Category Archives: Romance

The Duke of Burgundy (2014) – A baroque S&M dreamworld…

burgundy 1

Like his characters in The Duke of Burgundy, writer-director Peter Strickland is a man with very specific tastes. Inspired by European exploitation flicks of the 60s and 70s, Strickland uses sleazy genre tropes as a jumping off point, creating his own peculiar world of heightened reality. Unlike Tarantino, who mashes all his influences together into a primary-coloured pop culture collage, Strickland’s vision is exactingly beautiful, highly strung, and very, very niche.

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Harold and Maude (1971) – Stinks of Bad Death…


“It’s a funny old world,” W.C Fields once said, “A man’s lucky if he gets out of it alive.” When he was dying, a friend visiting him in hospital found him reading the Bible. Why? “I’m checking for loopholes.”

Those two quotes, in a round about way, sum up why I don’t like Harold and Maude. Life is hard at times, a knackering, exasperating accumulation of circumstance that sometimes leaves one wishing for a quieter life…oblivion, for example. But no-one gets out alive, and there are no loopholes. One may not have signed up for this shit, but to check out early is a dereliction of duty.

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Sunshine on Leith (2013) – Made My Heart Fly for a while, but glad when it was Over And Done With…


Sunshine on Leith is a workmanlike crowdpleaser adapted from the musical of the same name, a story of two squaddies told in large part by the songs of The Proclaimers. The game cast breezily warm the cockles and the songs serve the slender plot well before the film’s torpid mid-section gets bogged down in maudlin marital melodrama.

It will take a very hard hearted person to actually dislike Dexter Fletcher’s sophomore effort as director, but for all its good intentions, I was just hanging around for the Edinburgh duo’s two biggest hits to make an appearance by the end.

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Casablanca (1942) – Everyone comes to Rick’s…

Casablanca, shit.  It’s always a daunting prospect reviewing an established classic, a movie so globally loved and revered.  Written about countless times before, do you attempt to approach it from a fresh angle, or just soldier on and attempt to do it justice?

The British Film Institute (BFI) recently made headlines with the announcement that Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo had finally usurped Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane as the number one film of all time.  Casablanca didn’t make the top Fifty.

The key word here is Film.  Film suggests something set in celluloid, an art form to examine and revere from a scholarly distance, whereas the term Movie suggests a cinematic experience we get up close and personal to, something that Moves us.

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The Fisher King (1991) – Gilliam’s Fairytale of New York…

The Fisher King is Terry Gilliam’s attempt at a “Simple” movie, made after the excesses of The Adventures of Baron Munchaussen.  Gilliam’s idea of simple may differ from other people’s.  There is a quest for the Holy Grail in a fairytale New York, and he turns Grand Central Station into a ballroom, but apart from that, it is a low-key, simple story about human relationships.

A successful, self-absorbed shock jock, Jack Lucas (Jeff Bridges), is about to make the jump to TV sitcoms, when an unstable caller takes his callous on air comments literally.  The result is a bloodbath in a trendy Manhattan bar.

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Midnight in Paris (2011) – Another Twenties Memory from Woody Allen…

Before I left for Prague once, I picked up a copy of Bohumil Hrabal’s Too Loud a Solitude (Příliš Hlučna Samota).  It instantly became my favourite book, and Hrabal one of my favourite authors.

Arriving in Prague, I discovered Hrabal was once a regular of U Zlateho Tygra – there’s a picture of him on the wall, enjoying a few beers with Vaclav Havel and Bill Clinton.

Hrabal died in February 1997.  Damn it, if I’d only read that book and traveled to Prague nine years earlier, I could have met my new literary idol!

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Let the Right One In (2008) – What happens if you fall for a vampire…

What happens if you fall in love with a vampire?  Released the same year as the first installment of the Twilight saga, Tomas Alfredson’s low-key adaptation of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel attempts to answer the same question.  While the conclusion reached is more frightening, the central romance is certainly more touching.

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Twilight (2008): Why Did The Vampire Cross the Road?

You think vampires are evil?  I had a girl like Twilight‘s Bella work with me once.  Her attitude stank so bad I gave her a special job to do.  I had a huge pile of old papers that needed shredding, and told her that the information was so sensitive, she needed to go through every page and black out every line with a marker first.  It took her four days.

I’ve been building up to actually watching Twilight for so long now, just so I could form my own opinion, and I end up starting with that non-movie related anecdote.  I guess I was just groping around to find a way to describe how much Kristen Stewart’s character irritated me.

