Monday, 29 December 2008

Here in town there's only she, who is beautiful as me, so I'm making plans to woo and marry Belle.

No 436 - Beauty and the Beast
Director - Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise

Over the past months, Elliot and I have frequently found ourselves singing songs from Beauty and the Beast. Usually singing Gaston's parts as we thought he was awesome. So, finally, I snaffled the DVD from my Disney obsessed sister and sat down with old Mr Biddle to watch the quality film.
Now, don't get me wrong, I LOVE this film. But there are some huge differences between watching it as a 7 year old in the cinema (which I once did) and watching it now as a world weary cynical bastard.... some of the film just doesn't quite add up.

I think we should look at this first - so that I can end this entry with me talking about the sheer magnitude of stuff I love about it!

The problem is that essentially.... the plot is flawed.

The story begins....
An old woman visits a prince in his castle asking to stay at the castle for the night in return for a rose. The prince refuses. The old woman turns out to be a beautiful enchantress who curses the Prince. Turning him into a horrific beast, he is told that if he doesn't find love by his 21st birthday he will be doomed to stay a beast forever.

Now, this is all well and good. Some would in fact say that it is a pretty standard fantasy plot and that is true, normally I would have no qualms with such a set up. If it wasn't for a small line in the song Be Our Guest.

Life is so unnerving
For a servant who's not serving
He's not whole without a soul to wait upon
Ah, those good old days when we were useful...Suddenly those good old days are gone
Ten years we've been rusting
Needing so much more than dusting
Needing exercise, a chance to use our skills!
Most days we just lay around the castle
Flabby, fat and lazy
You walked in and oops-a-daisy!
Ten years! TEN! That means.... the prince must have been 10 when that enchantress came to visit. Oh, how different the story suddenly looks. It isn't a wise woman punishing a blustering selfish fool for his arrogance. NO! It is a pious sanctimonious little bitch who has decided she has the authority to judge everyone. Even children. We can assume he is orphaned as there is no mention of his parents (even as a 20 year old he would have probably had his parents about the place) and lives under the guardianship of his servants (I'd assume Lumiere and Cogsworth). It makes sense that he would be uneasy to let a random old woman into his home. However, that's not enough, the enchantress views herself as judge, jury and executioner and curses the poor child and all the castle's INNOCENT occupants to a lifetime of monsterous deformity with one weak reprieve - fall in love in the next decade. As a 10 year old, the prince probably has no thoughts for women. He probably dislikes them, and he lives in an isolated castle where he can't really meet anyone. It is quite fair to say that this enchantress is just a bit of a horrible bitch.
The cursed decade also opens up another interesting quandary.... Chip. How old is Chip? 8? Have the servants been in suspended animation, never growing older as they sit in their cupboards? We know the beast has been aging, or the deadline to the curse is a bit of a moot point. So it is safe to assume that the whole castle is under the same curse and at some time.... Mrs Potts (who is definitely at an age where she would be post menopausal) got funky. As a Tea Pot. And gave birth to a cup. Further curiosity as to why Chip wasn't more bewildered or confused by his new human form. All he asks is if he should still sleep in the cupboards.
And finally.... just how many servants does the Beast have? Are we supposed to believe that each cup, knife and plate is a single servant. Do 5 mops maybe represent 1 cleaner? Because if each object is a servant, there must be easily 500 people in that castle. Don't believe me? Ask the dishes. Be Our Guest only deals with Kitchenware.... there is evidence of hundreds of animated objects in every corner of the cracked and dusty castle.
WHICH REMINDS ME (I know I said 'and finally' with the criticisms, but I lied - sue me). The servants have been sitting around in that castle for a decade. What have they been doing, because they've let the place fall to shit. They haven't had to sleep, or eat, or go to town.... they have no distractions. Yet, they clearly just sit about at home pretending to be furniture. Far to busy standing utterly still to do any of their servant duties. I'd be an angry beast too if I had such idle staff. I certainly wouldn't be paying them!
It is in the 'Human Again' deleted scene that those lazy bums finally get to work and tidy the house making it look all still cursed but much prettier.
So, what do I like about the film. Because there is a lot about this film that I like.
1) The songs. I am of the firm belief that Beauty and the Beast has the best songs of any Disney film. The earlier films are too high and warbly. Even films like the Lion King which I consider to be far superior to Beauty and the Beast doesn't have the same excellent songs as Be Our Guest or anything Gaston has.
2) Gaston is just plain excellent. Brilliant. We love him (we being Elliot and I, rather than the royal we). We love his arrogance. We love his taste in interior decorating, we love his rippling hairy abs. We are not as gay as we sound.....
The Gaston song is the best song in the film... and pretty much everyone of his lines is classic gold
I'd like to thank you all for coming to my wedding. But first I'd better go in there and propose to the girl.
It's not right for a woman to read. Soon she starts getting *ideas*, and *thinking*...
The man is comedy brilliance. An egocentric, chauvinistic buffoon. Whats not to love. He reminds me of Bruce Campbell, which (as I've frequently made clear) can never be a bad thing.
3) Finally.... I love Belle. I think she is totally my favourite Disney Princess, definitely the prettiest. Toby says Jasmine but that is too obviously lust fueled by midriffs (and he said he liked her because she was Indian.... when she would be Middle Eastern... twit). I think it all stems from when I had a lovely time in a shop in Disney land flirting a bit with one of the shop staff, only to find out at a later date, that she was Belle in the Disney parade. She gave me a kiss and Belle cemented her position as my all time forever favourite Disney Princess.
-True Story folks

Friday, 26 December 2008

Too much garbage in your face? There's plenty of space out in space! BnL StarLiners leaving each day. We'll clean up the mess while you're away.

No 373 - Wall:E
Director - Andrew Stanton

Merry Christmas Peoples! So, little sis got this for Christmas yesterday and we watched it in the morning... however I spent most of the day feeling fat and full... watching Dr Who, Wallace and Gromit and thrashing my family at Buzz. I hope you therefore understand why I have taken a day to get round to blogging.

The big thing about Wall:E (I can't make the big dot appear so I'm going for colons) is that it really is a difficult film for Pixar. The ambition behind it is huge, epic and very very brave... and it is not something that Pixar have taken lightly. This was one of the first ideas they ever had (along with Toy Story and A Bug's Life), however it took years to happen as they didn't believe they had the technical ability to deliver such a daunting challenge.
But why... why do I keep saying that this film would be a hard sell? Let us examine the facts and discuss them individually, there are 2 facts - one is relatively minor but the other is HUGE and should be discussed in a huge manner....

1) The film seems to try hard to create imagery which will alienate the target audience.

This is a Disney Pixar cartoon, and whilst I do very much enjoy the work of Pixar, I - a film savvy bearded 23 year old - am not the film's target audience. This is a 'Family Film' which translates itself roughly as a film for kids. Yet this is a film that loves the obsolete and the old fashioned. Wall:E watches Hello Dolly, a musical from 1969 and I think it is fair to say that most children are not hugely educated on either the golden age of Musical cinema (the 50s and 60s) nor the back catalogue of Barbara Streisand. So for most children, the songs and the Hello Dolly footage which is played throughout the film will be new and won't have the amusing nostalgic familiarity that I get from it.

However, it is not just the film itself which casts unfamiliarity - as Wall:E watches it on a VHS (recorded off the Telly it seems) - it is a world which runs the risk of being completely alien to the modern child, raised in the DVD generation.

Finally.... Pong! There is a scene where Wall:E is trying to entertain the dormant Eve and does so by playing Pong with her. That is not going to be a familiar image to the vast majority of youth watching the film. Hell, I'm not sure if it'd be a familiar image to me if it wasn't for the fact that I was such a geek.

All these unfamiliar elements are all minor in comparison with the huge alienating factor I wish to discuss...

2) The first half of the film is essentially a silent movie.

