Film Review:- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II (2011)


Dir:- David Yates

Starr:- Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman, Tom Felton, Matthew Lewis, Warwick Davis, Michael Gambon

Note:- Spoilers contained throughout this review. Alas, I’m in a Grinch-mood it would seem, so this is another of my unkinder reviews. In my defence I simply write it as I see it.

Well the Great British Actor’s Pension Plan has finally drawn to a close, with perhaps only Keith Chegwin and Les Dennis failing to benefit. After over sixteen hours of cinema Harry Potter’s ‘dramatic’ adventures as the world’s most unjustly lauded adolescent have come to a cringe-worthy anti-climax. The final shocking revelation? Well, erm, Daniel Radcliffe makes a pretty convincing middle-class thirtysomething parent, which is a whole lot more than can be said for the rest of his performance throughout J.K. Rowling’s beloved children’s saga. Put frankly, Daniel Radcliffe cannot act. At intermittent moments in this final, almost entirely unnecessary, installment of the great Harry Potter love-in Radcliffe does show a modest flair for comic timing that may mark out a future lower profile career as a modern British version of eighties dork-to-order Rick Moranis. However, what had become painfully clear by about Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is confirmed here, Radcliffe just doesn’t have the necessary presence or gravitas to carry off a mature and conflicted central protagonist. In the first three features Radcliffe got by on being relatively cute and absurdly close to Rowling’s vision of the prepubescent wizard. But by the second half of the saga, with puberty kicking in, Radcliffe’s short stature and catastrophic lack of charm seriously hampered a series that had always been about Harry, but was now almost entirely devoted to substantial sections of screen-time dwelling on the vapid thespian talents of its lead.

The myriad failings that can be found in the Harry Potter series go far beyond Radcliffe’s woefully inept turn, although this perception of the series as a relative failure may well be a generational thing. Having read only excerpts from the original novel this review is not meant to be a damning indictment of Rowling’s literary work, but rather focuses exclusively upon the movies. From the very first Chris Columbus directed day-glo dippy film there seemed a curious lack of tension and momentum in Harry Potter’s ‘quest’. As was noted in a previous review of this opening feature Harry Potter seems a very modern child protagonist, almost narcissistically self-involved, incomprehensibly seen as the centre of the universe and overcoming every challenge placed in his way without really having to try too hard, or develop too much. This is heroism devoid of personal growth, a cipher-hero who simply attains ‘champion’ status without having to do anything of distinction to warrant it. Yes, Harry is seen battling all manner of CGI guff, but rarely is he victorious by using skills that he has had to strive hard to achieve, more often action set-pieces unfurl, only to be nipped in the bud with ridiculous ease, by a choice spell, or daft combination of objects, that could have been carried out by anyone (and often is).

There is also a weirdly bland depiction of ‘democracy’ at work throughout the series, which reaches its apogee in the truly awful denouement of the double-length Deathly Hallows, whereby Neville Longbottom’s common-as-muck Northern realist (think a slender, elongated and equally preternaturally aged Phil Kay wannabe) dispatches the final Horcrux (has there ever been a bigger ‘crock of’ in any kids quest?) and then Harry Potter, having finally defeated Voldemort, opts to break the prestigious Elder Wand in two and throw it away. The subtext here appears to read that it is better to be one of the many and share equal power, than grasp for some higher authority and rule. As much as these are admirable sentiments, Harry Potter’s combination of dull, accountant/estate agent charisma and almost sexless physicality, makes the camp ambiguities of Alan Rickman’s heroically elitist Snape, or Tom Felton’s Draco Malfoy far more intriguing, thus diminishing the effect of such a transparent appeal to equality.

What is it with the North-West of England's obsession with the name Neville? Here our loveable BHS Cardigan wearing lummock asks, just one last time, if this is the way to Amarillo?

A lot of column inches have been exhausted in the British media about what a fabulous job the previously unheralded English filmmaker David Yates has made of transferring the darker tones of the later Potter novels to the big screen. Yet surely the most completely realised and effective of all the films was the Alfonso Cuarón directed Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Apparently this third feature treacherously deviated from the source novel (surely something to be expected when switching between mediums) meeting with the considerable ire of Potterite devotees. Yet compare the manner in which Cuarón manages to incorporate character elements into a neatly paced plot, without sacrificing an ounce of the unique atmosphere he created for the film (something that even shows in the intricacy and ingenuity of the end credits sequence), with the manner in which Yates singularly fails to make much of the more affecting material in the final four movies count. Embarrassingly there is a ten minute sequence in Deathly Hallows, Part II that manages to give more inventively constructed plot elements and character background, than pretty much all of the rest of the movies that Yates was assigned to. It’s not that Yates is necessarily a bad director, but he is merely workmanlike and rather pedestrian, whereas Cuarón brought a masterly cinematic aesthetic to the mix. It is hard to envisage the Spaniard settling on the clichéd use of yet further Lord of the Rings style CGI battle sequences, let alone managing to make them so terribly uninvolving. Rather than fearing for the wellbeing of Harry and his intrepid band of cheerleaders (yes Rupert Grint’s Ron Weasley is back to simply exclaiming what the audience should be feeling about the latest bozo SFX sequence, ‘Brilliant!’) the viewer is utterly detached and divorced from the action, leaving the troubling whiff of modern-day news coverage about proceedings. Whilst all around is being laid waste, it is very difficult to relate to this violence in any meaningful and empathetic manner. Yes, this is children’s fantasy literature, but isn’t there something just a little off about the cold remoteness with which the audience is asked to view this carnage?

During the quest for the undiscovered Horcruxes, which has taken up the narrative of the last three movies, Harry, Hermione and Ron are frequently given little cut-away moments to unconvincingly fill in narrative leaps. These tend to take the form of an absurd eureka moment, usually inspired by some random jump of logic performed by the increasingly underused Emma Watson. This gives the action sequences the feel of a particularly fantastical episode of The Crystal Maze, begging the question who is Richard O’ Brien? The way in which Harry becomes the only show in town also robs the films of any sense of ambiguity, or more complex humanity. The manner in which Watson, by far the best of the young actors, is completely sidetracked during the second half of the saga, only emphasizes the ridiculously limited focus and ambition of the Potter story, whilst simultaneously robbing the audience of sympathetic supporting characters that they can invest some degree of emotional commitment in. All character arcs seem to be sacrificed to the convergence-effect of Harry and Voldemort’s stultifying final face-off, which only goes to illustrate how monotonous the narrative is. So much of this final chapter seems hell-bent on inducing sleep in the viewer, despite the swooping crane shots during the battle sequences or the wholly unterrifying and lifeless use of dragons and giants. Even the supposedly insidious voiceover from Ralph Fiennes pantomime dame of a villain, appears primed only toward beckoning in the Land of Nod that little bit sooner. If this is indeed inspiring fantasy fare for children then precisely how dull is 21st century childhood?

