The Blind Spot #3 – “Shallow Grave”

I think it happened when I was on my way home having just watched “Trance”. Wow, was that almost 2 months ago? Time flies when you’re running a blog… Anyhow, I was just trying to remember some of the older Danny Boyle movies in order to put “Trance” in context, because that’s just what my mind does at times to keep things nice and segregated up there. And then… What am I missing? Surely I’ve seen most if not all of his work, because Danny Boyle is in fact one of my favorite directors currently in business. But only a couple of minutes later when I got home and popped my laptop open, a quick IMDB survey revealed everything to me – “Shallow grave”… How could I have not seen it before?

Sure, apart from that, two other films also have also slipped under my radar (“Millions” and “A life less ordinary”), but his grand debut… shame on me. Quick, Robin! To the Lovefilm-o-mobile…

Now that I have corrected this heinous aberration, I can yet again walk the streets with my head held high. Not that anyone cares, but I shall do it anyway. So, for those of you who, like me, have spent your lives completely oblivious to the fact that Danny Boyle did something before “Trainspotting”, “Shallow grave” should be a fantastic treat.

It’s a story about a trio of friends (Kerry Fox, Christopher Eccleston and Ewan McGregor) who share a flat in Edinburgh and are on the lookout for a fourth flatmate. After an extensive and hilarious search that involved some mildly condescending comedy they finally bag a suitable fit. What’s not to like about him? He promised to be quiet and is loaded with cash, apparently, so welcome aboard. Nothing lasts forever though and shortly thereafter, the new tenant kicks the bucket and is found by our trio lying on his bed all naked with his junk hanging out. While I’m here, I should point out that it appears that Danny Boyle’s obsession with full frontal nudity in his films can be traced right down to the debut. And it almost never involves sexual context (maybe with the exception of “Trance”) and even if it does, it’s always almost awkwardly placed as if Boyle wanted to have the movie acknowledged as an adult feature, but not quite.

1995-shallow-grave-poster1

As if he would think: ‘What? Is my film getting a PG-13? Not on my watch! I’m making movies for adults, not adolescents. Quickly, let’s put a scene with a penis in it. That ought to teach them… PG-13 my ass now!’ Diabolical laugh then ensues…

Yep, I know it sounds weird, but genitalia in Danny Boyle’s movies always get you by surprise…

Right, back to the story… The dearly departed tenant leaves behind a suitcase full of cash, which leaves the trio with a dilemma: should we call in the guy’s death and have the police  confiscate the money, or maybe we should keep the money, dismember the body and bury it in the forest and continue to live as millionaires… Yeah, I think everybody knows how that dilemma is going to be solved, especially in a Danny Boyle universe…

Even though “Shallow grave” was shot on a shoestring budget and it looks cheap through and through, it is in all actuality a great film to watch. Clearly, the Danny Boyle’s storytelling genius was already well developed and at large. The story is paced fantastically and the characters evolve perfectly suited for the horrors of the film’s climax. Ewan McGregor was a delight to watch and his subsequent bromance with Boyle that lasted for a while is completely understandable as this youngster had a true natural talent. What caught my attention though, was Eccleston’s character – David, who slowly loses his senses as a result of the trauma disposing of a body must have clearly been. It was kind of reminiscent of Di Caprio’s character in “The Beach” in a way, which led me to believe Boyle’s fascination with insanity and trauma can be considered a theme of his career.

Speaking of themes in Danny Boyle’s film making career, I think am now able to divide his body of work into two chapters. The thing that separates the two is the lens flare. I mean seriously, go and watch “Trance” or “Slumdog” and you’ll know what I mean, because at some point in his career Boyle fell in love with working against the light and playing with it to a point of using lens imperfections for artistic effects. I think right around “Sunshine” (or even “The Beach” to a small extent) Boyle really made extensive use of what was to become his signature photography. Before that, “Shallow Grave”, “Trainspotting” , “The Beach” and even “28 days later” are all way more modest. In fact, they actually share a lot in storytelling and style, but when it comes to details, I think it’s safe to say that Boyle’s early work could be collectively called ‘the held-back period’. While all Boyle’s movies have a common theme of human instability and innate brutality, there came a point in Boyle’s career where the gloves came off and he started to investigate human weaknesses in a way more visceral, graphic way.  So, what in the world happened between “28 days later” and “Sunshine” that kicked Danny’s film making into another level? I’m afraid I don’t have an answer to that, but I surely will try and come up with something.

I can only say that “Shallow grave” allowed be to look at Danny Boyle a bit differently. It’s a fantastic piece of cinema and up till now I can’t believe I haven’t seen it for such a long time. It is not his greatest achievement – obviously, as one’s big screen debut is almost always not the opus magnum that would define him for generations to come. It did however, define Boyle’s style and set the wheels in motions, so that we could admire his latest work as mature films for mature audience with mature expectations.

The Sunday Rant

Right, so I thought I could use some venting. The years of indentured servitude one has to go through in order to become a scientist, all the while biting his tongue and pickling his emotions, have taught me that keeping things in can be at least referred to as unhealthy. So, as one might probably realize by now, I tend to rant. A lot. I like to think it’s therapeutic, but other than that I don’t really know.

Last week ended up being really interesting. I spent God knows how long waiting for the rest of the world to catch up with the greatest (so far) stink-bomb of the year – “Iron Man 3”, because I really wanted to see how it is received globally. It would seem that here in Europe we’re mostly good guys and instances of brutally spoiling this film for our fellow movie-goers across the pond were rather scarce; if you don’t count Youtube – that place is just full of butt-holes, but who am I to talk… I sincerely hoped “Iron Man 3” would bomb, but quite expectedly people loved it. The critics write sonnets about how fantastic it was and the box office revenue reflects the popular (sigh!) vote; and that scares me.

