Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Where to fight counts for a lot. But there's nothing like having your friends show up with lotsa guns.

No 274 - Sin City
Director - Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino.

This film is so quotey that it was very hard to pick the line that would be used as my title. Other contenders would have been:
  • The Valkyrie at my side is shouting and laughing with the pure, hateful, bloodthirsty joy of the slaughter... and so am I.
  • These are the old days, the bad days, the all-or-nothing days. They're back! There's no choice left. And I'm ready for war.
  • Recognize my voice, Hartigan? Recognize my voice, you piece-of-shit cop? I look different, but I bet you can recognize my voice!
etc etc.... This is an introduction to my first point for this film, because it is stylised, beautifully beautifully stylised. This is the the antithesis of comic book films such as the new Batman series, a comic book film that revels in the medium it originated from. Shots are recreated exactly as they appear in the comics and offer the the now iconic visual style, which echoes the monochromatic pen and ink style of the comics.
The visual style also helps to make the extreme and frequently horrific violence much more tolerable - either because it is essentially obscured by the black and white framing or because all the blood is bright white or yellow, or very rarely.... actually red. It is Frank Miller's style and whilst it is certainly effective in the comics (the occasional splash of vibrant primary colours which burst through the blocks of black and white) it comes into its own within the subtleties that can be provided on film.
Torches and streetlights illuminate people in full colour, the red and blue lights of police cars gently rippling over the grey pallete of the rest of the film or spurts of crimson blood smear across the character's faces. It is the interaction of coloured light sources which I find truly impressive, rather than the blocks of colour which appear throughout the film (most frequently with That Old Yellow Bastard). Robert Rodriguez spent ages persuading the producers that they should follow the visual style culminating with him creating a test reel of himself and his sister in the same visual style. And luckily his perseverance paid off as without the visual style, the majority of the film would fall flat. The action, the speech, the characters are all so over the top and so ridiculously extreme that they would never work in the real world. By distancing Sin City from actual reality it becomes far easier to suspend disbelief. You accept the comic book universe and the universe's rules. People can leap off buildings or jump 10 foot into the air without repercussions, people can be shot 20 times and continue fighting, the police are generally blind, deaf and wearing armour made of tissue. If this film was set in New York and filmed in a realistic palette, the violence and action would only be made to look even more extreme and ridiculous, to an extent where the audience may struggle accepting it.

Luckily - this film is so stylised that it is completely alien to the real world, and you enter the film forced to accept it on its terms.

The second point is about what the film offers, and about entertainment. This is something that I have argued over and over again with my friend Becky. Is it OK for a film to be utterly vacuous and only entertain on a purely aesthetic level? Becky argued that the lack of character development and the same plot being repeated 3 times (underdog is led to a situation by a girl, underdog avenges girl, underdog has to go and fight the authority - be it police or senators) stops the film from being any good, that a truly good film must offer something more that pretty visuals. I counter argued with my view. And I proudly introduce Captain James Amazing's theory of Cinema:
A film's role is to offer escapism to the viewer. Whilst there are films that show the mundane aspects of everyday life, they are still offering us the mundane aspects of someone else's life, it is still a form of escapism. Sin City is the ultimate example of escapism. It shows an entirely new world with a new code - both in how the physics of reality work as well as the moral codes of the characters. The fact that it offers the same story 3 times, is irrelevant. This film is a complete aesthetic onslaught of beautiful ladies in skimpy clothing and hardened brutes causing explosions. It is mindless violence and gravity defying leaps. It is total nonsense. It is total escapism. And for that reason, I think that Sin City succeeds in being a really great film. It is shallow as hell but that doesn't dent its greatness.

And this leads me nicely to the topic of beautiful ladies in skimpy clothing. Frank Miller loves his beautiful ladies (just look at the casting for his new film, The Spirit) and this is made very very evident in this film.
Let us begin with Jessica Alba (for we should always begin with Jessica Alba, and it makes sense... alphabetically). Nancy Callahan is a feisty table dancer who is in love with Bruce Willis's grizzled former cop. Due to Nancy's job in the film we get marvellous close up shots of Alba in her lovely outfit, I realise that I sound like an utter perve in this paragraph but I kind of think that that is the point of the scenes. Jessica Alba will generally reduce most men into dribbling idiots, and that is fully exploited within the film. Interesting fact.... The script originally stated that Nancy was topless (as she is in the comics) but Jessica Alba's no nudity clause won out on that little matter.
There are many other very attractive female characters in this film - Brittany Murphy, Rosario Dawson, Jaime King. However I wish to give special attention to Alexis Bledel who plays Becky 'Blue Eyes'. Rather a small role but she is very very pretty. And she appears in one of the films more iconic shots (there are a lot of iconic shots).
The prettiness of the girls are made even more noticeable by the grizzled men, usually under quite a lot of prosthetics. Bruce Willis, Benedicio Del Toro and Mickey Rourke are all amazing as their respective scarred and battered characters. Rourke especially shines as the unstoppable tank that is Marv.
Again, this is further evidence of Rodriguez's genius as he convinced Miller that Rourke was Marv. Miller was apparently unsure until the second he met Rourke when he instantly jotted "Mickey Rourke is Marv" on his napkin.

