Friday, December 16, 2011

Lana Del Rey - honey dripper

Occasionally the internet surprises you with something good. I was checking out my subscriptions on youtube the other day and something caught my eye. I clicked on it and found myself being drenched in a waves of intoxicating sound. Not only that but it seemed to be emanating from the luxurious lips of a very fetching doll.

Name of said doll was Lana Del Ray. Intriguing. I did a quick scan of my memory banks. Nope, didn't ring a bell.  Could it be new? But this sound was very accomplished, very distinctive... most unusual. Could this be happening? Could we really being seeing something NEW and EXCITING in the world of pop music?

As any fule kno, this is akin to stumbling across a chestful of gold doubloons when snorkelling off your favourite beach. ie, not incredibly likely. And yet here we are. Lana doesn't even have an album out yet. Of course, there is considerable buzz being generated around her music on the interwebz. This is the way it is done nowadays...

For a start, there is a ton of Lana material avail on YT. She seems to be using the ever popular cultural phenom as a highly effective means of getting the word out. Lots of it is video footage captured by her growing legions of fans at her concerts. Normally video cameras are banned at live performances, but this doesn't seem to be the case with Lana's shows. A canny move.

So where did this gal spring from? Well, according to her rather sparse Wikipedia entry, she's from the Big Apple. Yeah she's a NooYawker. With a cool Brooklyn Noo Yawk accent no less. Apparently daddy is a rich dude, who made his mills from domain investing, whatever the heck that is. But we wont hold that against her... much.

The name Lana Del Ray is a stage name. Real name is Elizabeth Grant. Lana Del Ray is a combo of Lana Turner and the Ford Del Ray. Yeah, a car. Not a particularly attractive one either so that aspect of it is is a mystery. We can understand the Lana Turner reference. Beautiful platinum blonde movie star who liked gangster types, died a tragic death in an automobile accident that caused her head to be separated from her body. But the Ford? Hmmm.... clearly the 50s/60s is a big inspiration to her, as well it should be. She digs deep from the well of the past and is smitten with the glamour of old world Hollywood. Nowt wrong with that!

Now admittedly, Lana is blessed with more than her fair share of natural gifts. Apart from the voice, she is obviously not hard to look at. As in she resembles Julia Roberts' younger sister. With this really great chestnut auburn, Ann Margret style red hair. Yeah...that's right. Blammo! But still, good looking singers are a dime a dozen. What exactly is it about Lana that's different?

Well, just take a listen to her music. It's not screechy, mindless bimbo pop. Its the opposite of that. It's blue velvety torch singer stuff. With lots of soul and great stories. With a real band that can play. It's not alternative and it ain't Diana Krall revisiting the classics neither. So what gives here? Who is this doll? What's her story? Why is she obsessed with the past and that old Hollywood glamour? Why does she wear too much eye-liner? Did she read Valley of the Dolls before she could handle it? Whatever it is, I like it. It is undoubtedly cool.

It's hard to say what the music world is going to do with Lana. The pop music industry likes its categories. Which makes it interesting. Who is going to grab onto this? Will she fall between the cracks and become a niche, cult thing like Chan Marshall and PJ Harvey or go really big? At this stage its hard to tell. She's no shrinking violet that's for sure, although her persona is distinctly off-beat... a little weird. Cultivated? Maybe, but to what end?

So it remains to be seen what will happen to Lana. One thing is for certain - I will be watching with interest. She feels like a genuine discovery, a bolt from the blue. And in today's super cynical, media savvy, digitalised world, that's a rare thing... a real Hadron Collider 'god particle' discovery.

Get a load of this performance filmed at the Chateau Marmont for starters. Get a load of the deep German inflections. Not sure what's up with that... Nico obsession perhaps?



Here she is being interviewed at the same location, discussing its significance in her music:




Lana doing Off to the Races at the Ruby Lounge in Manchester. Love this song:



Here is she doing China Doll. Little bit of Kate Bush coming through here.



More... its addictive I tell ya! Get a load of the quirky little movements...


