The fifth entry in Owen’s continuing year in review series sees him mull over the movies he’s watched during May. As with each of the previous articles in the series, the month will be broken down by week, with a review of one arbitrarily chosen film seen during each period.
by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)
“There is, and there is what you would like it to be.”
That’s a quote attributed to Plato by Al Pacino’s character Big Boy Caprice in the 1990 crime comedy Dick Tracy. I’m not sure if Plato ever said it, but who cares? It’s a line that has, for some inexplicable reason, stuck in my mind ever since I heard it whilst watching Warren Beatty’s movie for the first time late last month. I literally thought it over and over for about 45 minutes whilst mowing the front lawn this past Saturday, out in the sunshine, mind wandering as it does during these menial tasks, trying to work out the saying’s meaning without going all Phaedrus. Why, of all the quotes from all of the 33 films I’ve watched in May, did this particular line from some pretty crappy (although multiple Oscar winning) comicbook adaptation stand out?
Short answer: I’ve no idea. I think maybe it’s just because it sounds quite cool in the same artificial way that Dick Tracy tries to be. In the film, as in all movies and life in general, there is what there is and there isn’t what there isn’t.
Therefore, I came to the conclusion that there are two ways to interpret the quote. The optimistic way is that ‘stuff just is what it is right now’, but you can always strive for something better; to shape something the way you want it to be (yes, that is me shoe-horning in an Alpha Papa reference, seeing as how I’ve watched the film twice this month).
Or, there’s the pessimistic way of looking at it, which is what I would personally subscribe to. And it’s also kind of the same with movies, for the record. Things are what they are, and you can accept them for that, but they can never be perfect. A movie exists as it is, but there’s always going to be a better movie, or a better way of making the movie. No matter how much you like it, or love it, or want to tell everyone you know about how amazing it is, it just is what it is, and there’ll be another way that you would like or prefer it to be. It’s why I struggle to ever give anything 10/10, or ★★★★★/★★★★★, or two thumbs up or six golden bananas or 100g of dogs bollocks or a full kinky duck or whatever your rating method may be!
I’m not a perfectionist, I just have a problem with the word – or the concept of – ‘perfect’, which is defined as: “as good as it is possible to be.” Nothing is perfect. If you move the goal posts of what’s ‘possible’, then it ceases to be perfect. In the case of a movie, as objective as you might try to be when rating a movie, subjectivity and relativity will always seep in.
If you listened to the recent podcast, you might have heard me talk about the Al Pacino Q&A I went to in Hammersmith last month. I spent a few days/weeks catching up on some of his more well known works that have slipped through the net somewhat during my film watching career (and reviewed a few below, and mentioned one above). I also rewatched one or two of his classics, including a film lauded by many as the perfect film, The Godfather; or, at least, the film that’s held up as an example of the best that it’s possible for a film to be. But The Godfather is only perfect relative to other films. As soon as something better comes along, it ceases to be perfect. Else, are we to believe that L’Arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat is the perfect film? Literally the absolute best that it was possible for that movie to be at the time? Technically speaking, at least. Especially as there were no comparator margins. But it too could be considered flawed now we look at it in hindsight, comparing it to the potential that could be made of the techniques available. Similarly, the same can be said for all films. None of them are perfect. Not even my beloved Night of the Living Dead, as much as it pains me to say it!
It’s not just films, though. Nothing is perfect in the sense that it can never ever possibly be better. The sun isn’t perfect, it’s just the best it’s possible for it to be right now. Al Pacino isn’t the perfect actor, he’s just at times in his career put in the best performance that it was possible to do in his films. Our podcast isn’t perfect! It’s quite clearly limited by both Steve and I’s ……. well, it’s just limited by both Steve and I.
I do think there’s still optimism to be found in that, though. Just because something can’t ever be eternally inexplicably infallible, doesn’t mean it can’t actually meet the actual definition of ‘perfect’ as we know it to be. Things in life that are as perfect as it’s possible for them to be. Such as b-movie director Albert Pyun’s creativity and ambition, or the Alan Partridge movie….
….hey look, that almost resembles a segway into my actual reviews of stuff I’ve watched this month and I can knock the pretentious pseudo-intellectual nonsense on the bonce. You should go read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance instead afterwards to see the thoughts of someone who is actually clever talk about ‘quality’ in a much more meaningful and coherent way.
