Tag Archives: Helena Bonham Carter

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 176 – Fight Club

A film that jogs memories for Mike, as in the process of revisiting Fight Club he realises what an impact it had on him as a teenager. David Fincher’s outrageously stylish and visceral story of a generation of dispossessed men finding purpose in violence has only increased in relevance in the twenty years since its release, drawing comparisons to incels and school shooters, but it also leads Mike to recall how it affected his interests and attitudes in his youth. José, who saw it on its release, was on the positive side of its mixed response and recalls trying to convince his friends of its greatness – and is proud to have been proven right in the years since, in which it rapidly became perhaps the defining cult hit.

Mike is surprised to discover a sexual dimension to it that he hadn’t quite realised was there – obviously, Tyler and Marla’s ceiling-shaking lovemaking sessions hadn’t escaped his attention, but it wasn’t until this screening that he saw Marla as desirable and human, rather than simply present and symbolic. She’s weary but hopeful, fiery and alive but constantly flirting with death, and with the benefit of knowing the film’s infamous twist, deeply sympathetic. Mike argues, too, for a strain of homoeroticism — Steve Erickson writes that Chuck Palahniuk came out as gay in 2004. The clues are everywhere both in his book and Fincher’s film — in the fighting and particularly in Brad Pitt’s appearance – more than powerful and intimidating, he’s attractive, the narrator’s ideal self (though we don’t, as José points out, see him topless and sweaty nearly as often as we might remember).

It’s not without its problems. The question of exactly what it says, and indeed how deliberately it says it, is dependant perhaps on the viewer’s mood and cultural context as much as anything. Fight Club wants to be thought of as a satire, that’s clear, but of what – and is it as much of a satire as it thinks it is? Mike suggests that much of what drives this problematic area of debate is the effectiveness with which the film brings us into the narrator’s mental state, conveying beautifully his attitudes, desires, repressions, regardless of whether we might think of them as positive or negative. Were the film more objective, more willing to offer judgement of its characters, these questions would be less troubling but the film would have none of its potency.

We agree that Fight Club is a considerable piece of work – José less enthusiastically, but it would be hard to be as turned on by it as Mike is. To have seen it on the big screen is a treat – every one of its compositions is electrifying, beautiful, considered and inventive – and the themes it explores have only grown in relevance since 1999. If it comes round, don’t hesitate to buy front row tickets. If it doesn’t, dig out the DVD, which you definitely own, and watch it again.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Dark Shadows (Tim Burton, USA, 2012)

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The dullest Tim Burton film I can remember. It is visually handsome but it didn’t seem as sumptuously textured as most of his others films (Edward Scissorhands,  his Batman films); it looks expensive but doesn’t feel it; maybe the projection, or the use of digital, or the new type of effects works against the warmly expensive glow a big-budget production usually suffuses an audience with. You know this cost a fortune but it feels cheap: a creaky adaptation of a not-too-well remembered TV show. It’s interesting in that it somehow seems to signal that the knowing ironic distance that has passed for a kind of charm in America since the 1980s might in itself now be retro. It certainly isn’t enough. The cast is wonderful and provides what pleasure there is to be found. Helena Bonham-Carter and a delicious Eva Green steal the show right from under Johnny Depp’s fangs.

José Arroyo

Great Expectations: (Mike Newell, UK, 2012)

Great Expectations

The story is still enthralling and affecting but David Lean’s 1946 film with John Mills, Jean Simmons and Martita Hunt remains the cinematic benchmark. This version renders the Gothic dimension of the story  well and it’s visually interesting. However, director Mike Newell has no feel for melodrama. His version of Dickensian London is all grimness; the delights of the era are shown to us as merely gross, excessive, and yet somehow not up to current standards. As is to now to be expected, the cast is stellar (Helena Bonham-Carter, Ralph Fiennes Jason Flemyng amongst many others); and it’s wonderful to see this bunch of actors tackling classic roles — all do well with the exception of Helena Bonham-Carter: asking her to do Gothic is like asking Carmen Miranda to put a little more oomph in her cha cha. Her Miss Havesham is a camp caricature and her failure in that part becomes the film’s; for if one can’t understand, empathise and feel something for Miss Havesham at the end, the drama loses an important dimension (though Ralph Fienne’s  Magwitch somewhat compensates). Robbie Coltrane, however, is absolutely great — the very best Mr. Jaggers I’ve ever seen; so good that his cool pragmatic heartlessness comes to dominate our memory of the film and is thus also emblematic of how and why it fails. A cool, academic, rather heartless exercise.

José Arroyo