Between them, husband and wife duo Avatar and the Hurt Locker have eighteen Oscar nominations this year. They're directly against each other in seven categories. Here's how I think they'll do.
The Hurt Locker is beautifully shot. Iraq (shot in Kuwait) feels intimate, close, open, familiar, alien. Heat and tension emanate from the screen. Avatar, on the other hand, redefines what Cinematography means, using a bizarre mix of camera styles that has never been tried before - and succeeds. And the Oscar goes to The Hurt Locker, because it's real even though it's not.
Film editing is critical in defining the pace of a film, fine tuning the audience experience. The Hurt Locker vs Avatar here is a fine balance between the traditional art taken to its extreme, and the art of film editing completely redefined. And the Oscar goes to Inglorious Basterds, because of the opening scene in the house in the fields.
A tough one here. Good scoring underlines the themes of a film and stays with the listener far beyond the cinema, while at the same time being almost inaudible and unmemorable. Both of these movies are triumphs of subtlety, so it's very hard to choose. And the Oscar goes to Up, because it made me cry.
Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing
Two categories in one here - both are about the art of creating a fictional reality, about adding depth to a two dimensional picture. And the Oscars go to pretty much anyone. These are really technical awards, and not likely to garner much attention. Star Trek could win.
Both The Hurt Locker and Avatar are strongly directed. Of the two, Avatar is clumsier and clunkier, but nonetheless interesting. The Hurt Locker is tense and intimate, but it's somewhat unvaried. It's a symphony in beige, with explosions. The art of the director is the art of creating a cinematic experience that utterly absorbs. For me, therefore, the Oscar goes to Inglorious Basterds, Tarantino's strongest film to date by quite some way, a huge step up in terms of his talent and confidence.
Well, it's not going to be Avatar or The Hurt Locker. Avatar looks great, it's got smurfs and dragons, and the plot of Pocahontas, and bits of Aliens soldered on for good luck. In a cinematic environment where anything can happen, cliches are bound to happen. I guess.
The Hurt Locker is a turgid plop of a film. Based on some things a journalist saw once, it's tense, you grow to care about the characters to some extent, but it's a dramatic mess, and the performances are all un-nuanced. There's a reality to it that's hard to achieve in cinema these days, mainly because it's not interesting.
And the Oscar goes to... something else.
There was no doubt in my mind that Casino Royale would be a stonking action movie. Would it be "Bond", though?
It's a tricky question. What is it that makes a Bond movie quintessentially Bondish? The music? The cheesy one-liners? The girls, gadgets, Moneypenny and Q? It could be argued that the cosy familiarity of the formula was due for a shake up. How far could it be shaken without it becoming stirred?
Casino Royale is, frankly, an excellent action movie. It's heavily based on the novel of the same name, which is interesting, given that the novel is a psychological thriller whose big climaxes are a card game, the hero being stripped of his dignity, and ultimately being broken. All of this remains.
But the Bond movies and the Bond books are very different beasts. While the books are little-know, the film franchise is one of the biggest phenomena in the world. Every viewer would have a mental checklist. At the end of the day, although Daniel Craig is playing a character called James Bond, does he feel like Bond? Because, let's face it, you could have a charismatic leading man, a Bond plot, and gimmicks and gizmos flying out of your doodad, and it would still be little more than "Never Say Never Again".
Casino Royale gets it right. Big time. Kick-starts Bond, with just the right mix of new and old, leaving me in no doubt that this man was James Bond. Not necessarily suave, not always cool, not coming back with the one liners. More vulnerable, more human, possibly. But practical, driven, efficient, and a thug.
Best movie I've seen all week.
There are three people at the table next to us as we sit down for dinner. Pretty young things - two guys and a girl. Sophie's slim, brunette, quite attractive, with a little button nose that looks like it may not be her original one. Deep dark eyes, smoking a cigarette lazily. Next to her is Pitr. You get the vibe from their body language that Pitr is Sophie's boyfriend. He's got shoulder length blonde hair, wispy and wavy. Eyes hidden behind sunglasses. Across from them sits Mark - dark hair, slim, the youngest of the three. I guess they're all between 19 and 22.
Their conversation is banal. "No," says Pitr. "My hair isn't straight, a lot of people think that. It's actually wavy." We zone in and out of their conversation as we moan about the service. At Pitr's feet, a puppy eyes our plates hungrily. At the table next to us two coffee's are ordered. Pitr gets his bike, cycles off.
Blah, blah, blah. "So," Sophie asks. "Are you gay?"
Mark shakes his head, puzzled. "No, I told you. My ex-girlfriend was in Playboy, remember?"
"Yeah, yeah, but you know, you do look a bit gay." His appearance, being perfectly fair to him, does scream out that he might be a bit gay.
"Metrosexual," he says.
"That's kind of like bi, isn't it?"
"You should bulk up, work out, get yourself a six pack."
