Due to my blossoming rediscovery of the wonderful world of film I have neglected this blog lately. I’ve been too busy planning and recording the Failed Critic podcast, going to the cinema, and tracking down obscure documentaries to watch online to get on with the serious business of writing about the ‘Top 250 Films of All Time’.
That said – I have managed to watch the following films recently which I will briefly discuss now.
I rewatched this classic musical featuring a young girl plucked from her small Kansas farm and dumped in the wonderful world of Oz for the Child Protagonist Triple Bill in the Failed Critic Podcast. I think it actually gets better with every viewing – or at least, I have lost another layer of hipster cynicism between each viewing.
I actually tried the ‘Dark Side of the Rainbow’ trick, and I was reasonably impressed. My attempts to recreate this magic with Shed Seven’s seminal ‘A Maximum High’ album were less conclusive.
Another one I had already seen – although this was the Director’s Cut on Blu-ray which was brand new to me. I know that some people think the extra 10 minutes either slows the film down needlessly, or consisted of schlocky SFX – but I think this was my favourite viewing of the film to date.
It’s an outstandingly creepy film, and it’s easy to forget how natural Linda Blair is in front of the camera. I love this film, and I think I love the mythology and stories behind the making of it even more.
This was my first experience of watching Buster Keaton, and I am ashamed that it has taken me this long. I adored this film, and the care and attention paid to some of the stunts is nothing short of amazing.
There are a few scenes that don’t quite work for a modern viewer – a prime example being the immediate moments after Keaton steps into the film projection which if he wasn’t there would be a bland and slightly random montage of scenery clips.
The pool scene has immediately placed itself in my top 10 scenes of all time already. I’m now looking forward to The General.
The original vampire film, and one I hadn’t seen in years – and certainly never sober. This film has a fascinating back story about how the film-makers basically took the story of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and changed a few names and plot details to avoid getting sued by the estate of Bram Stoker.
It didn’t work.
The most interesting change to the story, and the one which has lived on long beyond anyone involved in making the film – is the fact that Nosferatu (the rip-off of Dracula) is killed by direct sunlight, rather than just weakened by it as in Bram Stoker’s version.
This is more of an interesting film for its cultural relevance and influence, rather than for entertainment value – unlike Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr. for example.
Once more unto the pod dear friends, once more! They may take our bandwidth, but they will never take our freedom! We’re just three boys, standing in front of our audience, asking you to love us. That’s right people, our Triple Bill this week is Great Speeches! Also in this week’s podcast we discuss our top picks from this summer’s releases that aren’t called Prometheus or The Dark Knight Rises; as well as new and future independent releases in the shape of Safety Not Guaranteed and Breathing.
Click below to listen to Steve’s reboot idea for a classic Disney franchise; Gerry’s rather desperate attempt to get free drinks in return for praise of the splendid Showroom Cinema in Sheffield; and James doth protesting rather too much about the Sex and the City Movie.
No spoilers, but if you do want to skip between sections, then the timings are:
On Sunday I finally attended my first ‘proper’ film festival – Sundance London. At least, I think I attended a film festival. My experience tells a slightly different story, in that it feels like I travelled 3 hours to London to visit a quiet Cineworld cinema. I suppose these crazy festival types don’t tend to show their face at screenings at midday on a Sunday.
What did mark this as being above the standard cinema experience was that not only were we treated to a film that is still months away from general release in this country, but we also got a very relaxed Q&A session with the director afterwards. Drinks were still extortionate though.
The film I trekked half-way across the country to see was Safety Not Guaranteed – the feature debut from director Colin Trevorrow and writer Derek Connolly that received rave reviews at the ‘proper’ Sundance in January that led to it being included on the programme for this Sundance-taster taking place in the UK for the first time.
The film takes its inspiration from a real-life classified advert from someone seeking a companion for space travel. This completely fictional film follows a group of 3 staff at a magazine who head out on assignment to track down the person who placed the ad and interview him.
I wouldn’t want to talk too much about the plot of the film – not because I might spoil it, but because that would be to rob the viewer of the joy of letting it unfold before their eyes.
What I would like to talk about though are the central performances for Aubrey Plaza and Mark Duplass. Trevorrow explained in the Q&A that the role of Darius (an intern at the magazine who tags along on assignment, and becomes the honey-trap that cynical journalist Jeff uses to get the scoop on our ‘time traveller’) was written for Aubrey Plaza – and anyone who has seen her performances in the vastly underrated Parks and Recreation, or her small role in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, will instantly agree that the writer achieved his aim. Plaza’s sarcastic, yet vulnerable performance is the heart of this film. You completely believe her desire to want to disappear from the present.
Opposite her Mark Duplass plays a blinder as Kenneth – the loner who is wholly convinced of his ability to travel through time. He stays just the right side of being outright weird, and carries the look of a man who knows he is right, and if the world doesn’t believe him then that’s their problem. There are a number of touching scenes between the two of them, including a campfire scene that plays its cards so honestly and earnestly you wonder how they got away with it. But this films selling point is that is has truckloads of charm, and if you can buy into the universe then you will be utterly smitten.
Trevorrow has said that this film is heavily influenced by the 1980s Amblin films. In fact, the version shown at Sundance London had a new ending that the director said came from thinking about how he would have wanted this film to end if he was a kid watching it in the eighties.
In a summer dominated by multi-multi-million blockbusters, it is so refreshing to see a film made for less than $1million that can give us a modern science-fiction story with this much heart.
Please, please try and catch this when it inevitably plays in your local arts cinema for a few nights later this year.
James will be reviewing Safety Not Guaranteed on this weeks Failed Critic Podcast
Critics assemble! They have an army – we have the Failed Critic podcast, featuring Steve Norman, James Diamond, and Gerry McAuley.
