08 March 2011

Howl - James Franco IS Allen Ginsberg!

One for the ‘angel headed hipsters’, Howl is a flawed attempt at telling the story of one of modern poetry’s best loved and most parodied works. According to directors Jeffery Friedman & Rob Epstein, the film is ‘a poem-pic‘ and not a traditional biopic. In this goal they are at least partly successful.

Alllen Ginsberg’s Howl is, along with Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and William Burrough’s The Naked Lunch, one of the cornerstones of the ‘beat generation’, that group of writers who in the 1950’s transformed the American (and later the world’s) literary landscape and eventually influenced and helped shape the counter culture - or as, Ginsberg puts it; “just a bunch of guys trying to get published”.

The movie progresses in three ways: a documentary interview with Franco’s Ginsberg, Franco’s reading of Howl over the effective and visually appealing animation work of Ginsberg collaborator Eric Drooker and the dramatised obscenity trial where the prosecution tried to prove that the work had no literary value. Of these, the reading over animations works the best. The other two segments call to mind Mark Twain’s quote about how explaining a joke is like dissecting a frog – you understand the frog better but it dies in the process. Here, for joke, read poem.

Despite a short running time and a sharp, fizzing performance from Franco – a novelist as well as an actor himself - Howl could prove to be something of a slog for non-Ginsberg converts. To them I would suggest; buy the book instead.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams - Herzog and Pre-History...in 3D! Released 25 March

A visually stunning and, at times, humbling experience, Herzog’s mesmerising 3D documentary presents the audience with a chance to examine the earliest prehistoric cave paintings currently known . Gaining unprecedented access, the crew crawled along narrow walkways throughout the cave to bring the 35,000 year old artworks to the screen. The contours of the cave come to life brilliantly and, staring at the animal figures and prints of early humans in the dark, one almost feels inside the cave – separated by thousands of years but somehow connected. A beautiful achievement, held together by Herzog’s wry narration and interviews with the often eccentric cast of scientists and archaeologists conducting work into exploring the cave, Cave of Forgotten Dreams is a perspective changing film that is literally full of humanity.


Robert W Monk

Buried - Out on DVD now

Tapping a similarly bruised vein to Danny Boyle’s recent gripping yet flawed James Franco vehicle 127 Hours, Buried is an unforgiving claustrophobia-fest; an experience that at times feels like an assault and that if thought about too deeply is liable to cause king size panic attacks.

The entire film hangs on the enticing premise of one man buried 6 feet underground with only a lighter and a mobile phone with rapidly diminishing battery life for company. Ryan Reynolds is superb as the American contractor ambushed by suspected insurgents whilst working in Iraq.
In what is essentially a one man show, Reynolds’s performance as Paul Conroy makes the movie. The only interaction he has with the outside world comes via the mobile in calls to and from his captors, US authorities and his family back at home.

The tension is set to eleven from the very start; the Saul Bass style titles bringing to mind the glory days of suspense cinema and providing the right amount of melodrama and expectation for what is to come. Reynolds’s sufferings – grimly extracted from unrelenting close ups of his anguished face – seem all too real. It would be an unfeeling audience indeed that did not feel its heart rate accelerate during the taut 90 minutes of the running time.

Buried successfully conveys that most primeval of human fears – the fear of being buried alive. This is a fear that everybody can relate too – the fact that the film is anchored by a great performance, tight direction (from Spanish director Ricardo Cortes) and a script that keeps you guessing until the very end only strengthens the piece.

A real gem – Buried is a heartening example of an American thriller coming from slightly under the radar to do what old school thrillers used to do – to provoke, entertain and quicken the pulse.

Robert W Monk