Friday, 23 April 2010

You know what? Fuck beauty contests. Life is one fucking beauty contest after another. School, then college, then work... Fuck that.

No 402 - Little Miss Sunshine
Directors - Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris

Just before watching this film I watched Paper Heart. An adorable little quirkily funny Mockumentary starring king of the quirky comedies - Michael Cera. In it he describes the current trend in comedy when he hears that Paper Heart is a quirky comedy. Another quirky comedy, just what America needs. There are a lot of them out there that tiptoe the fine balance between tragedy and comedy or that are just a little bit more thoughtful or dysfunctional than play it safe comedies.

For me, the king of such films will always remain Wes Anderson who is a genius - but this is a ruddy good film in itself.
It starts off in classic Anderson-esque indie comedy territory with a plain white title in a plain yet slightly dated font. But there is also a wonderful streak of dark humour in the juxtaposition of the title and the depressed image of Steve Carrell's Frank recovering from a failed suicide attempt. Comedy wise the tone is a bit all over the place, and whilst it does start with the traditional dysfunctional family and quite a bit of black humour, the film quickly takes a far more slapstick path whilst dealing with some quite deep themes. After all this is about dealing with losing (I was going to say dealing with loss.... but it is not quite the same) - After all it is about a small girl going to a pageant. And whilst Abigail Breslin's Olive is wonderful, she is not really cut out for the freaky freaky world of children's pageants. So it is a road trip towards certain failure and it is marred with so many bonkers pits that the tone kind of flits around because yes this is a film about trying to chase your dreams (the point where Paul Dano's Dwayne realises he can't fight in the air force is heart breaking) but it is a pretty stupid farce. Thanks to one, brilliant, prop.

The van. That wonderful bright yellow van. By the end of the film it is a surprise that the thing is still rolling and the frustration it causes just brings the family closer together. For they are a faltering family, and really it is kind of because of Greg Kinnear's role as Richard, the father of the family, a father who is so obsessed with winning that his family are terrified of failing in front of him. It is seen in Dwayne's silent nihilistic rebellion and it is seen in the gut wrenching scenes where Olive bursts into tears worried that her dad won't love her if she doesn't win. He begins as a bit of a bastard (telling his daughter not to eat ice cream as she will get fat and not win the beauty pageant) but slowly softens thanks to the support of the rest of the family.
Because the journey gives them time to come to terms with life. Steve Carrell handles gallows humour brilliantly as he comes to terms with his depression and seems to get over it. Paul Dano (who I have always thought was brilliant. Even as Klitz) comes to terms with not being able to acheive his dreams and Richard realises there is more to life then winning.

And I'm glad that there is more to life than winning beauty pageants. Because this children's pageant thing is wrong on EVERY LEVEL.
Really really freaks me out - and it freaks out Olive's family who watch the show whilst she prepares backstage. I don't understand it, and parts of the pageant sequence makes me feel really uncomfortable (to think such a things exists). But it does give us an excellent cameo from the wonderful Beth Grant (playing essentially the same pageant loving bigoted character she played in Donnie Darko) and it gives one of the biggest, funniest andup beat endings ever.

Olive's final performance is so cringe worthy and so excellent and causes such pandemonium that you leave that film feeling much better than you went in. Which is surely the key role of comedies.

I've killed women and children. I've killed just about everything that walks or crawled at one time or another. And I'm here to kill you, Little Bill.

No 158 - Unforgiven
Director - Clint Eastwood

Well, April has been a bit of a write off hasn't it?! But do not blame me, blame the Ash Cloud for turning a 5 day business trip into a 2 and a half week fiasco in the Philippines. Not that I'm complaining in any way shape or form.

It does mean I've been out of the loop for this top 500 and have instead been reading and burning in the stupid heat. But - today I reached sun saturation point and have hidden myself indoors and I remembered, I have two films I've not yet written up.

So please excuse me if these are a bit hazier than normal but I watched them a fortnight ago and just never got round to blogging.

Unforgiven is a harsh film. The tone is set immediately as it opens up on a rape and knife attack. This not only informs you that the Wild West was not a nice place (hell this aint Back to the Future 3) but it is also the key event which fuels the rest of the film, for regardless of what Bill (Gene Hackman and, I assume, the Sheriff) doles out as punishment it is not enough for the whores of the brothel and they demand vengeance. So the film begins a bit of a pattern:
Bounty Hunters arrive to dole out death to the original attackers.
Bill (who we slowly realise is NOT a nice person) kicks them around - A LOT - for not handing in their guns.
Bounty Hunters leave all battered and bruised.

