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).