 



Wednesday, October 5, 2011

They sprung Foxy!

Amanda 'Foxy Knoxy' Knox
As the world watched, rapt with attention, the Eye-tie judge read out his verdict: acquitted on all charges, other than the defamation of her former boss. Foxy slumped forward and burst into tears, as well she might. After serving four years in an Eye-talian jail, and facing another 20-odd years of same, she was now free to leave Italy and return home to the USA. 

I first read about the Knox case in the New York Times a few years back, when she was convicted of the murder of Meredith Kirchner, along with her ex-boyfriend Rafael Sollecito and another dude, Rudy Guede (the most likely candidate for the deed).

The case had attracted a ton of media attention because a) Knox with her clean-cut American looks was damned easy on the eye and b) the circumstances were juicy and salacious. The Eye-talian media were alleging that Knox and Rafael had been engaged in 'sex games' while high on pipe or whatever, had then tried to rope in Kercher to make it even more exciting, and Kircher resisted. This resulted in Knox and Sollecito murdering Kercher in a frenzy of drug-fuelled rage, stabbing her 20 times and slashing her throat with a kitchen knife.

Well, as tasty a story as this could hardly be resisted by the world's media and cue mucho column space devoted to speculation as to whether the pair had really killed poor Meredith, or were they the victims of a railroad job by the prosecutor, a dodgy individual by the name of Mignini, who concocted a pretty fantastic theory that the three had all been members of a Satanic sex cult.

Yeah, its pretty hard to make this stuff up! In any event the prosecutor was known to favour this theory and had even used it in a former trial of the so-called Monster of Florence case. So this guy has this pet theory that he trots out for every case he tries? Very dodgy stuff. Clearly, he had spent much time as an impressionable youth studying famous prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi's lurid account of the Manson murders, Helter Skelter, and it had forever left its mark on his young mind.

The real issue around which the case revolved, of course, was hard physical evidence. As every fan of that great TV series Medical Detectives knows, it is properly collected and processed physical evidence that makes or breaks a case. As it turns out, the rube Eye-talian coppers had botched the crime scene, letting all manner of people handle critical physical evidence which was then contaminated and should not have been permitted to factor into the case. As it turns out, the judge to hear the initial trial was not inclined to eliminate the evidence and so it played a role in convicting Knox and Sollecito of Kercher's murder.

The defence appealed and were able to obtain an independent forensic analysis of the evidence which determined several critical points:
  1. The knife which was said to be the murder weapon did not match the wounds on the body. The knife was big, the wounds were small - doh!
  2. The DNA evidence on Kercher's bra clasp which was critical to the prosecutor's case (placing Sollecito at the crime scene) was too insignificant to be positive. The clasp had also been handled by several police men and was therefore contaminated.
  3. The Knox DNA evidence on the handle of the knife was determined to be inconclusive in proving that Knox had used the knife to murder Kercher.
Without that evidence, the case was as leaky as a paper boat in a thunderstorm and the judge had no alternative but to reverse the conviction. There was reasonable doubt, and plenty of it.

And so the pair were sprung. Proof yet again that securing a crime scene is the most important part of ANY murder investigation. If you think back to the OJ trial, this is the critical aspect that lead to his acquittal - poor DNA evidence collection by the attending detectives.

Actually its usually the first responders who are typically at fault. The hapless patrol cops, arriving on the scene, go blundering through the joint, stepping all over vital evidence that could lead to a successful conclusion to the case. Following proper procedure of securing the scene, allowing NO-ONE to enter it, and maintaining that vital perimeter until forensic analysts arrive is the most crucial step towards finding the perpetrators and ultimately securing a conviction. The latter being the nut of it. Its all very well to find and arrest a killer (no easy thing) but that's just the beginning of it. You then have to try the perp in court.

