American Psycho (2000)

American Psycho
Directed by Mary Harron
Written by Mary Harron with Bret Easton Ellis based on the novel by Bret Easton Ellis.
(number 435)

Yay a woman director!

This would have been a great one to watch right after Glengarry Glen Ross I think, lots of 80s decadence and men talking about how rich and cool and successful they are, but obviously with a distinct twist.

Actually the really striking thing for me was how much Patrick Bateman represents the ideal rich American bachelor more recently epitomised by Christian Grey in 50 Shades of Grey. His home apartment and his office are almost identical to how Christian’s are described, and Patrick has the same self assured arrogance and conviction that he’s right at all times is also identical to how Christian acts. So… that’s pretty terrifying right there.

There’s a neat bit in a board meeting where Jared Leto is introduced, he confuses Patrick for Marcus because they have the same glasses, the same suit and the same barber. Then you realise that Jared Leto’s character is also wearing the same tortoiseshell, rounded frame glasses and possibly another guy is too. Then it becomes an obsessive business card competition over who’s is the most tasteful, which off white colour is best etc? All of this taps into the deep running need to be the best at belonging that Patrick suffers from.

“I have all the characteristics of a human being: blood, flesh, skin, hair; but not a single, clear, identifiable emotion, except for greed and disgust. Something horrible is happening inside of me and I don’t know why. My nightly bloodlust has overflown into my days. I feel lethal, on the verge of frenzy. I think my mask of sanity is about to slip.”

The first killing is both confusing and obvious, Patrick talks to a homeless man, at first seeming to offer salvation, charity but then he switches to just hating this man for not conforming to the capitalist dream – why don’t you have a job, if you’re hungry?

The second killing is of Jared Leto’s character Paul Allen is a lot more iconic. He puts on Huey Lewis – it’s hip to be square, talking about the artistry of the song and laughing when Paul asks about the raincoat he’s put on, he dances before brutally murdering him with an axe. It’s a scene which I felt like I’ve seen even though I’ve never seen this movie before. It’s a sequence which seems to be the direct parent of shows like Dexter and Hannibal.

There’s something really interesting in how much people are fascinated with these stylish, white men who love to kill for no apparent reason. Is it tapping into the subconscious knowledge that white rich men actually control the world/society and we kind of have to love them for that because we don’t have any other choice? Or is it just a fascination with horror and the idea that a man who seems to put together could just be a heartless broken creature inside? I don’t have the answers but I think they’re questions which need to be asked.

I really love the eighties hits in this movie – great soundtrack and one that I would like to track down.

The character, homosexual Luis is an interesting revelation, he had gone in to murder Luis over his business cards but Luis misreads the situation, gives him kisses and reveals his love for him, his secret desire that he’s had for years. Patrick is disarmed, unable to continue with his plan. He can’t even respond except to say ‘I have to return some videotapes’ when Luis asks where he’s going. I suppose it’s one of those moments which could have changed the course of the character’s path – if he had given in and been with Luis, accepted some actual love… maybe he wouldn’t have had to keep killing? But then maybe not. Maybe it was just a weird moment.

The movie slowly degenerates from him being a bit unhinged to him naked and bloody, chasing a terrified prostitute through the halls of his apartment building.

Does it make me love the people? No, there’s no one to love in this movie. Patrick is written and played as a totally disconnected psychopath. I admire the movie, and the characters in it but I don’t love them or relate to them at all.

Bechdel test: I dunno, Elizabeth talks to ‘Christie’ about where did they meet, etc but Christie doesn’t really respond to her, she just sits there and looks grumpy as hell. Does this count? Nah, it’s not a conversation.

Best line:
Patrick Bateman: Come on, Bryce. There are a lot more important problems than Sri Lanka to worry about.
Timothy Bryce: Like what?
Patrick Bateman: Well, we have to end apartheid for one. And slow down the nuclear arms race, stop terrorism and world hunger. We have to provide food and shelter for the homeless, and oppose racial discrimination and promote civil rights, while also promoting equal rights for women. We have to encourage a return to traditional moral values. Most importantly, we have to promote general social concern and less materialism in young people.

State of Mind: It wasn’t as bad as I had thought it might be, it wasn’t pleasant but it wasn’t particularly scary. I suspect the shocking nature of this film has been diluted by the media that has come after it, Saw, Antichrist and all the tv shows about sexy serial killers. It’s beautifully made and plastic, which I’m sure was the intention of the director. I think the movie was built up as more disturbing than I found it, but I am not at all tempted to read the book.