This week the Failed Critics review the first BIG blockbuster of the summer Avengers Assemble, and discuss this weeks Triple Bill theme – Child Protaganists. We also have their thoughts on recent releases Lockout, and The Kid With a Bike, and a little-known gem called The Third Man – starring some up-and-comer called Orson Welles. There is also scintilating chat about frame rates, more Mighty Ducks chat, and one of the contributors gets all tongue-tied when proposing to Cobie Smulders. Also a little bit of bad language right at the end. It’s worth it though.
Spoiler Alert! If you want to avoid the Avengers review, then skip 6 minutes through to 31 minutes. Also, completely avoid the podcast if you’re desperate to avoid the endings of The Sixth Sense and My Girl.
After quite literally days of planning, and whole hours of work going into it – the Failed Critic podcast has arrived! We know it’s just 3 blokes who barely know each other talking about films, but we’re pretty proud of it for a first go and hope that you enjoy listening to it as much as we enjoed recording it. If you think we show any promise at all, please subscribe and spread the word.
The Failed Critic Podcast – Episode 1: The Cabin in the Woods
From the studio that brought you the Born Offside Podcast: the inaugural episode of the Failed Critic podcast, featuring Steve Norman, James Diamond, and Gerry McAuley.
This week the Failed Critics discuss the horror-genre game-changer The Cabin in the Woods, and discuss the three films they could watch forever in the Desert Island Movie Triple Bill. We also have their thoughts on films as diverse as Rocky, Primer, and the yet-to-be-released God Bless America. Meanwhile Steve ensures we’ll never get Keanu Reeves as a guest, Gerry ruins any chance he ever had with Rhianna, and James predicts the year that Ron Howard’s brother dies.
How have I got through my life to this point without seeing Rocky? And I don’t just mean how I am a 32 year-old man who hasn’t seen the film Rocky – but how have I made it through those 32 years without the guidance and inspiration that watching Rocky at a younger age would have afforded me.
Why didn’t my parents make me watch Rocky? Why wasn’t it on the curriculum while I was at school. If I had seen Rocky as an impressionable teenage who still had the worldat his feet – I coulda been a contender
Rocky tells the story of Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) – a small-time boxer and heavy for the local organised criminal, who unexpectedly gets a shot at the heavyweight title held by the charismatic Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). The tagline: His whole life was a million-to-one shot.
The film looks, like most films of the era, uber-gritty and neo-realistic. The low-key opening titles and location-filmed exterior shots scream “THIS IS A FILM MADE IN THE 1970S”. I find this era of film-making fascinating, as in my experience it is the home of some of the most realistic cinema ever made. Directors were moving away from sound-stages and specially designed sets, and special effects were still in their infancy. The 1970s is chock-full of great films portraying everyday people and stories.
Rocky is another one of those films. He’s not a hero, certainly not at the beginning. He is Joe Everyman, trying to scrape a living using his skills legally, and illegally. In his spare time he hangs around a little too much on street corners with musical loiterers, looking a little too much like a pimp in mourning for my liking – but we like the guy. We’re rooting for him.
The big surprise here is how genuinely brilliant Stallone is in the title role. It’s sad that in the years to come he would become a parody of himself, and the action films he became known for. It’s easy to overlook how low-key, and utterly human his performance here is. He shows a remarkable amount of self-doubt and nerves for someone fighting for the World Heavyweight title, and even sets his sights on Adrian – the plainest of all the plain girls in Philadelphia.
It’s impossible not to refer to the Rocky-esque story behind the film while evaluating this film’s worth. Stallone was a broke actor at the time he was trying to sell his script for Rocky. He apparently had $100 to his name, and was trying to sell his dog as he couldn’t afford to feed it. He was offered $350,000 for the rights to his screenplay, but turned it down as he insisted that he was cast as Rocky. This eventually happened with Stallone basically working for union rates just to get the film made.
At some point in your life, you’ll be tasked with arranging a hen night which includes a private film screening of Amélie, and accompanying French themed party. This is statistically likely to happen to most people, and in no way highly specific to my own personal situation. However, since I’ve been there, I am able to offer some top tips.
Tip One: Run. For. The. Hills.
The associated admin of said event will fill you with such rage that you will come to hate: the film Amélie, Gmail, Delia Smith, the character Amélie, the staff of your local card shop, camping, star of Amélie Audrey Tautou, January, Ikea and, inexplicably, Danish pastries.
It’s just not worth it. Instead, google the couple who had an incredibly stylish Amélie themed wedding, and become friends with them. They look cool. I bet she never had to put up with this shit.
Amélie is wonderful, magical film. For those people who find it wonderfully magical. Others hate it, for the very reason the first lot love it. The third group of people haven’t seen it, or are ambivalent. Such is life. Me? When it’s not inspiring social occasions which ruin my life, I love it.
On paper, the film is cheesy as fuck. It’s full of lines like ‘a surge of love, an urge to help mankind engulfs her’. There are talking passport photos, winking statues, and endless silly faces. It’s a whimsical boy meets girl. But it works. What elevates it high above all the other love stories are the details. The supporting characters. The cinematography. The entirely perfect score.I’m not going to try and break it down any further than that because that’s just not how it’s meant to be experienced. And also because I’m kind of busy. Did you not read the first paragraph?
Director Jeunet‘s god like genius aside, the main reason this thing looks so good is Audrey Tautou. Brass tacks: she’s exquisite. From the opening shot of her in the cafe, to the closing shot of her dicking around on a moped. The smile, the enormous eyes, my god the hair! Seriously, it’s worth watching for that bob alone.
The fans adore Amélie fervently. Try googling anything about the film. You can’t, since every parent on the planet from 2001 onwards named their baby girl Amélie. And then posted every minute detail of her life into the first page of my google search results.
I hope the haters hate it because it’s too quirky. Because they’re not into the music. Or some other genuine reason like they got dumped during a screening of it. I really hope they aren’t dismissing it because it happens to fall into the category ‘non-English language’.
I saw a mention of the film in a women’s magazine last week, which said something along the lines of ‘Audrey Tautou is so memorising and stylish as Amélie it’s worth putting up with the subtitles’. I can’t quote it exactly, because I stabbed the moronic magazine in the face. Similarly, the second message board post on its IMDB page is from someone desperately searching for a dubbed version. Don’t even get me started.