The story itself is not that exciting, but the cast really is. This is a western about old timers. In a time where most people were shot at and died young, it would have been tough to live to an age where you began to grey. And yet here they are. We have 3 main characters and an additional on for garnish.
At the crux of the film, we have 3 powerful performances. Firstly from Gene Hackman as the sheriff and probably the most violent person in the entire film. Then we have the incredibly talented star and Director Clint Eastwood with his best buddy Morgan Freeman. Off the two of them go to collect this bounty. Persuaded to come out of retirement for just one last job. We then have Richard Harris who's performance as the wonderfully arrogant English Bob is almost the film's comic relief (until he is unmercilessly and harrowingly beaten up. Repeatedly. By Bill). This is not a film just about gunslingers. This is a film about what it is like to kill someone and the journeys those gunslingers must travel before they can get to that point.

What is interesting is to see the pangs of morality and the shifts in allegiance between the pair. Originally they hear terrible things have happened:
"Yeah, they cut up her face, cut her eyes out, cut her fingers off, cut her tits, everything but her cunty, I suppose. "
But when they get to town they meet the woman in question and find that she is fine. Besides a few scars. She and Clint share a naturally affinity and she cares for him after he has been kicked around by Gene Hackman.
What is interesting is seeing the way that the characters deal with everything. James Woolvett's role as the Schofield Kid begins all pomp and arrogance as he tries to talk Clint's Bill Munny into joining him as partners. As the deaths and the attacks become real you realise he is just talk and he becomes quieter and more introspective. A scared little boy who has lept too far out of his depth.
Clint's silence is far more dangerous, and far more incredible to watch. Slowly Bill Munny regains his vices. He kills again. He drinks again and he is full of self loathing. You can see it in every part of Eastwood's perf0rmance and it is both hypnotic and terrifying.

It all builds up to the final act in which Bill Munny goes on a killing spree and we see that Clint Eastwood still has the force to convey a terrifying and powerful foe (hell, Grand Torino showed he may never lose it - as long as he can keep that steely look of anger in his eyes). It is not just a gratuitous gun fight, it is over very quickly, but it is all the more powerful for having followed Bill Munny's story. For seeing how he was pushed to each point.

Really, this film just shows how incredible Clint Eastwood is because it is a heart breaking performance and it is matched by a beautifully directed film. Some of the shots (particularly the silhouetted vista shots) just made me wish for the Technicolor westerns of yore.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

I've had it! I've had it with wobbly-legged, rum-soaked pirates!

No 475 - Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
Director - Gore Verbinski

Oh, it starts so well. Beautifully in fact. The opening shot of rain pouring into overflowing tea cups is not only gorgeous cinematography, it is the most openly English shot I have ever seen in my life. There is some wonderful slow motion running about and we're introduced to the new big bad... well little bad.. Lord Bennett, representing the East India Trading Company and representing something else, something important. This is, after all, the time in which the East India Trading Company got massive. When I was reading up on Tea (as one does) I began to get an idea of how massive the company was, but this film makes it instantly clear - it is big. Bigger and more powerful than an island's Governor. He has warrants for the arrest of everyone who aided Captain Jack.
So Elizabeth, Will and even Norrington are pulled back in to Captain Jack Sparrow's mad little world.

In fact this film manages to crowbar in a lot of returns from the first film. Sadly, the most annoying ones being the return of Pintel and Regatti as the 'comic relief'. I loe Mackenzie Crooke, but when you are blessed with Captain Jack, you do not need comic relief... let everyone else live their weird and slightly straight laced live and let Captain Jack flounce around.
This trilogy gets progressively more muddled. One of the reasons that the third part isn't in this list is that by then, the franchise was a bit of a mess, trying to fit more and more layers of extravagance and myth into an already bloated story. Here is hoping that with Pirates 4 it all gets stripped back down to its part one origins.
Here, we can see the beginning of this fascination with pouring myth over myth over myth. However, the story is pretty damned good. Jack made a deal with Davy Jones to get his ship back. In return, he gives Davy Jones his soul (after an allotted time). The time is up and Jones wants his soul. So we have a sea pursuit with Jack against Bill Nighy's Davy Jones.

Jones is an incredible creation. To this day I think he is probably the best CGI in a film. You just can't tell where prosthetics end and CGI begins in his constantly moving tentacular face. It probably shines best in his organ playing scene. There is something remarkable about the scene. The independent tentacles sweeping across the keys and the genuine performance of pain and despair on Davy Jones' face. What is remarkable is that even though it is hidden behind masses of digital and prosthetic make up, even though it is delivered with a completely different (to his usual voice) Scottish brogue, it is still recognisably Bill Nighy. Something about the eyes.

So the new characters are largely brilliant. The links to the original film are quite clever (we get to meet Will's pirate father Bootstrap Bill and we learn more about Captain Jack's unusual compass) but the film suffers from trying to out stage the first.
So the scenes of over choreographed swashbuckling - complete with flips and leaps and tumbles - have become further over choreographed. So now we have a (genuinely excellent) fight with three combatants sharing two swords (a lot of throwing swords between each other) and the utterly bonkers fight between Captain Jack, Will Turner and Norrington. Not enough to have them fight in a three way duel (already quite unusual) - they have to do it on top of the giant water wheel as it rolls through the jungles of the island.