"I'm not bad, I like my body."
Mark lifts his shirt for her.
"...so I did some modelling too, but you know, modelling is not great here, the money is not good. I did some glamour modelling, nude stuff, you know. I even did some girl-girl stuff once. It was twenty minutes work and it paid a thousand euro, yeah? It wasn't too bad. She was really nice. You know I've always suspected that I was a bit bi. I think everyone is, don't you?"
Pitr returns. Sophie takes the dog for a walk. There's a tension between the two young men, but it's a tension of predator and prey rather than friends. We can tell what's going to happen next.
"Yeah, the money's in porn. The kinkier the better. I reckon a video of you and me together could make maybe fifty thousand euro. At twenty euro a disc we'd only have to sell..." he trails off. Division is stretching his talents. He's sitting with his legs apart, louche and sleazy. But something tells me that the video is going to be made.
Sophie's returned, and they're talking about drugs. She's got a favourite, that I don't catch the name of. "It's great when you're on it. I mean, you just love everyone, and anything, and you just want to fuck, but man, afterwards, it's really really tough. You ever tried it?"
Mark hasn't. You know that he's going to. From the body language you can tell he thinks he might have a chance with Sophie. He doesn't.
And then they're off. We let them go. I don't know whether we should have interfered, I don't know what we could have done. And I don't know how to get hold of the video.
The Shining could be a much better film. The dialogue is poor, the plot is incohesive, and the acting is often wooden. I feel that way about may Kubrick movies. Loads of potential, but could do better.
Make no mistake, I think it's great. Beautifully designed and shot, there's rarely a frame that doesn't look fantastic. But it's not quite good.
With Kubrick films, to me, it's always about style over substance. And what style it is, it must be said. His movies are sumptuous visual feasts that you dive into and luxuriate in. But the plotting is usually paper-thin.
But sitting here on my luxurious plum chaise longue, watching as Scatman Crothers drives to his demise, I can't help thinking that maybe that's deliberate. Maybe Kubrick thought that good acting and writing might distract fromhis art. As always, dunno.
"Wendy, I'm home."
It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a big old botched up mess. Some people will love it.
There's a lot going for Superman Returns. It looks great, it's well acted, the music has huge chunks of the John Williams score, and it's got enough touches of the original movies, and updating of them to make you believe that this film wwas made with respect, with reverence, perhaps even with love.
However, if you put aside the gloss, the nudity, the occasionally heart-stopping action, is it actually any good? No. It's a bit disappointing.
It's a time for reboots of film series. Batman Begins dumped the colour coded catastrophe and Crash Bang Pow of Batman Forever and brought us sepia grit. Casino Royale is about to give us a Bond that is more like the character from the books than Roger Moore could ever hope to be. On television, Battlestar Galactica has emerged triumphant from the laughing-stock of cult television history as a meaty character-led show with sexy killer robots. So what do we get with Superman Returns? Pretty much a straight sequel.
The problem lies in what it's a sequel to. It's a sequel to Superman Five.
You probably don't remember Superman Five. It's the one that ends with him uncovering his old Kryptonian spaceship, hopping in it and flying off to look for the remnants of his homeworld. The audiences were left begging for a sequel. This is that sequel. Only they never actually made Superman Five, so there's a line before the music starts at the beginning, and then the first half an hour of the film is a complete garbled mess if you don't know what happened before. And most people don't.
So there we are, first half an hour is a waste of celluloid. You just spend it wondering when the good stuff is going to happen, because it's a choppily cut mess that doesn't flow well. And you know what - all it would have taken was one solid flashback. Five minutes recapping what would have happened in Superman Five and you could have given the film the emotional heart that it was missing. Because it tried to play with themes of heartbreak and loss, but it did it by looking at the impact of a return. Bloody difficult to do if the audience doesn't care about the characters yet...
But does the audience care? Can you use shorthand to get them to think they care? After all, he's Clark Kent, she's Lois Lane, blindest woman in christendom, they're meant to be together and so on and so forth and everybody knows that because it's now taught at pre-school. It isn't? My mistake.
As to the middle of the film - the action's good, the homages are fine and not over-intrusive, and the final confrontation is completely and utterly missing. Gone. I assume that on the day that they were going to write the climax the sun was shining so they went out to kick a ball around instead and then went for a jalapeno burger, wicked, man. And then went back in to the office and just wrote down the quickest resolution they could think of and figured that it had a really big special effect in it, so it had to be cool, and then went home to play video games.
The last five minutes of the film are a bit schmaltzy, but that's not really the problem with them. The problem with them is that they are stretched out over twenty minutes. It's like a slow torture wondering when and if the film is going to end, wondering if any of the test audiences mentioned this to the film-makers, or if they were thinking that maybe the last twenty minutes were going to explain the first half an hour. Don't worry. They don't.
