Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Pretentious List

I couldn’t make ten films, nor were these on the whole the deepest films I saw this year. Just they were the best ones released this year, ones I loved for different reasons.
There Will Be Blood - An oppressive, moody crazy film, about a greedy bug-shit crazy oilman, who travels around with his adopted son, stealing off the gullible, creating a subtle war with the local preacher, making loads of money even though that‘s not his real love. His love is the land dominates, of mining, everything driving towards working the land, even as he ruins everything. It may have won a lot of acclaim but this is a crazy film, which is its charm. Has lots of silent sequences, giving character and life through mood and glances, all cinematic. Second great film, after Punch-Drunk Love, from Paul Thomas Anderson.
Silent Light - A near silent film. The story of adultery within a religious farm community, done with long silent shots that slowly grips with the details, with the story slowly developing in subtle actions that aren’t locked down to obvious behaviour. Best moment is the death of the wife by the side of the road, while the end is the a little too Dreyer-influenced but doesn’t really matter.
Rescue Dawn - A Werner Herzog epic, about a pilot in Vietnam shot down behind enemy lines and becoming a POW. While its an escape film, the story is structured of a man against nature, both in terms of the jungle, that traps him, with foliage, disease and lack of a sense of direction, to the other men, who, who prisoner or not, are as ambiguously dangerous as the jungle. Has a career best Christian Bale performance, who’s genuinely more crazy and expressive than he is ever allowed as Batman or on any other mainstream film. Steve Zahn is also great as the desperate sidekick also tried to escape. Amazing sense of dangerous atmosphere through-out.
Speed Racer - Have already written about this so will be brief. Its wonderful. Has split-screen, a delightful retro look and emotional feel, stunning chases, a deranged chimp. What’s not to love. First twenty minutes are especially lovely, jumping back and forward in time with real confidence. The cross-country race is the chase at the most genuinely excessive, no action scene in the rest of the year coming even close for cinematic invention.
Step Brothers - Brilliantly deranged film about bonding between two men who have yet to grow up, even though they are in their forties. What’s great is that it takes its point of view from the central characters, never trying to move away from that. So the details always give great humour and character, as well as a free-wheeling plot that wonderfully refuses to come together. Which is correct for a comedy.
Hellboy 2: The Golden Army - A Ray Harryhausen-type monster movie, with Hellboy fighting monsters who’s views he finds sympathy with, in an attempt to save the world. What’s terrific about this film that it knows what it is, which is a poetic monster action movie, doesn’t have any shame in regard to itself. Has wonderful sequences through-out, is wall-to-wall with them actually, highlights including a great throwback-style credit sequence and an amazing scene where Hellboy fights a tree monster in the streets of New York.
The Puffy Chair - A little film about a couple slowly breaking up and going nuts with each other during a road trip, they trapped with the man’s brother. They are stuck with an idea to buy the father a birthday gift that is something that is tied to what the central male character wants, likely not the father‘s idea of a gift. The film studies the three characters act childishly, stupidly, sometimes with a little self-knowledge, capping it off with a brilliantly twisted ending, using one character’s cowardness to a pretty devastating effect. Is a very well acted film.
Redacted - It’s flawed in some ways, the acting a bit broad, but its about people playing to the camera and revealing themselves unconsciously. The idea that these men go crazy and rape and kill the people they are meant to protect is an old one but helps make the point of the insanity of a military occupation that refuses to make sense, the film parodying the idea of the normal liberal film to show the nasty anger and frustration lying below supposed civilised representation and distance, the film knowing that its own narrative can‘t illustrate the mess and making this a theme within its medium.
Bee Movie - A Jerry Seinfeld written and acted animated movie about a Bee becoming buddies with a neurotic florist and decides to sue the human race over its use of honey. Which turns out to be a bad idea. This is part of what’s wonderful about it. The plot turns out to be a bad idea. Most films wouldn’t have the guts or the sense of eccentricity to find that funny. After a slightly weak first ten minutes this film really takes off. Like Step Brothers its narrative is a bit messy but it goes all over the place in a wonderful way, has great gags, odd supporting characters. Its just terrifically cheerful, silly, very aware of itself. Like Hellboy 2, that’s what is great about it. That’s rare in modern film.

These are all very flawed films. To me, all have scenes and sections that jump out as being problematic. Yet the areas I like keep them afloat.
I Am Legend - Terrific moody first two-thirds, much of it silent, one man alone on Earth it seemed, was great pulp sci-fi set-up done well, until other people showed up and the film fell apart fast. Was great fun while it lasted.
Sex And Death 101 - A man finds a list of all the women he will ever sleep with, then panics. Takes time to find its feet, the first section too broad but once the central character starts acting odd, slowly going mad, it emerges as a twisted little tale of the nastier urges within the average male. The finale third is especially strong, up to a suddenly weak conclusion.
Iron Man - Its silly but well-crafted pulp fun. The plot itself is lazy but the characters and the execution of the origin story really pays attention to the details, which gives it a real thrill as the story evolves. Downey Jnr is terrific, especially when he’s by himself, building the machines. Too bad about the finale, which was dull in build-up then over way too quick, just as it seemed to be getting potentially interesting. Owes so much to Verheoven’s direction in Robocop its not even funny.
The Dark Knight - It’s a bit pretentious. And the ending is pompous. Have written about it already. It is an enjoyable film but simply lacks the imagination and sense of complicated tortured hero that Burton brought to the films. But it has lots of terrific moments, even if none match what Nolan managed with the terrific The Prestige.
Margot At The Wedding - Wasn’t a fan of this when I saw it, and it has loads of problems, is a film that severely needed a re-write to focus it. The film wanders all over the place, doesn’t have an interesting ending (it tries a non-ending to suggest complexity but never set up enough complexity to pull it off). But the film has stuck in my head and does have interesting scenes. Hopefully a minor film from a previously interesting director.

None of these are films I hate. They have nice moments. I could easily watch them again but they don’t have much direction or originality. So none are bad but they are time-fillers.
The Darjeeling Limited - It’s a very weak Wes Anderson film, far worse than expected him capable of. Its his Body Double. Its really obvious, has a terrible second half, and horribly miscasts Adrien Brody. Every revelation feels thudding. Yet its obviously made by a talented director and has odd little bits that work. So its more frustrating than an outright terrible film would be.
Quantum Of Solace - Have already written about this. Essentially miscast the director so the film never had the build that it needed, the under-writing feeling weak rather than base and focused. Still way better than the Brosnan messes but lacks a focus of Casino Royale, not the mention the subtlety.
Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of the Crystal Skull - I liked the alien skulls and the fifties stuff. Essentially the Lucas-type obsession I liked. But the plot was weak and the father-son stuff was painful and badly written. The first twenty-minutes was also very weak and slow. Some second-half weirdness and odd visuals saved it. I like it better than Last Crusade, which I find to be very dull.

Had great premises yet never managed to do much with them. Seem better in your head than in seeing them direct.
Tropic Thunder - Where were the jokes? It’s a Three Amigo’s rip-off without the charm and oddity of the Landis film, nor does it have its own identity. The plot lumbers on in a stupid fashion yet doesn’t have the jokes that has been set-up for, the characters vague and one-note, never interacting in interesting ways. Only Robert Downey Jnr and his insane performance saves it. As a fan of Zoolander, this one was painfully weak and ill-thought through.
The Badder-Meinhof Complex - Incredibly stupid, lazy version of a fascinating piece of social history. There is no proper writing, characterisation is zero, the mood is never developed, its approach to the politics is laughably simplistic and never explored. You sit there watching things happen for two hours and never once know why. A disgrace.