Watch Amélie if, like me, you need momentary respite from hating every person on Earth.
Kate likes: polishing mirrors, overhearing private phone conversations, eating the end piece of a sliced loaf of bread.
After the hugely depressing ‘Battle Royale of Battle Royales’, I got to spend the entire Easter weekend with my 18-month old daughter. Now, I used to worry that my children wouldn’t like the ‘right’ kind of music, but it’s only since I’ve been a father I’ve realised bad films are far worse than bad music.
I can take the worst tweeny nonsense Simon Cowell has to throw at me in my stride. Bad music is easy to tune out from; but I can’t look away from a bad movie.
And when you are a parent, you better get used to sitting down and watching the same film about a hundred times. My daughter already has her first crush – on Macaulay Culkin. I’ve seen Home Alone so many times over the past six months I can recite it pretty much word for word (favourite quote this week – “You’re what the French call Les Incompetente). It’s a good job Home Alone came from the mind of John Hughes (RIP), and is actually a pretty decent kids film. Culkin is a genuinely charming performer, and he is ably backed up by Joe Pesci, Catherine O’Hara, and John Candy (RIP, again). Compare this to the pretty awful Marmaduke, which made a brief appearance for a week, and has now been conveniently lost…
Anyway, this weekend gave me the chance not only see two more films from the list, but also to lay some more good film foundations for the future.
First up, we watched Wall-E. And although my daughter walked off a few times during this film, I was enraptured. The opening 40 minutes or so are some of the most beautiful, touching, and charming images ever committed to film. I am struggling to do justice to this section of the film with my flabby and poorly created words. I know it’s lazy, but you really have to see it for yourselves. It finds beauty in human creation – the tiny artefacts that we take for granted and throw away every day.
Director Andrew Stanton (he of monumental Disney flop John Carter) claims that the inspiration for Wall-E can from a pair of binoculars at a horse racing meeting. Hmmm, I do suspect this might be an invention to stop the producers of Short Circuit suing for image rights. Wall-E is one Johnny 5-looking muthafucka.
Interestingly, this is the first time Pixar have used live-action footage in one of their films – with the always-watchable Fred Willard playing the president of Earth who orders the evacuation of the planet after humankind pollutes it to such an extent that it becomes uninhabitable.
The second-half of the film can never quite live up to the pure genius of the first half, and fades into standard Pixar fare. Although, even ‘standard Pixar fare’ is still better than most films produced in any given year.
Beauty and the Beast was the second half of our double-bill. This is the first animated film ever to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar (it lost out to The Silence of the Lambs), and shares the record with Wall-E of 6 nominations (it won 2 – Best Score, and Best Original Song).
This is a whole different kettle of fish to Wall-E, but still very enjoyable. I remember seeing this film when I was still at school, but cynically dismissing it (as cynically as a 12 year-old can). I’m now older, wiser, and a lot more susceptible to a big opening musical number.
I’d forgotten how good the songs are (and I’m surprised that I wasn’t aware of the Broadway stage version – this seems far more suited to a stage adaptation than The Lion King for example), and the animation looks glorious on Blu-ray. This is one of the last great ‘classic’ Disney animations, and genuinely feels timeless.
The little one struggled to sit and watch both films if I’m honest, and she is already showing signs that she prefers live action to classic animation. That said, I had a great weekend and I’ve hopefully started the brainwashing early enough.
This week I’ve decided to do something a little different. The IMDB Top 250 can wait, as I decide to put 5 portrayals of dystopian futures where people fight to the death for the entertainment of the masses into a figurative arena to…well, fight to the death. And yes – I wanted to go and see The Hunger Games and therefore have to justify it as some kind of research so I can avoid the hypocrisy inherent in the insults I throw at adults who enjoy things like Harry Potter and Twilight.
Firstly, I had to select the films and set some ground rules. These were:
• The film must be set in the future, even if it’s only a few years in the future
• It must recognisably set on Earth
• Death must be the primary aim of the ‘contests’, not just a by-product
• The ‘contests’ must be state-sanctioned and legal in the film’s universe
After asking on Twitter, I received a number of suggestions. One of the most popular suggestions was the original Rollerball, but this was disqualified due to the third rule. I also had suggestions for The Condemned and The Tournament, but I discarded these because they were either set in the present, or they featured an illegal tournament. Plus, they both looked fucking terrible.
The five I eventually decided on represent a wide-range of cinematic work. We have a couple of cult indies, a couple of Hollywood blockbusters, and a foreign-language film. And while they fit the same template above, the contests themselves fit into a few different sub-genres of the Dystopian Battle Royal movie.
We have the Gladatorial films, where innocent people are thrown to the lions of state-sponsored murderers. These films clearly have their roots in the tales of Rome and the Coliseum. These films pit people trying to survive against people encouraged by the state, and the public, to kill them.
And then we have the Senseless Murder Contest films – where innocent people are chosen (usually at random) to enter an ‘arena’ and kill each other until only one remains. The participants in this film are not professional killers, and some will adapt quicker than others.
So, without further ado – let’s meet our contenders.
Type: Gladiatorial (from the point of view of the gladiators)
Plot: In the titles that look like a 14 year-old’s art project, we learn it’s the year 2000, and the annual Trans-American Death Race is the best thing on television. Brought to the masses by Mr President (holidaying in the film Flash Gordon by the looks of it), the idea is for some professional drivers and their navigators to race across America in crazy modified cars. The twist being they earn extra points for killing pedestrians. It’s basically Wacky Races with decapitations.