Richard O' Brien has become a little more hands-on in the Channel 4 re-boot of The Crystal Maze.

Yates does strive for a solemn moment of cod-philosophising late on. With Harry Potter finally dying (alas, not for good) and being reunited with one of the few genuinely textured characters, namely Michael Gambon’s Dumbledore. Master and pupil are brought together in a blanched approximation of Channel 4’s The Word set, which may or may not be the most lifeless rendering of heaven ever seen on the silver screen. After a mundane exchange about the whole thing resembling King’s Cross Station, only without the trains, Harry and Dumbledore get down to more profound and weightier concerns. With Harry getting as existential as Radcliffe’s limited acting abilities will allow, he mentions that this all feels as if it is happening inside his head (a rather staggering acceptance of the solipsistic narcissism at the series’ core) and not actually occurring in ‘reality’. Dumbledore comes back with a line that Yates’ own directorial limitations can’t help but ghost in on-screen quotation marks: “Of course it’s happening inside your head Harry, but why should that mean it is not real?”. I’m sure that many a ‘pseud’ could parlay that particular nugget of wisdom into some lifeless culture-section piece, or pop tome on Potter and Philosophy, but really it warrants about as much attention as the underwhelming second-half of the Potter saga in its entirety. Within modern market conditions whereby a literary franchise such as Rowling’s can be converted into a multiple media platform cash cow, there seems an expediency toward good old-fashioned waffle and padding, where in previous generations an editorial scalpel may have been dispatched to rend unwanted verbiage from its sticking place. This is ultimately narrative’s loss, but as long as the box office tills keep a-ringing and Amazon enjoy hefty pre-orderings then what incentive brevity and story integrity?

Bland is the Way of the Walk - If this is Heaven then send me straight to Hell. At least there they might have heard of Armani.

Film Review:- Speak (2004)


Dir:- Jessica Sharzer

Starr:- Kristen Stewart, Michael Angarano, Hallee Hirsh, Steve Zahn, Elizabeth Perkins, D.B. Sweeney

Kristen Stewart really excels at creating portraits of damaged and introverted teens. Away from the hysteria of the Twilight saga she has managed to put together an interesting and varied CV that takes in stints as a tomboyish girl in The Safety of Objects, Jodie Foster’s wilful young daughter in Panic Room, a vulnerable young musician in Into the Wild and a girl who has all manner of problems relating to her family situation in the delightful comedy Adventureland. In this remarkable Showtime adaptation of Laurie Halse Anderson’s 1999 young adult novel about a freshman high school girl’s struggles with depression in the aftermath of a horrendous rape, Stewart, despite being only 14 at the time of filming, inhabits the lead role with a heartbreaking blend of confused melancholia, inarticulate rage and bruised stoicism. It is the kind of performance that points to a child star having the capacity to move seamlessly into more adult roles when the time comes, reminiscent of the aforementioned Foster’s early turns in Taxi Driver and The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane.

Halse’s novel was a New York Times bestseller at the turn of the new century and received strong critical praise for its powerful portrayal of the psychological suffering a rape victim has to endure, long after the physical effects of the assault have passed into memory. Sharzer on her debut, and to date only, feature goes to great lengths to remain true to the spirit of the novel, whilst fleshing out elements of the central character Melinda Sordino’s school existence to make the adaptation a more intensely visual experience. By and large Sharzer work is very successful, showing a real flair for poetic imagery, from the opening scene of Joyce Sordino (where has Elizabeth Perkins been hiding since Big) stumbling upon Melinda in her bedroom with a twisted and ghoulish array of stitchmarks painted around her mouth, to a marvellous sequence in a hospital ward that utilises shadows and half-glimpsed figures to elaborate Melinda’s intense feelings of alienation. Unlike many post-Clueless high school movies Sharzer resists painting the teenage landscape in a ‘wacky’ array of day-glo MTV hues, whilst simultaneously imbuing the film with an off-beat, hyperreal visual quality that feels similar to the deliberately dated feel Noah Baumbach applies to The Squid and the Whale.

Melinda’s ordeal is shown in snippets of flashback, that appear to work as if they were the resurfacing of suppressed memories. During the protracted and intensely claustrophobic rape sequence Melinda is awoken by her mother, who unwittingly assumes Melinda is merely having a nightmare. The relationship between mother and daughter appears to be a slightly awkward one, with Melinda seemingly unable to communicate her depressed state to Joyce. Her father Jack (D.B. Sweeney) has his own problems, yet he and Melinda seem to have a more immediate and direct bond, that on a number of occasions in the movie seems close to enabling that much-needed moment of communication to occur. Intriguingly, as would seem to often be the case, the parents don’t actually become actively concerned about their daughter’s behaviour until her grades begin to fall away in school. At the moment when their future ambitions for their daughter are put on the line, her parents become more involved in her day-to-day life, but by this point Melinda’s angst and pain have become so deep-rooted that only direct intervention seems likely to prompt a moment of catharsis.

Melinda’s reaction to the rape is at the core of the movie. In the immediate aftermath of the assault Melinda stumbles back into the party and calls the police, only to say nothing to the emergency call operator. As a result of this inability to verbalise Melinda becomes lost in the confusion of frantic teenage bodies trying to elude the police, who have responded to her call and are now breaking up the party. Amongst the group of friends she went to the party with, her closest buddy Rachel (a nicely snippy turn from Hallee Hirsh) ensures that everybody knows who has wrecked the party. Melinda walks home in a shoeless daze (a journey that is beautifully rendered in some glacial flashback sequences) to an empty house and says nothing more about it to anyone. In fact on starting high school in the fall, she finds herself ostracised from her friends and detested by the rest of her peers, with the exception of Heather (Allison Siko) who pals up with her mainly out of a lack of other available friend options. Amidst this atmosphere of cold and rather savage teenage disdain Melinda turns inwards, where she is constantly reminded of her pain, thus prompting her decision to remove herself from all non-essential conversation. This refusal to speak goes almost unnoticed by all but the bullish and bigoted social sciences teacher Mr. Neck (a suitably arrogant and conceited Robert John Burke).