Easy to explain. These were terrible, objectionably bad films. They stop you watching films, not wanting that kind of awful experience again. Not all were made this years but this is when I saw them. Have already blogged on most of these and can’t face writing anything more. This is a simple restatement or warning.
The Lady In The Water
A Very Long Engagement
Burn After Reading
Roman Polanski: Wanted And Desired
Ghost Rider - Worse than Superman 4 or Batman And Robin. (And this is from someone who defends Daredevil) A film where reaction shots don’t tie into the main drama or action, where plot falls asleep for an hour and then drops dead on reawakening, and a love story between childhood friends where one actor seems twenty years older than the other. The action and effects are dull, monotonous, and when direction given for story, is especially stupid.
The Hills Have Eyes 2 (Sequel to the original)

These in some ways are my real top films as, save the top nine, were the films that really got me passionate about films. And there’s a lot. Not just doing ten. That’s way too polite and yet deeply boring. Don‘t worry, its not all highbrow. I have not one but two women and prison movies. And Bergman movies, which are similar but with less shooting.
Weekend, Made In USA, Pierret Le Fou & Le Petit Soldat - Four Jean-Luc Godard epics. Weekend is about a couple going from being a rich bored couple to revolutionaries, having amazing visual and emotionally odd and disturbing sequences throughout. Made In USA is a twisted take on an American crime film, changing the protagonist to a woman, throwing in Marxist theory. A difficult to define film. Pierret Le Foe is about a couple in a crumbling relationship, which gets crazier and more disturbing throughout, full of betrayals and barely suppressed rage. Le Petit Soldat is about a man trying to be a revolutionary and failing. Black and white and full of disturbing moments.
The Testament Of Orpheus - Cocteau’s final film, a beautiful moving black and white gem about death, art and relation to how to survive life, as well as how to live with your own legacy. Its difficult but very worthwhile.
Wild Strawberries, Face To Face & Fanny And Alexander (4 and a half hour version) - Three Bergman films. One a black and white film about an old man thinking of his past. It’s a gorgeous, unsentimental look at how time affects people and those they interact with. Face To face is a woman within dreams, going mad after a suicide attempt. Very daring, with a wonderful atmosphere. Fanny And Alexander is an epic about a boy and girl, who, following the death of their father, are forced to live with their mother’s new husband, a religious tyrant. It’s a wonderful, sometimes dark, very intriguing film. Despite the darkness of the subject matters, none of these films are humourless, all of them giving complexity within the confines of the stories.
Jan Swankmajar short films (DVD set, of all films made all up to approx 1990) - Spanning about 30 years of work, these claymation shorts from Eastern Europe, looking at humans, objects, their thematic interactions. A major piece of work spread over thirty years, never repeating, always moving forward with constantly with stunning imagery.
Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volumes 3 & 4 - These are different cartoons from various eras, from early, very musical number-based stories to the late joke-based entries. Some wonderfully bizarre cartoons, including the classics Robin Hood Daffy and Birds Anonymous.
Zabriskie Point & Beyond The Clouds - Two Antonioni masterpieces, neither of them getting much respect critically. Zabriskie Point is about two students, one on the run from the police after student riots, the other a spoiled brat having an affair with a rich man. Stunning desert images through-out, a criminally under-rated film. Beyond The Clouds is a collection of stories, all visually precise, especially a story set in a town by the sea, all about failed love.
The Conformist - Bertolucci’s stunning parable of Fascism, about a man who fails in life, emerging into Fascism because its easier for him, as well as a great impersonal fa├žade to hide his crippling demons, which turns him first into a murderer then a joke as it turns that he has chosen the wrong political side.
Christ Stopped At Elobi - A liberal exiled in fascist Italy. A long story, watching the man slowly becoming part of the landscape and interact with the people, who are kind but won’t let him leave. A lovely, complex film.
Shoah - 10 hour documentary on the holocaust. Interviews with survivors, moving from location to location, giving simple testimony over the horrors unleashed. Devastating through simple accumulation, some scenes feeling unbearable. It took me days to watch it.
The Son, Mother And Son & Moloch - Three Sokorov films. Mother And Son watches a son watching his mother die, Moloch about Hitler in holiday seclusion as World War 2 rages and The Son about the Japanese Emperor at the end of World War 2. All slow, moody, never gives obvious psychology, simply allowing us to watch and interpret ourselves. And its visually stunning.
Weeping Meadows - Three hours of Eastern European history, the story of a family, from a couple meeting, running away together, trying to survive in an unforgiving world. Finally comes the war where tragedy hits. Beautiful images, stillness suggesting an evolving and world and a struggle to survive within it. Images of floods are especially beautiful.
Damnation & Weikmeister Harmonies - Two Bela Tarr films, both stunning, moving, elaborate shots on depression, living Eastern Europe. Stunning.
Palms - A three-hour meditation on life, through shots, continues voice over, mood. Once you get into the mood its addictive, various emotions that might not seem to link come together in beautiful ways the way they would in an inquisitive mind.
Edward Munk - Peter Watkins epic about the early 20th Century artist, dramatising some of the history but mainly using silence, voice-over and a sense of stillness to suggest the inner torment of a genius. A true piece of art.
Bob Le Flambour & Leon Mon, Petre - Two Jean-Pierre Melville films, one about a gambler down on his luck planning a heist, the other about a priest during World War 2. One realistic, one not. Both atmospheric, humane. Both stunning pieces of cinema.
Pauline At The Beach - A stunning Eric Rohmer film, about a girl and her aunt at the beach, watching the affairs with adults. A mood of complicated romantic feelings and point of views, no-one ever truly sure what the want. An indispensable film.
Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter… And Spring - A story of a boy becoming a man, finding out about love, loss, murder, before finding peace. Its a wonderful film. To explain any more would give away too much but simply has to be seen.
Show Me Love - Swedish lesbians but it is better than it sounds. A very interesting, subtle, non-exploitative love story, done against a working class background. Just a lovely, beautiful film.
49th Parallel - Nazi’s get sunk in Canadian waters in pre-1941 America, having to travel through Canada to get to the safety of America, getting picked off by fate one by one. Has great moments, such as Nazi’s meeting German farmers and finding another kind of Germany, which they turn out to hate, as these Germans show decency and humanity, as well as the Nazi’s against a writer living in the backwoods, who simply shows them up with humane ideas and competency. A beautiful film.
Sansho The Bailiff - A bailiff is killed and his family are split up, the son and daughter becoming slaves to the killer of father. They grow up, the son escapes, slowly tries to get his family back together, and get back the pride of his family past, fighting for the fairness his father proposed, only for life to take darker turns. It’s a lovely, delicate film, having one of the most beautiful and subtle suicides ever in film. It involves a lake and is so simple that it takes your breath away. Even though the tale has dark elements, inhumanity and cruelty are never allowed to dominate.
Cutter’s Way - A wonderful film about loss, about life failing, about how to deal with life’s failures, about people‘s disappointment with one another. I wrote about this earlier this year so won’t stick around but it was the start of Jeff Bridges becoming a terrific actor.
Inland Empire - An odd, non-dramatic dream of what life is. I can’t really write a short piece on this as its still rolling around my head. Just a beautiful film that will grow over the years.
Tideland - A story of a girl going perhaps mad in mid-western America. A beautiful film about the fantasy and oddity going on inside everyone’s head, no matter how normal they deny individuality.
Southland Tales - A wonderfully odd, messy story about Bush America. It may be silly, it may have lots of strange aspects that never come together in a plot, but it’s a mood, a story of emotional dysfunctional amidst your own stupidity, and those elements are integral to the pulse and heart-beat of Bush America. A weird twin to DePalma’s Redacted.
The Big Doll's House & The Big Bird Cage - Another two films I wrote about before this year so won’t say much. Just lots of fun, an unapologetic pulp. Women in prison. What more do you want.
Horror Of Dracula - Is cheating as I have seen it before but not for years, not in proper ratio, not in a transfer that shows up the wonderful technicolour. Has a wonderful sense of suggestion, in its erotic aspects, in its suggestion of sexuality. Its terrific in how it uses visuals to give its undertones, never explains, yet manages to be very clear in its interests. A beautiful film that ages wonderful.
Dracula Has Risen From The Grave - Same as above as I have seen it but not for years and not in proper treatment. I originally thought this was one of the weaker Dracula’s but on rewatching find it to be interesting, with wonderful moments such as the Castle Dracula castle hitting the tip of a church, thus cursing it, Dracula turning a priest into his slave, a savant who’s obnoxious a lot of the times, Dracula fighting an atheist and Dracula being impaled on a cross. It’s got a lot of energy that I can’t help but love.