Wall:E is a solitary figure, who only has one companion - a cockroach. As the cockroach can't speak, Wall:E doesn't speak so the first part of the film is a series of robotic noises (made by Ben Burtt who also design the noises of R2-D2 fact fans) and a solitary figure who just trundles through his messy litter strewn world. Even when a second protagonist and 'love interest' arrives the communication and dialogue is stunted at best. Eve (a sleek curvy iPod of a robot which can swoosh and fly through the world) can say about 3 or 4 words (Eve, Wall:E, Directive and Plant are the only 4 that come to mind) and Wall:E can just about say the first 3 of those 4 words. However, Pixar can pull it off. Animation is a tough medium to show subtle facial changes and glimmers of emotion, which is why animation is usually a rather wordy affair. However Pixar manages to make their characters subtly nuanced and beautiful emotive. This is even more of a feat when you consider one of the characters is a highly polished floating egg and the other is a rusting clunking hulk which looks like Johnny 5's stunted little brother. Neither character has a mouth, neither character has eyebrows.... it is almost as if Pixar deliberately removed anything which might make showing emotion an easy task in order to make the toughest challenge ever. Luckily, they're geniuses. Pixar's genius makes this one of their boldest films and certainly makes Wall:E they're most adorable character.

After all those challenges, they have also made their bleakest ever film. Set in a world which has been ruined by rubbish and consumerism, our hero trundles through a completely ruined empty planet surrounded by the run down corpses of other Wall:E models the introduction shows a truly horrible future for our planet and shows us to be mindless consumerist whores who let our surroundings to fall to waste before moving on and leaving it deserted. I believe that Agent Smith once had something to say about it in the Matrix:

I'd like to share a revelation that I've had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you're not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You're a plague and we are the cure.

So... that is my run down of the first half of this film, a silent film in a bleak grey surroundings dealing with loneliness. Hardly standard Disney fare... but also (in my opinion) one of Pixar's greatest triumphs. Let us move on to part deux....

EVE and WALL:E end up in space on a ship called the Axiom (I won't tell you the reasons behind it as I don't want to be Captain Spoiler) - the last bastion for the humans who have evacuated Earth. It is here that we meet the human race - who have spent 700 years in space being waited on hand and food by an enormous robot servant army. They have subsequently become huge blubbery blobs with very weak bones and who spend all their time sat on gliding chairs so they don't have to worry with walking. The 'evolution' (if that is what it is) of man is shown through another very brave move by Pixar. This is the inclusion of actual real life people within the film. Most of these are merely in Buy N Large's promotional material, but there is a proper role played by an actual human. This is the superb Fred Willard playing the CEO of Buy N Large, My Selby Forthright. His company has become so all encompassing that it is implied he is now the president and that the White House has become the BnL HQ. The progression from 'true human' to 'CGI' is best seen in the captain's quarters where you can see the original Axiom (a normal sized 'real person') all the way through to the modern fat lazy naive captain.

The introduction of the humans also brings us the excellent John Ratzenberger in his now obligatory Pixar role. I won't tell you anything else about it, for SPOILER reasons, but he is there.

In fact, the second half of the film is where most of the plot is and is back in Pixar's comfort zone. Although it is still marvellous, it is not quite as brave and astounding as the first half and I suppose suffers for that. I certainly have far less to say on this bit of the film compared to the first bit... apart from my one qualm with the film:

Why do all the robots have personalities? I mean I understand Wall:E... he is a mistake and has been left on his own for 700 years where he has developed curiosity and human traits. Likewise I understand the collection of defective robots... It can be explained that they have developed their personalities as part of them being broken. But what about EVE? What about Mo? Why do these correctly functioning robots have human personalities?
I suppose the reason this question comes to light is because this is Pixar's first film without direct anthropomorphism, so when it starts to creep into the film it is somewhat confusing.

However that is a really minor concern in a truly excellent film. Pixar continue to excite and amaze me with their brilliant output.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Go and boil your bottoms, you sons of a silly person. I blow my nose at you, so-called "Arthur King," you and all your silly English K-nig-hts.

No 381 - Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Director - Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam

So, a few days ago I braved the lights and gridlocked traffic and wandered into London's glittering west end (oooh!) Where I went to see Spamalot. It is ending in January so I thought I should probably catch it before it ran off cackling into the night time. As I sat there, joyously singing "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" and whistling along (yes... Wrong film for the song but as its Monty Python's only musical I forgive them. They also have the Spam and Finland songs there) I thought to myself that I would really quite like to see the Holy Grail.

Flashback to probably a decade ago.A youthful me sat at my dad's house watching the Holy Grail for the first time. It had been recorded off the telly and I had won the Sunday afternoon TV battle so was sat there (cup of tea in hand) having a good old chuckle. There is a scene near the end where the knights and Arthur collapse on a stony beach, just outside of Castle Aaaargh! As this scene is being shown, my sister comes into the room.
"Oh" she nonchalantly points to the TV "They found it then"
"No they haven't" I was quick to reply
And with all the considered timing of a true comedian she delivers her immortal line "but isn't that the Holy Gravel?"

Now, please allow me to explain that my sister is not the puntastic comedy genius that that brief anecdote might suppose. She is, however, a fooooooooool.
And she had also never seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail. So, as I packed for my family Christmas, I slipped the DVD into my bag and made my merry way.

As the film began, I realised what a massive part Monty Python plays in our English heritage and how over 30 years later the Python sense of humour can still baffle foreigners (my French mother getting increasingly confused by (and blaming me for) the film starting with the wrong film and the Swedish subtitles in the title credits).

I also realised how clever and subtle the comedy of the Python's can be. As well as the crude brash bonkersness that we know.
Because... This film IS bonkers. And nonsense. From little moments like King Arthur's inability to count to 3 and The King of Swamp Castle and Herbert constantly calling the other by the wrong gender. Because these moments are so small and flippant and passing, they just add to the inexplicable weirdness.Then there are the big moments. The moments that are so insane that they reach the point of surreal genius. Camelot and the French Knights are just so... Well, odd that there is a strong chance the joke could just fall flat on its face. But thankfully the Pythons know how to pull off weirdness and they do so with great aplomb.

The film is very much a collection of sketches with a central theme. Not to the same degree as Meaning of Life but certainly more than Life of Brian which is more of a unified whole. This is by no mean a bad thing and allows the film to mix and leap from themes without any fear of tone or connectivity. The sketch format also allows Terry Gilliam to include some of his wonderful animation as segues and linking passages. Oh, and to create amazing monsters (the animation also probably helped on the more ambitious ideas as the film was only made on a budget of 78p. And whilst that was a lot in the 70s it still wouldn't finance a film.)

And finally.... I just wanted to mention the post modern aspects. From actors talking to the audience directly, scenes being criticised by actors from other scenes and a police subplot which allows the film to end in the most surprisingly offbeat and abrupt manner. I will not spoil it for those that haven't seen it yet, but it is a doozy.

So let me end with this little lego moment and wish you a merry Christmas.
I should talk about a Christmas film, where's Its a Wonderful Life?

Friday, 19 December 2008

There's something out there. That... that witch in the cellar is only part of it. It lives... out in those woods

No 49 - Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn
Director - Sam Raimi

It was my little sister who said "I feel glad to live in a world where Evil Dead 2 was voted into the top 50 films of all time" and you know what? She is totally correct to feel glad. This is not a film I would have imagined to appear in such a list. But I'm oh so happy it has.

When I was a lad of 12 or 13 I used to go to my friend James's house and watch films where I would then go home and my mum would look at me suspiciously - convinced that I was watching horrifically violent 18 rated films and that James was a bad influence on me. Well, as a decade or so has past (and my Mum does read this blog) I feel I should confess. Despite all my protests and the shock when you brought up the subject.... we WERE watching horrifically violent 18 rated films and James has always been a terrible influence on me. Ha Ha! This feels like therapy. Whilst Evil Dead 2 wasn't one of those films (we were going through a John Carpenter phase for quite a lot of our youth), it was a film which James and my best friend Richard had seen when they were younger still and it was spoke in hallowed tones. Mainly referred to as "The film with the horrible creepy lady in the fruit cellar".

