Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Peter Jackson knows his way around moviemaking, and he certainly has range, but too often his interests land wide of the mark of my own. I appreciate the capacity for joke-gore that he demonstrated early in his career with Bad Taste and Braindead, over-the-top exercises that rival even Sam Raimi's. But the joke wears thin. And while his Lord of the Rings trilogy is magnificent as can be, it doesn't quite transcend the literary property on which it's based, something with which I never quite connected even though I slogged all the way through it as a teen.
That makes Heavenly Creatures something of the Baby Bear for me of his catalog: juuust riiight. It relies as much as anything of his on the flights of fancy of which he's so capable, slipping occasionally into gorgeous eye-candy visions that feel as if they veer close to psychotic breaks, and churning always with an unholy energy and exuberance. The story, "based on real events," recounts an intense friendship between two adolescent girls that takes a turn for the unhealthy. Starring Melanie Lynskey and Kate Winslet, both in debut performances, it travels deep into the darkest heart of the relationship. The clip at the link, which features a Mario Lanza song, gives some indication of what Jackson is managing here, most impressively finding ways to avoid sexualizing the whole thing, even when the girls spontaneously start tossing away their clothes. It's a temptation that would have been way too hard to resist for many a filmmaker, I suspect (and an interpretation of the film that some still see, wrongly I think). The ending, which leaves behind all pretense of fantasy and turns instead to jarring cuts and a gritty handheld-camera verite, is devastating (if you're so inclined you can relive it here, complete with the Puccini preamble that sets it up so well; parental warning).
Fun fact: the character played by Kate Winslet (who is typically excellent) grew up to become the historical mystery novelist Anne Perry. Not surprisingly, Perry rarely talks about the events on which this movie is based, beyond acknowledging their veracity.
"There's a light in her eye / Though she may try to hide it, she cannot deny"
Phil #42: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Philip Kaufman, 1978) (scroll down)
Steven #42: A Hard Day's Night (Richard Lester, 1964)
This is the first occasion of a handful or so where I made last-minute switches in my list. The movie I had originally put at #42, Liquid Sky, I recalled as funny, weird, and disturbing when I was infatuated with it on its release in the early '80s. Seeing it again in anticipation of writing for this countdown, it too often seemed to stray into hackwork and just didn't have the same kick, so I panicked and made a switch. It's still worth seeing but I decided to run away from it. This type of maneuver, of course, only gets more difficult the further into a countdown one goes, as it becomes more and more tricky business to credibly elevate an also-ran so much higher. I've always admired Heavenly Creatures, and this was the lowest level at which I would do this, plus it was available here for handy cannibalizing, so it would turn out to be pretty much the easiest of all my swap-arounds.
A scandalous gap (or two): I am pretty sure I have never properly looked at A Hard Day's Night. That said, between all the clips over the years and fragments of it on stumbled-upon television broadcasts, I've probably seen all of it. I will know better when it finally comes up in my Netflix queue (currently at #283). I really can't say why I don’t feel more urgency about this—probably vestiges of the mule-headed contrarian I live with. I have also never seen Kaufman's remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but there the mule-headedness is of another flavor, a purity stance based on how much I like the original and, more generally, resent the whole enterprise of remakes (and sequels) (and reboots) (and all their ilk). I have been sufficiently chastened by Phil's pick and others I have read that I now have a copy I found cheap somewhere making its way up my stacks. The likelihood is that I will get to it before A Hard Day's Night.