So, would I recommend it? Depends. Turn off your brain. Don't expect it to make sense, but expect it to look fantastic and take a hanky for when they play the John Williams music. Sit in a seat behind a five year old, so you can get running commentary. And try to sit next to comic nerds who can discuss the relevance of the Eradicator and the Cyborg all the way through until you wonder if they've even been watching the movie at all. It's enjoyable and often stunning, but it won't win any awards for the script.
The other night we got in to an argument. We didn't mean to get in to an argument, but we were introduced to a friend of a friend and we - purely because of our nationality, pushed one of the prejudice buttons in his head. I wasn't really involved at first, but left on my own with him later on, I found my usual attempts to see both sides of any argument were hampered by this guy's emotional blinkers. It was late, I was drunk, and he wasn't important, so I told him I disagreed with him and left. I slept on it angry, and woke up angry.
And today, I watched Gentleman's Agreement. Thought it was amazing.
The basic premise is that a young Al from Quantum Leap asks his poppa, a journalist why people hate Jews. And so poppa goes undercover as a Jew to find out and write a sizzling exposé. In this day and age the journalist role would be played by Renée Zellwegger and it would be a laugh-a-minute romp. But what follows is a very human story. Gregory Peck plays the main character, but he's not the heart of the film, not in any sense. He suffers the prejudice, rails against it, and everything he says about it is right, but it's through the characters around him that we get some insight in to the practicalities of the operation of prejudice, the complicity, and the evil that arises when good men do nothing.
File off the serial numbers, and it is a film about any sort of prejudice going, and at its heart the message is probably that we're all prejudiced. We may not realise it. We may want not to be, and we may even be less prejudiced than other people. But it still doesn't make it right or good or fair.
It's six months since we joined a mail order DVD rental club. In that time, we've seen 35 movies, which works out at the princely sum of $1.37 a pop. Which is not bad going.
We've seen some utter rubbish. 21 Grams, for instance. It might work better in the cinema, but at home it was a malformed yawnfest that we gave up on. It's nice to feel that we can do that. We've seen The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Supremacy - movies that we weren't really bothered about going to see at the cinema, but we really enjoyed them in our own home in a "brain-off action thriller" kind of way. We've watched some local cinema - Cowboys and Angels springs to mind. We've watched films with subtitles - from Hero to Motorcycle Diaries.
Yesterday afternoon, we watched Bad Education. written and directed by Pedro Almodovar.
I've been a fan of his since I saw "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" back in 1988. I was a student, I lived round the corner from the local Arts Cinema, and I used to go there for late showings and fall asleep. I stayed awake through this one. Almodovar weaves spellbinding tales set in a world where confusion and fluidity of identity, gender, sexuality, cross-dressing and trans-sexuality form a background against which he can tell beautiful twisty stories. He loves Spain, he loves Madrid, and he shoots it beautifully.
Since "Breakdown", over the last fifteen or sixteen years, Almodovar has directed eight movies. Bad Education is one of his best.
More than that, though. It's one of the best movies I've seen. It's a layered story, of actors and trans-sexuals and priests, and mistaken identity, and it never veers too far in to slapstic, it never gets as heavy handed as it could do. It tells a layered, simple story with just the right amount of exposition and misdirection to keep the viewer completely entranced throughout.
If you haven't seen it, I thoroughly recommend it.
Especially good value: Five Almodovar Movies for Â£23.97 from Amazon.
Walk down the right back alley in Sin City and you can find anything, apparently. Here's a quick view of the good, the bad and the ugly.
The movie looks great. The texture is fantastic, the use of colour is great, the whole black and white thing is done in a way that makes fim noir look grey.
It feels like Raymond Chandler turned up two notches beyond the end of the dial.
Structurally, it works - the disjointed narrative gives it an episodic feel, but you're never left hanging, wanting to know what happens next.
It's possibly the most accurate adaptation of a comic you'll get, in terms of the visual look and the narrative style.
Elijah Wood is damn scary.
The dialogue's awful. It's a comic book adaptation, and the trick would have been to adapt the dialogue so it felt like stuff that people would say, rather than your basic stock "Kill him for me, kill him good" that I laughed out loud at.
The whole dirty feeling that you leave the cinema with, like you've just spent two hours lurking at the back of the mind of someone who has some serious issues.
Women are whores or lapdancers, or failing that they're lesbians who walk around in just a g-string. They're all beautiful and statuesque.
The men are either hard, scarred ruthless killers or pretty, psychopathic ruthless killers. It's hard to tell the bad guys from the good guys. You wouldn't want to go for dinner with any of them.
The horror is... gruesome. I have no real issue with gruesome but this is pretty bad. Where the most heroic character in the piece also happens to enjoy sadistic torture it's never going to be cheery and relentlessly upbeat, is it?
Somewhat cautiously, I enjoyed it. It's not for everyone, although the cinema was packed and largely quiet throughout. It looks great. Take a bucket.
