Critics must have wet themselves when they saw the start of this movie. It begins with a shot of a residential street in Paris. Only we aren’t watching a street. We are watching two bourgeois Parisians watching a tape of their street being watched. It’s like a goddamn Meaning sandwich with a side-order of Symbolism. Voyeurism! The viewer as voyeur! Oh shudder ye cinema patrons, at your culpability in what is about to unfold! …Sheesh. Gimme a break. That kind of beginning has director Michael Haneke’s fingerprints over it the way blue light lets you know it’s Spielberg. Haneke is the guy who brought you Funny Games and The Piano Teacher. He’s not about to direct a Transformers sequel. But still.
This isn’t Tim Burton’s masterpiece. He made that nearly twenty years ago. It was called Edward Scissorhands. Everything that Burton brings to cinema was there in that movie; the kitschy gothic aesthetic; the lonely girl; the misunderstood male lead. Burton is not a great director (he doesn’t have intellectual ambition for his movies), but he’s so idiosyncratic that maybe there’s room for him among the greats. Sweeney Todd could have been made by David Cronenberg (and it would have scared you) or Sam Mendes (and you would have swooned), but only Tim Burton could make a movie about throat-slitting into a fairy tale.
Cormac McCarthy is an old crank. He may well be the William Faulkner of the 21st century, but he’s a crank. I read a lot of critics rhapsodise about No Country for Old Men when the hardback hit the stands, but precious few took note the book’s old-man-erisms: the crankiness, the misanthropy, the pessimistic certainty that only comes with old age – or youth. McCarthy’s world view is that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. In the Coen brothers’ adaptation of No Country for Old Men, doom is like a blanky that Javier Bardem’s character trails with him. You can ignore it if you want; talk all you like about the modern Western, but this movie is only, only about death.
America doesn’t do satire. You can’t be raised on Disney and hate yourself. Comedy is fine. The Three Stooges are fine. Chris Rock is fine (as long as he’s not in a movie). But satire is comedy’s mutant half-brother. And you’ve gotta hate yourself a little to do satire. Hate yourself, and yet – allow only you to hate you. Satire is proud. Its self-loathing comes from a deep knowledge of self… It comes from Britain, the empire that lost. If the Brits had made Charlie Wilson’s War it would be about the Falklands – and it wouldn’t be half so much fun. It’s not that Charlie Wilson’s War is a bad movie, it’s just not the satire it wants to be. It’s a comedy; satire made nice.
I love misconceived epics. You have to love movies made for an audience of one. When director’s give up on appeasing the movie-going public, the studio, alimony payments and private-school tuition fees… when they piss money into the ether… I’m there. These movies are sometimes genuinely worth watching, they do sometimes do what good movies should, but I can’t pretend it’s my critical faculties that compel me to treasure them. Ryan’s Daughter is not a great movie the way Lawrence of Arabia is. But I love it more than Lawrence because Lawrence was made to be an epic, and Ryan’s Daughter is only an epic because David Lean willed it to be.
Would you want to survive the apocalypse? Isn’t life hard enough already? From Soylent Green through to Waterworld the worst part of the apocalypse is surviving it. Where would you propose to buy your dental floss after Armageddon? Who would, in the immortal words of Joyce Grenfell, clean the drains? The apocalypse isn’t sanitary. It doesn’t care that your under-arms would smell. And besides, who’d have time to worry about personal hygiene with zombies and lord-knows-what-else on the loose? This (the zombie part) is the dilemma that confronts Will Smith in I Am Legend. He copes better than most of us would, but still – post-apocalyptic life is bleak.