Wednesday, 25 February 2009

I love the 18th Century. A time of genius and manners

No 358 - Russkiy Kovcheg (Russian Ark)
Director - Alexandr Sokurov


This film somewhat hurt my brain. It is different from anything I have ever seen and there are parts that I thought were revolutionary and astounding, there are also parts that I really didn't like.

For those of you that don't know anything about this film (and I'm not judging you, I'd never heard of the film until Empire stuck it in their list) let me try and explain. The film is a sort of tour. You, the viewer, are an unnamed unseen figure, apparently from modern times who finds himself in 18th Century Russia following the last days of the Russian aristocracy before the communists take over. You are joined by the Marquis. A 19th century Frenchman with somewhat scathing views of Russia and the Russians.
Together, the film moves through St Petersburg's Russian State Hermitage Museum, examining the architecture, the art and allowing 200 years of Russian history to flit from room to room.

What is truly impressive is that the entire 98 minute film is one continuous Steadicam shot. There isn't a single edit in the entire film. Just thinking of the control, organisation and choreography that must have taken place is astounding.

The other thing I have found interesting is the refusal for plot. We get to see snapshots of history but these snap shots don't have structure. We flit from the 1700s to the modern day, via the 19th century and these changes happen seamlessly as you move from room to room. In these snapshots we get to see some of the great figures of Russian history, Catherine the Great (both as a young and as an older lady), Tsar Nikolas II and Anastasia, dancing down the corridor with her friends, not knowing that soon the Communists will come and destroy their world.

Whilst the film isn't 'anti-communist' it does celebrate the opulence and the beauty of the Russian aristocracy and whilst it never happens on screen, you do mourn the knowledge that there will be a revolution which takes this opulence away.
And what opulence. What splendour. I will return to talking about my views on the film but here is the perfect opportunity for my shallowness to seep in. Allow me to talk about clothes for a second.

It is a travesty that the Russian aristocracy were all killed off. I believe that they should have been allowed to stay simply based on the strength of the men's jackets. They seem to be plain jackets of either red or blue (or red and blue) but then covered in bling and spangles and extra bits of gold chord. It all seems so superfluous. I love it.
If you combine it with the magnificent moustache/sideburns combos that they all seem to be sporting, it clearly seems that this would have been the perfect era for me to live in.... sigh....

So, apologies for that brief interlude and back to the film.
With the fading of eras, with the strange floaty feel of the Steadicam and with the lack of information, the need of acceptance, the film all points to one sensation. Dream. The whole film is structured (a term I use lightly) and presented as if it was a dream. It works incredibly well. The Marquis is a guide in your dream, the viewer (and indeed the character that the viewer represents) feels less comfortable when the Marquis isn't in shot, characters flit and occasions occur and you are rooted in the middle of it all.
However, it is here that my one criticism of the film comes in. The dialogue.

I felt that the film was ruined slightly by knowing what people say, and frequently the scene was destroyed by the character of the watcher. Mainly because of the fact that 70% of what is said is so inane. But also because I found the bodiless voice rather disconcerting.
Not knowing what anyone says would just add to the dream like quality of the whole film. It makes the film more about occasion, more about eavesdropping on something you have no idea about.
I kind of think it would even work better as a silent film, just opulent visuals and beautiful classical music.

So, in my opinion, to fully immerse into the dream like state of Russian Ark. Turn up the volume, turn off the subtitles and enjoy the spectacle of a film that is a piece of stylistic beauty.

(my goodness... I say Opulent a lot in this blog!)

Monday, 23 February 2009

Bob assassinated Jesse James over 800 times. He suspected no one in history had ever so often or so publicly recapitulated an act of betrayal.

No 396 - The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Director - Andrew Dominik

At last. At long bloody last. I have been trying to watch this film for a very very long time. Admittedly, not enough to actually BUY the film but it is something that I have been investigating. I took it out at the library a few weeks ago.... but the disc was scratched and would skip and jump and dance around. Like a gallivanting school child before they become jaded and tired with life.
That made the disc suitable for analogies. But not so suitable for watching. So with great joy, I saw that the film flopped through the letter box. God bless LoveFilm. I can finally write up about the bloody thing.

I have always been of the opinion that Mr Brad Pitt is an excellent actor, and whilst I've not really seen him in much I have heard exceptional things about Mr Casey Affleck. So it was nice to see them outside of Danny Ocean's little gang.
What I instantly noticed in watching this is.... Brad Pitt is getting old. It may well be character, but he is craggy, he is worn, he has a shark's cold eyes. He is also a truly terrifying looming and menacing presence. People are not just scared of him because of his power, they're scared because of his very presence and that he could fly off the handle at any point, killing everyone without breaking a sweat. I like to think that his is because of his massive winter coat of awesome. It is an excellent coat.

However, the terror is not just induced by Pitt's Jesse James. Casey Affleck's Bob Ford is a scary fellow. The character arc and development of Robert Ford is amazing. He begins as an awkward, fidgety, nervous fellow. Desperate to impress Jesse James, he is just a victim of fanboy hero worship, a trait that we probably all recognise to some degree. However over time it builds up more and more as the hero worship turns into obsession. Each time Jesse's group, or Jesse himself, belittle or tease Bob you see Bob clam up. Becoming more reticent. More angry. More insular.
The relationship between Bob and Jesse becomes unbelievably tense as both gradually get more worked up. Jesse in his imposing paranoia and Bob in his anger. You spend the whole time waiting for one of them to crack and attack the other.

Of course, you know that the fellow who does crack is Mr Bob Ford. That is not a spoiler. Well, it kind of is. But the spoiler is in the title. So shush your noise.
The build up to the death scene is beautiful and subtle. You'd expect the final breaking point to be an explosion of passion but it isn't. Jesse is almost anticipating the murder. Slowly, with a melancholic air, he sets up a situation in which he can be shot. It is quite sad, especially when Jesse's wife runs in, the tears streaming down her face.

You see.... despite the title, this film's title, this isn't about The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, it is about the trappings of fame.
I have never done any research on Jesse James and his death, but if this film is to be believed, it caused quite a shock. Photos of Jesse's body were sold in stores around America. Songs were sung. And Robert Ford was reviled as a coward.

That is what I find really interesting.... The film doesn't hide or cover up the fact that Jesse James was a nasty piece of work. Not only does the narrator discuss the many many robberies and murders that the James gang committed but the film shows:
  • A violent shooting, taking place during a train robbery
  • The murder of several people at James' hands
  • (most shocking of all) The savage beating of a child.

Yet, what was most important was that Jesse James was famous. He was a public figure and seemed to be taken to heart by the people, despite his horrible actions.