So when I finally got round to watching it (I can't remember when I first saw it), it was wit great trepidation as I was expecting something that was going to fuck me up. I was not however expecting the frankly amazing streak of pitch black comedy that runs throughout.
This film is deeply comic, but isn't a parody as it doesn't send up the rules of the genre - instead it creates a situation so ridiculous that the comedy comes from the character interaction. Character interaction and the talents of one sublime legend. I don't think you can really talk about the Evil Dead films without making sure that your first topic is the man, the legend, the chin.... Mr Bruce Campbell. Bruce Campbell is the greatest actor of his generation.... well, probably not but he is amazing and he dominates this film like a dominatrix. With a chainsaw and a wild eyed stare.
The character of Ash is excellent, and his descent into insanity that you see within this film really allows Campbell to gurn and overact and raise his magnificent eyebrows with great aplomb. Also, let us not forget the sheer manliness of Ash. Ash is officially hard as nails. By the end of the film his blue shirt is just blood stained tatters hanging off his rippling abs, his left hand clenches onto a sawn of shot gun and his right hand is a chainsaw. The only way he could be any manlier is if he was smoking a big fat Havana cigar at the same time.... But, before we get sidelined and distracted, let me return to a point you may have just overlooked. Ash's chainsaw hand. This is a feature that is so cool... so... groovy.... that it is hard to explain the joy when he straps it on for the first time (yes I'm aware of the terribly gay undertones in that last sentence). 20 years later and another film would attempt something almost identical. As (the admittedly far more attractive (even than Bruce)) Rose McGowen's character Cherry has her leg replaced with a military grade machine gun in the film Planet Terror. It is the next step up from a mere chainsaw but you can see the influence.

When the word influences appears, I am instantly led to one person, Edgar Wright. My sad geeky Spaced knowledge means that I am aware that Evil Dead 2 is one of his favourite films. However, that fact should be made instantly clear just by comparing directing styles. Sam Raimi's camera crashes through windows, destroys doors, swoops and swerves and dives around like a rabid twitching beast. That, combined with the film's quick and frantic editing has to have been a strong influence in the almost identical directing style used within Spaced.

The final thing of note within this film could be viewed as either a good or bad point depending on opinion. Hooray for films being subjective! I love the fact that this film has almost no progression. The characters have hardly any emotional arc to go through (Ash especially, seeing the amount of shit he has to go through flits between wisecracking bad ass and sobbing nervous wreck without any thought of actual emotion or stress), the plot is basically the plot of the first Evil Dead but slightly expanded. The film is solely about the here and now. If and how these people will escape the situation they are in. It is a brave mood and not one you see that frequently. Films these days seem almost too keen on back story providing reasons and motivations. The only film I can think of in recent times which follows the situation path is Cloverfield, a film that was both lauded and hated for that exact reason.

All in all I love this film. I love the prat falling, I love the manic giggling deer's head, I love the evil hand and I all out adore Bruce Campbell. I just wish the special effects hadn't aged so badly. It is hard to be scared when the monsters look like they're from Beetlejuice!

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Write it all down. Just the truth. No rhymes, no embellishments, no adjectives. And then leave us be.

No 442 - Atonement
Director - Joe Wright

Ho ho ho - I am a cheeky scamp. So, yesterday evening Toby and Fil asked if I wanted to put one of my top 500 films on and I put this cheery number on. However despite the chick flick romantic theme and the sad sad sadness of the film, I really like it. I think it is a beautiful piece of cinema.
When the film ended, Toby said something very interesting, saying that if he had known the film's conclusion (I was going to use the word 'twist' but that isn't really the right word) at the beginning of the film he would have enjoyed it more because it completely changes the tone and the theme of the entire film. I find it particularly interesting because I have never come to the film from that viewpoint as I had read the book about a year before the film came out. This may have helped my love for it, but I think that mostly it is just a wonderfully made film and the elements of nostalgia in it are superb for someone like me.


Everyone in this film smokes. Everyone. I heard a rumour that people were outraged by the level of cigarette consumption in the film and had asked for it to be toned down, in fear that it would lead others to try this terrible habit. Wright simply replied with "I'm not changing anything, people smoked a lot in the 30s". I hope this rumour is true because it makes me smile, and I like things that make me smile... However, at times Atonement seems to be a love letter to tobacco with delicate lingering shots of the characters reclining in near ecstatic bliss as they inhale their cigarettes.

But back then, they were good for you....


The language. Or to be more accurate, the delivery of the language. It is fast and it is clipped and it is wonderfully wonderfully British. It reminds me a lot of one of my favourite scenes (when it comes to delivery) - When David Niven's character Peter is crashing at the start of A Matter of Life and Death (a film I'm looking forward to reviewing at a later date) - his conversation is fairly trivial, but the delivery is like machine gun fire "June? That's a lovely name". It is a wonder to behold. The same happens in this film. Again I heard a rumour (my, what a lot of rumours were flying around this film) that they began by acting rather materialistically until Joe Wright stopped them. His exact words were allegedly "Have you seen Brief Encounter? Do it like that." If these rumours about Mr Wright are true then I can't seem to fault his stylistic eye, and I look forward to seeing what else he does.

The fast talking aspect also stems from the delightfully upper class nature of the film. Fil said that he despises books by Ian McEwan as they are so smugly upper middle class. However, in this film, and the world it is set, I think the poshness works. Some of it could seem ridiculous (I particularly like the names of the cousins in the house - Pierrot and Jackson are such sublimely ridiculous names.
The posh culture does open up the character of Robbie, and his relationship to Cecelia. They suddenly become far more complex. This is not just a story about falling for someone outside of your class. It is also about the identity complex that comes from the fact that Robbie has had an exceptional education which as paid for by Cecelia's father. He may be the help but he is also unofficially part of the Tallis family... and that is an awkward place to be in:
Five years ago you didn't care about telling the truth. You and all your family, you just assumed that for all my education, I was still little better than a servant, still not to be trusted. Thanks to you, they were able to close ranks and throw me to the fucking wolves!

It is this distrust which opens up part 2 of the film (for this is a tale of 3 (or possibly at a stretch 4) parts... 1. Pre War dinner parties and intrigue 2. War - Soldier's story 3. War - Nurse's story and possibly 4. Modern day conclusion)....

Whilst the framing and cinematography is stunning throughout this entire film, the scene of Dunkirk is the stand out moment for me. A needlessly lavish steadicam shot which wanders throughout the beach letting you see the depravity and futility of war and the fragile states of the soldiers. It is one of the most beautiful shots I have ever seen in a film and it gives me goosebumps. The score is wonderful in this scene too but you can tell it is there to cover up the choreographers and director screaming for horses to stampede or cars to explode or drunk people to fall off merry go rounds.

And as we draw near to the end of this blog (a relatively short entry but I don't have much to say besides I think it is beautiful and all people should watch it and have a little cry) I leave you with two thoughts.

1) Isn't the C word a ponderous thing... I personally love it.
2) Doesn't James McAvoy look like a young David Niven? The final scene specifically (bad photo I know) could almost be from A Matter of Life and Death.... AND THAT IS A GOOD THING!

Monday, 8 December 2008

Are you ready for that? Checking into a Vegas hotel under a phony name with intent to commit capital fraud and a head full of acid? I sure hope so.

#469 – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Director – Terry Gilliam

Once again we delve into the mad world of Terry Gilliam, accompanied by two utterly fantastic character actors to help bring the twisted reality to life. This is a film which gradually descends into less and less sense and further into insanity. But, to be fair, I don’t think that a drugged up narrative should be clear or should make sense. So let us delve further into this film and begin by looking at the two main characters….

Johnny DeppDepp is a bit of a cinematic legend these days, but this is before he exploded into the mainstream and he was still rather indie and art house, an excellent character actor. I have never seen any footage of Hunter S Thompson so I cannot comment on the realism or how lifelike the portrayal is, but what I can say is this: Depp’s Character of Thompson is amazing. A twitching paranoid madman who jumps and starts, staring with wild abandon at the world around him and moving in a jerky spaced out manner. It is not too dissimilar to a certain pirate who made Depp a phenomenal star. And of course, in his Hunter S make up he shares a certain likeness to David Cross… which made me chuckle through out the film.