There's an art to telling a good story. The trick is to plan in advance, start at the beginning, know where it's going at all times, and drive the narrative forward to an inexorable and plausible solution.
Cinema doesn't work like this. Scripts are revised and rehashed and rewritten. Plot consistency doesn't matter as much as it might in, say a novel or in oral tradition, because cinema is essentially ephemeral. It's about instant gratification, and the plot is, perhaps, secondary to the spectacle.
There are exceptions to this, obviously. There are some damn well crafted films out there. I've been slightly immersed in European and Asian cinema recently, and there are some cracking tales out there. The bulk of the output of Hollywood, however, is about Names and Spectacle. Plot's just used as a way to tie explosions together (or scenes where Julia Roberts falls over. Very funny.)
The worst case that leaps to mind is, of course, Star Wars.
"A New Hope" is fine in itself. But a year after it was released, Lucas decided to rename it and declare that it was Episode IV. Lo and behold we've now got an ongoing story where we've started in the middle.
Sometimes this can work. Memento works really well, and it starts at the end. 21 Grams doesn't work, because it's completely and utterly all over the place and there's nothing except a sense of confusion and alienation.
Does it work in Star Wars? Does it deserve to? It was certainly a masterpiece of lack of planning. The whole big twist at the end of Empire wasn't there until the fourth draft. It turned into the whole point of the story. Planning? What's that? I'm not going to mention the awkward Luke/Leia/Han triangle. Tempted though I am.
Is it any wonder that Lucas tampered with the films to try to make them hang together better? Add to that the fact that when he came to the prequel trilogy he had to make the films consistent with films made twenty years earlier. That restricted his freedom to plot, and left him in the awkward position of having Episode I based around a relationship between a ten year old boy and a twenty year old woman, and Episodes II and III based around a relationship between the same kid eleven years later and the same woman two years later.
And Lucas can't do characters. Guns, battles, sure. Midichlorians and seduction by the dark side, no worries. Jar Jar Binks - perfect. Building up and destroying a loving relationship and coaxing three dimensional portrayals out of Natalie Portman, Hayden Christiansen and Ewan MacGregor - useless.
It's therefore a testament to something that Revenge of the Sith is actually a pretty good film. The first half's marred by the acting, but they don't bother with any of that after the first hour or so and it improves dramatically as a result. The bulk of the loose ends are tied up in a kind of satisfying way. It feels like it's being set up for a sequel. When we saw it, we went home and watched that sequel immediately afterwards.
And I don't care who shoots first, it's definitely as good now as it was in 1977.
There are people out there who love Gwyneth Paltrow. I've not seen enough of her work to see why. With one notable exception ("Shakespeare in Love"), I've never actually found her acting to be anything other than wooden. The prime example of this was that pinnacle of modern comedy, "Sliding Doors", in which she played a woman who got on to a train, and got off it again. Twice. She then had two unsympathetic lives, and something happened at the end and it all worked out happily but by then I didn't care. Perhaps my problem with the film was the huge argument I was in the middle of at the time, but perhaps it was Paltrow. Dunno.
Jude Law is incredibly popular. I'm not certain why. He's got some classic good looks, and a charming accent. In Gattaca he played someone pretty unemotional. In AI he played a robot. In eXistenZ he played someone in a Cronenberg movie. Again, he's someone whose name is a great box office draw, but who somehow just misses star quality as far as I'm concerned.
So why did I go to see a movie starring Paltrow and Law? Was it the promise of the almost tangible chemistry between the two? Or was it the hint in the trailer that there might be giant art deco robots walking through the streets of New York?
You can't really go far wrong with giant art deco robots, can you?
In some ways, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is a beautiful film. The design is flawless, the "look and feel" is consistent, and the animation is pretty much seamless. The plot is meaningless, just a series of scenes thrown together in no real order. The design is the star - there are some fantastic Heath-Robinson-esque moments. But two things really disappointed me.
Firstly, there was a lack of a feeling of scale. Everything was huge, but nothing felt huge. If you're going to use CGI for everything, it should look more impressive rather than less impressive.
Secondly, the film had absolutely no heart at all. The core of it should have been the bickering love/hate relationship between the two leads, and the awkward triangle introduced by Angelina Jolie's character. There was more sexual tension between Giovanni Ribisi's character and - well, everyone - than there was between Law, Paltrow and Jolie, who played their scenes with an thinly veiled undercurrent of complete indifference. The absence of tension was tangible, so much so that you could almost expect them to say "oh bugger this" and wander off at any moment. It was almost disappointing when they didn't.
It's a sad day indeed when I can point to Hayden Christiansen and Natalie Portman and say "your relationship is no longer the least convinving one in science fiction".
Still, the giant art deco robots were fab.
