Monday, 28 February 2011

What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?

No 259 - Groundhog Day
Director - Harold Ramis

Let me begin by saying MAN I LOVE BILL MURRAY!

I don't think I can state that enough. He is someone who is so intensely brilliant in just about everything he does. He lifts the energy of a scene into something that bubbles and zings with comedy, whilst he himself can remain droll and deadpan throughout. This is a man who's minorest cameo can move a film from being pretty good, to being properly chucklesome.

I'm aware I've said this a lot....but he is great.

It is however, necessary for the lead to be as charismatic and as joyous to watch as Murray, because he is up against the very energy sapping nothingness that is Andie McDowell.... a women so dull she makes Hugh Grant look exciting in 4 Weddings...
So, it is to Murray's credit that he manages to keep the film going along, but also make McDowell's character seem less of a wet blanket than she makes herself look...

But, onwards to the film.

Let me begin by saying MAN I LOVE BILL MURRAY!

I don't think I can state that enough. He is someone who is so intensely brilliant in just about everything he does...... HA HA HA HA HA HA Do you see what I did there?! I am a comedy GENIUS

Anyway, seriously..... Groundhog day has an incredible central premise - in which a man is forced to live out the same day over and over and over again. Whats brilliant is that this is never explained, and that when it does, eventually, resolve itself... no one knows what it is he did differently.
It seems that the cosmos is trying definitely to get Murray's cranky weatherman Phil laid with the right girl. As it is only once she stays over for the night that he moves on to February 3rd.... but to be honest. He manages so much in that one day that it is hard to know what one thing causes it to move on.

I love that it is never explained... I love that it is just not important.

But mostly.... I love that you don't know quite how long he is there. Repeating the same day.

We see a lot of repetition.... but that's only what the film chooses to tell us. Throwaway lines indicate he has spent 6 months learning solely how to throw cards into a hat. On top of this he has learnt a lot:

That's not including the years he spends seducing women, going crazy and committing suicide. In fact far geekier people than I have sat down and worked it out.... ignoring the fact the Harold Ramis has given several (contrasting) answers....

It is a great film, which works as both a nice romantic comedy but also something far deeper, far stranger. There are little moments that try to build tension (such as the homeless man dying) but it doesn't really matter when everything resets at 6am

However.... the film's real grace is Bill Murray. The amazing joy of watching his character evolve from being a grumpy old bastard to the epitome of small town kindness. Murray is always a great watch, and in this film he just shines.

The 'No one will ever believe you' urban myth....

Specially because he recently admitted it to be true.

Man I love him

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Lions, and tigers, and bears! Oh, my!

No 172 - The Wizard of Oz
Director - Victor Fleming

My.... what a visually beautiful film. It is amazing how even after 72 years, this film can look so crisp, so sharp. A lot of it is due to the beautiful magic of Technicolor, but that's not all of it, as even the sepia moments look crisp. The film has aged splendidly.

What I didn't remember was just how long the Sepia moment is, as we're introduced to everyone before we meet their Oz alternatives. The film just rambles along, letting us settle into the world of Kansas and get accustomed to Judy Garland's whining wide eyed Dorothy.

The film settles you in nicely enough, so that when you finally step into the glorious technicolor splendour of Oz, it is a proper breathtaking moment. Sure, it all looks like a set..... but it looks like a splendid enchanting set.

The world of Oz is enchanting - I want to talk about the little treats I'd forgotten about such as the talking trees. I also want to talk about two remarkable performances. Maybe it comes from my unashamed love of pratfalling.... but Ray Bolger's Scarecrow really shines throughout the film. His performance is both the warmest and funniest of the companions and his fluid movement is remarkable to watch. He is.... after all.... playing a character with no skeleton, nothing to hold him up, and as he flips and flops and falls around he is just a joy to behold.

The other performance which has to be mentioned is Margaret Hamilton's joyous performance as the bitter, cackling Wicked Witch of the West. She is hamming it up so much, but she is clearly having a lot of fun as she stomps around stealing scenes and being a bit ridiculous.
However.... it is with the arrival of the Wicked Witch of the West that we have a problem.... I think the film, or at least Oz, is racist towards green folk.

I mean.... besides her evil looking appearance, what has the Wicked Witch of the West done to be viewed so dimly. Her motive throughout the film is pretty understandable. I mean a stranger murders her sister and there is no trial. Not even a funeral. Instead there is just the longest munchkin song ever.... And as she comes to claim the one remnant of her sister - the slippers - they are stolen by that same murderer.
If that happened to me, and I had an army and flying monkeys, I would dispatch them to make the murdering thief's life living hell..... It only makes sense. I agree with Douglas Smith's view of the whole thing.
In fact, the Wicked Witch of the West gets a rum deal as everyone tries to kill her. However..... here is a little tip for anyone in a similar predicament.

