Sunday, May 05, 2002

Another week passes by in the blink of a very tired eye and I still haven't gotten around to updating and uploading my very fine and occasionally dandy blog.

Clearly, this is not a good thing.

With that thought at the very front of my mind, I feel as though I should get right into discussing my newest DVD purchase, the bloody and truly scare-inducing Jack The Ripper tale, "From Hell".

As directed by the brothers Hughes, who you'll remember from previous work like "Menace 2 Society" and the lacerating "Dead Presidents", "From Hell" is a fairly free adaptation of the Eddie Campbell/Alan Moore graphic novel, taking that much-lauded comics series' almost unbearably grim tone and marrying it to the Hughes' hallucinatory, very now style of shooting. It's no exaggeration to say that this movie looks incredible and does a great job of presenting a view of Victorian London that you've never seen on film before - And after viewing this truly intense and occasionally upsetting flick, you might well wish that you hadn't gone on this visceral journey into murder, madness and the underclass of fin-de-siecle 1800s Whitechapel.

Johnny Depp stars as Inspector Abeline, a troubled policeman whose dogged and unconventional investigation of the Ripper murders has won him few friends in the force, particularly when it becomes clear that his wild deductive leaps, consumption of Absinthe and use of illicit drugs are helping in his intuitive search for a madman who stalks the most dreadful, inhumane back streets of the capital, killing prostitutes in ever more ritualised, horrific fashion.

Helping him in his search for a killer who enjoys protection from on high is working girl, Mary Kelly (A luminous and perhaps slightly miscast Heather Graham, who appears to be the only hooker in town to enjoy the use of her own make-up, hair and styling team), whose stable of downtrodden friends are being hunted down methodically by Jack.

The first thing to say about this flick is that you'll need a strong stomach to get through some of the later sections - This is a director's cut and presumably contains some grislier footage which didn't make it into the cinematic release (I can't comment on that, because I didn't see this in a theatre, being quite the wuss when it comes to seeing horror movies publicly). Though the gore isn't exploitative - The Hughes' have chosen to use a lot of stylised, coloured filters and quick, almost subliminal editing, which suggests rather than depicts in appalling clarity - this is resolutely not a film which backs down on depicting the terror of Jack the Ripper's campaign or the shocking squalor and brutal poverty of the age.

The performances are quite fine, if you can get past Johnny Depp's slightly strained Estuary accent and Heather Graham's truly extraordinary Dick Van Dyke-meets-Mrs-Doyle-from-"Father Ted" dialect, and manage to hold your attention even as you wonder which part of Ireland Mary Kelly is supposed to be from (The bit just off the San Fernando Valley, at a rough guess). There's an amazing supporting cast too, with fine turns from Robbie Coltrane, Susan Lynch, Ian Holm and Ian Richardson all deserving of praise in an acting ensemble which does wonders with an often overripe, but certainly quite riveting script from Rafeal Yglesias.

You'll won't need to be bombed out of your mind on Absinthe and Smack to guess Jack's secret identity in the film, but you will get a hell of a charge out of this nightmarishly effective thriller - And the extras-stuffed DVD package (2 Discs, DD/DTS 5.1 sound, a commentary and a bunch of making-of stuff) certainly make "From Hell" worth a look if your constitution is up to it.

Just received my Region One copy of First Season's fave cool cat, Steven Soderbergh's "Ocean's Eleven" through the post, and I'm happy to say that it plays really well on a second, home viewing. It might even be elevated to the rarified pantheon of discs - "Amelie", "Josie and the Pussycats" and "Spaced - Season Two", which are never far from my DVD player.

The transfer is mostly up to snuff, but it should be - This is a film which only opened in the States last year, so you might reasonably expect Warner Brothers to source a decent master copy to present on disc - with some minor caveats spoiling the party a little bit (Some of the effects work in the climatic heist looks a wee bit more obvious on DVD, and there's a bit of grain in the opening New Jersey prison scene, but this is stuff that you won't really notice unless you're actually looking for it). Soderbergh also voices some reservations about flawed choices in his own cinematography (Since "Traffic", Soderbergh has shot his own movies under the union-placating credit, 'Peter Andrews'), but that's nice guy perfectionist auteurs for you.

There are two commentary tracks to enjoy - Film geeks like me will head straight for the Soderbergh/writer Ted Griffin effort, but most ordinary punters might be more intrigued by Matt Damon, Andy Garcia and some kid called Brad Pitt on the other audio track - and a choice of Dolby 5.1 and 2.0 mixes for the feature itself. The 5.1 mix isn't quite as active or ear-catching as you might have hoped for, sadly - The 'Pinch' sequence certainly didn't provide the gut-rumbling, low frequency wrench that it did in the theatrical screening I took in at York's well-specified City Screen, but David Holmes' genius, effortlessly cool, ass-shakingly funky score is quite engaging, even on my humble home set-up. I guess this just isn't the bass-fest that I remembered it being at the cinema.

