Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Dr. Green, how can you diagnose someone as an obsessive compulsive disorder, and then act like I have some choice about barging in here?

No 140 - As Good as it Gets
Director - James L Brooks

Jack Nicholson is a crazy old man isn't he. He's always been a crazy old man.

He is also fascinating to watch. Something about his face. His eyebrows and his teeny tiny eyes and his ENORMOUS creepy grin.
His, is a face you can look at forever because he manages act with parts of your head which shouldn't be acting:

In this film, Nicholson plays a grumpy old curmudgeon and the film is set in a weird tone, begin with some brilliant dog-based toilet humour, but also factoring in some uncomfortable (hilariously uncomfortable at times) homophobia and racism towards his neighbours.

Of course, this is Hollywood and grumpy old curmudgeons can't stay grumpy forever. So, after a surprisingly brutal scene, Nicholson is left looking after the stupidest dog in the world!

Now - it turns out the dog is a Brussels Griffon.... but look at its doggy face. It is the stupidest dog in the world....

That is a stupid face.

And so, looking at my notes, I seem to have become fixated with the dog. I even drew sketches of the dog.
I think the reason was that I didn't want to focus on the main story.

The main story sees Nicholson soften into a nicer more likeable guy as he goes on a roadtrip with Helen Hunt's waitress (what he fancies) and his gay neighbour (or Gaybour) played by Greg Kinnear.
In this, the typical happens.
Now call me naive, but I sort of hoped that Nicholson's character would see the good that he was doing. Would see the relationships he was helping to form and this would soften his character. He'd leave with two new friends and a changed outlook on the world.

But no... THERE HAS TO BE A FUCKING LOVE ANGLE DESPITE THE FACT THAT NICHOLSON IS 26 YEARS OLDER THAN HUNT.... this is never mentioned. He is old enough to be her dad and he is horrible.... and yet Hunt fancies him right up.
At one point, Nicholson's character meets Hunt's mother.... I thought that would lead to romance.... an interesting (and fitting) relationship.

There are also interesting moments which are downplayed - Greg Kinnear's artist finds his muse in Helen Hunt's character. This gives us one scene of cheeky nudity and hunt-boob, but very little in the way of story or character notes.

you see....

its all bumped out of the way for this

And this cheapens the whole film for me. I like the idea of Nicholson curing (or at least controlling) his OCDs - I like the idea of him becoming a nicer person.

But I'd much rather it was friendship which changed him. Or even a silly little dog.

Because those changes become much less poignant when the motivation is clear:

Jack just wants to stick his Nicholson in to Helen's Hunt.

I've done a lot of bad things, Joey. Maybe it's comin' back to me. Who knows? I'm a jinx maybe. Who the hell knows?

No 11 - Raging Bull
Director - Martin Scorsese

Oh Blog.... I've neglected you. I'm like an absent husband taking advantage of you as you wait for me, scared of what I might do next....

Which dovetails nicely to RAGING BULL - the story of a horrible shit of man who is in no way likeable throughout the film.

Seriously - Jake La Motta is a horrible bastard of a man. Now... I'm not necessarily talking about HIM personally (never insult a boxer) - but certainly his character in this film. Bastard.

I don't want to dwell on this too much as it would just be a list of character flaws and violent outbreaks - also, I saw this film ages ago and lost all my notes - but this is a man who mixes dangerous levels of paranoia and arrogance. He is quick to temper, and quick to get violent. He leaves his wife for a girl of 15 and continues to abuse and bash her around anyway.

He is a nasty piece of work. But the film never shies away from it. It gets right in there. Sticks close to the screaming and the flying crockery. Clinging to the fiery Mediterranean outbursts of rage. It is close up, hyper real and ugly.
The perfect counterpoint the boxing scenes.

Scorsese films the boxing scenes in a similar way to the scenes of domesticity - the camera is up close, in the face of the violent. But the image seems softer, the movements more dreamy. Often the scene's sound is faded out and replaced with music.
As soon as La Motta steps into the ring, the film takes a fantasy twist. It becomes beautiful to watch.

Just look a the silent moments of confrontation in this video between Sugar Ray and Jake La Motta. The cinematography is brilliant.... from the stark use of Red in the opening credits

to the final sequence in which a fatter, older La Motta memorises a speech - talking to his reflection in an awkward monotone delivery: It all looks amazing.

Which brings us to the other of the film's key strengths.... De Niro.
De Niro's transformation throughout this film is phenomenal. It is a tour de force, not only in acting as he creates a rounded, deep, flawed and layered character from someone who could easily be a 1 dimensional fucker, but also in the physical dedication. As the film progresses, we see La Motta gain weight, as he loses the will to fight and just gets lazy with his riches. It is impressive because it happens over the course of the film, but it is more impressive because it sneaks up on you.... you don't notice it at first, until he's parading around topless on the beach. It makes it much more striking than the films which just cut to a point where the protagonist is super skinny or fatter.

The slow creep of fat is similar to the majority of the film. The film's knockout punches are the fights. Amazing shots which have become iconic and which are frequently paid homage to in films where punches are thrown.
The rest of the film is more of a creeper. Growing on you, slowly, and horribly.... getting under your skin as you watch the rise and fall of a cruel cruel man...

Thursday, 6 October 2011

My name's Forrest Gump. People call me Forrest Gump.

No 240 - Forrest Gump
Director - Robert Zemeckis

This was the film that won 'Best Film' in 1994, beating both Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption, two films which can be described as gritty fantasy (whether the fantasy comes from Tarantino's sense of myth or from the uplifting suspension of disbelief which is there in King's story)
So does it deserve it?

Short answer is no....
But that isn't to say that Forrest Gump is a bad film - in fact I've been looking forward to having the excuse to rewatch it, because I have fond memories of the film - and it is very clever, and really quite enjoyable. It is also drowning in saccharine, self importance and sentimentalism.