So, Jesse's death led to outcry which eventually led to Robert Ford's death. What is really interesting however, is what the Narrator says about Robert Ford's death. I've taken a line of it for my title, however I'm going to stick it all down here:
He was ashamed of his persiflage, his boasting, his pretensions of courage and ruthlessness; he was sorry about his cold-bloodedness, his dispassion, his inability to express what he now believed was the case- that he truly regretted killing Jesse, that he missed the man as much as anybody and wished his murder hadn't been necessary. Even as he circulated his saloon he knew that the smiles disappeared when he passed by. He received so many menacing letters that he could read them without any reaction except curiosity. He kept to his apartment all day, flipping over playing cards, looking at his destiny in every King and Jack. Edward O'Kelly came up from Bachelor at one P.M. on the 8th. He had no grand scheme. No strategy. No agreement with higher authorities. Nothing but a vague longing for glory, and a generalized wish for revenge against Robert Ford. Edward O'Kelly would be ordered to serve a life sentence in the Colorado Penitentiary for second degree murder. Over seven thousand signatures would eventually be gathered in a petition asking for O'Kelly's release, and in 1902, Governor James B. Ullman would pardon the man. There would be no eulogies for Bob, no photographs of his body would be sold in sundries stores, no people would crowd the streets in the rain to see his funeral cortege, no biographies would be written about him, no children named after him, no one would ever pay twenty-five cents to stand in the rooms he grew up in. The shotgun would ignite, and Ella Mae would scream, but Robert Ford would only lay on the floor and look at the ceiling, the light going out of his eyes before he could find the right words.

It shows, that despite killing a terrible villain, Robert Ford was still reviled whilst Jesse James was almost forgiven over time. The film doesn't explain whether it is the actual act of killing which causes this hatred, however I think it is probably due to the fact that Robert Ford used the murder to craft his own fame.
The film shows that some people benefit from fame, thrive from it, are forgiven by it. Whilst others are vilified. The fickle nature of fame hasn't changed. It is interesting (I know, I've used the word interesting about 100 times....) to see that fame creates the same problems now that it did 150 years ago.

What I particularly like about this film is that it seems to work hard on trying to please me. Not only does it tell an excellent story. Not only does the story work on a number of levels... but the cameos also seem to have been excellently planned.
Let me list them for you to see.
Firstly Mary Louise Parker plays Jesse's Wife Zee. Whilst her part is somewhat small. She still gathers up some of the wondrous glamour and gorgeousness that she manages in Weeds.
Secondly, in a bar there is a man singer. Obviously, the film knows that only one man could possible play a wild west troubadour.... and they chose the RIGHT MAN. It makes me smile.
And finally.... Zooey Deschanel appears in it. For about 30 seconds. To perform burlesque. Inspired. Truly Inspired

I'm beginning to wonder if I can only like films with Zooey in.....

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Nothing escapes me. No one escapes me.

No 335 - The Seventh Seal
Director - Ingmar Bergman

It is only natural, when travelling by train to search for light visual refreshment. And what better choice than this classically famous laugh-a-minute. To give it credit, I was expecting something very very dour.... but it isn't dour at all and isn't even half as pretentious as I imagined it would be.

There is one shot that I expect most people to recognise... Antonius Block, The Knight, plays chess with Death. I expected this to be the grand finale, but no, it happens in the first couple of minutes after The Knight wakes up on a beach. One would presume that he has died, either in the crusades or in whatever caused him to crash onto the beach.
He strikes the deal to play Death at chess and this takes place over the entire film. Each 'round' taking place during each evening. Over the days which occur between each 'round' of chess, the Knight and his Squire gather different people into their fold and their little group.

Over the course of this film there were a few things I realised...

1) Men look ridiculous in tunics and tights. Now, I'm aware that fashion is cyclic. I'm also aware that I enjoy dressing like a dandy, however.... there are limits and I hope that this fashion NEVER returns.. All these characters look stupid. Even Jos, and he is badass (but more on that later).

2) There are pretty ladies in this film! All anyone ever talks about is blah blah chess on a beach blah blah death. They have failed to mention the most important aspect of the film. The includance of pretty ladies. In this case I mean the character of Mary, played by the very pretty looking Bibi Andersson. I felt she definitely deserved a mention.

3) Death is a bastard! Now, I don't mean this in any deep or metaphysical manner... just that Death is a bastard. People die in this film and Death doesn't gather their souls.... no he's busy playing chess. However... when perfectly living people climb trees Death is there with his scythe cutting it down. There are hundreds of people dying, shouldn't he be focusing his attention on THOSE?!
In fact, Bengkt Ekerot might be one of my favourite Movie Deaths.... (Not my all out favourite - that is the blurry polo-necked death in The Eye. And my favourite Death full stop is Neil Gaiman's.... because she is a legend). But I like this Death because he is like a weird little creepy old man who pops up and just says "oh hello... you have to die now".... well that all felt a bit emo.

Death is not the only oddly comic character in this film. There is Jos as well.... the Knight's squire. He is regarded as the Fool and in typical Shakespearean manner he is the wisest man in the tale. He is also super bad ass.... seemingly able to attack and gouge out people's eye's.

He also has the best way to chat up a lady he has just rescued from an attempted rape. In such a bleak bleak film about God, Punishment and Death it is nice to see some black black comedy.

You see.... this film isn't really about one man trying to play against death, it is about the entire futility and temporary nature of man. There is a reason why the film is set during the plague, death is on everyone's minds and on everyone's lips and everyone is dying.
People try everything in their power to escape death but gradually Death finds his way and follows them all.

It is interesting, that the only two people who 'see' Death throughout the film (with the exception of Jonas Skat who only sees him as he dies) are the Knight and the Juggler - who are polar opposites. The Knight is full of existential angst, wanting to see God or the Devil, full of questions. The Juggler is a happy man who is constantly visited by visions of angels. These give him a love of life.
It is nice to see that in such a bleak film, only the happy people survive. Mainly because Jof, the juggler, sees the Knight with Death and realises that it isn't safe. He, and his family, leave the little group.

And that is all for the best. Because, once the group reaches the Knight's Castle Death reaches and takes them all.

I presume that this Death is the plague.
The Plague which has been following them from the start of the film.
A plague which has toyed with the Knight, letting him think he was in control.
A plague which is impossible to stave off regardless of flagellation, prayer or burning witches. Actually.... take this scene and watch it.... it is almost a relief when all the monks and stuff interrupt with their smoke and damnations.... Medieval entertainment was very very poor....

But the moral of the story is surely.... Don't hang out with your friends if they're playing games with the anthropomorphic representation of Death....

That way you can stay alive and the others can all do the Danse Macarbe up a hill....

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

If we admit that human life can be ruled by reason, then all possibility of life is destroyed.

No 473 - Into The Wild
Director - Sean Penn

I had a really brilliant quote that I wanted to put as my title however I forgot to write it down. And IMDB has failed me! I'm shocked and appalled.... but to business!

When I think of Emile Hirsch, I cannot help but cast nostalgic memories towards one of my guiltiest of pleasures. It is Hirsch's character in this film that means I can't see him play the grittier characters. Although this film has really shown how excellent his acting abilities are.

It is not only Emile Hirsch that surprises me, even the title credits managed to summon up a few surprising names.
The first is Vince Vaughn. I know he is a proper actor and that but seeing him be a grown up in a proper grown up film is a pleasant difference from the norm.

This film also has Jena Malone in it, who I haven't seen since Donnie Darko (although she was in a film called Saved.... which I never saw). She is lovely and very pretty in the few brief scenes she spends in the film as Emile Hirsch's sister. Sadly she is not in it enough.
(She is in a band! And quite Rock and Roll! All the pretty girls are in bands these days....
.....oh my GOD! They're in a film together! This is all too exciting, I'm getting sidetracked)

You see, no one really appears in the film for long. It is very much Emile Hirsch's film and his character (Christopher McCandless... or Alexander Supertramp) is the only focus of the film. There are other characters, and some of them truly shine and will get mentioned in this blog but they only flit through Hirsch's story. This film is utterly his story.

Christopher McCandless is an odd fellow. At the beginning I wasn't sure if I liked him. He seems quite self important and pretentious. He quotes Dovstoyesky and poets, getting them to fit his conversation - things like that seem a bit smart aleccy. At the start I wasn't even sure about his motives for his great walk into the wilderness. He sends $24,000 to Oxfam. Which is cool. But he adds a note saying "These are all my savings" - the cynical bastard bit of me thinks he adds little notes like that to give his donation even more importance. It seems a bit egocentric.

However, he certainly warms on you and you realise that this is just a person with an incredibly strict moral code and a hatred for modern society's views on consumerism and jobs. The film sort of follows McCandless's views but is wise in not being a film which sticks it to the man. Whilst it may make light at bureaucracy, the border patrol still let him back into the states without ID after he drifts into Mexico illegally and the non authoritarian characters he meets do have their problems, their disagreements.
However the film does slightly romanticise the nomadic red neck lifestyle. This is hardly a criticism, because I don't think you could make a film like this without slightly romanticising the nomadic lifestyle. The romanticism is the opinion of the main character, and that opinion paints itself onto the film's canvas. The film manages to stay fair by showing some of the horrors and travesties that can happen. For example, McCandless kills a moose in order to preserve the meat. He fails. He is left with a maggoty pulp. It is a pointless death of a majestic animal and McCandless states it as the greatest travesty in his life.

However despite the bleak troughs of darkness (and there are BLEAK troughs), the red neck life still comes out of it gloriously. Even as the FBI come and arrest Vince Vaughn's grain farmer you find yourself cheering Vaughn and booing the FBI.
Then there are the lovely hippies. Jan and Rainey. The first couple that McCandless meets and the only people he meets a second time throughout the film. They are portrayed as wonderful people, and their home of slat city is a lovely commune of hippies and trailer folk. and these people are painted in such a good light that the whole place feels like a glorious utopia.
We get to see old hippies having sex (hmmmm). McCandless turns down the advances of a potential jail bait girlfriend (Kristen Stewart... know the star of twilight, but who was the little girl in Panic Room!!!! Time moves so quickly... I feel so old) and he finds Salvation mountain. A mountain of junk and discarded stuff beautifully made into a home by a little old man. Thanks to this being a true story (oh yeah, I forgot to mention.... this is a true story) I get a warm glow knowing such a place exists. I hope to go one day.

However, utopia or not, McCandless moves on, on his route to Alaska. As winter kicks in, food becomes scarcer and McCandless becomes sicker. And Emile Hirsch gets skinnier and skinnier and skinnier. And we're talking properly. Maybe not to the extent of Christian Bale in the machinist but certainly more than just wearing baggy clothes. Hirsch spends a lot of this film in not much (and at one 'floating in a river on my back' penis revealing scene, he wears nothing at all) so you know he lost the pounds for the role.
It is a level of dedication I'm really impressed with.

In fact, as I mentioned at the start - Emile Hirsch's acting in this film is excellent and I think he is a true star. I hope he will have the chance to truly shine.

And not be upstaged by glitter and candy canes.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

You're incapable of enjoying life, you know that? I mean you're like New York City. You're just this person. You're like this island unto yourself

No 68 - Annie Hall
Director - Woody Allen

I woke up this morning, the day after valentines and I wandered downstairs only to find someone had entered my house since I'd fallen asleep at 1:30, and was subsequently asleep on my sofa.
So, rather than roll things up into giant balls I thought I would take my tea upstairs and go back to bed. So I did. And I thought I would watch the birth, life and death of (and finally recovery from) a relationship. A suitable choice for this valentines weekend.

I have never really watched any Woody Allen films, but knew a little bit what to expect: neuroses, therapy and lots of girls with women. And yes, it is all there. But this film is brilliant. It is not just a simple love story - it is an intelligent and topsy turvy film that uses dozens of cinematic tricks and quirks in order to make the story come to life.

The film begins with Allen's character, Alvy Singer, speaking directly to the camera and essentially delivering a stand up comedy routine. This happens a lot in the film which is (in the crudest most basic of descriptions) a series of scenes joined together with nervous little monologues. In the film Alvy is discussing his life and how it influenced and affected his relationship with Diane Keaton's Annie Hall. So the film is a collection of flashbacks, his childhood, past relationships, plus the actual relationship between him and Annie Hall. What makes it interesting is that Alvy 'The Narrator' is always present and often interacts with his flashback.

It is first seen when he discusses that even at an early age he was interested in women and sexuality. 6 year old Alvy is brought out to the front of the class to be punished, whilst adult Alvy defends his case from the seat in class. What makes this scene even stranger is that the children speak with adult tones (not literally - as in freaky over dubbing, but that what they're saying is very adult) discussing Freudian development and latency periods in child development. It is very strange.

But the strangeness continues through beautifully clever thoughts and moments. As Alvy and Annie have sex, a shimmering ghost like Annie is visible sat in a chair next to the bed. This is her mind, wandering. Alvy starts to argue that whilst sex is a physical thing he'd quite like her to be thinking about him as well. Woody Allen is a deeply unsexy man (physically) but this film (and indeed Allen's life) shows how useful confidence and wit are. Because Allen's confidence with women means he is able to portray an inner sexiness (I suppose) which has attracted many beautiful ladies to his side.

The film feels like a long (and funny) therapy session. Woody Allen is clearly playing a fictionalised version of himself (although he has never denied that very fact). Alvy singer is a neurotic Jewish stand up comedian. If you compair the jokes made in Allen's stand up with Alvy Singer's stand up you'll see the same character but just with different names.

Luckily the film is not just about Woody Allen's hang ups and neuroses. That would be too self indulgent even for me! the film uses the same tricks in order to portray the rise and fall of a relationship. Simple moments from when Singer and Hall visit flashbacks of their past relationships and offer commentaries on their old partners. Or the first time that they meet, and the slightly awkward social small talk also comes with subtitles explaining what is running through their minds as they speak (Annie being worried about looking like an idiot, Alvy lusting after her). The touches are always very subtle but add a sense of reality to the characters and to the proceedings. Which is odd, because the touches are usually somewhat postmodern and out of the ordinary.

When the couple are happy, it really is lovely to see. It is just the decline where you start to see what an infuriatingly high maintenance partner Singer really is. Little moments of genuine niceness and beauty. Such as when the couple buy lobster only for them to escape. I especially like this scene for the cracking line:
"We should have just got steaks because they don't have legs. They don't run around."
The awkward chasing and picking up of lobsters is part of the small amount of physical comedy in the film. The most famous moment of physical comedy probably being the cocaine scene.

Ooooh and look out for Christopher Walken as Annie's brother. Showing that he has always been able to do the mildly psychotic show stealing cameo.

However, it is the writing and the characterisation which makes this film special. Whilst Alvy Singer may just be Woody Allen, Annie Hall is a beautiful character. Especially when you first meet her. All nervous sidling, and beaming smiles and awkward moments. She is very endearing. Woody Allen is an excellent writer and that translates to brilliant dialogue. This is a film with dozens of many quoted lines ("Hey, don't knock masturbation! It's sex with someone I love.") but also surreally funny moments. My personal favourite being Alvy's parents arguing over the firing of their cleaner. Alvy's mum saying she had to fire the cleaner because she stole. Alvy's father delivering the amazing defence of "Of course she steals from us. She is coloured. She lives in Harlem. She has a right to steal from us"

However Allen also writes wonderfully concisely and wonderfully romantically. So I wish to leave you with this final analogy. Which is said after Alvy and Annie have broken up, but finally meet up again.
"It was great seeing Annie again. I... I realized what a terrific person she was, and... and how much fun it was just knowing her; and I... I, I thought of that old joke, y'know, the, this... this guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, "Doc, uh, my brother's crazy; he thinks he's a chicken." And, uh, the doctor says, "Well, why don't you turn him in?" The guy says, "I would, but I need the eggs." Well, I guess that's pretty much now how I feel about relationships; y'know, they're totally irrational, and crazy, and absurd, and... but, uh, I guess we keep goin' through it because, uh, most of us... need the eggs."

Sunday, 8 February 2009

You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.

No 15 - The Dark Knight
Director - Christopher Nolan

Part 2 of the Saturday Afternoon Nolan Batman Double Bill (Or the SANB double bill as I've just decided to call it) and it is surprising to see just how high up to chart this film is. When you get in to the top 20 you're looking at true classics. The Godfather, Star Wars etc. So it is impressive for a film that was only made recently to rocket in the public polls. It is however, reflected in the fact that it has made roughly a hundred gajillion bazillion dollars at the cinema.

I have already spoken about the character of Bruce Wayne, and the clever construction of Nolan's Gotham city so in this blog I plan to just talk about the new additions. Before we talk about the obvious, I wish to talk about some of the minor characters. Beginning with notable mentions and building up to Heath Ledger's powerhouse performance:

Firstly, it is nice to see Eric Roberts as Maroni. For whilst he may have played the worst Master ever he is also a truly superb actor and deserves to be in more film and television gubbins.
It is also good to see Rachel Dawes played by Maggie Gyllenhaal. Partly because she is stunning but also because she has the traits and qualities that Katie Holmes didn't have. She is sassier, she seems more streetwise, more world weary, more like someone who has had to fight against the corruption of the criminal fraternity.

Also, how awesome is it that Nestor Carbonell is the mayor of Gotham. I love the witty referencing of placing Batmanuel into a Batman film. And it really looks like his is wearing eye make up. All the time (I noticed it in Lost originally).

However, the addition that deserves the majority of this blog's attention is Heath Ledger's Joker. He is a truly menacing, unhinged piece of acting genius. And is roughly a million miles away from his role in 10 Things I Hate About You.
His character is a terrifying prospect, mainly because he has no reason, no back story. every time he goes to explain how he got his scars, the reason changes. There are no clues to his identity:
Nothing. No matches on prints, DNA, dental. Clothing is custom, no labels. Nothing in his pockets but knives and lint. No name, no other alias.

The fact that he can't be explained, that he has no motivation, that he just wants to watch the world burn - this is what makes him a threatening villain. His perverse pleasure in any pain inflicted means he is an unsatisfying fight. His magnificent schemes to see the chaos in people mean he is a terrifying adversary. His lack of order, of reason means that he is a cool leopard but an unpredictable destructive nightmare.

Christopher Nolan also uses excellent techniques to introduce the Joker without resorting to back story. In one sickeningly hilarious moment you know everything about the Joker that you will ever know.

He is a tour de force, creating chaos which acts as a catalyst to the destruction of the world around him. Whilst a certain amount of the 'Joker Hysteria' does come from the very sad news of Heath Ledger's death, he does deserve every award and nomination he has earned. It is a career best, and he has created an amazing character.

However, whilst The Joker is the glistening grease painted star of the film, he is only the story's catalyst and it is Harvey Dent's story.
Harvey Dent is Gotham's last great hope and watching his gradual decline to 'bad guyness' is as bleak and as depressing as the film gets. It also opens up the idea of decisions. For whilst The Joker is utter unplanned chaos, Two Face represents chance.

It is also impressive to see how the film turns a character that is a bit ridiculous and explains scarring, the schizophrenia, the motive without him turning into a joke. Arron Eckhart is a horrific terror, whilst Tommy Lee Jones is only a dandy cartoon.

I'm aware that this blog is shorter than my others but it is in conjunction with the Batman Begins film. Nolan's Gotham is a wonderful creation. His characters are real versions of extraordinary (and potentially unbelievable) people. I am looking forward to when Nolan starts his third film.