A jury or judge has to be convinced of their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. And nothing convinces like physical evidence. With the 'CSI factor' very much in play, juries WANT physical evidence. Everything else can be attacked - eyewitness testimony, circumstantial evidence, character, motive - all of it can be tested and found wanting. But physical evidence is irrefutable, IF it has been collected and processed properly. A single hair can send a man to the gas chamber. Less than that even. A few tiny pods of pollen have been enough to convict a murderer. Its importance in a successful prosecution cannot be overstated.

Otherwise you can end up with a scenario where the guilty go free, and the innocent are jailed for crimes they did not commit.

Do I think Knox and Sollecito were innocent? One never knows for sure. The whole thing is hinky. They had means and opportunity sure, but they lacked that final critical part of the three-legged stool - motive. The prosecutor tried to manufacture a motive - they were high on drugs and caught up in a sex-fuelled frenzy - but that just rang hollow. They murdered the girl because she wouldnt join their orgy? Knox despised Kercher and wanted her dead from revenge? It all seemed too bizarre and fantastic. Either that, or Amanda Knox is a brilliant actor.

In any event, the case was botched by the cops and the prosecution's case was shaky from the start. They got lucky with a biased judge and together with the hostile and conservative Eye-talian media, it was enough to get the initial conviction against the pair. But as it turned out, it was a house of cards that didn't stand up to rigorous scrutiny.

While the Eye-talian justice system has been hauled over the coals for a supposed miscarriage of justice, the pair of young perps can count themselves lucky. The appeal court did the right thing and sprung them based on the independent report. Another country might well have tried to save face and embarrassment by upholding the conviction. If I were Amanda and Rafael, I would be sending that judge a bottle of the finest Irish whiskey every Christmas for the rest of my days.

Naturally, the cult of celebrity has now turned Amanda into a household name. Her fresh-faced good looks are more than enough to create a little mini-industry of interest in her story. A whole batch of books have already been written about the case, movies are in the works (Haydn Pannatierre is set to play her). The whole circus is in full swing... ain't it grand!

In the meantime Foxy is home in Seattle, and trying to get back to a 'normal' life. Undoubtedly, she will wake up in a cold sweat from nightmares for many nights to come, imagining she is back in that dank Eye-talian jail, with a fat dyke guard bending over her, about to commit some terrible act with a broomstick... possibly she will always dream in Italian from now on... 

My advice to her? Stay home. Travelling - it ain't all it's cracked up to be.


















Saturday, June 4, 2011

Neglected Masterpiece Series: UNBREAKABLE



Every once in a while a movie comes along that, for me, achieves perfection. More often than not these are not commercial or even critical successes. Many find their audiences later in life and become cult hits. Fight Club and Blade Runner are two well known examples. But often they simply languish in relative obscurity. I would like to shine a light on these movies simply because I think they deserve it. Why they weren't hugely successful upon release is beyond me. To my mind they are masterpieces, both in their originality and execution.

I'd like to start with a film that blew me away when I saw it - M Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable - which nobody else seemed to like that much. In any event I very rarely see it mentioned when people discuss their favourite films. No doubt it suffered in being compared to the director's debut, Sixth Sense, a runaway success. That's a pretty good little movie in its own right, but I think Unbreakable is even better. And here's why...

Everyone knows that Hollywood has spent the last few years plundering the back catalogue of legendary comics labels Marvel and DC for inspiration and that, broadly speaking, the results have been woefully bad. Spiderman was terrible and I don't even want to discuss The Incredible Hulk, probably the worst movie disaster since The Postman. For me, the only one that is worth a damn is the Hellboy franchise and of course Road to Perdition, which started life as a graphic novel.

Bruce Willis as David Dunn, reluctant hero


But the best comic-turned-movie for me is still Unbreakable. Shmayalan really did a superb job in capturing the feel of a comic book. And most remarkably he did it with barely any special effects at all.  To me the genius of Unbreakable is that it imbues the most important elements of the classic comic books - the downbeat hero and the tortured villian - with foibles and weaknesses that are all too human. The real achievement of the classic Marvel titles such as Spiderman and The Incredible Hulk (in particular) was that these guys were really outcasts in society, caught in a twilight zone of secrecy and isolation due to their super powers. They could never fit in and be normal because they were different. And that was not a source of joy to them but a source of pain and unhappiness.