I never watch TV shows when they’re made as most TV ads annoy me. So most are seen once the fad is over, with a few exceptions. Thus a few are older shows that I became obsessed by this year. And the reasons stated are longer in some cases as the shows can be complex. As the below list shows, I’ve had a great year watching TV shows. (and watched loads of Adam West Batman’s. Sweet.) So that’s the explanation.
Battlestar Galactica: Razor and Season 4 - I’ll be getting to this one as the final season begins in January but this is one terrific series about a society escaping from genocide. Last season ended with the nastiest twist in sci-fi television history (not writing what it is). The entire show is full of selfish, odd characters, a weird meld of politics, action, character and religion. Unmissible.
The Wire Seasons 4 & 5 - Will be getting to this one also in more detail. Even though it is now being over-hyped to hell to a degree that now seems to ignore the rest of television history, which is never a good thing, it’s still an amazing series, full of terrific character and breadth, into the cyclical nature of modern society and bureaucracy. Its full of strange, selfish yet intriguing actions throughout. Highpoint is the death of Bodie in Season 4, the kind of action that knowing the character for four years in various situations makes all the more tragic.
Deadwood (All Seasons) - A total stunner. I don’t like westerns and only started watching as I got a disc free on a season of The Wire (which still took me about a year to watch). And then the obsession begins. Will write more on this at some point but the idea of epic history taken slowly, from the point of view of those on the ground, not knowing where their fate leads, is usually never delivered upon. But this show does , focusing on the confused, angry fate meted out to the inhabitants of Deadwood, as the lure of gold ruins everything. The show moves forward in slow increments, with close contact grudges, communication between those who have to stick together but don’t like one another, betrayals that lead to problems lasting for years. All the actors are terrific, all have great moments but the Sweregen-Bulloch interaction gives the show a wonderfully confused, grudgingly tolerant heart-beat.
The Venture Brothers Seasons 1 & 2 - This one is difficult to explain in that it’s a strange sci-fi animated comedy, with a sixties style that has been left to wither and die into the modern era, has clones, magicians, and lots of nerds. Its hilarious once you get into it but will take a few episodes. Can’t write anything more about it without giving away what should be simply experienced to see whether you’re on its twisted wavelength or not.
Futurama: Bender’s Big Score and Beast With A Billion Backs - Bender’s Game let things down a little with its dull fantasy game section but the first two were wonderfully inventive sci-fi comedies. The Lovecraft with jokes Beast movie was my favourite, especially Nixon’s head saying “And King Kong’s too old.” Genius.
Robbery Homicide Division - A Michael Mann show that lasted about ten episodes before being cancelled. It was shot to HD, was about cops and stars Tom Sizemore. Despite looking like just another cop show it’s the best cop show on the decade outside of The Wire. Mann doesn’t do anything new in regards to moving off old obsessions but these demons have enough juice to keep the new show going. Sizemore gives one of his best acting moments in this and the story has a wonderful, continual sense of non-stop predatory madness fighting against responsibility. These are long-term addicts to street violence working in the show, which makes it a hard sell. Its not as good as Mann’s Crime Story (best cop show of the 1980’s) but comes up well with early, darker Miami Vice episodes.
The League Of Gentlemen - I was always annoyed by the existence of this show before, thinking it one of those hip new shows that get on my nerves, without ever seeing it. It just annoyed me. And then this year I watched it and got addicted very fast, buying all seasons, Christmas special, film, pantomime, concert film within a scarily short time. Full of odd characters and points of views, jokes that are subtle and performance/character-based rather than one-liners, lots of odd horror influences and instincts moving through a traditional English village. Just hilarious and genuinely odd. One of those shows you think it’s a miracle its so popular but sometimes that simply happens.
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles - It’s a nice little show, probably the least in this list as it can have weak sentimental moments, but does pay service to the films that inspired it, and does have nice little human and odd moments throughout. It’s solid sci-fi, which is harder to pull off than anyone would expect (as anyone watching the last season of Dr Who can attest to.) So even though its patchy, the interesting moments, such the John Conner- Cameron the Female Terminator sub-plot, the dysfunctional uncle, are always interesting, and make up for weaker moments. It’s kinda like Firefly in its likable minor tone.

Heroes - All I can write is that its still stunningly addictive in its awfulness. You know you’ll feel dirty in the morning but just can’t help it. It’s like a bad itch, a urinary infection, an embarrassing trip to the doctor. But at least its better than Lost.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Step Brothers

I'm actually writing this brief posting due to a pretty dumb article that House Next Door posted (as they are normally a very good site this one was a bit of a shocker) but it was about Judd Apatow (Guy who made Knocked up and 40 year old Virgin, and producer of many other films) and Adam McKay, who made three brilliant film with Will Ferrell, which were Anchorman, Tallageda Nights and Step Brothers.

Now I know when writing about film, sometimes the urge to be pretentious can get the better of you (or to out-pretentious the film) but this article

is self-serious to an absurd degree.

Its very old-fashioned as writing, seems to be suggesting (boringly) that the films by Apatow are better as they are more realistic, try to bring in realistic emotions and follow-ups to situations. Which I don't think they do. Now I like the films well enough but they are rude sitcoms, with more swearing and a few more pot-holes in plot but always end up back at a conclusion that feels obvious in the set-up. Which is fine. As entertainments they work well, are better crafted than most. But Apatow has only directed two films, so he is probably still developing but he hasn't really shown uniqueness as a director as of yet. His stand-up film looks promising though, a bit odd in idea.