Stars: David Carradine (straight from Kung Fu) plays the anti-hero Frankenstein. The best driver in the history of the race, and the president’s favourite. Sylvester Stallone is his arch-rival Machine-Gun Joe – who comes across like an adult turned away from the Bugsy Malone auditions. It also has a number of crazy, groovy baby casualties from the Woodstock Generation
Best Kill: For some unexplained reason, a lone spectator decides to play matador with one of the drivers. Things don’t end well…
Example Line: “I don’t need a nurse. I need a navigator”
Verdict: Let there be no doubt, this is a dreadful film. It’s badly written, acted, and put-together. There are enough plot-holes to power a small-town (if plot-holes give off energy – which they might), and just one example of this is when Machine-Gun Joe kills one of a road-works crew early on in the film. This is the biggest event of the year in these people’s lives – why the fuck would you be working on the roads when the Death Race was taking place? Luckily, the film zips along at a fair pace (as I get older I becoming increasingly grateful for any film shorter than 90 minutes – this is a breathless 79 minutes long), and it never takes itself too seriously. In fact, by the end I was positively drawn into this ridiculous world.
You know you’re in a presence of something special when a film makes you stand up and yell “what the fuck?!” at the television. There is also a scene where David Carradine dances in just his pants, a leather glove, and gimp mask. Michael Bay doesn’t give you that!
I’m not sure whether to give this film a 2/10, or a 7/10. I enjoyed it more than Warrior though.
Type: Gladiatorial (from the point of view of the ‘Christian’)
Plot: According the Commodore 64-inspired pre-credits sequence, it’s 2017 and two years have passed since the collapse of the world economy. That alone sent a small shiver down my spine – I can easily see this film being the basis for the next Conservative Election Manifesto. Ben Richards is framed and wrongfully imprisoned for the massacre of hundreds of protestors (which the pre-credit scene shows he tried to stop). He escapes from prison and goes underground with the help of Mick Fleetwood and Dweezil Zappa. Yes, really. But he gets caught and is forced to become a contestant on The Running Man – the US’s most popular TV show where convicts fight for their lives against armed Gladiators.
Stars: Arnie in his usual 80s role, Richard Dawson as the Noel Edmonds-inspired blood-thirsty game show host, and Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura (the former wrestler who became a US Governor before Arnie and is now a raving right-wing loony) [EDIT: Car Hole from the Football365 Forum has pointed out that Ventura is nothing like my description there. I realise I have confused him with The Ultimate Warrior. Who really is a nutbar these days.]
Best Kill: Not a kill from the contest, but from the prison break at the beginning of the film. A rogue prisoner makes a break before the defences are completely shut-down, and his neck-tag blows up – completely decapitating him. Nice.
Example line: This actually has a very high number of Arnie one-liners (although the quality is hit and miss). The one that stayed with me is when Arnie takes the ‘attractive female he is destined to kiss at the end’ hostage and warns her “Remember, I could break your neck like a chicken’s”. When Killian the evil game show host yells “Get me the President’s agent” we know that there is at least a seam of satire running through this film.
Verdict: This film ticks most of the boxes for our genre. A small underground resistance. The nation dived up into paramilitary zones. The entertainment of death onscreen as an opiate of the masses to quell rebellion. Check.
What is interesting, although a little disappointing, is that almost all of the ire of the film and of Ben Richards is aimed at the television show. The resistance’s sole ideal is to force the show off the air, and hope that solves things. There are obvious underlying reasons for the show existing in the first place and these remain unspoken.
This is a very flash and 80s film – at times it is as though even future dystopias can carry product placement (this one is brought to you by Adidas). Sadly (as I remember loving this film in my youth) there is little more to the film than flashy visuals and violent deaths – with any attempt at social commentary being superficial at best.
Plot: In a future US known as Panem, the Capitol forces the twelve districts to offer up a boy and a girl (aged between 12 and 18) to fight in the annual Hunger Games. A fight to the death in a specially-created arena, with additional Miss World touches. Katniss Everdeen volunteers for the games in place of her sister, and has to fight to survive so that she can return home to look after her family.
Stars: Jennifer Lawrence (X-Men: First Class) as Katniss, Josh Hutcherson as her potential love interest, Stanley Tucci as the extravagant televison host of the games, and Donald Sutherland perfectly cast as the scheming President Snow.
Best Kill: Interestingly for a film of this type, the kills aren’t played out with any kind of relish. Kills are best remembered for what they mean to the characters, rather than how they happen.
Example Line: “Face the probability of your imminent death, and know that there’s absolutely nothing I can do to help you”
Verdit: Have you heard the joke about what the French call The Hunger Games? Battle Royale with Cheese. Clever, funny, but not really very fair. I was as dubious as most people. For a start, I tend to stay away from teen-fiction and its associated film versions. But when I found out that instead of wizards or vampires this was a sci-fi story about a dystopian future when children are forced to kill each other? Ok, I’m in. I didn’t read the book before going to watch the film, as I wanted to watch it on its own merits (plus, I am really too lazy to read something I can watch instead) – so I can only judge this film from an independent film fan’s point of view. And I really liked it.
Jennifer Lawrence has an incredibly difficult job of carrying the film, and she does so with a touch of vulnerability, and a truck-load of bad-ass attitude. I have never seen Stanley Tucci having so much fun, and Donald Sutherland is quiet menace personified. What really struck me as being different to the other films I had been watching though was how much I cared about the characters. Every single death actually means something in this film, and there is no need to make it bloody and violent as the loss of some of these characters is gut-wrenching enough.
The film presents a world that, although fantastic and futuristic, is very recognisably this world. It is a world of the 1% versus the 99%. A world where powerful people really can do pretty much what they like. There is a real revolutionary feel to this film, and I hope it continues in the following films. I know the books do, as I have almost finished the trilogy since watching this film.
Plot: In the not-at-all distant future, the Japanese government enacted the Battle Royal Act in order to clamp down on an increase in unruly behaviour in classrooms. A random school class is chosen each year and taken to an island where they are forced to fight to the death with a variety of weapons. All the winner gets is their life, and years in therapy I imagine.