Hollywood pretty much failed miserably to capture that in most of its efforts to render the comic book classics on the big screen, but Shyamalan manages it magnificently, taking the extremely ordinary character of David Dunn (note the alliteration, a common theme with comic book characters). When Dunn, a security guard at a baseball stadium, is the sole survivor of a catastrophic train crash, he thinks he's just very lucky, until he realises that in fact he cannot be killed and possesses superhuman strength. This would normally cue noisy celebrations and drinking through the night but Dunn immediately senses that his new powers are potentially as much of a curse as they are a boon.


Samuel L Jackson as Elijah Price: 'They call me Mr Glass'

The movie was criticised on its release for being too slow and drawn out. But it is precisely this pacing that gives Unbreakable its power. One has the time to savour each frame and camera movement, and the framing is remarkably remniscent of comic book panels, a nice touch. There is none of the frenetic editing and hyper-active camera movement that turns most of these superhero sagas into a headache-inducing carnival ride where you just keep wishing the thing would stop so you could get off.

Perhaps the greatest achievement of the movie is its villain, played in extremely fine style by Samuel Jackson. Cursed from birth by a disease that makes his bones as brittle as a breadstick, Elijah Price is the most flamboyent character in the movie, and the one that most closely resembles an actual comic book character (blessedly, Dunn is never forced to wear a suit other than his security guard uniform, a nice subtle metaphor).

Hero and villain, destinies entwined

With his purple outfit, glass cane and styled 'fro, Elijah looks like the bassist in a 70s funk band, but Jackson yields to none of the OTT stylings that make other superhero movie villians so ludicrous. Instead he earns our sympathy, which is what characterised the all best villians from the Marvel classics (perhaps best represented by Swamp Thing, which, hopefully, will never be given the Hollywood 'treatment'.)

Jackson is the one that drives Dunn to accept his role as the superhero, an interesting twist, and it is not Elijah who Dunn is finally driven to defeat in a brilliant heart-stopping action sequence, but a serial rapist, a genuine taken from life creep with an all-too-real talent for escaping the attention of authorities.

Dunn has a weakness which he is not aware of - his powers are sapped when he is submerged in water. Shyamalan brilliantly utilises this to ratchet up the tension during the climatic clash between good and evil. In the end, it is that suburban staple, the swimming pool, which almost proves to be Dunn's undoing as he finally embraces his destiny and becomes the hero he is meant to be.

Sounds corny as hell, but it works and works brilliantly. Thanks to the downbeat pacing, superb characterisations from Willis and Jackson, and the beautifully subtle camera work, Unbreakable is a movie of quiet power, a haunting tribute to the great comic book heroes of the 70s that infested the imaginations of millions of children around the world and continue to garner new audiences to this day.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Interview with Myself

Yesterday Amazon informed me that my first novel, Malone, had been accepted for publication as a Kindle book. The book has also been published (by me) on Lulu.com. These days it's practically impossible to get a book published if you are new author, but thanks to the Interwebz it's amazingly easy to self-publish. In any event, it's early days yet, so the press isn't exactly beating a path to my door, but I thought it would be fun to publish an interview with myself about the book. Besides this blog has been way too movie heavy lately, so it's about due for some literary action for a change...

This is what the book cover looks like (and no, I don't have another picture):


The cover was designed by my brother Sean. Yes, it is very useful having a relative who is a graphic designer. Anyway, let's get started...


Q: So your book is published and available on Amazon.com. Are you excited?

A: Yes, it's tremendously exciting. I wish I'd done it a lot sooner. It's a weird feeling seeing your own name on Amazon.com, a site I have visited probably thousands of times. And spent thousands of rands on...


Q: The book is called Malone. Why this title?

