Thursday, February 13, 2003

Soon you'll only be able to smoke a kipper

Tobacco advertising will be banned in the UK from midnight tonight. Won't work. People will still smoke.

To mark the start of the ban, Health Secretary Alan Milburn and Public Health minister Hazel Blears are due to tear down a 48-sheet tobacco billboard advert in London.

Because we're dead impressed with the things they do, see?

I gave up smoking years ago (and nothing works except willpower, sorry) but I'm annoyed at the anti-smoking puritanism that's creeping into this country. I'll defend the rights of people to smoke in bars and restaurants who permit it before I put in a single word for the health lobby. You can tax them, ostracise them, eject them into the street and belittle them but it doesn't matter. You won't stop people smoking.

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Drum roll...

He, he. Tim Blair's Australian column is now available here. Down at the bottom you will see that the Drums of War are everywhere.

Except for the eminently sensible CalPundit (not one of the Drums of War).

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

The Gritty City

I've also seen 8 Mile and Joe Carnahan's ferocious Narc and I wonder if Detroit has a by-law requiring all filmmakers to portray it with a blue tint. Steven Soderbergh did this a few years back in Out of Sight and Tony Scott made the place look hellishly cold in True Romance a decade ago, so it's not a new trend.

Actually, Narc was filmed in Toronto but Carnahan had me fooled with the blue filter and/or digital grading. Detroit is becoming synonymous with "gritty" to a whole generation of cinemagoers. The Americans may even be developing their very own "grim up north" genre.

Urban Sprawl

I'm going to need a season ticket at the pictures because there are so many good films out right now. I've been pleasantly entertained by Catch Me If You Can, frustrated by Gangs of New York and blown away by Fernando Meirelles's City of God.

Making Gangs had long been a dream for Martin Scorsese, and that's something that set off alarm bells for me. Dream projects usually turn out to be self-indulgent tangles like Heaven's Gate (the "Saucy Jack" syndrome, as Lileks puts it). It is grand but flawed, a majestic mess that's memorable in every way your average by-the-numbers blockbuster isn't. Scorsese is clearly in love with the time and place and has recreated it sumptuously but his attention to all its vibrant squalor comes at the expense of the story. Leonardo DiCaprio just isn't compelling enough to draw your attention away from Daniel Day-Lewis's outstanding turn as Bill "The Butcher". His performance is as good a portrayal of charismatic villainy as you'll ever see. The scene where DiCaprio wakes to find his nemesis draped in the Stars and Stripes by his side, eager to open his black heart, is absolutely riveting.

This relationship is never developed enough and that irked me because Gangs isn't really about New York, the birth of modern America or Catholics versus Protestants at all. The cliché of plucky Oirish immigrants struggling against the odds isn't the story. Scorsese might love all that but it's just window dressing. No, for me this film was about fathers and sons and mutual need. Vallon infiltrates Bill's gang so that he can avenge his father's murder but he ends up being seduced by Bill's magnetism. Bill has no illusions of immortality and behind all the bluster he knows his days as leader of the pack are numbered. He is willing to die for the cause, as long as he has an heir. The Gang is the family.

This should ramp up to a dramatic climax but instead we get cross-cuts to who is hitting who in the Draft Riots several streets away. Madness. We don't care what is happening in West 34th Street or wherever at this point. The background is superb, constructed from scratch with nary a pixel of CGI in sight but Scorsese forgets that it's only background. You can have a multi-faceted look at the city or you can have a good old-fashioned character clash but you can't have both at the same time.

So it's a bit of a mess but I enjoyed it, and if any film could be redeemed by its final few seconds maybe this is it. Finally two protagonists, once the bitterest of enemies, are buried side by side in graves overlooking the city. We see time passing - years, then decades - and the Manhattan skyline reaches ever higher. The graves slowly crumble to nothing as the city flourishes.

Now that's poetry. These men were once masters of all they surveyed, their names respected and feared throughout the steets, but they are doomed to be forgotten. Only the city endures. It's a beautifully executed moment and a truly imaginative use of visual effects.

But the city should have remained a bit-player until its final fanfare.

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