Sharzer manages to transfer many of the novel’s astute observations about teachers into the film. The inevitably free-spirited turn from Steve Zahn as the art teacher Mr. Freeman (all in the name), is made to be everything that inspiring Hollywood mentor roles post-Dead Poet’s Society just shouldn’t be. Mr. Freeman is introduced into the film in a painfully embarrassing (and very funny) scene whereby he tries to enthuse the students into saying something, without having much to say himself. Throughout the film we see Zahn’s figure much more absorbed in his own trials and tribulations, just like most of the other figures in Melinda’s life, but at least he is able to offer her a partial outlet, a kind of refuge. The art classes he teaches become Melinda’s main mode of reconnecting with her damaged self and the project she constructs in a secret hidey-hole of a janitor’s closet, based on the one word ‘tree’, help her to develop a means of expressing the dread and anxiety that have virtually incapacitated her.

The slow, painful process of rebirth (which finds a wonderful metaphor in the planting of seeds, with all of their painful suggestiveness) is somewhat hindered by the daily presence of Melinda’s assailant within the school itself. The gangling frame of Andy Evans (Eric Lively) is used as an implicit physical threat throughout the movie, creating two particularly uncomfortable sequences in which he momentarily traps Melinda and imposes himself either physically or verbally upon her. The arrogance of this young man seems to know no limits and Lively’s performance has just the right mixture of cowardliness and exploitative aggression to make an unthinking  audience aware of just how horrid an act rape really is. For Melinda the rape effectively consumes her life, yet for Andy it barely even registers as an event, particularly as he appears to have gotten away with it. The film really does pose the question as to how many such rapes go unreported, or unacknowledged. Andy’s hubris in dating Melinda’s former best friend Rachel, is ultimately the final provocation. Yet even the film’s big emotional reveal sequence, is expertly handled by Sharzer, with Melinda once again unable to verbalise her ordeal.

A small mention must be made of the sterling work by Michael Angarano (from Dear Wendy) in the role of Melinda’s outspoken classmate Dave Petrakis. It is his combative stance with the absurdly ignorant pronouncements upon immigration made by Mr. Neck, that first indicate to Melinda the need for her to find a voice. Petrakis serves as not only an entertaining character, but perhaps a coherent example of what is most frequently lacking within ‘civilised’ societies, namely the courage to stand up for one’s convictions, regardless of the oppressive tactics of the opposition. Where so many of the adults in the film seem defeated and impotent, it is Petrakis who gently offers up one way out of the morass Melinda has been dumped in. Although he might have helped her find her feet, in the end it is Melinda who walks back toward her life, fighting. Just as the harassed English teacher known as ‘Hairwoman’ (Leslie Lyles) on Valentines day rediscovers her poise, purpose and self-confidence. These quietly effective juxtapositions confirm Sharzer as a directorial talent worthy of further opportunities in the near future, as well as adding further emotional depth to an impressive feature.

Film Review:- The Safety of Objects (2001)

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Dir:- Rose Troche

Starr:- Glenn Close, Dermot Mulroney, Patricia Clarkson, Timothy Olyphant, Joshua Jackson, Kristen Stewart, Mary Kay Place

AM Homes is one of the most daring, innovative and skilled contemporary American writers. Her 1990 short story collection The Safety of Objects featured a uniquely surreal, sensuous and serene take on the suburban American experience, that ostensibly dealt with the different degrees of disconnection people need to feel to make their way through a ‘normal’ life. Remarkably it pinpointed ‘ownership’ as the seemingly insurmountable obstacle in many of the character’s lives. Attachment to things, the desire to possess and own, the obsessive need to have, these are the superficial drivers of most of the characters featured within the ten stories. Yet the things that they fixate upon are invariably the things which stunt their inner lives, haunt their waking moments, or prove stubbornly elusive. From a guy called Frank who desperately desires the SUV that is being given away as part of a ridiculous competition in a mall, to a mother of a comatosed son whose desperate need for him to live has blinded her to the toll his miserable existence has taken on her family, these are seemingly ‘normal’ people, who have become reliant on external totems to keep themselves functioning.

The 2001 film based on these stories, isn’t so much an adaptation as a skewered reimagining. Rose Troche, the director of cult lesbian romance Go Fish, takes Robert Altman’s lead and condenses some of the main thematic concerns and characters from Homes’ short stories forming a single, unified narrative arc, of overlapping family concerns. Directly importing some of the characters from Homes’ stories and embellishing on them a little, Troche establishes an insular suburban enclave, a bland island within a bland ocean, occupied by four families (the Golds, the Jenningses, the Trains and the Christianson’s). In an impressive intro sequence Troche presents us with a series of blank white dolls houses, from out of which parade an equally blank and white assortment of dolls. These are representations of each of the families that feature heavily within the story, as well as the gardener and friend of these families, Randy. Three out of the four families are directly connected by an event that has taken place in the past, with tragic consequences for the future. Only the Trains, new arrivals to the neighbourhood, are unaware of what ties the other families together.

Fans of Homes’ stories will recognise elements of plot from each of them, but Troche has done her very best to integrate them so that they adhere to a steady narrative arc, even when, as in the case of the car contest, they appear at their most episodic. Unlike with Altman’s Short Cuts, which had the whole of Los Angeles to play out its interconnected narrative elisions and expansions, The Safety of Objects has far less space to shoehorn all of its disparate stories into. As a result large parts of the film feel overly abstracted, or incredibly forced, mining either Homes’ surrealistic narrative fantasy, or her impressive eye for details that cut to the existential core of a character, but never both of them harmoniously together.