But what works?

This is a complex story - it is the story of America during a messed up time, where they were dealing with paranoia, racism, wars and protests. The aspirations of the country are muddled and the way the country goes about it is messy. Yet we are anchored with Gump. Forrest is a simple man - both in mental capacity and in needs. He doesn't seem to want anything (except maybe for Jenny to be happy) and he just bumbles through life and yet through him we experience so much.
It seems that Gump (or at the very least Gump's family) are directly involved in important moments of history. There are the small moments (his influences on popular culture - from Elvis through to 'Shit Happens' via 'Imagine' are all sublime) and then there are the big moments.
The CGI is becoming a bit more noticeable now, as they manipulate the mouths of old stock footage, but still.... kudos to Zemeckis for USING old stock footage and then tweaking and cheating with CGI. Scenes like this still amuse and still look pretty impressive (even if the voices aren't always 100%)

This tweaking with CGI and with American history also helps create my next point:

The film may really stay in 3 areas (Alabama, Washington and 'Nam) - but the sense of scale is massive. From the explosions and helicopters whooshing past in Vietnam through to the massive rally you see in the picture above and the hurricane which affects Gump's shrimping business - This is a large story, and whilst it is told on a small, one person scale - the film remembers that the large scale shenanigans need to be shown, even if in the background.

I wish to end on a point of characters. I, personally, find Forrest really grating. His slow southern drawl (mixed with the fact that he is slightly retarded) just makes everything he says ponderous and dull... but because he is surrounded by so many interesting moments, you forget. The real star of the show is:

Dan Taylor has the greatest character arc. A brilliant character arc... The Vietnam officer who is stripped of everything and has to learn again what life is about. We see him at his very lowest, we see him happy (for several different reasons). He's important, because with the exception of maybe death, I don't think Gump ever truly realises that bad things happen to people.... Lt Dan is there to be the man that had to rebuild his life, and climb out of his own self destructive descent.

And on the topic of Self Destructive Descent

Now.... I understand the point of Jenny, she is an interesting and pivotal plot point. She provides the motivation for a lot of Gump's actions, and her character (particularly her sexual awareness and drug use) is a great dichotomy to Gump's utter naivety throughout.
The thing is.... I only cared about Jenny when she was a little girl and at the hands of her abusive father. The character is one who is drawn to the safety of Gump and his incredibly loving and busy household....
But as soon as she becomes Robin Wright I just lost interest... I never felt anything for Jenny. She was moving from one terrible decision to another (the direct opposite of Gump's life) but I never felt for her the way that Zemeckis wanted me to.

And that... brings me to the real issue of the film.

For all the interesting moments, for all the nice nuances which have been brought to the story - the film is too eager to thrust mawkish sentimentality and over-sincere characters at you. And the freaky robot child that is Haley Joel Osmond.

I could do with fewer tearful speeches around gravestones, and more of the story of America...

And that's all I really have to say about that.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Today I saw a slave become more powerful than the Emperor of Rome.

No 151 - Gladiator
Director - Ridley Scott


Only joking.... I'm talking about different gladiators. The Roman ones.

Rome was a long time ago - this must be the case because Gladiator begins with all the studio logos appearing in sepia tones. So we're talking OLD.

The Roman empire was a tough time, and being Caesar was particularly tough. You had to make sure everything was correct. You had to stop the marauding hordes. And frequently actors would thesbianically lament that the Gods were angry. Caesar 3 was a tough game - but here old man Richard Harris seems to nail the whole God Emperor thing. He is popular. He is powerful. He is doomed.

This is the story of one of Caesar's friends and officers and how he is plunged into big old shit - losing his power, his status, his family and his freedom. The thing that I forgot though was just how bloody dark and bleak and gloomy it is.
11 years had passed since I last saw it, and over time nostalgia had tinged the film as being more fun. The blood and sand and fightings had taken over and meant that I remembered the film to be a bit more of a romp.

It is not a romp at all.

It is in fact

And the horrors of the age (particularly the death of Maximus' family - which leads him to his Gladiator role) - jar with the more cinematic deaths of the battleground.

The battles in the arena are not glorified. This isn't 300 - this is proper 'this shit is real' fighting - with dirty brown sand stained with blood. The audience's celebrations, aren't echoes in the cinematography. The film doesn't want you to relish in the battle. Just witness the plight.
- I say that.... but actually, the more famous Maximus becomes, the more the film seems to forget that. I mean - the tigers don't do much do they? They just look cool?

The fights are impressive - they're violent but not KERRAZY VIOLENT. And they all help to lead Maximus to meet Joaquin Phoenix's ridiculous Emperor Commodus. A man who is trying so hard to do every bad thing. He's like the pantomime villains off The Crow - and he ticks all the boxes of being a bit of a bugger. Specially to his family - what with all that incest and patricide going on.... Phoenix plays him beautifully. In fact, its Commodus' snivelly pathetic neediness that makes him more horrible. It is his motivation which is the real shocker. Not the actual acts....

After all Rome was a tough old place, and that kinda shit happened.

The film's ending suffers from being a little too Po-faced - but there are some beautiful shots (I particularly like Maximus gliding over the desert) - and it leads the story to the only logical resolution....

I just wish they'd had the balls to do Nick Cave's sequel for it. Because it is so bat-shit bonkers, it could have been amazing.

Forget my blog - just read this if you've never read it before. Naturally there will be stuff in it that spoils the first film, if you've not seen it.

All in all - Gladiator is a great film, full of marvellous actors (famous, of course, as the bloody legend Oliver Reed's last film) and visually incredible.
I think it just takes itself too seriously at times.

So.... in conclusion.

My favourite Gladiator was Jet

Thursday, 15 September 2011

The time has come for someone to put his foot down. And that foot is me.

