Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Look inside yourself, Simba. You are more than what you have become. You must take your place in the Circle of Life.

No 319 - The Lion King
Directors - Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff

Man! I LOVE The Lion King! I was even willing to sit through the longest most OTT DVD menu with an annoying CGI Zazu to watch the film. So long that I can't find a YouTube video of the menu in its entirety.... but you can have a bit of the pre-film ordeal I sat through. That's dedication.

So, the special edition DVD has been spruced up a little bit so we get a much sharper, crisper looking film, and that is OK with me, it just makes it a joy to watch. From the opening African chanting to the final Circle of Life.... this film makes me happy. So lets talk about the highlights, and of course the guilty admission that I do really like some Elton John songs - specially when blended in with the African tribal singing.
Firstly this film has a star studded cast... and somehow, I had never realised that Matthew Broderick plays Simba! Gosh. But look at all these others:

What's great about this cast is that they play so well together - they bounce off each other with grace and with much hilarity. Look at the Hyaenas in any scene where they play off each other and admire the ease and charm and just natural brilliance of the dialogue.

Then we come to the visuals. Disney had started using CGI to assist their animations in earlier films. 1991 has Aladdin's carpet escape and 1992 showed them using the technology more neatly to create the Beauty and the Beast ballroom scene, but I think that by 1994 they'd pretty much nailed it and it allows them to make a far more epic film than they've ever managed before. We do get lush panoramic views of busy savannas, but the film's most impressive moment is the Stampede. This is not only the best bit in the film, it is a near perfect piece of cinema. The visuals are incredible and 'To Die For' is just a gloriously dramatic tune - but not only does it look and sound amazing, it is full of emotion and pain and drama. Despite it being 16 years old, it still looks fresh and new and it still has the power to take your breath away on both an aesthetic and dramatic level. Which, surely, is the holy grail that all films aspire to.

I think that the stampede draws an important parallel with the main film, amongst the great great songs and the excellent zippy dialogue, amongst the excellent visuals, is a really clever film. Disney aren't just cleaning up a Grimm fairy tale to shift princess dolls... they're taking almost all the complexities of Hamlet, mixing in a lot of communist imagery and using it to create a brand new piece of African folklore. I really think that The Lion King is Disney at its cleverest and at its best.
I don't mean that just with the film. After all the Megadrive game was brilliant, the stage show is an experience which you MUST see (and contains my favourite non-film song) and whilst The Lion King 2 is a non-eventful Romeo and Juliet remake, Lion King 3 is an inspired piece of cinema.

For if The Lion King is Hamlet, then The Lion King 3 is Rosencratz and Guildenstern are dead - with a bit of Mystery Science Theater 3000 thrown in and a post modern sense of humour which we see a little of in the first film. Even Pixar don't do referencing that subtle or that high brow.

Awful things happen in every apartment house.

No 78 - Rosemary's Baby
Director - Roman Polanski

After Psycho, lets continue the theme of weird psychological horror linked to motherhood... And a film which is principally there to create a sense of unease (and it does this very well). From the opening credits and the haunting hummed lullaby, it becomes clear that something isn't quite right.
The film follows Rosemary and her husband as they move into a new apartment and Rosemary's husband Guy befriends the elderly tenants whilst Rosemary falls pregnant. The film is littered with unusual events. Nothing obviously supernatural, just little moments which don't feel right. From a jittery paranoid Guy to an oddly clingy and nosy bunch of elderly neighbours... there is also a suicide and the mystery of Tannis root.

The odd moments happen in the background... as does every other character. This is Rosemary's film and all we do is follow her for the entirety of the film. Luckily... Mia Farrow is astounding in this film. It is a really powerful performance which encapsulates almost every human emotion. She manages to be gutsy and determined but also has a sense of frailty. She is fragile. She is vulnerable. You feel for her and you invest so much of yourself into her story that when the film FINALLY ups the drama it feels like a real punch in the gut.

Its important that we like Rosemary - because for the majority of the film all we are doing is following her. Whether she is throwing hip 60's parties (this film made me want to be a 60's hipster) or whether she is getting gradually sicker during her pregnancy, the viewer is captivated by a brilliant multi-faceted performance. So we follow her as people act weirdly but also as the film moves very slowly - with one exception, the weird weird rape dream scene. Or is it a dream?!

It isn't until Rosemary is given a book about witches that the plot really begins to pick up, especially with the reveal that THE NAME IS AN ANAGRAM. And whilst I wish it was Machete's filth owl.... the answer is a lot more shocking and leads to the film's key sequence. The horrific delivery of Rosemary's baby and the subsequent reveal of Adrian.
Like so much of the film, these moments rely solely on Mia Farrow's reactions. But I think this is a good thing... namely, I think it is a good thing that we never see the titular baby as Farrow's reactions paint something horrific... whilst the fleeting glimpses of the devil seen in Rosemary's 'dream' looks like Oddbod out of Carry on Screaming....

