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.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

A guy shows up looking like a mime from Hell and you lose him right out in the open. Well, at least he didn't do that walking against the wind shit, I

No 468 - The Crow
Director - Alex Proyas

As I was watching this Toby got home with a big bag of vegetables (for a stir fry, he informed me). He took one look at the screen and asked me whether this film was really on the list. He seemed surprised when I told him that Yes. It was.

To be honest, I kind of understand Toby's surprise, because compared to a lot of the stuff that I have watched through the Empire challenge - it isn't that good. It isn't awful, and it is certainly one of the better 'vigilante spirit back from the dead' movies to have come from a previous comic. I'd rather watch The Crow a hundred million times than rather than ever watch Spawn again. Hell, I'd rather be felated by a bear trap. It is mainly John Leguizamo's clown, but I HATE IT.

Sorry, I got distracted - so whilst The Crow is by no means a bad film I can't help but feel that a large reason for the film's rank is the tragic demise of Brandon Lee. It is similar to my reasoning for why The Dark Knight managed to make 20 billion dollars in the cinemas. I don't think it is the be all and end all as The Dark Knight is an excellently well made film and The Crow is a cult classic. Both of these factors will have helped their respective films, but the sad truth is that a terrible death will boost the film's public image and therefore lead to more bums on seats.
This is not the only similarity between the two films. Let us move away from the stories behind the film and look at the actual physical similarities.
Brandon Lee's Eric Draven is essentially a monochromatic version of Heath Ledger's Joker. And I don't just mean the make up (although it is very similar) - Eric's very mannerism as he speaks to the police echoes the taunts and insanity of the Dark Knight. It is impossible to think that Heath Ledger did not take this film as an influence to some degree. The similarities are too great.

So let us move to some of the other film aspects which I have noticed.... firstly the ridiculous nature of the villains. It is almost like they made a checklist and never felt there was quite enough evil in the characters.
"Oh they rape and murder people and start massively destructive fires.... how about making them WITCHES and they have to gauge out eyeballs. They could also torture children. Have we missed anything? INCEST! Of Course!" So to solve that little problem they made the chief villains lovers as well as siblings.
The bad guys are so ridiculously wicked, with no remorse or even any real character. They are there to be cruel, and to be killed. Their wickedness is so over the top - I mean they chase shots by downing bullets - that it is impossible to relate to them in anyway.
That isn't necessarily a bad thing, as I have mentioned when talking about Sin City, it doesn't matter if a character is ridiculous and ott as long as the rest of the film's universe fits with it. But The Crow is such a po faced serious film that the cartoonish villains jar horrifically. It wasn't that much of a surprise when I found out that the original comics were written as a cathartic project to help him come to terms with the author's girlfriend's death. This is apparent in the film - Death is viewed both as being a beautiful release but also shows the traumatic pain it brings to everyone around it.
Sadly you can't focus on the horrors of death and also provide such insane cartoon villains. this mish mash means a large proportion of the film gets lost in a pseudo Gothic grungy 90s confusion. Which is a shame.
I'm not sure if this confusion is what causes Eric to quote the Raven. It could either be linking up with Poe's poem and the connection with insanity or just that Crows and Ravens are both big black birds.

And also - Once Eric Draven has got his clothing from his various sources he appears to cover up most of it in Gaffer Tape. Which I really don't understand.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Nobody is entirely evil: it's that circumstances that make them evil, or they don't know they are doing evil.

No 237 - Delicatessen

Director - Marc Carot & Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Bonjour... Today is my first blog on a French film by French people. So I feel I'm connecting with the other half of my heritage. The French half. I have been joined by Mr Richard Hughes esq who will be inputting masses of pretentious balls into the proceedings.

This film is a comic post apocalyptic exploration of the human condition, and shows a surprising level of hope in a scenario that is tinged with tragedy and desperation. For, unlike so many dystopian visions, this explores the idea of people working together, and even enjoying themselves, as they go about their post apocalyptic day to day business. Which seems to mostly involve making those weird little boxes that sound like cows when you turn them upside down. This could be that there is an unexplained and somewhat unusual high demand for these objects, it could be just that 2 brothers are looking for a distraction from their difficult existence, or - as Richard suggested to me - it could be a substitute for the meat that they so desperately crave.

The film itself seems to be set in a parallel world where either the second world or the cold war ended in nuclear annihilation. The film has a clear 1950s image which mixes with an industrial feel to create imagery which is very similar to that used by Bioshock recently. The nostalgic otherworldliness is only intensified by the tone of the film. Dirty lights indoors and the thick brown smog which permeates through everything seem to tint the whole film into sepia. this is only broken by the occasional splash of colour, be it the vampish red of Mademoiselle Plusse's dress or the bright teal that appears both within the television set's picture and occasionally upon Julie, both her eyes and accessories shine through the uniform, almost oppressing filter.

It is interesting to note that whilst Mlle Plusse's dress is certainly vibrant, it fits into the brown world, perhaps showing that whilst she is a large and voluptuous character she is still very much a part of the environment that surrounds her. It is the teal which truly shines and differentiates itself from the surroundings. The television and Julie both offer Louison a sense of joy and escapism from a existence somewhat tainted by the ongoing threat of cannibalism....

For whilst it is Louison's story, the most interesting character is the Butcher. He rules the microcosm of the boarding house, where, with the exception of an occasional postman, everyone stays very firmly rooted either within it, either on top or below. He is the sole figure of power and authority and he seems to be a study of greed; a representation of pure desire - and the perils of falling prey to it completely. The parallels between his desperate desire for Mlle Plusse's flesh and for Louison's are palpable - and it is perhaps important to note that neither one are things that he needs. The question of the Butcher being pure evil is raised more than once - notably in a quote (the titular subject of this very review) which he overhears and then repeats, almost as a defence to himself. As a reflection of the risks of lust (of any kind) this sense of evil works well - but as irredeemable as he seems, he does appear to have one positive aspect: his daughter Julie. The irony of his desire to protect and nurture her (in respect of his own scant regard for innocence and chastity) is made quickly clear - and her development throughout the film is all the more intriguing for it, especially as she changes her more innocent outlook for a red dress and lipstick (only to have them removed by Lousion) by the chaotic climax; perhaps in a response to his increasingly claustrophobic protection. [ponce intervention over]

The final thing that I want to talk about is rhythm. As this is a very rhythmic film, using music or just beats to punctuate a lot of the scenes, from large 'action' sequences to more mundane montages of odd jobs. This creates a whimsical nature which echoes throughout the film and begins to draw the similarities to this and Amelie, one of Jeunet's later projects which is very different thematically but shows a lot of stylistic similarities. There are in fact large stylistic similarities with the sex scene montage within delicatessen and the orgasm montage within Amelie. It must be a subject that Jeunet is interested in....

And that brings us to the end of the blog I think. It was slightly more thoughtful and serious than usual, but I blame the Hughes for this... I am sure that next time will be a return to girls, clothes and who is cool. See you then

Tim xxx