As a producer he has been much more interesting, working on The Garry Shandling Show and producing the Adam McKay films. These are broad, absurdist films. No-one is quite human but there are stunning little details and bits of dialogue throughout that throw the films off into their own universe. They films are always taking on the vibe of their protagonists so these obsessions seem to dominate the look and mood of the films, characters always structured broadly around the main part, to up the absurdity, whether it be a fantasy news room in Anchorman or the broad white-trash family. Structurally they don't correspond the the typical three-act structures the way Apatow's do, while broad have people saying and believing things that are as odd as anything in life. (We live in a world where George Bush was elected twice, where religious maniacs of all faiths kill for obscure reason, where people hurt others for the most stupid reasons. A sitcom-type fairy-tale of happy endings and understanding is bogus). Any time McKay's films get near a typical narrative structure its to do an insane parody that will go on and on, with odd dialogue (my favourite "I'm going to pleasure myself tonight to the thought of you punching him in the face"), pushing the limits of convention. Which makes the strange motivations feel real and funny, if you keep your eyes open for how insane the world is. Its very much constructing what's going on, making it feel broad but still threatening, be as far as you can get away with and still be funded. Its very much in keeping with what 1940 and 50's directors were doing with noir, romances, westerns, taking a conventional genre and making it personal with odd character streaks, motivations, don't try and be perfect, see what happens. Step Brothers is a far more naked parody and twisted working on delayed maturity than the realistic take of other films of its type, of growing up, even though that's not what these types ever want, then playing on that instinct. Step Brothers lets all the strangeness creep to the surface, actually builds from honesty about oddity. Its the healthy side of culture. (and you know, seeing two grown men kicking the hell out of a group of annoying kids is the perfect way to end a film)

So this is my very base contrast and reaction to what I thought of as a very stiff, unimaginative and regressive article.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Odd movies

This is just a collection of random thoughts from someone who has been in the mood to watch dumb movies for the past day.

Well save one. I did watch Breach, the movie about an FBI guy who sells secrets to the Russians over fifteen years, played by Chris Cooper, who is being watched closely by an underling, played by Ryan Phillippe, who's trying to catch him out. This is a good but not great movie. Objectively I would says its the best film I saw of the bunch that I watched yet isn't as much fun as the dumber stuff. It's about liars but is a bit self-serious. It really is lacking in wicked fun. The director Billy Ray, also made Shattered Glass, another film about a liar, which was also good but had the same fatal lack of humour. I'm not suggesting making them comedies or ignoring the damage the central characters do but at least have a sense of humour, have some fun with the wickedness of the central character. perhaps make those chasing him a little less noble, more messed up, ambitious, less mouthpieces of morality, so the drama can have some bite. It does have some terrific subtle sparring scenes between the two actors. Cooper is great, both scene to scene and later, when you realise the performance does make sense when you think of the various facets of the central spy, who is a man of many contradictions. Phillippe does well with the under-written young innocent guy part, is again showing signs of being an interesting actor on the make, who just needs to age a little. Laura Linney also shows up, as the agent over-seeing the investigation. She's got all the exposition yet manages to suggest someone human. It's an excellent, spare performance. So the film is worth seeing.

The other stuff is pure hokum and all the more fun because of it. To start with a Roger Moore Bond, For Your Eyes Only. This one was where Moore started to show his age, and would have been better if they had changed to Dalton here, would have had some real charge in this story, which has lots of diving, foot chases, hanging out of helicopters, lots of scenes for a young man. (Octopussy and View To A Kill have the same problem, amazing stunt, cutting to a man in his mid-fifties looking old, back to amazing stunt. Which is fun in a different sort of way.) But after a shaky first twenty minutes, the film does have a decent plot of double-crosses and Greek smugglers which you can follow, has some terrific action beats (especially a snow chase and a final mountain climb), and despite his age, you do have Moore. I used to dislike these Moore films, when I was being a little pretentious in my late teens, but really Bond played by Moore is a blast. He shows Brosnan how campy Bond should be done.

From sublime hokum to ridiculous hokum. Mission Impossible 2. My sister got me this for Christmas one year. I used to not think much of it, of it being a weak follow-up to the terrific DePalma film, which copied set-pieces (another hi-tech break-in but this one has no tension) and has a really dumb plot (man decides to kill millions to profiteer on shares to sell the cure, even though if he has the cure it shows he was likely the perpetrator). The film is directed by John Woo and lacks a lot of his usual shoot-him up style. Its also essentially a rip-off of a great Hitchcock film Notorious (man sends in a woman who he is in love with to spy on another man, who has they key to the plot, who once had a relationship to the woman). The script is by Robert Towne, his worst ever in lots of ways (it goes from decent scenes to clunky scenes with abandon). So lots of talent and the film never works as a high-speed Mission Impossible film. But time has been kinder to it than expected. Away from the expectations, it kind of works in its own dumb way. Woo is way over the top in direction, a lot of it cheesy but it kinda works in a comic way. And the villain is a total beast, is actually oddly more sympathetic and a Woo-like creature than Cruise (he has a great bit with a scarf and has a henchman who's obviously in love with him). Its kind of like Hard Target, where it jumps between good stuff and utter tosh, and is riddled with Cruise doing ridiculous action moves that he thinks looks good but are just so funny (like Van Damme). But it has aged well into being a slightly guilty-pleasure movie, far better than expected. And its way more entertaining and cinematic than the TV-like part 3, which had action which you couldn't follow and a plot that you couldn't care enough to poke holes in.

Now to the films I couldn't sit through. Started to watch Wicker Park, which had a decent plot (I fast-forwarded through it on realisation that the film was defeating me, and it should have worked) but has terrible direction by Paul McGuigan. The film had good shots at times then really dull ones thus had no momentum, pace or story-telling that you could focus on. It was about obsessive love but was shot cold, never felt that there was any build or character. It was like watching a series of shots that didn't connect. It was alienating even in the most basic set-ups that someone like DePalma could have made brilliant. It's lead Josh Hartnett, who I've liked in other films, was awful here. I could sense what he was meant to suggest from story fragments but never saw it ever in his acting (I use the term charitably for this film). Twenty minutes in and I couldn't take it anymore. No-one was doing their job properly and I'd had enough. So I did a quick fast-forward to get the general idea if I was missing anything, wasn't.

Also tried to watched another old Christmas gift out of basic curiosity, which also lasted about twenty minutes, Van Helsing. Now I saw and kinda liked this on release (but I was hung-over at the time so who knows) but since I got this film I've tried to get through this thing and failed. Its just so stupid. It never takes a break from being stupid and soiling the monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolfman, Jekyll and Hyde) that it uses. Just terrible. Hopefully my lust for pulp has been sated and I can move on. I blame Wicker Park. That was the first one I tried to watch and it sent me to inanity afterwards by its awfulness.

Till next time. Same Bat-Time, same Bat-Channel.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Inland Empire

This will be brief. Inland Empire, David Lynch's video-shot three hour epic is an amazing film. I urge anyone who reads this to watch it. Laura Dern is brilliant in a lead part that changes at times drastically scene to scene, going from the highest to the lowest of society, a character that evolves into something more complicated than originally suggested. Lynch meanwhile keeps the film paced brilliantly, going on seeming detours that always click into place at an emotional level when he needs them to, without ever showing a through-line for an obvious plot.

The trouble about writing about this film is that saying anything about what occurs both will be confusing to the reader and will spoil the film. Its a film that's best simply to be experienced as it unfolds. Like Bunuel, Lynch keeps strands of mood, acting and ideas building, plays them against one another to continually surprise the viewer in its ideas and accumulative mood. The film does add up to a complete experience that doesn't cheat and is very satisfying. (although stay for the end credits as that's part of the film and its mood) So basically, try and avoid finding out anything about the film before seeing it.

Its a film that's another argument that Lynch, along with Cronenberg and Malick, is the best of the directors to emerge from the 1970's.

New Dr Who

Since its being ridiculous so far (yet still not really going far enough for me as of yet into moronic suggestions) I'd say seriously get someone from the League Of Gentlemen as the new doctor, if you want wacky, potentially dark and interesting.