And it is testament to Robert Rodriguez that he has managed such superb casting and such a high calibre of cast to appear in his aesthetic and essentially shallow comic book pulp movie. The acting cast is top notch and the film has two very talented and credible directors assistant a true comic book legend.
All in all this is a film which balances very experienced and 'cool' film makers with a phenomenal cast and an explosive sense of ridiculous over the top escapism. A true cinematic pleasure. But very possibly a 'boy film'.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Animals are fine, but their acceptability is limited. A little child is even better, but not NEARLY as effective as the right kind of adult.

No 485 - The Wicker Man (1973)
Director - Robin Hardy

As we creep ever closer to Halloween I feel like I should watch some films which are the famous 'horrors'. The list has a few classics on it but I have decided to begin with The Wicker Man. Mainly because we're all going to Shunt for Halloween, and the theme is Wicker Man themed.
Now, I have only watched this film the once during my first year of uni and as is becoming distressingly common with films in this blog my previous experience involved being drunk and passing out about half way through.

I had vague memories of strangeness and nudity - and decided that I should watch the film to refresh my memory on the kind of clothing that would be suitable for the night.

It is certainly a strange strange film - and a film that has a lot of subtext.... As Toby and I watched it we were having discussions about whether the film was hinting t the fear that came with the demise of the hippy generation or whether it is talking about religion (the heathen pagans fare very well as they prepare for the May Day festivities whilst the staunchly Catholic Sergeant Howie ends up almost literally in Hell).
I certainly found the religious aspect of the film interesting, especially looking at how the majority of the problems come from Howie's inability (or refusal) to accept other faiths. As he becomes more disgusted with his surroundings, so the villagers feed his fear by become more and more sinister and acting in a manner which gets increasingly detached from the Christian 'norm'.

This is what I want to talk about. The amazing slow build of tension. The structure and pacing of the film is much more akin to an Eastern horror creating a slow sense of unease rather than resorting to the shock tactics which are such a staple of Western Horrors, especially these days. The villagers connive and lie as they gentle manipulate the policeman in their plans, they effortlessly change their story as the policeman sees through their tall tales, no one on the island panics or contradicts what the others say. It is almost as if the island has a hive mentality, as soon as the story needs to be changed, the whole island is there to back up the the changes.
It is not just the sense of conspiracy and plotting which gives the film its uncomfortable feel, it is also the footage Pagan rituals and spells which occur.
One scene of note is where Britt Ekland's character Willow tempts and seduces Howie through a wall. She writhes naked in her room as Edward Woodward suffers in his own room trying to resist the allure of the song and thumping he can hear through the wall.
The initial allure of the scene is, of course, Britt Ekland. She is a very beautiful lady - which makes the scenes of her dancing around naked a naturally pleasing sequence. But there is more to it than that. She frequently sings and looks directly into the camera, destroying the security of the fourth wall and targeting the viewer directly. This is combined with the strange rhythmic thumping she performs against the wall and against her own body.
It is a scene which is both immensely sexual but with strong sinister undercurrents. A theme which runs throughout the whole film.

It is very late - and I have work in the morning and I'm very tired and some crappy horror film has started on channel 4. So I'm going to cut to the end - but will probably return to this blog entry tomorrow. However I can not end my typing without speaking about Christopher Lee. His Lord governs all aspects of the island and runs the ceremonies which take place upon it. He is however an educated man who discusses his views on religion and understands his family history very well. This is the key aspect of what makes the film so frightening. Nothing is outwardly sinister (until the final few scenes) it is just portraying a world so alien and different to what we are used to in our sheltered British homes, that it disquiets us and puts us to edge.

I will continue talking about this tomorrow, but for now I must sleep.....
OK, I have been to sleep - all feels much better... So let us talk again about the sense of unease and the clever use of religion and intolerance/refusal to understand.
We have to begin by looking at this film as a story of an island where a child is missing. This is an island which believes in a very old Pagan faith and which has very old rituals and traditions. Along comes inspector Howie who is a very strict Catholic. It is true that the island is not helpful to him once he arrives, often being deliberate hindrances who won't do a thing until they have been authorised by Lord Summerisle, however you can empathise with the islanders. It is fair to assume that they have had previous encounters with people from the mainland and they may now be naturally on edge about these visits. And their unease is not entirely unfounded. Although Howie is primarily there to find the missing child, he does frequently attack the island's faith and traditions, this is made worse as the time gets closer and closer to May Day, which appears to be the most important day in the Island's calender.

However.... although you can explain the island's distrust of Howie, and explain why the entire island appears to be against him as he tries to solve his case, this is slightly weakened by the final few scenes.... The film is slowly building up a level of unease, accompanied by a very light and accessible 70's folk score which sounds instantly recognisable, causing an interesting contrast to the not at all recognisable events unfolding on screen and culminates with the marvellous scenes of the May Day festival including the iconic shot of Christopher Lee dressed as a Lady. There are also so many lines and shots from this section that had been copied by the League of Gentleman... it is interesting to see their influences.