In a bravura twenty-minute opening section Troche cuts between the various different units of the families at a truly dizzying pace, which has the effect of highlighting strongly poetic juxtapositions, such as the exhaling of an orgasm with the inhaling of cigarette smoke, or the reluctant exercise undertaken by one young boy and the inability to move experienced by a comatosed teenager. So much character information rushes past the camera in these opening moments, that it can seem to swamp the viewer down in a chaotic and incomprehensible normality, which is almost certainly what Troche intends. A side effect of this beautifully constructed cinematographic flurry is that the viewer begins to feel their way into the story far more intuitively as the relationships between people become clearer and more apparent. The one family that is awkward in this regard is Dermot Mulroney’s Train family, particularly as Jim’s (Mulroney) wife Susan (Moira Kelly) seems to be a little underdeveloped, as does their daughter Emily (Carly Chalom). By comparison, Jim and Jake (Alex House) are three-dimensional, if highly unusual human specimens. Yet Jake’s piggy-backing on the doll story, although interestingly rendered by the use of an imaginary voiceover and some close puppet work, is nowhere near as satisfying as the genuinely unsettling events of ‘A Real Doll’ – which seem to take their cue from a Roxy Music song. Whilst Jim’s full-blown crisis of confidence manifests itself in the utterly inscrutable coaching of Glenn Close’s Esther Gold, as she tries to win the SUV competition (once again seeking solace in the potential ownership of objects).

These problems of characterisation extend to issues of dialogue, where much of the elegance and élan of Homes’ tightly constructed prose is lost in Troche’s haste to sermonise and explicate her ideas about consumerism and what it means to suburban America. At other points the plot fails to cohere, so that certain characters seemed to be merely gesturing at ideas and motifs (such as Howard Gold’s inability to spend time in the presence of his son, or Bobby Christianson’s bizarre role in the shooting of Jim at the mall). Things often appear messy in the movie, not because the character’s lives are particularly messy, but because the extraneous elements of plot and character haven’t been suitably assimilated and processed. An example of this involves the Gold’s daughter Julie (well-played by Jessica Campbell in an awkward role), who is clearly seen imagining being embraced by her comatosed brother, whilst masturbating on a sun lounger. This is a profound and powerful sequence and yet Julie’s complex relationship with her mother and brother, as illustrated in the fight over possession of the beloved guitar, is never allowed to fully blossom, as perhaps it should.

Although impressively filmed and featuring an excellent cast The Safety of Objects is yet another entry into the increasingly unsatisfying sub-genre of American drama that fixates upon the hidden eccentricities of suburbia, usually as a means to a narrative end. This genre has roots in movies like Mike Nicholl’s The Graduate and Frank Perry’s Burt Lancaster-vehicle The Swimmer. Perhaps the most effective recent entry was Ang Lee’s adaptation of Rick Moody’s superb novel (many of these films have literary sources) The Ice Storm. Whereas that movie managed to play out the incestuous relations between a tight-knit, but cold, group of middle-class American families with a degree of authenticity and poignancy, The Safety of Objects feels much more like the failed attempts at mundane lyricism evidenced in last years 3 Backyards, or the Oscar-friendly Little Children. As a result performances as subtle and restrained as Glenn Close’s get lost in the aimless confusion of the film’s middle section.

A final brief mention must be made for one of the more eccentric choices that Troche makes. In one of Homes’ stories called ‘Looking for Johnny’, a character kidnaps a young 9 year-old boy to stand in for his lost kid brother. This plot is squeezed into the role of Randy (played by Timothy Olyphant) and the kidnapping becomes that of Sam Jennings (a debut performance from a tomboyish Kristen Stewart). Despite the film’s many failures to meaningfully explore some of the dark and sensuous sexuality of Homes’ prose, it manages to do something particularly odd with this plot strand, which as a result of the ambiguous sexual identity of Sam, creates a weird dynamic that doesn’t really exist in the original story, but comes closest to approximating the feel of Homes’ writing. Unfortunately, as with the film as a whole, this interlude quickly comes up against problems of plausibility and, more importantly, a sense of fidelity to what has been revealed of these characters, thus far. Overly ambitious, attempting to both capture the vitality of a very good work of fiction and add layers of emotional depth and insight, Troche’s film sporadically achieves its lofty aims, only for them to somehow break free and prove as elusive as the peace of mind these entrapped characters seek.

Film Review:- Cujo (1983)

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Dir:- Lewis Teague

Starr:-  Dee Wallace, Danny Pintauro, Daniel Hugh Kelly, Christopher Stone

Based on one of the best of Stephen King’s early novels Cujo is a creature-feature with a compelling difference. Whereas movies like Jaws, The Thing, or director Lewis Teague’s absurdist horror Alligator, find sources of fear in the fairly exotic, or downright bizarre, forms of great-white sharks, giant alligators and shape-shifting alien lifeforms, Cujo discovers  demonic potential in a rabid St. Bernard dog.

One of the stranger byproducts of modern cinema’s obsession with the smooth surfaces and steely veneers of CGI technology, is that the increasingly implausible action sequences within big-budget blockbusters have made otherwise dated films like Cujo appear far more visceral and ‘real’ than they perhaps had on their original release. It has to be wondered how Teague managed to actually produce much of this movie, as the seemingly docile, family St. Bernard is daubed in evermore layers of mud, blood and pus, until he resembles a Sphinx-like sandstone statue. Disturbingly, very little of the film’s violent action setpieces appear to feature a mechanical model of the St. Bernard (as with the shark in Jaws), with Teague choosing to employ numerous camera tricks to emphasise the realistic nature of the rabid dog’s crazed assaults. From the opening sequence in which Teague buries Cujo’s head in a tight cave opening, as the dog chases a rabbit, the film is startling for the way in which it deploys well-trained animals rather than puppets, or mock-ups. The medium shot of the cave, with a number of disturbed bats flying about it and Cujo still barking at a startled and recuperating rabbit, simply would not be filmed in this live-action manner any longer. Unlike in Alligator, Teague plays absolutely nothing for laughs in Cujo, making the film all the more unsettling and uncompromising.

Cujo’s deceptively simple premise – a rabid dog on the loose in smalltown America – belies the fact that the novel is an emotionally complex affair, primarily concerned with the destruction of family units and the resultant loss of innocence. Much of these plot and character subtleties are eliminated from the movie, in favour of a terse and lean narrative economy. Yet this focus on the fundamentals of the novel’s plot actually works really well, particularly in terms of creating unbearable dread and tension.