So - it is worth watching, but mainly as an incredible performance from Mia Farrow, rather than an excellent overall film.

Oh, we have 12 vacancies. 12 cabins, 12 vacancies

No 45 - Psycho
Director - Alfred Hitchcock

Psycho is one of those films that has already been analysed and discussed to an incredible degree. I don't feel like I'll really be able add anything that hasn't already been explained a hundred times before. So all I'm going to do is discuss the little magical moments which help make this such a brilliant film.

The film follows Janet Leigh's Marion Crane as she steals some money from her work and proceeds to act very suspiciously. This means that (naturally) she attracts a lot of attention from the police and other types as she flees - initially you think this may be a bad thing, the fool is hardly subtle, but actually it turns out to be a good thing because it means there are a lot of people who remember her after the tragedy of meeting Norman Bates and his mother.

The shower scene is probably the most famous part of Psycho, and arguably the most famous sequence of Hitchcock's entire career. Whilst people may not have seen the incredibly edited series of short cuts (pardon the pun) - I reckon everyone in the UK knows what those screeching strings mean..... they mean stabbin'.
There are lots of places where you can explore the technical gubbins linked to this film but I want to talk about the effect. It is true that you see much less than you think you do. There is no stabbing, there is no naughty bits.... it is all implied. But not only does it feel more taboo than it is, it is also really bleak.... for me, on of the film's most chilling moments is that moment as Marion's gasping body slides down the wall of the shower... it is a really cold and really emotional.
Anyway... on the off chance that you've never seen that excellent moment.... look at it now.

But the shower scene isn't just a technical marvel (77 camera angles doncha know) - it is also a brave move as Janet Leigh was the biggest name in the film... it sets a chilling atmosphere, no one is safe. Anyone could be deaded. Other films have carried on this brave gambit. It makes slasher films a lot less predictable - and yet, Psycho was probably the first slasher film - so it goes to show how predictable things got after Hitchcock set the scene.

the only other thing I want to discuss is Anthony Perkins. - who is really quite remarkable in this. The way that he manages to alternate between looking quite naive and innocent to looking truly menacing (normally when he is standing in shadows).
I'm guessing most people have seen Psycho - but I don't want to spoiler it.... let me just say that Perkins' acting abilities pinnacle at the film's final scene. His monologue and his look directly to camera are the film's most chilling moment. Hitchcock manages to make the sequence even more chilling with a beautifully subtle skull overlap.

It is a masterful film. It has incredible music, incredible titles, incredible performances and (as you'd expect from Hitchcock) it is as taut and tense as can be.

And, the best thing of all is this EXCELLENT trailer, showing that Hitchcock is not only a great storyteller, he is a comedy genius.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Lesson number one: Don't underestimate the other guy's greed!

No 284 - Scarface
Director - Brian de Palma

Well.... before I begin discussing this film, we have to comment on the fact that Brian de Palma made the most brilliantly bad film in existence. And for that very reason we must be eternally grateful.

So now we move into surprisingly political territories, but I don't think it really is that much grittier. Or... if it is.... it is offset by the sheer 80's ridiculousness of it all - you can see how it inspired Vice City - all the bad suits and wide collar shirts and mindless excessive violence. It is the excess which is then mocked in films like American Psycho. What a cracking decade it was back then...

This film is probably the best I've seen Pacino, his Tony Montana is a terrifying creation - he is a slurring power crazed madman. His quest for power and money - his belief that only this could ever make him happy - is terrible to watch but nowhere near as scary as the paranoia which seeps in once he HAS the power.
Montana seems happiest on the way up... running errands and double crossing people to get what he wants. However, once he has everything he wants he becomes paranoid. Probably because he knows he was a double crossing sunnovabitch when he was on the way up. But he lives in his ridiculous palace with his too-skinny-Michelle-Pfeiffer wife and he grumbles and worries and strops about with his upside down looking mouth.
hmmm - maybe his mouth looks SCARIER when upside down

Montana's rise and fall is fun and does make the film feel very GTA but it isn't the most interesting part of the film. For me, what was more interesting was how he behaved with his family. How he clamoured for the respect of his mother and how he introduces his kid sister to the world of '80s excess and then spends most of the film trying to go back on it and protect her. The scenes with Gina - and particularly her secret romance with Montana's henchman - are probably the most moving in the film, and best show the emotional state Tony is in.

Overall - this is a film about excess and greed. It gets to insane levels involving mountains of coke and pet tigers (and who DOESN'T want a pet tiger?!) - whilst, in that regard, it has dated and is very much a period piece - a snapshot of the 80's - it remains relevant as a warning about greed and as a terrific performance from Pacino.

I'm not a roman mum, I'm a kike, a yid, a heebie, a hook-nose, I'm kosher mum, I'm a Red Sea pedestrian, and proud of it!

No 203 - Life of Brian
Director - Terry Jones

Three wise men follow a star to a stable in Bethlehem where they find a small boy wrapped in swaddling clothes and offer him gifts of Gold and Frankincense and Myrrh. You just can't get any more Christmassy than that, can you?
And so begins Life of Brian - a film about a young man who has spent many moments of his life being mistaken for Jesus. A film which is not blasphemous really. It isn't an attack on anyone's individual faith or an attack on anyone's individual beliefs, it is just a pretty acerbic (and surprisingly clever) look at organised religion as a whole. I don't think it deserves half the 'outrage' it received.

Once you get over the religious undertones (if that is the thing which may rankle you) - you have Monty Python's most intelligent and well structured film. Both Holy Grail and - to a far more obvious extent - the Meaning of Life, are essentially sketch films, with a basic theme linking everything together. Life of Brian is still a very segmented film but it works as an entirety, it has character development and plot arcs..... well, as much as you can ever expect from the Monty Python troupe.
Although it is a complete film, the Pythons' great strength is in creating insane little sketches, and here there are many scenes which work on their own in their own right. The film relishes taking a simple idea and skewing it to ridiculous degrees, whether it is a stoning, a cut throat grammar lesson or the inspired thought of what happened to the lame after Jesus healed them. I'm not going to talk about them individually - besides saying they're brilliant. They'd be brilliant sketches but here they're just little moments of genius in a constantly great film. Also, how great of Monty Python to have stuck all their stuff on YouTube.... that makes my life easier.
However, the only issue to come from the coherent storyline is that Terry Giliam's section no longer has a neat place to slot into. There is one little moment of sheer inspired lunacy, but it does jar completely from the rest of the film - even though the rest of the film is mental, alien abduction (which remains completely unexplained) is a big departure from the world they've made. A world full of brilliantly subtle comedic moments (such as every character having a completely mundane name or being named after a book in the Bible....) as well as the broader, weirder humour.

Once the masses discover Brian, the film begins to look at the notion of religion, at the notion of human dogma and at the ridiculousness of it all. We have a film which tackles the same core subject matter as The Invention of Lying, only does it much much better....

....with the inclusion of one of the greatest, most pure and joyous songs ever written.


Tuesday, 7 December 2010

There's something inherently disappointing about success

No 481 – Topsy Turvy
Director – Mike Leigh

Well... I do love a good Victorian romp, and the world of Gilbert and Sullivan is surely (by its very nature) as rompy as you can get. Indeed, it took me roughly 45 seconds to fall in love with Allan Corduner's Sir Arthur Sullivan. Consumption riddled and dying but full of life and joy. He encaptures that almost mythical side to the period. The idealised view which is pushed to the 9th degree by things like Moulin Rouge!

I also liked the great prescriptions he gets for his consumption.... Get yourself some Brandy Mr Sullivan. Get yourself to the South of France Mr Sullivan. Bloody marvellous. Far better than mere penicillin.

I don't know how correct the film is but I hope it is true – Sullivan's reckless fun loving attitude marks him out as almost a rock star. Especially when you compare him with the incredibly stiff and well... Victorian... Gilbert (he is very much about what is proper and what is right and decent).

The two bounce off each other really refreshingly. I don't think I've seen Corduner in anything before but Gilbert is played by the legend that is Jim Broadbent.... meaning that a deliberately emotionless (besides anger) figure can become a rich and deep character. It also ripples out in his family. One of the final speeches in the film is Gilbert's wife explaining her idea for an opera. In there are roughly 8,000 hints of how repressed and depressed she is. How she clearly yearns for affection from her Stiff-upper-lip husband.

This ingrained repressions makes the expressiveness of Broadbent all the more important... There is a wonderful moment where Gilbert has the idea of The Mikado. A close up on his frowning face as very slowly you see the seeds of an idea plant a twinkle in his eye and his moustache curls up to indicate a smile beneath. It is a glorious moment. It shows Broadbent off as the bloody hero that he is.

The film is an obvious love letter to Gilbert and Sullivan, the long cuts to songs (seemingly all performed by the cast) show that, and reminded me that I really haven't seen enough Gilbert and Sullivan performances - they were geniuses too, lively music and inspired lyrics. However, they have managed to get some brilliant people to perform in these plays and there are a few people I want to point out.


Timothy Spall – There is a bit of me that is sad that in recent times Hollywood (certainly mainstream Kid's Hollywood) has typecast Spall as the snivelling, slimy bad guy. See Harry Potter or Enchanted for examples. Whilst he does play the role well, it is much more exciting seeing him play the plummy luvvie. His role in this, and his backstage antics are on of the real highlights in a film that's pretty chock full of good bits. Likewise Shirley Henderson who's sultry wine swilling leading lady means I'm finally able to accept her beyond Moaning Myrtle and that God-awful role she played in Dr Who – Even Trainspotting didn't manage that.

And then we had someone who I knew would be excellent as soon as I saw his name in the opening credits. Andy Serkis. I'm a shameless Serkis fan. I think he steals every scene he is in and constantly gives cracking performances. Here is no difference. I loved his little role as the choreographer – and loved the fact that he was never still. Clucking and strutting like a Victorian Mick Jagger.

The film triumphs in the fantastic cast Leigh has put together and in the witty words they speak – considering the constraints of period and of historical accuracy, I'm curious as to how improvised this film is, or whether it was a bit more tightly scripted.

There are a few awkward racial moments, but then this is a film about we Brits discovering Japanese culture – at a time when Japan was so remote (and shut off from the Western world) it was as mysterious as fairy tales. So whilst they are at times uncomfortable (and at other times uncomfortably amusing) they at least never feel excessive.

All in all it is a joyous film – mixing the constraints of etiquette in Victorian Society with the giddy thrill of early musical theatre.

It is a proper smile inducing little number – and shows that Mike Leigh can make gloriously happy films if he wants.

The defense department regrets to inform you that your sons are dead because they were stupid.

No 455 – Top Gun
Director – Tony Scott

Can we just crack out some Kenny Loggins first....


Well... Really.....

I can't take the piss out of the homoeroticism, all the obvious targets have been addressed so many times before.

All I can say is that I really can't tell the difference between this film and Hot Shots! any more....

This is a ridiculous nonsense of a film. It is a film in which one requires nothing more than to sit back and watch the silliness and the pretty planes.

The planes are really pretty and there is some incredible choreography up in them there sky.

I don't mean to sound too dismissive – I love a big dumb action film as much as the next person. But there aren't any real character arcs amongst the flashy Jet porn and Tim Robbins in the background.

This is a film that really only made it in as the top 500's guilty pleasure – and that doesn't seem right.

Still its better than Superman Returns. Or Transformers.

Oh, I lie now and then, I suppose. Sometimes I'd tell them the truth and they still wouldn't believe me, so I prefer to lie

No 41 - Les 400 Coups (The 400 Blows)
Director – François Truffaut

So, I've been moving house and I've been playing Xbox games. My blog hasn't exactly been well kept. Like the Secret Garden it is full of aged and overgrown relics. It has seemingly ceased to grow. But fear not, here comes Dickon and he has used a knife to strip back the dead wood and show there is still life in the old blog. So soon we will be joined by a spoiled disabled boy and Wendy from Finding Neverland and the blog will flourish anew.

Right.... that's one massively overstretched metaphor out the way – lets blog this classic piece of French cinema. Without my notes. So expect a sketchy and vague review of a film which follows a young boy's descent into full blown young offender shenanigans.

The film works as series of snapshots, looking at how Antoine (Jean-Pierre Léaud) gets pulled further and further into petty crime. Made in 1959 it coincides with the birth of the teenager and the idea that children were no longer just small versions of their parents. A terrifying concept for those who are the full sized parent versions. Teenagers not only didn't share their parent's views any more, they went out of their way to antagonise.

Whilst Antoine's actions are at times petty, you can at least see where they stem from. Léaud manages to put the anger and frustration of his character across without seeming too petulant, or without seeming unlikeable.

His father is well meaning but distracted by his interests. His mother is the typical terrifying and shouty French mother but then is also cold and distant, not wanting anything to do with her kid (very unlike French mothers that I know). You can see that Antoine feels abandoned... you understand his motivation.

And in today's times, where you can't walk to the shops without being murdered to death by a 7 year old in a hoodie, I suppose it all seems rather twee.

But it was the old days and in the old days Typewriters were the big thing. Like identities are nowadays. Think how annoyed you'd be if someone stole your identity.... yeah, now you know why things pan out the way they do.

The film is constantly interesting and fresh, however, for the most while I failed to see anything truly remarkable in it. Certainly nothing which truly validated its place as the highest ranked French film on the list. However, this is what I love about cinema, one little shot can change everything. A well played reveal or a well shot sequence makes all the difference.

A marvellous sequence is when Antoine is being interviewed by the psychiatrist. It is visibly edited making it seem like documentary footage of a longer interview which has been shortened. The static camera fixed solely on Antoine makes it all seem a lot more real and a lot more authentic. Like a small break from fiction.

But my favourite moment is from the performance Truffaut gets out of his young star. Reaching the end of his tether, Antoine's father arranges for him to spend the night in jail – just to experience what its like. We get some wonderful 'jail eye view' shots with the camera behind bars – and when it pans to Antoine's tear streamed eyes we get the full power of the film in one shot (and in one remarkable performance from such a young lad).

Thursday, 18 November 2010

If it's a miracle, Colour Sergeant, it's a short chamber Boxer Henry point 45 caliber miracle

No 351 – Zulu

Director – Cy Endfield

Holy Fucking Moly: When watching a film which stars Michael Caine, there is one credit you don't expect to see:

I thought Michael Caine had been in films since the dawn of celluloid. I wasn’t expecting an ‘And Introducing’ credit. Bonkers.

