#205: Jaws. Primal fear ripples through the small beach town on Amity Island as an ancient predator appears just off the coast: a great white shark, enemy of mankind and a merciless killing machine, its deadliness reportedly surpassed only by beverage dispensers and a couple dozen other things. There might even be a movie in this, though fortunately, Coca Cola already gets so much screen time from product placement that nobody needs to feel cheated for missing out on Vending Machine: Clutches of Death. Jaws has survived controversies about killing great amounts of sharks for little reason surprisingly well, considering it was released in 1975 when people thought they really were evil incarnate. Though public opinion has shifted since then, it is still a classic because the movie never actually stoops to demonising the animals. Their natural savagery is counterbalanced by Matt Hooper, a young marine biologist who genuinely admires sharks. The great white might not even be the film’s villain, considering the apologetic practices of Amity’s mayor Vaughan who seems to value the town’s economy more than its residents when he stubbornly refuses to close the beaches despite the apparent danger.
#204: Kumonosu-jô – Throne Of Blood (weird translation, more literally Cobweb Castle). Two cornerstones make up the foundation of old Japanese movies: Shakespeare and Screaming. Screaming with a capital S, because no matter how silent the room and how close you two are standing together, if you do not use your parliamentary debate voice you lose. Having just bested the rebel leader Inui, the two generals Washizu and Miki travel through Spider’s Web Forest when they encounter an old woman clad in white, spinning spider webs on a loom and chanting about ambition and early graves. Caution and common sense obviously weren’t invented at the time, so the two men stop to listen to the old hag telling them their fortunes. For their bravery in breaking up Inui’s rebel host each of them is to be rewarded with a castle. Furthermore, Washizu will succeed the reign of the current lord of Forest Castle, with Miki’s son Yoshiteru being next in line to inherit the lordship after Washizu’s death. The two men agree that such a fate would indeed be most fortunate, but laugh and shake their heads regarding the likelihood of the prophecy even after each being granted a minor but handsome castle the same day just as it had been foretold. Washizu relaxes into his new responsibility for North Castle and is quite content, but then makes the mistake of telling his ambitious wife about the forest witch’s prophecy. She loses no time and poisons his mind with doubts, arguing that his supposed friend Miki would make sure to pit the lord of Forest Castle against him, seeing that his own son could only resume the reign once Washizu’s part of the prophecy had been fulfilled. The rest is Scottish legend. Washizu kills his sovereign when he visits North Castle to prepare the final attack against the remnants of Inui’s forces and claims the lordship over Forest Castle for himself. Driven mad by paranoia and the insinuations of his wife he orders to have Miki killed for… not showing up at a banquet?… and then loses his own heir when his wife miscarries and subsequently follows him into madness. With Yoshiteru advancing on Forest Castle to avenge the murder of his father, Washizu seeks out the forest witch once again, who tells him that he will never lose a battle unless the forest itself should march against him. Washizu is momentarily relieved, but sure enough Yoshiteru’s general orders his soldiers to camouflage themselves with undergrowth before the fight, et voilà, the forest marches towards the castle. Having been informed of the latest prophecy, the defenders lose their courage but before surrendering to Yoshiteru take the time to season their screaming, bouncing general with a shower of arrows. The visuals in this movie are bloody impressive. The scene of Washizu and Miki riding through the haunted forest somehow feels eerie and snug at the same time, the prophetic old hag can transform into being scarier than a Silent Hill nurse, and Washizu trying to outrun the arrows of his men is brilliant, especially if you consider that they were actually shooting arrows at him. Toshirô Mifune’s (Washizu) rapid descent from scepsis into insanity is about four and three quarters better than the performance of the rest of the cast, though their overall style will probably feel alien to our modern notion of acting. It’s also slightly annoying just how fickle and gullible these supposedly hard, rational men prove to be when they yet again change their mind, but then, Macbeth might not the most realistic of tales either.
#203: Guardians of the Galaxy. A group of unlikely alien adventurers hunts a powerful artifact to make a lot of money. When they can’t sell it, they rescue the galaxy instead. Guardians of the Galaxy was actually quite an enjoyable watch, so, unreasonable like I am, I will make a show of everything I didn’t like about it. The cinematography for almost every action scene is rather poorly done, with inconvenient cuts changing the point of view right when a fist is supposed to meet a row of teeth and thereby diluting the impact. In those rare cases without cuts, you still can’t see anything happening because it’s often too dark. The only difference between various alien populations seems to be their colour and the occasional plastic accessory worked into their skin, which might either be laziness or a parody I don’t understand. Last of all, the movie villain Ronan feels uncomfortably out of place. He is an ink stain of ramrod seriousness and sobriety in an otherwise quirky and comedic medley… which might be a parody I don’t understand but he obviously didn’t get it either. Good thing he died.