The Trenton family are under increasing external pressures at the start of the movie. Young Tad Trenton (Danny Pintauro) is plagued by a fear that monsters lurk in the dark, which can be read as a psychological manifestation of an intuited understanding of the marital difficulties between his mother and father. Donna Trenton (Dee Wallace) has been sleeping around with a man who is known to the family, called Steve Kemp (Christopher Stone). Her husband Vic (Daniel Hugh Kelly) has been trying to establish his own advertising agency and has thus been pouring most of his time into work. The few free moments Vic gets he spends with Tad, which is an unspoken source of tension between himself and Donna. Tad’s relationship with his father appears much stronger than with his mother, despite the fact that it is his mother that is always at home. At a late point in the movie Tad, desperately ill and trapped in the sweltering heat of his mother’s car, cries out for his absent father’s assistance, rather than the comfort of his mother (who is likewise trapped in the vehicle).

The other family that features fairly prominently in the movie are the Cambers, who are a rural group who have just struck it lucky on the lottery. Joe Camber (given the familiar features of Ed Lauter) is a surly motor-mechanic and farmer, who drinks too much and tends to take out his frustrations on his wife Charity (Kaiulani Lee). Their adolescent son Brett (Billy Jayne) has a free-roaming St. Bernard, the eponymous Cujo, who is kept out in the yard and seems to be somewhat neglected by both Brett and his father (who is oddly affectionate of the animal). It is this neglect, as a result of the various tensions within the Camber’s domestic lives that allows Cujo’s bat-bite to go unnoticed. Before long Cujo has developed a hatred of loud noises (impressively rendered through an amplification of certain sounds on the soundtrack) and is looking increasingly bedraggled and bewildered.

The Cambers and the Trentons are brought together by a quirk of fate. In need of a place to get Donna’s car fixed, Vic takes the advice of the local postman and heads out to the Cambers farmstead to see whether Joe can do the necessary repairs. Joe agrees to work on the car for the Trentons and asks Donna to return with the vehicle the following day. Later that day, Charity and Brett head off to visit family leaving Joe to party-hearty with his nasty drinking buddy Gary (Mills Watson), whilst all the time Cujo becomes increasingly demented.

Despite being a slickly constructed minimalist horror film, Cujo manages to avoid any deaths for the entire first half of it’s ninety minute running time. This does not stop Teague from creating some atmospheric sequences, such as the opening closet sequence involving young Tad and his invisible ‘boogeyman’ and the astonishingly effective fog sequence in which Brett strays from his house in the middle of the night and discovers a growling Cujo, appearing like a low-rent Hound of the Baskervilles. The slow, almost imperceptible, transformation of the dog from family pet to rabidly unpredictable predator adds a further patina of realism to proceedings, that makes the eventual descent of the dog into a murderous rampage all the more frightening. Teague here seems a master of the bizarrely threatening camera angle, finding obscure vantage points from which to view the dogs assaults, that simply heightens the extreme viciousness of these sequences. As Cujo is about to attack Gary in his home, the camera pulls upwards to an overhead shot looking down through the perfect framing of the stairwell. Likewise during one of the many attempts by the dog to get into Donna’s car, the camera positions itself at a low angle looking up, through the steering wheel, at a terrified Donna. Generally Teague utilises a number of low-to-the-ground POV shots that alternate between Cujo’s perspective and, potentially, that of young Tad.

Dee Wallace and the shrill child-star Danny Pintauro inhabit the entire second half of the film, with only minor cutaways to Vic’s gradual realisation that his family might be in danger. Isolated in the yard of the Cambers farmhouse, trapped within the hothouse prison of the car by the unremitting vigilance of the mad hound, Tad and Donna dehydrate, weaken and eventually fall dangerously ill. It is Tad’s lapse into a coma-state that prompts Donna to try and confront the desperately ill dog, determined, as only a mother can be, to rescue her child. The novel has perhaps one of the bleakest endings imaginable, that doesn’t allow the reader to forget that Cujo was a loyal member of a family also, whilst at the same time refusing to let the Trenton family off the hook. In the film a gimmicky, back-from-the-dead Halloween ending, is supplemented by a slightly incongruous upbeat closing image, that manages to unravel much of the excellent work of the preceding 85 minutes. As a result, Cujo goes from being one of the most convincing and effective adaptations of a King novel, to being simply a grossly underrated horror movie with obvious flaws and limitations.

The true mystery of Cujo is, whatever happened to Lewis Teague’s career in the 1990’s? A director with such bravura technical skills, that enabled the construction of truly unique shots, such as the ever-quicker  rotational pan of the inside of the car after Cujo’s most savage attack, has disappeared from Hollywood seemingly without a trace. May it be hoped thats some produer, out there, see fit to bring him in from the cold.

Film Review:- A Woman, A Gun and A Noodle Shop (2009)

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Dir:- Zhang Yimou

Starr:- Honglei Sun, Xiao Shen-Yang, Ni Yan, Dahong Ni, Ye Cheng, Mao Mao, Benshan Zhao

For the best part of a decade Chinese cinema has been growing in international stature, a process accelerated by the crossover smash Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, back in 2003. American remakes of South-East Asian cinema have been fairly common in recent years, with Hong Kong films such as The Eye and Infernal Affairs (the source for Scorsese’s Oscar-winner The Departed) joining a crowd of South Korean and Japanese horrors and thrillers in having an English-language facelift. A Woman, A Gun and a Noodle Shop, however, bucks this trend, and in so doing potentially creates a new cinematic paradigm. This will be the first film that many ‘English-speaking’ audiences will have come across, that has made the reverse journey from America to China.

Based upon The Coen Brothers debut movie Blood Simple, this film is a bizarre hybrid of western, Chinese epic, film noir and comic folk tale. Whereas the original movie was a taut Texas-set neo-noir, that utilised its balmy southern locale to enhance its tense and claustrophobic atmosphere (much like The Big Easy), this Chinese remake takes place in the ancient past, in a remote part of the Chinese empire, amongst the servants and wives of a wizened old feudal lord, called Wang (Dahong Ni). Visually the differences between the two films are particularly pronounced, with the original using a dark and swampy palette to paint a murky world of misdeeds, misunderstandings and abstruse machinations. By comparison, A Woman, A Gun and a Noodle Shop, is shot in a hyperreal blur of garish primary colours, that is both beguiling and more than just a little camp. This intensely coloured, high-gloss tone gives the adaptation the feel of a comic-book, which although a million miles from the sleazy, grimy feel of the original, does actually help to import much of that work’s carefully cultivated artifice.

