Howl

Howl-DVD

A movie about a poem? Seems like a strange idea right, even with a poem as famous as Allen Ginsberg’s poem Howl but this is more than just a movie about a poem, this is a movie about an era, a trial and the burgeoning beat writers movement, with Ginsberg as the central figure, the glue to hold it all together.

Howl was arguably the launching pad for the beats, the moment when a new voice and a new distinct style was heard but Ginsberg and the others weren’t really prepared for the uproar it would create. In 1957 City Lights Press and publisher/poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti were taken to court for obscenity and this film is as much about the trial and free speech as it is about Ginsberg (who incidentally wasn’t taken to court).

Filmed in a documentary style with Ginsberg played by James Franco (Pineapple Express, Freaks and Geeks) talking us through his life, interspersed with trial footage and stanzas from the poem itself, using colour, black and white and animation, the film surprisingly keeps a fair pace, never really dropping away, and considering it’s essentially a bunch of talking heads, that is no mean feat.

The only problem I really had was the animated computer graphics used to illustrate the poem, that damn near derailed the movie for me but I just turned away when the dumb ass stuff came up. Why do that when you have an actor the caliber of Franco holding the film together? Even if he does occasionally look like a bespectacled Adam Ant he was still such a strong presence that the animation just looked stupid in comparison.

Will this movie make converts? I don’t know, it is after all a bunch of talking heads and in this day and age that might not be enough. But for those with an interest in the beats, in Ginsberg, in poetry, this is a no brainer, you need it. For those perhaps curious about what all the fuss was about, well this is the second place to go, after you’ve bought Howl which is still in print from City Lights.

Personally I always thought Allen Ginsberg was a touch overrated, now I’m not so sure, so I guess Howl has already got one convert. You might well be the next one.

There’s a bunch of extras including commentary, trailer, “Franco reads Howl”, “Ginsberg reads Howl”, the most interesting being Holy! Holy! Holy! – a great little 40 minute documentary about the making of the film, including such simple things as getting the sets right, the costumes, the filming… an interesting look behind the scenes.

Howl is available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment.

Hunter S. Thompson – Final 24: His Final Hours

Hunter-Thompson-Final-24-DVDORDER DVD

Look, I’ll admit I am a Hunter tragic – hell I even bought Hey Rube: Blood Sport, the Bush Doctrine, and the Downward Spiral of Dumbness (and at full price!) but this documentary/biography is really scraping the barrel, even for me.

With one of those Jonathon Ross style plum-in-mouth narrators that haunt the Discovery/National Geographic world providing commentary, we are treated to Hunter’s final 24 hours being re-enacted as the narrator second guesses a deadman’s mind. Continue reading

Henry and June

Henry_and_June

Based on the works and diaries of French author Anais Nin, this film is a stylized look at the relationship of Nin and American writer Henry Miller. We are whisked away to Paris 1931 where Nin and Miller are about to embark on a torrid love affair involving not only their bodies but their intellects as well. The film is about Nin’s exploration of her own sexuality, of her discoveries and of her love for both Miller and her husband Hugo as well as her feelings towards Miller’s muse – his wife June.

An obvious labour of love from Director Kaufman who also wrote and produced the film, this movie looks beautiful but at times seems a little too clean – the odd cockroach not withstanding. Miller’s poverty barely shows, he’s always clean, the streets are clean, the beds are clean, hell everything looks good. Of course, I guess it is a love story, we hardly want to see the skidmarks do we? Still there is a lack of grit, a lack of the desperation that Miller was feeling while he tried to get his words down – or maybe that’s just me as a fan of his work asking for something Kaufman wasn’t looking for.

A little long perhaps at over two hours but then it is such a languid movie that I guess it couldn’t really be any other way. Solid performances from Fred Ward as Henry Miller and the gorgeous Maria De Medeiros as Anais Nin with Uma Therman sleepwalking through her role as June Miller and Richard E Grant (Hugo) being, well, Richard E Grant really.

This is beautifully done, it is sensual, erotic, intelligent if occasionally a little too slick and an ideal movie to share with your partner but it still left me thinking that there was much more to the story, that there were areas not quite explored. To be honest I was a little disappointed with the movie but I think that is my problem not yours. I was coming into this with Henry Miller’s words in my head not Anais Nin’s. Once I settled into the era and took my blinkers off, I found myself being drawn into their world. Perhaps that is the real reason that Kaufman made a two hour film, to give us luddites a chance to enter.

There’s nothing wrong here, it all looks good, it feels right but for a movie about the souls of two great writers I was left not really knowing anymore about them than when I started. But for all its faults Maria De Medeiros can park her notebook on my bedside table anytime she wants!

PS – despite the cover mentioning DVD extras there was nothing on the disc. But then who needs the production notes anyway?

*Edition reviews is now out of print from Umbrella Entertainment.

Bronson

Bronson

Michael Peterson – better known by his bare-knuckle boxing name of Charles Bronson – is perhaps the most notorious prisoner in Great Britain. Originally arrested for the armed robbery of a post office in 1974, he has spent during the intervening years a mere 122 days outside of prison walls. Repeated fighting incidents and a seemingly endless string of hostage-taking dramas have meant that Peterson is unlikely ever to be released.

Despite this, the man repeatedly lambasted by the British tabloids has become a published author, award-winning poet and artist and a mini-celebrity. This has culminated in a biopic of his life, courtesy of Pusher director Nicolas Winding Refn entitled, simply, Bronson.

Bronson is not your usual life-story picture. Refn takes a highly-stylised, often-surreal approach. Bronson is shown narrating the story, often on a theatre stage in front of an audience. Other times, he is accompanied by animated characters from his own artwork created behind bars. Through it all, we follow a man who is purely egotistical, incredibly dangerous and clearly very damaged as he moves from one battle to the next.

Portraying the bald, mustachioed criminal is a near-unrecognisable Tom Hardy, muscled-up and committed to the distinctive voice and quirky mannerisms of his subject. It is the role of a lifetime and Hardy commits fully, delivering a spectacular performance that is not only one of the best of its year, but one of the best of any year. In a just world, Hardy would receive every award going, but a small indie UK flick is unlikely to garner such attention. Which is a shame, because this is star-making stuff.

Refn is the other trump card of the film who, along with Director of Photography Larry Smith, shows off some wonderful composition and lighting choices to make Bronson a constant visual treat. This is combined with some shrewd and playful musical choices to make a string of memorable scenes, such as the inmates of a mental asylum dancing together, erratically, to the Pet Shop Boys’ “It’s A Sin”.

Despite all of the prolific talent in front and behind the camera, Bronson suffers from a big weakness – the subject himself. The story of the movie is limited by the story of the man. After all, he has been in prison punching people for more than three decades. Despite Refn and Hardy’s work, Bronson pretty much says all it is going to say in the first 30 minutes and then it is a fairly repetitive string of scenes of an often-naked Bronson punching various people. Although, to be fair, these are wonderfully filmed and performed, but the thin nature of the narrative does prevent the film from engaging on more than a surface level.

A superbly-made movie featuring one of THE boldest performances of recent years, Bronson is excellent entertainment, but perhaps too hollow to achieve lasting greatness.

Bronson is available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment.