Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Caught Up!

Oh dear God I'm amazing. You may have noticed a surge in posts of late, the reason beign that I've managed to catch up with all the posts that are overdue, all the films I needed to watch and even crossing the films off the lists here on the blog. The last few days have been pretty hectic, with sleep being missed and the gym neglected (fairly sure I've gained about half a stone in the past week, typing is not very good exercise) but it's worth it because I'm back on top after about six months of being behind.


I'll not be resting on my laurels for long either. Tomorrow I intend to both watch a film and post about it IN THE SAME DAY, as well as going to the gym, cooking a decent meal and quite possibly updating the statistics page that hasn't been touched in over 100 films. You should also look out on Friday and Monday for new weekly features I intend to introduce, a Top 5 list (I know, the originality of it almost knokced me out too) and on Monday a Best Non-List Film of the Week, because there are more than 1,328 films out there, I watch tthem too, and some of them need to be discussed. Unless I watch something truly amazing over the weekend, Monday's film will be the Muppets, which will probably only be in cinemas for a couple more days I think, so nip out now (or tomorrow, it's pretty late) if you want to see it on the big screen.


So, yay me! I'm off to bed to sleep the sleep of the not-behind.

The Docks of New York

One of the last films to be made before the invention of the talkie, The Docks Of New York sees hulking, tattooed ship stoker Bill docking into port one night. He saves the suicidal Nell from drowning, steals her some dry clothes and, almost on a whim, marries her in the bar that night. The morning arrives with a stark clarity, as Bill intends to head back out to sea.

The plot is boring and predictable – there’s even a last ditch attempt to save the girl after she gets in trouble with the authorities over her new duds, but there’re some hilarious – though possibly unintentional – lines of dialogue: “I’ve sailed the seven seas, but I’ve never seen a craft as trim as yours” Bill tells his new bride-to-be.

Choose life 4/10

Brick

Recent years have seen seemingly exhausted classic genres being reinvigorated by big name directors and classy films, just look at the recent slew of westerns, or the amount of pictures throwing back not just their topics, but how the films have been made to more classic times. Hell, this year’s Oscars were dominated by a silent film and a film about the birth of cinema. Yet one classic genre remains relatively untouched, possibly because in 2005 first time feature director Rian Johnson updated the film noir template so pitch perfectly that no other films have been needed.

With closed eyes, Brick could quite easily take place amongst a myriad of smoke-filled bars, pool halls and rain-lashed phone booths, yet the action here has been transposed to a modern day high school, and in place of a perma-smoking Humphrey Bogart we’ve Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Brendan, finding his ex-girlfriend (Lost’s Emilie de Raven) face down in the mouth of a tunnel, and he is eager to find out why, regardless of how beaten up by jocks, thugs and car doors he becomes. Granted, there’s not really enough rain for it to be a traditional noir, but there’s plenty of secrecy, rich beautiful dames with brandy decanters in ostentatious mansions, moody shadows and an easily dismissed average Joe acting as gum shoe, sticking his nose in where most feel it has no business.

It’s not short on laughs – JG-L flounders like the best of them and his conversation with the principal is comedy gold, played spot-on like a detective berating his chief of police, and the final act wrap-up is gratefully received, for much of the highly quotable dialogue is sometimes too dense to catch.

Choose film 8/10

The Fountain

One love story is told across three wildly different time periods as Tom (Hugh Jackman) tries to cure his wife Izzy (Rachel Weisz) of her life threatening disease. Told in the modern day, Elizabethan era and a space-set future time, the film is beautifully shot and lit, effects created using different liquids dispersing into one another to create timeless yet phenomenal scenes. The story strands flow into one another, as the modern day surgeon struggles for a cure, a historic conquistador seeks to discover the fountain of youth and the slap-headed space traveller floats inside a giant bubble talking to – and occasionally eating -  a tree. If this all sounds a little too much for you, you’re not alone, as this is a polarising film that many dismissed for being just too odd. The modern day segments are the easiest to follow, with a straightforward narrative, relatable characters and situations requiring minimal explanation. Director Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler) alas does not have much of an eye for combat, with some of the past tense skirmishes coming across muddled and confusing, but otherwise this is a creative and visually stunning depiction of an otherwise done to death story.

Choose film 7/10

Hairspray

No, not John Travolta in a fat suit, a sight so diabolical not even Christopher Walken can save it, but the 1988 John Waters original, in which real life transvestite Divine, a Waters regular, plays severely overweight Edna Turnblad, mother of also rotund Tracey, who watches and dances along to the Corny Collins show every day on TV. Tracey is jealous of the more attractive (as in slimmer) dancers picked to perform on the show, especially bitch council member Amber, who dissolves into a flap-handed tizzy when she discovers a pimple. When Tracey is sent to a special class at school because her hair is too high (seriously) she learns how to dance with the segregated black kids that have been banned from the show except for one day a month for Negro Day. The film is intolerably cheesy and often stupid (using a psychiatrist to make a white girl not love a black boy), and does not help the racial stereotyping it tries to prevent, with one black woman talking only in rhymes.

Choose life 5/10

Cabaret

Berlin, 1931. Liza Minnelli is a performer with several other near-transvestites in the filthy Kit Kat Klub. English teacher Michael York rents a room at the same house as Minnelli, and the two apparently hit it off, but the actors have such appalling chemistry its hard to tell. Minnelli’s Sally Bowles is amorous and self important, discussing only herself and is fully aware of the state her body is supposedly able to drive men to (though I don’t see it myself), whilst York is either dry or drunk, there is no middle ground. There are failed attempts to mine humour and songs about a man sleeping with two women and having a relationship with a gorilla, but the only song that’s any good is the closing Cabaret.
Choose life 3/10

Atonement

Based on the book of the same name that swept the country a few years ago, Atonement tells the story of Briony in three stages of her life, as a young writer in her parents stately manor in the early 30s (Saoirse Ronan), training to become a nurse during World War 2 (Romola Garai) and much later, releasing a book on the subject as an old woman (Vanessa Redgrave), cut the story she tells is not only her own, but that of Cecilia and Robbie (Keira Knightley and James McAvoy), her older sister and their gardener.