But…. Actually, that credit isn’t the most bonkers Michael Caine element. The other point is that his character is quite effeminate and well spoken. Only the faintest trace of “MY NAME IS MICHAEL CAINE” here, for most of it he says things like “oh well done dear man” and other decidedly un-tough phrases.

This is going to take some getting used to.

The other thing that concerned me is after the big bombastic opening, which felt like a Western (thanks to John Barry's marvellous score), that the film would end up feeling quite a bit racist. For the majority of the film, my fears seem to be justified. The Zulu army have no real characterisation. they are neither portrayed as goodies or baddies. They are just an endless wave of enemy. Overwhelming the Brits by sheer massive numbers.

the Zulu army are an intimidating force - and whilst there are bloody thousands of them, it isn't just a 'run at the enemy' style battle. They are portrayed as noble enemies - they're tactical, they're calculating and they're brutal.

Ruddy hundreds of them die - but Zulu is an oddly bloodless film. A small dagger lightly pokes a soldier and they collapse dead. A bullet will knock someone over and they'll never get up.

Sure there is death. But it is all very tidy.

Its the mix of endless opposition and bloodless wounds that make the war seem quite flippant. That and the welsh. The welsh almost seem cliche, they're all jolly and "not now boyo" or screaming "NORMAN" or other Welsh things. And of course they're a choir. Of course they are. That is not a stereotype in any way.

So you let this jolly little story of stirling men fighting the jolly johnny foreigner in the Empire... you forget you're watching a war with imperialistic oppression at the very heart of it.

It isn't until the film's end that the film finally lets 'The Horrors of War' be expressed to the audience.

The first thing to really feel powerful is the sing-off. African music always sounds amazing. There is something to it which makes my hairs stand on end. Just listen to the Zulu chants at the end of the battle and see how moving they are... Especially when the Zulu chants begin mixing with the rich loveliness of the Welsh voices.

Then as these songs continue the soldiers begin to discuss the emptiness and guilt they feel to acting the way they have.

It begins to illustrate the futility of war. It is brave and it is beautiful.

Which is where I should end. But instead I will end on a flippant point. Speaking of Brave and Beautiful. Weren't the uniforms FRIKKIN AWESOME in those days?! Sod your camouflage. Give me glaringly bright colours any time.


Wednesday, 17 November 2010

In one week, I can put a bug so far up her ass, she don't know whether to shit or wind her wristwatch.

No 105 – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Director – Milos Forman

The first thing that strikes me about this film is the sheer number of exciting young actor’s and awesome cameos which appear in it. Look at them all:

Very exciting.

Can I just say that young Danny DeVito looks a bit like a squashed Matt Le Blanc? Or is that insulting to everyone in the world?

Can I also say how weird it is to see Christopher Lloyd playing a bit of a tough nut – rather than the goggle eyed freaks he usually portrays.

Now…. I know that Nurse Ratched is supposed to be bad. I know she is supposed to be viewed as the oppressive dictator of the psychiatric ward – and I’m not ashamed to say that most of my knowledge is down to the excellent Spaced parody.

However…. Jack Nicholson’s McMurphy is a prick. He is a pain in the neck and a shit stirrer. So… yes… Nurse Ratched may be quite harsh and overly cruel, and yes…Louise Fletcher plays Ratched with glorious cold eyes. However, for the most of the film her actions seem ultimately sound, if somewhat harsh.

The only time that this changes is if you follow poor stuttering Billy. McMurphy deserves to be picked on – after all, he is asking for it by pushing the establishment – and whilst his end is very cruel, it is nowhere near as tragic as Billy’s.

See his shy and coy conversations with McMurphy’s friend Candy as it leads to one of the most joyous preludes to sex I’ve seen on film.

It is the cold hard way that Ratched uses one calculated phrase and snatches Billy’s new found post coital confidence and smashes him back down a stuttering repercussions.

This simple act is Nurse Ratched at her heartless worst, and the repercussions of that simple sentence which provides the film’s true bleakness. And whilst Billy never inspires the Chief’s glorious final scene in the same way that McMurphy does – Billy is the important character.

Whilst Jack Nicholson may be the star…. This isn’t McMurphy’s story.

This is the story of Billy and the Chief.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

No, Toto. Nobody said it. This time it's all me. Life isn't like in the movies. Life... is much harder.

No 239 – Cinema Paradiso
Director – Guiseppe Tornatore

I love cinema. I’m hoping this blog highlights that whilst I may have no skill as a writer, I’m a definite fan of film. What I love about this is that whilst there is a very human relationship at the heart of the film, the film’s main ‘character’ is the titular cinema.

The film takes place – predominantly – in the 40’s, and echoes something which I’d first seen in Spirit of the Beehive, the idea of the cinema being at the heart of the community. It is the town’s centre of escapism and it is a building which plays host to all of life’s events. Whilst the town watches films, the viewer witnesses courting, sex, wanking, breast feeding, political uprising and murder all taking place within the same 4 walls.

The Paradiso is more than just a place to watch Buster Keaton – it is the place where the town meets and mingles. It is a mini microcosm and it is utterly utterly beautiful.