Now, also going older why not Christopher Lee. Sure he's old but Peter Cushing got to play the doctor and I don't think Lee should be left out (plus he'd scare the hell out of any monster).

There's also make the doctor a lesbian (with a monkey). I'd accept David Morrissey with a monkey (but Morrissey seems too obvious, doesn't he).

Or even try the re-animated corpse of the recently dead.

Monday, 24 November 2008


Tidelands is a wonderful, very misunderstood film that had the bad luck to follow both Del Toro's wonderful Pan's Labyrinth and Terry Gilliam's woeful Brothers Grimm.

Pan's Labyrinth, like Tidelands, follows an abandoned child through a dangerous, fantastical arena that may be in her own head. The child in Pan's is in war-torn Spain while the Tideland protagonist is in middle America following the death of her parents. They are very different films. Pan's has a romance to it, despite the genuine danger of fascists and their kind, has a wonderful sense of romanticism in the images dreamed up by its heroine. Tidelands is far more psychotic. It's protagonist is in denial about her dead father rotting in a decaying house (she is first seen preparing his heroin), about the madness as shown by the two humans she meets, a mad semi-lobotomised dreamer who wants to destroy a train and his strange, twisted sister. She talks to doll's heads, sees her father taxidermied by her human friends, seems childish throughout, unsure. Its a very brave film in that the heroine is unlikable some of the time, yet is always interesting. It's very difficult to write more about the film without giving away much of its pleasures but it is a film that has to be seen by serious cineasts. It's slightly messy but is that adds to its charm.

Its 180 degrees away from The Brother's Grimm, which was a film so wretched that no auteur would ever want to be caught downwind. That was a film that made you wonder if Gilliam had gone completely senile, was lacking in basic character and pacing, had one of the dullest final acts that's ever been my misfortune to watch. And it was really stupid, lacking anything tied to the wonders of dark European fairy tales. And in Tidelands, within a simple narrative, he gets the old European fairytale tone exactly right, plays on the horror in mid-America but never over-does it. The pacing here is deliberate, is never boring. Its a wonderful, under-rated film that deserves a lot more attention than it gets. In some ways, it feels like a companion piece to Fear And Loathing, with its view of rotting America both outside and inside the character's heads, and is potentially as unlikable to many viewers. But its is a tough, adventurous film, they kind that should be made and acclaimed. It makes you wonder how Gilliam went so horribly wrong in Brothers Grimm, which now seems like a jarring mess amidst a series of strong films. At least Gilliam is back to being a proper director and his forthcoming film looks fascinating.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Speed Racer

Speed Racer is an odd one this year. Its a film that simply put people off in advertising. To be honest, is it wasn't for the Wachowski's directing and writing it, I wouldn't have bothered either. But its such a unique film, like Ang Lee's Hulk, Robert Altman's Popeye or Walter Hill's Streets Of Fire.

The latter, like Speed Racer, was produced by Joel Silver, who also produced Hudson Hawk and The Hudsucker Proxy, other very odd films hated by many and loved by a select minority. Silver usually makes blockbusters like 48 Hours, Predator, Die Hard and Lethal Weapon. And then he goes a bit mad for some tastes. And in odd times, his mad turns helps create the Matrix trilogy and V For Vendetta, odd popular films for the masses.

But that is a divergence. Speed Racer is such a fun film for those who get on its wavelength, and such a disaster for those who don't. It does have video game look at times but that's CGI. It's really a live action movie that sticks to the car-crazy focus of a child who loves toy cars, silly ninja's, monkey's. It's a film for your inner eight-year old visually. The cars do things you wanted to see at that age, made by proper directors who remember such things, who can think of what a child would think a future-world should be like, what it would be like to play with those things on a sugar-bender. (the film shows this literally also) The film is terrific at knowing those small bits of fantasy that's plying inside the heads of certain characters (Speed, as a child, imagines driving in a race, done in the style a child would draw, which is a visual stunner, his little brother always imagining himself an his pet monkey in epic crude anime fights, which we see). If you don't get the joy of that type of fantasy, the film is not for you. The film has cars spinning, flipping over other cars, making insane skids, blowing up, making long jumps, cars going on gravity-defying loops, climbs and descents.

Its not flawless. There are some moments where the film gets a little too literal in dialogue and voice-over (its meant for kids so sometimes things are spelled out a little too much at times). Half an hour in, while setting up the villain, the film does sag a little. Its only for a few minutes, things that could have been pruned but you do feel it. But some of the editing is tremendous. The brilliant first twenty minutes jumps back and forth through two races, between Speed racing and his brother Rex racing, gives small flashbacks within these races that gives all the backstory needed, with clear emotion, framing, pacing while still having a tremendous dramatic punch that is unique to proper cinema craftsmen. All the races work beautifully, especially the brilliant Road Warrior-influenced middle race, which is all about going fast against people who are brutally vicious thugs, which includes flipping a car and punching the driver of the other car as you flip over him. The final race does have a little bit too much exposition but manages truly insane shots, such as a long 90 degree dip of road, with a crashing car falling towards Speed as he navigates it, and adrenaline rushing moments as cars skidding on the edges over many long drops.

The best visual element DVD is that the colours are brighter and clearer in the chases (film goes so fast you have to be paying attention to what's going on but is more focused with brighter colours) and all the shots of images flowing in and out of one another make definite visual sense. It is a film that was best seen for certain moments on the big screen but it does translate better to television than films such as The Incredible Hulk, which looks cheap and unforced in comparison. (This comparison also rang true in the cinema).

To end, this one still is my favourite by far or the summer movies, followed by the eccentric Hellboy 2. Others, such as Iron Man and The Dark Knight (which I'm warming to, despite its flaws) work well but don't go to that extra bit of madness that for me great cinema thrives upon.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Don't trust a sequel with Requiem in the title

Its not a good idea.

Two sequels, Alien V Predator 2 and Battle Royale 2, have the word requiem as sub-headings. Both films are considered embarrassments.

It's difficult to say which one is worse. Battle Royale 2 follows a well-respected first cult film, and Alien V Predator 2 followed Alien V Predator (and is actually better than the first one, not a difficult feat, by having one fairly decent idea, of aliens amuck in a hospital, doing unseemly acts).

Battle Royale 2 does try and be different from the first but is unfortunately moronic in how it puts its ideas across. The ideas start off well. First Battle Royale was about kids fighting one another on an island, forced by neck straps with explosives on them, this plan worked by adults who are sick of the children's awful behaviour. The first half of this film has one of the kids escaping from Battle Royale 1 learning to fight, returning to Japan as terrorist, blowing up buildings, declaring war on the grown-ups, having his own group of armed kids. A nice idea, kids finally having enough of adult behaviour and getting rough. The adults send another batch of doomed kids after the first lot, still with the explosive neck straps. Are told kill the other kids on an island base or die themselves. So they attack the island. That bit works. Its very Saving Private Ryan in look. As soon as the kids fight their way to their enemies, a way is found to disable the neck explosives and so the kids join up. Now the pulp joy is gone. The kid from the first film makes speeches, which are dull, take about half an hour it feels like. They are moronic and the actor saying them is awful. He is living in a cave (like Bin laden) but talks about saving the children's smiles (like... em Michael Jackson) And then encourages all his people to fight against incoming troops even though there has been an escape route they've known about forever. So we have a half hour of them fighting when they could have escaped a long time ago. It's over and over while you wonder why you're watching the fight and what does it have to do with the first half or any resolution. It also goes on without much sense of tactics. Just fighting similar moves, is very repetitive. Its even worse than Robocop 3 (oh yeas, by the by the director of Robo 4, the reboot, made requiem for a dream, so don't get too excited over that film, with this requiem curse in effect) Its good that girl as well as boys get to have their peckinpah-ish slow-motion death throes but that's all its got. There isn't really an ending but people wind up in Afghanistan, sentimentalising that situation, just like Rambo 3. It's just so stupid.