It is utterly preposterous. Whilst it does look cool, it just shows what happened to the franchise. By film 3, POTC was so conscious of set pieces and moments that the plot severely suffered. However, this is not the franchise's biggest crime.

The next bit of my blog is a bit of a rant about how the film ends. There will be spoilers in. I will also dole out some spoilers on the Matrix trilogy (because it illustrates my ranty point) - so let it be warned.... If you don't want to know things about these films don't read it. Let me say that the Pirates of the Caribbean films have an excellent score and move on. End of Blog.

Otherwise.... let me bitch and moan.

I HATE IT when films don't end properly. It is lazy and insulting to the audience. It also means that we're expected to shell out twice as much to know how a story ends. Now I don't mind when a story continues into the next film. Lets look at Star Wars or Lord of the Rings. They have an overall arc but each film is structure. The general plot of that film is concluded by the end of the film. I don't mind that. I just don't like ending mid plot. Kill Bill did it - splitting up the film into two halves, when with tighter editing it could have been one, better, film.
But for me the biggest criminals are The Matrix and Pirates of the Caribbean. In both of these films, all we have is a second film acting like a trailer for the third and final film. It is all just set up. The Matrix even ends on a DUN DUN DUN 'to be continued' panel. No! This isn't a TV show! This isn't fucking Lost! I want my resolution. I paid for a story.

It is the same with Pirates. The two plot elements in this story are as follows: Jack has to honour his debt to Davy Jones and William Turner wants to rescue his father from the Flying Dutchman. Whilst Jack's Story is sort of finished - the debt is paid when they RELEASE THE KRAKEN which subsequently devours the Black Pearl, captain included. But Will's story is barely touched on... just leave it for the third film. Hell the final act is just setting up subsequent plot elements for the third film.
Again, like Pirates it even ends with a DUN DUN DUNNNN moment as the recently revived Barbossa struts down the steps of the voodoo lady to rescue Jack from the afterlife.

By all means give us a trilogy. Link the stories together. But don't end midway through the plot! That is why we watch TV.... grr

Monday, 5 April 2010

When you marooned me on that god forsaken spit of land, you forgot one very important thing, mate: I'm Captain Jack Sparrow

No 371 - Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
Director - Gore Verbinski

It is a brave move to base a film on a funfair ride. It is not the most common of occurrences, I can only think of one other attempt. So thank goodness that this ended up much better than The Haunted Mansion.
But where Disney's ghost train had a plot of sorts (a tragic tale of possession on a wedding night) Pirates of the Caribbean didn't. It was a series of tableaux... showing Pirate towns and battles and the weird skeletal shipwreck. POTC took elements of those visuals and made a really interesting story. Keeping enough little nods (the dog with keys, the skeleton pirates and the excellent jaunty song) to merit the film's link to the ride without forcing a structure which doesn't work

The story is wonderful, set in the 17th (or maybe early 18th) century as the cliches of piracy are shown. After all these are proper grimacing rum swilling pirates who go out and kidnap governors' daughters. Whilst they may be cliche they have fallen foul of a curse on some Aztec gold (again, another cliche) and have been punished by a decade of becoming skeletons in the moonlight. This is the nice touch and is beautifully presented and intelligently applied.... the pirates are trying to cancel out the curse and move on with being general no-good-nics but throughout this they also get embroiled with Elizabeth Swann, the local Blacksmith who loves her and the Pirate clan's former captain.

Let us begin with our protagonists..... Kiera Knightly and Orlando Bloom are not the most exciting of actors, they're quite insipid, especially when compared to the bonkers world which Pirates inhibits.
Luckily, the film introduces one of the greatest show stealing supporting characters of recent times. Captain Jack Sparrow. The man has already become an iconic cult hero. He worked wonders on Johnny Depp, finally thrusting him into the proper A list where he belongs and he made pirates cool again (though the child part of me likes to think that pirates were always cool). Captain Jack is a preposterous human being. He sways and swaggers. He is drunk. He is a rock star. At one point they hint that actually he got brain damage from heat stroke.... but I think that is just the way it works.

So whilst Elizabeth Swann just wants to get home and Will Turner wants to rescue Elizabeth. Whilst the Pirates need to return all the stolen gold as well as a blood sacrifice... Jack just wants his ship back. He wishes to steal the Black Pearl from his mutineering cursed former crew.
Jack's selfishness makes him a fascinating character. He twists and turns. He lies. He double and triple crosses. He changes allegiances so often that it is hard to know what his motivation really is. But, at the heart of it all he is a nice chap. He wants to do the right thing, as long as the right thing sees him in a better position than he was prior to it. This film sees Jack as very much a supporting role.... His story flits and swerves (much like him) through the duller protagonists' stories. The issue with it being that Depp was a resounding success and so future films begin to focus more and more on him and make him wilder and wilder. Whereas here, from the second he steps off his sinking ship, he is the perfect foil to the stiffness and formality of our two leads. At least Orlando Bloom seems to start enjoying himself once he becomes a Pirate.