A childhood misunderstanding of several events lad Briony to make a rash decision she would live to deeply regret, for its consequences had the very real possibility of being incredibly dire. Whilst beautifully shot in every scene, most notably the standout 5 minute continuous steadicam sequence as three soldiers (including Ashes to Ashes’ Daniel Mays) discover a war ravaged beach complete with hundreds of extras, horses and a funfair making the film worthwhile on its own, the film does not quite have the right mix of war and romance to attract both genders, focussing more on the females than males, yet there is still plenty to keep all engaged, and at times agog.
Choose film 7/10

L.A. Confidential

In 1950s Los Angeles, mob boss Mickey Cohen has been put away, and rival crime factions are warring for his place. Against this backdrop, three very different cops are following three very different cases; brutish Bud White (Russell Crowe) despises wife beaters and is more than willing to frame a suspect in the name of justice as he works as hardman for James Cromwell’s kindly police chief. Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) is the straight-laced, ambitious son of a deceased police hero, investigating a multiple homicide at greasy spoon the Nite Owl, whilst Kevin Spacey’s smooth headline-hunting NARC Jack Vincennes traces a lead found on a drugs bust, uncovering a ring of hookers cut to look like movie stars. Throw into the mix Danny DeVito’s sleazy journo, David Straithairn’s oily businessman and Kim Basinger’s high class whore with a strong resemblance to Veronica Lake and you’ve got a top notch cast all bringing their A-game in a stunning film with tight script and direction. Spacey especially is sublime, stealing every scene in a movie full of memorable ones. The little moments are the finishing touches – Exley removing his oversized glasses and pouting for a photographer, Vincennes bumping into a man he put away on the set of TV show Badge of Honor where he acts as technical adviser, but the big scenes – the masterful interrogation of 3 suspects, several showdowns and a final act with all guns blazing are the parts best remembered. Credit of the month: Ginger Slaughter.

Choose film 10/10

The Muppet Movie

There are some days when I hate the list. The recent Luis Bunuel marathon? Whenever an Eisenstein film drops through my door? The 9-hour holocaust documentary? Those are all such days, none involving good times. But some days I get to watch a film where most of the characters are made of felt and have a hand shoved inside them somewhat further than recommended by most professional actors.
My only muppet experience to date has involved crossovers with Sesame Street, festive viewings of the Muppet Christmas Carol and the recent deluge of trailers for the muppets films currently in the cinemas, watch out on Monday for a new regular feature in which it will take centre stage. Yet though my involvement has been limited, I still adore them for reasons I cannot really explain, and this film details approximately how the team was formed.
Beginning with the muppets watching their own movie, the in-jokes and meta-humour grows throughout, with at one point characters finding one another because they read it in the script. Cameos come thick and fast, with each barely given a line, with the likes of James Coburn, Elliot Gould, Richard Pryor, Steve Martin, Mel Brooks, Telly Savalas and even Orson Welles showing up to join in the fun. I could have done with more time spent on the supporting characters – the Swedish Chef, Rizzo, Sam the Eagle, Statler and Waldorf and Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker, and a lot less time spent on Fozzie and Miss Piggy as I’ve always found them to be a tad annoying, but I suppose that’s just a personal preference.
Choose film 8/10

Bunuel Marathon

I’ve made no secret that I dislike the films of Spanish surrealist/Mexican politicist Luis Bunuel. I find his work arduous, unpleasantly illogical and disconcerting, so I thought it would be a good idea to remove the remainder from the list in quick succession, allowing for 8 films to be bundled together in another overlong post that no-one with a modicum of sense will ever read.

Our first is Belle de Jour, a senseless, semi-plotless effort typical of Bunuel, following Severine (the beautiful Catherine Deneuve) who behaves frigidly towards her husband of one year, but finds herself stepping out to work at a brothel without his knowing. What little plot there is is predictable – inevitably a lecherous friend of Severine’s husband visits the brothel and propositions her, with only Deneuve’s performance is worth watching. Mercifully, little intercourse is shown.

In the Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, I was shocked to find an almost coherent story running throughout, as six upper crust respectable people – drug dealers, no less – struggle to all come together for a meal, but are denied the chance at every turn, be it from confused calendars, a dead restaurant manager, a bout of pre-lunch nooky, a shortage of tea and the unexpected arrival of a branch of the military. There is indeed a certain charm to the story, nicely balancing the ludicrous dining catastrophes with the concern that the drug pedallers are being tracked by terrorists, but alas all this is blown to bits with interruptions from a tragic Lieutenant, telling of how his mother’s ghost told him as a child to poison his father, or a dream he had meeting dead people on a street. The bishop is also an unnecessary distraction, and the Inception-like dream within a dream finale adds nothing but disappointment.

It’s Catherine Deneuve again, this time playing Tristana, a woman in mourning for her recently deceased mother, who goes to stay with the lecherous yet refined Don Lupe. He spouts bizarre philosophies (“a woman only stays honest with a broken leg – and at home!”) which begin to rub off on Tristana as he makes several advances towards her yet she does not seem to object. She makes a point of always choosing between two things, so it’s safe to assume she will eventually be called upon to choose between two men, and she suffers from the kinds of bizarre, unexplained dreams that are Bunuel’s bread and butter. There’s a fair stab at an actual plot, but bland or irrational characters, large periods of time passing with little acknowledgement and an unsatisfactory, inconclusive ending mars the film.

After an unexpected yet poorly edited explosive opening that had to be rewound to work out who it happened to, That Obscure Object of Desire heads downhill. Using an annoying and repeatedly referred to narrative device of a man telling his story to other passengers in his train carriage, we hear of the events that led up to him pouring water over a woman on the train platform. The other passengers continually tell the man that his story is fascinating and remarkable, but it is nothing of the sort, concerning a duplicitous young women employed as a maid by the man, who leaves when he shows her affection, and bear in mind that the positive adjectives used to compliment the man’s story were written by the same person who wrote the story he is telling, making them nothing more than egotistical propaganda.

Los Olvidados began positively, but I’m sure not in a way hoped by those involved in its production. Expecting a 95 minute film, the DVD clocked in at a much more tolerable 76 minutes, so I settled down with a grin on my face at the extra 19 minutes I could spend asleep that evening. Having just escaped from prison, young gang leader Jaibo rejoins a band of youths and sets them up to rob a blind busker. The plan fails and one of their number is stabbed, so later the gang pelt the busker with mud and stones, destroying his instruments. All the gang members look at least a little alike and are hard to distinguish from one another, and there are few genuinely likeable characters in the cast. One young hoodlum steals food from his own mother, but to be fair, when asked if she loves him, the mother replies “Why should I love him? I don’t even know who his father is.” The film shows a mildly interesting look at those trying to escape a life they’ve been born into, but not a lot happens, and when it does it isn’t terribly interesting.

Inconclusive and pointless, Viridiana sees a nun visiting her sick uncle, only to find she is eerily identical to her deceased aunt. Her uncle, Don Jaime, is willing to do anything to prevent Viridiana from returning to the nunnery, though drugging her and pretending to rape her is a little extreme, as is hanging himself when his plan fails. Believing herself to be deflowered and therefore unable to return to her calling, Viridiana brings in some homeless people to help out around her late uncle’s house – much to the chagrin of her uncle’s other relatives – and the previously homeless do a less than acceptable job of helping out. Long periods of silence make it easy to drift off, as does the boring story with little to retain interest.