The real problem with this film, beyond terrible plotting and lack in basic filmic craft in the second half, is that the characters are objecting to something that was an outlandish satire, not the real world. So they're objecting to nothing real, the film-makers not tying it to anything that a viewer can connect with. The best idea, child terrorists against their parents, could have been very, very dark satire but is used for speeches that say nothing about anything.

Alien V Predator 2 has a base plot but I can't be bothered explaining it. Aliens fight predators in the rain, and we can't see much of it (but more than the first film, so it wins out over that one).

So which one is worse. Really, who cares. Just be careful of sequels with requiem in the title. Take it from someone not wise enough to know better.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Watchmen trailer 2

Well this trailer is even worse than the first. I don't get it. Every time anything on this film comes up it's stated as looking brilliant, suggested that anyone who doesn't like it are kill-joys. Even though they've changed the great ending to something (which has a great sense of cosmic awe) to a loose nuke cliche that sounds awful. As someone who knows the book very well I'm getting pretty mad about this one. You see more oft he film scenes in the new trailer and everything seems shot like an eighties Queen or Duran Duran video (tons of effects, campy looks, riffs on other's images with no substance) I was watching what were visually stunning moments in the book that I got bored watching in the trailer. Lots of dull slo-mo and moody vain actors trying and failing to suggest depth. It's not a good sign for the film. Worse is that everyone seems to be acting in a comic book manner, very dull gruff voices. What Alan Moore wrote was not anything like that (see my earlier post on Watchmen). All the positivity on this film feels to me like desperation for a Watchman film being made, so you can't say anything bad about it. Hope I'm wrong and the film's good but its looking less likely the more I see.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Mars Attacks!!!

Ak ak ak!!!!

Have just been watching Mars Attacks, with sound system turned way up, to hear every ray gun, thundering of every building and army tank blown up, every absurd martian scream. Its a riotous film, one of the late nineties nasty sci-fi satires/amusing rip on sci-fi conventions (along with Verhoeven's amazing Starship Troopers and the Wachowski's Matrix films, as well as Carpenter's Escape From LA, which wasn't as good) before sci-fi got bland again. It's Tim Burton at the end of his great run (From Pee-Wee to this film, with heights such as Beetlejuice, Batman Returns and Ed Wood) before he forgot to edit out the boring scenes or to hire proper writers. (Planet Of the Apes and Big Fish have some truly awful writing and Charlie and The Chocolate Factory lacks solid, focused imagery)

But this is the good stuff. We have an absurd notion of fifties-style martians attacking and the government treating it like they would anything else, stalling, putting off decisions, failing to ever have an idea how to proceed but worried about the press. Hundreds die, including some of their own people, before they do anything. Even then its too little too late. The martians make no sense and the film has a terrific mood of normal common sense invaded by something. People still grip at reality even as the film gets completely absurd and out of control. The film is full of small details that accumulate, has lots of clutter dominating all these people, they unable to get out alive.

See Nicholson's president have important speeches that no-one listens to, that the film puts of to the side of the screen, sounds and visuals of other people getting on with their lives dominating, or proclaim that "I want the American people to know that they still have two out of three of the legislative branches working for them, and that ain't bad" or give the least assuring, most nervous speech to the nation after a national disaster ever. See Nicholson try and talk the martians around while patronising them to an obscene level. George W. Bush must have seen this performance and decided he had to challenge it in incompetence. But even here he fails. He simply isn't as interesting as Nicholson. (It's great to see Nicholson and Rod Steiger talk about little green men as if it's a serious situation)

See the martians blow up congress, Easter island statues, Las Vegas buildings, attack trailer trash and old folk homes. See Jack Black killed as he tries to surrender to the invading hordes while holding the American flag. See the martians saying we are your friends as they mow down innocent people. See Danny Devito killed in a junkyard of old Vegas signs, as he offers the martians his services as a lawyer "You want to conquer the world, you're gonna need lawyers!" See Martin Short try to seduce a martian dressed like a woman, never noticing that something is very wrong while bringing her into the white house (to the Kennedy room to get laid). See the dove of peace and the family dog killed viciously by martians. See Pierce Brosnan give his best performance as a clueless Brit professor who ends up decapitated and declaring his love to Sarah Jessica Parker (whose head is attacked to her dog) in a crashing spaceship. See two black kids defend the president in a white house attack, as they've played video games and know how to mow down the little buggers while everyone else gets killed. The invention goes on and on. I'm amazed that no-one noticed how nuts this film was during production. Its got the look of a film that got away from the studio.

So its fair to say that I'm a fan. My advice to anyone reading this is to track this film down and watch it immediately. And turn the sound way up, because that's where you'll get the best effect.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

T4 and a trip down memory lane

I just watched the three-four minute doc on the production designer of Terminator: Salvation. It was kinda interesting in that it made the film look better in concept than the awful first trailer (which had "What the f**k is this movie" written all over it.) Essentially the film seems to be Mad Max 2 with killer robots in intent, which is good by me, as I like both killer robots and post-apocalyptic movies. And we haven't had a good mad max-type movie for years (last one was Waterworld, which was pretty flawed but fun). Also the other killer robot movie next year is Transformers 2, which will be terrible. (also, Christian Bale's post-apocalyptic film Reign of Fire from a few years back is truly awful so my respect for his taste in this sub-genre is basically zero) But what I'm seeing is only good just production design. So I'm a bit more hopeful on this one while not getting too excited, as there's a lot of good-looking but terrible movies.

I just don't really see the point though, in regards to Terminator. The first two were so good for their type, had proper conflicts and characters. Since then we had Terminator 3 (save a good performance by Nick Stahl working against dumb writing and a grim ending, was pretty bad), The Sarah Connor Chronicles (a hell of a lot better than T3, but is very patchy, and a tad too sentimental) and now this film, which looks like a simple shoot- em up, not suggesting that more mythic grander timelines and epic fates or the first two films. None of the follow-ups so far seen mentioned have gotten the John Conner character right, in the way T2 did (smart, doomed, with a sense of humour), seeming to always have him as weak, indecisive, a tendency to whine, then whine again, then again, always making me wonder, did anyone watch T2, and is it smart to portray a central character as annoying? Christian Bale, in the forthcoming film, has a lot of qualities as an actor but his better characters are very messed up, conflicted and flawed, not necessarily smart. As I've written before, his batman is a bit thick. He doesn't portray intelligence very clearly, which is the main quality needed in his character. His main weakness as an actor is when showing thinking, he can try too hard and simply be very serious and uninteresting. Also, none of the follow-ups have made the terminators intimidating. (Cromartie and Cameron, from the TV show are interesting but in no way intimidating).

So we'll see. I'm hoping, the new footage makes me more intrigued but as I've just watched the season 4 box-set of Battlestar Galactica, I suspect they'll be nowhere as intelligent or as ambitious as that show on the genocidal robots versus humans level.