As vital as the building is – even I couldn’t just watch that for 3 hours, and I’ve watched The Tree of Wooden Clogs. So lets look at the other main focus of the film. The relationship between the cinema’s projectionist Alfredo (played by Philippe Noiret) and the cocky young boy Toto (played the really rather adorable Salvatore Cascio). It is made clear that Toto’s dad has probably died in the war and so Alfredo acts as both a friend and a father figure to the young Toto. It is Alfredo’s rebellious spirit which influences Toto as he grows up and which strengthens the bond between them. So, when the Paradiso and projectionist fall victims to the dangerously flammable nature of old film (they should have listened to Samuel L Jackson) – Alfredo has to pass the torch on to his young apprentice.

This film begins in modern times (well, the late 80’s) and chronicles the majority of Toto’s (or Salvatore, as he prefers to be called when he grows up) journey to adulthood in flashback. This means we get to see the very interesting development of the town as it develops through the ages (one of the many many elements I find captivating in Back to the Future). It also, unfortunately, means Toto grows up.

Marco Leonardi plays the teenage Salvatore and he just doesn’t have the same wickedly cheeky screen presence of the actor playing his younger self. He is a handsome young man and a hilariously over dramatic romantic. This stems from his upbringing. Not by his mother. Not by Alfredo. But by the Paradiso itself. He is a man who has been raised by cinema, by the brash romantic ideals of old films and it is clear in both his actions and in the obsession he shows in his affections.

During his obsession with a girl in the town, the relationship between him and Alfredo changes again, whilst it is still powerful it has lost the charm and the watchability of the younger Toto's friendship. I found the middle part of the film slightly lacking when compared to the charm of youth and the intensity of the adult Salvatore returning home for Alfredo's funeral (not a spoiler, I assure you)..

The final scenes are really touching, the most heartbreaking scenes don't come from the funeral itself but in the ruins of the Paradiso.
It is a sign of the times. With large chain cinemas making it harder and harder for independent cinemas to compete.... please support them. They need your help and it would be a tragic day if we lost them.

A day where I can't go to a licensed bar in the afternoon or eat home made cake in the morning whilst watching a film in a cinema with legs sticking out of it....

Films that are entertainments give simple answers but I think that's ultimately more cynical, as it denies the viewer room to think.

No 382 Caché (Hidden)
Director – Michael Haneke

I have been SO rubbish with this blogging - blame having a job - I have been devoid of free time and living in hotels and just not having the time to blog.

Lets fix it with Hidden.

There is something unnerving about a stationary camera and an unflinching wide shot. It is what made Paranormal Activity such an unnerving experience. Whilst nothing happens for large portions of the film, you are their scouring the screen for clues, as the camera is going to focus on anything or point anything out. The level of concentration you put into the film means that shock revelations become more shocking.

And so, when Hidden begins with the static wideshot of a home – and just stays there – it is really quite creepy. The unnerving quality of the camera’s stillness echoes the unnerving theme of the entire film. It is really quite horrible to think of someone just watching you. Even if this doesn’t lead to further violence, it is still a really disturbing concept. It means that every time the camera cuts to a static single shot, you’re unsure as to whether it is part of the film or if it is another gift from the stalker. You don’t know until you see the shot flicker and whirr into a rewind – the glorious days of video – and you realise you’re watching what our heroes are watching.

The thing that I find really brave is that this film doesn’t focus on the stalker. Indeed, we never really find out who the persecutor is – and whilst the main characters have several inklings (which lead to some truly shocking revelations and moments), you never find out if those theories are correct.

Instead, the film is about the paranoia which stems from persecution. The film follows one of the most cliché middle class families in France – George Laurent (played by Daniel Auteuil) and his wife Anne (played by the marvellous Juliette Binoche). The videos begin as curios, but slowly begins to drive George to obsession, even affecting his dreams.

It is George’s obsession that becomes the big problem, it drives a rift between the couple and it is directly responsible for some of the film’s darker moments.

However – the film’s bravest move is that it never concludes.

Indeed, the final static shot of a school shows that the stalker may still well be on the prowl. It is a disturbing end and it is also rather dissatisfying in its ambiguity. However, it is also a perfect move.

To end on a quote:

Thursday, 4 November 2010

There's a whole ocean of oil under our feet! No one can get at it except for me!

No 144 - There Will be Blood
Director - Paul Thomas Anderson

This is a tense film. It deals not only with the difficulties of getting oil out of t'ground, but also with the heavy theme of manipulating people for your own personal goals. In case you have any doubts, the film paints its tension thick and plainly. The films near wordless introduction shows just how difficult and dangerous oil prospecting can be, but also racks up the tension with Jonny Greenwood's marvellous score.

At its simplest, this is a battle between two men. Daniel Day-Lewis' Daniel Plainview, an oil tycoon and Paul Dano's minister Eli Sunday. The two certainly do spa, but really it is about a lot more than that. It is about greed, it is about obsession, it is about cruelty and isolation. It is also about the worrying similarities between Plainview's cruelty and narrow mindedness and that of Sunday.