Stars: Takeshi ‘Beat’ Kitano. No relation of Takeshi from Takeshi’s Castle. Plus some kids. [EDIT: Afflikonig from the Football365 Forum pointed out that Takeshi Kitano ACTUALLY IS the man from the brilliant Japanese game show Takeshi’s Castle. Enjoy a little here.]
Best Kill: To be fair, there is some brilliantly choreographed violence in this film. This is another one where my favourite happens before the games begin. By a teacher. With a throwing knife. I won’t say any more.
Example Line: “Here’s your list of friends in the order they died”
Verdict: Bleak. Bleaker than watching the BBC adaptation of Bleak House in the arctic tundra with only Christine Bleakley for company. There are some funny moments, and they mainly stem from either the cartoon violence, or the deadpan behaviour of Kitano as the class’ former teacher. This is the only film of this collection where we aren’t really shown how the media covers this event. For all intents and purposes this is a closed contest, with only the result mentioned in the media. And thinking about it, that makes it even more senseless. We don’t even have the horrible logic of the contest being essential to keep the masses distracted from rising up against a totalitarian government.
In fact, it is played so straight and almost in the present that it is too difficult to watch at times. The idea that children should be forced into state-sponsored murder to teach them some respect is a vile proposition. But is it that big a leap from suggesting that all children should do enforced National Service upon leaving school?
While the film is a fascinating commentary on a society frightened stiff by its teenagers and determined to have its revenge, once the action gets going it falls a little flat. There are simply too many characters to form any kind of emotional bond, and the kills come so thick and fast that there is little time to ruminate on what is actually happening on this island.
Plot: Filmed in the exact style of a US cable show – the Contenders randomly selects US citizens and forces them to fight for their lives in suburban America. Dawn is heavily pregnant and has won 2 series in a row – if she can win this series she will earn her freedom.
Stars: Brooke Smith, some other people, and Arrested Development’s WILL ARNETT (for about 2 minutes)
Best Kill: The shopping centre massacre was shocking and well-shot
Example Line: “He is in intensive care following a self-inflicted knife wound to the back”
Verdict: I remember really liking this as a hipster student. Ok, I wasn’t a hipster, but I hung out near hipster types. But as an older and, possibly, wiser man I struggled to find anything of any substance beneath the surface of this film.
The opening 10 minutes are brilliant. It feels like a Chris Morris sketch and the attention to detail in presenting this film as a reality Survivor-style show is impeccable. After that though, the joke starts to wear a little thin. It’s not funny enough to carry the film as a comedy, and the drama feels like a student film at times.
There’s no context for the existence of this show. The film-maker is essentially saying “imagine if reality TV just went to the next level and had people killing each other!”. But you find yourself questioning how and why the government has allowed this to happen. This is a pretty funny joke, but it’s not grounded in any kind of reality or even any internal logic. It fails at drawing you into its world and making care what happens to its characters.
And the winner is…
Firstly, I am going to need to take a shower after this. And maybe only watch Pixar animations for a week. This was a horrible, bleak experience. But at the same time, it was fascinating to see the differences in the worlds portrayed in these films. It was also nice to see that an idle idea at the start has turned into a piece of work that has started to recognise that these films are a genre of themselves. There are generic conventions, and rules that must be adhered to if the film is to resonate with the audience.
So, five films walked in and only one film can leave. And that film is…The Hunger Games.
Cutting for a 12a certificate and aiming at a teen demographic has put a lot of people off the idea of this film. But Hunger Games proves that you don’t need to use explicit violence to convey the horror, dread, and senselessness of violence. The Hunger Games was intelligent, and featured a strong female character in an action film which is still sadly a rarity these days. It’s not perfect, but it’s done enough to walk out of this arena battle-scarred and victorious.
So this is the first post that attempts to get all conceptual on your collective asses. Over a week I decided to watch the first two films in the ‘Alien’ series, and not only look at their individual claims to belong in the IMDB Top 250, but also look at what they told us about the future directions the two director’s would take in their career.
The Alien series is a very interesting, and pretty rare, example of different directors being able to work with a consistent source material – but also get to put their own personal stamp on the end result. Unlike the recent Mission Impossible series (which gave these opportunities to a couple of very experienced directors in Brian De Palma and John Woo), the Alien series has helped to really launch the careers of directors who had only made one or two films before their shot at an Alien film.
The film opens with a long sequence looking around what appears to be an abandoned space ship. We soon discover that the crew are not missing, merely sleeping. They are woken early by the ships computer to investigate a distress beacon coming from an uncharted rock. The sci-fi equivalent of the ramshackle house on the hill, or the forest where all those teenagers died 25 years ago…this very day.
The first thing that strikes you about this crew is how many bloody great actors they’ve got on board this ship. I kept having to remind myself that Sigourney Weaver was pretty much an unknown as this time – and she had to keep up in the acting stakes with a laconic John Hurt (who just makes acting look so easy), an ice-cold Ian Holm, and a demented as ever Harry Dean Stanton.
The fact that she emerges from this film not just as the fictional last-person-standing, but also as the last actor standing is the reason this film is so successful in everything it sets out to achieve.
I love everything about this film. The steady drip-drip of the building terror. The fact that things aren’t explicitly spelt out to the audience (clues are mentioned to the audience, and then left for the audience to decode). The design of the set, the SFX, and most importantly of all, the HR Giger Alien creation just wow you in every frame. This is the second 10/10 I have given to a film on the list so far.
Which probably explains why I didn’t love Aliens as much as I remembered. James Cameron’s crack at the Alien franchise is the only instalment that was written and directed by the same person. But Cameron isn’t an auteur in the true sense of the word, and I honestly think he needed someone with a little distance from the project to at least tidy up some of the clunky dialogue and exposition we get in the first hour or so of Aliens.
I also found it harder to empathise with the characters, and in one particular case I would have fed him to the Alien myself if I had been on-board the ship. Whereas Aliens had genuine acting talent, with each actor portraying a fully-rounded individual with hopes, dreams and fears – Cameron’s marines lack the vulnerability of the Nostromo’s crew from the first film, as well as being meat-heads with few redeeming features. It doesn’t help when (no offence to the actors involved) you replace the likes of Hurt, Holm, and Stanton with Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton, and Lance Henriksen. They do a good job, but they just haven’t got the gravitas of the Alien cast.