It is hard to think of an actor with enough Kudos and actorly chops to go against Depp and even to outshine him. However, one of those people is definitely Benicio Del Toro, he is utterly superb and another excellent actor. However, Del Toro seems to usually play far more serious and sombre roles so it is quite refreshing to see him play someone as comically insane as the Pot bellied psycho Dr Gonzo. However, despite first impressions, Dr Gonzo is not the bumbling drugged up buffoon that he appears to be. He is a definite sexual predator, praying on women and using his vast supply of drugs to weaken their resistance to his advances. He is also prone to fits of psychotic rage and is frequently seen waving big old knives or his trusty revolver in the faces of innocent confused bystanders. There are a lot of innocent bystanders in this film as they have to deal with the insane and frequently violent actions of the two drugged up protagonists.
However, scariest of all, as Dr Gonzo falls deeper and deeper into his drugged up stupor, he sounds more and more like a drunk Rebecca Mary Yates… truly a terrifying concept.

It is interesting to see how the film chronicles these two characters and their descent into drug fuelled madness. There are subtle touches, the camera angles, the lighting and the editing becomes more unusual and more disconcerting as does the background action. Little touches like the dialog shared between the extras becomes more and more surreal (Step right up and shoot the pasties off the nipples of a ten foot bull dyke! Win a cotton candy goat! ), the charred remains of bats on the road, monkeys dressed as members of the KKK or angels stood on pavements with flaming swords.
It is not just the relatively subtler moments – when the characters are tripping out on hallucinogenics, the film becomes pure mental. Hotel staff turn into conga eels, bars become filled with wildly fornicating lizards rolling around in blood and Del Toro becomes the Very Devil. With boobs on his back. It all culminates in the utterly unintelligible stop start editing of flashbacks from a Adrenacol bender. A violent mess of an experience where they very nearly kill far too many people. And where there is (in my humble opinion) far too much vomit! The descent of the film into near insanity is brilliant. By the time you reach the end of the film you don't need to have your hand held to follow the plot and these flashbacks and violent snippets and moments make as much sense to you as they do to the Slowly sobering Hunter... It is the excellent cast that helps to carry the audience through the insanity and to see the brilliance of the film itself.

This leads me to the final point that I want to make about this film, which is to comment on the marvellous supporting cast - and the sheer number of little fresh faced famous people that appear in it...
  • Tobey Maguire - All long blonde haired and freaking out as he foolishly hitches a lift from those insane druggies. Although... why is he so sweaty? No one knows....
  • Verne Troyer - Just doing that thing he does, of being all small and that.
  • Penn (out of Penn and Teller) - He isn't really doing much, but he is there doncha know.
  • Flea - Who is the cause of one of my favourite lines from the film as he licks LSD of Depp's arm.... sadly the line was too long to put into my title bar (oooh er - thats what SHE said... etc):
    With a bit of luck, his life was ruined forever. Always thinking that just behind some narrow door in all of his favorite bars, men in red woolen shirts are getting incredible kicks from things he'll never know.
  • Christina Ricci - Who plays a quite possibly underage very naive woman who has been fed Acid by Dr Gonzo.... throughout her few scenes she shows off a mix of innocence with a subtle layer of sexual resonance. I don't know if it is deliberate or not. I just think Christina Ricci gives off a certain sexual resonance in everything she does. Even Wednesday Addams was a bit of a minx by the time you get to the sequel.
  • Cameron Diaz - Who had nothing to but get threatened in a lift. But it is pleasant to see her.

So all in all.... I really like this film, it falls into the 'constantly quotable' category of film with some truly marvellous dialogue and I think it is perfectly suited for Terry Gilliam's distinctive surrealist visual style. Good film indeed!

Sunday, 30 November 2008

12 hours before crew will be unable perform complex tasks. 14 hours before crew will be unable to perform basic tasks. 16 hours until death.

No 355 - Sunshine
Director - Danny Boyle

Sunshine, Sunshine, Sunshine, Sunshine - Bom diddy deedy.
I do so enjoy that song. It is groovy cool.

But now... to business.
It seems that Danny Boyle may be trying to be a modern Stanley Kubrick.... tackling all the genres. Just take a look at his directorial back catalogue:
The Beach
28 Days Later
Slumdog Millionaire

There seems to be real diversity in his film ideas - so let us take a look at his Sci-Fi...

Sunshine is an odd film as it seems to be in two parts, and whilst the first half is brilliant and really interesting, the second half is fundamentally flawed. In fact, whilst we're on the subject of the fundamentally flawed, lets begin by looking at the premise of the film.

This film is set in a future where the sun is going out so a crew is asked to fire a massive nuclear warhead into the sun and reignite it....
Let us look at some of the key flaws with this simple premise.... (and you can call me nit picky if you so desire.... but there is the occasional moment where you have to question your own suspension of disbelief)
1) Firstly the sun is going out.... now the sun will be going out in about 3 billion years, that is what science has told me.... now although they never tell us how far into the future this is supposed to be, I'm pretty sure it is not 3 billion years time (unless technology has moved really rather slowly....)
and 2) THIS FILM IS SET IN A FUTURE WHERE THE SUN IS GOING OUT SO A CREW IS ASKED TO FIRE A MASSIVE NUCLEAR WARHEAD (the size of Manhattan) INTO THE SUN AND REIGNITE IT.... I know that Sci-fi is a pretty forgiving genre when it comes to outlandish plots but that is utterly bonkers.

However, once you get over the essential bonkersness, you face a very interesting film. The crew have been on a ship for years and face being on the same ship for years to come. Not only that but it is not even certain that they will survive the mission:

To quote Mace, the second in Command of the Icarus II (the ship that is delivering the nuke)
Do I have to spell it out for you? We have a payload to deliver to the heart of our nearest star. We are delivering that payload cause that star is dying and if it dies, we die, everything dies. So that is our mission, there is nothing, literally nothing more important than completing our mission. End of story.

So all of a sudden the rather trite set up for the film provides the framework for an interesting exploration of Team work, sacrifice, the greater good. It is also an exploration of death as people come to terms with their mortality and have to sacrifice themselves for The Greater Good.

So it comes as a bit of a disappointment when the second half of the film becomes a bizarre slasher film as the crew are chased by the captain of Icarus I, a man who gets so close to the surface of the sun only to decide that God has chosen the time for Earth to die, and he shouldn't interrupt. So when a second Icarus arrives 7 years later he decides he has to stop it.... This is where the third massive flaw in the film comes into play. The captain of the Icarus I has been hanging around the surface of the sun for 7 years. The ship has turned off any filtering of the sun's rays (we know this to be true because the viewing gallery is full of the ashen corpses of the ship's crew - who have been ashed up by the mighty mighty sun) so, he has been crisping away in direct sunlight. Yet, he appears to be fine. I mean he is very burnt but it is only 3rd degree burns, not powdery ash. He also seems to be very strong and very fast.

The insane crispy pursuer slightly detracts from the meaningful nature of the first part of the film which is a bit of a shame....

But let us talk about other aspects of the film. Namely, the casting. There are 3 characters who I wish to speak about. Firstly Captain Kaneda who deserves a special mention solely because he played Ryuji in Ringu. Which is my second favourite film of all time and which isn't in the list.... a terrible terrible loss....

Secondly Cillian Murphy. I really like Cillian Murphy because he looks unhinged all the time and he could snap at any moment (Batman Begins and 28 Days Later being two prime examples).

And thirdly and finally Rose Byrne. She is so very very pretty. I mean.... that is all I have to say on the matter. But she is.

Being shallow makes cinema fun!

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

I know you gentlemen have been through a lot, but when you find the time, I'd rather not spend the rest of this winter TIED TO THIS FUCKING COUCH!