Jack's appearance also makes other characters more interesting. I think Depp's insanity put them on edge and caused them to up their game. Now there are some great actors in this. Namely the wonderful Jonathan Pryce as Governer Swann and Jack Davenport makes an excellently rigid Naval commodore - full of pomp and arrogance. However, whilst the scenes between these two and the two protagonists are beautiful to look at (and they are.... I would give anything to have been aristocracy in that age, such beautiful beautiful wonderful clothes) they are just dull. Whereas you throw in Captain Jack to the fold and the scenes become more interesting.
It helps that they usually involve a mildly ridiculous set piece and swashbuckling. SWASHBUCKLING! What a wonderful thing to have back on our screens. And yes it has now been sexxed up and people leap and get flipped and perform acrobatics but at the very heart of it there are buckles and they're being swashed. However, even with spurts of action or insanity, the best scenes come from the Pirates.

Whether in the raucous violent pirate towns (how awesome does Tortuga look?) or in the crews themselves - they're excellent. Jack's crew includes the most bonkers group of misfits (a trained parrot who speaks on behalf of a tongueless man, a surly midget) and rising star of 2009 Zoe Saldana. They also have Kevin McNally as Gibbs.... the first mate (I guess....) who has an interesting story which was never told. In that, the first time we meet him he works for the Navy, then he becomes a pirate.... Incidentally did anyone ever watch a really shit sitcom called Dad? Because that is how I knew Kevin McNally.... was really weird to see him in the cinema.

The villainous pirates (or... more villainous as none of them are exactly law abiding citizens) are led by the fabulous Geoffrey Rush as Barbossa. He is an elegant man, dressed in pirate chic and sporting a horrible mousey beard. I like pirate Chic, and Barbossa is far more realistic than... say... Hook (though I'd love to dress like Hook). He beautifully straddles charm and menace, his character is the type of person you could easily imaging leading cut throats. Most of the pirates are also proper savage. Growling evil murderers who are either all out aggressive or really rather mad. Either way, they're the right level of scary.... Especially when they transform.

I love the transformations.... that is the film's real skill... the seamless and elegant way that the pirates turn from human to zombie as they pass through moonlight. It is so smoothly done and the first time you see it properly (rather than a fleeting arm) is a tour de force. A dizzying race through the ship. The camera twisting and turning and leaving the viewer as confused as Elizabeth must be.
The whole scene is great.... from the quiet beginnings of Barbossa's dining room through to the ship in all its moonlit glory.

One thing the POTC franchise has always succeeded in was their depiction of cursed crews.

It is not a perfect film. Some of the important characters are dull beyond belief. However, there are so many inventive flashes of inspiration masterfully done that this is a joy to watch. It feels like a proper matinee film. Mixing romance and comedy and horror with the derring do and sense of adventure.
It is, essentially, pure escapism. But isn't that really the concept of cinema?

I did also watch Part 2 but I'll blog it in the am....

Saturday, 3 April 2010

They're not gonna catch us. We're on a mission from God.

No 258 - The Blues Brothers
Director - John Landis

Films based on SNL sketches are worrying beasts... after all, what works in a sketch might not work when tediously stretched over 90 minutes or more. However, when they work they seem to be gems. And usually gems linked with music and musical cameos and a very loose plot that can factor in random occurrences and more sketch like situations.

So it is with The Blues Brothers. Rather than being based on sketches per se, this was based on a supergroup of musicians which were formed to occasionally play as guest musicians on Saturday Night Live. Then they even went and made albums and the like - and we all know just how shit films based on bands can be...
The film itself follows Jake and Elwood as they try to put their band back together in order to raise $5000 and save their former orphanage - ideally without causing too much trouble. Of course, trouble is duly caused and over the course of the film they end up with almost everyone in the world chasing after them.

The film is made up of a bunch of sections which are all fairly similar. They turn up, either recruit a band member or perform, there is a killer cameo and then they have to leave because angry police/Nazis/red necks/security guards/the army are chasing them. It all builds up to an enormous final performance in which we see how much the music industry has changed in the last 30 years.
But let us begin with the cameos, as that is one of the films triumphs. We have Frank Oz popping up (who I think is a bit of John Landis regular), we have John Candy (who was definitely a John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd regular) even Twiggy appearing in a little joke cameo... and we have dozens of awesome musicians appearing. The Blues Brothers band is formed up of some high profile session musicians (or as high profile as those poor guys can be) but then we get the legends cropping up. James Brown is perfectly cast as a big brash American preacher, Cab Calloway and Aretha Franklin show that as well as being awesome singers they can hold their own acting in a big old film. Ray Charles, sadly, doesn't - he is quite a rigid and wooden actor (who looks like he's having a bloody brilliant time though)... but he is RAY FUCKING CHARLES so you more than forgive him.
These big musical set pieces are part of the film's very back bone. The other things that seems to run through the entire film's core is a bunch of ridiculous car chases. They start pretty mental as they smash through a mall and destroy pretty much EVERYTHING. However they get bigger and bigger and more and more ridiculous with pile ups of dozens of cop cars which all make up to the foot chase at the end incorporated every security department America has to offer storming the Tax offices.
If you hadn't clocked it already, this is where you realise that THIS is NOT the real world!

