A day of sausages and not much else. This decade is starting slowly. Good.
I did finally catch up with Michael Bay’s The Island from 2005. Wow, Michael Bay, what a hate figure he seems to have become. I heard Mark Kermode on the Five Live movie round up of the year yesterday doing one of his unnecessarily highly pitched rants about Bay, loosely contrasting the VERY LOUD Transformers – Revenge of the Fallen with the delicate filigree work of Terence Davies’ movies. Gah. Isn’t there room in the world for both?
Mark Kermode. I love him and I hate him. I love his affection for film, particularly the grotty end of the horror spectrum that I spend a lot of time around. I hate his rants which often have that slightly insincere tinny rattle of a man saying something he doesn’t quite believe. It’s an accepted part of the broadcast media these days, seemingly, that you can only have extreme reactions to things: wildly enthusiastic or baroquely scornful. And you can only jump between the two, like electrons, without passing through any intermediate state. Kermode does this a lot and it annoys me because he’s clearly a clever and interesting fellow.
Another aggravating ranter, parenthetically, is Marcus Brigstocke, but unlike Kermode he doesn’t have anything in the credit column. He’s just nicked Charlie Brooker’s ace sesquipedalian rhetorical style (compound agent nouns a speciality), misunderstood it, broken it and smugly used what’s left to mimic high dudgeon. Worthless.
Right. Has anyone seen where my train of thought went? Oh yeah. Michael Bay.
Michael Bay. What’s the problem? There’s a very lowbrow commodification of film going on in his oeuvre, a kind of reverse alchemy of art into product, but so what? You know you’re not in the presence of an auteur when the director in question’s idea of a stylistic flourish is to have one character throw actual cars at another. But that doesn’t matter. If you don’t like that sort of stuff don’t watch that sort of stuff. It’s like the X Factor debate that happened before Christmas. It isn’t to my taste, but if people want to buy dreary music by deranged narcissists let them. If people want to buy their books and CDs by the kilogram in Tesco, why not? It’s their money.
I quite like Michael Bay as it goes. I haven’t seen Pearl Harbor which looked as if it might have a little bit too much of what Basil Brush used to call “kissing and cuddling” in it for my liking. And it’s not like there’s a shortage of films about Pearl Harbor is it? From Here To Eternity. That’s a good one. I could have gone to see Pearl Harbor in the States. It opened on Memorial Day weekend when I was over there in 2001. What I did instead was to go and see Shrek at a way dodgy cinema on (I think) Tenth Avenue. I stand by my choice. The audience stood and cheered at the end of Shrek. Never seen that in a British cinema.
The rest of Bay’s films cleave to an action template. The Bad Boys films have moments of questionable morality but The Rock is riotously entertaining: three leading men and not a full head of hair between them! And as for the Joss Whedon scripted Armageddon I adore it! It’s part of my baffling emotional landscape that I pretty much cry constantly through the end of Armageddon but Pretty Woman makes me want to be thoroughly and explosively sick.
“Harry doesn’t know how to fail.” Indeed.
The Island is not out of Bay’s top drawer, but neither is it a disaster. Funnily enough the ontological questions it asks about the morality of cloning and the nature of identity are essentially the same as the ones posed in Duncan Jones’ wonderful film Moon last year, and everyone loved that (including me).
One of Bay’s signature strengths is that he can fill a frame gorgeously. He composes well and gives a hyper-real colour-saturated look to everything which is just exciting to see, although there is a slight danger of your eyes exploding against the back of your skull. He’s usually pretty good at coaxing laconic performances out of his cast too, although even he isn’t up to the job with the enduring, blank enigma that is Ewan McGregor. Look, I’m sure he’s a nice guy, but he just has no screen presence. He’s just a nervous grin with a cock hanging off it. (He doesn’t get “little Ewan” out in The Island, I’m happy to report.)
Bay, now that I think about it, is a weirdly asexual director. I saw his Victoria’s Secret advert and it’s a strange piece of work. I like to see attractive women dancing in lingerie as much as the next man, possibly even more so, but at the end of Bay’s ad all I could remember were the helicopters. And I know his camera lingers a lot on Megan Fox in the Transformers films but never, it appears to me, with any of the lasciviousness you’d get from the really pervy directors like Hitchcock or Lucio Fulci. How odd.
So there you go. The Island. Watch it, don’t watch it. I don’t care. At least you know what you’re going to get.
And so to Doghouse (2009). I’m sure there are more hope-killing phrases in the language than “British horror comedy film” but I can’t immediately think of any. Doghouse has no pedigree, it has an awful premise (post-divorce stag do for a bunch of lads in a village in the middle of nowhere where the women have all become infected zombies) and it even has Danny fucking Dyer in it. And yet… And yet…
It is strangely winning. Assembled with an astonishing elan, packed with sly movie references, it both scared me and made me laugh out loud while I was watching it alone. I have basically no tolerance for blokey bombast, geezerishness or anything of that ilk, but that’s not what this is. There’s under-cutting. There are reversals. There’s a sky high level of self-awareness on display. And importantly there’s an unusually witty script. I’m still grinning at the memory of the divine Noel Clarke as Mikey scrabbling desperately through his trousers for a door key as the undead “zombird” army advances. “These are multi-combat shorts. They’ve got eleven pockets! ELEVEN!”
See American Werewolf in London and Shaun of the Dead. See Doghouse. And I can’t believe I just wrote that, but it’s true.