No 289 - John Carpenter's The Thing
Director - John Carpenter

So I had taken out 3 films from the Library and was planning to watch The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford... because i was impressed by the lengthy title. However it skipped and jumped and leapt like a professional ballet dancer. Only with considerably less grace....
I will try and find a different copy of it somewhere and until then I will move down the pile... to The Thing!

Now you know a film is going to be good with a title like that. Any film where they can't specify what the threat is is bound to be brilliant. Them!, The Stuff - they evoke that marvellous sense of B Movie nonsense. However, this film is very different from the promises made by the ridiculous title and the pulpy sci-fi title sequence where a spaceship crashes to Earth.

After the title sequence, the film focuses less on the Alien. It instead seems to use the appearance of the Alien to explore the paranoia and cabin fever which grips the group within their isolated base. The film is more interested in the character developments and the alien sort of pops up every now and again to kill people in hilarious ways...

Let us discuss the Alien. The Thing, so to speak. Although this is a very dark, very bleak horror film, the sequences with the Alien are comedy gold. This does not include the first Alien appearance where a dog essentially turns itself inside out and sprouts tentacles and faces. I have gotten slightly obsessed in recent weeks with Fallout 3 on the Xbox and seem to be spending long hours wandering through post apocalyptic DC getting all jumpy and shooting big monsters and mutants to death. With lasers. Maybe I had it slightly on the mind, because slimy tentacle inside out dog made me think of The Centaurs, which are weird radioactive monsters which feature in the game. Despite getting used to that kind of monster, the first Alien transformation sequence is pretty horrific, and a very impressive use of 1983's special effects. Especially if we compare them to the shit ones in Big Trouble in Little China... which I have mentioned before in this blog.
Once you have survived the horrific dog mutilation, there is the sublime ridiculousness of the Thing's other appearances, the Thing certainly has a sense of the dramatic. And a rather surreal sense of humour. Let me list my favourites, in some sort of descending order.
  • When Windows is revealed to be the Thing, his head opens up in the middle like a Venus Flytrap and bites the head of one of his attackers.
  • When doing a Blood test, Kurt Russell's MacReady drops a hot piece of metal into a petri-dish, only for the blood to scream and make a leap for freedom.
  • When attempting to defibrillate one of their dead colleagues (who's name I can't remember....), the chest opens up to reveal a mouth full of huge jagged teeth which bite off the doctor's hands.
  • And finally.... The best Thing moment (and one of the most famous moments), the head of one of the Alien's victims falls off, grows legs, and scampers of squealing. It is utterly ridiculous and brilliant.

Whilst not being the central theme of the film, the Thing is certainly the star and the most entertaining character in the film. Although a close second is T K Carter's character of Nauls the chef, a jive talking, rollerskating chef who is endearingly and almost rascistly of his time as a stereotypical wise talking black man. But I think that's what makes him such an endearing and hilarious character (and it is sad when he wanders off... and, one would assume, dies).

The other characters to talk about are Wilford Brimley's Dr Blair who realises the devastating damage the Alien could cause and becomes paranoid and essentially insane. He spends the majority of the film in a tool shed where he toys with a noose and attempts to build his own space craft.

And finally... Kurt Russell with his character of MacReady. This is the kind of character that I see Kurt Russell as, the grizzled loner who doesn't give a shit and who doesn't play by the rules. We know about these character traits from the off.. because the first time we see him he is alone in his room (oooh what a loner) who loses a game of chess to his computer and repays it by pouring bourbon into it (oooh what a rebel). Even his character is not the obvious hero though, this is not your standard horror film, and the characters are far, far more flawed than the average list of horror victims. After taking control of the group (by force I should add) he becomes more paranoid that the group are trying to kill him, ending up shooting one of the group (a HUMAN I should add) in the head...

By the end when we are unsure who is human and who is Alien, he finally realises the futility of his paranoia and drinks his whiskey, awaiting death from the bitter, bitter cold as the station burns down around him. It is a very very bleak ending as both survivor eyes up the other trying to figure out if they are the Alien. We are never given any answers and the film ends with two people waiting to die so that the Alien virus can't spread....

Burning, is an important theme it seems. It is the answer to everything. "Quick" people say "Burn him. Burn him" - It is like we're hunting witches in medieval England or something. But the best way to kill the Thing is to Burn it up. Burn it right up. I just wanted to say that I found it very strange that whilst Windows was being thoroughly burninated he emitted little sex cries. But they sounded like the sex cries of a lady... I think my mind may have been wandering at this point but it did make me see the Alien in a whole new light.

I am aware that I have spoken a lot about the cast, but that is the important thing about this film. It is a group of people in an isolated community, so the cast at the start of the film are the cast for the entire film. With the exception of a Norwegian guy who gets shot (and that reminds me.... if a Norwegian helicopter flew into your camp trying to shoot a fleeing dog, would you kill the pilot and keep the dog? Seems a bit short sighted to me!) the rest of the cast is solely the 12 members of the research centre... so you are almost forced to relate and form relationships with them, due to the lack of other people to distract you. Then, once you have made your bonds and connections, they gleefully kill them all off.....
The most confusing aspect of the cast was that I spent the whole thing trying to work out where I knew Palmer from. Then IMDB helped me out by telling me he was also in Being There... which was the last film I had seen.

My memory is appalling.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

In the garden, growth has it seasons. First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again.

No 160 - Being There Director - Hal Ashby

A few months ago, hell it may have even been a year, I was in BlockBusters in Wantage when I found a load for films for £1.... One of these was The Life and Times of Peter Sellers starring Geoffrey Rush. I thought it looked quite good, and it was cheap so I bought it. And guess what folks.... IT WAS GOOD, a very intense performance from Rush and a really interesting look at the life (and death) of Peter Sellers. One of the central themes of the film follows Sellers as he wishes to have people take him seriously. His main quest is to have the book 'Being There' made into a film. Ever since then, I have wanted to watch the film.... so I am glad that Islington library was able to aid me.

I had no real idea what this film was going to be about. My main reason for watching was solely the fact that Sellers had wanted to make this film for so long as he related to the central character of Chance. So. as I came into this film blind, with no knowledge of what was going to happen ahead of me I feel I am in the perfect position to talk about my first impressions of this film. I loved it!
I was really taken by the central character of Chance, who is gloriously literal and naive and ignorant of everything except being a gardener. I think it is fair to draw parallels between this film and Forrest Gump as they both feature an 'idiot' making a massive difference to the people around him and subsequently to American as a whole. What this film has going for it that Gump didn't have is the simple addition of Sellers. As good an actor Tom Hanks is, he does not have the same amazing ability of being a fully convincing character actor, whilst Sellers fully inhabits his characters and makes them real - sometimes to the detriment of his own sanity (again I'm using Life and Death as a point of reference.... I just feel that I should mention it more because I bloody love the film and it is not in the list). Because of this, the film has a subtlety which Gump just can't touch. It is a film where, essentially, nothing happens and in films like that the cast and the characters have to be perfect. That is where the film truly shines. Shirley MacLaine and Melvyn Douglas play the marvellous couple who adopt Chance and they are truly fantastic in their roles of an Old man who comes to terms with his death and his younger wife who finds an release for her pent up passions. However, like all his films this is Sellers's show, but could be the best individual performance of his career. To see an actor so famed for his outlandish caricatures play such a subtle and nuanced character is truly fascinating, I can't help but feel that this helped pave the way for Jim Carrey to be in The Truman Show or for will Ferrell in Stranger Than Fiction.

Whilst this film isn't a comedy per se, their are sublimely comic moments - most of these coming from Chance wondering unaffected through his surroundings meeting ever more important people. They take his musings about gardening to be deep, meaningful a highly metaphorical statements about the state of America. This leads to massive levels of paranoia as the president can find no information of him having ever existed, whilst the rest of America endear to him and wish he could lead the country with his straight talking and fable like beauty with words.