My trip down memory lane was V: The Final Battle, which I picked up for an amazingly low price of £2. It was fun to rewatch, was pretty cheesy (has a green alien baby and some effects shots that are simply photographs that don't move). It also has in Marc Singer, a lead who is so beyond wooden that he makes Hasselhoff look like a thespian, where you are looking for the marionette strings. Luckily the show has Michael Ironside, who's a lot of fun as a gun-running sociopath killing alien invaders. You pretty much wait for him to show up between fight scenes. It's actually, despite the defects, fun eighties sci-fi, way more interesting than eighties and nineties Star Trek (it at least suggests fascism, world war 2 allegories, resistance fighters seen as terrorists), does have a few really nasty (for mainstream TV) torture scenes, as well as a suicide attempt and a woman killing, in front of her own child, the child's father. The pace does hold up pretty good. It does have a hand-made feel to the mood, is shot on locations, which gives it some reality, rather than awful sci-fi shows set in space with odd-looking aliens talking hours worth of gibberish to prove that they're sensitive. So it was worth the look. I won't make any great claims for it (nor comment on the very flawed series that followed afterwards). But as with many things, it is way better than T3. (this is a film I enjoy knocking, by the way)

So that's all for now.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

A bit of Godard and Linklater (and Lynch shorts)

Had a soured romance double bill today. Godard's Peirret Le Fou (starring Jean Paul Belmendo and Anna Karina) and Richard Linklater's Before Sunset.

Going to keep it brief. Peirret Le Fou is a film about a couple on the run, leaving Paris after a murder. They were once a couple years before, the man married with children, who he dumps without guilt. The woman has no ties. They wander through France, hold up gas stations, spend time at a beach and get bored by each other, before ending on a small heist, betrayals and suicide. Its a dour subject, a film made as the director and leading lady were divorcing one another, is focused on the idea that the couple turn on one another, causing the male lead to strap dynamite to his head and light the fuse (He thinks about it, finds it to be a mistake but can't stop the fuse, thus dies). The film is obviously a metaphor for a relationship falling apart after the first thrill, as the people have little in common and look for ways to betray one another. Yet visually its amazing. The style is playful, as is the interaction between the couple in many of the scenes, full of bright colour through-out. The film is fast paced and is incredibly cinematic in framing of people in landscape and action. So despite the dark theme its a very energetic and funny film. Well worth a look.

Before Sunset stays in Paris with a couple meeting years after one day and night together in Vienna (seen in the wonderful Before Sunrise). This also has a male lead who is married with a child, a childless female lead character. The film is completely different to the Godard film. Its a talk film so even though Paris is used well as background. The couple talk about the past years since the last meeting, their failures and disappointments. The film is terrifically romantic, as we watch two complicated, messed up people resuming a relationship through what they say and how they react to one another. Its about twisted romantic aspirations, on how one event can affect a life and spoil many other lives. It's a wonderful film, especially as the romance is unforced and slowly evolves on the character's emotions.

As a finale, have watched some David Lynch shorts. The Grandmother is a stunner, is almost a twisted end for romance, as a angry, bitter couple who has a child who the beat on, he growing his own grandmother, who deal with them and who will always live him. This is all about mood, shots of the angry parents coming to life are very creepy, as is the birth of the grandmother. Its a very difficult to explain as its all about mood. You can read meanings into it but the film is non-specific on what its theme is. Anyone reading this has a chance to see this film, definitely take it. It pre-figures Lost Highway in a lot of ways. It's not something you'll forget. I saw two others: The Amputee (an interesting 5 minute mood piece about an amputee) and Cowboys And The Frenchman (a 25 minute absurdest film, starring Harry Dean Stanton. It's pretty funny, has a great mood to it, an acquired taste film that I loved.) Its in a DVD The Short Films Of David Lynch, a disc that I would highly recommend if you like David Lynch.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

A bit of Powell/Pressberger and Bunuel

Rewatched a terrific film this afternoon, which I'm sure most with taste who see it will love (and beat to death anyone who berates it). Its from Michael Powell, is named the 49th Parallel. Its about Nazi's in the early years of World War 2, whose sub is sank after a shipping raid on Canada. Six men get away and attempt to travel through Canada to America (this if before America joins the war). Its a beautiful film, despite its subject matter, expertly paced so as to study the men in landscape and interaction, always looking for the subtle reaction that will bring focus to the situation.

Its a Nazi-bashing film but careful. During their travels the Nazi's essentially destroy themselves, as they can find no connection to the various civilised people they meet, are revealed by action and words to be brutes, rarely having to tie them to Nazi-ism directly.
They lose members throughout due to their fascism, finally what is left is a lone man at the border, ruined by his own monstrous ego, which is a fitting and unforced metaphor. They run into trappers, German farmers who despise Nazi's (this is a sequence that is beautiful, especially as one of the Nazi's, who was forced into war, wants to join the farmers and is killed by his own men for it), normal people on the road, finally a British writer researching Indians in Canada, who articulates civilisation and graceful tolerance to the Nazi's with calmness and a sense of pity.

The atmosphere and landscapes throughout of Canada are stunning, are not often used in films. The film shows glaciers, Canadian Indians, Eskimo's, many remote locations. The film takes its time to allow you to see these landscapes while getting on with the story. It's an utter delight.

Watched The Phantom Of Liberty by Luis Bunuel. It's a stunning, nontraditional film. It's about mood, emotion, dark yet warm humour regarding absurd feelings and drives that all humans have. As its a series of small sections linked by characters going from one location to another its difficult to describe. So here's a few sequences to give an idea of the satire and mood. A young man takes his aunt to a hotel to sleep with him, as he has always loved her, and she him. He can't quite convince her then leaves the room, gets into a situation with four old priests, a lone woman and a strange couple, returns to his room to find his aunt has changed her mind and will sleep with him. A man, on finding out he has cancer, returns home to find that his daughter has disappeared. He goes to her school with his wife, interacts with the teachers, as well as his missing daughter, yet he and everyone insists that she is missing. This goes on for years until they can finally acknowledge her again. A man and wife go to a dinner party where you have dinner discussions while on the toilet (Toilets as chairs around a table) then go to a small room to eat. The entire film is has this wonderful mood, has sex perverts, a sniper killing people in Paris, a really strange old man and his odd relationship to memory and his sister. If you've seen Bunuel its amazing. If not, maybe start with Belle De Jour, which is a tad more straight-forward in narrative and demands made on an audience, before going into this one, the Discreet Charm of The Bourgeosise or The Milky Way.

Anyway, two great films that have to be seen.

"What's your problem?" "I'm a narcotic abuser, a drunk. And I just don't care." "Well, good luck to you sir."

The above comes from Rough Riders a John Milius directed and written tale regarding the American invasion of Cuba in the late 1890's. It's a darkly romantic epic, completely alien to modern sensibilities, and is terrific. As is Sam Fuller's world war 2 epic The Big Red One.

While I have written on the dreck I have been watching I've left out the good stuff. These two films, both running to about three hours, are great examples of old-school film-making.