But these are minor foibles when compared to the glorious nostalgic joy of the film. After a meandering start, it zips along and has a jolly dream like nonsense running through it.

As the film ends and we realise it was all a dream (or was it)..... one question remains unanswered though. There is still a sheriff summon saying that Toto has to be put down. Just because Toto ran away doesn't mean he escaped the law!

But I presume all is fine - because Toto is still about in the frankly terrifying Return to Oz....

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

You think the people of this country exist to provide you with position. I think your position exists to provide those people with freedom

No 320 - Braveheart
Director - Mel Gibson

I have to say, that the initial outlook for this film was not good. As it began with Wallace's childhood I found it pretty shit.... quite contrived in its set up. I looked down at the DVD....

Luckily, Brian Cox comes and interrupts proceedings with his crazy one eye and then we skip to the future and to Gibbo himself playing Braveheart. In a role which probably eclipses all his other roles. Even What Women Want

So times are heard. And despite the Scottish having perfect teeth times are tough. The English seem very rapey, and the Scots are just supposed to lie back and take it. This is all thanks to King Edward Longshanks who comes off as a cruel and merciless tyrant. Cracking out savage laws like Primae Noctis (never used by the ACTUAL King Edward) and coming out with some marvellously cutting one-liners:

Arrows cost money. Use up the Irish. The dead cost nothing.

Whilst Edward I is painted as a cruel bastard, his son is painted as a bit of a useless fop.... and the film heavily implies some kind of gay subtext. Particularly with Philip - Edward II's high councillor. But hey... its in Wikipedia too, so it must be true. These two men use their respective cowardice and tyranny to leave Scotland a dangerous and cruel place to live.
It isn't long before the Scots have had enough and William Wallace begins to lead a revolution.

Finally..... we get to the film's bread and butter. The fighting. It seems (if we look at his directorial career) that Mel Gibson has a lot of interest in violence and punishment. Both The Passion and Apocalypto having some savage scenes. Here it is a lot more restrained, and a lot more joyous as limbs are hacked, throats cut and bodies impaled. But it is all happening to those bastardy dastardly English.... so its ok!
The violence is handled really well, the fights are visceral and the battles feel real. You also begin to see Wallace's tactical mind. How it was tactics which helped, rather than strength. In fact, even when we get to the end, and a 10 - 12 minute long torture scene.... most of it happens off camera. Instead we focus on Wallace's face and the searing pain.

There are some moments that don't fit with the tone of the film. Mainly to do with the French. Princess Isabella's infatuation and relationship with Wallace just feels wrong and unnatural throughout.... it also didn't happen. Likewise Isabella's handmaiden just turns up to make saucy French Jokes.
LOL! Cunnilingus Humour!

Robert the Bruce also comes out looking like a bit of a whiney pathetic coward for most of the film. Scared of his psoriasis addled father and gullible to the end. Again, that didn't seem right...

It just felt that other strong characters were being weakened so that Mel Gibson good look better as Wallace and that women had to fall in love with Wallace so that Gibson could his end away.

For all its triumphs (and it is a very enjoyable film) - it just felt too much like a vanity project to me.

Saying that - Brendan Gleeson's Hamish is a fucking bear of a legend throughout

You think you're God Almighty, but you know what you are? You're a cheap, lousy, dirty, stinkin' mug! And I'm glad what I done to you, ya hear that?

No 46 - On the Waterfront
Director - Elia Kazan

I only really knew one thing about this film...

So I was interested to know what the rest of the film was like.... as even the crappest films can have a brilliant iconic line.
The film is set during tough times when people are scrabbling for work and where the mobs control the streets. This is a film about that mob losing their control, as things fall apart around them.

For the most part, Brando is quite underplayed, his tough boy attitude makes him seem cold and expressionless.... so for a long time I didn't really find myself warming to him. Especially as he is utterly overshadowed by the fiery passion of Father Barry, played with energetic and feisty zeal by Karl Malden.
He is a force to be reckoned with, his every scene not only benefiting from the passion in his performance but also in the tension that trickles out amongst everybody else. Malden's performance seems to cause everybody else to up there came. So as Barry speak, the (often silent) reactions from those around him show a close knit death-dumb society. There is a fear of speaking up and there is a pride in not being a grass.

Because, at the heart of it, this is a film about pride. It is Johnny Friendly's pride and arrogance which help his fall. Brando's Terry Malloy is proud of his skills and feel that his boxing career was robbed from him.... but mostly, it is the danger of a society too proud to ask for help. And how that pride can create a dangerous and tense environment.

