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.