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Saturday Night at the Movies by Dennis Hartley review archive

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Hullabaloo


Saturday, May 03, 2014

 
Saturday Night at the Movies



The river must flow

By Dennis Hartley

Oh, how pretty...depressing: Watermark
























You know that schoolyard taunt, "Take a picture...it'll last longer"? Sadly, that could one day become a truism in regards to our planet's most essential element: water. This explains why photographer Edward Burtynsky refers to his beautiful yet disturbing bird's-eye images that are featured in Jennifer Baichwal’s Watermark as a "lament" to this dissipating resource. I hear snickering. Water is a finite resource?! As long as it keeps raining, we're cool, right? Until you recall that 97.5% of the water on Earth is saltwater (which we continue to pollute like there's no tomorrow) leaving 2.5% freshwater...out of which 70% remains frozen in the polar icecaps (and they are shrinking). As Jacques Cousteau once wisely advised, "We forget that the life cycle and the water cycle are one."

This documentary represents the second collaboration between Burtynsky and Baichwal; their first was 2007’s Manufactured Landscapes. In my review of that film, I wrote:
Burtynsky’s eye discerns a sort of terrible beauty in the wake of the profound and irreversible human imprint incurred by accelerated “modernization”. As captured by Burtynsky’s camera, strip-mined vistas recall the stark desolation of NASA photos sent from the Martian surface; mountains of “e-waste” dumped in a vast Chinese landfill take on a kind of almost gothic, cyber-punk dreamscape. The photographs begin to play like a scroll through Google Earth images as reinterpreted by Jackson Pollock or M.C. Escher.
Ditto the imagery paraded before us in Watermark. Like its predecessor, the film is equal parts visual tone poem and cautionary eco-doc; although the emphasis here is on mankind’s cavalier attitude toward that aforementioned link between the life and water cycles. Some happy exceptions are evidenced, within certain venerated rituals of Earth’s more ancient cultures. One such event, the mass river-bathing ceremonies conducted by tens of millions of Hindu faithful who congregate at the confluence of India’s holiest rivers during the annual Kumbh Mela pilgrimage, provides the film’s most beautiful and mesmerizing sequence. Yet, within a stone’s throw of the same Mother Ganges, we also witness the doings at a water-intensive Bangladesh tannery, where poisons are spewed willy-nilly right back into the water table. This is the maddening dichotomy that gets to the heart of the matter. At this point (and as evidenced by Burtynsky’s photographic “laments”) Mother Earth isn’t politely asking, she’s telling: Clean up your room…NOW.

Previous posts with related themes:




...and one more thing



RIP Bob Hoskins: 1942-2014


















According to most of the perfunctory obits on the network newscasts and such over the past several days, the only work of note by the late great British actor Bob Hoskins was his starring role in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Yes, I’m sure we can all agree that was an entertaining romp (if a wee bit overrated) and Hoskins (who never gave a bad performance in his life, despite the material he may have had to work with at times) proved that he could hold his ground against a bevy of scene-stealing cartoon characters, but as far as I’m concerned, that was strictly a paycheck gig. Granted, at a casual glance this guy may have reminded you more of your 10th grade shop teacher than say, George Clooney, but hand him a juicy character role that he could really sink his teeth into, and he’d go straight for the jugular, tearing up the screen like a fucking Cockney Brando. Standing 5 foot 6 and built like a fireplug, he could appear as huge and menacing as a killer grizzly, or as benign and vulnerable as a teddy bear. For a true appreciation of what Hoskins was “about”, just check out his more “actor-ly” movies…like my top five picks:

Felicia's Journey- Due to its disturbing subject matter, writer-director Atom Egoyan's 1999 psychological thriller/character study does not make for an easy watch, but it does provide an ideal showcase for Hoskins to fully flex his instrument. He plays an introverted, middle aged man named Joseph who works as a catering manager. He is obsessed with his late mother, who was a TV chef. He whiles away evenings in his kitchen, cooking in tandem with Mom via old videotapes of her program (while Egoyan's film is not a comedy, Hoskins' portrayal has echoes of Rod Steiger's creepy "Mr. Joyboy" in The Loved One ). As he strikes up an unlikely friendship with an equally insular young Irish woman named Felicia (Elaine Cassidy), who is in search of the cad who left her in the lurch after getting her pregnant, there are disturbing reveals about Joseph's past that will have you wishing that Felicia would magically heed your fruitless pleas to get herself far away from this man, and quickly. As he does in most of his films, Egoyan uses a non-linear narrative and deliberate pacing to build up to a powerfully emotional denouement.