It is also superbly acted. Much has been said about Daniel Day-Lewis. He is well known for his method acting and for his intensity. So it is only right that he turns in a wonderful performance. A man who's love of oil begins as a pursuit and ends up a full blown obsession, essentially driving him to insanity and leaving him a hollow husk of what he once was.
The real surprise comes from Paul Dano. His performance of Eli begins as a man wanting to make a buck, a man with maybe dubious moral piousness. But it ends as an equally broken man. Equally obsessed.

The 'I DRINK YOUR MILKSHAKE' scene has been noted may times for being incredibly powerful, and yes.... Day-Lewis is remarkable in it, creating a fascinating character noticeably on the brink of utter madness. But Dano is holding his own, and doing so well. He portrays a very difficult character and one with potentially a much more dramatic arc than Plainview.
Yes, the final scene may have him mostly looking scared when up against Day-Lewis' mighty performance, but Eli's journey has been more interesting, richer.

Not bad for Klitz

See - I managed to discuss Paul Dano and not use Gigantic to segway to Zooey Deschanel... whoops.

The film isn't exactly plot heavy - there is no dramatic journey from event to event. Instead we focus on one big event - Plainview trying to get oil - and allow the characters to bounce off each other.
The relationship between Plainview and Eli, and Plainview and his own son are interesting and tragic. They culminate in three scenes. Firstly Eli's scene where Plainview comes to his church for Baptism. It is a cruel piece of showmanship deliberately designed to belittle Plainview and it is an important scene for Eli's own greed and vanity - Plainview's revenge comes in infamous (and already mentioned) Milkshake scene. Then there is the scene where Plainview's son leaves him to start a career. Plainview's reaction showing that Oil has completely blinkered his view on the world. That nothing is more important than the hunt for black gold.

The film is masterfully handled, from the amazing dialogue (often letting silence do all the work), the beautiful cinematography and the brutal violence of the film. In both the actions of the characters but also in the harshness of the wild west world.

It is a film which has to be experienced. It is not always an easy watch but it is utterly entrancing and one that leaves you feeling richer for having seen it.

Goooooooood morning, Vietnam! Hey, this is not a test! This is rock and roll! Time to rock it from the Delta to the D.M.Z.

No 363 - Good Morning Vietnam
Director - Barry Levinson

Ah.... Robin Williams - you are a bit of a mixed bag. He is at his best when he is fast talking, ridiculous and manic (or serious and dark) - but he often gets all schmaltzy and annoying.
Luckily, Good Morning Vietnam mixes the wise talking rapid action insanity in his radio performances with his more serious side in the horrors of war.

So we get to see CRAZY Robin Williams being all madcap and comedic on the radio and serious Robin Williams working with the vietnamese to try and stop the suffering many of them were inflicted with

and throughout it we get an interesting (if unremarkably presented) story about boosting morale and befriending people in a rough situation.

What is far more incredible than all of this is that the film is true - and that Adrian Cronauer did exist. He was also a lot more chilled out than Robin Williams' portrayal which is good because that man is EXHAUSTING!

Describe in single words only the good things that come into your mind about... your mother

No 20 - Blade Runner
Director - Ridley Scott

Has it really been 2 weeks? Gosh! I'm sorry - it was work. In these 2 weeks I've only even managed to watch 3 films. I need to sort my act together.
I also blame the LFF - I got kind of distracted from the list there.

So, this is a film which begins with quite the conundrum.
I decided to go with the final cut because.... well... its FINAL which seemed like they may have finally got it right. It also seems like a slightly longer and slightly more violent version of the director's cut. As long as we don't have to deal with voice overs then I'm happy.

the final cut has had a bit of a cgi touch up but nothing on a George Lucas level... instead we're looking at small bits of refinement which make the film look crisper and sharper. It just helps to show just how truly glorious the beginning is.
The future LA is one of the most amazing pieces of model work I have ever seen. It is a delight to watch - and if you watch the massive 3 hour making of documentary you can find out loads of geeky knowledge as to why they designed it the way they did. All it does is make you respect it all the more.
It isn't just the layout of the scenery which is well thought out and brilliantly clever.... the film's intelligence ripples throughout the film. After all, the film noir genre is easy to mess up - even when transported into the future. So it is good to see it done well.

The film follows the old idea of the ex cop brought back for 'one last job' - our cop Deckard has to round up a group of illegal replicants and destroy them. So we get the all important question coming to play. What is humanity? If you are a robot can you never be 'real' even if you think you're human and are programmed to act like your human etc etc.
It is this idea which is at the heart of a lot of sci fi and it is an idea I find fascinating.