It’s really not at all surprising that The Coen Brothers work could serve as the basis for such a cross-cultural translation. Of all the major modern American filmmakers, Joel and Ethan have, until A Serious Man, always appeared to be the auteurs most comfortable when creating new archetypes of older Hollywood forms (think of The Big Lebowski as a languid caper-comedy, or The Hudsucker Proxy as a Capraesque feel-good comic drama). Despite the surface eccentricities of their characterisations, or the snappiness of their terse Hawksian dialogue exchanges, the brothers have underscored their most successful works with a strong understanding of the potential ‘universality’ of certain story tropes (consider the sheer volume of classic literary references that form the foundation of their oeuvre, from Nathanel West’s dissection of Hollywood in The Day of the Locust, surfacing intermittently in Barton Fink, to the omnipresence of The Odyssey in O Brother, Where Art Thou?). Even though Blood Simple would appear to be, primarily as a result of the excellent location work, a particularly American movie, the Coen’s are really detailing a narrative that transcends place and time, thus making it ripe for this kind of cultural appropriation.

What is most unusual about this remake is the creative imagination behind the camera. Veteran Chinese helmer Zhang Yimou, who initially made his name with the extraordinary historical tragedy Raise the Red Lantern (parodic echoes of which can be felt here), moves away from recent forays into the big-budget, symphonic action epic, such as Hero and the breathtakingly beautiful, but almost entirely vacuous, House of Flying Daggers, to focus his undoubted cinematic talents upon what is, in effect, a tiny, chamber piece, of a movie. The film takes place in a hilly, desert landscape which is startling to behold, particularly as the near-crimson colour of the sand makes it appear like the surface of some alien planet. By selecting a few carefully composed establishing shots, Yimou manages to suggest a vast, desolate wilderness within which Wang’s modest palace is a remote oasis of civilisation. Similar to its cinematic source, the film revolves around the convoluted affairs of two young lovers, one of whom happens to be Wang’s favourite wife (played as a truly silly young woman by Ni Yan), and their seemingly simple ruse to divest Wang of his vast wealth. Into this most straight-forward of plotlines comes the complicating presence of Zhang (Honglei Sun), a supposedly by-the-book Imperial police officer (M. Emmet Walsh’s delightfully odious PI in the original) who sees an opportunity to exploit the situation for his own considerable gain. Corruption is the name of the game here, with money, in particular, seen as having the most corrupting influence. Xiao Shen-Yang’s Li initially cares little for material gain, rather showing a naive love for Wang’s wife. However, the seductive allure of the masses of metal currency Wang keeps stored up in his safe, proves too much for all of the servants Wang keeps under his roof, as well as the aggrieved police officer, to resist. To this end the adaptation could be seen to import a sly critique of market values, particularly as in such a bright and colourful movie, most of the filthy monetary transactions occur in the relative obscurity of nightfall, condemning them to be considered as in some way despicable.

Although Yimou does an admirable job of importing the main plot arc from Blood Simple and making it seem like an authentically Chinese narrative, one of the glaring failures of this exercise in cross-cultural pollination, is the way in which Ni Yan’s wife role operates within this different context. A subtle aspect of the original movie was its focus on the gradual evolution of Frances McDormand’s Abby, from a trapped woman almost completely reliant on the men in her life, to someone able to be self-reliant and possessing hitherto untapped inner capabilities to liberate herself. In Yimou’s movie, mainly as a result of the adaptation’s focus on comic and slapstick elements, Ni Yan’s role is completely lacking in such development, which turns the conclusion into a much less affecting, or rewarding, psychological experience, reducing it instead to a fine action set-piece. This difference in characterisation when placed alongside the markedly distinct use of landscape and locale, would appear to point up a cultural recalibration. The Coen’s original used the Texas locale and sweaty, claustrophobic interiors to show how men exert a degree of dominance over certain spaces, that then become an extension of their individuality (Visser’s car, Julian Marty’s club, Ray’s bar), as well as showing the way in which individual personality emerges from such terrain. Whereas, Yimou’s Chinese version dwarves individual identities against an intimidatingly gigantic landscape, placing much more emphasis on the action’s of the group rather than the action’s of individuals. This can lead to spectacular and hypnotic little sequences, such as the acrobatic noodle-making scene at the opening of the movie, but also leads to more ritualistic activity, such as the protocols of the palace, which make it harder to empathise with any one, particular character.

Yimou has an exceptional eye for the composition of cinematic shots, with some of the interplay between colours, such as the blackness of the blood at night and the interior decoration of the palace, being simply stunning. However, the movie does suffer from an unevenness of tone. The comic goings-on of the servants, seem to be occurring in a different film from Honglei Sun’s supremely self-contained and menacing performance as Zhang, whilst the elements of theatrical violence and slapstick comedy only really cohere in the climax to the film. Xia Shen-Yang and Ni Yan are both highly irritating presences throughout the movie, but they pale in comparison with the excruciatingly unfunny imbecility of Mao Mao and Ye Cheng’s distracting double act, as Zhao and Chen respectively. Part of the perceived failings of these roles, could be to do with an inability to read these characters within a set of Chinese narrative archetypes, potentially. Regardless, it will be intriguing to see whether this pretty little failure of an adaptation will become the initiator of a new cultural transaction paradigm between American and Chinese cinema. Big Trouble in Little Los Angeles, perhaps?

Film Review:- Firestarter (1984)

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Dir:- Mark L. Lester

Starr:- David Keith, Drew Barrymore, Martin Sheen, George C. Scott, Moses Gunn, Louise Fletcher

Back in the late seventies and early eighties various forms of psychokinesis were in vogue in the popular cinema of the time. From raging hormonal explosions in Brian de Palma’s The Fury to exploding heads in David Cronenberg’s Scanners, there was a clear and increasing interest in the potentially supernatural capacities of the mind. Perhaps the individual who appeared to have the most consistent curiosity in such strange powers was the horror novelist Stephen King. The author had burst onto the American literary scene in 1974 with his debut novel Carrie, a harrowing tale of a troubled teen trying to come to terms with a terrifying gift/affliction. Within two years this novel had been successfully transferred to the big screen by the aforementioned de Palma, which initiated a studio frenzy wherein King’s novels were no sooner off the press than they were being brought to the big screen. Being very much at the vanguard of the pop cultural zeitgeist it was difficult for King to ensure that the adaptations of his novels maintained a certain level of quality control. For every success, like Carrie  and the entirely bowdlerised Kubrick adaptation of The Shining, there were much more uneven offerings, like Christine and the television adaptation of ‘Salem’s Lot.