The first act of Twilight plays like a less fun version of The Lost Boys, as morose teen Bella Swan moves from her hometown Phoenix to stay with her divorced dad in Forks, WA. a town so quiet, small and ordinary it looks like David Lynch’s worst nightmare.

The ungrateful sourpuss is quickly befriended by her new classmates, but her attention is grabbed by the mysterious Cullen clan, who swan around the school in a stately manner and keep themselves to their ultra-cool selves.

Bella is quick to spot hollow-cheeked hunk Edward (Robert Pattinson), although his reaction to her on first meeting in Biology class is unfortunate.  When he catches a waft of her scent, he looks like he’s about to lose his lunch.

Through a series of quavering, awkward conversations, the glum pair get the hots for each other. When Edward miraculously saves Bella from being flattened by an out of control van in the parking lot, she realizes he might not be quite what he seems…

Bella and Edward fall heavy for each other, but there is a problem – namely, Edward’s a vampire.  Bella’s not too fussed, though, even when he explains her scent  is like curry to a pisshead for a vampire.

Questions inevitably arise; Edward wants to give her a good old sucking, and Bella clears wants to be sucked.  What about sex?  Edward doesn’t eat regular food, or sleep, so does he get a boner?  Or does that only happen when two people are both vampires?

Or once they’re both blood-suckers, do they just waft around aesthetically together, gazing longingly at each other for eternity in a daze of deliciously fatalistic ennui?  Or do they just take turns ravishing each other, sucking one another dry?  I hope the rest of the Twilight Saga will answer these questions…

Other characters include Jacob (Taylor Lautner), a native American wolfboy (it’s only alluded to in this episode, but it’s hard to avoid the trailers).  The Native Americans wear durable materials, check shirts and jeans, and drive pickup trucks; the genteel Vampires nonchalantly flaunt the affluence of presumably Old World ancestors.  They also have lots of fast cars in the garage, although vampires need cars as much as Jaws needed a speedboat.

I enjoyed Twilight.  I deliberately disengaged the movie snob and let myself go with it.  I was disappointed to see what they’ve done with classic motifs of vampire lore – the vampires don’t live in the cloudiest, wettest part of the US by mistake.  But it’s not to prevent them bursting into flame, it’s to stop them twinkling like a Snoop Dogg tie pin.  What trauma!

They are also clearly visible in mirrors, which explains how they manage to keep perfectly groomed.

I resisted making any judgement about Twilight until seeing it, although based on the trailers, I did suggest it looked like a bit of a cheapo rush job.  The trailers mainly feature two sullen teens moping around in the woods, or else running away from bad CGI in the woods.  Of course, the woods, along with abandoned warehouses, are often a surefire location clue to a cheap production.

However, I thought the locations in Twilight were very atmospheric; plenty of moping in the woods, granted, but also stunning coastal scenery, lakes and glowering storm clouds.

Despite my initial desire to give Bella a sadistically large pile of mind-numbing paperwork to do, Stewart is relatively effective in the role, somehow suggesting a free spirit wanting to escape her awkward, morose exterior.

The real one to watch is Pattinson, of course.  I’d never seen the guy in anything other than a Twilight trailer, so I was eager to see what the fuss was about.  My initial reaction was he looked like an ultra-lifelike creation by Jim Henson’s Shop, with the bloodless line of an unsmiling mouth, a jutting nose and stern eyebrows.  But, when he smiles…yes, girls, OK I get it.

Some might say the Muppets are more expressive, but I get the feeling there’s a good actor in Pattinson waiting for better material.  Twilight is ultra-safe, sanitized and focus-grouped to appeal to the widest possible audience without offending anyone, and the script is hardly giving him the chance to cut loose.

There’s a couple of good lines – I enjoyed him talking about sucking on animals being like regular carnivores eating tofu.  Most of the dialogue is made up of ultra-sincere swooners aimed at lovelorn teenagers –

Edward: “That’s what you dream about?  Being a monster?”

Bella: “I dream about being with you forever.”


Edward: “I don’t have the strength to stay away from you anymore.”

Bella: “Then don’t”

There is a disappointing lack of vampire action in Twilight, however, and I think anyone who by some miracle doesn’t know anything about it would be best approaching it as a straightforward teen romance rather than a vampire film.

If I was a teenage boy looking for a few scares and a good old vampire monster mash, I’d come away very bored indeed.

Despite all my criticisms, I got pretty engrossed.  I found a stand off between the good vampires and bad vampires surprisingly tense, and I found the thing quite romantic.  Bring on New Moon!

PS: Punchlines to the title joke gratefully requested…

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