A:  Titles are very hard to be honest. I wanted a single word title and I thought it sounded cool. Obviously it's the name of the main character. Also Malone is kind of two words combined: Man Alone, which is very much the central theme of the book. One man alone, trying to make his way in the world. Later, I realised that Malone was very similar to Marlowe. That wasn't intentional. I owe Raymond Chandler a huge debt of gratitude, he was a major influence on me, but I wasn't trying to steal his most famous character's name.


Q: Why did you write a detective story? Isn't this genre really over-worked now, to the point of cliche?


A: Yes, it is. But the books that influenced me most profoundly when I was younger were detective stories. I love the genre and wanted to write a homage to it, but one that reflected more modern attitudes. I felt that despite the brilliance of Chandler's writing, his character Philip Marlowe was a bit too straight laced, too certain in his views and actions. I wanted to create a character who is a lot more human, filled with weakness and doubts, a more ambiguous character.

Q: Apart from Raymond Chandler, who else influenced you? 

A: Well, Ellroy obviously. Sam Peckinpah. Cormac McCarthy. Jim Thompson. Charles Bukowksi. A bunch of people. The book is basically a huge amalgam of all my influences. I wanted to put them all in the first book so hopefully the second one would be more original.

Q: Was it difficult writing about places you've never been to? 


A: Yes, very... I did some research but mostly I just winged it. I don't have Ellroy's resources. I wanted the book to capture the mood of a time and a place, not be a travelogue. It's an impressionist painting, not a documentary photograph.


Q: Why did you set it after World War II? Why not something more contemporary? 

A: As I said, I love that time in history from a literary point of view. Post World War II, the world was an exciting place to be, like awakening from a 5 year nightmare to a fresh new dawn. I also wanted it to be about this man who has fought in the war, experienced many terrible things, and now has to re-integrate himself back into society but he can't escape the violence, and finds himself fighting another war. I am very interested in the second world war. It was an incredible period in human history. The men and women who fought in it are often referred to as 'the greatest generation' because of the sacrifices they made to rid the world of the greatest evil it has ever known. It never ceases to fascinate me...

Q: But the book seems quite flippant and even disrespectful towards these men. Your characters are not that likeable even.

A: I wanted them to be real people, not cariciatures. Most of those soldiers were barely out of their teens. They were young and immature. They hardly knew what they wanted out of life. And yet they had to perform acts that required enormous courage and fortitude. But they were human, warts and all. I wanted to show them that way...

Q: What about the women in the book? Was Gloria van Doren a whore?

A: She was a woman forced by circumstances to make some tough decisions. I think in those days it was very tough for women who didn't take the easy route and become housewives. Especially if they wanted to forge a career in the movies or whatever. They could easily become victims. I wanted to show that Gloria wasn't a push-over. She was strong. She held out, but eventually she gave in. She was so beautiful and desirable that every man wanted her, even men who should have protected her. She was born with a gift of beauty that should have given her a gilded life, but instead it became her downfall. The relationship with Gomez wasn't submissive though. She had as much power in it as he did, if not more. She's a strong woman. I hope that comes through clearly enough.

Q: The book is quite short.... did you run out of ideas?

A: Haha.... it felt long to me! I wanted it to be a pacy read. I feel people today dont really have time to read long books, and most books are over-long anyway. I wanted it to be punchy. Get in, get out. The books from those days were never long. People read two a week! But I still wanted it to have substance.

Q: Well, thanks for talking to us, and good luck!

A: Thank you.

And there it is. Malone is available to order from the following places:




http://www.lulu.com/product/ebook/malone/15468320

Friday, March 11, 2011

CHRISTIAN BALE - Blowing up in a cinema near you!

