Fight Club (1999)

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Fight Club is slick, yet almost flippant, stylish, but brash and impolite, and gimmicky enough to be headed directly for cult status.

The story is challenging, confronting in parts, and iconoclastic in others. Its work of thumbing its nose at the unbiquitous anti-masculine, pseudo-feminism embraced so uncritically by American pop culture is almost undone by the presence of its teeny-idol stars.

The story targets millions of disaffected young men, like Jack (Edward Norton), an insurance assessor with yuppie pretensions, actualised in his catalogue-perfect domestic possessions, displayed for an absent audience in his yuppie condo apartment.  A domicile empty, though, of signs of life and affection.  Jack suffers chronic insomnia, probably as an indicator of the Nietzschean chasm he’s about to fall into, and seeks to address this manicured sickness by frequenting support groups for people with ailments he hasn’t got, meeting along the way the half-crazy Marla (Helena Bonham Carter) with whom he forms an inevitably love-hate relationship.

But the support groups are only a stop-gap remedy for the hole in Jack’s soul.  A more profound change in his life occurs after the chance encounter of the feral Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), a man with an eye for the profane and a penchant for anarchy.  Left at odds by the mysterious destruction of his condo, along with all his yuppie possessions, Jack takes up residence with Durden in a falling-down derelict old house that is the antithesis of his former status ambitions.

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The English Patient (1997)

My recent video binges have left me fairly unimpressed with the calibre of acting, photography and spectacle. There were some hours of entertainment, but nothing the memory of which did not fade very quickly.

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Into this climate of indifference came two movies which made a deep impression on me: The English Patient and Mother Night (the latter film was reviewed in 1999 and is on my list to be seen again prior to revising my initial review).

Both of them aroused emotional tremors which have not yet subsided. Both of them moved me in ways so fundamental I have not yet resolved the terms of the experience or fully explained to myself the psychology which touched me so strongly.

And both films dealt with themes which I ought to be too young to care about, too naïve to internalise or too impatient to absorb: the excruciatingly painful loss of things held most dear in circumstances which relegate that pain to an insignificant aside on a much larger canvas of tragedy.

Michael Ondaatje’s novel The English Patient, turned into film, was first. Given the lavish praise it received from the art-house industry, it was a bit of a surprise to find myself actually wanting to see this film: the wankers in the industry so often gush about films which carry nothing more than pretentious style that I take their recommendations in the negative and stay away from their favourites.

What attracted me to the film were previews which showed such heartrendingly gorgeous cinematography, and such an odd assortment of players, that I grew curious.

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One of the almost surreally beatiful scenes in the film: a plane over a sea of desert sand.

I was not disappointed. From the very first scene to the very last act, it was a mesmerising experience. I was sucked into the story as if I were drugged.

What touched me was the ambiguity of the characters, the uncertainty about their motivations, the randomness of the occurrences and the depth of the unfolding tragedy in their lives.

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The Godfather (1972)

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Judged by me as a landmark film, even if not quite for the same reasons it has won high praise for decades elsewhere.

I thought Mario Puzo’s novel, which I read before I saw the film the first time, was pretty lightweight, the language adding nothing to what seemed to be a pedestrian plot. Perhaps I need to re-read it, because the story I saw in the film was far from shallow.

Keeping in mind the era, and an unusually convincing portrayal of characters by a largely unknown cast, it was the deliberate, exquisite breach of one of Hollywood’s most hypocritical and senseless conventions that makes the film so extraordinary.

This convention is the rule that ‘bad guys’ can never succeed or be more than rakishly sympathetic. The Godfather’s son and successor, Michael Corleone (the then almost unknown Al Pacino), who develops into a ruthless killer, is portrayed as more than personable: he is admirable for his strength and courage.

Another convention to be broken was to never to bring into disrepute the American legal system or its enforcers, who are deliberately portrayed as avaricious, corrupt bit players on a stage dominated by the Mafia families that interact with the Corleones.

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Crash (1996)

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David Cronenberg makes confronting, uncomfortable films which explore sexuality and the psychology of perversity; Crash is no exception, but in the manner of Videodrome, Dead Ringers, and The Naked Lunch, Crash is a cerebral narrative with no gratuitous provocation or titillation, the way some of its critics accused.

Based on JG Ballard’s 1973 novel of the same title, Crash explores jaded human sexuality diverted into the fetish of the automobile, and a macabre sexual obsession with damaged human flesh, and perhaps even the thanatos complex.

The story revolves around the tireless but unfulfilled quest by James and Catherine Ballard (Spader and Unger) for satisfying sex. After a serious car accident, James Ballard meets Vaughan (Kotias), a car crash obsessive, and Helen Remington (Hunter), the passenger in the car Ballard collided with. Together these two characters draw Ballard and his wife into a morbid fantasy world of celebrity car crash recreations and the bizarre injury fetish which is central to the film’s development of James Ballard’s quest for seaxual fulfillment.

Cronenberg uses harsh gray-blue lighting and subdued colours to create a cool atmosphere which sets the tone for the intimate but impersonal interactions between his characters. It is this impersonal nature which I found more disturbing than anything else about the film: the casual, emotionally detached coldness of people who seem to have no sentimental love for anything, not even themselves.

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