DVDs: Full Metal Jacket, one of only a couple of Kubrick films I hadn't seen, was next on my New Years' Resolution i-MUST-Check-Movies list, and while I would usually talk about Kubrick's "coldness" or "detachment" as a director, this is probably his most HUMAN film. The detachment isn't the director's, it's an element of a story which is essentially about how you create killers. It's a companion piece to A Clockwork Orange - with similar contrasting music and images in addition to its theme of violence - but more immediate and real by virtue of the near-historical setting that is the Vietnam War. The detachment, then, is the necessary ingredient that turns an empathetic human being into a creature that can (and even wants to) commit murder. Kubrick isn't cold here - we feel for his characters - but he is impressively PRECISE. His shots are symmetrical tableaux where random, chaotic things happen as if on cue. One example (warning, 30-year-old spoiler): Matthew Modine's character wear a Peace symbol that keeps creeping out of shot when he is forced to finally kill someone. When it's out of shot/in shadow, he fires. Kubrick, man. Now, most people I've talked to or read tend to think of FMJ as two films (Kubrick usually works from a multi-act structure), and only really love the first - the Marine training starring real-life drill sergeant R. Lee Ermey. And it's true the way Act I concludes makes it a rather perfect mini-movie. But to say the rest of the film doesn't quite satisfy is, I think, missing the point, as is calling it the second of 2 acts. There are really 3 clear acts in FMJ, each advancing the basic theme. In Act I, we see how creating killers can yield unfortunate results. In Act II, Joker goes to Vietnam where he encounters several "institutional" killers, killing for the State, but not necessarily anything other than murderers (that's where the film's ambiguity comes from - what killing is "acceptable"? Is context enough, or does intent matter?). Act III is the entire sequence where Cowboy's squad faces off against a sniper, where again these questions are asked, and where Joker in particular must answer them for himself. For Kubrick used to begin at Dr. Strangelove and end at 2001, but I think I've found a film worthy of those early classics.
Audios: Continuing with the 7th Doctor's Lost Stories from Big Finish, Crime of the Century would have been the second serial of the aborted 27th season, and would have introduced a new companion, a safecracker called Kate Tollinger, after Ace's departure in the previous story. Andrew Cartmel revised Ben Aaronovitch's original story treatment for the audios, given that Ace doesn't leave to fit with the many Doctor/Ace stories still to come in both novels and audios. That makes Crime of the Century a bit of a mess actually. While I'm intrigued by the amount of serialization Cartmel was going to inject into the program - with the cockney thief from the previous story showing up again, but with a grown daughter, etc., having to introduce Kate (now called Raine instead) AND keep Ace in the mix but on her own thread, seems to have divided the serial into incongruous parts. And too many of them. Honor-bound aliens and foreign princes and jewel heists... I'm not even sure what the title "Crime" is supposed to be by the end. The new companion is played by Beth Chalmers who played Raine's own mother in the previous story, and she acquits herself of it fairly well. She's posh like Lady Christina, but not as arrogant, and when she and Ace finally get a scene together, they have interesting chemistry. Maybe they should have met earlier.
Animal continues from that story, and this time, Cartmel gets it very right. You can see the story's late 80s origins because it is nominally about animal rights activism - the kind of "relevant" subject matter that wouldn't have been surprising at the time - but it goes beyond that basic theme to provide us with a fun, imaginative story that's also rather cheeky in its portrayal of the 7th Doctor's reputation as a mastermind. Ace and Raine work together and show there's juice in their "two sides of the street" dynamic, and the featured aliens have an interesting way of speaking that creates the alienness the visuals would have normally (and hopefully) provided, without resorting to hard-to-make-out audio filters. Brigadier Bambera from Battlefield is the special guest-star, and where I thought she was more than a little mannered on TV, she manages both the courage and humor the role requires of her here. Actually made me want to hear more Bambera in the future. Easily my favorite Doc7 Lost Story to date.
Theater: Had the opportunity to see my old improv partner, the heartbreaking Annik Landry, along with the wonderful mimes-by-trade Mathieu Chouinard and Marc-André Charron, in an amazing one-hour play this weekend. "Tréteau(x)"'s basic conceit is that its three actors are up on a 1' x 2' plateform the whole time; if they come down, that's it, they're out of the play. What they do with that small vertiginous space is nothing short of incredible. The intimate, claustrophobic scenes you'd expect are intercut with moments where their bodies become the landscape itself as we "zoom out" to a point of view miles away. Though there is no set per se, no costumes, no music or sound design except that created by the actors themselves, it's a surprisingly cinematic experience. There's ambiance, furiously rapid movie editing, split screen tricks, special effects sequences, all built on precise movement and chemistry, and on a shared code between actor and audience. That's the container - one I admire very much, an aesthetic experience that frequently brought me to unashamed tears - what about the content? Well, there too, Tréteau(x) impresses. There's humor, drama, violence, quirky characters... It's like something out of a Cohen Bros. film, about an RCMP officer in the far North, tracking characters with criminal intent. They're still on tour and I don't want to say any more so as not to spoil it, but I'll say it's a satisfying hour that seems much longer (and perhaps it was, what with the audience's frequent laughter and cheering). Ultimately, the play is about throwing oneself into the deep end, eliminating all the comfort zones, all the safety nets, and seeing how far a human being can take it, and that's as true of the actors as it is of their characters. I'm still not over it. It's going to take me some time yet.