It is also a very gentle film, Chance is constantly referred to as Chauncy Gardener due to MacLaine's Eve mishearing him say 'Chance the Gardener' the first time. Therefore, as he becomes more prominent in the public eye and background checks are made on him, no information is found. As Chance lives out his gentle unassuming life the CIA, FBI and Washington Post are trying desperately to find any information about him. And failing.
Even when they do find out that he is not a financial or political genius, and he is in fact just a gardener, it is not used as a negative twist in the film. They confront Chance with their knowledge and he admits it and walks off. Chance is too naive, too unaware of his surroundings to ever be in any trouble. It is a concept which is encapsulated by the final scene. At this point I wish to do something I never thought I would ever do, quote someone off the IMDB forum. But I feel it is OK, because they in turn are just paraphrasing the book on which Being There is based.
"Chance walks on water because he doesn't realize that he can't".
All the situations in this film are pretty much impossible - the concept of a simpleton like Chance moving through America's upper echelons of power is sublime in its ridiculousness (let us just not comment on old George W at this point), so the final scene where Chance walks across a lake to tend to a tree makes perfect sense. There is no way Chance should have been able to get through any of the scenes in this film, yet he does. So why not manage this final unachievable feat.
This is a man who is so naive that the world fails to affect him, and in this aspect even the literal laws of nature re not able to stop him.

Apart from that, I have only a couple of small points I want to make for the film:
Firstly, there is a really odd subplot in which the President is convinced that Chance will replace him as president and starts to worry, losing his erection. Cue some very dramatic cuts (sometimes mid sentence) from Chance's social hobnobbing to the President and his wife laying in bed together discussing why he can't get it up.... I didn't understand that.

Secondly, I just wanted to mention that there is a really cool version of Also Sprach Zarathustra in this film. The Original Strauss version is mostly famous for being the theme to 2001, so it is fitting thay this awesome Jazz funk version by Eumir Deodato is played as Chance leaves his master's house for the first time. It is Chance's exploration of a whole new world...

And it is really cool in bangin' retro way....

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Figure a man's only good for one oath at a time; I took mine to the Confederate States of America.

No 164 - The Searchers

Director - John Ford

Once again I'm sat at the Hughes residence watching another film. This is my first western (I don't think Back to the Future III really counts) and is also the favourite film of Mojo Award Winner Keith Hughes. So the three of us at down and I was in the privileged position of being joined by Keith who knew every nuance of this film and was able to answer all my questions about it.

The most striking thing that you see with this film is the sense of scale and scope and sheer breathtaking beauty. The film was shot in VistaVision, which was only used for 7 years, but which allowed massive levels of clarity. When mixed the exaggerated vibrancy of Technicolor it creates an image which must have looked phenomenal in the cinema. It certainly translated well to DVD, the large desert vistas and the saturation of colour looked amazing and made me wish I had been able to see it on a cinema screen back in 1956. One moment especially is when Marty (Captain Pike in the original Star Trek fact fans) finds the burnt remains of his family home. His part Apache sun-tanned skin is framed by the vibrant blue of the sky. Although it is only a small moment in the film it really shows off the visual splendour of the film. The only moments that really compete with this are the huge epic desert landscapes, the deep oranges of the rocks against the blues of the sky. This is truly a beautiful film to watch in all its epic scope.

The epic scope is not just in the visuals and the vistas. Considering the flimsy nature of the film (2 men go and search for a girl who got kidnapped by a group of Comanche Indians (or Native Americans as they should be called these days), this is a film which spans over 5 years and which tackles a load of very strong themes, especially for a film from the 50s.

Let us begin with the character of Ethan Edwards, played to perfection by John Wayne (although I get the impression that he may struggle playing anything that isn't the grizzled frontiersman) he is in every way the hero, a war veteran who commands and earns the respect of his peers and followers. However, as well as being the hero he is a narrow minded bigot. A racist, intolerant of everyone and with a shady mysterious past which has landed him an awful lot of freshly minted gold. As Ethan carries on his motivation becomes more and more dubious - he begins the quest trying to rescue his niece but as time goes on he becomes convinced she is either going to be dead or have been brainwashed by those dirty In'jun savages. Ethan believes that a life with the Comanche is worse than no life at all - and he just wants to ride in and destroy the village and get his vengeance on everyone. And if that means killing his niece Debbie, then so be it. This exploration of racism and motivation is a pretty big theme and especially weighty considering the era when the film was released. When dealing with a genre where the cowboys are the all American good guys and the Indians are the savage enemy. To show a moral grey area in that world is a brave and daring move.

But enough about brave thematic choices and striking palettes! This is a blog about the casual fripperies which my befuddled mind take fancy to. When one is watching a film from the 50s one will always notice one thing - the women. There is something about the sirens of the 1950s that I have not found in any other era, but they all are truly beautiful and all seem to be Iconic as well. But hey! I ain't complaining. In this film we are graced with two very beautiful actresses. Firstly Vera Miles, who has both the natural advantage of being a bit of a redhead in the film (photo doesn't quite capture her full TechniColor glory) but also is so sexually precocious in the film that you can't help but warm to her. However, the real starlet to mention is Natalie Wood, who does not play a convincing child at all, being 18 at the time of filming. But is a truly gorgeous young lady indeed - and she played Maria in West Side Story. She also dated Elvis for a while, which is very cool. It is little moments like this when you realise just how many cool people were living in the 50s that I mourn the fact I was born in the wrong decade....

I think I will have to watch something incredibly modern in order to stop this....

Thursday, 13 November 2008

I don't want pudding, I don't want a promotion, I don't want ANYTHING!

No 83 - Brazil
Director - Terry Gilliam

Braaazeeeel.... doo dooo dee doodoo doo de dooooooo. Ah... I just love that song, and was happily humming it all through this film. It just made me smile - and it made me think of Wall-E which use the music in the trailers and which I love as a film.
What is good about the use of the song in this fil is that it is utterly unconnected to the surroundings which are harsh and bleak and industrial. But this is a big theme in Terry Gilliam's film. He seems to be introducing many a concept or character or theme and plonking them into this rich, lavish and insane world, letting the viewer try and piece together these frequently unrelated moments. It is a very interesting process and one that I wish to explore below:

I sat down this afternoon with a cup of tea, a buttered crumpet and the promise of ice finger buns - I think you will agree that this is an excellent way to begin watching a film. I was joined today by Mr Richard Wyatt Hughes so, much like Delicatessen, expect this film to be dissected and have meaning and subtext explored in a pompous Dartington College of Arts kind of way.

In fact - there are more similarities between Brazil and Delicatessen than merely that I chose to watch them both with The Hughes. It is not a huge leap of faith to think that when Caro and Jeunet were creating their dystopian future, they may have been influenced somewhat by Gilliam. Both have created retro-futuristic worlds. The more films I watch within this list the more this seems to be a frequent occurrence. Once again, like in Delicatessen and like in Bioshock, the surroundings seem to be firmly routed in the styles of the 40s and 50s. The main difference with Brazil being that as this is set in the future, the technology of the 40s and 50s has been pushed to a sci-fi level. This has given the film an uncanny ability to not be dated by the year of release. This is a film that is as old as I am, yet the clever visual decisions made by Gilliam means it has aged superbly and could have easily been made in the last 5 years without any real changes in appearance.
Let us look, as an example, at the computers used within the world of Brazil. The majority of Sci-fi films would create 'modern' computers using the best technology of the 80, the risk of this being that top of the range technology in sci fi ages very very badly. Look at any vintage sci-fi from Space 1999 through to Dr Who and you'll see what I mean. Instead of going for the current top of the range technology he dated the technology in the past and pushed it to its limit, a tiny flickering black and white cathode ray is connected to the keyboard of an old typewriter with a huge magnifying lens there to blow up and make the contents of the tiny screen larger. The technology is so different from anything we've ever had that it doesn't age in the same way as if they'd just used an Amstrad or a line vector display. It isn't just the clever use of technology that keeps the film from aging badly, Gilliam's history both in design and using animation and directing for Monty Python has allowed him to create amazing special effects shots which (unlike CGI, which ages so fast) still look impressive today.