No 279 - National Lampoon's Animal House
Director - John Landis

I don't understand a lot of American culture. Especially university culture. Like I don't understand Frat houses or what they really are. I could do some basic research. Read this Wikipedia entry that took me literally seconds to find. But I won't. I refuse to. It will all remain a mystery of people being weird and getting spanked.
A strange homoerotic one-upmanship that just creeps up in films every now and then. But which I just don't get. I especially don't understand why their so important.

Anyway, they are important and Delta house is painted as the fuck-up house. And yet, when we're introduced to the houses at the start of the film, Delta house looks like the place that is actually fun. A party. Rather than an awkward parade of self-importance.

Anyway.... Animal house has been the stepping stone for almost every College gross-out comedy since. It has been parodied by everything. It was essentially an entire episode of The Simpsons

cough cough look over here

There is swearing, there is sex, there is a LOT of female nudity.

And there are some true comic gems. There is some visual humour which is inspired. John Belushi shuffling about on a ladder..... one of the funniest things I've ever seen.

Even the 'zit' moment is still funny. And that is a clip on Scene it and I've 'seen it' about a gajillion times.

Lets move on and just discuss the big bag of awesome. The true legend of the film. D-Day....

And I just learnt something amazing about D-Day.

For a good half of the film, I thought D-Day was ACTUALLY a lecturer at the uni who then became a bit of a badass and hung out in the Frat house. I'd even created a back story for him.
Anyway then I assumed that Sutherland had enjoyed the script so much that he wanted to play two roles. Like Jack Nicholson in Mars Attacks!

But NO!!!! Donald Sutherland is only playing the lecturer. The legend that is D-Day is played by Bruce McGill... Who has appeared in lots of stuff but nothing that stood out.
So my entire speech about the awesomeness of Donald Sutherland has been wasted.

BUT.... D-Day is still amazing, from his entry as he rides a motorbike up some stairs to his finale in the car of destruction he pimps out...

He is great.

Its a weird film in that it inspired an entire genre really. And whilst nothing in it feels particularly NEW anymore (a side effect of its material being borrowed by so many sources) - it does feel like a quality piece of comedy.

There is a really high gag rate.

There were some genuine LOLZ

what more do you need?

Monday, 5 September 2011

So long as the Arabs fight tribe against tribe, so long will they be a little people, a silly people - greedy, barbarous, and cruel, as you are.

No 57 - Lawrence of Arabia
Director - David Lean

I cleared my diary and set myself an evening to sit down with a true gargantuan epic. From the little disclaimer before the film telling me there'd be moments of score with no visual accompaniment, I knew I was going to enjoy the film. This is a director with a vision. A proper true vision.
And he has a freaking awesome score.
"Listen" He seems to say "This score is so fucking amazeballs, that I want you to really get your chops around it before I sully it with beautiful beautiful imagery. Lets just appreciate it first you cinematic heathens."

I am not one to go against Mr Lean. So - before you read this meandering blog post, make sure you listen to the score and get all goosepimply and that.


I have recently read the fabulous book Hellraisers by Robert Sellers and had learnt magnificent stories of amazing drunkardness. All it did was cement Peter O'Toole as a complete legend. I've always thought he was aces. But I've also always thought he was old. Which is a completely idiotic thought to have.... but O'Toole just seems old. He seems a randy old bugger. Like in that weirdly depressing and utterly disturbing film Venus.... So to see him so young and striking kind of threw me off course.

Young O'Toole isn't really a handsome man, but he does have striking eyes, a beautifully soft spoken voice and a caddish charm - all of which is carried across to Lawrence making him somebody which you immediately route for in the stuffiness and stiff upper lip of the British armed forces.

Throughout the film, Lawrence's intentions are never clearly explained.... especially at the beginning it is difficult to see what is motivating him - however, here is the benefit of such a slow and ponderous film playing over 4 hours. As we are surrounded by lavish and insanely beautiful pictures of the desert, we begin to understand Lawrence's feelings. When he finally declares his love for the country, it comes as no surprise. This is man who has taken the harsh and inhospitable world to heart. Who treats the people as equals and who wishes to be treated as an equal by the people. A massive difference from the cries of "Wog" which eminate from the other bigoted soldiers and officers.
Whilst I'm on the topic of casual racism... let me just mention the one aspect which sullied what is an otherwise beautiful and engrossing film:
Alec Guinness shouldn't be all blacked up in order to play an Arab.

I am aware it was common in those days, and there is no denying that Guinness plays the part with passion and creates a rich and detailed character. However, it always snaps me out of the film: whether it is Olivier in Othello or Jean Simmons in Black Narcissus - it just feels a bit icky. Nowadays we can only have it done for jokes. And it only really works if it addresses the joke directly... Kirk Lazarus' dedication to method acting is a great 'blacking up' joke as well as mostly being a massive pisstake of 'The Method' and role immersion.... Eddie Murphy's Mr Wong in Norbit is as horrible and icky as Mickey Rooney's Mr Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany's, 40 years earlier.

Right - I got sidetracked there with a little link-heavy rant about racism. The important thing is that this is just a small glitch in a beautiful, rich and truly epic story about (ironically) race relations.

The film isn't afraid to tackle dark topics and manages to paint the Arab nation as a bunch of squabbling violent tribes in a way that doesn't belittle them. The film is about accepting that there are different cultures, and whilst some of these cultures may need an outsider to see them and amend them in order to move things on - we shouldn't just stick OUR cultures on top. That remains as true now, as it did then.

It is a bit too long (I was flagging by the end) but you stay interested and rooting for Lawrence. He is a good man. He is brilliantly played by O'Toole.

A great film.

If I know Mary as well as I think I do, she'll invite us right in for tea and strumpets.

No 445 - Dumb and Dumber
Director - Peter Farrelly

So. I planned to sit down and watch Lawrence of Arabia. But no one had warned me it was a billion hours long. So I sat down to watch that other classic of cinema:


I think I had watched it once before, many a year ago - but didn't really have much knowledge of it. I'm not a massive fan of Jim Carrey's early gurning phase (with the exception of the Mask, which is absolute genius) so had always just seen this as a film which was ok, but nothing special.