There is one cameo which I haven't yet mentioned, because it is definitely the weirdest. It seems, that at some time in the past Jake spurned a lady.... and it seems that this lady has a pretty hefty artillery. So we have Carrie Fisher appearing as The Mystery Woman who just seems to turn up with more and more ridiculous weapons in order to try and blow up John Belushi's Jake Blues.
It seems to go against all of my geek leanings but I find Carrie Fisher much more attractive when she isn't Princess Leia.... controversial (until you remember her cameo in Shampoo)

And on that really super shallow note I shall end my blog.... I had been doing really well recently too....

ah well....

Friday, 2 April 2010

She says the jungle... it just came alive and took him

No 366 - Predator
Director - John McTiernan

Let it be said and let it be official. Arnold Schwarzenegger is a BEAST. Like in a lot of his films, Arnie finds a reason to get topless in this film (at one point he's wearing a very odd backless utility waistcoat) so you can all feel inferior as you check out his ridiculous muscles.
The man is not human.
He can't be.
He is, however, incredibly cool. As the super-ultra-mega-marines (or whatever this team is supposed to be) leave the helicopter a lone figure lights a cigar in the shadows. Meet Dutch, the team's leader and a serious Bad Ass. Armed with a gun that's almost as big as his pectorals he goes into the rainforest of an unspecified Central American country and he fights the baddies. Only he doesn't.... because the Central American baddies aren't the real baddies. The baddy is a big old bloody Alien. Who will stop at nothing to kill them.

The Predator franchise has merged with the Alien franchise and provided comics and games and films and now we know loads about the two races. But this film triumphs because it doesn't explain anything. The alien is just here. Killing people.
A group of marines (or super soldiers, or elite squad of some kind) are in the woods and are picked off one by one. Hunted by a sort of invisible predator hiding in the trees. This film is not about plot, it is about ACTION ACTION ACTION - and there is a lot of that around. From really gross set pieces to a classic Arnie-ism (to this day, I don't understand why witty one liners are so funny when coming from the mouth of Schwarzenegger.... I think it is because of his dry emotionless voice). However as the troupe are cut down, they naturally become far more paranoid and jumpy. They shoot at the trees and the big guns come out. Literally in the form of Old Painless - one of the most gratuitous bits of gun fetishism I've ever seen in a film. But it succeeds. Old Painless is a pretty gosh-danged cool bit of kit. As they become more frantic we also get the joy of seeing Arnie express emotion. He can't do it. Man is mahogany, through and through. It is why his portrayal as the Terminator is so perfect. He is a ridiculously proportioned and utterly imposing. But he is not a natural actor. Even in adverts he seems wooden, compared to sportsmen or personalities who don't act.

Whilst it doesn't give us any information, the film does happen to allude that the alien has been here before, Anna - the one 'local' actually given any lines talks about a village myth: Only in the hottest years this happens. And this year, it grows hot. We begin finding our men. We found them sometimes without their skins... and sometimes much, much worse. "El cazador trofeo de los hombres" means the demon who makes trophies of men.
That is the only thing we are given for motivation. The predator comes to Earth and scoops up skulls (or, we would assume, skin) to make into trophies.

The rest of the film is a series of people being whisked away, of limbs being hacked off and of ridiculously manly lines being uttered by ridiculously manly men. You don't need to worry about whether you are following the film, it is not the most complex of plots. But it does give you some excellent mayhem and destruction.

The Predator itself is a pretty nasty character, armed with some tough weapons. He has claws but also a series of savage laser weapons, putting him at a very big advantage over his human prey. Yet, he seems to have one massive flaw. Not his fault, it is genetic, but it makes you wonder about the evolution of that race.
It seems that despite their culture being based on stealth, they have been cursed with neon yellow blood. Not just neon yellow blood mind, so so neon that it glows. I can only think it is to aid their survival of the fittest. You do not want to bleed.

It takes a lot to make the Predator bleed and asides from a single gunshot wound, the Predator remains pretty much unscathed for most of the film. Until he faces the big man. Everybody has been bumped off or has GOT TO THE CHOPPER and the final showdown begins. It is a nice touch, that after long time of being a literal faceless killer they decide to give the character of the Predator a bit of an actual character. So in an act of respect towards Arnie's Dutch and his excellent fighting skills he removes his helmet and his space tech weapons and the two fight essentially unarmed. Mano a Evil -Fish Lizard Thing.

If there is one thing I have learnt from films like this and First Blood it is that if you cover yourself in mud and have enough pointy sticks you will always triumph.