The film not only benefits from being visually amazing, but has drawn in a fantastic cast who appear for a series of quite small roles:
Bob Hoskins, Robert De Niro, Michael Palin, Ian Holm, Jim Broadbent all appear for roles which are essentially no bigger than cameos. Ian Holm's appearance also helps me to illustrate a theory I have... I'm pretty sure Ian Holm is the slowest aging man in the world. Look at him in Alien, then look at him in Lord of the Rings, despite about 30 years passing he seems to have hardly aged. The man actually IS a robot, I'm convinced.
It is not just big names though, I spotted a couple of awesome cameos from bizzarely left-field TV choices. The appearance of Gorden Kaye as one of the bureaucrats speaking in a distinctively ENGLISH accent is a shock, but not as much of a shock as one of the armed police guards who is played by none other than RABIES from Maid Marian and her Merry Men. The marvellous Howard Lew Lewis, essentially playing the same role as he did as Rabies.

This film is an incredibly British film. Gilliam's styles and timing has been very clearly influenced by his time in Python and a very British black humour runs through the whole film. But it is not only the pitch black British humour which places it, it is also the themes. It is hard to imagine an American film handling such mundane topics as bureaucracy, forms and queues. Not only has it managed to handle these topics but has done so in a way that has been parodied and repeated in endless TV shows. From ducts and tubes delivering forms and paper work to the clamouring groups of people trying to get the attention of their fast walking chief (which I have seen a number of times in Armstrong and Miller but YouTube won't help me).

However, once you look past the striking visuals, the fantastic cast and the clever and inventive design ideas and start to look at the actual story, the film starts to fall down. The key theme of the film is about man's eternal struggle with juggling a desire for freedom and being bogged down with the trappings of bureaucracy. This, mixed with the dystopian future of forms and paper work is very very 1984... It just doesn't tackle the theme with the same skill as Orwell manages. The other plot is about a mistake within the industry which leads to the wrong man being killed. The problem about the second plot is that it is rather jumbled. Gilliam is far more interested in showing us the world he has created, Jonathan Pryce's protagonist wanders through a series of shocking and bizarre sketches which seem mainly there to show off his vision. In fact, when Gilliam moves the film away from this 'sketch' series to a more set plot, the film becomes more confused, less easy to follow and weaker.

I just wish to end with Richard's view on the 'sketch' format. "The best elements of the film are when it is like a huge carnival parade in Rio. You're confronted with events, characters and scenarios which are completely new to you, different from anything you've seen before. You can sense and kind of understand the story but you are mainly transported by the glorious and colourful events which are unfolding.... Maybe that's why the film is called Brazil. If that is the reason, then its very clever."

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

This is a pub! We are in a pub! What are we going to do?

No 231 - Shaun of the Dead

Director - Edgar Wright

So, it seems that my Mum's DVD player hates me. I thought that as I was visiting my folks I would participate in some of the foreign cinema which is in my mum's possession and not my own. I had originally intended to watch Cinema Paradiso but had forgotten about the small problem of sharing. So we initially watched a documentary about Titus the Ape on BBC2... and then it was a tad too late for a 3 hour opus.

So I thought "Well, screw the culture, I will just watch some naff rom com that I wouldn't normally have at home" and I sat down to watch Four Weddings and a Funeral. With no sound. At all. I even tried turning it off and on again but all to no avail. Luckily, ITV2 came to the rescue and were showing this film. I do feel slightly cheated as I have this film on DVD and could watch it any time at home. I did not feel like I was getting the maximum opportunity out of the situation!

So allow me to talk about Shaun of the Dead. And allow me to also say I am a huge fan of the Spaced team - as performers, writers and directors - so I am coming into this from a VERY biased standing point. This is a film that I know far too much about - either from excessive research and investigation prior to the film's launch or just general geekery with the special features (this is the only film where I have listened to the commentary whilst watching it). For example, did you know:

  • The spherical ornament in the centre of the gate was only put there to cover Peter Serafinowicz's penis

  • 'Fried Gold' and 'Dogs can't look up' are in jokes from behind the scenes of Spaces

Yes, I'm really that sad. So I feel quite happy to talk about this film.

I was initially worried that, despite the late hour, I would be watching a TV edit of the film. However, thankfully the film was the entire film with only one small change. Nick Frost's first line has been changed to Can I get any of you Cocks a drink? Rather than the big and naughty C word. The best bit about that edit is that they appear to have got a sound clip of Nick Frost saying cock and inserting it in. For that reason, he seems quite in pain when he is saying the work Cock which sounds very strange and jarring with the rest of the vocal tone. And the other problem is that it just isn't as funny as the word Cunt in this context. I promise not to use the word again - because I know it offends some people.... and I'm nots here to offends....

So let me look at the myriad of reasons why I like this film. first and foremost I adore the unashamedly fanboy geekyness of the film. This is a project which celebrates and explores the Zombie horror, rather than choosing to parody it. This is a true homage to the Horror film (including some truly horrific moments) and a massive gushing love letter to the Zombies that George A Romero invented. For the zombies of Shaun's world are certainly Romero zombies. Great lumbering brutes who follow that golden old school rule now abandoned by Zombie film makers - A ZOMBIE CAN NOT RUN.

As well as the overwhelming fan vibe, I adore the Britishness of it all. I may be partially Francais but I just think seeing typically British scenarios in cinema creates a sense of magic, a connection and a level of pride that I can't experience anywhere else. It is the same in 28 Days Later, when they enter the protagonist's family home, it is such a delight to find such British surrounding in a setting that is usually the domain of Hollywood. The fact that over the course of the film, Shaun tries to attack the Zombies with a laundry basket, a mug tree and a swing ball just continues and deepens this delight. It is such an odd thing to see the trappings of middle class suburban Britain clash with a potential Zombie apocalypse.
The film also boasts an utterly terrific cast. It has picked the cream of the British comedy circuit and those that are not in the film directly will almost certainly be ambling and decomposing through the streets in the huge number of uncredited cameos.

And special mention must go to the sheer God like British legend that is Bill Nighy. His character Philip leers and slurs his way, stealing every scene he appears in until he becomes on of the undead himself. Even his entrance is amazing, a gentle and fully authoritative turn on one leg as he addresses Shaun. Nighy is amazing, and pulls this off with the level of masterful expertese you expect from such an expert master. I wish I was Bill Nighy sometimes....

I also wish I was Peter Serafinowicz - nemesis of spell check. I think he is a bit under rated specially considering he has written some amazing parodies and some truly bonkers ones which show off his impressions skills - but he is a truly amazing actor and a very funny gentleman. In the few scenes where he is not a zombie his comic timing and comedy rage against Nick Frost's character Ed is spot on.

But, what about those characters I DON'T want to be? Luckily, this film has excellent characterisation creating proper real people rather than the standard horror movie victims. In fact, a lot of the characters seem to be essentially hopeless.

  • Nick Frost's Ed is a horrific self centred lazy drug dealing twat who seems oblivious of the severity of the zombie attack. Thankfully come the end of the film, Ed gets the ability to resolve his character flaws with the final scenes/
  • Dylan Moran's David is also horrifically self centred and hates Shaun for getting the girl he failed to get himself. Going out of his way to spite Shaun and belittle him. Sadly he never gets to apologise to Shaun.
  • Lucy Davis's Diane is also a bit rubbish, but less in the cruel way that the men seem to be. She tries hard to aid Shaun and has some very good ideas but she is very dippy and sometimes a bit useless

Generally, the women fare better than the men in this film. Sure, Penelope Wilton's Barbara may be vacant and confused from the outset but she is Shaun's mother... she is not from a generation that have 'zombie experience' from the likes of Romero's cinema and she also goes through quite a lot of trauma over the course of the film, with her husband dying and a zombie attacking midway. Watch Wilton's subtle acting, although we don't find out about the attack until later, her her character begins reacting differently to situations from that point onwards.