I mean, I can understand that people don’t want to step on anyone’s toes with this one, because the great Shane Black wrote the script for this piece of crap, but let’s face it: for the good of everyone around there should be no sanctity when it comes to art or entertainment. If Spielberg makes a s**t film – people should know, but it turns out that RDJ only needs flutter his eyelashes for everybody to fall hopelessly in love with Iron Man… Shame… And to think someone who brought us “Lethal Weapon” or “The Last Boy Scout” could contribute to this…

Fortunately, I’m not the only one who saw that (here’s a video rant from Peter Rallis), but still countless masses made Marvel and Disney think they’ve done it right, because the only thing that matters in here is money. They’ll make a lot of it with this one and I’ll bet you money right here and now that the PG-13 spirit of “Iron Man 3” will make its way to the next “Thor”, “Captain America” or the next “Avengers”. Who knows, maybe they all will feature little boys, Christmas themes and meaningless non-violent substitute for action. It’s not OK. If you want to see a good comic book movie – go and watch “The Crow” (I re-watched it last Sunday to wash the Iron Man off my brain). Actually, do it before they remake it in PG-13, because they are remaking it. Since R-rated movies are frowned upon, the teenagers moan and groan and people lose money, I’m afraid the remake might not be exactly dark.

Now, I could even try and come to terms with the superhero genre replacing the good old-fashioned action cinema, but if this is the way we’re headed – count me out. Now I’m literally dreading the release of “Thor 2”, “Star Trek Into Darkness” and “Man of Steel”, because what if they suck as badly as “Iron Man 3” did? And I need my action films to feel normal. I was raised with them and can’t imagine the world without them…

And in that spirit, and following the raging disappointment Iron Man had caused, I caught up with two films that had slipped through my fingers: “Jack Reacher” and “End of Watch”. Now, I really appreciate the effort, because lately it is rather difficult to see something relatively original leave Hollywood. Well, maybe not exactly, because “Jack Reacher” was based on a novel if I remember correctly, but then again adapting literature is nowhere near as bad as plastering numbers on films or re-heating old noodles are. I desperately tried to like it and as a result I ended up even more frustrated with it than I originally was. Somebody needs to tell Tom Cruise it is time to go. I appreciate “Rain Man, “Jerry Maguire” or “Vanilla Sky”, but enough is enough. Tom just can’t create a believable character for crime/action film any more. It’s all Ethan Hunt over and over again and the attempted noir atmosphere just doesn’t sit very well with him. Between this, the last “Mission Impossible” and “Oblivion”, I think I’ve had enough of Tom Cruise in action films.

“End of Watch” on the other hand… Now that was something else. It was brutal, violent, gripping, maybe a bit heavy-handed with all the flag-waving and police self-apotheosis, but at least it stayed true to the values of action/crime cinema. Maybe the found-footage thing was a bit sketchy, but hey… Everybody vlogs now, so why not the Mexican gangs… So, just because I can swallow a fair bit of pathos before I get sick, I wasn’t bothered by the ‘serve-and-protect’ nonsense. The dialogues were nice, Jake Gyllenhaal was awesome, and most of all when bullets flew, people got hurt. So that’s a plus, because I hate when movies show battles or gunfights and everyone’s OK (which is exactly what I saw in “Iron Man 3”, and no – I do not intend to stop bashing it, it deserves it). Plus, the entirety of the film takes place in a car or in its direct surroundings, so clearly no-one needs to blow up oil rigs or destroy CG-made cities to keep the adrenaline up.

In fact, even “Crimson Tide” (that I happened to re-watch this week as well) proves that you can put your characters in a can and use no effects whatsoever in a film, for it to be gripping. Flag-wavy, but still gripping… But then, Denzel Washington sort of drives the movie on its own, which is yet another piece of evidence that we need character-driven action films and not this plastic colorful flashy bulls**t.

Speaking of plastic colorful flashy crap, Lovefilm sent me “Skyline” this week and I don’t really want to talk about it. I had it on my rental list for ages, because why the hell not and now I got it. What a pile of crap that was… It should be shown to people in film schools as a reminder that special effects are not enough and special effects guys rarely make good directors. Notable exceptions of the like of James Cameron can only prove the theory as a whole, because no theory is complete without exceptions. I shouldn’t even speak about “Skyline” any longer, because it might be mistaken for a review, but I’ll say only this: even though it tried to look like good modern sci-fi with all the bling what-not, but the appalling story and wooden acting can make any good film look mediocre… And a mediocre film look terrible… And a terrible film unwatchable… Therefore, just to make sure I still like Sci-fi I quickly re-watched “Sunshine” and “War of the Worlds” (with the latter additionally easing my Tom Cruise pain, but Spielberg can actually direct actors so that they look convincing, so I don’t know) and everyone was happy again.

Still, when was the last time I watched some genuinely good Sci-fi? As much as I’d like to say “Prometheus”, I couldn’t live with myself for doing that. All the nonsense that went on in that movie has most probably stretched the whole thing into a trilogy, which Ridley Scott will never finish (because he won’t have a clue, how to make it look kosher again) and hence “Prometheus” should be promptly disqualified. But anyway… Good Sci-fi… Maybe “Battle LA” could qualify even with the tonne of pathos it carried, but I think the last time I was literally blown away by a Sci-Fi film was the time I saw “District 9” – four years ago!

But there is a silver lining to that, because Neill Blomkamp’s “Elysium” hits theaters this summer, so at least I’ll have something to look forward to. And I can try to feel better about seeing “Star Trek” next weekend – hopefully it won’t suck.

Meanwhile, the Sunday rant slowly crept onto Monday territory and I think I can stop now. Maybe next week I’ll do something similar and I’ll see where it gets me.

Rant over.