Watched movie count

Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

Howl’s Moving Castle
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Written by Hayao Miyazaki based off the book by Diana Wynne Jones
(number 239)

I watched this with Anna although I have seen it many times before. I saw this first at the International Film Festival in the Embassy, although this time I watched it in English. It’s a lovely, atmospheric movie about accepting oneself, improving the lives of others and believing in love. The English version is very good, Christian Bale provides the voice of Howl and Lauren Bacall is the voice of the Witch of the Waste.

I dunno why but I find sequences of people cleaning up make me really happy. I love seeing all the stuff get cleaned up and organised and the room going from mucky to sparkling. It’s one of my favourite bits from Fruits Basket as well, anime seems to have it as a bit of a trope, giving time to showing a character cleaning house. Actually I’ve loved bits in books like this too, like that one Enid Blyton book where they find a run down house in the middle of a forest. What’s the appeal? Cleansing as a character restart maybe?

The movie is an adaptation of the book by the fantastic Diana Wynne Jones and when I first saw the movie I was quite sad that they had taken away some of Sophie’s power and given it to Howl instead. I don’t mind so much watching it now, perhaps because I haven’t read the book in so long. I like that they retained Sophie’s ageing/de-ageing as part of the story – a reflection of how she is feeling at the time. The more down on herself she is the more she reverts back to the cursed age the witch gave her.

Does it make me love the people? Always. I adore Calcifer from the first moment he speaks but I also love the wizard Howl, with all his emotional outbursts and charm, and of course Sophie with her temper, her way of taking other people in. There’s an incredible amount of forgiveness and acceptance that Sophie displays and the nice thing is that it’s not something that is made a fuss of in the story, it’s just a part of who she is as a character.

It’s, like pretty much all the other Ghibli movies, visually stunning. Lush landscapes and watercolour flowers. Lots of mountains and open blue sky. It made me miss the landscapes we saw zooming through Japan on the Shinkansen.

Bechdel test: Yes and very early on. Sophie talks to her sister Lettie about the weird way she got home, and about being safe, and she talks to the Witch of the Waste about lots of things over the course of the movie. Anna pointed out that when talking to her sister Sophie also expresses the opinion that she doesn’t need any man (their absent father in this case) worrying about her, because she can take care of herself.

Best line:
Howl: I feel terrible, like there’s a weight on my chest.
Sophie: A heart’s a heavy burden

State of Mind: Dreamy. Although possibly because I started to nap a little during the movie, but it is a very dreamlike film visually. The music is soothing and generally pastoral which probably helped as well.

The Prestige (2006)

The Prestige
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Written by Christopher and Jonathan Nolan, based on the novel by Christopher Priest
(number 314)

Before he made superhero movies, Nolan made weird dark twisty movies like this and Memento (which is also on the list, but higher up). I remember in 2006 this and The Illusionist were both released within a couple of weeks of each other and I think most of the people I know went to one or the other. Which is a pity because both films are fantastic and very different, for all they’re both about famous magicians and undecipherable illusions.

Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman both shine in this film, as masters of their craft. Men who used to be friends but who tragedy tore apart, pride and accidents and massive arguments. There is also excellent support from Piper Berabo, Rebecca Hall, Andy Serkis, Michael Caine, David Bowie and Scarlett Johanssen

It’s fascinating, watching the movie again and knowing what the big twists are. Seeing the hints all through and what it means for the ending… for the human cost of the things that they do. The pain of the women in Borden’s life and the things he does to them. And then the slowly escalating cycle of revenge, the things that Angier does to get Borden’s secret, when amazingly – watching it again – the secret is mentioned several times, and by Borden himself.

The design is beautifully steampunk, especially the illusion contraptions and everything Tesla. I love the costumes, the sets, the beautiful landscape of Victorian London, grimy and hard. The film’s mostly grey palette makes it all seem grimier as well.

Does it make me love the people? It does. The start of the film is full of sympathetic scenes, them trying so hard to be good magicians. I especially feel for the women, who serve mostly as beloved prizes or pawns in the two men’s nasty game. It’s hard to pick a side between Borden and Angier as they both do incredibly cold things, but ultimately Algiers doesn’t damage as many innocents as Borden does, which puts me slightly more on his side. Mostly Angier is hurting himself. Very very badly.

Bechdel test: The little girl never even talks to her mother, even though they’re in the same scenes. The conversation is always through a man. There are numerous named women, but they exist in the orbit of the two men.

Best lines:

Alfred Borden: The secret impresses no one. The trick you use it for is everything.

Alfred Borden: I love you.
Sarah: You mean it today.
Alfred Borden: Of course.
Sarah: It just makes it so much harder when you don’t.

Robert Angier: No one cares about the man in the box, the man who disappears.

State of Mind: It isn’t as dark and nasty as I remembered, or maybe I’m more desensitised now. I do love this movie, there’s so much interesting detail and watching closely to see how it’s done, much like the magic tricks the story is concerned with.

Watched movie count