I was feeling tight in the shoulders and neck, so I called down and had a Shiatsu massage in my room... and the tightness has completely disappeared, and then replaced by unbelievable pain.
Large parts of Lost In Translation are a journey through my life.
The premise of the film is simple. Two people meet in Tokyo. They're both American, both basically trapped in Tokyo, they're jet lagged, they're disillusioned, and neither is having a particularly good time with their relationship.
The hotel they're staying in is the fantastic Park Hyatt, where Mr Twinky and I enjoyed a memorable dinner - it's thoroughly recommended. The bar they drink in is a bar where we drank a lot of whisky, after this very memorable dinner. As usual, though, I digress.
However, what drew me to the film most was the familiarity of the setting - being stuck in a hotel in a foreign country. I've spent a lot of my life in exactly that situation, and Sofia Coppola managed to capture the strangeness of hotel life perfectly - the odd balance between living in comfort and living in somewhere that is completely and utterly alien.
I've said before that I believe as a book the Lord Of The Rings is pants.
I'm not going to go into that again, as it's always contentious. I'm just going to say that I loved "The Return of the King".
I still have gripes, though. And for the most part, they're gripes that are inherent in the source material.
Legolas and Gimli. They serve no purpose at all. No narrative purpose. Gimli has a moment of relevance in the first film, but after that, he could have been dropped by Tolkein without any real impact at all on the plot. By introducing a friendly rivalry between Legolas and Gimli in The Two Towers and The Return of the King, they at least provide some comic relief. But they don't add anything.
The ending. In the book, the ending made sense. In the film, the ending only made sense if you had read the book. I had read the book, so the ending made sense to me, but I'd be hard pushed to explain why the ending made sense.
No Christopher Lee.
Minas Tirith and Minas Morgul looked fantastic.
Shelob. Best scary spider ever.
Andy Serkis as young Gollum.
Most of the liberties taken with the plot only enhanced it.
Beautifully paced battle scenes that kept character moving throughout.
They didn't have a final confrontation between Gandalf and Sauron, where they sit on a beach playing chess and discussing the fate of halfwits.
Much better than the first two movies. In about five years, I'll be in the right frame of mind to watch the extended version of all three back to back. And they'll be cheaper to buy by then.
You might barely believe it from the scathing comments I've made about The Lord of the Rings, but I'm looking forward to seeing the next one in just over a fortnight.
This is largely due to the pomp and ceremony associated with our regular trip. We go in a group - myself, Mr Twinky and the mysterious Z, and we always go to the same cinema.
This cinema teems with memories, for me. It's the cinema where I queued around the block to see Star Wars. It's the cinema where I saw The Spy Who Loved Me, twice. It's the cinema where I got very very drunk in the bar, and was barred from. It's the Odeon in Clerk Street in Edinburgh, and it closed down in September.
I toyed with going to the Odeon in Lothian Road, formerly the magnificent ABC, where I saw Star Trek: The Motion Picture and its five sequels, back to back, one particularly wet afternoon. But that is apparently a shadow of its former self, unfortunately. So we're going to the Warner Village.
It's not the same.
Watched 'Ring' this weekend. The original Japanese version, complete with the wooden acting and the creepy kid. A very mixed bag - good in some ways, less good in others, and probably undeserving of the plaudits heaped upon it.
So let's start with the disappointing bits.
It wasn't a horror movie. Now I realise that I'm saying this from a cultural background where horror movies involve running away from masked supernatural villains, as the blood drips down the walls. None of that from this movie. Nothing horrific at all. Nothing to give you nightmares.
The acting wasn't great, especially from the main protagonist, who I spent most of the film wanting to slap. Or wanting someone to slap her. But nobody did.
The script was a bit piecemeal, with characters being introduced first, and explained later. An example of this would be pretty much everything to do with the protagonist's ex-husband. He arrived, he acted like an ex-husband, but for all we knew he could have been her therapist.
On to the good. What is it if it's not horror? It's a supernatural suspense thriller, and a damn good one at that. There is a genuine feeling throughout that anything could happen, and when it does, it doesn't disappoint. The back story is woven in to the main story effectively, so that it feels like it makes sense (even though it is all clearly nonsense), and apart from a few lines here and there, it's pretty consistent.
The cinematography is great. There is a consistent feel throughout, that reminded me of 1970s thrillers.
Not what I was expecting, but I enjoyed it all the more for that.
Right you asshole, I've got your daughter here, and I'm gonna send her back in pieces if... OH! I'm sorry, madam. No, I haven't got your daughter here, I've got someone else's. No, we're not married. Yes, I've read the same thing, it's very hard to find suitable young men these days. Well, I'm sure your daughter's very nice, in principle I've got no objection to meeting her...
I wanted to like this movie this time around.
A Life Less Ordinary was Danny Boyle's third mainstream movie, following the grimly humorous Shallow Grave and the excellent Trainspotting. And did it work? Not at all.
