That’s me on the sofa.

Up to my armpits with work at the moment and using the downtime such as there is to clear more backlogged DVDs. They haven’t all been wise choices.

The Gift (2000) is from the most mature period of Sam Raimi’s career sandwiched as it is between For The Love Of The Game (1999), which I have never seen, and the crowd-friendly Spider-Man series. The Gift is a paranormal murder thriller with a kick-ass cast (Cate Blanchett, Giovanni Ribisi, Greg Kinnear, Katie Holmes, J.K. Simmons, Hilary Swank) and is written, I was surprised to discover, by Billy Bob Thornton. I guess he got friendly with Raimi when they were filming A Simple Plan. Its edge is a bit dull though and there is a pervading sense of compromise, certainly when the enterprise is compared to Raimi’s thrilling early career which thoroughly explored the bit on the Venn diagram that subsets Splatter Horror and Slapstick Comedy. It’s still worth watching though. As was demonstrated with David Lynch’s Dune and Joe Dante’s Looney Tunes: Back In Action you can’t completely hamstring a maverick visionary just by giving him a big budget and a requirement to capture a big audience. There will still be visionary stuff in there. It’s no Drag Me To Hell however.

Some troubling movies from the East: Sick Nurses, Tokyo Gore Police and Love Exposure.

Sick Nurses (a 2007 Thai film whose directors I am unfamiliar with) is the least coherent of the three. Seven nurses who have been selling body parts on the black market kill one of their number when she threatens to expose them. On the seventh day after her murder she returns to wreak supernatural vengeance. It’s a hotchpotch, really, of successful bits from other films. Ring and Dark Water do honestly have a lot to answer for. It’s over quite quickly, but not quickly enough, and I speak as one who generally has an appetite for kinky hospital horror.

Tokyo Gore Police (2008) is, I think, the first film directed by Japanese effects artist Yoshihiro Nishimura and it wears its provenance quite proudly favouring mutated flesh and gouted gore over delicacy of script. “Engineers”, monstrous mutated humans, are hunted by self-harming, blade-wielding Ruka, who is avenging the death of her father. It’s a vigorous movie, I’ll give it that, but I may be getting a wee bit old for this sort of stuff and I was knackered at the end of it. Also there’s a weird sort of prudishness at work. There’s an endless fascination on display with the different ways flesh can be contorted, stretched and ripped, which sits oddly with the general shyness about sex. You will learn more about the psychology of revulsion from any of David Cronenberg’s, ostensibly more sober, body horror movies of the seventies and eighties. With a title like Tokyo Gore Police though, you can’t complain about false advertising in any respect.

More confusing, if anything, is Love Exposure (2008), Sion Sono’s four-hour hymn to Japan’s polymorphous perverse community. After Yu’s mother dies his father becomes a Catholic priest. The only way Yu (a pretty innocent chap) can recapture his father’s attention is by committing sins which he can then take to confession. The only sin he seems to be any good at is taking photos up women’s skirts, a practice he develops into a kind of martial arts/voyeurism hybrid. His attitude changes though when he falls in love with Yoko, a girl whom he has rescued from a gang attack. The only problem is that he was in drag at the time, and Yoko has fallen in love with the girl she thinks he is. And… Well it goes on and on. It took me a long time to warm to this, but some time around the three-hour mark I began to think, well at least they’re serious about this film. It kind of numbed me into grudging admiration eventually. I don’t think I’ll be re-watching it many times before they’re throwing soil on my box lid though.

After this prolonged exposure to unorthodox attitudes to love, sex and death it was nice to plonk myself slap bang back in the middle of Western tradition.

It is many years since I last saw In The Heat Of The Night (1967), but I remember as a sixteen year old being impressed by how a film could transcend what were obviously pretty tight constrictions and become a timeless piece so easily. Twenty-nine years later it looks even better. Sidney Poitier is beautiful and controlled. Rod Steiger is lazy and reptilian. And yet neither of them are that straightforward and it is a joy to watch these two actors develop their characters together. Poitier’s Virgil Tibbs turns out to be not as cool and controlled as we at first think. Neither is Steiger’s Chief Gillespie as complacent and venal as he first appears. The soundtrack is simply awesome too. I genuinely think that they don’t make em like this anymore.