This is going to get a touch spoilery, not much.... but a little bit.... because I want to talk about three of the replicants.
Starting with the big boss man. The daddy of the rebellion - Roy Batty. Rutger Hauer's replicant is a beast of a man. He flits between sanity and insanity and yet he has some good points. For every moment where he is a blood stained psycho pursuing Deckard with manic desperation, he also becomes a tired and frustrated man.... his 'tears in the rain' speech is still one of the most moving and beautiful things I have seen in a film.

We then move to one of his gang, and the only one who I'm going to bother talking about because she opens up such wonderful new directions to the film. Daryl Hannah's Pris is firstly really quite adorable - but as a 'pleasure bot' she is designed to appeal to people. Indeed her relationship with J F Sebastian is so sweet that when you realise she is only using him it is actually quite heartbreaking.
Because, the best thing to come from following Pris is that we're introduced to J F Sebastian's odd little world. A world where he feels uncomfortable and therefore builds his own friends. A world which feels almost fairy tale but which easily could become creepy. A house full of partially built robots, rocking mannequins, dolls houses and hollow brides. He also has his wonderful little robot companions - who are pretty weird, but equally pretty awesome.
His character only appears fairly fleetingly but shows a fabulous depth, his house depicts his loneliness, and it is his loneliness which is manipulated by Pris. He is also the most important as he leads the replicants to meet their maker.

And then, the final replicant.... Rachel. The replicant which is arguably the most important element of the entire film. The replicant who doesn't know she is a replicant. She is also Deckard's love interest.... in a scene of seduction which can at best be described as 'a bit rapey' (seriously... watch THIS from 3:30.... it is hardly romantic).
But Rachel's inclusion in this film is more than just a love (or maybe lust) interest. She also opens up the film's most biggest question, with the help of none other than Adama himself - Edward James Olmos!
Olmos' detective Gaff is there to help Deckard, to bring him to the replicants and to leave handy little origami models everywhere. It is exciting to see Olmos looking so young.

And so.... we get the idea of unaware replicants from Rachel and the mystery of the unicorn and Gaff's models. It all leads to one of cinema's greatest unsolved questions.

Now... all I need is someone to tell me how to get a 16-bit Windows 95 DVD point and click game to run on my 64-bit Windows 7 laptop because it is time for some truly excellent nostalgia gaming.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Am I not supposed to have what I want? What I need? What am I supposed to do?

No 411 – Spiderman 2

Director – Sam Raimi.

Disclaimer – I wrote all my notes and then I put my notes in a bag and then my friend went home with the bag and now I don’t got my notes or nuffink.

So yeah….

There is a moment in Spiderman 2 which gets me excited. The great scientist Otto Octavious has been experimenting with something which is either a precious ore called Tritium or an ore called PreciousTritium (I just can’t tell.... every one says Precious Tritium…). The experiment has backfired. Giant robot tentaclaws have fused into his spine. Bugger.

Doctors begin to operate, trying to prise the wires from the connections they’ve made in the Scientist’s nervous system. The claws flicker to life and all hell breaks loose. It is here that one thing becomes evident. Sam Raimi should be making lighting fast, visceral horror. The claws are such a clear homage to his Evil Dead days. We have POV shots which echo the insane skateboard mounted shots of his first film, we even have a chainsaw…. and there isn’t usually much need for one of those in a operating theatre.

However, Spiderman 2 is most definitely not a dark and visceral horror. It is a solid case of ‘more of the same’ with some nice little touches. The first touch being the wonderful Alfred Molina as Doc Ock. Again, we have a victim who is being manipulated by an external force. Here it is the slightly bonkers explanation that his ‘helping hands’ have overpowered his brain and taken control of him.

Doc Ock is not insane in the same way as the Green Goblin and Molina gets some surprisingly powerful moments as he acts against a series of CGI clamps.

The rest of the film remains fairly similar.

J K Simmons is still the best thing in the franchise – even though at one point he gets mopey…. However, thankfully, it lasts less than a scene before he is yelling out ridiculous demands again.

Tobey Maguire remains quite unexciting as Parker.

MJ is possibly duller than she was – however, it seems she has stopped wearing a bra. Kirsten Dunst’s nipples are often the most prominent part of a scene.

We even have the exact same set up for the final act. Villain dangles MJ off of an object and puts some other people in peril. Spidey saves the people.

The people all have a wonderful ‘We’re on your side Spiderman’ moment that is meant to be all heart-warming. But instead just makes you feel a little bit sick.

The main thread running throughout the film is the idea of identity. This is the film in which Spidey repeatedly fails to keep his identity secret and where Parker struggles with HIS identity (is he Parker or is he Spidey)… Whilst it is fun to watch Spiderman fall off things, I’m mostly annoyed by this development as it moves Aunt May from ‘annoying boring character who is mostly in the background’ to ‘annoying boring character who is pivotal to the plot and forever giving long long boring speeches about shit….’.

We also get the first glimpse of Peter Parker’s weird little strutty dance-walk he does when he is feeling good.

Of course, it isn’t a patch on the bollocks of Spiderman 3…. But it is a taste of things to come.