#202: The Avengers. This is in here, too? Well, give Guardians of the Galaxy a different coating and this is what you end up with. It made quite a bit more money, though.
#201: Relatos salvajes – Wild Tales. A pretty girl – she’s a model – catches her flight just before take-off and ends up sitting next to a slim man of about fifty. They talk; he tells her that he’s a critic for classical music. Rrr. It makes her think of her ex-boyfriend Gabriel, because he had been into classical music as well. She mentions his name, as it is high time to drop the information of her being single anyway. Astonishingly, Mr Critic remembers Gabriel from his time on an assessment commission. Gabriel had written a horrible piece of music for his final exam, so Critic had to fail him. An older woman in the seat in front of him turns around to join the conversation, telling the two little doves that she happens to be Gabriel’s former teacher. A guy a couple rows in the back turns out to be his landlord, his psychiatrist is also there, everyone on the plane knows Gabriel. A white-faced stewardess informs the passengers that Gabriel is the pilot. “Uh-oh” is written on everyone’s face. The plane crashes into the small family home of an elderly couple, probably old enough to be Gabriel’s parents. Everyone is dead. A customer enters a restaurant late at night. The waitress knows him, he’s the loan shark who ruined her family. The burly cook working the nightshift suggests putting rat poison into his meal, but the waitress is Gandhi incarnate and refuses. The cook poisons his fries anyway. The Shark is eating the fries, though yet reluctant to die, when his son enters the restaurant and starts to share his meal. The waitress is aghast, yanks the plate away and scatters fries everywhere. The Shark is furious and grabs her by the hair, the cook stabs him from behind. He dies, his son survives. Corporate Man is racing his Audi through a mountainous area, raging at a slowpoke in front of him. When Corporate Man has to stop to change a tyre Slowpoke parks his own car in front of him, gets out, beats on Corporate Man’s windshield with a vice, pees on the car, poops on the car – no sorry, he takes the shit first, then pees on the car – and gets back into his car. Corporate Man accelerates, Corporate Man pushes Slowpoke and his car into the river. Slowpoke gets out again, into Corporate Man’s car, strangles him with his seatbelt, pushes a burning cloth into the Audi’s tank and tries to leave, when Corporate Man somehow manages to wake up again, grabs Slowpoke’s ankle and drags him into the car. The car explodes, they both die. It’s hilarious.
I have now told you everything from the first half of the movie and the remaining three stories are just as bizarre. So do watch it before I spoil the twists and turns of false parking, a hardly reasonable argument over unreasonable bribery demands, and the most romantic wedding ever caught on camera.
DROPOUT: Nightcrawler. If you’re stupid and unimaginative like me, Nightcrawler might sound like yet another alias of a Marvel superhero (and what a superhero it would be, considering nightcrawlers are earthworms), though here the term is used for journalists prowling the streets at night to chance across newsworthy crime scenes and accidents. After a brief and somewhat unsatisfactory career as a scrap scavenger, Louis Bloom takes up this new business as a freelancer, armed with nothing more than a handheld camera and the least likeable personality of every protagonist ever. I suspect we’ll eventually come across Pat Bateman from American Psycho at some point in this list, who is a chainsaw-wielding yuppie madman from the 90’s, and a fountain of joy compared to the skeletal apparition of Lou Bloom. Lou essentially works like a robot. Unperturbed by the distress of victims, onlookers and paramedics trying to do their jobs, he happily worms his way past police officers to capture his footage as close to burning cars and bloodstained faces as he can get. Resourceful as he is, he overcomes eventual lulls in criminal activity by orchestrating gory accidents on his own, conveniently disposing of competing journalists in the process. What makes Lou genuinely creepy, however, is the business management lingo he uses as if he was a suit of armour with a tape recorder playing audio books from the library’s self-improvement section. Watching this movie more than once might even make you question whether Lou might not actually be an early prototype terminator, designed to acclimate humanity to the slaughter yet to come by serving them triple homicides to go with their breakfast cereal. At one point, he even threatens to, and it is about time I introduced quotes, “terminate” his pitiful employee Rick for spilling gasoline on his car. See that taut skin around his hollow eyes? It is probably safer for everyone to assume that there is a titanium endoskeleton underneath. Despite all the beautifully composed revulsion Jake Gyllenhaal manages to stuff into his character, the plot could have done with a more drastic ending. Having already seen Lou deliberately throwing lives away before, the death of his own employee doesn’t exactly make us feel any better, but it doesn’t make it more impactful either.
Niklas was Between Ordeals while writing this article.