Especially if you helped found Planet Hollywood. (seriously - check out like 54 seconds in...)

Larry, we're not electing the fucking Pope here. Just tell me who won.

No 389 - Election
Director - Alexander Payne

It must be hard to be Christopher Mintz-Plasse. It will probably be a very very long time before he out lives McLovin'. I mean, even Matthew Vaughn admits that Red Mist will fall to the Superbad shadow.
The reason I begin like this is because of Matthew Broderick. Election begins with Broderick in the shower and I immediately thought of one thing, one character. I don't think it helps that Broderick is one of those people that ages very well and still looks really quite young....

However, in this film Broderick plays Jim McAllister, a teacher who sets a vendetta against one of his students. The whole film is told as a flashback, with voice overs indicating that something bad will happen to him. So as you watch the events unfold you end up waiting for it all to go tits up. The student in question is Tracey Flick, she had an affair with a teacher (one of McAllister's friends) and subsequently got him fired. For that reason (and many other smaller ones) McAllister doesn't like her. When she runs for Student President, he decides to sabotage it. Voila the plot in a nut shell - but this film is more about the characters and how McAllister manages to slowly fuck himself over.
But, let us begin by exploring the characters. The shining star in this film is Tracey Flick, she is so single minded she is scary. She is determined and passionate and borderline insane. She will sacrifice everything and stop at nothing to be the highest achieving student in her school. What is most interesting is that she is Reese Witherspoon. Witherspoon has a bit of a reputation of being a good girl. Even in Cruel Intentions she was the target, the sweet and innocent woman waiting to be corrupted. The vast strew of fairly saccharine rom-coms haven't helped either. So it is really interesting to see her in this kind of role. Where she plays a borderline psychopath.

It is important to note that she doesn't really do much to sexualise herself. Instead she appears in the fantasies of teachers firstly with Mr Novotny and then with Mr McAllister as he gets more and more obsessed with her. She isn't a manipulative person but she is a petty, grudge holding, over emotional student with serious mood swings. It is quite scary to watch her break down (and throughout the film she breaks down several times) - she is clearly an overstressed individual. I blame the mother, a figure we see only a couple of times but who is clearly a tad domineering.

She is up against Paul, played by Chris Klein, who is probably the most genuinely nice person in the film. He worries about the other characters including his annoyingly stereotype rebel-teen sister (also running for president) and for Tracey. Yet, she can only see him as the enemy. He kind of wanders through the film like an over-eager puppy happy to let things pass.

But all of this - the obsession with Tracey, the election itself - is unimportant. It is just a series of catalysts for the main focus of the film. McAllister's breakdown. Here Broderick is excellent, watching him get more pent up and violent. Watching his sexual frustration and fantasies begin to spill into other areas of his life, watching his delusions crash into reality. It shows a fascinating side of what is, essentially, a very violent mid life crisis. His character morphs from being this wonderful friendly human being who loves teaching to being a twisted and bitter figure. It is even reflected (for a while) physically as a bee sting leaves him swollen and disfigured.

The film's end shows that you're never too old for reinvention and to see the fun side of life. That whilst some people may change and adapt others will constantly chase the better position in life. But you find yourself asking if McAllister wouldn't have been better off if he had just never gotten involved with the election.

It is not your average happy ending.

Live as one of them, Kal-El, to discover where your strength and your power are needed.

No 174 - Superman
Director - Richard Donner

This film is LONG. I do not remember this film being so long. It is 25 minutes before we even see little Kal-El, almost an hour before we get to Metropolis. But it manages to fit so much into those 143 minutes that despite many other newer slicker films, this may still be the finest Superhero origin film.
We begin on Krypton with a scene which made me so happy. The trial of General Zod and his banishment to the Phantom Zone. The reason this scene made me so happy is that it is solely there to create a set up for the sequel but it is done at the BEGINNING of the film in a way which is logical to the introduction of the characters. In films nowadays it is becoming the norm to crowbar a final scene which sets up a sequel. I saw it most recently in Kick Ass (I really hope they don't make a sequel to Kick Ass) and it upsets me. It is usually forced and dampens the film's resolution, so it is lovely to see it well done. In fact the film begins to explain a load of elements of the Superman myth. Krypton is a beautiful place, cities made of crystals and clothes which glisten a beautiful blinding white. It is beautiful to watch and each of the Kryptonian families have a symbol emblazoned into their clothing. It is just coincidence that Jor-El (superman's father) has a family symbol which resembles an S. Also, in one conversation with his wife Lara, Jor-El explains almost everything about why Superman is so Super.
Lara: Have you finished?
Jor-El: Nearly. It's the only answer, Lara. If he remains here with us... he will die as surely as we will.
Lara: But why Earth, Jor-El? They're primitives, thousands of years behind us.
Jor-El: He will need that advantage to survive. Their atmosphere will... sustain him.
Lara: He will defy their gravity.
Jor-El: He will look like one of them.
Lara: He won't *be* one of them.
Jor-El: No. His dense molecular structure will make him strong.
Lara: He'll be odd. Different.
Jor-El: He'll be fast. Virtually invulnerable.
Lara: Isolated. Alone.
Jor-El: He will not be alone.
Jor-El: He will never be alone.