Lets talk about the May Day festival, it is introduced by silent animal masked villagers following Howie around the village before reaching the titular Wicker Man. For whilst you can explain naked frolicking and orgies in graveyard as part of a different faith it is hard to condone human sacrifice. And again the question of religion comes into play. The island sings their joyous Pagan songs (accompanied with a jaunty dance) as the wicker man is lit. The singing, and the crackles of flame, drown out Howie's desperate cries and prayers to a Catholic deity.

This film is a very interesting exploration of tolerance and religion, which probably has far more to say on the matter than I have discovered. It is also a masterclass at the slow burn build up of subtlety, unease and tension, something that western horror films are distinctly lacking these days.
It is worth watching just to see the excellent Christopher Lee and just in case you're feeling shallow, it is worth watching just for all the nudity!

Friday, 24 October 2008

You still don't understand what you're dealing with, do you? Perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.

No 30 - Alien
Director - Ridley Scott

I am ashamed to admit that I have never watched the Alien films. This seems like a terrible thing for a film geek to admit to, especially because although part 3 may be weak and part 4 is apparently awful - parts 1 & 2 are classics. So I am happy that the situation has arisen where I can finally sit down and watch it. With Aliens to follow whenever I am next free (I imagine next Saturday).

So, what were my thoughts on this piece of iconic cinema? What struck me first and foremost is just how young everyone is, which makes sense as the film was made in 1978. I guess that frequent viewing of Ghostbusters has made me accustomed to young Sigourney Weaver (to be honest I don't think I've seen her in many films where she is in her more Autumn years) however I was not prepared for such a young Ian Holme and I don't think I'd have even been able to picture a young John Hurt before today. It was all quite an eye opener and it was quite amusing to see both those titans of cinema explode.

I really enjoyed this film, I always thought I would do, I had just never gotten round to actually sitting down and watching it. My enjoyment was only slightly tarnished by the iconic nature of the film, and the fact that I'm a little film geek sponge soaking up all movie information. It meant that I had already seen about 60% of the film through clip shows etc and there didn't find any of the scary or suspenseful moments scary. Or suspenseful. I did however really appreciate the monster. The titular Alien may only be seen in a handful of scenes and very rarely seen in its entirety but it is a truly beautiful creation.
Geiger sinister gothic artwork creating a wonderful killing machine. However, I feel that the design of the Alien gas been spoken to death by other, more intelligent film folk. So I wish to talk about a much smaller, less iconic, piece of design:
When the crew land on the planet emitting the strange signal they find the ancient mummified corpse of an alien being sat in an enormous contraption. The room, and the contraption itself looked amazing. I'm not sure if Geiger designed all the alien elements or just the creature itself - however the room and the device look like classic elements of Geiger's artwork and I like to think he designed them too.

I wrote the first half of this report straight after watching the film, and am continuing it now as I sit in a very nice Scottish restaurant waiting for my posh posh steak (for some reason Blogger won't let me upload straight from my BlackBerry® so I'm waiting till I'm at a PC to finalise it) - the reason I mention this is that I'm racking my brain figuring out what else I had to say. It is foolish to interrupt one's stream of consciousness with something as rude as work...
However, I feel the cat needs a mention. Mainly because I don't like cats and therefore can't empathise with Ripley as she puts her life in danger looking for the mangy thing. If I was her I'd have escape podded to freedom & let the thing die. I'm sure cat versions of the Alien exist - I think I've heard of such a thing.

So... Next weekend we shall watch Aliens and see how the story progresses. But it was lovely to finally have the chance to sit down and watch this excellent bit of film.
And to watch the (ever) wonderful John Hurt explode. That really is a good scene....

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Okay. You people sit tight, hold the fort and keep the home fires burning. And if we're not back by dawn... call the president.

No 430 - Big Trouble in Little China
Director - John Carpenter

This film was recommended to me by Mr Elliot Biddle who seems to think it is utterly utterly brilliant. The signs certainly looked promising, I'm a big fan of Mr John Carpenter and this was made during his period of 'good films' in the late 70's and early 80's. Saying that I do have a guilty pleasure in the adorable rubbishness that is his 'Vampires' film.

So, this was not only the first time I had watched this film but also the first time I had seen Carpenter tackle anything that wasn't horror. I was naturally interested. And I was rather surprised when watching it.
I didn't know quite what to expect but it certainly wasn't this. This is a film that hasn't aged well, and it bonkers. Utterly, illogically, bonkers.

Lets start with the ageing process and discuss just how 80's this film looks.
Firstly, Kurt Russell's glorious mullet. There is no way that this hair will ever look cool again and I thank God for that. It is a truly atrocious hairstyle and helps date the film far better than anything could, even having man with a sign reading THIS IS THE MID 80s!!!! would be a more subtle notification.
It is awful!

Secondly the eyebrows. I'm not entirely sure what it is, but ladies in the 80s had much larger eyebrows than they do nowadays. In this film I'm talking specifically about Kim Cattrall and Suzee Pai who are both gorgeous (but more about that later) but also both have truly intimidating eyebrows.... Maybe it was colder in the 80s and ladies needed more facial insulation. In these days of global warming we've probably forgotten just how crisp the air was in 1986.

