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?!

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.