The Films I've Watched This Year #16

Film Short list this week because I was (a) ill with the tummy bug which has been going around (really do try and avoid this one, it's very, um, liquidy) (I lost half a stone in two days), (b) watched the Don Giovanni from the Royal Opera House from BBC Four on Sunday (because the only way to support Tony Hall's art initiative is to watch some of it), (c) finished off the incredibly stupid seventh series of 24 ("Dammit Tony!") and (d) began the even stupider series eight ("Dammit Renee!") then (e) tonight sat down with the not strictly a film because it was made for Court TV, Guilt By Association.

Guilt By Association continues my old blog commitment to trawl through actress Rachel McAdams's back catalogue.  It's a 2002 campaigning "film" about mandatory minimums, the US law which in drugs-related cases means everyone gets the same sentence even if they all they did was take phone messages and even if they didn't know that the caller was a dealer or customer.  Mercedes Ruehl stars as a widower with two kids who knows her boyfriend is dealing "a little pot on the side" but not knowing the extent of his business finds herself facing twenty years in the women's penitentiary.

Essentially it's what you'd imagine Orange is the New Black would be like ten years ago.  Lesbianism is implied once and only as a "kind of hospitality" and there isn't much room for gallows humour.  McAdams plays one of the few friends Ruehl has, a suicidal young woman who also picked the wrong boyfriend ("I didn't know the chemicals could be used to make methamphetamine" she says) and generally spends most of her section of the film looking pasty and crying (as you might expect given the circumstances).  She's transferred out of the jail before we find out what happens to her character.

Bits of this are unintentionally funny not least the overwrought opening in which a domestic scene straight from A Christmas Story is invaded by police extras in armour who look like they've stormed into the wrong film from 24 (cut to digitally zoomed close up of Ruehl's astonishment face as she's pinned to the ground) and the man playing the Georgia lawyer who fights for her pardon sounds like he's learnt his accent from watching Matthew McConaughey films.  Nevertheless, thanks to Ruehl good performance, the conclusion is still extremely effective for what this is.

Pacific Rim
The Usual Suspects
The Burning Plain

As long as you watch Pacific Rim in the spirit of what it is, which is Guillermo Del Toro directing a Westernised anime on a massive budget in live action, it's extremely good fun.  Pity a lot of critics and most of the audience seemed to miss that.  As a good installment of Battle of the Planets or Pole Position it really works.  Del Toro wanted to make a film about Mecha fighting Kaiju.  He made a film about Mecha fighting Kaiju.  He even calls them that in the bloody film.  Yet everyone seemed to go in expecting something, what, more complex?

I'm on the defensive again.  But honestly, how can you not love a film which essentially has Idris Alba doing Luther but in command of giant robots?  Has Ron Perlman doing that?  Has Burn Gorman of all people recreating Lee Evans's performance in Doctor Who's Planet of the Dead in a film which essentially recreates the plot of Doctor Who's Planet of the Dead?  Yes, it's stupid, yes, as the Cinema Sins video notices the whole thing could have been resolved without the need for the Mecha in the first place but damn if the flashback dream sequence doesn't redeem everything.

Like this week's trailer choice, The Burning Plain's a bit of a monster to write about in terms of spoilers.  How much to reveal?  How much is too much?  Have you heard of it?  I hadn't until I realised it was in Jennifer Lawrence's back catalogue and she's in there with Kim Basinger and Charlize Theron playing, erm, roles.  It tells the story of some people and there are some things which happen because of a burning.  On a plain.  The title has a number of meanings.  Is that too much?  No I think that's enough.  Don't look at the Imdb or the Wikipedia whatever you do.

All of this is because the film's main power is due its flashback structure which plays on how much knowledge we have of the characters and how well we pick up clues to locales and action in realising how they're connected to one another and where they all fit together within a definite timeline, sometimes deliberately misleading us.  It's written and directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu's collaborator Guillermo Arriaga which explains its spiritual similarities to 21 Grams, Amores Perros and even Babel which also work best when the viewer having as little knowledge as possible beforehand.

Lawrence is arguably as compelling here as she is later in Winter's Bone but it didn't make her a "star" yet presumably because the film as a whole wasn't well received.  Rotten Tomatoes shows an amazingly harsh 35% with spoilery reviews from critics who to a person give away one of the films central mysteries and entirely dislike the puzzle structure because it appears to make them think too much.  Even Ebert, bless him, missed the point, which I won't reveal now.  Maybe some other time.  But needless to say of the slim pickings this week, this is the one I'm recommending.

Having had to watch Traffic multiple occasions for my MA Screen Studies dissertation, the prime example of hyperlink cinema that it is, it's near impossible to enjoy it as a simple piece of entertainment now, though on this occasion, as part of watching all of Stephen Soderbergh's films in order, I did notice that the patter between Luis Guzmán & Don Cheadle's cops clearly glances back towards Out of Sight, Catherine Zeta-Jones is pretty much playing a middle-class Erin Brockovich and the Dawson's Creek junkies material is even less convincing now.

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