The strong women are Kate Ashfield's Liz and Jessica Hynes's Yvonne. Let us begin with Yvonne... as she is surely the strongest most competent character in the film (the only one who manages to find the army, and then lead the army to the protagonists). She is also the victim of one of Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg's favourite tricks - re occurring speeches which have different significance based on the situation. So when Shaun and Yvonne meet for the first time in years and share the following dialogue (paraphrased because I'm working from memory)
Yvonne : Oh my God Shaun! How are you?
Shaun: Surviving
Yvonne: Are you still with Liz?
Shaun: Yeah
Yvonne: Glad to see some of us made it!

it has a completely different resonance when they meet at the end of the film and share exactly the same dialogue.
It is also nice to see Jessica Hynes (Or Stevenson as she will be forever known to me) in the film, the scenes with her and Pegg I do get a little frisson of Joy as this is probably the closest we'll ever get to any additional Spaced moments. Also, whilst I've always had a soft spot for her, Jessica Hynes has been becoming more and more attractive as she gets older it seems. So it is always nice to see her.

Now let us talk about Kate Ashfield's Liz. I don't think I have ever seen her in anything before but the character of Liz is hot. I think that is all I need to say on that matter.

And that kind of brings us to the end of my little blog - besides one the thing... the visual comedy. Whilst this is an intelligent romantic comedy and not a zombie spoof, there are still moments of cracking visual comedy. There are small moments like falling off the fence as they take short cuts but the classic moment is the choreographed fight sequence to Don't Stop Me Now by Queen. It is both so subtle and so ridiculous that it really helps describe how the film works.

This film is cracking... and sadly they're not making the vampire sequel that they joked about in interviews... so you can watch a home made YouTube video version of it with excellently bad acting

Thursday, 6 November 2008

My parents did put the first two down payments on my childhood. Don't get me wrong, but they did also return me to the hospital as defective

No 87 - The King of Comedy
Director - Martin Scorsese

I have been meaning to watch this film for a long long time as I firmly believed that it was going to be brilliant. Thankfully, it didn't let me down. This is DeNiro and Scorsese at their prime in the 70's, the double act that bought us Raging Bull and Taxi Driver. So I was very excited about watching this film - which I had no prior knowledge of. I sat down with a stir fry (Toby bought the vegetables yesterday) and began to watch the film.

One of the best things about this film is that it is before DeNiro became "Cinematic Legend Robert DeNiro"(tm), and we get to see him acting and fully inhabiting the role.
His character is a fascinating study of the naive. A deluded figure who believes he should be famous but who isn't willing to do the necessary groundwork. It could be that this delusion comes from watching the fictional Jerry Langford show. Jerry went from being a nobody, to a guest host, to becoming the host of his own show. And Jerry Langford then sees to become the biggest celebrity ever ever ever. With a consistent Beatlemania following him around and persistent crazed stalkers.
However, what DeNiro's character - Rupert Pupkin - doesn't realise is that there would have been a lot of groundwork during the unknown period before Jerry became a guest host. Rupert doesn't understand or accept this and in his quest for fame fails to understand why he can't just walk into a guest slot on a TV show.... and it is this that makes his character so fascinating and occasionally psychotic.

So let us look at the character of Rupert Pupkin - The man wears superb suits and has a fantastic moustache. So he clearly deserves our respect. It must be noted that as he descends further into his insane delusions, and attempts a kidnap, his sartorial styling also suffers - resorting to Hawaiian shirts and huge 80s sunglasses. It is very sad.

It is not just Rupert Pupkin, this film looks at the whole world of the celeb hunters, those that follow the famous around as a need to validate their own lives. Most specifically, the character of Masha played by the frankly terrifying Sandra Bernhard. She begins merely obsessive, moving through letters and phone calls until she aids with the kidnap of Jerry Langford. Once involved with the kidnapping she enacts her most famous scene where she strips down to her underwear and mounts the gaffer taped up Jerry stating that she will enjoy some "Good old fashioned all American fun". This scene is so iconic that it has been recreated within Family Guy with Meg and Brian.... Sadly YouTube failed me completely and I couldn't find clips for either. I mean I didn't look much. But even so....

Jerry's life seems to be a bit of a nightmare, he is constantly hounded by the public and as the film progresses he gets more and more pissed off. This is made clear by Jerry when Rupert claims he will become 50 times more famous than Jerry:
Rupert Pupkin: I'm gonna work 50 times harder, and I'm gonna be 50 times more famous than you.
Jerry Langford: Then you're gonna have idiots like you plaguing your life!

It makes me think of what Stephen Fry said last year about fame. The difficulties in becoming 'public property' and dealing with the demands of the public.

But - despite all these excellent characters there is one that shines through. The excellent Kim Chan as Jerry's manservant Jonno. His comic timing is spot on and he bemusement is hilarious as Rupert struts into Jerry's home and makes his demands. The butler's confusion to Jerry's delusion is the entire film boiled down in one micromoment.
The world watches on in confusion, unable to make their point to Rupert as he makes his ludicrous claims an remains thoroughly deluded.

It is an excellent film about the problems of delusion and well worth a watch.
And, Pupkin's stand up routine (when we eventually see it) is really rather funny (if unfinished.... which is what he film always says... and is far better a conclusion than Pupkin just being rubbish)

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Let me introduce myself. My name is Rupert Pupkin. I was born in Clifton, New Jersey... which was not at that time a federal offense. Is there anyone here from Clifton? Oh, good. We can all relax now. I'd like to begin by saying... my parents were too poor to afford me a childhood. But the fact is that... no one is allowed to be too poor in Clifton. Once you fall below a certain level... they exile you to Passaic. My parents did put the first two down payments on my childhood. Don't get me wrong, but they did also return me to the hospital as defective. But, like everyone else I grew up in large part thanks to my mother. If she were only here today... I'd say, "Hey, ma, what are you doing here? You've been dead for nine years!" But seriously, you should've seen my mother. She was wonderful. Blonde, beautiful, intelligent, alcoholic. We used to drink milk together after school. Mine was homogenized. Hers was loaded. Once they picked her up for speeding. They clocked her doing 55. All right, but in our garage? And when they tested her... they found out that her alcohol had 2% blood. Ah, but we used to joke together, mom and me... until the tears would stroll down her face... and she would throw up! Yeah, and who would clean it up? Not dad. He was too busy down at O'Grady's... throwing up on his own. Yeah. In fact, until I was 13 I thought throwing up was a sign of maturity. While the other kids were off in the woods sneaking cigarettes... I was hiding behind the house with my fingers down my throat. The only problem was I never got anywhere... until one day my father caught me. Just as he was giving me a final kick in the stomach for luck... I managed to heave all over his new shoes! "That's it", I thought. "I've made it. I'm finally a man!" But as it turned out, I was wrong. That was the only attention my father ever gave me. Yeah, he was usually too busy out in the park playing ball with my sister Rose. But today, I must say thanks to those many hours of practice my sister Rose has grown into a fine man. Me, I wasn't especially interested in athletics. The only exercise I ever got was when the other kids picked on me. Yeah, they used to beat me up once a week... usually Tuesday. And after a while the school worked it into the curriculum. And if you knocked me out, you got extra credit. There was this one kid, poor kid... he was afraid of me. I used to tell him...”Hit me, hit me. What's the matter with you? Don't you want to graduate?" Hey, I was the youngest kid in the history of the school to graduate in traction. But, you know, my only real interest right from the beginning, was show business. Even as a young man, I began at the very top collecting autographs. Now, a lot of you are probably wondering... why Jerry isn't with us tonight. Well, I'll tell you. The fact is he's tied up. I'm the one who tied him. Well, I know you think I'm joking... but, believe me, that's the only way... I could break into show business... by hijacking Jerry Langford. Right now, Jerry is strapped to a chair... somewhere in the middle of the city. Go ahead, laugh. Thank you. I appreciate it. But the fact is, I'm here. Now, tomorrow you'll know I wasn't kidding... and you'll think I was crazy. But, look, I figure it this way. Better to be king for a night than schmuck for a lifetime. Thank you. Thank you.

And the final scene could be either reality or fantasy... it is never explained and I think that makes it a better ending.