Comedy is tragedy seen from a distance. So why does Wes Anderson shoot most of his comedies in close-up? Critics have complained that he’s obsessed with style as a director, that there’s no heart to his movies… everything’s arch. But people wouldn’t love movies like Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums if they were only window-dressing. It’s true enough that Anderson has an eye for composition, but it’s the heart of his movies that draws people in. The Darjeeling Limited is beautiful to look at, full of wit and wry, subtle humour, but again (and, as always) you’ll fall for it because it’s a funny/sad movie. Adjectives, like tragedy, come closer when Wes Anderson is in the director’s chair.
What happened to Ridley Scott? Here’s a man who made Alien, Blade Runner, Thelma & Louise, Gladiator and… then what? When did his movies stop being a Must See? When did they lose that danger, that avant-garde something, that taking-three-years-to-light-‘em-right…that magic? These days he’s a journeyman. Gorgeous journeys, yes. Well-crafted, certainly. But the movie landscape doesn’t alter with these new films. He used to make movies that influenced movies. Now you’re lucky if you can remember the title of his last film.
This is, I guess, Luc Besson’s Manhattan. It is not as Woody Allen would have made it, but then, Woody probably wouldn’t have had much truck with The Fifth Element either. Luc Besson does not share Woody Allen’s passion for philosophy. He has no time for dry wit or ambiguity. He loves Paris as Woody loved NY (once upon a time), but in order to write a Valentine, he needed to mark it with own stamp. You know the one. You’ve seen Nikita, Leon, The Fifth Element and the rest. Besson’s muse isn’t Diane Keaton, it’s a catwalk model. His answer to the death of God is to reload a gun. Angel-A is gorgeous, witless and very Besson-y, which I mean as a compliment. Think of it as Manhattan lobotomised and just for fun.
Why do movies love vampires above other monsters? Is it because they’re cheap (rented teeth)? Because they’re sexy? Because they transgress? From Bram Stoker’s Dracula to Anne Rice’s Lestat, vampires do something to movie goers and book lovers alike which isn’t nice, but – We Want It. Vampires are desirable. Even when vampire movies are camp or made in the 80s and starring a drug-bloated Keifer Sutherland (hands up fans of The Lost Boys), we’re suckers for their blood-sucking, their deathly pallor, and their sex as death (those fatal kisses). 30 Days of Night tells a story that’s morally reprehensible and needlessly cruel, but as a vampire movie, it’s glorious.
Once in a while I understand what good actors bring to a movie. It’s usually mediocrity that sounds it out. When a good actor is given a script that’s nothing much and a group of co-stars who are either miscast or woefully inadequate, it’s as if adversity acts as a lightning rod; think of Antony Hopkins in Meet Joe Black or Marlon Brando in anything after 1972. Johnny Depp is a master of turning cinematic lead into acting gold. Now Viggo Mortensen must be added to these somewhat dubiously-honoured ranks. Viggo’s new movie, Eastern Promises, is mediocre to the bone, but his performance, as a Russian mobster, is among the best acting of the year.