On rewatching, I was surprised by the depth. Particularly the depth of Lloyd's character. Harry seemed too whacked out to be really paying attention to the world. But Lloyd is just desperate for affection. The entire film is based around the ridiculous lengths one man is willing to go in order to try and impress a woman.

The thing is (and I've always felt this) - The Farrelly brothers try too hard. They ruin the film with their insistence on toilet humour (which is by far the weaker jokes), and when they do dare to do a subtler joke it is usually much ore triumphant than their more obvious jokes.
For example I found the line "I fell off the jetway again" much funnier than the entire sequence of events which happened before, leading to Lloyd falling.
I suppose asking for intelligent humour in a film like Dumb and Dumber is a bit redundant. But it is these small moments which show me what could have been.

There were some pleasent surprises in the film - there are some great cuts, most famously that great boobs/headlight cut - that, as well as the dog-car, are moments of the brilliant visual humour which are interspersed throughout the film.

I think, really this is a film of brilliantly funny moments and great concepts. But in trying to make a film, it resorts too often to cheap humour which stops it from being truly remarkable.

But at times it is truly painfully funny!

PS - I just found out from IMDB that Nic Cage and Gary Oldman were the first choices to play Harry and Lloyd. That would have essentially made this the most unhinged film of geniusness ever.
Such a shame.... don't get me wrong, Daniels and Carrey are good. But.... NIC CAGE AND GARY OLDMAN?! Fuck....a.....duck

The burden of proof is on the prosecution. The defendant doesn't even have to open his mouth. That's in the Constitution.

No 72 - 12 Angry Men
Director - Sidney Lumet

Well bloody hell.... life catches up with you doesn't? Between doing the Edinburgh Fringe, flying to Spain and then flying to India (I'm quite a big deal) - I haven't really had the time to do anything. Certainly not been at a laptop long enough to blog.
Though I did catch a lot of quite good films on the Planes. Hanna is pretty awesome isn't it.

But what about the actual list film? Well.... I saw it almost a month ago so I'm going to have to resort pretty heavily on my notes rather than on any clear memories.

The first thing that I really noticed is that the film is very stark. From the way that it opens without pre-film credits (which you don't see that often in films of this age) through to openly bigoted characters, none of which are named, and complete lack of momentum. This is a film which is unashamed about its minimalism. There are no set pieces. No real drama. Just a lot of talk and some ever shortening nerves.

The entire film takes place in one room, and the film enjoys letting the audience savour the claustrophobia. The jury is too hot, the room is too noisy, stifling and there is the inherent racism that probably did simmer in the minds of people in 50's America.
What the film does exceptionally well is watch the journey of these jurors. I have never had to do jury duty, but I don't think it would be as complex or as demanding as the full analysis which occurs in this film.
At no point do they ever say the nameless kid is INNOCENT of his crime. They are just debating whether there is enough evidence to sentence him to death without qualms. This means a hefty breakdown of all the facts, changing the minds of some.... and further infuriating others who just want to get out, get home and get back to their lives.

The more that people discuss the facts, the more the jurors get irritated. I particularly love the quote

I'm sick and tired of facts! You can twist 'em anyway you like, you know what I mean?
Which for me sums up the whole temperament of some of these jurors. They don't really care about the facts. They just want to hang the no-goodnic (and there is no question that he is a bad kid, just maybe not a murderer) and go watch their ball game.
It also makes me think of this small moment of genius.

Really, the film doesn't have much to it. But as a tense character study of 12 people. As a deft analysis of the human psyche. It works splendidly.

It is, in a strange way, quite similar to the Social Network as it is a superbly written piece which manages to make legal procedure and a bunch of people bickering in a room a massively entertaining and captivating film.

Where 12 Angry Men is even more impressive, is that it does it in one room. Without ever resorting to flashbacks or anything.

A triumph of a film from a very skilled director.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Honey, we all got to go sometime, reason or no reason. Dyin's as natural as livin'. The man who's too afraid to die is too afraid to live.

No 207 - The Misfits
Director - John Huston

I was tricked. Duped even. I thought the Misfits was going to be a knockabout comedy... My hero Clark Gable and the impossible cartoon of sexiness that is Marilyn Monroe. There would be quips and sparring and maybe some hilarious mistaken identities and farcical moments.


This is a serious film... with a lot of sad faces and a the two aforementioned actors cracking out their last feature length films before they die.

The Misfits is an odd film - as it seems to be one which is structured on disappointment and compromise. Nearly every character is coming out of a relationship - mostly through divorce but a couple are widows and widowers. They're then settling into this harsh cold world and trying to find any comfort to help them through. It isn't pretty. Most of the characters appear to be drunk about 90% of the time. I'd be quite interested in playing a The Misfits Drinking Game - because there is a fair amount of Whiskey getting polished off throughout.

So when a pretty little Widow like Monroe's Roslyn comes into the equation, a fierce competition happens. Everyone vies for her attention. Everyone tries to woo her. Everyone seems to get seriously fucked up when they realise they can't have her.

This is a film in which Clark Gable, Montgomery Clift and Eli Wallach are constantly backstabbing each other to get (a NEWLY DIVORCED) Marilyn Monroe into bed.... ethics are all over the shop.

The film then takes a strange existential angle. Looking at the value of life, and the way that the world has changed. Clark Gable's beat up old cow boy is tragic, a man who hasn't quite come to grips with how the world has modernised and changed around him. But all 3 men are equally as bad... they're men who's wartime experiences have seen them desensitized to life and death. They're men who refuse to see the way the world changes and who hang on to old values.

Monroe may come off as a bit hysterical throughout the film - but they need that... they need that to realise that times have changed. That you have to work. That the world is cruel. That you can't always get what you want....