Inserts- If I told you that Richard Dreyfuss, Veronica Cartwright, Bob Hoskins and Jessica Harper once co-starred in an "X" rated movie, would you believe me? This largely forgotten 1976 film from director John Byrum was dismissed as pretentious dreck by many critics at the time, but nearly 40 years on, it begs reappraisal as a fascinating curio in the careers of those involved. Dreyfuss plays "Wonder Boy", a Hollywood whiz kid director who peaked early; now he's a "has-been", living in his bathrobe, drinking heavily and casting junkies and wannabe-starlets for pornos he produces on the cheap in his crumbling mansion. Hoskins steals all his scenes as Wonder Boy’s sleazy producer, Big Mac (who is aptly named; as he has plans to open a chain of hamburger joints!). The story is set in 1930s Hollywood, and as deliciously shameless wallows in the squalid side of show biz go, it would make a perfect double feature night with The Day of the Locust.

The Long Good Friday - If I had to whittle it down to my “#1” favorite Hoskins performance (no simple task), it would be the one he gives as "Harold Shand", in John Mackenzie's 1980 Brit noir. Harold is a “hard” Cockney gangster boss, on the verge of cementing a "visionary" alliance with an American crime syndicate. Unfortunately, a local rival is bent on throwing a spanner in the works, using any means necessary. Harold finds himself in a race against time to find out who is responsible before "they" succeed in sabotaging the deal. Screenwriter Phil Meheux has a keen ear for dialog, and applies dabs of subtle dark humor throughout that may be easy to miss upon a first viewing. Cinematographer Phil Meheux makes great use of London locales. Helen Mirren is a standout as Harold's mistress, who also serves as his unofficial (and formidable) consigliere (Hoskins and Mirren reunited onscreen for the 2001 film Last Orders). During the film's closing scene (a lengthy, uninterrupted close up of Harold's face) Hoskins delivers a master class in acting, without uttering one word of dialog. Gritty, brutal and uncompromising, this ranks as one of the best British crime films of all time.

Mona Lisa- Hoskins gives a nuanced, Oscar-nominated turn as a "thug with a heart of gold" in Neil Jordan's brilliant crime fable. Fresh out of stir, Hoskins is offered a gig by his ex-boss, a London crime lord for whom he took the fall (Michael Caine). Hoskins becomes the chauffeur for a high class call girl (Cathy Tyson) who serves select clientele in discreet liaisons at posh hotels. The pair’s “oil and water” personality mix gets them off to a dicey start, but their relationship morphs into something unexpectedly rich and meaningful (and it's not what you're thinking). The twists and turns keep you riveted up to the end. Hoskins and Tyson have great screen chemistry (like a streetwise Tracy and Hepburn) which injects this otherwise unsettling tale with much genuine heart and soul.

Pennies from Heaven(Original BBC TV version)- Written by Dennis Potter (Singing Detective), this 1978 production is rife with Potter's signature themes: sexual frustration, marital infidelity, religious guilt, shattered dreams and quiet desperation…broken up by an occasional, completely incongruous song and dance number (Potter was a fabulous writer, but I would never want to be in his head). Hoskins gives a superb, heartbreaking performance as a married traveling sheet music salesman living in Depression-era England. His life takes interesting turns once he is smitten by a young rural schoolteacher (Cheryl Campbell) who lives with her widowed father and two creepy brothers. It’s best described as a 'film noir musical'. Far superior to the ill-advised U.S. feature film remake released several years later (with Steve Martin in the lead role).



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