This is something that the film does very well. It is dark, far darker than I'd assumed.... and the
tension in the film is palpable, a lot of it done with sound. Firstly there is the fabulous score which managers to offer real tension but remains subtle throughout, It doesn't fall into the Inception style trap of BIG BOOMING NOISES GETTING LOUDER AND FASTER

Symphonic Suite by Bernstein

Then there are just some amazing uses of background noise, such as the moment where everything changes for Terry, the moment of his confession to Fr Barry. The way that the background noises eclipse everything that is being said at moment where he confesses. You can see the gravity of the confession without having to hear the horrors for yourself. It is something which has been used and parodied many a time... Despite this, it doesn't lose any of the power when it is done seriously.

And now.... as the film draws into the final act we finally see Brando at his best... at his most powerful.
There are several moments where Brando's simmering undercurrent of power has been hinted at - The 'I could have been a contender' line being a famous example, but it is the guilt behind Terry which is so incredible. The fact that he is so haunted by the guilt of his former actions, a guilt which then causes him to do something about it, to attack the mob.

The determination and ferocity in his performance suddenly moves the film up a notch - and Fr Barry has been keeping the film pretty fierce throughout - so that the moments of post-court showdown, make for some deeply disturbing but massively moving cinema. A violent, bloody but ultimately noble redemption for Terry and payback on Friendly's mob

The film is really carried by the presence of Malden and Brando, but when those two actors have such incredible presence, it can hardly be seen as a bad thing.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

I'm just afraid that you're going to burn in Hell for all this.

No 168 - Tootsie
Director - Sydney Pollack

I had never seen this film - and my initial thought was that it was going to be something that I'd already seen before.....

Well.... I was wrong and a half!

So, the marvellous and utterly superb Dustin Hoffman plays Michael Dorsey - an actor who gets into drag so to help him get a part as a female character in a soap, because no one will hire him as himself.

"Aha!" You all say "I know where this is going!"

And.... Whilst Dorothy Michaels is closer to Josephine and Daphne than she is to Mrs Doubtfire, and whilst there are some parallels (the male character falls in lover with a female coworker who only knows him as his female counterpart) Tootsie tells a very different and very interesting story.

For all the farce. For all the camp. For all the comedy genius (it has Bill Murray in it - it must be comedy genius) the film tackles a pretty serious issue. It is a film essentially about feminism. About equality in the workplace. About men's reactions to women.

Yes... it is hilarious to watch a dragged up Dustin Hoffman fight off an ever growing collecting of aging suitors, but what is more interesting is watching him unable to cope with the degrading way women are treated in the TV Show.
Its important because Michael Dorsey is not a good guy.... He spends most of the film leading his friend Sandy along after they've slept together. But slowly - by witnessing what women go through he becomes a better person.

But it doesn't hammer that message home - it is really quite a sweet film. A sweet film about discovery and worth and being a better person.
It is a film that also shows Dustin Hoffman's INCREDIBLE ACTING SKILLZ as he faultlessly switches gender (and also in several scenes, deconstructs the acting profession.... almost like he is trying to explain to us just how good he is)...

Just a really fun and uplifting film which has a pretty powerful message.

It's awfully easy to lie when you know that you're trusted implicitly. So very easy, and so very degrading.

No 171 - Brief Encounter
Director - David Lean

Never forget.... This is Noel Coward's film. Noel Coward's Brief Encounter. Never Ever Forget (the film likes to make sure you know that it comes from a Noel Coward pedigree)

What I like about this story is that it throws you in at the end of a very brief (as the name implies) but intense relationship. When we meet Alec and Laura they are both distant, clipped, restrained. We then have to listen to Laura's friend natter on and on and on as Laura becomes increasingly distant.
It is a weird opening move because it means that I couldn't really connect to Laura. I couldn't relate to her. The film didn't try and get me to empathise. Instead she is just quiet. Quiet and distant. She goes home to her dull but seemingly lovely husband and her freaky freaky children (I find children in old films very odd. They are far too clipped and proper).

But then.... we go into flashback and we begin to see the relationship between Alec and Laura. And it is built up gloriously. From chance meetings and happy coincidences, to a small friendship, to full blown love. It doesn't feel rushed or false. It feels real. It feels forbidden.

I think this is helped by the fact that the film is very very 'stiff upper lip' - so these moments of passion between the two characters are amplified and made to feel even more daring and romantic and wild. It also made more passionate by the time in which is set. Nowadays two people in love could divorce and just get on with it.... but in the film world it is an impossibility. And a tragedy. This is a product of a former time - a time when people could say 'he made me feel gay' and when marriage was a lot more permanent.

The whole film is subtle - there are only a few moments where they kiss, and certainly no sexy times - but yet it is full of lust. And pain. Such understated acting showing exactly the quandary they're in - just a glorious thing to watch.

So by the time we return to the end of the relationship, and the film's first scene - we now know why the characters are so aloof, so quiet. And Laura's friend becomes even more annoying...