Maybe I just watched this film in a glum mood (and I did) hoping to be cheered up... but that's what I got out of it. That life is a challenge, and the truly brave people are the people who rise to that challenge and be the better man.

Then you can be haggard and worn down (and hilariously called Gay) and still sleep with Marilyn Monroe....

I want to see what love looks like when it's triumphant. I haven't had a good laugh in a week.

No 297 – It Happened One Night
Director – Frank Capra

Hello…. My name is Clark Gable and I am utterly awesome in every way…. From my brill-creamed hair to the tips of my beautiful brogues – and don’t forget my moustache. It’s a very good moustache

Oh yes…. Everyone loves me, from olden day womens to trendy electro-hipsters.

The Postal Service - Clark Gable

So basically – all this film does is point out the Clark Gable may be the single greatest human being to have ever graced the Earth… from his unsubtle entrance (a motley crew of drunks parade him around whilst declaring ‘Long Live The King’) - He then spends the majority of the film being a cocky little shit, utterly hilarious and generally awesome. He even looks awesome in PJs.

But this film wasn’t just about me developing a severe man-crush on Clark Gable, it is also a great little fast paced romp about relationships changing and love and that. We follow Ellie - who is glamorous in that 20's/30's way in which people can only aspire to nowadays, she is an heiress and engaged to wed some chap who is generally regarded as a chump. Now, this is despite there being no actual evidence of his chumpishness... however, nobody likes him and Ellie and Gable's Peter do develop a genuine rapport throughout.

This is important, because I feel uncomfortable watching films like His Girl Friday - where the central pair bicker and ight all film and then she leaves her husband for him, just because he's Cary Grant. Just doesn't feel fair.

But here, the relationship is genuine, the banter is top notch and the film whizzes by, wittily and entertainingly.

To be honest... I watched this film ages ago but have only just got round to writing it.... My notes are nothing but 3 pages of "Clark Gable is Awesome!". I remember enjoying the film and finding it witty and inoffensive.....

Go and watch it, but remember this one thing:

Death and honor are thought to be the same, but today I have learned that sometimes they are not.

No 131 – The Last of the Mohicans
Director – Michael Mann

So I’m back… July has been manic, but I have been really busy:

Cough Cough *CLICK ON THE LINK* Cough Cough

So deal with it… anyway, here are some bloggles for you to gawp at:

I expected this to be another story from the ‘Outsider is taken in by tribe of natives and then fights with them’ genre… and whilst TECHNICALLY it is (as Daniel Day Lewis could never be passed off as an actual Native American), the act of being initiated into the society happens many years before the film starts – so it isn’t really part of the plot.

The plot is about revenge, double crossing and war – and whilst that may sound really juicy, the film also manages to be really fucking dull. How dull? Well I stopped the film several times. Once to make myself some dinner, and once to answer the phone and have a little chat. I didn’t even pull that shit with Tree of Wooden Clogs.

This film is not as dull as Tree of Wooden Clogs.

But lets talk about the good bits first…. It was lovely to have a film in which the Native Americans and the American settlers live together amicably. I’m so used to it all being cowboys ‘n’ injuns that it felt refreshing to see a new villain, though ‘villain’ seems the wrong word. This film triumphs in painting everything with shades of grey… so morality is never black and white. The baddies are really all that bad. The goodies aren’t really all that good. It feels realistic.

It is also worth recording this one description of the French:

They’d rather eat and make love with their faces than fight

AMEN! Never before have I been so proud of my duel nationality.

So, the film plods along as Daniel Day Lewis and his Mohican friends escort a British army chap and his ladies off to see the ladies’ dad – who is in a camp. Meanwhile the American settlers are tricked and bullied and there is talk of sedition and King and Country and yada yada.

There is a love triangle… people act like cocks…. People then see the error of the ways and get all noble. Everything in the film is pretty standard and is very well executed, I just couldn’t connect with a single character. I just didn’t give a shit about their plights or anything…. I can’t pin point what was wrong with the film… but something was definitely wrong when the only element of the film that piques my interest are the beautiful beautiful military uniforms.

I would love to enter a society where we could start wearing tri-corner hats again.

So… as the title implies – which means it can’t be a spoiler (but if you don’t want to know how this film ends just stop reading)… shit goes down and leaves only ONE MOHICAN…. The last of them…. And just look at the Mohican army:

Tough battle….

But that last Mohican isn’t Daniel Day Lewis… oh no, even though he lived all his life with that tribe, they don’t want his honky ass polluting their blood stream. So even though he has a lady by the end and they can have all the babies, the Mohican tribe dies out due to one man’s racism.

Or at least that’s what I took away from it all….

Sunday, 10 July 2011

She knew everyone that mattered. Everyone loved her

No 318 - Rebecca
Director - Alfred Hitchcock

I have not read the original novel and only had the most basic understanding of the plot.... basically, I knew enough to know that the sketch 2:30 into the video below was based on Rebecca:

you may as well watch it all because Big Train is amazing

But I couldn't have told you what actually happens in the story. I think this is the best way to view the film, because it really heightens the fantastic series of twists and turns.

The story (which has apparently been sanitised slightly from the book which is even more morbid) follows a protagonist who is never given a first name (creating a weird distance and sense of formality between her and the viewer) as she marries above her station and is permanently belittled by the memory of his ex wife. Joan Fontaine is wonderful in this role. She manages to have a whole load of small town charm and elegance. However, she is also very much out of her comfort zone and frequently stressed and upset. You really sympathise with the character and want things to sort out for her.