To begin with in Land Without Bread, I thought the worst part of this half hour documentary about an obscure poverty-stricken Spanish village in 1932 was going to be the production values, with a poor quality transfer resplendent with cracks and scratches, terrible sound and mistakes in the subtitles, bit it turns out I was quite wrong. The film is horrific in its depiction of a town where the only water source is a muddy stream running through it, children’s parents steal the bread their offspring bring home from the school and almost everyone is diseased in some way – a 32 years old woman looks at least 55, with a revoltingly bulbous goitre on her neck. We see a child with inflamed gums, and two days later she is dead. The only milk available is from the goats that thrive on the barren, rocky landscape, and is reserved only for the very sick, and goats are only used for their meat when they die of natural causes. At this point the film takes a turn. We see a goat fall from the rocks to demonstrate the previous point, and also a donkey being stung to death when a bee hive it is carrying falls off. After watching the film, I later discovered both events, each ending in the very real death of an animal, were both staged, with Bunuel even smearing the donkey with honey. Words fail me for home disgusting this is. A group of dwarfs are filmed as though the focus of a nature documentary (“Some are dangerous. They flee from people or attack them with stones. They are found at nightfall as they return to their village. We found it very hard to film them.”) There are repeated shots of a dead baby. This is a thoroughly depressing film that does not broach the subject of why the village’s inhabitants remain there, and it’s only redeeming feature is making the viewer grateful for what they have.

And finally, The Young One. Racism runs rampantly throughout this tale of a black man fleeing the accused rape of a white woman, and discovering an island inhabited only by a young girl and her abusive guardian. It’s a fairly straightforward plot, with the accused criminal attempting to leave the island, but there are bizarre and inappropriate sexual overtones between the girl and both men, especially because she is clearly underage, though no-one, not even the girl herself, knows how old she is. There isn’t as much wrong with this film as in most of Bunuel’s, but also nothing really noteworthy.

Belle de Jour: Choose life 5/10
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie: Choose life 6/10
Tristana: Choose life 4/10
That Obscure Object of Desire: Choose life 3/10
Los Olvidados: Choose life 5/10
Viridiana: Choose life 4/10
Land Without Bread: Choose life 1/10
The Young One: Choose life 6/10

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Rebel Without A Cause

The most iconic of James Dean’s 3 major roles, after East of Eden and before Giant, sees him inspiring numerous Eagles songs as Jim Stark, the new kid in a small town, eager to butt against any system willing to oppose him. He takes a shine to Judy, the girl of gang leader Buzz, and finds troubled social outcast Jon, calling himself Plato, takes more than a shine to Jim. A young Dennis Hopper plays one of the gang members – who I was half expecting to start clicking and dancing to Officer Krupke at some points, but thankfully this was not the case.

The film’s notoriety as a touchstone for a generation of rebellious kids with little to rebel against has raised expectations to levels left wanting, and though Dean’s performance shows potential it cannot be judged against those that might have been. Two scenes stand out – the ‘chicky run’ and tense observatory-set finale, but the film doesn’t even come close to its reputation.

Choose life 6/10

La Haine

The morning after a destructive rioting on a French housing estate, three youths involved – Jewish Vince, Arab Said and black Hubert – freefall through the aftermath as the community struggles to pick itself up. A gun was lost by a policeman, the gym the reformed Hubert built was trashed and Said is in bad need of a haircut. The 3 leads perform ably, particularly Vincent Cassel as the livewire yet inexperienced Vince, who does a pretty good De Niro impression when needed. There’re some nice comic touches – the three struggle to hot wire a car before realising no-one can drive – and the ending is abrupt, shocking yet completely fits.
Choose film 8/10

Disney Weekend

I needed to (and to be fair, still do) catch up on my film watching and post writing, so the opportunity to watch several short films that could all be written up in one post was something that needed to be implemented (and will soon be repeated with an upcoming Luis Bunuel collective post, watch this space). So what better way to do this than with an entire weekend devoted to the Mouse House and it’s timeless catalogue of classics? After a quick LoveFilm reshuffle, some DVD borrows and a root through my parents VHS collection the scene was set.

As was the recent Star Wars marathon, progress was made chronologically, so let me begin by taking you back to 1937, when an evil queen kept her beautiful step daughter locked up and dressed in rags, forced to work cleaning the castle, with singing to birds her only enjoyment. When Snow White’s beauty begins to surpass that of her stepmother, the evil queen orders a huntsman to lead the young housemaid into the woods to kill her, but he cannot and she flees instead. Her journey through the woods is terrifying – floating logs become crocodiles, trees grow hands and grab at her (but stop short of Evil Dead-style harassment, this is a kids film after all), but fortunately she finds an abandoned house in the woods and ploughs straight in with half the woodland in tow. A message that should have been made clear in this film, but was bizarrely omitted, is hat wild animals should not be used to aid cleaning, and especially not in serving food. Licking a late clean is an expression uncle Walt took all too literally, and I highly doubt the tails used to dry the crockery and measure ingredients were ever sanitised.

Imagine, if you will, that you’ve been at work all day with your six diminutive brothers. The disreputable state of your house when you left it that morning shows that cleanliness has never been high on your list of priorities, and the lack of a dog bowl shows that animals have no place under your roof, yet when you arrive home you discover an undeniable case of breaking and entering – the culprit is still asleep in 3 of your beds after all – and I’m guessing an at least light scattering of feathers, fur and footprints everywhere you look. If your reaction is celebration rather than immediate calls to the police and pest control, chances are you randomly break into song on a daily basis. Typically for an early Disney film, the plot is non-sensical and wafer thin (so the evil Queen is also a witch who can transform her appearance – why not either make herself more beautiful or Snow White ugly?) and the songs – other than the timeless Hi Ho Hi Ho – are forgettable and saccharine. Often scenes are entirely superfluous – Snow dances with the dwarfs for a straight 5 minutes – and, whilst notable for being the first feature length animation, many better films along similar lines have now eclipsed it.

One such eclipser is Pinocchio, raising the bar in both quality and insanity stakes, as lonely toy maker Geppetto wishes on a star that his latest puppet were a real boy. Of course this happens, and a cricket is made his conscience, (because why not?) and the next day an overjoyed Geppetto sends his new son off to school, presumably to have the sap kicked out of him for being made of pine, threatened with matches, woodpeckers, beavers, or just a good old fashioned junior hacksaw. Arguably saved from this fate, Pinocchio is instead befriended by a couple of talent scouts, who are probably evil because in a film where almost all of the characters are people, these two are a talking fox and cat, wearing hats and smoking cigars. Their boss puts Pinocchio on stage – neglecting the idea that talking animals would prove just as lucrative – and sets him up for more episodic adventures, as Pinocchio learns valuable lessons about not smoking and drinking – they’ll turn you into a donkey – and it’s OK to be eaten by a whale. It’s a testament to Walt’s creativity that Pinocchio’s nose growing whenever he tells a lie is such a small part of the story, yet is the most quoted and parodied aspect, with everything else – all equally ludicrous – being all but forgotten.