Thirdly, the excellent special effects. I don't know if making lightning on film was discovered in the 80s but nearly every film in that decade uses the bloody effect. Whether you were accidentally shrinking the kids, making sure that there can be only one, or out busting ghosts, chances are that squiggly bolts of lightning would be making an appearance.
And the monsters! Let us talk about the monsters, for there are 2 or 3 that appear in this film and they open up an interesting question. John Carpenter made the film The Thing in 1982, a full 4 years before this film, for The Thing he made some truly horrific monsters, yes they look dated now, but they were excellent for their time. So, it seems a fair assumption that over those 4 years special effects should have improved. However, the monsters in this film are appalling Weird Science-esque latex muppets. Obvious fakes which aren't in the least bit scary. Are we supposed to be scared of the Guardians? Though both films have dated, it seems weird that the elder of the 2 films has held out the longest. Maybe it is because Big Trouble was going for a more cartoon feel rather than the bleak realism of The Thing.

And finally - but almost most importantly - the biggest example of the terrible aging process is the shocking stereotypical racism. There is no escaping the fact that this is a film with the most politically incorrect Chinese villain since the Iron Man comics. The film may include edgier fare (Such as the Chinese triads) and combine it with some of the country's ancient folklore and mysticism, but the chief villain is still just a big old Fu-Man-Chu stereotype, and that looks kinda awkward these days.

So... this ends the criticisms. Allow me to talk about what I enjoyed.
Firstly, despite the criticisms, I really enjoyed the pointless stupidity, rubbish special effects and casual racism. It helped to make the film into a completely irreverent romp and has the same atmosphere as films like The Princess Bride. Trashy, tongue in cheek films, which don't take themselves seriously. There is definitely a place for those films in my heart.

The other thing is that this is a film from the times when Kim Cattrall was still very hot (she is still very attractive for an older woman, but was much better back in the day) - here is a picture of her, and whilst you are there, check out the eyebrows. My only problem with her character is that he has no arc of development. Just 2 points.
So for the first half of the film she is the blustery busybody (I never worked out if she was a lawyer or a reporter...) who finds Kurt Russell's character obnoxious. Then, 'click' and she hits point 2 and is all flirty flirty snoggy snoggy.
There is no development between these two points. One point stops and the next begins.
However, this lack of development seems to affect all the characters. It is almost as if a massive middle section has been removed from the film, one minute the group of heroes are essentially strangers thrown together by a terrible situation, the next minute they're flirting joking and bickering as if they've known each other for years. It is very confusing.

However, I think that kind of misses the point. If you are watching the film for serious plot and character development you will be sorely disappointed. If you are watching for a comedic fantasy actioner with its tongue firmly in cheek then you will be richly rewarded by a ridiculous plot, fantastical villains, marvellous action set pieces and a Chinese gangster with the best fashion sense I have ever seen (this is made all the more clear when compared to all the terrible suits worn by other people).

Seriously - watch this film just to see Rain of the 3 Storms once he's not in his terrible lampshade hat. He is kick ass.

Peace out folks

Sunday, 12 October 2008

There's a way out of this game. Kill yourselves together, here, now. If you can't do that, then don't trust anyone... just run.

No 235 - Battle Royale
Director - Kinji Fukasaku

I am really quite hungover from an epic night out at the marvellous Shunt Lounge, and have not had much sleep. I'm telling you this because I have a guilty confession to make, I fell asleep during Battle Royale. But I was ruddy hungover and had a massive Sunday lunch which was making me dead sleepy.
Luckily it was only a brief little snooze and I have seen BR sufficient times for me to be able to talk about it. So here goes...

I know that I have said before that I'm not a fan of the old hyper-violence and I am also aware of the intrinsically hypocritical nature of my quick to change attitude. So, whilst the nature of films like Ichi the Killer, Saw and Hostel freak me out, I bloody love BR and its glorious ridiculous violence.
This can be best described with one of my favourite characters in the film, Boy #6, Kizuo Kiriyama. He is an nut job, volunteering to be part of the BR scheme and relishing the torture, violence and mayhem which follows him. As the film progresses he becomes even more unhinged and ends up the most visually iconic character in the film (he is one of only two combatants that aren't in the beige-ish school uniform). Here he is looking like he could have been in Michael Jackson's Thriller.
In fact, it is the cold, relentless, somewhat insane killers which make this film the most enjoyable. After watching the gloriously depraved Kiriyama, the other character of note is Girl #13 Takako Chigusa. She immediately understands the way to play the game and uses the fact that nobody liked her at school as a reason to feel no guilt in cold heartedly murdering them all. Chiaki Kuriyama's performance is excellent, and was certainly deemed good enough by Quentin Tarantino who cast her as Gogo (a psychopathic killing machine with an arsenal of deadly weapons and wearing school uniform.... could we be slipping into typecasting?) in Kill Bill.

As well as the violence there is a strong streak of VERY black humour. The jaunty music that greets the competitors each morning jars with the events on screen in a grossly inappropriate way. The sheer concept of the film is so perverse, so ridiculous that it almost demands to be viewed in a comedic light. And most of the truly comedic moments come from the juxtaposition of how BR is presented, and what BR is.