The other big difference between the two films was in the special effects. And the is the film that was made 7 years earlier that surprisingly comes out better in this comparison. I watched the original theatrical release for both films, and far too often during Aliens I was watching effects that looked like out-takes from Flash Gordon. I know it’s unfair criticising a 26 year-old film’s SFX – but Scott managed to completely suspend my disbelief for Alien despite having a smaller budget and less technology available to him.
I can only conclude that Ridley Scott knew the technological limitations of making a film set in space, and thus used more traditional film-making craft to work within those constraints. Whereas James Cameron was more ambitious and was determined to show massive explosions, and ships crashing, and didn’t mind that they didn’t look very believable.
It might sound like I didn’t enjoy Aliens, but I honestly did. That’s mainly because the last hour of the film is popcorn-eating, ass-kicking action of the highest calibre. There are three or four timeless action set-pieces which ratchet up the tension, before paying off the build-up in spectacular style. We also actually give a shit about Ripley and the abandoned child Newt, and we are desperate for them to survive.
When the film finished I was elated, and it was only after I started to analyse what I had seen that I realised how weak the first half was in my opinion.
And that I think is the difference between the two directors. Ridley Scott has gone on to direct a lot of very different films, and is able to work with different budgets and actors to make interesting stories. He can produce brilliant performances from his actors, and realises that his best work is done from behind a camera – and is happy to leave the writing duties to people who do it for a living.
The James Cameron we saw making Aliens has gone onto to make films where the budget seems to increase with every movie. He seems to see actors and scripts as important parts of the film-making process – but no more important than SFX or his overall vision for the film. Everything good about Terminator 2, True Lies, Titanic, and Avatar can be seen in Aliens, but everything horrible and clunky, sentimental, and down-right awful can trace its origins back to Aliens as well.
Sometimes I need to remind myself that I am watching what the general public regard as the best 250 films ever made.
Because while Warrior is a perfectly acceptable way to pass two hours (and another twenty minutes), I am stumped as to how this can be seen as any kind of milestone in the history of cinema.
When Warrior was first released, I shunned it. The world doesn’t need another Rocky-wannabe so soon after The Fighter I thought to myself. Then friends who I respect (and some I don’t) wouldn’t shut up about it. Then I noticed its rating on the esteemed Internet Movie Database and added it to the high priority pile on my Lovefilm list.
And it’s this betrayal that has made me angrier every day that has passed since I watched the film. I dismissed the film and unimportant cinematic fluff, then got excited about only to find out I was right in the first place.
The basic story revolves around two estranged brothers, and their inevitable encounter in an MMA (Multi Martial Arts) tournament with a WINNER TAKES ALL $5 MILLION CASH PRIZE!
I am now going to talk about the film in a way that means I cannot help but spoil it.
If you don’t want to spoil the film for yourself then either bookmark this page and return once you have seen it, or alternatively just read on and don’t bother to watch the film. The choice is yours.
Are you ready?
Right, what annoyed me most about the film is that while on one hand it tried to be gritty and neo-realistic in places – the plot hinged on some totally unbelievable plot points that totally undermined the tone of the rest of the film. Imagine if Nil By Mouth had a scene where someone wins the lottery, and then get’s voted in as Prime Minister on a populist anti-Domestic Violence ticket. Or if in Shane Meadow’s Dead Man’s Shoes Paddy Consandine was actually a British special agent with the back-up a rogue cell in the style of Mission Impossible?
For example, the top 16 MMA fighters are really going to put their body and health on the line with the prospect of getting NOTHING in return. Sport doesn’t work like that! All of these fighters would have demanded at least an appearance fee to cover the costs of training/travel/not being able to walk again. This appearance money would have probably been enough to solve Tommy and Brendan’s assorted financial problems – which explains why the film doesn’t pan out that way.
While on the subject of the tournament, it is more than just convenient that Tommy and Brendan both manage to blag a spot in the most talked about MMA competition of all time. I just don’t buy it.
Tommy’s past as a marine is badly handled in my opinion. First we’re meant to believe he ripped the door off of a tank with his own hands. Why couldn’t it have been a more believable form of heroism? Then, when outed as a deserter not only do the military police decide to wait until the end of his participation in the tournament before arresting him, but thousands of marines turn up to cheer him in the stadium. Cheering for someone who deserted his squadron in Iraq? Really?
How he got home from Iraq to Pittsburgh is probably best left in the imagination of the writers as well – lest they decide to bring out a Bourne-esque prequel. Actually, Tom Hardy would make an excellent character in the Bourne series, but I digress. The fight sequences are pretty impressive – but if you are a MMA fan and want to see decent MMA fight sequences, you might as well watch the real thing.
I usually love Tom Hardy, but he was surprisingly one-dimensional in this role, and I got really fucking annoyed at having to keep turning up the volume to hear him and Nolte try and out-mumble each other. I was far more emotionally invested in the Joel Edgerton character, and I think a pretty decent and more entertaining film could have been made just showing his side of the journey. It would have been shorted, funnier, and overall more enjoyable in my opinion.
The film was too long, unoriginal, and took itself too seriously. I’ll trust my gut instincts a little more in future.
Rosemary’s Baby was Roman Polanski’s first US film, and is the film that launched Mia Farrow and that haircut into stardom. It’s based on a novel by Ira Levin, and apparently Polanksi followed the novel almost to the letter as he was unaware that he could take any liberties with the source material. Ah Hollywood, if only you had retained that innocence…
Farrow plays the titular Rosemary – and the film follows her and her actor-husband (played by John Cassavetes) as they decide to move into a new building (complete with horror-staple warnings about it having a spooooooky history) and deal with nosy neighbours, suicides, and Rosemary’s pregnancy and the impending birth of their child.