Christian in American Pyscho - bloody intense mate


I didn't manage to sit through the entire 83rd Academy Awards but I did watch long enough to see both Melissa Leo and Christian Bale win awards for their appearances in The Fighter. [Quick aside: I was extremely pleased to see Melissa Leo up there. Many years ago she had a part in a brilliant TV drama called Homicide Life on the Street. It was distinguished by some of the best TV writing ever, and accordingly the show was filled with memorable characters. Even among such superb character actors as Andre Braugher, Yaphet Kotto, Clark Johnson, Jon Polito and Kyle Secor, Leo's character of Sgt Kay Howard stood out. With her crumpled face and wild red hair and man suits she had zero sex appeal and didn't rely on anything but her acting chops to carry the part. She totally inhabited the role of Kay Howard. In a world where fully realised female characters are even scarcer in cinema than on TV, Melissa blazed a wide trail. Many years later she emerged from obscurity with a starring role in a little indie movie called Frozen River. It proved to be something of a sleeper hit and her bravura performance as a working class trailer park mom forced to make some tough decisions garnered her a lot of attention. No doubt it had a lot to do with her being cast as the tough working class Mom in The Fighter. And badda bing badda boom, whaddaya know, she now has a shiny new ornament for her display cabinet. Well deserved! It was good to see her finally emerge from the shadows and get some Respect. You go girl... woman.... whatever.]

However, the real surprise of the evening was Christian Bale. Not that he won, which he no doubt deserved to do. but that this was the first time he'd won anything from the Academy! Or had even been nominated!! I was, like, WTF? Are these people in the Academy a bit slow? Do they live under a rock? Have they not seen The Prestige? Rescue Dawn? Harsh Times? American Pyscho? The Machinist??? (OK, fair cop, I havent seen that one either, but still...). Where had they been these last few years?

It's common knowledge that Bale is the dude to watch these days. The comparisons with 'Robert De Niro' are inevitable, particularly as he has a penchant for transforming himself physically in order to get deeper into the role, ie, he is a method actor in the same vein as the mighty Bobby D. So to help out the half-witted panel at the Academy, let's do a quick review of the films for which Bale should have been given something at Oscar time - even if it was just a nomination!

Harsh Times (2005)
Director: David Ayer
Writer: David Ayer 
Players: Christian Bale, Freddy Rodriguez, Eva Longoria

OK watching this movie feels like the guy in The Fighter must've felt after Mark Wahlberg knocked him out with a kidney shot. You're not sure if you want to throw up or if you'll ever be able to pee right again (explained later). It's one of those little movies that just comes out of nowhere and leaves everyone feeling a bit puzzled and uneasy. People can't categorise it, and therefore it's hard to market, you can't easily label it 'drama' or 'action' or 'horror' and let it find its market. Because it's drama and horror and action all rolled into one. It's a balls to the wall, pulls-no-punches, out-and-out indie picture with massive, hairy cojones that makes its audience uncomfortable and squeamish and a little sick to the stomach. These things don't bode well for the 'business' end of the business. In other words they dont translate into good box office results, but they do for damn sure make for interesting viewing.

Front and centre in the movie is the craziest, most loosey-goosey, off-the-wall, fall-down-funny, adrenaline-fuelled performance I've seen since the aforementioned Bobby D in Mean Streets (with a healthy dose of Gary Oldman in State of Grace thrown in for good measure). Bale plays Jim Davis, who has recently come out of the elite Army Rangers unit where he has undoubtedly seen some pretty hairy shit in Iraq. Although Davis looks like a squared-away Roger Ramjet soldier type with good prospects of advancement through the ranks of society (he's on a mission to get a job with the LAPD) its not long before it becomes apparent that he is more than a little ipso facto completely freaking nutso.

It would appear that Davis is suffering from severe PTSD but not in a passive away. Rather he is a one man demolition squad, looking to rip it up at every opportunity, even if that means committing some serious felonies that you would imagine a future cop would prefer to avoid. He's also not averse to roping in his ex-army buddy Mike (Freddy Rodriguez) and dragging him down right along with him.

Davis is the very definition of a loose cannon, and you know its not going to be long before he hurts someone. But at the same time you can't help but root for the guy, and this is where the genius of Bale's performance really manifests itself. Even though Davis is a major league self-centered jerk, who pretends to care deeply about his friends but really only gives a crap about himself, you can't help but like the guy. He's ridiculously charming and persuasive and Mike (and the audience) is helpless putty in his hands, even after he makes one bone-headed decision after another.