The story starts fairly mundanely, as a film it is very much of its period and has dated quite badly in places (I particularly enjoyed the condescending attitude to those 'silly little women') and the scenes in Monte Carlo move quite slowly. However, Hitchcock's skill has always been tension and once the action moves away from the courting and into the stately home of Manderlay, the film really picks up.
There are secrets and mysteries which have not been explained, and Max De Winter's first wife Rebecca is at the heart of it all - her legacy clear not only in the sheer magnitude of objects with a monogrammed R, but also in the attitude of the servants. The most notable, and brilliant, is the creepy character of Mrs Danvers. A solemn figure who seems lurking behind all of Mrs De Winter's social faux pas and embarrassments. She is clearly a nasty piece of work, but might there be more to her?

And thats where I want to end it really.... Because the final act of the film is just an incredible barrage of twists, revelations and dramatic moments. None of which I really saw coming. They are also timed to perfection, so just as you recover from one game-changing statement, the next one hits you.

Accept that the film will begin slowly and pompously, and you're in for a treat. A complex and rewarding mystery that is explained in a third act which moves at an oddly breakneck pace after the first two far slower acts.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

I haven't felt this awful since we saw that Ronald Reagan film.

No 368 - Airplane!
Director - Jim Abrahams, Jerry Zucker and David Zucker

You have to give this film a fair bit of credit.... it really goes in all guns blazing and for just under 90 minutes we're subjected to an almost ceaseless barrage of gags. Airplane!'s real triumph though is the sheer breadth of these jokes. Desperate to be funny to everyone, the pulls out all the stops with an amazing range of jokes: from visual to verbal, surreal, cheap or very intelligent, there really is something for everyone.

The film plays with all the cliches of 1950's disaster films, as a passenger has to land a crashing jumbo jet. Liberal use of flashbacks allows the tone to flick away from the Disaster movie genre and give the gag writers a bit more leeway.

The film is the epitome of hit and miss, and it is really quite dated now - especially in the way the film treats other races, women and homosexuals. There is a bit of a nasty streak through some of the humour which I didn't entirely like, but most of the time the film just revels in being silly.

I don't really know what else to say. I will always find the scenes in the cockpit hilarious. Either the misunderstandings based on names, or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar breaking character or the creepy paedophilic subtext of Captain Oveur. However there are also little gags which rest too much on cliche and lazy preconceptions. The OTT camp Johnny seems too weird, and his frequent outbursts just began to piss me off really.

I don't want to sound too preachy, I fucking LOVE Airplane. I've seen it a fair few times and it still makes me properly laugh out loud in moments - and you have to respect it for one major discovery.

The man who moved from being all serious to becoming the king of pissing about on film. A bloody hero really.
And Airplane sort of led the way for film parody and scattergun humour being let off all over the place.
Which means we have it to blame for the inexplicable rise of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer.

which is a shame

"You who swallowed a falling star, o' heartless man, your heart shall soon be mine." That can't be good for the table.

No 230 - Hauru no Ugoku Shiro (Howl's Moving Castle)
Director - Hayao Miyazaki

If there is one thing you can confidently say about Studio Ghibli it is that they make beautiful looking films. Whether it is the masses of fish swimming about in Ponyo or the spirits which mill about in Spirited Away, their films look amazing, deep and layered with gloriously populated and immensely imaginative worlds. It is the same with Howl's Moving Castle, particularly the titular castle itself. From the first time we watch it clanking through the countryside, I was entranced. It is the attention to detail with all the individual moving components which make it so refreshing to watch:

Watch the trailer's opening sequence (also the film's opening sequence) as the castle emerges from the fog.

Just beautiful.
Every frame of the film could be printed off and stuck on your wall. Glorious.

Unfortunately, the rest of the film isn't as strong as the excellent visuals. The film sort of plods along with a story that manages to be vague and far too complex. Sophie's curse (at the heart of the story) is clear enough, but it is interwoven with something about a war and wizards turning into birds and Howl's heart and having to hide from the witch of the waste. It is, really, nonsense and I spent large moments of the film not understanding what was going. This is on my 4th viewing. I don't expect new people to get it at all.

The story isn't moved along by the characters either. It doesn't bode well that the films most likable character is a silent scarecrow with a fixed stupid grin and little to no movement. Everyone else is grumpy, rude or just plain non-eventful.

Howl is the guiltiest, he seems rude, shallow, sulky and really really boring. He is also barely in the film - more of a presence in the background of proceedings who occasionally swooshes in during his Black Swan birdman moments. He doesn't really show any compassion until one big move in the film's final act. But by then, Sophie has fallen in love with him, it is a romance which is used to explain a lot of their actions but which is itself, not that clearly explained. Much like many of the plot points in this film, they just happen. Deal with it.

It is a shame that the story is so lacking, because the film is a pleasure to watch, you just have to entirely disconnect your ears and watch it as a purely visual aesthetic set in a delightful steam punky world. A steam punky world with WIZARDS! Surely the best kind of steam punk world.

But yeah, much like Howl himself, the film looks good, but the intentions and details are muddled or just dull.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Mrs. MacNeil, the problem with your daughter is not her bed; it's her brain.

No 206 - The Exorcist
Director - William Friedkin

The first time I watched The Exorcist was at university and I was drunk... We watched it in a gang on VHS at about midnight. I didn't find it that scary, but I put it down to being drunk and rowdy students. After all... this is:

But... is it? I think the film splits nicely down the middle. The defining moment being where they catch young Regan masturbating with a bloody crucifix. Before that moment the film is genuinely unsettling, following a young girl who is traumatised by a series of strange events. I like that there are these moments (such as the prologue which I'd forgotten about) which begin to paint the paranormal elements, and which create the unsettling tone. One of the greatest shots is when Father Merrin is facing a statue of the Devil in Iraq as dogs fight in the distance. The growling gets louder and more distorted until I'm sure there was a voice hidden in it. Its a great moment, creepy without relying on hokey effects and brilliantly countered by the fact that the next hour is bogged down in doctors, suburbia and the little practical intricacies of life.