Though the lack of Joker will be sad....

If you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal, and if they can't stop you, then you become something else entirely.

No 81 - Batman Begins
Director - Christopher Nolan

Nana nana nana nana nana nana nana nana BATMAN. No.... banish all thought of the campy 60's television show. Banish all thoughts of the even camper Batman and Robin. We are not going into the world of rubber nipples here.... we're in darker territory. Here be monsters!

Movies have been trying to bring a sense realism to the strange world of superheroes, often with the superhero filmed being tagged as 'darker' (mainly the films that end in 2... Xmen 2 and Spiderman 2) - However it is Nolan's superb vision of Gotham that truly brings gritty realism to the cinema's superheroes.

This film is a true origin story (I know, the clue is in the title) explaining every aspect of how Bruce Wayne formed his alter ego. Even explaining all the small things such as how he creates his helmet, why he has a cape as well as the more standard elements like how he becomes the Batman.
In fact, his origin only has one massive flaw that I can think of. The motivation behind the Batman comes from the death of his parents. An entirely avoidable event. During Bruce Wayne's training, Liam Neeson turns to him and tells him that his parent's death was the fault of his father. I would have to agree....
You see, if your son has a crippling fear of bats.... would you take them to see Die Fledermaus?The show is about a bat! Of course it will terrify your son.... Of course you will have to leave... and whilst leaving doesn't necessarily mean being shot at and parental death, it would have all been avoided if you'd stayed in Wayne Manor playing kerplunk with Alfred.

Now, I have mentioned a few names in the above paragraphs so let me talk about some of the veteran actors which appear in this film. Starting with Liam Neeson....
Liam Neeson is a tough threatening menace of a man... like an angry, smarter, ninja Qui Gon Jinn. And yet, despite this, I can't take him seriously in films such as Taken where he is supposed to be utterly badass.... He seems more at home in Love, Actually. Which is what makes him more threatening here.
The other actors that I wish to talk about are two legends of cinema. Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine.

Michael Caine plays Alfred the butler, and he is a massive change from the original stalwart of Batman Butlering, Michael Gough. Caine is a much more casual butler and seeing how many people assumed Wayne to be dead, he is also the owner of Wayne manor. He makes a superb team with Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, who provides the gadgets and gizmos and science which are so important to Batman's armory.
Both of these characters bring warmth and a likable nature to the film. Because Bruce Wayne is not that agreeable or likable a man. Wayne is a complex man in that he is multi faceted, but none of the facets are the nice. Let us examine:
Pre Batman Wayne - Seems to be very 'Jack from Lost' petulant, stubborn and determined to have his own way.
Bruce Wayne (alter ego to Batman) - Arrogant, posing, preening buffoon. Which kind of works for what he is trying to do (hide the fact he is Batman by being as much of a billionaire playboy as possible) - however he just makes me think of Patrick Bateman in those scenes.

It is a brave move to have a main character that isn't that likable. Batman's determination and his rigid view on right and wrong means that he isn't a character you would root for, he is quite cold, aloof and emotionless. He is not the charismatic hero. This Batman isn't George Clooney. However it is necessary for the world Nolan has created. It is a dark world, and Batman has to be a dark and desperate figure. Christopher Nolan's Gotham is equally dark and sordid and suffering from mob rule (which is far more believable than hundreds of costumed goons) and the film takes great effort to make sure that this is reflected in all aspects. Which is why the casting of Katie Holmes is so strange...

Back in the day, when I was a wee nipper of a lad, I had a bit of a crush on Katie Holmes. Mainly because she had the sweet 'girl next door' look. However this look doesn't work in Batman. Rachel Dawes should be more world weary and have more attitude than Katie Holmes is able to convey... She is just the wrong casting for the role.
Another questionable casting choice is Cillian Murphy as the Scarecrow. I like Cillian Murphy a lot, I think he is a great actor and is particularly good at portraying the worryingly unhinged and threatening. The film (and apparently the comic canon, but I'm not well versed on these matters) helps to realistically convey someone like Murphy as a realistic threat - the drugs that he uses manipulating fear and hallucinations. But Cillian Murphy looks too young, too much like a little indie boy in glasses to be truly convincing. He does make an excellent cowering mad man however.

My final criticism with the 'Batman' world is the strange contraption that he has to summon bats. I understand that bats communicate using sonar, so a sonar device could contact bats? But would it cause millions of them to flock to you and swoop round baddies? No.... probably not. It is that one moment where the film returns to its cartoon roots, and the film suffers slightly for it.

What is interesting is that although Nolan had never originally planned a sequel, he left a cliffhanger so enticing that he was essentially forced to make a follow up film....

And we are all glad that he did, for he brought as an amazing character.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Oh Ron, there are literally thousands of other men that I should be with instead, but I am 72 percent sure that I love you.

No 113 - Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
Director - Adam McKay

I was contemplating an early night. I had just attempted (and failed.... bloody noisy house) to watch the Benicio Del Toro interview on Friday Night With Jonathan Ross and thought maybe bed would be the next logical step. But the BBC thwarted my plans by putting Anchorman on, so like the diligent man that I am, tenaciously following my Empire top 500 plan, I put on the kettle, picked up my notebook and settled down.

This has to be Will Ferrell's finest moment. The only thing I can think of that comes close it is his role as Mugatu in Zoolander, but in Anchorman he is channeling the same energy, the same genius, into a leading role. It is a film which is so immensely quotable, so plainly silly that it can not help but make you smile.

What is really impressive is that it manages to be so quotable. Classic lines like:
They've done studies, you know. 60% of the time it works, every time
What? You pooped in the refrigerator? And you ate the whole... wheel of cheese? How'd you do that? Heck, I'm not even mad; that's amazing. How 'bout we get you in your p.j.'s and we hit the hay.

The really impressive thing about the dialogue is that it is so quotable, this is especially so when you consider the vast amount of improvisation that took place. So much improvisation that a second film was edited out of the alternate takes. It is hard to tell whether the lines are carefully honed scripted moments or the flash of inspiration from one of the cast. The improvisation helps to keep the dialogue fresh, zesty and unexpected. Like an attack from a lemon.

The cast is superb, the News Team bounce off of one another and there is a real camaraderie there. Each member being a balanced mix of crude stereotype and true 3 dimensional characters. In fact, as I look down on my notes I all I can see are a smattering of names accompanied by the description "is ace". So please take into account that the following people are all ace.

Paul Rudd (who I think is brilliant in everything) - is superb as Brian Fantana, a chauvinistic pig who the ladies all love. He also has the best hair and moustache combo since the Argentinian in Moulin Rouge!