Let us begin with the Battle Royale training video, which is there to teach the class how to play and kill efficiently whilst keeping themselves alive. The video is bright and jolly with an unfeasibly cute narrator in the form of Yûko Miyamura explaining what will be happening on the island. Whether she is explaining that the competitor's neckbands may explode and kill you or that the selection of weapons is a completely random lucky dip ranging from saucepans to grenade launchers, she speaks with a constant smile and the hyperactivity of a puppy on speed. It is impossible not to like her as she passes on the terrible terrible news. And that is quite funny.
The other comedic character to mention is the school's teacher - played by Takeshi Kitano and named, conveniently enough, Kitano Sensei. His character is really rather insane and quite possibly a paedophile as he sits watching his school kids kill each other in all shades of dead.
His best moment is when he is trying to explain the BR situation to his school children and gets increasingly pissed off as they talk over him, ending up throwing a dagger into the face of one of the school kid, ending with a sarcastic apology as he isn't meant to kill any of them.

The film is shot in in a very grey and brown palette which only helps to bring out the crimson lashings of blood even more so.
There are several 'Japanese' bonkers moments - the whole incident with the painting at the end is never really explained and it also gives some interesting insights into how Japanese school kids function (in Japan - having a crush on someone or telling someone their cute has a lot more weighting than it does in the Western world).

All in all this film is a glorious riot of blood and ridiculous violence which spawned a god awful sequel (allegedly - I've never seen it) and some really awesome T-Shirts.
I even watched this with my mum once and she enjoyed it. I mean she thought it was disgusting and spent most of the film hiding her eyes. But she wanted to know who won. And that is a key part in the success of a film.

Friday, 10 October 2008

For every action, there is a reaction. And a Pikey reaction... is quite a fucking thing.

No 466 - Snatch
Director - Guy Ritchie

Righty ho - There has been a slight tweaking of the rules, to make this project more achievable I am dropping the chronological(ish) order. This means I'm going to watch films as and when I get the chance to. This has been prompted by 2 things:
1) I can not find Jailhouse Rock ANYWHERE - That's after searching the library and my nearby rental store which specialises in black and white and foreign films.
2) I really wanted to watch Snatch. And so did Toby.

So, we decided to watch Snatch and I shall subsequently discuss it.

Guy Ritchie is the man who brought back the whole London gangster film which previously had existed in the 70s with films starring Michael Caine (Get Carter etc). Lock Stock really shook up the cinematic scene of the mid to late 90s and created a bazillion imitators and films starring foul mouthed cockernees. It seems almost sad that the few times Guy Ritchie has moved away from this genre his films have not been that good (Revolver, Swept Away) however each time he returns to the London gangster life his films are great critical successes (his latest Rocknrolla seems to be viewed in quite high esteem). Guy Ritchie may wish to diversify and not be pigeonholed with the whole gangster schtick (which is understandable) but he does that schtick so so well...

Snatch is effortlessly cool and endlessly quotable. It has taken the key elements of Lock Stock (multiple story lines around a central maguffin, East End organised crime, Jason Statham, Vinnie Jones being a hard ass maniac, black black humour, swearing) and tweaked and fine tuned to come out with a classic piece of cinema. Not only is it a great plot but it is a plot that introduces dozens of fantastic and fascinating fully rounded characters. I'm going to talk about my favourite few:

Franky Four Fingers (Benicio Del Toro)
This is the first time that I've actually paid attention to this character and thus the first time I realised just how brilliant he is. Benicio Del Toro is an excellent actor and it is only now that I realise what he brings to the character. Every scene he is in after the initial robbery is dripping with malice, sleaze and an awkwardness as Franky wants to get the job done and get out. He is an incredibly menacing character but is very subtle about it, which is a big change for characters in this film. Plus he wears excellent suits (including a gorgeous Harris tweed ensemble) and smokes foot long cigars. How can I have anything but love for this man.

Brick Top (Alan Ford)
I don't think I had ever seen Alan Ford in anything before Snatch and this is a massively iconic role. This means when I eventually saw him playing the priest in the excellent TV show Snuff Box my initial thought was "BRICK TOP".... Alan Ford is forever going to be intrinsically tied to this character and that is probably regardless of future roles.
Brick Top is savage. Brick Top is horrible. Brick Top is too cool for words. A savage old man with enormous NHS specs who drinks cups of tea and feeds corpses to pigs. Each word drips with so much vehemence that you half expect him to snap and murder someone at any point. And he frequently does. Not to mention that pretty much every line he speaks is one of this film's classic quotes. From his introduction:
Do you know what "nemesis" means? A righteous infliction of retribution manifested by an appropriate agent. Personified in this case by an 'orrible cunt... me.
To his massive and terrifying step by step guide on how to dispose of a body.
He is a classic and amazing character and one of the highlights of the film.

And as we speak about highlights of the film.... we must speak about:
Mickey (Brad Pitt)
It is a brave, and somewhat genius move, to hire one of the biggest movie stars in the world for your (relatively) small crime romp and then cast them in a role where they are completely incomprehensible. But by getting Brad Pitt, rather than an unknown Irish man, Mickey becomes a phenomenal piece of work. He is constantly active, bouncing around and speaking in an incredibly thick accent at about a million miles an hour. The DVD even offered me Pikey subtitles so I could understand him. Also, as we learnt from Fight Club, Pitt is at his best when he's looking ridiculously buff and beating the crap out of people (or having the crap beaten out of him in turn).