So there we have it - Superman's powers are based around a molecular density and a different type of gravity. That's good to know. I never knew any of this stuff, and it is the kind of stuff which probably wouldn't get explained in today's superhero films. Especially seeing as they're all made for people with ADD.

So finally -Kal-El is sent to Earth, has to be said that there is something quite satisfying in the weird level of epicness used before the standard origin story begins. After all 40 minutes into the film and we've only just begun to truly explore Kal-El's motivations and his alter ego as Clark Kent. It is quite brave to have a film moving so slowly. It lets us get closer to the characters, before finally he goes to his Fortress of Solitude and learns about Earth and about his heritage from his father's ghost(?) or really well made hologram(?), either way - he learns from Marlon Brando's excellent depiction of Jor-El and he emerges as Superman, in his Kryptonian outfit.

This is what makes Kal-El such an interesting character. He is never really himself. He flits between two alter-egos. He is either Clark Kent or Superman, but it is very rare that the viewer sees 100% Kal-El (though we do see it when he appears as Clark to take Louis on a date) -it makes him a far more fascinating character. Something which has been said before by Mr Tarantino in Kill Bill:
Now, a staple of the superhero mythology is, there's the superhero and there's the alter ego. Batman is actually Bruce Wayne, Spider-Man is actually Peter Parker. When that character wakes up in the morning, he's Peter Parker. He has to put on a costume to become Spider-Man. And it is in that characteristic Superman stands alone. Superman didn't become Superman. Superman was born Superman. When Superman wakes up in the morning, he's Superman. His alter ego is Clark Kent. His outfit with the big red "S", that's the blanket he was wrapped in as a baby when the Kents found him. Those are his clothes. What Kent wears - the glasses, the business suit - that's the costume. That's the costume Superman wears to blend in with us. Clark Kent is how Superman views us. And what are the characteristics of Clark Kent. He's weak... he's unsure of himself... he's a coward. Clark Kent is Superman's critique on the whole human race.

So, now seems to be the perfect point to talk about Christopher Reeve and his excellent portrayal of Kal-El in all his identities. In theory Clark Kent is a rubbish disguise - with his glasses on he is Clark, mild mannered reporter, but when he takes them off he is SUPERMAN. Most people are recognisable with or without a pair of glasses. So something more has to happen. This is where Reeve really comes into his own - Clark is bumbling, nervous, hunched and twitchy. He blends into the background and is thoroughly unremarkable. On the over hand we have Superman, he has excellent posture he is confident and he speaks in a deep and resonant voice. Ignore the clothing and the fact that he can fly: You would notice Superman even if he was dressed in civvies.
He also drops wonderful hints about the fact that he sees the world differently. After all he can see through things, he sees everything and he can hear everything. With all Superman's awesomeness, it must be hard to keep up the pretense of being Kent.

So, when a helicopter goes out of control 70 minutes into the film, we have the first Superman set piece. The set piece is wonderful - joyous. Sure, the special effects are dated but the drama and the joy from the events are still there. Best of all though is Reeve's depiction of Superman throughout. Sure things are breaking and people are in peril but he looks so so HAPPY. He can cast of the shackles of being repressed as Clark and just enjoy his superiority. He is so confident that he manages to flirt with Lois as he carries a helicopter to safety with one hand. After all, Kal-El is a man in his early 30's, who spent most of his adult life in a snow peaked crystal Fortress of Solitude. Alien or not, he still wants to show off in front of pretty girls.

Supes and Lois have the beginning of quite a cool romance in this, most of it is flirty but the awful awful voice over poetry moment is probably the most dated part of an otherwise really impressive film.

But... a superhero origin story is not just about voyages of discovery and romance, it still needs a big bad and this is where they nearly always fail. The film has gotten so carried away with the origin that the final battle is kind of thrown in with no real motivation and without the care the rest of the film seems to have.
To a certain degree it is the same here. We are introduced to a wonderful villain in Lex Luthor, he is rich arrogant and gloriously cruel. In seeing Gene Hackman's portrayal I begin to have far more respect for Kevin Spacey who actually nails Hackman's Luthor in the otherwise pretty naff Superman Returns.
Also - I always have a lot of love for a really dapper baddie and Lex murders cops whilst in exquisite crushed velvet. Nuff respect.

Whilst Hackman's portrayal of Luthor is wonderful... his evil plot is the weakest bit of the film. Don't get me wrong - I love the mercenary ruthlessness of destroying an entire coast land just to make his land more valuable. However, I'm left with a massive plot hole. And it is MASSIVE.