David Koechner manages to be both terrifying and quite sad as Butch Kind. He appears to be a loud bombastic former jock, who has since let himself go. He also seems (though it is never stated) to be completely depressed and a closet homosexual, in love with Ron.

But the star of the show has to be Steve Carell's superb turn as Brick Tamland. Described as 'mentally retarded' he is a character without an arc, spending the whole film in wide eyed wonder, never really understanding what is going on in his surroundings. He is, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest comic creations of the modern age. Each of his lines is a simple, scene stealing moment of demented genius. Whilst Ron is the star of the film, Brick is the hero.

But what is best about the News Team, is that they understand what is important in life: New Suits

There's only one thing a man can do when he's suffering from a spiritual and existential funk.... Buy New Suits!
The rest of the film is filled with equally fantastic characters. Christina Applegate is fantastic as the love interest, and the co-anchor who is persecuted because she has breasts. Exquisite breasts. She more than holds her own against the rest of the news team. As do Fred Willard (Who I have already spoken about in Wall:E and who is a very funny man) and Judd Apatow as people 'behind the scenes' of the world of news.

As I begin to speak about the smaller roles, I lean towards the cameos.... There are a lot of cameos. A ridiculous amount in fact. And whilst one (Seth Rogan as the camera man) probably comes from the fact that he wasn't famous yet, the rest are big names who want to come and play the insane improv game:

Danny Trejo (one of the world's most hardcore people) as the wise advice giving barman
Jack Black as the crazed dog punting Hell's Angel
and then we reach the rival anchors.
Vince Vaughn
Tim Robbins
Luke Wilson (oddly, losing his arms a lot)
and Ben Stiller all partake in the most surreal moment of the whole film (more surreal than even Jazz flute)

The Anchorman fight to the death. It starts as a simple gang rumble between Ron's team and Wes Mantooth (Vince Vaughn)'s team - as the other anchormen (see cameo list above) join the fight escalates until we have a man on fire, men on horseback, Brick running around with a live grenade and Brick stabbing a man through the heart. With a trident.
Even in a film as ridiculous as this, it still stands out as a truly insane moment and it must have been a lot of fun to do.

I could continue to explain other inspired set pieces and describe them as insane or genius, however I wouldn't be adding anything new to the blog. All I can say is watch it, because it is brilliant.
What the film does manage to do is show a very funny, witty satire of the chauvinistic world of 70s television. It is actually a comedy about women's liberation and equality, and about quite a massive landmark in televisual history. However it is hidden amongst many layers of demented nonsense. Like a wise jewel, in the middle of a bonkers onion.

You Stay Classy... Planet Earth

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

I'm afraid. I'm afraid, Dave. Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it. My mind is going. There is no question about it. I can feel it.

No 16 - 2001: A Space Odyssey
Director - Stanley Kubrick

Oh my, I have a lot of notes on this one. I have only tried to watch 2001 once before but never got past the monkeys. This time I persevered and gosh. It is a bit of a mind-fuck isn't it!

As the film is broken up into 3 parts, and as I feel I can just about understand the first 2 parts, I want to tackle each section one at a time...

So we shall begin with the monkeys and the first (of many) long speechless moments where not much happens. We are solely watching some gloriously 60s apes live out their daily lives of running around with tapirs and being scared of lions. I don't know what prehistoric region this is supposed to be but it is populated by zebras, tapirs and twinkly eyed lions. And people in monkey suits.
It is like Planet of the Apes. Not literally, just in the cool costumes department. I do like those 60's men in ape suits .

So, after a while the magical, mysterious black monolith appears and the apes go crazy screaming and jumping up and down. They are also joined by the creepiest, most unsettling incidental music I've ever experienced in a film. Strange discordant wailing with deep synthy tones that made me feel very uncomfortable. It seems to work on the apes though, and they calm down, become more inquisitive, use bones as clubs.
BAM! - Man's first step on the ladder of intelligence, development and maybe evolution. I'm pretty certain that that is what the monolith represents, it is a landmark of man's big discoveries, landmark triggers that cause the next huge step in our evolution, and all of this is displayed in a wonderful montage of bone crushing and tapir clubbing.

Fast forward.... to the future (or, one would assume, 2001. Which is now the past.) through one iconic edit. The whole of human development passes as a bone flies in the air and cuts to a spaceship gliding through space. Yes, it is clever, inspired even. But after hearing so much about it, I was expecting it to be a much neater edit than it ended up being. But that is just me being a critical schmoe.

So... we move to space and a good 5 or 10 minutes of Blue Danube accompanied with shots of space stations and stars and planets and general niceness. It is almost as if Kubrick is saying "look how amazing space is, you don't need dialogue, you don't need fast edits. Just look at the grandness of it all. Enjoy the spectacle.".
There are slightly less impressive indoor shots (including the door of an zero gravity toilet, which is clearly the WORST IDEA EVER) and some talky scenes in which people talk about a strange discovery on the moon, buried 4 million years ago. Now, I'm not sure if it is just my copy of the film but in these scenes the dialogue seemed very muffled and it meant we had to play the volume control game because the music would be VERY LOUD and the dialogue would be VERY QUIET. However, it may be deliberate. When it comes to Kubrick I think everything was probably deliberate - man is a genius. You see, throughout all the meetings about the strange monolith up to the team's journey to the moon to see the monolith, dialogue is irrelevant. Up to this point, the entire film would have worked equally well as a silent movie and as the team reach the moon, the strange horrible wailing returns. Haunting music that seems both pained and discordant mixed with the wooshes of wind. Those moments made me feel so uncomfortable. I haven't felt that unhappy watching a film since the first time I saw Ringu. It seemed to affect me on primitive internal level. It was most unpleasant.

However, once again the film cuts (a pleasant silence, rests my ears after previous onslaught) and we now join a huge ship en route to Jupiter. It is here that some really very impressive camera shots come into play. As they are in space, Kubrick is free to mess with the gravity and has created some really impressive shots and angles - I presume he did it by creating a huge rotating set, but I will also accept "the man is a genius" as an answer.
I like the fact that as I watch this 40 years after it was made there are some elements of this sci-fi world that we're quite close to... I say some, I mean one. BBC12. We're close to having that many BBC channels. Everything else seems pretty far off. But impressive, the sci-fi elements such as the ships don't seem as dated as a lot of sci fi made in the 60s (although the space suits really do).
And it is in this section we meet the HAL9000, or HAL for short. A computer in charge of running the whole ship and who slowly kills off the crew. Nowadays the idea of a computer or robot going rogue and attacking the people it is supposed to serve is a sci fi staple of both films and gaming but in this film it is not so simple.