Without wanting to give too much away, Rosemary gradually starts to suspect that all is not right with her neighbours – and she starts to genuinely fear for her life, and that of her unborn child.
Actually, fuck it. This film has been out for over 40 years and I don’t think I am really ruining anything is I say that Rosemary thinks that her neighbours are a coven of witches and that they want her child for a sacrifice.
The genius of the film, and the reason I had a knot in my stomach for the majority of it, is that because we only see events from Rosemary’s perspective we are constantly questioning whether or not her suspicions are true, or whether they are the product of her paranoid mind. In a scene where Rosemary is trying to convince one of the few outside-parties in her life, I still found myself not quite believing her despite everything I had already seen.
Despite being billed as horror film, Rosemary’s Baby doesn’t really fit the conventions of the genre. There aren’t really any ‘jump’ moments, and most of the film takes place in very normal surroundings, and in the daylight. What Polanski does however, is just keep dripping fear and dread into every scene – like some kind of Chinese Water Torture. Towards the end of the film I felt suffocated not by unexpected shocks and frights, but by the horror of the situation apparently being confirmed to me. This was compounded by an extraordinarily performance from Farrow who not only uses her acting chops, but physically transforms before our very eyes.
Maybe this is a personal thing but despite not being a religious person I have always been most disturbed by the glut of films that appeared in the 60s/70s that dealt with the religious supernatural, and the human followers of these practices. I’m talking about classics like The Exorcist and The Omen, as well as a much under-looked ‘favourite’ of mine Race with the Devil (starring Peter Fonda). Actually, I may write a top-5 ‘Devil-Worship’ films in the near future…
I have a few minor quibbles – it feels a little dated in parts, and there’s a couple of moments in the build-up that just feel silly – an example being when Rosemary and Guy spend their first night in the new house making love (their words) on a wooden floor before finishing their dinner. But overall the screenplay is brilliant in the art of making sure that every word counts, and means something to the story – and despite being about 20 minutes too long in my opinion, there is not a lot of waste onscreen.
So, a brilliant film made by an exceptional craftsman. Then why do I feel like I never want to watch it ever again? I’m not a believer in the supernatural, but something about this film just felt wrong, and almost other-worldly. Don’t watch it just before bed.
Released last year, Drive is the stylish, and often very brutal, neo-noir story of an LA stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway driver. Although it is the very definition of critically acclaimed (it currently has a 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes), it is a film that has really divided my friends and peers.
It stars Ryan Gosling as ‘The Driver’ (his lack of a moniker arguably a tribute to Clint Eastwood’s prototype antihero) who crashes cars for a living by day, and operates like an uber-strict Taxi service for criminals at night. In the opening scene of the film we see The Driver talking to a client:
“There’s a hundred-thousand streets in this city. You don’t need to know the route. You give me a time and a place, I give you a five minute window. Anything happens in that five minutes and I’m yours. No matter what. Anything happens a minute either side of that and you’re on your own. Do you understand?”
I can’t imagine The Driver telling you “I’m just coming down your road. Honestly. Two minutes tops”. Pretty sure he also wouldn’t tell you what’s wrong the country these days or answer your questions about how busy he’s been tonight.
About that opening scene though. Wow. I don’t think I have been as mesmerised by the opening 10 minutes of a film since the first time I saw Heat – which is ironic as the director Nicolas Winding Refn manages to photograph (rather than merely film – it’s all about the light) LA in a very Michael Mann-esque way. Added to the gorgeous visuals is a pumping, doom-laden synthesiser soundtrack and some small snippets of stylised dialogue. When the titles come up, I could not help think of the seminal console game GTA Vice City – and I honestly mean that as a massive compliment. In fact, I think the plot of Drive would have been perfect for Vice City (despite being the wrong city).
The performances are almost uniformly excellent. It’s great to see more of Bryan Cranston (as I have only just started Breaking Bad – very poor, I know) and Carey Mulligan can do no wrong in my eyes (see Shame). Ryan Gosling is interesting as The Driver, and at times seems almost ‘too cool’. For a start, he chews on a toothpick. Now, Eddie Izzard talks about the ‘circle of cool’ in Definite Article – and his theory is that ‘coolness’ is a circle, and that is you go too far round the circle you get cooler, and cooler, and then you go too far and you’re “back to looking like a dickhead”. He actually uses toothpicks as an example – one toothpick, looking pretty cool. But add a second toothpick.
There are moments in Drive where Gosling straddles that circle, and one of those moments actually involves a toothpick. He’s stood in the kitchen of his neighbour’s (Mulligan) flat chewing a toothpick. Pretty cool. Then he offers a toothpick to her son. Not cool Driver. Toothpicks aren’t gum. Or Tic-Tacs. Or segments of Satsuma.
I can’t find anyone who doesn’t like the first half of the film – it’s the second half that loses a lot of people. Basically, a heist goes wrong and all of a sudden the Driver is fighting to protect himself and the people that he may love, but certainly feels honour-bound to protect. And at this point the violence really takes over. It’s not long and sustained, but it is brutal and shocking – like a punch to the stomach. I personally felt the violence was justified by the situation that the Driver found himself in – and although it may appear out of character, the character that we ‘know’ is based on the actions of a man that we only have a few days history of. We don’t know his backstory, and where he has come from – which is why I personally don’t think you can say it is unbelievable.
Nor do I think the violence was gratuitous. It is raw, and uncomfortable – but the people on the receiving end deserve it, and that is the sole justification for allowing the audience to be a voyeur of Driver’s actions. I have seen less obviously visceral violence portrayed on screen in some of the ‘torture porn’ films like Hostel, Saw, and 8mm – but they make me far more uncomfortable as I think the directors in those cases are not really ‘saying’ anything, but are offering up the violence as entertainment. I also think it’s less gratuitous than Winding Refn’s previous film ‘Bronson‘.