Week 1 – Friday 1 – Sunday 3 May 2015
Friday – [absolutely nothing]; Saturday – OMEGA DOOM (1996); Sunday – Frankenweenie (2012)
Also in the podcast I linked to above in the intro (with the Al Pacino Q&A), at the beginning, just before the quiz, Steve reviewed an Albert Pyun film that I made him watch. Which, if you’ve been reading any of the previous four articles in this series, you might have been expecting to happen at some point. I gave Steve the option of watching any number of Pyun films, but he picked this particular movie, starring Rutger Hauer as the titular robot ‘Omega Doom’, in a post-apocalyptic future whose ‘evil circuits’ had been destroyed. Blade Runner it ain’t. The plot basically revolves around Doom as he pits two gangs against each other in a small town, both of whom are scared of the presumed extinct human race leading an uprising. Think Yojimbo, or A Fistful of Dollars, but with 1990’s, black-shades wearing, lame-joke making, red-lipstick clad, unemotional, menacing cyborgs. Steve described Omega Doom (rather unfairly, I might add!) as “a bit dumb, a bit annoying, a bit crap”. I tried to explain that the charm of Pyun is all about the concept of his films and the scope of his projects, regardless of his budgetary restraints. But it appears that rather unfortunately, Albert Pyun just isn’t for everyone. A shame, because I genuinely have loved watching his movies this year and would hold this specific example up as maybe his most accessible – and possibly even his best film. As much as I like his Jean-Claude Van Damme led 1980’s classic Cyborg (as discussed on our JCVD Corridor of Praise podcast), Omega Doom is certainly his most well realised. OK, so it’s not perfect………..
Week 2 – Monday 4 – Sunday 10 May 2015
Monday – Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983), Unfriended (2015); Tuesday – FALSTAFF – CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT (1967), The Man With the Iron Fists 2 (2015); Wednesday – [absolutely nothing]; Thursday – Kung Pow (2002); Friday – Repulsion (1965); Saturday – Vertigo (1958), The Punisher (1989), Cube²: Hypercube (2002); Sunday – Lake Placid (1999), Spooks: The Greater Good (2015), Prometheus (2012)
Yes, that’s right, on May the 4th I watched a Star Wars movie. But in my defence, I was gonna anyway! I swear! It wasn’t planned that way to coincide with some Twitter trend. However, continuing my theme from the last article where I refused to talk about any of the Star Wars films, I’ll not be discussing them here either. And just to prove a point, I don’t only watch b-movie sci-fi films with a ridiculous (/equally awesome) premise. Sometimes I watch “proper” films. Like, black and white ones an’ that about plays and cultural things, y’know… For example, during the second week of May, I watched Falstaff, the film that Orson Welles himself described as his favourite of his own movies. That might just be down to the fact that he adored Shakespeare’s recurring character of Sir John Falstaff, who the famous, influential and iconic film maker stars as in this rough adaptation of a number of the Bard’s plays. I can’t purport to be super-knowledgeable about Welles, about Shakespeare, or about Henry V (surprising as that may be..!!) but the reason I’ve chosen this to talk about above all of the others on the list is partly to issue a public apology. I’m sorry everyone. This film did nothing for me. I chose to watch it for two main reasons: firstly, it’s Orson Welles. Secondly; it was research. Preparation for when we eventually get around to finishing the Decade In Film series. And I mention that because it’s unlikely I’ll include this film in my eventual list. The dubbing was very off-putting, although I can understand the rationale behind it from a technical point of view. It’s worht mentioning that the big Battle of Shrewesbury sequence that the film is famous for was extremely well done and gave it that epic feeling of having hundreds of extras, even if there were only a handful. But by the end, it felt like a box ticking exercise. One to disappointingly chalk off the list as “seen”, but not really enjoyed.
Week 3 – Monday 11 – Sunday 17 May 2015
Monday – Brainsmasher: A Love Story (1993) ; Tuesday – [absolutely nothing]; Wednesday – Invasion (2007), Abelar: Tales of an Ancient Empire (2010); Thursday – Mad Max: Fury Road (2015); Friday – Pernicious (2015), V/H/S Viral (2014); Saturday – THE CROW (1994); Sunday – Spawn (1997), What We Do In The Shadows (2014)
Initially, when I first drafted this list, I really wanted to talk about The Crow in this bit. It was the first time I’d seen it in well over a decade and it was so much better than I remembered. I didn’t care about the cheesy electric guitar this time, I didn’t mind the crying goth anti-hero, or the crying long-haired flannel-shirted bad guy, or any of that! And then I thought, “no, what I really want to talk about is Mad Max: Fury Road, which was gloriously fucking spectacular”. But it seems somewhat greedy to go over Mad Max yet again, especially after Brooker and Jackson Tyler already joined us on the podcast to have a natter on its awesomeness for about half an hour. So, back to The Crow I go. Hand on heart, it was way better than I had expected it to be. I actually only sought it out after seeing a tweet from Brooker about his new blu-ray. Not only did the film take me by surprise, but Brandon Lee was also surprisingly excellent too. Not just in the way that the context around the film makes him seem posthumously, knowing how unfortunate he was to die on set with just 8 days before production wrapped on what would become by far and away his biggest, most successful film – not too dissimilar to his father Bruce Lee dying before getting to see just how successful Enter The Dragon would become. The Crow is undeniably melodramatic (in the best kind of way) and incredibly atmospheric. Strange to think that it was brought to us by the same director responsible for the shower of shit that is Knowing.