I could carry on - the cast is sprawling and diverse and their are dozens of excellent characters (insane, invincible Russian Boris the Blade and the pouting, whinging and thoroughly useless Tyrone are two more which immediately spring to mind as needing a mention) who all get their fair share of the quotable dialogue and ridiculous action scenes. But there is more that I want to talk about.

Firstly the cinematography. Now, I don't want these blogs to get too reviewy, I'm not a critic I just want to post my thoughts on a film immediately after seeing it. However I am film geek and things like cinematography and framing impress me. The sequence that I wanted to mention in particular was that of the hare/Tyrone chase. The editing in this is beautiful, flipping between the two chases building up the tension until one party escapes and the other gets 'proper fucked'. It is masterfully handled and I think is one of the best things Guy Ritchie has ever put on screen. And I do not say this lightly as this is the man who is not scared to take risks, I mean he brings together a cast which include an ex footballer, one of the biggest names in Hollywood, a deeply respected and critically acclaimed character actor and Frank Butcher and they all get a fair share of the film and they're all treated with the same level of respect.

I just love this film, I first saw it in a tiny bar in Ecuador which we proceeded to drink dry (much like the Tiger who came for tea) until we were kicked out because they had run out of beer and gin and a spirit called Spirit of Ecuador which was one of the most beautiful spirits I have ever drunk and is impossible to get in the UK. If anyone knows how I can get my grubby mitts on a bottle let me know. So, I love the film because it (and Fight Club - we seemed to be going through a bleeding sweaty boxing Brad Pitt phase) will always be tied to my debauched Ecuadorian adventures.
However, the sick humour (mostly derived from cruel and unfortunate deaths), the slick dialogue and the effortless sense of cool make this a film that is a viewing necessity. It is certainly my favourite of the films I've seen so far. And that includes Back To The Future!!!

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Three things sell this newspaper: Tragedy, sex, & Superman. These people have had enough tragedy, & we all know you can't write worth a damn about sex

No 496 - Superman Returns
Director - Bryan Singer

I have decided to view this film separately from the Richard Donner original, which does appear later on in the poll. My reasoning for this is that this film had a sizable gap between it and the originals, it has a new director and a whole new cast. Although Bryan Singer viewed it to be a sequel for Superman 2 (ignoring 3 & 4 in the original series) it is detached enough for me to view it as a separate film. So i have done so.

Now, this film suffers from the fact that I have never been able to take it all in. I have tried to watch it twice and both times there have been external forces plotting against me... The first time was on a yacht where I was sufficiently distracted from giving it my full attention (no further information needed methinks). The second time was tonight where I tried to watch it in a capacity where I could write a decent essay about it but my blasted flatmate would not shut the fuck up!

So, I'm still not 100% sure what actually happens, but I will paraphrase what I understand, and then base my discussion around what I have pieced together.
  • Superman has been away on Krypton for a while - which subsequently explodes bringing him back to Earth in a convenient meteor
  • Lois Lane is all totally "Oh I don't need Superman, he is a douche bag" and is engaged and has a kid.
  • Lex Luther is doing something with crystals from the fortress of solitude which ends with him creating a Kryptonite based magical continent to live in.
I want to direct my attention firstly to Lex Luther, played by the marvellous Kevin Spacey. A true legend of his time. I'm not sure if it was having to listen Toby talk about any random mundane thought which crossed his mind but I actually found it hard to actually get engaged with the film and I actually felt rather bored in any of the long scenes involving Clark/Superman, Lois, Lois' kid, Jimmy or Cyclops from Xmen. I was waiting for the scenes with Lex and Kitty Kowalski, Lex's dumb broad of a partner (or lover, it is never really explained or if it is I didn't hear). There were a number of reasons for this. Firstly, those characters had the best lines and the most comedic moments, and I think that that is a fairly big reason. Secondly, the art deco styling of Metropolis seemed to only really shine out in their scenes, be it in Kitty's excellent Moll outfits or Lex's superb suits, or just the architect and design of their surroundings. Most of the film could have taken place anywhere in the world with a rather generic American City Scape (saving the beautiful brass coloured globe of the Daily Planet) but the villainous scenes had that sense of 1920s grandiose which seems (to my very un-comic-educated eyes) to be a key part of the DC Universe (within Gotham and Metropolis at least).
I also sat through the film listening to Elliot lust after Kate Bosworth's Lois whereas I saw myself leaning much more towards Kitty, Played by Parker Posey (although, in the picture I put up of Kate Bosworth - she looks gorgeous). However, at points like this it is important to note that I am very shallow, so this whole preference could have come solely out of the fact that Kitty has far better outfits. Interestingly, I don't fancy Lex, but he has some excellent suits as well, including a very tasteful brown corduroy number. I particularly want the white trench coat he is wearing for the final few scenes.

