It’s been a while since I blogged about what I’ve been watching. And I haven’t really been writing about the films I’ve seen because, in the last little while, all the films I’ve watched have struck me as stupid. They’re massively overblown, expensive affairs, with thin stories and nothingy characters. But this week I feel a bit driven to go on about the two best genre movies I’ve seen in ages.
Both are pretty low-budget, thinking about it. ‘Skeletons’ happens mostly in the garden of a gloomy, old family house and in its partially-decorated rooms, or down by some railway tracks. It’s a lovely character piece that seems, at first glance, to be about a pair of quibbling, anoraky exorcists and turns out – minute-by-(bizarre-tense-touching)-minute – to be about something quite different. For something so abstract and mysterious, this wonderful British movie is concentrated on very tender and real family secrets. It’s wonderfully funny, too – but in a way that makes you gasp and laugh uneasily.
‘The Arrival of Wang’ is an Italian movie about the torture and interrogation of an alien visitor. I love the combination of fluorescently-lit scenes and overwrought, terrifying acting with the dodgy-looking CGI of that silvery octopoid alien. The heart of the story is in the anguish of the woman forced to translate the proceedings of these excruciating scenes – almost weeping as she relates the questions and demands in Mandarin (of course the alien choose the world’s most widespread language.) The whole thing cranks the tension up to an unbearable pitch and finishes with a moment and a single line so horrible I wouldn’t dream of spoiling it for you any more than I already have. Like many of the best genre films, it’s something clever pretending to be something that looks stupid.
Last night we also watched – at last – the first of the ‘Hobbit’ movies. I always liked this book more than ‘Lord of the Rings’ – it’s sillier, with more monsters and dafter characters and songs and midnight feasts. Here, under the sweeping, restless gaze of Peter Jackson you can feel the story groaning a little as the epic elements are heaped on by the shovelful. It’s all thoroughly enjoyable, but you can’t help but wince at the extreme lavishness of it all. Someone has a flashback and a thousand virtual extras are slain in the blink of a jaundiced eye.
Sylvester McCoy just about steals the show as a woodland wizard, heaped with tatters of lichenous moss and zooming about on a sledge dragged by bunnies. The best moments in the whole film are clearly the cheapest to achieve. Nothing has more impact than his face in close-up, on the point of tears as he realizes his hedgehog pal is about to die and something evil has come into the forest. At the same moment there are impossibly long spiders’ legs tapping at his cottage windows. In these moments we don’t see a whole giant spider. Just an effect that could be done with an old broom covered in hairy felt. Here were the film’s most touching and its most frightening few seconds and, of course, they were the simplest and cheapest and least overblown. A weathered, anxious, magical face in extreme close-up and something, outside, only half-glimpsed. The rest of this overlong adaptation is tiresomely literal – like all the most idiotic genre film and TV today.