Firestarter is by no means a classic King adaptation, but at the same time it has managed to date a little better than some of its contemporaries, such as Christine or Children of the Corn. King has always had a fascination with viewing the horrific through the eyes of a child, or adolescent. Carrie is quite literally about a girl reluctantly becoming a woman, The Shining has Danny Torrance as the possessor of that strange gift, whilst ‘Salem’s Lot’s most grotesque moments revolve around Ralph and Danny Glick, two young brothers. The central character in Firestarter is a young girl called Charlene ‘Charlie’ McGee, who, as a result of a government experiment involving her parents, has the unusual ability of pyrokinesis, meaning that she can start fires using the power of her mind. At the start of the film Charlie is on the run with her father Andy (David Keith) from some shadowy government agents, belonging to a secret project known only as The Shop. Andy was involved in some scientific experiment called ‘Lot 6’, which wound up giving him the ability to hypnotise people by staring into their eyes. His wife Vicky (played in a brief cameo by Heather Locklear) was also part of this programme and wound up possessing telepathic abilities. As a result Charlie has both the capacity to read minds and wreak flaming havoc. Having failed to capture father and daughter, The Shop resorts to sending John Rainbird (played by George C. Scott) into the field. Rainbird is an assassin whose initial task is to bring the McGee’s in to The Shop, however over time he develops a twisted fascination with young Charlie and her gifts, which eventually leads to him working against orders.

Overall the film is a fairly faithful adaptation of the 1980 novel, managing to cover most of the main plot points. However, it fails to adequately make sense of the complex back story to ‘Lot 6’ and Vicky’s death, not to mention confusingly leaving out much of the background material on Rainbird’s Cherokee heritage and increasingly unhinged beliefs. As a result some elements of the plot refuse to cohere, as the sketchiness of the narrative detailing robs certain sequences of their awesome power. One thing Mark L. Lester (who would go on to box-office success with the Schwarzenegger vehicle Commando) gets absolutely right is the casting of ET starlet and Hollywood princess Drew Barrymore. In the role of Charlie, Barrymore brings the perfect combination of cuteness and unchecked malevolence. It is actually quite frightening to observe how quickly the diminutive Ms. Barrymore goes from gleefully happy little moppet, to sullen, ferociously scowling lethal weapon. Barrymore was barely even nine years of age at the time of filming Firestarter, but it is the intensity of her performance that makes the movie something more than a missed opportunity.

Lester wisely casts some heavyweight Hollywood talent in the supporting roles, including the long forgotten eighties star David Keith and the always dependable Martin Sheen. Sheen is the military chief that is presiding over the series of tests conducted into Charlie’s potential efficacy as a combat weapon. British actor Freddie Jones has a brief role as Dr. Wanless, the scientific head of The Shop, who believes that both of the McGee’s need to be analysed and then neutralised, before either can use their powers to devastating effect. The most important role other than Barrymore’s is that of John Rainbird, who is ably played by the seemingly miscast George C. Scott. Rainbird is a fevered fanatic, who has a whole load of bizarre notions about what he can do with the young Charlie and her powers. Much like Dr. Wanless he comes to believe it is essential to destroy the girl and deprive her of her powers, so that she cannot take them with her to the afterlife. Scott manages to mix the broodingly violent ruthlessness of his military role, with a convincingly child-friendly alterego – John the Janitor, that seems almost an echo of The Shining – winning Charlie’s trust and almost manipulating her into his treacherous clutches.

The frenetic pacing of the opening to the film, with its convoluted flashbacks, is nicely balanced against the test sequences in its middle third. These scenes, in which Barrymore sets fire to water, dry ice and cinderblock, have a deeply disturbing quality, as they revel in the ways in which young Charlie is forced to perform her feats for the benefit of The Shop, against her better judgement. Barrymore looks ridiculously vulnerable in these scenes, isolated in a sci-fi testing chamber, being voyeuristically spied upon by a cast of middle-aged men. Lester also manages to inject real passages of pathos into the film with some lovely visual juxtapositions, such as when Charlie and her father are shown to be asleep in the same pose in their bedrooms, desperately clutching at their bed-clothes. As with Carrie there is a deeper tragedy revealing itself here, the inability for these characters to even find a little solace in the only thing we all possess, namely ourselves. The startling pyrotechnic jamboree at the movies close is one of the more impressive pre-Jurassic Park visual effects feats. There is something bewitching and horrifying about seeing a small child walk through bullets and wreckage, whilst everything else around her burns to the ground. The great eighties electronica outfit Tangerine Dream provide yet another fantastically atmospheric soundtrack that helps to paint over some of the more drably realised visuals, whilst heightening the impact of this impressive ending. Of the early adaptations of King’s work Firestarter is perhaps most worthy of a solid re-evaluation, if only to wipe out the memory of the awful 2002 mini-series sequel, starring Malcom McDowell

Film Review:- A Dangerous Method (2011)


Dir:- David Cronenberg

Starr:- Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen, Vincent Cassel

As academic disputes go you could do much worse than the doctrinal spat between the twin behemoths of psychoanalysis (the naming of which is depicted here as a delightful piece of early powerplay by Freud) as the subject for cinematic drama. Unlike many dry and bookish tales of intellectual ego, Freud and Jung’s squabble had a whole litany of intriguing tensions and conflicts (primarily sexual and quasi-Oedipal), which are only emphasised by the primacy of their practices on the psychological health and well-being of many at the start of the 21st century.

Canadian body-horror specialist David Cronenberg has, for the last decade, been moving progressively toward a more mainstream cinema aesthetic, that has refined some of his earlier interests in physical malformation, deformity and sexual threat, into an overarching interest in violence as both a mental and physical act. Personally, I was not overly impressed with either the gangland gothic of Eastern Promises, or the disinterred and soulless western at the heart of his critically lauded The History of Violence. Comparing these modern works to such decadent and overblown fare as Scanners, Videodrome, Dead Ringers, or Crash, makes it appear as if Cronenberg has lost a little of his scalpel-sharp edge. A Dangerous Method continues this trend toward stately cinematic conventionality, but, that said, it is a highly accomplished drama with some impeccable central performances.