It is hinted that HAL makes an error, which is apparently unthinkable as the 9000 series is never wrong. Ever. The human crew decide that if the 9000 series is faulty it would be safer if it was shut down.
HAL hears and defends his right to live. It is a very human reaction. Fight or flight. Is HAL really going insane? Or is he acting in self defence, is he getting vengeance on the people who plotted against him. Is he trying to impart an important lesson, that it is HE who runs the ship, not any pitiful humans? Whatever the motivation, HAL's descent is far more interesting than anything I had initially thought and that is probably down to the fascinating character of HAL himself. Kudos to Douglas Rain who makes HAL a truly terrifying concept. Considering he speaks in such a cold emotionless voice, staying calm and gentle at all times. Considering HAL is just a black dome with a red light. My God, he is scary. His death scene is genuinely upsetting, as HAL pleads for his life (in that cold emotionless voice) and Dave gradually shuts him down. It has a lot of similarities to the apes beating up another ape with bones at the start of the film. For all our technological development, man hasn't really changed.

So, alone and isolated Dave glides to Jupiter and the wailing begins. The horrible horrible soundtrack to the monolith, getting louder and more intense. Dave's face is almost frozen in horror and confusion and I genuinely felt a little bit sick.

Then the film goes bananas.

Seriously fucking bananas.

I think I pretty much understood everything in this film up to the point where Jupiter becomes the graphic visualiser on Window's Media Player. When accompanied by the wailing and the low synthy tones of the score it was actually difficult to watch. I imagine all those people in the cinemas in the 60s would have exploded.
Finally it tones down and Dave 'lands'. For you see, whilst many believe Jupiter to be a whirling gaseous mass, it is actually a regency bedroom (or the Hotel, as buffs of the film call it). Here we see Dave jump through his existence in snippets, getting gradually older till he is infirm and in bed.
And finally till he is a magical floating space foetus. The Star Child.

This is all a superb bit of cinema. However, my brain was so frazzled by the 2 hours leading up to it that I just couldn't understand it. Wikipedia has been some help... but really. By this point all I can think is that the Monolith is the next step in evolution. The Monolith creates the Star Child. Ergo.... Star Child is the next step. It would certainly explain why it looks so smug at the end. Smug little foetus.

I can't say I enjoyed this film. Or even particularly liked it. But I can see why it is ranked so highly. It is an AMAZING film... and I don't think you're even really supposed to like it. At the end of it all I felt confused, drained and a little bit sick.

That is powerful cinema... or dodgy cheese on toast.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Your time was up. But they missed you because of your ridiculous English climate.

No 75 - A Matter of Life and Death
Directors - Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger

And so, on my very lazy Sunday afternoon, Jen and I sat down to watch film 2 in our "Love Triumphs over Death" double bill. This film is a true classic and is a film that I ended up watching on film 4 one afternoon when I was meant to be doing university coursework. It impressed me. The story, the acting and the technical effects are really impressive, especially considering the fact that it was made in 1946.

The first thing that makes this film brilliant is David Niven. I am a big fan of Niven and he is both suave and yet as the possibility of becoming totally Kick-Ass. I can fully believe that he has spent many a year in the air force and is a trained killing machine. I just can't believe his character is 27. Although Niven was only 33 when playing the role, he is too old looking to play a 27 year old. My only concession is that it could be a side affect of the ravages of war making him more wrinkled and tired than he should.
What he does have going for him though is that he is a rogue. A big flirty rogue. Even in an airship crashing to his death he is able to successfully chat up a lady on the radio and eventually fall in love with her. Likewise, Bob his radio operator, dies and ends up in heaven flirting with the girl at the front desk. I do like Bob. He is a crude stereotype of a Brit, spouting things like "what ho" and "tally pip" but he reminds me of Ratty in Wind in the Willows and he isn't half jolly.

David Niven survives his plane crash for the weakest reason ever. It was foggy. Surely it has been foggy before? Surely Heaven can find a dead person even in adverse weather conditions? But it seems that no, they can't. So the film becomes a love story between Peter (David Niven) and June, the radio operator he spoke to as he crashed (Kim Hunter). All the while heaven are trying to convince him to be dead and go to Heaven.

The changes between Heaven and Earth are interesting, Heaven being a series of huge rooms with thousands of people in them and vast painted backgrounds to provide an epic sense of scale. All presented in glorious black and white. Earth is what you would expect Earth to look like but is presented in truly luscious Technicolour. This isn't just in the film, if we are to believe the characters, this is the true representation of what everything does look like.
As Conductor 71 says upon appearing on Earth "One is starved for Technicolor up there."

Ahhh, Conductor 71. An operative who has been up in Heaven since the French Revolution where he lost his head. He is a foppish dandy who speaks with a wonderful Antoine De Caunes French accent and is followed around by a smell of fried onions. Really.... Fried Onions?! Why not garlic? Lets make a truly crude French stereotype....
What I particularly like about Conductor 71 (besides his wardrobe) is his special power... the ability to make time stand still. I particularly like it because as he explains to Peter that he has frozen time and that nothing will move whilst they talk, you can quite clearly see some red flowers in the top of the frame bobbing around.... nothing will move aye?

I also want to talk about the special effects because there are some quite interesting elements in the film. Firstly the huge staircase used to link Heaven and Earth. According to my film scholar friend, this was a fully operational 40ft escalator which is very impressive. I also just love the fact that it is an escalator. The idea of an escalator being the link to the afterlife is sublimely ridiculous.
The other thing that I want to mention is a shot filmed from Peter's perspective. A shot of Peter being anaethatised. Slowly a giant eyelid closes over the view point as the anaesthetic takes him over.

Just like The Red Shoes, the visual style of A Matter of Life and Death contains many impressive feat, I want to quote Jeremy Robinson who lists them all in the Powell and Pressburger website:
Some of Powell's conceits included having Niven appear on Earth beside frozen actors; bells that didn't ring; people passing through doors; time being frozen (when Livesey and Hunter play table tennis, for example); whip pans during the ping-pong match; a startling point-of-view shot through a huge eyelid which closes when Niven is on the operating table; the use of Cocteauesque film running backwards (a table that's fallen over is righted again); one of June's tears caught on the petals of a rose (used as evidence by Dr Reeves); dissolves between colour and black-and-white (on a close-up of a flower, or Niven's tormented face, or the beaches of Kent). The dissolves to colour allowed for some visual jokes and verbal ones (Goring's messenger, for example, in an aside to camera when he visits Earth, says 'one is starved for Technicolor up there'). The sets were remarkable on A Matter of Life and Death (designed by Powell regular Alfred Junge) most memorable was the gigantic moving staircase between Earth and Heaven (which gave A Matter of Life and Death its other title, Stairway to Heaven), lined with giant statues of famous people (Solomon, Voltaire, Plato, Abraham Lincoln). It had 100 20 foot-wide steps (the crew nicknamed it 'Ethel'). The enormous courtroom set in Heaven was also very impressive, with its rows and rows of seats and arched roof.