However, my main grievance with the film is that besides the excellent portrayal of the villains, I have very little to say about it.
  • The new advancements in special effects mean that the 'Man of Steel' elements of the film look impressive, with rescues and flights looking amazin and creating a real sense of scale or drama. My particular favourite is when Supes gets shot in the eye and the bullet crumples on impact.
  • The retro continuity is an excellent touch. The original theme and original style title credits help create a sense of continuity as does clever use of existing Brando footage and the casting of Brandon Routh, who really does look like Christopher Reeves (especially as Clark Kent)
I think the main failing of this film is that i really have nothing much to say about it at all, and surely a film should open some kind of discussion, even if it is something as mundane as "WHOAH, wasn't it awesome when....". Maybe next time I will watch it in an environment where I am able to give it 100% of my attention, maybe that would benefit.

PS - No I don't know why the first half of this post is underlined - I can't make it stop....

Ten oughta do it, don't you think? You think we need one more? You think we need one more. All right, we'll get one more.

Film 500 - Ocean's 11
Director - Steven Soderbergh

At last! We can begin with film 500.... Today for this blog I am joined by none other than Mr Elliot Kenneth Biddle. Who will occasionally add his excellent wisdom and quips to the film.

The reputation of this film has been tarnished by the subsequent sequels which have leant slightly too far towards "isn't it fun watching the beautiful people pissing about in a film" - This film has the advantage of being somewhat intelligent in plot and stuff.

This is a remake of a film that I haven't seen - however it does star the rat pack (the original one does), this makes it intrinsically cool. However it means that I can't knock up any serious comparisons. Or silly comparisons. In fact no comparisons at all can be drawn because I haven't seen one.... But I'm repeating myself. I am reliably informed that while this version of the film is smoother & suaver than the original it is not quite as quick & funny. Neither is the ending as comedically tragic.
So let's talk about what is good about this film.

He is cool. 'Nuff said really. When I am a rich old man I hope I can wear enormous glasses and swan about in smoking jackets with cigars in a cigar holder. Yes he is that pimp. He has a holder. For his cigars. This a whole new level of pimp and must be respected. And Elliott Gould is always cool in everything. He even made Friends good.
I mean, I already own smoking jackets, but that is but the first step. Mr Biddle would like it known that his name really is Elliot & he already smokes cigars & is thus further ahead in the 'Gould Rush' than I. Bastard.

2) George Clooney is an American who can do subtle comedy! And (ooh controversial - starting a sentence with an And) he is pretty good at self deprecation. These are rare qualities and it is what makes old Mr Clooney such an admirable leading man. This also spills out into the relationships with other characters. Whilst the sequels do somewhat milk the relationships, the '11' of Mr Ocean are an easy going and have an effortlessly cool rapport. It shows that Clooney and Pitt are friends outside of the film and that they have let the same playful banter show in the film. They're not even trying to hide it.

And the third and final main point is:

3) Don Cheadle - His character might not be all that but he does have the greatest Cockney accent since Dick Van Dyke and that surely deserves a wee mention.

I suppose, much like Saw, this film has suffered from its sequels - which have taken what was successful and different from the first film, and milked it to the extreme.

However Steven Soderburgh is a cool director and has a naturally breezy jazzy style to his mainstream films and an easy relationship with George Clooney (we'll explore this further with Out of Sight, later on) - which means that the film is VERY easy to watch. The pay off at the end of the film is excellent - the heist is perfectly calculated and very clever. The problem is that it is easy to drift into conversation as the film builds up to that point. I watched this film with a group of friends and the laid back nature of the film meant we ended up chatting over 2/3rds of it.
This doesn't mean the film isn't enjoyable... just that it is complete vacuous popcorn cinema.

And (yes, I did it again) special mention to Bernie Mac who is excellent in this film... and sadly dead now.

My only real problem with this film is that the only female in it is Julia Roberts. As this blog shows I do somewhat enjoy my eye candy.... and she doesn't quite float mon boat. As the French say....

Sunday, 5 October 2008

I would rather be a ghost drifting by your side as a condemned soul than enter heaven without you...

No 497 - Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Director - Ang Lee

This film slightly splits me in 2. I think the wushu style is beautiful and elegant but I think it slightly 'cheats' and therefore the martial arts elements are slightly cheapened. The idea of wushu (brought to us by our good friends at Wikipedia) is that movements are exaggerated and enhanced with extra jumps and more theatrical movements. This creates a style which is more about aesthetic and theatrical beauty than producing an actual practical fighting style. I think this also can be used to describe Ang Lee's 'Martial Art-House' classic.

There is no denying that Crouching Tiger is a beautiful film. The framing is stunning, with gorgeous vistas of forests, mountain and desert. The fight scenes are an aerial ballet which are stunning to behold - even though they may not be as easy to accept as real due to so many fantastical elements in this style which sometimes make it impossible not to think of the wire work involved.
The problem is, that this film is so aesthetically oriented. This is something that I believe will be a re-occurring problem within this list (I'm saving the brunt of my argument for Sin City) however it seems the story was secondary to the set pieces and visual dynamic of the film.