The only film appearing here that I hadn’t seen before in Fantasia, though I knew of clips like Mickey cleaning up with magical mops and hippos dancing with crocodiles. It turns out that the reason I’d heard of those two segments and no others is that they are the only ones worth mentioning amongst the 8 extended animated shorts – each set to music played by the Philadelphia Orchestra. The first 7 ½ minutes are wasted on the arrival, tuning and introduction of the various orchestra sections and an introductory speech from the conductor, and more time is wasted in between each song by going back to him to set up the next section. At one point, he ridiculously introduces the soundtrack as a character, showing different instruments causing a line to wiggle differently as though part of a basic music lesson, and do we really need to see the orchestra leaving for a break half way through, then setting their instruments up again upon their return?

As for the shorts, most are tedious and pointless, neither improving nor complementing the music backing them. At one point my hopes were unforgivably raised with the promise of a dinosaur-filled segment, only for the dinos to only appear briefly and not do a great deal whilst on screen. With too much time dallied on single-celled organisms and ambiguous evolution. We also see what appear to be very young centaurettes dolling themselves up, with the help of some naked infant fairies, for a bout of hanky-panky with a gang of much older looking centaurs, the moral to be taken from which is only date someone the same colour as you. I can only recommend the aforementioned Mickey Mouse caper the Sorcerer’s Apprentice and the animal ballet Dance of the Hours, with ostriches, hippos, elephants and crocodiles set to La Gioconda, though I think the elephants should have been replaced with something smaller, like monkeys for instance, to offer a greater level of contrast between themselves and the similarly rotund hippos. 1001 comments that the films contains a good hour and a bad hour – a generous statement in my opinion – which makes me wonder why it was included, and not bumped for the more iconic and prolific Steamboat Willie.

Back to the more traditional Disney – talking animals larking about, learning life lessons and suffering horrific tragedies. Ask someone what they remember about Bambi and just like Pinocchio they’ll all respond in one way, his mother getting shot. Maybe they’ll say they cried, seeing it for the first time as a young child, or how it traumatised them for life. This is nonsense, for nothing is shown, his mother is there one moment, you hear a shot, and then she isn’t. Any traumatising was more likely done by the parents in a presumably well-meaning but poorly handled attempt at an explanation that Bambi’s mum has headed to the big meadow in the sky, or perhaps mounted above a fireplace. The knowledge that the mother will die – shot in a meadow by a hunter – is common information, yet mars every visit to the meadow before it with a layer of apprehension for the viewer, for there is little else in the film even close to depth. The lead is cute but empty, the life lessons – forming friendships, meeting a girl, accepting responsibility, growing up – are all trite, and other than a seamless transition from falling raindrops to the song April Showers one wonders whether the film would still be discussed if the mother had survived.

Disney began to develop their winning formula with 101 Dalmatians. What was needed you see was cute protagonists, lovable yet clumsy sidekicks, lessons to be learned on a great adventure, a cracking soundtrack and an iconic villain. All had been seen at least in part across the previous films, and here not all are present – there are no real life lessons and only one song, but one that remains to this day to be a particular favourite from the Disney canon; the catchy yet effortlessly simple Cruella DeVille, also one of the greatest and most memorable bad guys in cinematic history. The plot involves a batch of Dalmatian puppies (I forget how many) DeVille wishes to make a coat from, and though the first half has its moments – dog and owner pacing frantically outside the room the female dog is giving birth in, women outside of a window all bearing a strong resemblance to their dogs – it is the action-packed second half that is the key to this film, possibly the only children’s movie to feature the line “the blacker the better,” a quote I doubt Uncle Walt approved of.

And now we’re on to our first true classic, as young man-cub Mowgli is raised by a pack of wolves in the jungles of India, but is cast out when a tiger threatens his life in this retelling of Rudyard Kipling’s the Jungle Book. The cast of characters is creative and varied, from the hypnotic snake Kaa, sensible panther Bagheera, partying bear Baloo, human mimicking orang-utan King Louie, militaristic elephant herd and of course the menacing, fearsome tiger Sheer Kahn, a clear inspiration for Alan Rickman in Die Hard. The songs are wonderful, particularly Bare Necessities and I Wanna Be Like You, and the animation is spectacular. Other than the inexplicably Liverpublian vultures and the fact that Kaa sounds exactly the same as Winnie the Pooh (both are voiced by Sterling Holloway), the film is flawless, and carries an important message – females are devious.

So how do you improve on the Jungle Book? What was the missing ingredient? Dancing cutlery of course, in what else but Beauty and the Beast. It’s easy to forget just how wonderful this film is, even for an adult male such as myself. Featuring the most recommended female role model in a Disney film (other than perhaps Tiana from the Princess and the Frog, but that wasn’t a very good film) as Belle, a non-princess brunette inventor’s daughter, has inspirations of her own that do not involve a loveless marriage to a handsome yet rude and oafish brute, but she is extraordinarily beautiful, but considered strange by the rest of the village as she always has her nose in a book. When her father is captured by a hideously deformed beast (ooooh, now I get the title), Belle offers to take his place if her father is released. Of course Belle and the beast fall in love (after he gives her a goddamned library he already frickin’ had), but aside from the traditional plot (Remade from 1946’s La Belle et la Bete) the songs are far better than I’m willing to admit without being castrated, and are still stuck in my head more than a month after watching the film, not that I’m complaining. Undoubtedly the character who makes the biggest impact is the Bruce Campbell-chinned, Conan physiqued town meatball Gaston, a complete bastard willing to have Belle’s father committed if it means she will marry him, and who’s only redeemable feature is his brilliant rabble-rousing song (“I’m especially good at expectorating”).

And finally, my personal favourite, and my earliest memory of going to the cinema, The Lion King, or Hamlet for kids. Undoubtedly the greatest soundtrack of any Disney film, and easily among the best of other movies too, composed by Elton John and Tim Rice and featuring classics like I Just Can’t Wait To Be King, Circle Of Life, Be Prepared, Can You Feel The Love Tonight and of course Hakuna Matata (we don’t talk about Rowan Atkinson singing the Morning Report through his nose). The cast is stellar, including Jeremy Irons, Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane, Whoopi Goldberg and James Earl Jones, and the story is terrific fun, yet still deals with the hardship of losing a parent, as lion cub Simba flees his family after believing he killed his father Mufasa. The scenery is stunning, taking in the African plains, lush jungle and elephant graveyard, and the script is full of humour, laden with lion puns (“a matter of pride,” “the mane event”).

Well that didn’t really work, did it? This was supposed to take less time than writing 8 individual posts. Ah well. I’ve got to say I wouldn’t recommend watching this many Disney films in such a short amount of time. Since watching them all, I’m taken by surprise when a passing animal refuses to have a conversation with me, or when my neighbours fail to spontaneously break into song.