It would seem from my description that Harsh Times is not a fun movie, and indeed there are several moments where you wince and the ending is as downbeat as it gets, but what redeems it from being a total downer is that Bale is also extremely funny. There is a scene where in order to rig his urine test for his LAPD entrance exam he has to insert a catheter up his urinary tract, without anaesthetic. Sounds pretty terrible right? But its as funny as hell. The dude is crazeeee in a very dark but still likeable way. I guess we all knew someone like Jim Davis growing up. The lunatic who was a little scary but a lot of fun to be with. They either grow up and get their shit together (usually with a woman's help) or they go off the deep end. Although Jim Davis has the woman, he doesn't seem able to save himself. In one of the movies most gut-wrenching scenes he even pulls a gun on her in order to frighten her off. He's on a downward spiral and not even his best friend can pull him out of it.

The movie was not a popular hit on its release, no surprise there. Although it wasn't lumped in with other 'war movies' like In the Valley of Elah and Stop-Loss (and more recently Brothers with Tobey Maguire and Jake Gylenhaall, it was), like those movies, very much about what war does to the people. Many soldiers return from conflict unable to re-integrate back to society and worse than that. Its a difficult, uncomfortable scenario and the army certainly doesn't like to admit to any of it. Given that the war itself is still an ongoing event and that anything less than total support for the troops (if not the war effort itself) is seen as an unpatriotic, moves like Harsh Times can be a little too close to the bone. Be that as it may, its still a brilliant assessment of what happens when you train a person to kill, to commit extreme acts of violence, and then expect them to be able to put all that in a box, lock it away and function normally like nothing ever happened.


The Prestige (2006)
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writers: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan
Players: Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Michael Caine, Scarlet Johanssen, Rebecca Hall, Michael Caine

Easily one of my favourite movies of the last decade, The Prestige is a return to the glory days of movie making. It's got everything. Suspense, intrigue, mystery, glamour, great writing and acting, awesome actors, costumes, David Bowie, the works... and it's all about Magic. Yeah, that old hokum. Its pretty hard to make a movie about magic intriguing in this day and age, but Christopher Nolan is up to it. Nolan is the guy who made Memento back in the day, a low budget nothing movie using then little known Aussie actor Guy Pearce and US character actor Joe 'Pants' Pantoliano.  Memento was smart, quite devilishly clever in fact, and caused a bit of a stir no mistake. It got Nolan on the fast track to Hollywood and he hasnt disappointed. OK he made a Batman movie but most people seem to think it was one of the best. Anyhoo, when he's not doing superhero movies Nolan likes to do stuff like The Prestige and Inception, so we'll forgive him the guy in a funny suit lapse. The Prestige is vintage Nolan. 'Now you see it, now you don't' territory. He's a great sleight of hand artist Mr Nolan is so, of course, the subject of illusion would appeal to him. The Prestige is set in turn of the century England when people took stuff like this really seriously. There were no movies back then so people went to the theater, dah-ling. The upper crust went to see proper plays and stuff and the riff-raff went to see illusionists. People who sawed ladies in half sort of thing. Where Nolan succeeds is that it never looks tacky or seedy. As much as the audience in the movie is taken in by what they are watching so are we. Much of this has to do with the tricky dicky plot and the superb performances of the leads, noticeably our man Bale (although Jackman is equally good, although his is the flashier part, with more gnashing of the teeth and the like).

Where Bale really 'brings it' is that his performance is the polar opposite of the fireworks of Harsh Times. Its all low key and under the radar. His working class Alfred Borden is a man so wrapped up in his great and terrible secret he can't share anything with anyone, even his wife. Its a very tricky role to play and Bale does it masterfully, for once being able to play a role in something close to his native accent. In fact it is the sheer Britishness of the movie which helps to sell it. The period detail and costumes all help to create a world that is in itself magical. A world before electricity, when all things were possible. Like the great chameleon that he is, Bale occupies this world completely and once again makes you care deeply for the fate of his character, who is unjustly imprisoned and sentenced to die when the secret he harbours turns his great rival Angier into a madman bent on revenge. It's a deeply touching performance, one that turns on the theme of sacrifice, where a man will literally give up everything to stay at the top of his profession.