As all of this is told in flashback we eventually return to Laura's front room where she has been in a semi-doze.
And it is here that Fred shows the briefest crack of emotion in a heart breaking moment of tenderness. It is a simple line which questions whether he knew or suspected anything and which shows how important it is that Laura didn't leave him for Alec. There is still a lot of love in her marriage.

Watch the last scene.... See the marvellous depression on Alec and Laura's faces. See the fabulous bit of presentation with the whistling and tilted camera as it all gets too much for Laura. And see the show stealing heart breaking subtlety of Fred's last line.

This film taught me that Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto number 2 (the main theme for this film) has the main theme used in All by Myself.... so I found myself singing along to the sad moments of the film.

Madam, you are a cock-eyed liar!

No 58 - His Girl Friday
Director - Howard Hawks

I am so so so sorry. I have been neglecting this blog something rotten. Still watching the films but only coming on here sporadically to binge post.

So here is my latest glut. Starting with this very odd little comedy.

This is a story set around a murder being reported by a bunch of papers. For the most part, this feels very strange as the murder itself (and the darkness and desperation around it) doesn't gel with the scenes set in the newspaper. However, by the end of the film it all seems to settle out into a full story.
The elements of the murder, and the moments in which Hildy (the reporter) is trying to best her competitors are the film's down moments.
Hildy herself is quite a complex character with her drive and passion going against her gloriously unfeminist ideas of 'just being seen as a woman' settling down with her dull fiancée and having some kids. However, she comes off as a bit of a non-character for a lot of the film. With one key exception. Whenever her ex-husband and roguish editor Walter (Cary Grant) her character becomes glorious.

Cary Grant makes this film a thousand times better. Every time he comes on screen, the pace picks up, the energy lifts and the dialogue becomes glorious.

His girl Friday used to be a play, and you can see its routes in every witty back and forth between the central bickering couple of Hildy and Walter. Walter is comedy gold. He is a mix of arrogant idiocy and nefarious double crossing. He is a joy to behold.

Walter is very much the crux of the film. Not only are his scenes the best scenes. Not only does he bring out the best in his co-stars (Rosalind Russell's Hildy never sparkles as much as when she is pissed off by Walter) but he also uses all his conniving skills to get the best news story but also to attempt to break up Hildy's engagement.

And as these two plots get more complicated, so the film gets more farcical. As more elements come into play (Hildy's fiancee and future mother in law, Walters henchman Louis, a prostitute, counterfeit money etc) the film gets more frenzied, there are more unexpected twists and it becomes a glorious piece of nonsense.
The film zips along, the dialogue gets quicker and more ridiculous. It is a joy to watch.

It is just a shame that the film ends the way it does. The ending goes against everything that the film has built up and just seems to happen... with no build up or character arc.

It is a shame as it ends the film on a sour note. And whilst the film is in no way perfect (it flits in tone too frequently) it is - for the most part - very jolly and fun to watch. So its a shame that the final denouement left me a bit angry.

But Cary Grant is just about awesome enough to get me not to mind.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

"Now there's a school that self-destructed, not because society didn't care, but because the school was society." Now that's deep

No 412 - Heathers
Director - Michael Lehmann

So.... another film which I've never seen and which is hyped (subliminally, every day) by a filmy person what I massively respect... This time the excellent Blog Your Turn Heather.

This is the pitchest of black comedies in the most ludicrous of '80's get ups. I mean seriously, seriously 80's

It is a story which has been echoed time and time again (the most obvious example is Mean Girls... which is also excellent, but which borrows an awful lot from Heathers) - however, whilst we get the same old story of the popular kids and the people who subsequently become popular.... whilst we learn that power corrupts.... we get another little element

In order to pull these multiple murders off they're covered as suicides and fortunately happen in the most accepting and glib town ever. No one really seems to bat an eyelid as people die left right and centre... the glibness runs through everyone, not just the children... but even the priest is glib about it.
However of course the funerals will be glib - the priest at these funerals is Glenn Shadix (who, I just discovered, tragically died last year aged only 58) - A man who seemed to be king of the 80's and early 90's bit parts and who was also in the weird and underrated Carnivale, and the man who is pretty much the king of being glib and bitchy.
And.... we have some withering put downs throughout...This is the film to check out if you like sharp and withering put downs or general smart alec comments.

But, the thing that I really wanted to comment on (because I don't want to go into too much detail on the deaths or the quotes - it'll cheapen the enjoyment of the film) is the IMPOSSIBLE YOUTH of the cast.
Look at them

I mean.... I know that Winona Ryder has been in films since the dawn of time and has always looked essentially the same.... And I know that Christian Slater is another smooth skinned freak... however in this film - they are breathtakingly beautiful.... the pair of them. Slater's JD also has this weirdly eloquent way of speaking that makes the gradual reveal of his homicidal insanity all the more impressive.... by the end they may be soot and blood smeared messes.... but they're still beautiful.

Wickedly funny and shockingly cruel.

A marvellous marvellous film.