But, I thought, that might just be the weight of expectation. After all, it's never going to be easy to follow those two films. So watching it again, I tried to judge it as a movie in its own right, not as the third film from Danny Boyle. And it didn't come out well.
Now, some parts I liked a lot. I liked the idea, I liked the direction, I liked Holly Hunter, which is quite impressive. However, a lot of the plot seemed confused, particularly towards the end. And the plasticene scene, although amusing, added nothing. The soundtrack was good, and in some scenes, Ewan McGregor's acting was less wooden than it can seem sometimes. A curate's egg. Good in some places, bad in many.
Oh sod that, I enjoyed the beginning but it went radically downhill, and I was left wondering why I bothered.
If you're going to break a narrative in to sections, it is important to do it properly.
In particular, if you're doing it in a movie, the trick is to make each film stand alone to an extent. Sure, you can build on the events of a previous movie, but in terms of dramatic structure, each must have its own beginning, middle and end.
I've written ad nauseam about why The Lord of the Rings fails as a narrative partwork. It's much more pleasant to be able to state that where Rings fails, Kill Bill exceeds admirably.
It's not a film that's heavy on plot, true, but it's rich in character and event. It's not a film that gives a lot of explanations, but it builds to a climax, and leaves you needing more. It's not a film that is deep in any sense of the word, but it is a film with quiet beauty in the midst of some of the most hilarious and harrowing graphic violence I have ever seen. It is decidedly Tarantino in its idea, its backstory, its execution.
It's either the cheesiest movie ever or the most radical redefinition of clichï¿½ chic. It parades its influences in front of the viewer, undermining them and worshipping them in equal measure. It's a roller coaster, alternating between high, uneasy pauses and radical rapid action.
And crucially, as part one of a two part film, it works. It really works well.
Blah blah blah.
Blah blah canals, 1950s, blah, fishing a body out of the water, blah, taking his shirt off and getting scrubbed down, blah, oh look he's having sex, blah, sex again. Blah blah oops I'm dozing off a bit here, god this sex is boring. Look, there's the plot. Damn, I missed it.
Actually, that's a bit mean. The cinema was really nice, following the first phase of its refurbishment. It's starting to look more like a UGC and less like a Virgin cinema that was abandoned by Virgin before they'd finished decorating it. Comfy seats. Nice big screen. Annoying chinese man who stuck his fingers up at us for no good reason, lots of Taiwanese people. Fairly typical Saturday afternoon cinema.
The film itself - incredibly existential to the extent of bordering on extreme dullness. Lots of sex, but not in a good way. McGregor in a role that suited his talents. Swinton as excellent as ever. But not a film to go and see expecting to come out of it all cheery and optimistic.
I didn't watch him on Parkinson. Not much point in interviewing actors, unless they're also capable of writing their own scripts. As they're going along.
There's this guy, Colin Farrell, and he's got a thing about woks. And while that's nice, meanwhile you've got Cillian Murphy and his mate, and they've got a penchant for Brown Sauce in their tea. Meanwhile, Cillian Murphy's ex girlfriend (Kelly MacDonald) has been seen out and about with a bald bank manager, and her sister (Shirley Henderson) has had bad experiences with men, and feels that life has shat on her. And then you've got Colm Meaney, the fat Irish plumber from Star Trek, only here he's a cop into the hard gritty music of Clannad, and there's an up and coming film producer and there's the bank manager's wife. And the bus driver.
And I haven't laughed so much at a film in ages. Intermission.
Donald Kaufman: I'm putting in a chase sequence. So the killer flees on horseback with the girl, the cop's after them on a motorcycle and it's like a battle between motors and horses, like technology vs. horse.
Charlie Kaufman: And they're still all one person, right?
This isn't going to be a standard review. I'm not going to start at the beginning, unless I start at the beginning of time, and run all the way through time building up the cultural context in which I saw this movie. And I'm not going to end with a pithy summary. I'm not going to fall in to convention in this review. I'm just going to let it happen.
I saw Adaptation late on a Saturday afternoon. It hadn't rained, there was the promise of Marks and Spencer Lamb and Mint sausages for tea. Out of the eight main channels, five were showing sport. The three of us - me, Mr Twinky, and my imaginary identical twin brother Keith were just hanging out, and the idea of watching this movie was suggested.
As we watched, I tried to take notes. Was it a clever exercise in wordplay, mixing the concept of adapting a novel into a screenplay with the idea of personal evolution. Was it a clever piece of self-referentiality, not seen since the hugely succesful metaphor in South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut?. Or was it a pile of unmitigated tosh? Until I decided this, I had no way to start the review.
Keith, however, was scribbling away like mad. He was dissecting the relationship between Streep in this, and her award winning performance in Death Becomes Her, probably. All this while lying on the floor, and mocking me.