Rough Riders centres on Teddy Roosevelt, who starts a war with the Spanish Cuba, and then goes to war with his troops. He calls together men from all over the country, for rich Harvard types to outlaws, Mexicans, lawmen, hen-pecked husbands, Southerners wanting a fight after losing the civil war. He pulls in a black military regiment. These fighters, rough riders, are actually in a race against the regular army, to get to Cuba and win the war, as Roosevelt wants to go to war. What's terrific about the film is how it makes no excuses for the sensibilities of the time, nor to the fact that what they are doing is going over to another land to kill, or murder as its explicitly stated, that people are being trained to be killers. The film doesn't pull back from that, nor does it ignore the sense that these men felt they were on a great post-civil war quest. There is no modern slant, to comment on behaviour. It is stated, and you can agree, disagree, or find it interesting. The fact that both the romantic and the darker elements of the quest stand side by side, are dramatised in constant reflection of one another, is what's so strong about it. The film takes its time. The first half is the rough riders being established and trained, focused more on the personalities of the soldiers (and on Roosevelt, who's a geek with a gun), is worked within incidents that's more about establishing character and time period. By the time the second half comes around, and these people are being killed, there is a real effect on the viewer.

I've always been a bit of a Milius fan. I've never agreed on his politics (he's to the right, I'm to the left) but he makes interesting films (and Conan The Barbarian) about subjects and people that I find fascinating. I would recommend Dillinger, The Wind And The Lion, Big Wednesday (one of my favourite films), Red Dawn (Russians invade US. Subversive fun. More of an attack on eighties Reaganite America than on the Russians), Farewell To The King (hacked about, bit of a mess but has some amazing scenes) and Motorcycle Gang (which is a fun cable b-movie) He also made Flight Of the Intruder, which isn't very good. He of course wrote Dirty Harry and Apocalypse Now. He's always called right-wing but I'm not sure how much he is. He seems to despise money, banks, creature comforts, people with mortgages. Along with Paul Schrader and Robert Towne, he's the best of the seventies writers, and like them, he's remained a lot more interesting than many of those who were simply directors at that time.

The Big Red One is a film based in World War 2, star Lee Marvin, leading his troop through the war, over three years. Its him and his four survivors (who include Mark Hamill) who mange to get through the war unharmed. There are two versions, one is the shortened two-hour version, which is good, and the longer, nearly three hour version, which is terrific. There's some voice-over, that Fuller didn't want, which should have been cut from the long version but wasn't, distracts in certain scenes. The film, like Rough Riders, is interested in murder and killing in war. Do you kill the enemy or murder him? There is no real solution to this, nor is there seen to be a solution to the troubles the soldiers face. They simply survive while watching many fall around them. We go from Africa, to Sicily to D-day to Belgium front to the concentration camps, walking with these soldiers. Every sequence has haunting images, every location having background children who are always victims to the insanity of the adults. Many locations have mad people wandering about. The film's strength is a wonderful sense of humanity and curiosity about the surroundings, despite the fact that the soldier's life is killing or being killed. They interact with people everywhere, deliver a baby at one point, become more weighed down by what they see (especially in the concentration camp, which has a stunning sequence with Marvin and a starving Jewish boy who's dying). A lot of the humanity comes through in looks, little asides, while keeping the toughness up to survive. It's just terrific, a more tired film than Rough Riders but feels authentic to the time its set, in attitudes and darker aspects of character.

I've seen a few other Sam Fuller films but not to the same scale as I know Milius, so I can't really comment on his career, save to say that I loved what I saw. Like Milius he was a maverick who wasn't given enough respect. I think to avoid cliches that tend to focus war stories you need these type of stubborn directors who look for the odd moments that illuminate the oddness of character and situation, like Fuller and Milius mange. If you have a chance to see either of these wonderful films I would recommend it.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Bad, bad TV shows

As a Nathan Barley fan, this pains me to write this but the zombie in big brother house serial Dead Set in truly awful. For a start its not scary. I'm a total coward when it comes to zombies (in a truly embarrassing way, they freak me the f**k out) and this one didn't spook me. Now that's bad. That's a sign of complete lack of craft visually and with pace. In about three hours it had five minutes of atmosphere (a bit with a lone guy travelling up a river in a boat).

Worse is the fact the Charlie Brooker, a man behind man terrific Guardian articles, screenwipe and the aforementioned Nathan Barlay, couldn't be arsed writing a script or characters. The basic idea is that people are trapped inside the big brother house during a zombie outbreak. Yet this is standard zombie material. I find it difficult to write about this as everything is so basic, the acting so dull. It's difficult to find an angle without sounding utterly despondent as this filth is so cliched. Angry boss who gets ripped apart by zombie hordes- check. Feisty female lead oppressed by sexist louts- check. Social commentary- check (but done as a blatant Romero steal, the ultimate zombie gesture). Doomed geeky oppressed boyfriend of leading lady- check. There's just nothing there. Worse is that Brooker sets them up simply to murder every character and can't be bothered hiding that fact so the plot is deadly. Any reality TV jokes implied by this boring by the first episode. Yet it goes on for another four atrocious half-hour slots where time slowly dies. Any moment of possible interest, such as a guy ripping apart a dead zombie as meat to others zombies would seem fresh only if you haven't seen Day Of the Dead. And there it was done better. The idea of a doomed compound in the UK was done two years ago in 28 weeks later, and much better, with clearer social points and actual character motivations (and a proper dark ending, and a better bit on a boat amidst zombies). I'm going to stop now as it will simply be a list on how Brooker failed on every possible level. To wrap it up, its the most boring zombie fiction ever (and there's a lot of competition).

From zombies to heroes. This is a really stupid show that I mention as I watch it because its so utterly moronic in every possible respect but is weirdly addictive in a car crash type of way. You have terrible dialogue and almost catatonic sense of framing and light, vying with either bad young acting or slumming older acting by people who should know better (take a bow Malcolm McDowell and Robert Forster). The show would be far better if the slumming actors got all the lines as at least they are fun to watch. But the young leads. Jesus. Vacant reactions that are always off. You know those comments by actors that its hard to act against someone who is not reacting and simply waiting for their next line. These kids show what that comment means. You have a perky idiot blond who can't die (but god please let her, she's woeful), an idiot fat cop who does nothing, ever, an idiot fat Japanese guy who talks about heroes (he's gotta be learning disabled), a guy who's the son to those in power and seems to be interacting with a future version of himself a lot (He's the best actor of the bunch. I don't know about his acting abilities because his character is so dumb. But he's pretty painless so I'm not awestruck by awfulness). The so bad he's downright surreal acting performance is by a guy playing this scientist looking for a cure (but who's now turning into the fly). This guy is so awful, so incapable of any emotion that I'm amazed he's not starving in the streets. He's incapable of saying simple lines without causing utter embarrassment to himself. The only young actor who does well is one playing this villain called Sylar. This guy is fun and seems to have watched the hamming, slumming older actors and figured out how to get the hell out of this show with some dignity. (This dumb show also has pulled in two good actors from The Wire, Jamie Hector and Andre Royo. They have nothing to do while being above it all).

The plots make no sense and I think given time we can see some Ed wood style speeches, if you give this cast and these writers enough time at it. That's what's keeping me going. So will we see Malcolm McDowell say "Pull the string! Pull the string!"

Now there are some tacky shows that I genuinely like. I am not so high and mighty. I have seen every season of 24. I saw the Colin Baker Dr Who's. I'm waiting for someone in the new terminator show to go mad at the twelfth time someone says yeah in three minutes. I have seen the entirety of Blade The Series.

And to a specific English friend reading this, Lost really is atrocious.

Waiting On Distributors

Got an email to say that a distributor that I sent my film to will be viewing it in the next few days. This of course makes me very nervous as its both the kind of distributor I think my film is suited for, and I'm generally nervous about people looking at the film. Your opinion always goes towards the negative on your abilities once someone else gets involved. As many distributors are folding due to the recession, its a difficult arena at the moment.

Of course I'm determined to be optimistic.