Week 4 – Monday 18 – Sunday 24 May 2015
Monday – Cyborg 2: Glass Shadow (1993); Tuesday – [absolutely nothing]; Wednesday – Scarface (1983); Thursday – Nemesis 2: Nebula (1995); Friday – …And Justice For All. (1979), In The Loop (2009); Saturday – ALPHA PAPA (2013); Sunday – [absolutely nothing]
“In England we have a saying for a situation such as this, which is that it’s difficult, difficult, lemon difficult.” Yeah, In The Loop is great, isn’t it? “Never, never criticize Muslims; only.. only Christians. And Jews a little bit.” Yeah, Alpha Papa is great, isn’t it? Yeah. Both are great, aren’t they? Considering that Alan Partridge is the best comedy character to come from these shores (or any shores, for that matter), and that The Thick of It is one of the best sitcoms to come from these shores (or any shores, for that matter), it’s not surprising that they both became such fantastic films. Intelligent, well crafted and, above all else, hilarious. On my train trip to London, I needed something to watch on the commute. With both of these available on iPlayer, there didn’t seem any point looking for anything else. In The Loop on the way down, Alpha Papa on the way back the following day. If I had to choose a favourite, then the Alan Partridge Movie nudges it. The evolution of that character from the obnoxious sports reporter and radio-turned-TV chat show host of the early 90’s, to the local radio disc jockey for North Norfolk Digital (Norfolk’s best–North Norfolk’s best music mix) – via one of the funniest sitcoms ever (I’m Alan Partridge), a stupendous webseries-turned-T V show (Mid Morning Matters) and the genius piece of work that is I, Partridge: We Need To Talk About Alan – is so good it makes me swell with pride that the human race is capable of producing something fictional that is as good as this. I saw Alpha Papa in the cinema twice and both times cried with laughter. I’ve seen it half a dozen times since and each time laughed until it hurt. In fact, I even watched it the following week (as you’ll see below!) and I still laughed like an idiot. I’ve seen this film with both Partridge and non-Partridge fans and seen them all with tears in their eyes when watching Steve Coogan’s greatest creation. I voted for it as one of my favourite films in our 2013 Awards, and I stand by that. And, it’s still on iPlayer too if you have yet to watch it.
Week 1 – Monday 25 – Sunday 31 May 2015
Monday – [absolutely nothing]; Tuesday – Scent of a Woman (1992); Wednesday – Dick Tracy (1990); Thursday – [absolutely nothing]; Friday – The Panic in Needle Park (1971); Saturday – THE GODFATHER (1972); Sunday – Alpha Papa (2013)
I suppose I better talk about this Q&A with Al Pacino a little bit. My first reaction to Pacino wasn’t one of awe at what a presence he was in the room, but more like “wow, I never knew that the guy who played Michael Corleone and Tony Montana was so camp!” This chap, who I had always assumed was a bit macho, was actually leaping out of his chair to sing show tunes as soon as someone in the audience even finished saying The King & I. Other startling observations from the evening were that: he loved Shakespeare’s character of Richard more than is healthy; that he is genuinely very cool; and that he hated working on The Godfather so much that every day throughout filming, he hoped the studio or Francis Ford Coppola would fire him. It later transpired that my wife had never seen The Godfather (not as a result of the Q&A) as she doesn’t like gangster films. As is kinda normal, I think. Me? I love crime dramas and thrillers. So this past weekend, I forced her to sit through the second best film of all time (according to IMDb’s Top 250, anyway.) It was, as it always has been every time I’ve seen it, exceptional. Everything about it is tremendous. The build up of Michael’s character, the portrayal of the family, the acting on show from the likes of Pacino, Brando and Duvall, and yes, even the camera angles. I’ve already explained why I love it in our Decade In Film articles though, so you can go check that out if you’re actually bothered.
And that’s it. Job done. It’s not perfect, but it’ll do. As ever, I’m more than happy to chat about these films in more detail in the comments below or you can message me on Twitter at @ohughes86. See you next month!