Snow White: Choose life 5/10
Pinocchio: Choose life 6/10
Fantasia: Choose life 3/10
Bambi: Choose life 5/10
101 Dalmatians: Choose film 7/10
The Jungle Book: Choose film 8/10
Beauty and the Beast: Choose film 9/10
The Lion King: Choose film 9/10

Monday, 27 February 2012

The Secret of Kells

After illegible opening credits and an inaudible opening narration my hopes were not high for this recent Celtic animated effort about a reclusive abbey built as a defence for some unspoken terror outside the walls. Our hero is Brendan, a young orphan raised by his abbot uncle (Brendan Gleeson). Forbidden from leaving the abbey, his curiosity is piqued with the arrival of the enigmatic brother Aidan and his cat.

Once the initial frantic goose chase has concluded, the film doesn’t really get going until Brendan has left the confines of the abbey, where the inventive style – simple shapes with bold outlines and textured fills – is given free reign. Whilst not as infuriatingly decipherable as first thought, the film had too much new mythology, with not enough reality to hold on to. That said, the giant game of Snake with a piece of chalk was entertaining, and this could well improve with repeat viewings.

Choose life 6/10

Pretty Woman

There’s an area in Bournemouth – where I’d currently hang my hat if I wore won – known as the local red light district, and unfortunately it’s on the road upon which I live. Let’s get one thing cleared up right now: hookers do not look like Julia Roberts, and if they did, they probably wouldn’t be struggling for money, regardless of how much their flatmate spends on drugs.

Remarkably, Aisha had neither seen nor heard much about this chickiest of chick flicks, filling the role of girly film of the decade between Dirty Dancing and the Notebook. And just like those two films, for anyone with a Y chromosome, this film is terrible. Firstly, Roberts’ streetwalker Vivian Ward is a horrendous role model. Not only is she a prostitute, by the end of the film it is clear she would have remained one forever were it not for Richard Gere’s ridiculously wealthy businessman Edward Lewis. The moral here kids is don’t worry, you’re live may turn to crap, but someday someone will come along, wave their magic credit card shaped wand and give you everything you’ve ever wanted. Essentially an, ahem, adult retelling of a fairy tale – Cinderella and Rapunzel are both namechecked – the film retains every sense of logic and reality of its inspirations.

It’s only saving graces are from the supporting cast – Jason Alexander as essentially a more successful George Costanza and the great Larry Miller as a preening store manager (“She has my [credit] card” “And we’ll help her use it, sir.”), but otherwise the story is one-note and the lead performances average at best, with the actors feeling very robotic and over-directed. And even worse, Aisha has now added it to her Amazon wish list.

Choose life 4/10

Moulin Rouge!

This is that rarest of creature; a heavily female-pitched film – a musical, no less – that appeals to guys just as much as the gals. The main problem Moulin Rouge faces though is that not many men have actually seen it, immediately being put off by the idea of watching a soppy romance in France for 2 hours, where the closest thing to a bit of totty is a vapid Nicole Kidman, face set to simper, and that goddamned Lady Marmalade song is likely to be played every 10 minutes. But put aside the prejudice and you’ll find a film positively brimming with style and creativity.

Embracing its stage show inspirations we open on a curtain, a conductor commanding the orchestra to play the 20th Century Fox theme. Abandon any buttoned-up fustiness here, for what follows is a tale of bohemian values, elephant-shaped boudoirs, mistaken identity, forbidden love and some of the most gloriously hammed-up performances since the days of silent pictures, especially Jim Broadbent as red faced showman Harold Zidler and Richard Roxburgh’s snivelling Duke. The songs – mostly rejigged versions of classics from Nirvana to Queen via Shirley Bassey – are worthy of owning the soundtrack, as long as you don’t mind skipping track 2 every time, and far as I can tell the choreography isn’t bad either. The Roxanne Tango, Broadbent’s hilarious Like a Virgin and the showstopping central Elephant Medley are easily the highlights, though some of Kidman’s slower numbers do begin to drag.

Whilst Kidman and Ewan McGregor are usually far from being my favourite performers, here she is adorable and sexy, he is charming and sweet, and it is refreshing to see a cast clearly having a great time, being given the opportunity to overact to their hearts content whilst still giving tremendous performances.

Choose film 8/10

Report

On November 22nd 1963 President John F. Kennedy was shot in his motorcade in Texas. American artist Bruce Conner was amongst those watching, and recorded footage of Kennedy being driven past, playing audio footage recorded from the radio on the day, announcing the information as it takes place, before Kennedy is pronounced dead. We see footage of the man’s legacy and his funeral, as well as some fairly tactless but thought provoking images of a bullet being fired through a lightbulb and a bubble being burst with a pin, as well as random footage from Frankenstein. This starts up showing an important historic event that everyone should be witness to, but the headache inducing flashing white screen detracts from the audio, and I’d have preferred more coverage of the aftermath instead of the more artistic approach taken here.
Choose life 5/10

Hold Me While I'm Naked

A man is making a film (and not a very good one by the looks of it) in this short by George Kuchar. 17 minutes is not a lot of time to get a plot across, as Kuchar seems to have realised, and therefore doesn’t really bother with one, instead resolving to show snippets of pretentious conversations between the film’s director (himself) and it’s stars during production (“The mysticism of the stained glass window and the profanity of that brazier just do not go together”), footage of him coaxing the fakest looking bird ever created down from a tree, the actress leaning against a mirror whilst a man goes through her clothes, Kuchar staring from a window, walking along with the camera pointed up his nose, lying covered in unspooled film reels and his leading actress having sex in the shower. I’m not sure what to draw from this, so I’m not going to.
Choose life 2/10

Cyrano de Bergerac

Gerard Depardieu is Cyrano de Bergerac, there is no doubt in the matter. He was born to play the role, in one of those instances where no other actor could possibly be even imagined playing the role. Even the great Steve Martin gave it a stab in Roxanne, but he couldn’t quite match the heady heights (or should that be lengths?) achieved by Depardieu and a handful of putty on his proboscis.

Though wittier and more romantic than any man within smelling distance, the Cyrano de Bergerac has to his mind but one fault; his comically oversized snout. Though he loves his cousin Roxane, he feels he can never voice his feelings, for she would surely laugh away his advances, so when Roxane falls for the much more handsome yet far less eloquent Christian, Bergerac proposes to assist the pair by writing her letters on Christian’s behalf. Depardieu adds more than a sniff of life and colour to the picture, his red cape like a beacon amidst the otherwise muted palette as his noble showman takes on all comers at both word and swordplay, defeating a man whilst with both rapier wit and real life equivalent after being told his “nose is very big.” By beginning with arguably the greatest scene the film can only go downhill, but it doesn’t go far, maintaining a level of quality and tension throughout.
An unexpected turn occurs in the third act, and comedy is mined when Christian is forced to make wooing attempts without his wordsmith aide (“I love you”/”Yes, and then?”) and the attempt to resolve a love triangle amidst an epic battle is equal parts humorous, heartbreaking and dramatic.