This is by no means a perfect film. For a film called Drive, there was only one real car chase of any substance, and a few scenes didn’t quite have the pay-off I wanted (specifically a scene on the beach at the start of the 3rd act for example).
That said, I woke up this morning and wanted to watch it again. I’ve seen people refer to it as a homage to 80s Road Movies, but to me its tone felt closer to nihilistic 70s thrillers like Get Carter, The Getaway, and The French Connection. Either way it’s one hour and forty minutes and stylish entertainment – and if you can get past the violence it is just great cinema.
Good Will Hunting. You know the one. Ben Affleck & Matt Damon. Won the screenplay Oscar (and Golden Globe) even though they were, like, 20 when they wrote it! The one about maths that isn’t A Beautiful Mind. It’s so well written even the title is a play on words. I think. I never could quite work that bit out.
I didn’t remember a huge amount of the film from my original viewing. There was a blackboard, Robin Williams, and a killer Ben Affleck line. I’d forgotten Minnie Driver. That was a pleasant surprise. If by pleasant you mean that feeling when you stumble into the kitchen on a Sunday morning with a raging hangover to find there’s no milk for a cup of tea, so you drag your half dead self to the corner shop for milk, only to discover the shop burned down, and then finally arrive back home empty handed and dry mouthed to find you’ve locked yourself out.
Still, best original screenplay Oscar winner must be worth a punt. It beat Woody Allen, for crying out loud. What quickly becomes clear, however, is that this screenplay is less about the story and more about the killer lines. It’s almost like they were playing at film making. You can imagine Affleck & Damon in a writers’ room, tossing a football around and brainstorming. Fair play, this resulted in some great speeches, which made for some pretty great film scenes. It also resulted in one of them saying “Hey, apropos of nothing, we should totally have a slow motion fight scene set to Jerry Rafferty’s Baker Street!” And the other one agreeing.
Snappy lines: check. Clever speeches: check. Class commentary: check check check. Now we’ll just fill the rest with some vague character set pieces and a large amount of Matt Damon slumped on an otherwise empty subway carriage, staring into space. Will’s a thinker, you see. That’s what thinkers do. He may hang out with socially disadvantaged Chuckie (Affleck: wears a tracksuit, says ‘fuck’ a lot) and cronies (zero distinguishing features) but he’s got something special. He cleans the corridors at MIT, where some fancy professor posts maths problems on a chalkboard, and people try to solve them. For kicks! Damon mops and polishes through his mental arithmetic, to the point where no one else has much hope of standing upright on that particular piece of flooring, let alone solving a tricky batch of algebra anywhere near it. Basically, he wins by default.
In order to avoid jail for the aforementioned incident (crimes against Scottish singer/songwriters), Will is instead forced to hang out with the fancy professor, cultivating his talent for high fiving over equations and generally making maths look cool. He also gets free therapy thrown in. To sort out the fact that he’s emotionally dead inside. Indeed, although the great therapist eventually cracks him, Will shows more passion about free education via public library than he ever does to his girl.
So to the love story. With Minnie Driver. The extent of Will & Skylar’s relationship is this: one date to a fancy dress shop (she’s so wacky!), a post coital conversation in which she uses a Magic 8 ball extensively (so very wacky!), a drinking session in a Tavern where she meets his mates and tells a knob gag, and a kiss in an outdoor café which is awkward to the point of actual physical discomfort. She then compounds viewer squirming by Dick Van Dyking the line “It’s not fair, I’ve bin ‘ere for four years, and I’ve only just found you.” This character is badly written and poorly acted. Will’s breakdown and self-destruction hinges on the fact that he’s desperately in love with Skylar. Only I don’t see it. Where was it? Behind the comedy glasses in the junk store? At the end of that god awful blow job joke? For the purposes of the Top 250 challenge, I was willing to give Driver a chance. But, frankly, I find her Best Actress Oscar nomination bemusing.
Full disclosure, I won’t hear a bad word against Robin Williams. (Unless, maybe, that word has four letters, begins with ‘J’ and ends with ‘ack’.) He’s a cuddly, cardiganed, hairy masterpiece. The delivery of his speeches in this film are on par with Jed Bartlett, proliferation of the term ‘chief’ notwithstanding. It’s a fucking good job they got him. He’s great at playing a world weary academic, and you can bet Ben Affleck was screaming “O Captain! My Captain!” from his folding chair the day they filmed the “It’s not your fault” scene. Williams steals the show. Sean and his dead wife are an infinitely better love story than Will and Skylar.
Once he’s set up his pal with the girl, Affleck’s Chuckie barely gets a look in the rest of the film. But when his big speech finally comes, it is suitably heart wrenching. “You know what the best part of my day is? For about ten seconds from when I pull up to the curb until I get to your door. ‘Cause I think maybe I’ll get up there and knock on the door, and you won’t be there.” That’s the stuff great screenplays are made of. When he delivers this line at the dumpster, it’s angry and poetic and paints an emotional picture. But at the culmination of the film, when Affleck actually gets to act out those ten seconds? Honestly? It’s all a bit gummy. Don’t worry Ben, you’ll get another chance next year when you save the world from a Texas sized asteroid. Don’t let Bruce Willis totally steal your thunder, will you?
I know you’re not supposed to speculate on what happens after the film finishes. You’re supposed to trust the fact that Jerry Maguire got his fair share of that final 11.2 million dollar deal, that Garland Greene enjoyed his new found freedom without making any more human hats, and that Danny & Sandy’s flying car didn’t crash into a nearby power plant as the credits rolled. But I’m concerned Affleck & Damon didn’t think this one through. Will didn’t want to spend his life “sittin’ around and explaining shit to people.” And ok, Skylar has money so he’ll never need to work again. But he’ll be bored out of his amazing, genius mind. That’s not what Chuckie wanted him to do with his winning lottery ticket. I secretly imagine a Five Years Later epilogue, where he’s ditched Skylar for the screeching Brit harpy that she is, and is running some kind of academy with Robin Williams in India. One with exceptionally shiny floors.
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