A friend of mine used to have a game he called “Who can take the hardest punch?”. I never played. But something of that game’s mixture of violence, posturing and borderline personality disorder came back to me as I watched Wanted. This is a movie made for boys: full of guns, knives, fast cars and explosive women. People get punched in this movie so hard and so regularly that you might fear for their looks, if they weren’t part of a fantasy universe. Blood doesn’t signal a wound in Wanted, it’s more like lipstick. The hero doesn’t have sex; he has the crap kicked out of him.
Se7en has a lot to answer for. I’ve lost track of the number of movies featuring principled serial killers juxtaposed with society-as-a-moral-toilet. This is all a step on (step down?) from Silence of the Lambs. There was goodness in Silence, and not all the world had gone to hell. But for the new generation of serial killer movies (the sons of Se7en), it’s not enough that the killers are depraved – the world around them seems to guarantee they’d turn nasty. Waz looks at the world and (bar Melissa George) sees nothing it likes. Every scene seems to take place in a morgue or a urinal. Even algebra has turned violent.
Sometimes I try to picture M. Night Shyamalan’s producers, standing around dumbfounded as he takes a good premise and meticulously f—s it up. Ever since he made The Sixth Sense, Shyamalan has been refining what was bad about that movie (the portentousness, the hollow profundity) and setting aside the good. Credit where credit is due, he got a good performance out of Bruce Willis once upon a time. But five movies later, anyone, everyone – his producers included – would have to conclude, reluctantly, that M. Night Shyamalan has lost it. The Happening is the most abysmal movie I’ve seen this year. And this is the year I saw Southland Tales.
Two directors sit down for coffee. One is Ang Lee, a quiet, affable director of art-house fare and family dramas. The other is Louis Leterrier, a confident, all-smiling, Gallic Brett Ratner; director of action extravaganzas. They have met to discuss how they might approach a movie based on the Marvel Comics character The Incredible Hulk.
Ang sees it as an oedipal drama.
Louis tells him he’s over-thinking things.
This is the kind of movie you expect from an actor turned director: subdued, character-led, respectable. No-one goes Herzog their first time out. Even Mel Gibson waited until his third movie before he went bananas. Actors – leading men, especially – want their first movie to announce: I’m serious. Witness Bob Redford directing Ordinary People; Mel directing The Man Without a Face. Ben Affleck has studied this model carefully during his wilderness years; chosen his source material from an approved writer (Dennis Lehane, who also wrote Mystic River); picked a lot of pug-ugly non-actors for “authenticity”. Michael Bay mightn’t love it; John Cassavetes would.
This is a New Yorker movie. By that, I mean a movie made by, for and about readers of The New Yorker. In Britain this demographic might also be referred to as Guardian readers. I speak of a mostly white, well-educated, pretentious, liberal sub-class of people; the kind of folk who know what focaccia bread looks like; who Elizabeth Bishop is, and when to use “farther” instead of “further”. Yes, such people are often referred to as “assholes” by non-New Yorker readers, but they (we?) mean no harm. Like the fractious siblings of The Savages, New Yorker readers are far too busy fretting over their next thesis to be the subject of big movies. No-one expects New Yorker pics, unlike Iron Man, Pirates, Jurassic Park, etc, to take over the world.