The exact reason as to WHY Regan gets possessed is never explained, but it is hinted at with the discovery of a Ouija Board and Regan's conversations with Captain Howdy (I love a fictional Captain) - The possession is much scarier when it is in the realms of believability. Perhaps it is because I have an epileptic sister, but for me the real horrific moments are the vacant looks on Regan's face or the moments of fitting. There is something quite chilling about horribly thing happening to a young child and the persistent series of tests and Xrays which reveal nothing. For me the most shocking moments of the film are the dark scowling looks Linda Blair pulls off, that seem so alien and other-worldly.

So, this seems like a good time to talk about Linda Blair's performance. It is spigging incredible, easily the best thing in the film. Blair was only around 11 or 12 when she made this and not only is she covering some heavy and disturbing themes (makes you rethink all the Hit Girl controversy when you see some of the stuff Regan says and does - whilst her possessed voice is a voice over, she is still acting and saying those things) but she is also putting across a very nuanced and layered performance. Not only is she flitting between identities but also she is trapped in her own body and silently screaming desperately for help and escape. The transformation is an incredible performance and during the slower quieter moments 'possessed Regan' is truly freaky - thanks to the wicked grins and mannerisms Blair puts across.

It is just a shame that the film also descends into silly ridiculous. Whilst the neck spinning and pea soup are famous moments, they're hardly scary. They're just a bit silly. That's the problem, I actually found myself laughing at the Devil more often than not, either because of the ridiculousness of the situation, or because there are some genuinely funny lines. Kudos especially to the term "Your cunting daughter" - I don't think that word gets used as an adjective often enough.

So, in summary, when we are dealing with an unknown force assaulting a small girl we have a film which explores the paranormal without accepting it. The film's horror stems from the world's rationalism and watching it crumble against the events that happen. However, once it all breaks into the scratched faced insanity it becomes silly and loses a lot of the fear. I also find the ending (which I won't spoil) as a bit of an anticlimax. Though I like that, once again, the paranormal isn't resolved and the demon (or devil) is never really truly vanquished.

Monday, 27 June 2011

A person doesn't change just because you find out more.

No 21 - The Third Man
Director - Carol Reed

The film noir. The Murder Mystery. A great framework for a film, and one that is done amazingly well. The story is the simple tale of a suspicious death and a man's journey to get to the bottom of it, yet it is a story made all the richer by the surroundings it is in. The weird oppression and military nightmare of post-war Vienna makes this film a lot more tense, a lot more paranoid. Paranoia which is brilliantly depicted through the use of camera angles. Maybe they filmed a lot on hills. Or maybe the tripod's third man was a bit too short....

I don't mean to sound like I'm belittling it... the camera work is probably the most impressive thing in the whole film. Either in the angles and shot or in the transitions. There are some amazing fades or some great early examples of quick editing which help make the film feel a lot more ominous and shady throughout. The mystery of Harry Lime is rich and captivating, so much so that some of the peripheral characters feel like a nuisance, they're important to the main plot, but their sub-plots are just getting in the way of the real story. Yeah... I'm talking to you Anna Schmidt.

The film is really waiting for Orson Welles to appear and explain the mystery of Harry Lime. Welles is a delight throughout this film, for a lot of the film he has this permanent arrogant smirk as if he's just pissing himself in his glorified cameo. But actually, despite his brief appearances (both in number of times, and how long he's on screen) he manages to fill Harry with a lot of complex nuances. I love watching the arc of emotion Welles portrays. Particularly the moments when he feels betrayed or worried. In fact, as the net tightens and Harry gets progressively ruffled you see his fall from grace. The cocky smirker becomes bug eyed, gasping and crawling through a sewer. Its a remarkable journey and you can see what attracted Orson Welles to the part.
The camera also seems to love Welles, with loads of wonderful lingering shots over the enigmatic Harry Lime. But nothing will ever beat the character's introduction. As a light is cast over Lime's smiling face it seems like a two-tiered TA DAH. Firstly... at last! We get to see Harry Lime, the man we've heard so much. But secondly... at last! I was wondering when Orson Welles was appearing. Just look at that moment... he's either channelling some serious smugness with Harry Lime or he knows that he is pretty much the shit.

But the final point, which I'm repeating from earlier, is that even with great acting and a super story, the film's real triumph is how it looks. This is a beautifully shot film. This is not a spoilery scene... but watch the framing in the film's last shot, as Anna Schmidt walks out of the protagonist's life forever....


Have you been drinking?

No 270 - Moartea Domnului Lazarescu (The Death of Mr Lazarescu)
Director - Cristi Puiu

My knowledge of Romania is not massive, and mainly stems to a 10 day holiday romance with a girl called Jo which I had on a school trip to France aged 17 and a bottle of homebrew which I drank on the same school trip. It looked like Ribena and tasted like meths. The man that gave it to me delivered it with the greatest quote ever.

In our country we drink this in winter to stay warm....
and we drink it in summer.... to stay warm.

Jo taught me that Romanian is surprisingly similar to Italian (enough that she was able to translate an Italian play for me) - that homebrew taught me that Romanians drink savage savage shit. And it is that point which is at the heart of The Death of Mr Lazarescu.

This film is classed as a comedy, and if you get your chuckles from watching an old man slowly die, you are in for a treat! There are some little moments which made me smile (mainly down to the few bearable members of medical staff) but most of this film frustrated me. An old man (older than his years) is ill and is caught in some kind of bureaucratic nightmare as he moved from hospital to hospital and from unit to unit.
Some of these doctors are nice. I particularly like the couple who seem to be involved in the second hospital. I like their shameless and borderline unprofessional flirting and how they get distracted having little domestics. They are a sweet couple and (most importantly) they are worried about Mr Lazarescu. Whereas other hospitals are wrapped up in admin or refuse to treat him as he has alcohol on his lips....

It does paint the Romanian health service in a terrifying light, as it seems very easy for people to just die. Just die.