Apathy crept over me. I yawned at the sight of John Malkovich and Christine Keener turning up to "reprise" their characters from Being John Malkovich, and I looked in vain for something as imaginative as any scene in that earlier movie.
The nearest would actually be the casting of Cage. Nic Cage was actually watchable. Cast as an unattractive socially inept lump rather than the dashing action hero, Cage was - for once - remotely believable. All to the good.
And towards the end, the movie - finally - adapts. Writers become action figures. Flowers become more sinister. Everything changes. And does it work? I don't think so.
But the orchids were pretty.
This weekend's entertainment:
Divorcing Jack. Apparently the best British Movie since Trainspotting. Except it isn't. A pretty faithful adaptation of the book, but not in the same league. Even the presence of Rachel Griffiths as a nun with a gun can't really lift this film, which is a bit of a shame.
Broken Hearts Club. Well, I laughed here and there, and I kind of could see where it was trying to go. Charming, in its way.
Logan's Run. Cult classic that gets completely lost about half way through, and then introduces Peter Ustinov. At which point sensible people fall asleep. Worth it just to know that in 300 years we'll all be wearing very tight jump suits.
Cecil B. Demented. Scarily, the first John Waters movie I've seen. Challenging, fun, loses its way in the middle, and ultimately culminates with Melanie Griffith setting her hair on fire. What's not to like?
Here are my top five book and movie spoilers of the moment. Don't read them if you don't want to know what happens.
I feel better now. Do you?
Moment of excitement.
There's a movie about New York Lawyers filming in Dublin. Laws of Attraction, I believe, or something of that ilk. Starring Pierce Brosnan and Julianne Moore.
Now Julianne Moore is one of my favourite actresses. She's been in some classy films, like Evolution and Nine Months, as well as light frothy comedies like Magnolia, Hannibal and The Hours. So when I get a phone call asking if a location scout can come round and look at our flat... my mind races.
I can picture it now. Julianne Moore perching on the corner of our sofa. Drinking coffee made in our kettle. Using our loo. Much better than the last film crew we had, much more glam. I mean, we may have had a footballer's wife picking up toys and getting rid of forty known stains, but that's nothing like as glamorous as having Julianne Moore sipping coffee and growling malevolently at Pierce Brosnan. It's up there with the idea of having Colin Farrell stepping out of our shower. I might not be there to see it happen, but simply knowing that it did - hmmmmmmmm.
This is my right; it is the right of every human being. I choose not the suffocating anesthetic of the suburbs, but the violent jolt of the Capital, that is my choice. The meanest patient, yes, even the very lowest is allowed some say in the matter of her own prescription. Thereby she defines her humanity. I wish, for your sake, Leonard, I could be happy in this quietness.
But if it is a choice between Richmond and death, I choose death.
The Hours is one of those films that blows out of the water all my theories about why films are made, about the balance between commericalism and art. This is a quiet, powerful film that I had no real expectations of. But it's extraordinary.
I expected three tales of three women. I expected three distinct chapters. I was surprised. Instead, we have the seamless interweaving of the three tales, their themes and characters interacting in ways that are both natural and unexpected.
Many of the conventions of contemporary film-making are thrown out of the window completely. There is no condescension to the viewer. No overt statement of themes. No foreshadowing - so that when the shock revelations occur, they're either a shock, or something that you have only realised was possible a few seconds earlier.
It's also got some of the best make-up design I've ever seen.
Add to that some particularly good performances from some well chosen actors. This is only Daldry's second full length movie. Remember that.
I'm still in shock after this film. I'm sure that after a few months, I'll be enthusing less. In the mean time, it's restored my urge to watch movies...
There are no answers, only choices.
As promised, here's my view of Solaris.
This film was sparse, beautiful, exquisite, painful, simple, dream-like, innocent, mature, and complex.
It's incredibly hard to categorise, though. It's more of a ghost story than anything else, but it's not really that. It's a film that is about things. Mainly, about loss and about memory.
The storyline is simple. A mysterious transmission from a space station sends George Clooney in to space, where he meets up with a grand total of two characters, plus someone or something that may or may not be the ghost of his ex-wife, Natascha McElhone. So far, so good.
Then, through a series of flashbacks, we discover the history of the relationship between George Clooney and Natascha McElhone, and how it ended. And we learn something of the nature of the new Natascha McElhone, and this leads inevitably to a conclusion.
But the film is very hard to categorise. Part ghost story, part love story, part space opera, part tear-jerker. Incredibly sad.
It's challenging in that it is pretty much a film without a hero, and that it asks questions and doesn't even attempt to present answers. It's a film with an ambiguous but probably happy ending. It's exquisitely shot throughout.
It's been accused of being a slow film, one with a lot of padding. I'd disagree with that. I reckon the script is tight, with little if anything that distracts from the plot. There is a dream-like feel to the movie, which is entirely appropriate for such a small character driven piece.