Choose film 7/10

Bull Durham

Every season, baseball groupie Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) selects a new player to sleep with/pass her extensive baseball knowledge on to, and that player goes on to have the best season of their career. This time around her choice is made difficult by there being two potential candidates, naive, cocksure but dim-witted pitcher Ebby Calvin LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) and the seasoned cynical old hand Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) brought in to train him. Robbins sells the level of inexperience and dimwittedness required for his player with “a million dollar arm and a five cent head” but he pales in comparison to Costner and Sarandon, though their characters are far more layered.

The focus is on the relationships between these three, both personal and professional, with equal time given over to sporting, romantic and comedic elements, so as long as you like at least one of those three aspects, you’ll find something here as Crash teaches Ebby about foot fungus, interview technique (“I like winning... it’s better than losing”) and the lyrics to Try a Little Tenderness, whilst Annie takes a different approach, coaching him to think differently via her underwear and Walt Whitman.

Whilst the ending isn’t surprising, the journey to get there is enjoyable, realistic and often hilarious, with well rounded characters and situations, but is anyone else concerned about how many candles Annie has, or the ramifications of having sex in a pool of milk?
Choose film 8/10

Scream

It says something about the sheer volume of horror movies made in the 70s, 80s and 90s that in 1996 Wes Craven, himself creator of such classics as A Nightmare on Elm Street and the Hills Have Eyes, was able to create a film almost entirely about other horror movies, whilst still existing as a genre-defining horror-comedy along the way. Namechecking the likes of his own works (whilst having a dig at the sequels he wasn’t directly involved with) as well as Halloween, Friday the 13th, the Exorcist, Basic Instinct, Frankenstein, Prom Night, the Howling, Evil Dead, Hellraiser, Clerks, Psycho, Carrie, I Spit on Your Grave, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the Silence of the Lambs to name but a few, the script revels in its horror knowledge, with one character, Jamie Kennedy’s Randy, working in a video store (remember them?) and dictating the rules of surviving a horror movie (don’t have sex, never drink or take drugs, never say “I’ll be right back”).

Scream was one of the first horror movies I ever saw, and rewatching it now brings a much greater level of enjoyment and understanding, for now I’ve seen most of the films it references as a masked killer stalks the inhabitants of Woodsboro, one year after the mother of Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell), a high school student, was raped and murdered. Hilariously, most of the characters refer to the serial killer as though it were a horror movie (“there’s a formula, a very simple formula – everybody’s a suspect!) and the script is full of other little notes that you’ll enjoy this a great deal more if you like films in general.

Typically with all franchises, the sequels deteriorate in quality, but it’s clear this was set up as a franchise from the beginning, with Sydney predicting Tori Spelling would play her if they made the story into a movie (as happens in Scream 2’s film within a film, Stab), and Liev Schreiber’s role of convicted killer Cotton Weary beefed up a great deal for part 2. This is exactly the horror film needed to reinvigorate the once tired genre; a horror film made for people who love horror films, by people who love horror films, about people who love horror films.
Choose film 8/10

The Sting

When small time conman Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) accidentally steals $11,000 from racket running mob boss Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw), he finds himself on the run after his partner is killed. Skipping town, Hooker teams up with long con artist Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman) to exact revenge. This reteaming of the stars and director (George Roy Hill) of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid doesn’t quite reach the heady heights of the original, though a lot of attention has been paid to recreate a 1930s feel, from an old-fashioned opening logo, character introductions and hand-drawn chapter cards to everything being tinged with a sepia hue. 

I used to be a big fan of Hustle, so the route the plot takes was no surprise to me, with only one moment really catching me out. This let down the film in my expectations, and though the acting is solid, all involved have done better, most notably Shaw in Jaws and the Taking of Pelham One Two Three. Still, it’s a lot better than most other heist movies, it’s just a shame that watching them all ruined this one for me.

Choose film 7/10

As Good As It Gets

Jack Nicholson is on fine form here as OCD-afflicted writer Melvin Udall, the least likely man ever to be described as a people person. He spends his days eating at his favourite cafe, being attended by his favourite waitress Carol (Helen Hunt good but not great, though she won the leading actress Oscar in what appears to have been a slow year) and annoying everyone else he comes across, most notably his gay artist neighbour Simon (the always reliable Greg Kinnear), whose dog we find Melvin depositing in the garbage disposal chute at the opening of the film. There’s barely a minority that isn’t critiqued in some way; Cuba Gooding Jr. is described as being the colour of “thick molasses,” the Jews dinging at Melvin’s table (Taub and Cuddy from House!) are informed that their appetites aren’t as big as their noses and, my personal favourite and a line I try to use as often as I can in everyday life, when asked how he writes female characters so well, Melvin replies “I think of a man, and I take away reason and accountability.” Genius.

Whilst focussing on Melvin, easily the more entertaining character, this is essentially a triple character study, with the second half of the film following Melvin, Carol and Simon on a road trip to visit Simon’s parents. The supporting characters loss is noticeable, but more than one eye is kept on the comedy even in the more dramatic or sentimental scenes. If this is as good as it gets, I’m fine with that.

Choose film 8/10

Night and Fog

Why are so many of these films so goddamned depressing? And why are there two Holocaust documentaries on the same list? Surely Shoah covered enough in over 9 hours that a poxy little 30 minute doc isn’t going to add any more? Why is nobody satisfied until I see so many horrific images I can’t sleep at night? There is no possible situation where I could want to watch Nazis cramming 100 people to a train carriage, depriving them of water and light for days before bringing them to concentration camps where they are tortured and executed via experimental methods. I don’t want to see the skeletal role calls, or the results of eating the diuretic soup provided, the fingernail scratches in the solid concrete walls and ceilings of the gas chambers, meaning people were clamouring over the bodies of their friends to find a way out. Mountains of dead bodies, retained glasses and hair woven into cloth and sold by the kilo. I cannot possibly recommend watching a film that explains how they tried to make fertiliser from the skeletons and stretched out skin to draw pictures on. The image of baskets full of severed heads will stay with me for a long time, as will bulldozing the corpses into a pit. I implore you; do not watch this film unless you believe the Holocaust to be a myth. If you ever want to sleep again, do not watch this film.

Choose life 1/10

Casablanca

I’ve finally watched Casablanca! After Gone with the Wind and Singin’ in the Rain I’ll finally be able to call myself a film fan. Don’t worry, they’re on the list, and GWTW is on my DVD shelf, so watch this space. There are many films – these three included – that are held with such high regard in the cinematic community – nay, the world – that one cannot possibly expect to leave the film having had expectations met and a smile on the face, so I went in expecting nothing but misquoted famous lines, romantic clinches and a bitter sense of disappointment, yet when those closing credits rolled the sense of elation tingling up my spine cannot be exaggerated. What we have here is more than a film, it’s a landmark in history.