The narrative of the film covers the early part of the 20th century, from Jung’s first encounter with a patient called Sabina Spielrein, through the growth of his relationship with mentor Sigmund Freud, to the inevitable deterioration of both these relationships. The acclaimed playwright and screenwriter Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons, Total Eclipse, Atonement) does a decent job of adapting his own play The Talking Cure (itself an adaptation of the non-fiction work A Most Dangerous Method by John Kerr). Despite the fact the movie is very much about talking, Hampton is shrewd enough to avoid overdoing the analytical sections, allowing the movie to develop rapidly, with a fairly organic focus upon the way therapeutic methods are slyly applied outside of the confines of the therapist’s office.

Cronenberg is an expert at the use of fetishistic detail and he often deploys such motifs with the aim of creating  truly unsettling tension. Aside from the fantastic attention to period detail (with a glacier-clean use of CGI backdrops being a particular standout), Cronenberg is most effective in the minutiae he chooses to focus upon. Teeth are frequently placed within the centre of the shot, with special attention being paid to their unevenness, or potential decay. Much like the recently reviewed Drive there is an obsessive fixation with gloves, in Jung’s case crisply-squeaking black leather, whilst in Freud’s case they are more felt or velveteen. Freud is frequently seen wearing these soft gloves in external or formal locales and Viggo Mortensen seems to particularly revel in the slight twitches of playful tension that are magnified by the use of such an accessory. Both food and footwear are also ogled with the kind of lasciviousness that is normally the domain of Nigella Lawson or the Sex and the City women. Such seeming frippery should not be treated dismissively, as the rigourousness with which Cronenberg depicts them lends them an emblematic quality, becoming exemplifiers of neuroses and repression. The visual overload that Cronenberg employs at times in the movie has a quality reminiscent of the odd little Don McKellar short-film he appeared in called Blue, in which the executive he plays derives a perverse pleasure from things coming into contact with his feet.

One particularly impressive sequence in the movie involves Jung’s word-association test on his wife, performed with the assistance of Sabina. The bizarre mechanisms that are put into operation and the almost ritualistic application of soft weights, pen marks and electrical measurements, inexplicably rack up the tension in the scene. Close-cutting between Knightley’s focused and anxious Sabina, Fassbender’s abrupt and clinical Jung and the suppressed anguish that Sarah Gadon carefully emotes, creates a deft moment of drama, that ultimately cements Sabina and Jung’s illicit affair. At another moment in the film Cronenberg subtly frames Sabina and Jung, lying side-by-side in the hull of Jung’s sailboat (a gift from his wife), as the boat barely moves upon the still waters of the lake. Viewed from above this frame-within-a-frame shot hints at the potential for union, or the dissolution of self, that Sabina and Freud later discuss.

The casting at first seems unusual, but works impressively well. Keira Knightley has never been an actress I could warm to, and even when she has turned in an astute performance, as in Atonement, it has often been in spite of the fact that she is wholly inappropriate for the role. Here she is given a role that is perfectly suited to her brittle, neurotic sexual energy. Despite an initial burst of psycho-theatrics, reawakening the clichéd physical madness of Angelina Jolie in Girl, Interrupted, Knightley, much like each of the main cast members, quickly disappears into her role, and the startling jaw-jutting enunciation of masochistic pleasure in the opening analysis sessions is a testament to the strength of her performance, which is possibly her best to date and one which forces me to reconsider my attitude toward her. Much like Knightley, Viggo Mortensen has had to gradually change my perception of his limitations as an actor. After a fantastic turn in the Ed Harris western Appaloosa, Mortensen here delivers a wholly convincing and entirely unexpected performance of great subtlety and charm. Cinematic Sigmund Freud’s have tended toward the depressingly clichéd, but here Mortensen balances of the pragmatic logic of a great thinker, with the spry, mischievous wit of man who never seems to entirely switch his analytical apparatus off. Completing an impressive triumvirate of acting triumphs, very much against my own personal prejudices, is Vincent Cassel as Otto Gross. I frankly find Cassel’s clownish physicality and smug arrogance a massive cinematic turn-off, yet, unlike in the earlier Eastern Promises, Cronenberg somehow manages to reign in much of Cassel’s wasteful excesses and his brief cameo is a perfectly pitched interlude in the triangle that forms the crux of the drama.

In the central role of Carl Jung the German-Irish actor Michael Fassbender adds yet another impressive role to a rapidly expanding CV. Fassbender has the looks of a classic Hollywood matinée idol, reminding one a little of a steely blue-eyed Trevor Howard. Yet like the very best matinée idols (the non-Brad Pitt’s of this world) Fassbender also has the ability to give a variety of difference performances and demonstrates a particular assuredness in those moments when a lesser actor would undoubtedly reach for the OTT switch. Throughout the film, and despite the coldness of his character, Fassbender was compulsively watchable. Playing the part of a man who is obsessed with where to apply restraints in his life, there is a scene in which Fassbender subtly emphasises the aloofness and remoteness of Jung by simply failing to react to Sabina’s assault with a letter opener. It is a remarkable scene as Sabina’s aggression is so fleeting and so direct, yet it is barely even allowed to register on the clinical deportment of Fassbender’s Jung. It is safe to say that many thirtysomething leading men in Hollywood will be losing out to Michael Fassbender when it comes to securing the most challenging lead roles over the next decade.

Within the strict limitations of a mainstream cinematic biopic Cronenberg has crafted an intelligent film with a narrative that has clearly been trimmed of any unnecessary fat. It falls somewhere between works like Amadeus and Immortal Beloved, whilst avoiding much of the bombast of both those works. Almost certainly the Freudians and the Jungians will pick apart the slenderness of the plotting and the superficial rendering of the theory, but how else are such lives to be explored in narrative form. The film should certainly pique the curiosity of a few people hitherto unaware of the significance of these two great men and that is a testament to the ingenuity and talent of director, writer and cast. One last point that needs to be made is the weight that Cronenberg gives to issues of Jewishness over the course of the narrative. It appears to suggest that a major element in Freud’s attraction to Jung was the clearly Aryan legitimacy that his Protestant-Swiss background lent to the psychoanalysis movement. Jung’s attraction to Sabina is what appears to drive the fiercest wedge between himself and Freud, which suggests curious reservoirs of self-loathing in amongst Freud’s careful pragmatism. This issue of Jew and Aryan throbs away underneath the Jung-Freud feud and is illuminated somewhat by Freud’s final discussion with Sabina, in which Freud effectively reminds her of her Jewishness. In the increasingly anti-semitic tenor of the times, this seems a highly plausible fear for Freud to hold.

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