My housemate Toby thinks that the problem is cultural. The plot for CTHD is very simplistic and probably based around elements from ancient Chinese tales and folklore. It means that not much time has to be spent on plot development as the idea of heroes and legendary weapons and fighting styles are already a well known part of that culture's history. For a western audience it becomes slightly harder to follow the film when facing so many new ideas to integrate within the story. Luckily the story is relatively simplistic (the crux being a sword gets stolen several times and two warriors are after it) which helps.

It is almost as if the central plot is the least important aspect of the film. Using it as a catalyst to explore the subplots - namely the relationships between the 2 pairings. This is a love story framed around a loose story of honour and vengeance with some truly magical set pieces. And the set pieces are truly breathtaking at times:
When it was released, everyone spoke about the impressive bamboo fight scene. Whilst it is certainly impressive the 'floating on air' aspect of the film is too obviously wire work to convince me and I therefore feel very much alienated from the scene. My ability to suspend disbelief is ruined by those little floaty moments. However... the fight between Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi in the training hall is amazing. The elegant way the characters bounce off Walls and float up to the ceiling during the fight as well as the skilled way that Michelle Yeoh's character changes weapon so many times are the perfect examples of how the fantastical wushu fight scenes should be (in my head).

In fact - when it comes to amazing elegance and fighting there is only one person I can mention. Chow Yun Fat. His character (Master Li Mu Bai) is absolutely perfect. He is a true zen fighter. Part monk, part warrior - As comfortable meditating in a temple as he is on the battle field. his style is graceful and efficient. Almost lazy in his simplicity. No matter how frantic his opponent gets, Li Mu Bai's attack style is a gentle flowing flick of his weapon arm. The his rest of body staying still - yet relaxed. He is never vexxed and can fight off anything. From ill tempered swords men to a barrage of poisoned darts. He stays philosophical to the very last believing in the importance of patience and meditation and wanting to stow his sword away so he can live out the rest of his life in peace. Sadly he just isn't given the chance to stop and he is forced into combat situations. Luckily he is an amazing fighter and reluctantly triumphs through each battle.
He is easily the best character in this film.

And finally - let me end on a shallow note. It is nice for a film to be visually opulent and aesthetically unique. It is much nicer when they also throw in some eye candy. And Zhang Ziyi is very very pretty.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

I'm having a blast! This is the most fun I've had without lubricant!

No 499 - Saw
Director - James Wan

As I wait to get Ocean's 11 (No 500) and begin the countdown properly, I have been forced to move to the next available film. Saw.
Now, I'm gonna tell the truth (because apparently that's what you do in Blogs) - I was not looking forward to watching Saw. I've seen adverts for the Saw series and have heard tales of the film and the idea of hyper violence has never been that appealing. It is for the same reason that I tend to avoid the work of Beat Takeshi and Eli Roth - Call me a prude but I don't understand this idea that people would genuinely find Gorenography appealing.

So with great trepidation I sat down in font of Saw. I was preparing myself for ingenious shots of people being violently ripped to pieces in over calculated and overtly gory ways.
So imagine my surprise when I found a film that was nothing like what I'd anticipated.

Saw is really good. Dark, twisted with a fantastic villain. The film's tone is what surprised me. I was really expecting a film which delighted in showing lingering scenes of torture porn - but what I found was much more like the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre... with most (but by no means all) the violence happening off camera or just implied.
Saw is a film which leans closer to Se7en than to Hostel... In fact, this is a similarity that needs to be made because it seems that Saw is trying everything to be like Se7en. The second plot is basically a more action orientated version of the plot for Se7en - as two policemen search various murder scenes to learn about the killer and stop them.
This plot gives us the excellent character that is Danny Glover's struck off detective who is going slowly insane. It is nice to see Danny Glover being bad-ass and as he staggers around brandishing a pistol with his awesome scars and half loon giggle he is the very antithesis of Morgan Freeman's sombre police officer in Se7en. And here ends my little similarities bit... As I want to talk about the magical Lost element to this film:

So before season 4 of Lost occurred, we had this - uniting Ken Leung and the excellent and mighty Michael Emerson ((I) - according to IMDb).
Michael Emerson is a legend - he is brilliant as creepy calculating Henry Ford in Lost and he is brilliantly creepy in this. I'd quite like to see him not be creepy.... Because he might not be so brilliant. But he is brilliant in this. I should stop saying brilliant really, its getting to the point where the word stops looking right.

Anyway... Interspersed with the cop drama bit is the bit that the film is famous for, and the following series milks to high heaven. Two men chained to opposite sides of a room with a corpse, a bullet and a hacksaw.
And the slow lingering descent into insanity which occurs in the room.

In fact - this film seems to be quite a somber look at obsession and insanity with all parties slowly going mad. Be they chained up victims, plotting mass murderers or single minded obsessive cops. It is also asking us to take a good hard look at our life and see if we are making the most of it. But I'm ignoring this point for 2 reasons:

1) It really wants the viewer to ask that question. Heavy handily forcing it into our faces. Therefore, I choose to ignore it for its lack of subtlety.
2) I'm writing a blog about watching Empire's 500 greatest films of all time.... If anything spells out a wasted life, it is this.

Oh Jigsaw....
It looks like I'm going to die