Humphrey Bogart is of course Rick, owner of Rick’s Cafe American in Casablanca, French Morocco around the outbreak of World War 2. Bogey set the template for cynics on screen, sticking his neck out for nobody but those that will help him along. Rarely is there a moment when he isn’t drinking, smoking or both. The story involves a concentration camp escapee and secret documents containing a letter of transit allowing a safe departure from the town, but what you’re really here for is the script. Everyone knows the classics, “Here’s looking at you kid” “all the gin joints...” and “we’ll always have Paris” (“play it again, Sam” is never actually uttered) but the lesser known phrases are just as good, if not better: “I have given him the best, knowing he is German and would take it anyway” “this gun is pointed right at your head”/”that is my least vulnerable spot”.

Long scenes make the film seem longer than it is (for a classic it is surprisingly sleight at only 102 minutes) and Ingrid Bergman wears a distractingly terrible blouse for much of the film, but if yuo haven’t seen this film, I urge you to do so soon.I think I'll go watch it again.

Choose film 9/10

A Serious Man

After the timid reception met by the star-studded Burn After Reading (fun but empty, worth a go if you’re after something light with a dark side), I feel the Coen brothers attempted to recreate some past glories by having a pop at making another Lebowski, but instead succeeded in making the most Jewish film in the world. As a non-Jew (I’m a non-everything, in case you’re wondering. All I can do is offend others) I am among those that, after watching this film, looked around and said “what were they saying?” as quite a lot happens that I’m sure will be familiar to those more acquainted with the Jewish faith and the Yiddish language. The rest is decipherable, but I can’t help feeling that I’m missing something.

Zodiac

Amidst the 4th of July celebrations in California in 1969, two young romantics drive out to a secluded spot the locals refer to as Lover’s Lane. The mood is of anticipation; anything could happen as the other kids drive away, our lovestruck pair left alone. There’s a spark of romance, playful glances, touches, the gentle ribbing of one another as they become closer. And then they’re shot in cold blood and left for dead with no word of explanation by an unseen killer. This murder, along with the many that follow it, dramatically changes the lives of many people, but our focus here is a select three; Mark Ruffalo’s cop, Robert Downey Jr’s journalist and Jake Gyllenhall’s cartoonist, as they each set out to catch the killer. Their motives are different – Ruffalo’s David Toschi wants justice, RDJ’s Paul Avery is out to further his career and Gyllenhall’s Robert Graysmith is obsessed with the puzzles the killer sends to the local papers, but all three will suffer in terms of careers, personal lives and sanity at the hands of this killer.
Based on the real life Zodiac killer (the influence of the Scorpio killer in Dirty Harry, here namechecked when Toschi can’t sit through a showing), the case remained unsolved when the lead suspect died some years ago, and it’s this sense of inconclusiveness that runs throughout the film – you know there will not be a satisfactory ending. Plaudits should be laden for the realism of the film – not since All the President’s Men has so much paperwork been completed – but unfortunately the dreary, depressing side of catching a killer rubs begins to rub off onto the film during its overlong running time. Director David Fincher (Benjamin Button, Seven) is usually so adept at keeping interest, even when Morgan Freeman went to a library, but here not even a cast including Elias Koteas, Philip Baker Hall, Brian Cox, Anthony Edwards, John Carroll Lynch, Adam Goldberg and Clea Duvall can raise this above tedium. There’s a good film in here somewhere, and a good edit could bring it out. More Downey Jr. and Brian Cox couldn't hurt though, they're the best parts of the film and are criminally underused.

Choose life 7/10

Topsy-Turvy

Mike Leigh’s depiction of acclaimed stage show writer and composer Gilbert & Sullivan (Jim Broadbent & Allan Corduner) creating their most famous production, the Mikado, is extremely well performed by all involved, especially the two leads and Timothy Spall as one of several preening thespians. The background is littered with know-the-face British actors (Andy Serkis, Dexter Fletcher, Mark Benton etc.) and the costumes and set design are spectacular. Unfortunately, the film is far too long, and too much time has been given over to the musical numbers, with at least ten being shown throughout the film. A much tighter script, focusing more on the backstage goings-on and less on the show itself, could have led to a bona-fide British classic about two of our most notable showmen.
Choose life 7/10

Fargo

Snivelling, double-talking car salesman Jerry Jundegaard (William H. Macy, Oscar nommed but somehow losing to Cuba Gooding Jr.) has a plan. He needs money. His father-in-law Wade (Harve Presnell) has money, but hates Jerry. So Jerry hires two thugs (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) to kidnap his wife and demand a ransom, of which Jerry will keep half. What could go wrong? Well, quite a lot it turns out, especially if everyone involved is an idiot and you’re being directed by the Coen brothers. The men’s escapades are chaotic, unstructured and are all heading off in different directions until, at the 32 minute mark, heavily pregnant Sheriff Marge Gunderson shows up to set them in order. Frances McDormand deservedly won an Oscar for her portrayal, nailing that wonderful sing-song North Dakota accent “Yah, you betcha” and, once full of eggs, keeping a straight face whilst clearing up the handbasket Hell’s clearly fallen out of around her. 

Few films as short as this (98 minutes) have room to divulge us with background lives – a meeting with an old school friend, conversations about stamps – whilst still keeping the action moving briskly. Every line is considered and real, every character feels genuine, and this is the greatest proof you can find against the argument that the Coens can only write caricatures. Often underrated, this film can never be over-seen, and no-one can call themselves a film fan unless they’ve both seen it, and loved it. The title of this blog was very nearly called Your Accomplice in the Wood Chipper, and a car boot opening has never made me laugh before.
Choose film 10/10

Saturday, 25 February 2012

In comfort we trust

On a weekend trip visiting the girlfriend in Bury St Edmunds, we decided to step out to the cinema to see the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (keeping a recent tradition of film titles seemingly designed to be hard to remember, hello Martha Marcy May Marlene). The film was OK, a tad long and seemed to forget about some of its characters when what little plot it had did not require them, but the experience is worth proclaiming about because of the venue. We went not to an Odeon, a Cineworld or an Empire, but to a Picturehouse, something I haven't done for a while. We arrived a little late, after a last minute snack dash, so the only remaining sets of two seats were fairly near the front, but we didn't mind because they were on sofas. Not hard-backed, squeeze yourself in wooden benches, but full-on sofas, with leg room and cushions, separate cup holders and everything. No fighting for the arm rest with your neighbour, no hunching up to fit in a ridiculously narrow corridor whilst simultaneously ducking down to ensure the person behind can see (I'm 6' 3", though the chairs at my local Odeon seem designed more for those 4' 5" and under). Just sit back, relax, stretch out a little and enjoy. And these weren't even premier seats, just standard, used to encourage patrons to sit nearer the front of the screen, and I'd strongly recommend other cinemas to employ them too. One of the main reasons I don't go to the cinema that often - other than the exponentially increasing ticket prices - is because the seats are so damn uncomfortable, and I'm fairly sure I'd go at least once a week if I knew I wouldn't be shifting and squirming throughout the film, else it really is more worthwhile just to wait for the DVD.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Sweet Smell of Success