Rescue Dawn (2006)

Director: Werner Herzog
Writer: Werner Herzog
Players: Christian Bale, Steve Zahn, Jeremy Davies

For his next outing Bale chose to work with Werner Herzog, the well known German director who has a penchant for stories about men who go crazy in the jungle. In this case, the story (a true one) focuses on a chap called Dieter Dengler who was shot down in the jungles of Vietnam while on a bombing mission in Laos. He survives the crash and is captured by the NVA. Of course, the NVA weren't known for treating their prisoners too kindly and Dengler, along with a few other bods who have already checked into this downmarket version of the Hanoi Hilton, are subsequently brutalised to the point of total submission and even craziness. The cast is phenomenal and one of the pleasures of the film is seeing comedic actor Steve Zahn produce a truly powerful portrayal as one of Dengler's fellow prisoners.

While Bale's role in Rescue Dawn is not quite as complex as that of Jim Davis in Harsh Times and the movie is not a full-blown classic like The Prestige, its got plenty to hold the attention, and most of the substance is delivered by this trio of fine actors who portray the process of physical and mental degradation suffered by prisoners of war so accurately its frightening. To add to the authenticity, Bale does one of his now-famous shrinking acts and sheds several pounds during the course of the film. Davies, not exactly a buff physical specimen at the best of times,  is also skeletal in the film. These actors are truly committed to delivering total authenticity and in the hands of Werner Herzog, a man famous for driving his cast and crew to extremes, nothing less would suffice. In the end Rescue Dawn is a very moving account of one man's refusal to give up despite the worst possible odds. Herzog does a great job of delivering the day to day routine and crushing boredom of the men's lives in the camp without making the film feel like its a 100 years long. You can't help but shed a tear at the final denouement. Stories like this simply never get tired...

American Pyscho (2000)

Director: Mary Harron
Writer: Mary Harron
Players: Chistian Bale, Justin Theroux, Josh Lucas, Chloe Sevigny

Based on the infamous novel by Bret Easton Ellis, AP is a brilliant satire on the true horror of being a yuppie in New York in the heady days of the 80s real estate boom. The darkest of black comedies, it follows the descent into full blown madness of the perfectly groomed and attired Patrick Bateman, who is the ultimate hollow man. Bateman is the opposite of the stereotypical serial killer, successful, socially adept, physically perfect and very good with the ladies. However, that doesn't hide the fact that he has a sucking black hole where his soul is meant to be, and finds it impossible to resist murdering the girls who get drawn into his irresistable web of charm. Usually with a chainsaw.

Despite its premise AP is as funny as it is bizarre and the thick streak of black humour that runs through the film is beautifully handled by the director and Bale. Probably one of the funniest scenes in the history of cinema involves a table full of detestable yuppie scum all comparing business cards in an attempt to outdo one another. Its screamingly funny, and probably too close to the actual truth for comfort. Another classic involves Bateman reeling off the reasons he is the world's biggest Phil Collins fan while he lays down thick plastic sheeting in his spotless apartment in order not to make a mess while he slaughters another hapless victim. With his trademark blend of intensity and take-no-prisoners immersion in the role, Bale makes an indelible mark as the 'hero' who is way too tightly wrapped to handle the pressures of climbing the corporate ladder while the sharks circle beneath. The supporting cast is equally stellar, with a superb Willem Dafoe delivering another note perfect turn as the detective who knows Bateman is rotten but can't prove it. Chloe Sevigny is at her doe-eyed best as Bateman's hapless secretary.

While some say the movie can't match the book (big surprise) I didnt feel an immediate need to rush out and read the book after seeing the movie. I totally got Easton Ellis' message - listening to too much crap 80s music will drive you insane.