Jun 21, 2009

50 Magic Moments (Part 3)

Martyrs: Removing the staples [SPOILERS]
Pascal Laugier’s horror masterpiece, still the best film released in 2009, has many skin crawling moments. It’s packed with scenes calculated to have you diving for cover behind the sofa, but few achieve it so well as this moment. Having found an emaciated torture victim in a basement room Anna (Morjana Alaoui) takes her upstairs and places her in the bath, so she can begin to remove the metal ‘clothes’ that have been nailed to this girl. Using a metal screwdriver she begins to remove the staples that hold a makeshift helmet to the girl’s head, producing rivers of blood as she goes. It’s so hideous as to be palpable – a moment that makes you physically recoil from the screen in pain and anguish. That’s a rare and impressive achievement.

Matinee: MANT!

I love 50’s and 60’s sci-fi. The nuclear paranoia films like Them! and red scare movies like the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers have a timeless magic. Joe Dante also loves those movies, as is evident from the way he re-creates the very particular style and feeling of them in Matinee with perhaps the best ‘film within a film’ ever – MANT! It’s all sorts of awesome, capturing the hilarious cheapness of some of those movies, but also the sheer entertainment value. It’s brilliantly shot entirely in keeping with the style of those films (notably calling the original version of The Fly to mind) and is so completely entertaining that, as great as Matinee is, you may find yourself wanting to watch Mant! instead.

Monsters Inc.: “Kitty” [SPOILERS]

Monsters Inc. is Pixar’s most underappreciated film, and remains one of their best. At its heart is the touching story of Sulley and Boo – a monster and a human child who come to rely on each other. Boo (voiced by the 18 month old daughter of one of Pixar’s employees) can’t speak very much, she only really manages a few real words, but this final moment will melt your heart. Having thought he’d never get to see Boo again Sulley is given another chance to go through her door, we don’t see Boo, just Sulley’s sheer contentment at seeing her, and hearing her recognise him and say “Kitty”. It’s the perfect ending to a wonderful film.

Nosferatu: Shreck

A lot of old horror films have lost their power to shock and scare, but despite approaching its 90th birthday Nosferatu is still, at times, horribly freaky. That’s thanks entirely to the terrifying visage of the rat like Max Shreck. Shreck is so scary, and outside of Nosferatu so little is known about him, that a legend grew up that FW Murnau hired a real vampire to play his version of Dracula. You could believe it. It’s hard to pick a single moment in which Shreck is most terrifying, but the moment when he rises, in a horribly unnatural way, from his coffin, and his fading from view in the sunlight are particularly indelible. You can watch the whole film here, since it’s out of copyright.

Oldboy: Hammer fight

Oldboy is a fast, vicious, impactful film, which makes this centrepiece fight scene a perfect fit for it. Captured in a single shot, and performed entirely by star Choi Min-sik without the aid of doubles, it sees vengeance fuelled Oh Dai-su confronting a corridor filled with heavily armed goons with the aid of just the claw hammer he’s been using to torture their boss. It’s a fast, furious and fantastic scene, brilliantly designed and lensed by Park Chan-wook.

Paprika: Opening Credits

Satoshi Kon is a visual genius, and simply one of the finest directors working in cinema, his medium may be animation, but he’s a craftsman who can rank with any of the current live action greats. This beautiful and breathtaking opening to his most recent film is as good a demonstration of his talent as you’ll ever see. It introduces us to the titular Paprika, and to the way that she can bend reality, in fast moving and endlessly inventive credit sequence. It’s playful and funny, but also staggeringly detailed and beautiful to look at.

Primal Fear: “Never was” [SPOILERS]

It’s not often you can see the very second somebody becomes a movie star, but this is that moment for Edward Norton. Primal Fear is a pretty generic piece, a courtroom potboiler elevated by a great supporting cast which also includes Frances McDormand and a very young Laura Linney, but Norton’s nuanced turn as Aaron Stampler, the gentle kid accused of murder, whose other personality – the vicious Roy – committed the crime, steals the show completely. After Roy emerges on the stand, ensuring Aaron a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity, his lawyer (Richard Gere) goes back to talk to him, but after Aaron makes a slip up Gere thinks he’s got it figured out “there never was a Roy”. It still pricks the hairs on the back of my neck when Norton says “There never was an Aaron”.

The Princess Bride: Swordfight

You can argue all you want for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, or for Hero, or even for The Adventures of Robin Hood. For me there’s no contest; this is the finest swordfight ever captured on film. Like the rest of Rob Reiner’s wonderful, wonderful movie it is hilariously funny, and performed with tongue in cheek glee by Cary Elwes and Mandy Patinkin. The etiquette early in the sequence is particularly funny, but the fight itself is a thrilling beast, ranging all over set and taking several invetive turns. It’s intricate too and, bar one somersault, entirely performed by Elwes and Patinkin.

Project A: Safety Last

Jackie Chan is a great fan of silent comics like Chaplin and Keaton, and here he apes a Harold Lloyd gag, from Safety Last, for one of his greatest ever stunts. Chan spent seven days trying to do this fall, and then chickening out and getting his stunt team to pull him back in. His colleagues Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao begged him to pull the shot, fearing he’d kill himself. At the last time of asking Chan goot his stunt team to leave him, so that he had no option but to fall. Having done so, and limped away, Chan promptly did the fall two more times.

Raiders of the Lost Ark: A gun at a swordfight

The greatest visual gag in cinema? Certainly it’s right up there, and it only came about because Harrison Ford, who was due to have a long fight sequence with this swordsman, had dysentery. Given this case of the trots he said to Spielberg “Why don’t we just shoot the fucker?” The rest, as they say, is history.

Ringu: 3D TV

Confession time. I saw Gore Verbinski’s remake The Ring before I saw Hideo Nakata’s Ringu. That being the case I knew exactly what was coming here, I knew as Sadako crawled ever closer to the TV screen that she was going to emerge from it, and yet I was still incredibly freaked out when she did. It’s a more primitive looking effect than in the American film, but for some reason its infinitely creepier, perhaps it’s the strange contorted way Sadako moves, perhaps its that the low tech makes it feel more organic, but either way, this is one of the stand out moments of modern horror cinema.

Robocop: “Paramedic”

Paul Verhoeven’s films are shot through with truly black humour. Robocop is perhaps his funniest, and this outwardly horrific sequence is one of the film’s most amusing. When the test of a new battle robot; ED-209 goes hideously wrong and a man is shot to pieces by the machine Verhoeven goes all out in show the total destruction of the body, reduced almost to a pulp. All of which makes the moment when someone says “someone call a paramedic” one the biggest, guiltiest, laughs in this very funny film.

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