Now.... I don't want to focus on how much the story annoyed me and how much I wanted to punch some of the doctors throughout. I presume that that was kind of the point. What I wanted to highlight was the amazing performance from Ion Fiscuteanu as the titular Mr Lazarescu. From the start of the film you can see the depth and layers within the character. Here is a man who is clearly unhappy and clearly lonely. He isn't that close to anyone (he has some kind of strained relationship with his brother in law as witnessed in a phone call) apart from the stray cats which he takes in.
But the really impressive nature is that as the film progresses, Lazarescu's health massively deteriorates. What starts as him being obnoxious, becomes a tired, confused and scared man before finally he is just gone. No longer understanding the questions asked of him nor understanding where he is.

This is not a comfortable watch, and despite the occasional smile-inducing moment, there is no way I'd call it a comedy, or even a comedy-drama. It is really a bleak look at bullying doctors, bullshit bureaucracy and the dangers of drinking too much alcohol.

Perfect film for a nice summer's day.

If I could find a souvenir, just to prove the world was here.

No 294 - Le Ballon Rouge (The Red Balloon)
Director - Albert Lamorisse

This is a short little fantasy tale about a boy who befriends a red balloon and the journey the two go on. Not to be mistaken with Billy's balloon, which was my only prior source of information on this kind of subject.

The relationship with Pascal and his balloon is much sweeter. The boy untangles the balloon from a lamp-post and the balloon subsequently follows Pascal around - much to the annoyance of the adults and jealousy of his peers.

The balloon is an incredible character (and believe me, it is a character) - Firstly, the colour.... compared to the drab greyness of post-war Paris, the balloon seems unreal. A redness so bright that it appears almost CGI. Of course, that's impossible, so it is an impressive feat on the behalf of the film makers. I don't think it is down to lenses either, I just think Paris was a lot greyer back then.

The balloon also seems to emote (certainly, it acts much better than some of the smaller roles throughout) - you get to see a happy balloon, an interested balloon, a scared balloon, a yearning balloon.

It really helps to make a rich relationship between Pascal and his balloon, which means you care about their fate. So the persecution of the balloon becomes really sad to watch.

The film's ending is bittersweet, but after focusing on this beautiful relationship and as it reaches its natural conclusion, we get the final shot. An impressive and utterly beautiful final shot.

So beautiful, that I don't want to ruin it by showing you it. But you can click here to see it.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Zed's dead, baby. Zed's dead

No 9 - Pulp Fiction
Director - Quentin Tarantino

This is the film that really showcases Tarantino's dialogue (and it is his dialogue which is his true strength). He is very good in situations where he has several stories going on at once - this is a classic example of a successful use of chapter based storytelling, accompanied by incredible performances and a totally boss soundtrack.

If you have to find a central point to the film, it probably falls on Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Jules Winnfield (Samuel L Jackson) - 2 heavies who work for a mobster called Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames). They might not be the protagonist for every chapter (Bruce Willis' boxer Butch also takes the spotlight at times) appear in all of the stories and are pivotal to the tale.

I'm not going to go into detail on all of these chapters, as they have all been assessed to the hilt. However, I just want to talk about a few factors of the film.

This film drips with effortless cool. So effortless that it seems lazy. The film manages to be cool without really trying. This is probably helped by the music throughout (after all - anything would look cool when paired with Neil Diamond.... even though its actually a cover by Urge Overkill in the film). But what is impressive is that elements that shouldn't work at all, end up working. Just look at the picture of John Travolta above - taken from the film's single coolest moment: the twist competition at Jack Rabbit Slims. Firstly, he has lank and greasy slicked back hair and secondly he has the most 90's suit ever seen.... and yet he remains cool.
Same with Jackson, he appears wearing a bloody PERM and yet he still looks too badass for words.
As I've already mentioned, the film's coolest moment is the Twist scene... It manages to be almost nonchalant in the dance, a very cool scene which is now iconic. The nonchalance is important. There are a lot of films out there which are self conscious in their drive to be cool. Obviously Tarantino tries hard to make sure his movies come out as stylish, but it never feels forced. That is an impressive feat and ties me into my next part.

Tarantino has always been lauded for his dialogue, and throughout the film you can see why. The casual conversation occurring through out scenes was pretty revolutionary at the time. Whilst most people discuss the famous Royale with Cheese conversation, I'm much more impressed by Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer's conversation about the intricacies of bank robbery. It is all discussed in a matter of fact and straightforward manner. He also manages to make believable characters with distinctive voices.
Whether it is Fabienne's stilted dialogue with her adorable use of words or L Jackson and Rhames speaking with distinctively 'black' dialogue (whatever the hell that means). He also knows how to lift his quotes. Is there anything more chilling then L Jackson quoting the bible?(then again, he can say anything and sound badass)

There are some moments which don't quite work (Christopher Walken will never be a convincing kindly child friendly character), but the worst is Tarantino himself with his character of Jimmy. A man who grates throughout (I'm not a fan of Tarantino's voice or delivery and find him jarring in every one of his cameos) but who mainly makes me feel uncomfortable through his excessive use of the N word (a word which is liberally used throughout the film, but notably only by black characters). By having Jimmy use it so casually (rather than as a racist insult) it leaves a strange taste in my mouth and is the only part of the film which draws me out of the world.

This is a dark film. A film which successfully shows drug use (and subsequent overdose). Shows an awful lot of violence and an awful lot of abuse. Yet, The Simpsons decide to parody a dark film's darkest moment. Where two men are gagged and bound in order to be subsequently tortured, raped and (it is hinted) killed by a redneck, Dorien Tyrell and a gimp.

It is such an odd choice for a Simpsons reference. What the fuck?!

Throughout the film we spend time with Wallace, the true central crux of the film and a mysterious (and possibly paranormal?) thread throughout it all. After all.... why has Wallace got a plaster on the back of his neck? What is in the suitcase?

Quite the mystery...

A fabulous fabulous film.