I hate disappointment, yet the further into the List I delve, the more used to it I become. Sweet Smell of Success is a film I’ve had sat on my DVD shelf for over a year now (since even before the List entered and devoured my sad excuse for a life), and I’ve been waiting for a chance to watch it. Appearing on 3 lists and this month featured as Empire magazine’s monthly Masterpiece, my hopes were set to high. I knew two things: the film was endlessly quotable (a character in Diner does nothing but quote the script) and it features arguably career-best performances from leads Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster. Whilst I cannot deny these points, I must take umbrage with the film for being far too dense. Even now I only have a vague idea as to what took place – Curtis’ ambitious yet downtrodden press agent Sidney Falco teamed up/sparred with Lancaster’s ruthless columnist J. J. Hunsecker in an effort to prevent a relationship between Hunsecker’s sister and a young jazz musician, so the Falco can get more column inches in Hunsecker’s paper. Much of the script is quotable (“You’re dead son, get yourself buried)”, but there is so much of it many of the best lines are lost. Doubtless this film will improve with repeat viewings, and if so my score shall be upgraded, but for a one-watch it doesn’t hold up. The score has also received a lot of plaudits, yet I found it really did not fit to the film - a barroom conversation sounds more like a frantic car chase. Here’s hoping the next viewing is more enjoyable.
Choose life 6/10

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Fantastic Planet

On an alien planet, a race of gigantic meditating blue-skinned, red-eyes creatures known as Draags keep humanlike Oms as pets. To the Draags, Oms are no bigger than beetles, and are treated as playthings or pests, with the many wild Oms being routinely killed every three cycles (15 years) to prevent an uprising.
The world these creatures inhabit is, quite frankly, insane, inspired by both Stefan Wul’s novel and a large dose of narcotics, and has been created with a simplistic Python-esque animation style, with a heady dash of Dali thrown in for good measure.
It’s interesting to see that real-world parallels have been drawn, with the two races facing issues familiar to those of us on Earth – warring tribes, religion vs. science, giant flying anteaters – but why do those goddamn horny continental Europeans have to make everything about sex? Look out for the overly-phallic rockets late in the film.
Some plot points are dismissed too easily without realising their full potential; the magnetic homing collar, for instance, the scales are inconsistent, too much emphasis was put on creating a surreal landscape over an engaging plot and some scenes are far too trippy – the meditation involving wall and ceiling probes transforming the Draags colours and bodies – yet perhaps to an outsider our world would seem equally as bizarre.
Choose life 6/10

Sunday, 19 February 2012

In the Realm of the Senses

Starting this film, one of my first thoughts was that the acting, camerawork and effects are excellent, as it really looks like those people are having sex. Then some small children started throwing snowballs at a homeless man’s penis, a man abruptly fingers his maid from behind, we see the homeless man playing with himself trying to get an erection whilst staring at a naked vagina, followed by an extreme close-up of a woman giving a man a blow job. After she had to wipe off her chin, I turned the TV off and sent the film back to LoveFilm, as this is a porn film. There’s no two ways about it, this is a film where people have sex, on camera, for real, and yet the good people Octopus Books decided to include it in their 1001 list, describing it as elegant and a true manifestation of passion (though seeing as it apparently ends with a man being strangled then castrated, I have a somewhat different view of passion). From the 15 minutes I was able to sit through (doing my best not to look at the screen for much of that) there didn’t appear to be a lot of plot to hold the film together, and a minute did not pass without nudity or a sexual act, yet at no point was the film even remotely erotic, remaining steadfastly in the uncomfortable and nauseating camps. Maybe some people could argue this is art. But for me it is porn, and I do not watch porn. And no, there is no picture to accompany this review.
Choose life 1/10

Requiem for a Dream

DON’T DO DRUGS. There you go, just saved you an hour and three quarters. Except that’s just the thing, although this film can be summed up in just three little words, it’s still an exceptional piece, just thoroughly depressing and cautionary. Easily the reason I’ve never so much as even picked up a joint, this film should be mandatory viewing in schools and rehab centres the world over, with every step taken by the four leads taking them further down a spiral they really don’t want to see the end of. Firstly, there’s Jared Leto’s slacker Harry, living day-to-day by repeatedly stealing and selling his doting mother’s television with best friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans, surprisingly good) in order to buy drugs. Harry’s girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connelly) is a promising fashion designer, but occasionally must turn tricks when money runs low, and Harry’s mother Sara (Ellen Burstyn, Julia Roberts has your Oscar) lives alone, glued to her television, unable to deal with the direction her son has taken.
The film is at times incredibly hard to watch (double-ended dildo, anyone?) but when you do it’s nothing short of a cinematic goldmine, with director Darren Aronofsky’s editing and Clint Mansell’s spot-on score fitting the addiction-addled characters lives perfectly. Fish-eye lenses, split-screen, sped-up/slow-down footage and cameras strapped to actors focussed on their faces as they flee from the mess they’re in are all used perfectly. Compare this to Happy Together, where these same devices were used just for the sake of it, to show the director could, and you can really see how relevant they are here. Also, compare the editing, especially that of drug hits; rapid shots of syringes depressing and eyes dilating, with similar edits in Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead. The two use very similar techniques, but with wildly different effects.
I felt the three youngsters should have been scrawnier and more blemished than they were, with Wayans and Leto especially being far too muscular than I’d expected a junkie to be. The storytelling though is excellent, with actions truly speaking louder than words, most shots consisting of close-ups or POV.
I had a couple of “Hey, it’s him” moments: Crash’s Keith David is a lecherous ‘party’ host, Spiderman’s Dylan Baker a Southern doctor and Office Space’s Ajay Naidu is Sara’s mailman. Also, Christopher McDonald needs some recognition for playing almost the same sleazy TV scumbag he played in Quiz Show.
Choose film 9/10

Sabotage

This early Hitchcock sees him dealing with familiar themes – espionage, deception, blackly comic beats and playful cinematic references – as a cinema owner (Oskar Homolka) acts as a terrorist agent in London unbeknownst to his wife (Sylvia Sidney) and her young brother, whilst Scotland Yard’s detective sergeant Spencer (John Loder) poses as the local greengrocer in an effort to catch the saboteur. The relatively slight length – a brief 76 mins – is still padded with background lines and squabbles, as Hitch unusually detracts from his otherwise straightforward plot. The greatest sequence involves the young Stevie (Desmond Tester) unwittingly transporting a bomb across town, only to be held up by a toothpaste salesman, a bus conductor and heavy traffic, with tension mounted with wordless cuts between the bomb, the boy, the obstacles in his way and every clock in the vicinity. The acting is top notch too, with more said in Homolka’s eyes than any line of dialogue.
Choose film 6/10