The last thing that I want to talk about is the pivotal courtcase. Not about the visual splendour of the scenes but about the sheer feeble prosecution.
June is from Boston Massachusets.
Peter is British
So, the prosecution is an American from Boston who was killed by a British bullet.

His entire case seems to be. "They can not be in love because she is American and he is English. As an American she would not be able to live with someone so cruel as an English man or live in somewhere as rubbish as England". There is no evidance, no witnesses. Just one man's centuries old prejudice. Fun times.

Of course Peter wins his case to stay alive with his girl and all is happy and good. Bob even manages to have a DATE for the court case (his flirting with the girl at reception seems to have been succesful).
It worked well with Moulin Rouge because whilst one ends with death, the other ends with death losing to love. So it cheered Jen up a little bit!

And finally, any film that becomes a Big Train sketch has to be good....

Suddenly an unconscious Argentinean fell through my roof. He was quickly joined by a dwarf dressed as a nun.

No 211 - Moulin Rouge!
Director - Baz Luhrmann

I remember very vividly when I first saw this film. I was in sixth form when it came out, and was a student of 'Theatre Studies', so there was naturally a lot of talk about this overtly theatrical piece. However, I was not convinced that I would enjoy it, it looked overtly soppy, a chicks film. Finally I was convinced to go and see it (Tom Done, who was in the year above and who was utterly terrifying, though who is now a good friend, won me over by stating the line I have used as a title. Surely a film MUST be good if it features unconscious Argentinians and cross dressing dwarfs!). So one evening I went to the Regent cinema in Wantage (now shut down) with my best friends Hanna and Richard.

The film completely blew me away, and is the only film that has managed to firmly grab my attention in the first second, as the curtains open and the conductor arrives to play the 20th Century Fox theme. It uses the production company's theme and introduction and places it firmly into the film's style and universe. It is brave, bold and really quite ridiculous. Those three words becoming a theme that create the style of not only the entire film but the entire Red Curtain Trilogy.

What I like about this film is the simplicity of the structure, the fact that it is a mix of slapstick, farce and sexual innuendo, unashamedly slushy romance and dazzling glamour. All wrapped up in a parcel which is camper than a bucket of glittery boy scouts sipping flirtinis. And I really enjoy the high camp mentality. The glitter, the kitsch and the bizzare sound effects (a particular favourite being Jim Broadbent making his own whooshing noises as he moves fast in the song Spectacular Spectacular) and the songs.

Ah yes, the songs. We can not talk about Moulin Rouge without mentioning the songs. I am a totally biased judge here because I love musicals and I think songs have an amazing emotive power that simple speech can't grasp. However I accept that for a lot of people, songs in films can be a bit of a cringey nightmare. But they can just get stuffed for the next paragraph or so, for I am going to be completely on the side of singing.
The songs are almost entirely excellent (I find Nicole Kidman's version of 'Someday I'll fly away' a bit dull and the Bollywood version of 'Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend' is a bit superfluous to me) and got Jen and me singing away in true am-dram form as we watched the film. In fact, I often find that the songs make the soppier aspects more bearable... case in point The Love Song Medley - which turns a scene of professing love into an overblown mix of pop songs referencing love. It is so clever, but also so ridiculous that it makes the scene much more enjoyable. The Love Medley also has a number of fascinating facts:
1) Ewan McGregor wears stacked heels in it (you can see them in one of the shots)
2) I am yet to know a male/female couple who sing the correct parts. For some reason if you sing this with a friend the female always sings Ewan's part and the male sings Nicole's.....

Some songs are camp marvels bordering on insanity (Like A Virgin) whilst other songs are just brilliant covers (Ewan McGregor singing 'Your Song' convinced me to buy Elton John's Greatest Hits) and one is even better then the original. I am, of course, talking about El Tango De Roxanne which gives the song a meaning and a passion that I don't think Sting ever managed. It also has polyphony in it meaning that the song can not help to give me goosebumps. Watch it for yourself and see what I mean.

So we have discussed the songs of Moulin Rouge. Let us look at the cast - the characters are just as dazzling and rich as the backdrops at sets. It firstly helps that the two leads are gorgeous and crackle with an amazing rumour starting chemistry. This is the one film where I have found myself fancying Nicole Kidman and Jen would not shut up about how beautiful Ewan McGregor is. However, the true stars are all the supporting characters.

The narcoleptic Argentinian (who looks awesome, I want to look like him), or Toulouse Lautrec (a double take causing performance from John Leguizamo) are superb, Chocolat is a genuine hero with the most un PC name ever and Nini Legs in the Air is a superb bitch. However, there are 2 characters that need special mentions for they are truly brilliant roles and one is a fearsome showcase of acting range.

I am talking about Harold Zidler and the Duke. Their roles flit from comic relief to sinister presences. Zidler is part bumbling fool, part showman, part shrewd business men and part hindrance - holding on to his courtesans so that they won't leave the Moulin Rouge. The Duke however takes his personality changes and cranks it up to 11. He is sometimes the boo hiss villain with his silly nasal voice and pretending to be a wolf in Like a virgin. He is sometimes a truly sleazy little creep and then, just once, he loses it all together and you see the true Duke - a viscous, angry, savage man capable of murder and rape. He goes from being the comic foil to being truly terrifying in one scene.

Finally I wish to talk about the end of this film.... For if there is one flaw in this, it is the casting of the leads in The Moulin Rouge's first play. Lead Male is a narcoleptic, he is hardly a reliable person to have in such an important role. Lead Female is dying of consumption (not a spoiler... the fact that she dies is mentioned in the first scene). You would think that Zidler arranged some excellent understudies. But no. Nothing. Satine dies and the play is ruined.... Moulin Rouge goes out of business. Poor poor planning if you ask me.

Interestingly, Jen refuses to watch the final scene. Play finishes, Ewan and Nicole kiss, curtain goes down. Happy ending. She left to make tea so that she did not have to face Satine's death and Ewan McGregor's sad little bearded face.

But don't worry! Christian (Ewan McGregor's character) has written a book so that their love can live on forever.
Here ends film 1 of our "Love Triumphs over Death" double bill.