Lex Luthor is very intelligent, but there is still a lot of guess work and odd extrapolating. Lex discovers that around the time of Kal-El's arrival to Earth there was a meteor storm. So those meteors must come from Krypton. Then, Lex decides that the level of *specific* radioactivity is so high, to anyone from the planet Krypton, this substance is *lethal*!
Where, just where, does this little nugget of information come from?
Because he is right.... and Superman goes from being the unstoppable badass of awesome to actually being a bit of a rubbish superhero. After all, if you can get your hands on some Kryptonite he becomes weak. Weaker than humans. Weaker than most things as he can't really move he is in so much pain.
So, before you commit a crime in Metropolis, get yourself some Kryptonite. If shows like Smallville mean anything, it isn't really that hard to get hold of.

Of course Superman gets free and of course he saves the day. I don't really want to focus too much on the final set pieces. They're wonderful to watch and there is the SHEER ridiculousness of him flying round the Earth really really fast to reverse time. It is laughable in how silly it is, but it is quite fun.

You have to give Donner a lot of kudos, despite the limitations of the 70's he has made a really ambitious and impressive film with a load of SFX.

It is really really enjoyable - and the goodie is a GOODIE. Not a vigilante, not someone getting dubious kicks from it, not an anti hero.

Just a really good superhero.

I have no control over this, this evil thing inside of me, the fire, the voices, the torment!

No 212 - M
Director - Fritz Lang

The lights dim and the cinema is washed in the crackling hiss of really old cinema. I've never really made the most of the fact that I'm a BFI member, but at least now I can say that I have seen an old and grainy, crackling and juddering piece of 1930's cinema, actually in the cinema. I have also finally had an overlap with Mr Dallas King who is doing the same thing as me, only ridiculously briefly. Check out his (500) Films of Empire blog to see what a film challenge REALLY is (this is more of a cinematic dawdle).

M is a curious beast it is a film that happens in peaks and troughs. Genuinely interesting moments seem to be bookended with long sequences in which nothing really happens. However it is important to remember that this is still the early days of cinema. Complaints like pacing seem a bit petty about a film which was made before such things were really concerns. Especially when there are some wonderful cinematic touches. From some ingenious camera positions (I particularly enjoyed the bonkersly unflattering worm's eye view of the chief of police) to some truly marvellous scenes. Scenes which probably secured this film's position in the top 500 and which I shall speak about later.

The film's subject matter is surprisingly dark. It is part of the BFI's Psycho season, so I'm aware that it was about a a murderer, however I did not know that the victims were little girls. This introduces a pretty horrible paedophile element into the killings and disappearances. Certainly the initial shots of the killer are fabulous, we see his hand or the back of his head and hauntingly, the broken fragments of a whistled rendition of 'Hall of the Mountain King'. This becomes the warning. If you hear that being whistled, it means he'll try and kidnap a child. Knowing these connotations kind of throws the Alton Towers adverts into a horrible new light.
Naturally - child catching is the lowest of the low and so not only do we have the entire police force after this figure but also the entire criminal fraternity. This part of the film seems to expertly juggle the fascinating and the tedious. Lang manages to show some wonderful bleakly-comic examples of mob mentality. Anyone who is seen being questioned by police or talking to a child is immediately branded the child killer and massively persecuted. However, interspersed throughout all of that we're faced with the meticulous process of paperwork and questioning used by the Police.

Due to their unlawfulness, the drama kicks up a notch when the criminals get involved, in their wonderful, almost cliche, departments. So we have representatives for pickpocketing (dressed commonly but with dozens of silver pocket watches), card sharking (a bit of a spiv who constantly shuffles a deck) and murder (think black leather gestapo chic) amongst others. They are the first to find the murderer and hunt him down. However once again we fall victim to Lang's pacing as we follow the meticulous search through the house until eventually they find the murderer.

And so, all is forgiven. Because when child killing psychopath Hans Beckert is thrown into a kangaroo court consisting of the entire criminal community of Berlin, we face an iconic and captivating scene.
This is mainly down to Hans Beckert's impassioned speeches and Peter Lorre's wonderful portrayal of him. He is a collapsed figure, huddled and crying, wide eyed and emotional. He is a shaking and terrified pathetic wreck of a man. When up against the hate and contempt of the court you start to pity the man. The fact that he can't help himself and that he really tries not to introduces a new dynamic into the film that is almost more uncomfortable than just dealing with a child killer. The film also points out the hypocrisy of the whole court. Beckert is tried for murder (of children admittedly) by a judge who is on the run for 3 counts of murder himself.

For a film which has been very generous with pacing, the final moments seem rushed as the police storm the kangaroo court and Beckert gets a proper hearing. Though we never know what judgement is actually decreed. Some would argue that it doesn't matter. He may be sent to jail, he may be sent to an asylum. It is hard to know what message Lang is trying to put across, but I think at the heart of it all is the film's final line:
This won't bring back our children. We, too, should keep a closer watch on our children.