Nam, and that works…

ramboiiiRambo III 2/5 – Thursday, 10pm, ITV4

… So when you see Rambo III, what you’re really seeing is the Hollywood process in its full, disgustingly self-mutilating glory. Killing people: check. One man army: check. That’s just about it as far as resemblance to the original goes. Sly starts off, retired, in Thailand as possibly the least convincing sensitive, peaceful, rural worker ever and then has to rescue his old commanding officer from a load of evil commie ass Russian scumbags in Afghanistan. Yeah! Kill em all, Rambo! In a startlingly stupid display of bad timing, Rambo III was released in 1988 – when, erm, communism was already on the way out. Not exactly what you’d call capturing the zeitgeist, this is spectacularly brainless entertainment, and every rocket, gunshot and explosive bow and arrow kill (yes) makes your grey matter weep. Excessive in every possible way, it’s no wonder that this type of overblown, masculine stupidity went out with the 80s. Oh, wait – Rambo 4 was out last year, and 5 is on the way! God bless nostalgia, because Rambo III is bad, stupid – but fun.

wickermanThe Wicker Man – Thursday, 11.45pm, ITV1

No, not the horrible Nicholas ‘acting’ Cage remake, but the classic original, which taught us all to avoid neo-pagan cults up on remote Scottish islands, especially if they’re being led by Christopher Lee. ‘The Citizen Kane of horror films,’ etc. etc.

Rob Pearson