Other extras aren't really that exciting, to be honest, which makes me wonder whether a more loaded 'Special Edition' reissue is around the corner - Aside from the aforementioned extra features, you'll find some making-of stuff, the trailer campaign and some DVD-Rom material that I don't have the means to access. More than most people will look at, but not enough for the Easter Egg freaks out there.

But, hey - The movie's more fun than should really be legal, and that's what counts, ultimately.

You were waiting for my review of "Amelie", right? Still not quite there, to be honest. For one thing, I keep watching it just for pleasure, and not with the mindset that I want to view on an analytical level - That would, I feel, rob it of some of the magic that it stills has for me, some five or six DVD viewings and two cinematic screenings down the line.

I can, however, shed some light on HTML kingpin and "Isabella's Teddy" web guru Paul's query about the set design in the film - Listening to director Jean Pierre Jeunet's audio commentary on Saturday night informed me that the colours in the movie are intended to be an outward reinforcement of Amelie's good intentions, and to visually portray the colourful interior and heart of a character who's mostly too shy to tell the world how she really feels, and I guess that this is echoed in some of the costume designs for Audrey Tautou in the film. On first sight, her wardrobe seems quite muted but, on second glance, her clothes are quite consistant and have a definite funky, covertly bohemian, independant vibe - If I can use such a phrase without having you all want to hunt me down and lay the smacketh downeth for uttering such pretentious piffle...

In short, the colours are there all the way through the film ("Amelie" Spoiler Alert!!!) Jeunet makes reference to the way that the decor of Collignon's apartment and Amelie's red cardigan mix and complement each other, during the scene where she uses her duplicate copy of the unpleasant grocer's key to mess with his life, in such delicious style.(End of Spoiler Alert!!)

But knowing all this stuff is only really for those of you who are interested in what Jeunet's cinematic vision was aiming for - If you don't give a damn about wide lenses, digital sky replacement and the unerring stupidity of the Singapore film censorship board, you probably shouldn't listen to his director's commentary - It firmly reminds you that "Amelie" is just a movie, and subject to the kinds of frustrating mechanics and limitations that the technical grind of filmmaking can impose on a dreamer and creative free spirit.

My advice is to keep "Amelie" special and let it have a lasting place in your heart - That's much easier to do if you don't know how it was made and what fifteen orgasming Germans have to do with the price of onions...

Which car are you?

It turns out that, after years of intense self-analysis and soul searching introspection, I am, in fact, a poncy bloody upmarket vehicle doohickey, and one beloved of the accursed "Barbours and 'Tatler'" set.

Go figure.

So, why not click on the link to see what kind of car you are. Hell, it certainly fills in time between the agonising wait for episodes of "24" and the Hundred Reasons album (The band are just toying with me at this point, I feel sure...).

If you don't care about video games and console gaming, you might want to skip this update - It's all about game stuff....

Cancel that Nintendo GameCube, Marge! They've only gone and hobbled the audio connections for the European release of this uber-console! Like, why, Ninty? Don't you realise that you've gone and driven me into the far too welcoming arms of Billy Gates and his clunky black XBox thingy? That horrible big lump of electronic goodness has the decency to include a bunch of connections to deliver Dolby Digital 5.1 sound to my amp and provide even more reasons for my neighbours to bemoan ever moving in next door.

So, XBox it is, then. I won't get to play the superb-looking "Rogue Squadron" update on GC, but my woe is somewhat checked by the astonishingly lovely-looking new "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" game from EA and the jaw-flummelingly intense "Halo", which manages to do the impossible and get me all hot and bothered about a first-person shooter - I'm normally a fairly benevolent, platform/sports game-orientated fellow, but this award-gulping paradigm of a game just knocks me into the middle of next year.

Whenever I pop into my local video games emporium and see some earnest-visaged twelve-year-old whipping through Bungie's killer app at a scarily preternatural rate of knots, I tend to want to throw my hands up and swear off attempting joypad gymnastics forever (Are kids born today with a mastery of video gaming technique genetically hard-wired into their cerebal cortex? I think we should be told...). It just makes me feel old and enfeebled, dammit!

So, the audio thing is an undeniable attraction, and the recent price cut helps a whole hell of a lot, but the games are the big consideration of course, and I think that the future XBox titles are the thing which gets me most excited about the machine - the 2003 release of "Unreal Championship" is enough to seal the deal. Go check out some of the initial build screen shots at"Total Games.Net" but I won't be picking up your dental bills when you have to have emergency jaw surgery after it fully detaches and hits the floor.

More soon, chums...

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