Greg McLean’s 2006 movie Rogue is deceptive. Looking like just another creature feature, giant crocodile picks off a group of stranded survivors one by one, this is in fact a film of rare accomplishment.

McLean brings the same considered pacing to bear as he did in 2005’s tremendous Wolf Creek. He’s a filmmaker of the old school and understands that a bit of wit and compassion in setting the characters up goes a long way in making the subsequent threat more threatening. He uses the great Weta sfx crocodile sparingly, but gets a real sense of jeopardy going. Smashing performances from Michael Vartan, Sam “Ubiquitous” Worthington, and the divine Radha Mitchell. I loved it.

Radha Mitchell gets ready for crocodile combat earlier today.

One copy of Rogue, and make it snappy…

***

I could have spent Friday evening re-watching Dog Day Afternoon, but what with the real events piling up on the news channels there wasn’t much need.

For readers not in the UK we had had a disaffected, steroid abusing, gun carrying ex-convict on the loose for a week. Raoul Moat had been released from prison on (I think) Thursday July 1st. He had then shot and wounded his ex-girlfriend and killed her new partner. This escalated into a vendetta against the police generally and he publicly stated that he would proceed to murder policemen until he was caught or killed.

It’s not, on the surface, the most jolly of stories, but as he continued to evade capture, public interest increased and Moat began to take on the mantle of outlaw hero in some quarters. The tweeters on Twitter got a lot of mileage out of it with their funny jokes and observations.

On Friday night Moat was finally cornered by police in Rothbury, where the media were already encamped in large numbers, and a live standoff ensued. It culminated with Moat’s death in the early hours, audible, but off camera.

For once I don’t really have much of an issue with the way the media reported things. The police kept saying that the media were affecting the outcome of the situation and asking them to back off. The media did no such thing of course. Tricky, but I can understand why. It was a hell of a story and they were already there. Generally anyway the reporters seemed to be behaving responsibly. There was a bit of over-excitement as things started developing quickly, but the BBC, which I was watching, kept pretty sober judgement through the night.

Their man on the scene was Jon Sopel and, apart from a regrettable incident where he basically hijacked a bystander’s mobile phone call to broadcast their private business to an agog nation, he comported himself very well. You could see him occasionally getting over-exercised and having to rein himself back in with a not altogether convincing sombre expression, but who wouldn’t be the same in the circumstances? I gather the Sky coverage was a touch more hyperbolic. Didn’t see it. Can’t comment.

What bugged me most was the reaction of the public. This was a standoff between an armed man in a state of extreme duress and a phalanx of armed policemen, yet all the public I saw were either weeping openly and dramatically overreacting to a thing that wasn’t happening to them, or they were pissed up and having a laugh, waving their beer glasses at the camera.

It’s a self-selecting crowd I suppose. There were probably loads of Rothbury residents sitting quietly in their homes, hoping or praying for events to come to a peaceful solution, but obviously I couldn’t see them. All I could see were the shining, anticipatory faces of a crowd in the mood for incident.

It saddens me, this monkey-mind part of humanity. I know we are better than this and that, as individuals and as a species we do extraordinary things everyday.

But we also bay for blood. We laugh when bad things happen to people we don’t know. We exult in the pain of the out-group. And, once you start drawing lines, who isn’t part of the out-group?

The only bit of the evening that I did understand was when Gazza turned up. (Paul Gascoigne is a hard-drinking, ex-professional football player/pitiable man-child, for those who require context.)

Gascoigne, who had known Raoul Moat from Moat’s time as a doorman in clubs in the North-east, turned up seeming quite refreshed himself and carrying food, beer and a fishing rod according to reports.

The media were flummoxed, but this was my one bit of big identification of the evening. It was certainly how drink worked for me. It made me feel extravagantly important in situations where I was, at the most, tangential. It also gave me overwhelming confidence in my own ability to sort anything out for the best, and screw the rest of you mooks.

In my drinking days, had a vague acquaintance of mine got involved locally in an armed standoff you can bet your arse I’d have been there. I wouldn’t have taken a fishing rod as part of my peaceful overtures though. I’d probably have made do with a copy of Dog Day Afternoon on DVD.

***

Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

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