And the leads act their socks off, the cinematography is excellent, and the direction is exquisite. Solaris reminds me of everything I love about Soderburgh, Clooney, and especially McElhone, and I'd recommend it for something a bit cerebral, a little challenging, and thoroughly entertaining.
The more observant among you will have noticed that the caption on this picture is completely wrong. This is due to administrative error.
Meeting House Square is tucked away at the unfashionable end of Temple Bar, round the back of the Irish Film Centre. On Saturdays, they have a gourmet food market there, which is really nice, but usually packed so we've not been there for ages. There's a cinema screen on one wall of the square, and a stage on another. There's something magical about watching a film there on a summer night.
Oh...I'm sorry...was that like a secret pudding?
I expected so much better from this film.
PT Anderson wrote and directed the excellent Boogie Nights and sublime Magnolia. And now the dull Punch-Drunk Love. The film that sucked away ninety minutes of my life.
It's awful. Truly awful. There's no character in it that is either sympathetic or interesting, so that by the end you don't really care about anyone.
Acting-wise, Sandler was okay, Luis Guzman and Philip Seymour Hoffman are both in it. They're both underused. Emily Watson is trying to branch out into roles where she's only slightly odd. It's not really working for me, and I much preferred her in Hilary and Jackie, or in Breaking the Waves.
But I find it hard to blame her for my problems with this movie. It's really odd for me to have this sort of negative reaction to a movie at all. Usually I can find some good in it. So I'll try.
There are a few good moments.
I think I could turn and live with animals. They are so placid and self-contained. They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins. They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God. Not one of them kneels to another or to his own kind that lived thousands of years ago. Not one of them is respectable or unhappy, all over the earth.
We watched The Wicker Man on Sunday evening, for the first time. Excellent.
Written by Anthony Shaffer, the movie tells the story of a Scottish policeman who travels to a remote private island to investigate a missing girl. What he finds there challenges his deeply held Christian beliefs, and eventually leads him to a shocking revelation and the highly memorable conclusion of the film.
It's been hailed as one of the classics of 1970s British horror, but it's not really a horror movie, which is perhaps part of why the studio chopped it up and didn't distribute it properly. It's much more of a thriller - psychological and psychosexual. It's well written and directed, and is every bit the exceptional film that Christopher Lee believed it to be as he was making it.
Due to my brief foray into the lore of the anglo saxon, norse and celtic worlds, I was aware of the nature of a wicker man before I saw this film. Although the cover of the DVD kind of gives it away too.
Apparently, the Lord of the Rings is to be made into a high budget series of movies.
This is an interesting idea, and clearly flawed for a number of reasons.
I reckon they'll get the look pretty much spot on. After all, they can do so much with CGI and pretty pictures of New Zealand. I reckon that they'll probably cast it very well, particularly if they can get Elijah Wood as Frodo and Christopher Lee as Saruman.
But unless they do some fairly major re-writes to the script, the whole thing will be an incoherent mess.
Don't get me wrong, I love the book. But it's a single book. Structure-wise it's incredibly flawed, the climax is rushed, the middle is confused, and the beginning is painfully twee. The second film would either have to be in two parts, or a cunning juggling of narratives that would need care not to lose the impetus of anything.
The three books don't stand alone. The films will probably be much the same.
And if they make them really long, about three hours each, then I'm sure that people will get bored.
But the sad thing is that people will love them regardless.
I was born too late to be a yuppy, to early to be generation X, or a member of the Chemical Generation. So I watched Human Traffic with a strange disassociation. These were people I recognised but didn't recognise. The nearest to a moment of true recognition was an aerial shot of Cardiff castle. I recognised that.
Human Traffic is about five friends over the space of a single evening. It's about the lives that they lead, and the drugs that they take to escape from those lives. The characters are sympathetic, appealling even, and there's no attempt to staple a moral on to the film - these characters go out and live life as it is lived, and there is no attempt to make a judgement against them. Such, says the movie implicitly, is life.
At times, the movie is hilarious. It's almost always interesting to watch. And if it has a message at all, it's that life is a bit dull, and that sometimes you want to escape from it.
No matter what generation you 'belong' to.
Last night, we went for the usual Tuesday night trip to the cinema. Our opus of choice was Sean Biggerstaff's new movie "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets".
While I'm tempted to focus on Sean and moan about the padding (ie all the scenes that he wasn't in), that would be very shallow of me. And also, it would be very unfair.
On the whole, the movie was superior to its predecessor. The effects were more realistic, the acting improved. As in the book, it benefitted from needing to spend less time setting up the rules of engagement, and could rattle straight into the plot.
The three leads were good, Richard Griffiths, Fiona Shaw, Julie Walters and Kenneth Branagh were excellent, Dame Maggie Smith was on fine form, although probably cursing ever having played Miss Jean Brodie. Biggerstaff, sadly, was less impressive than I remember him being in the first film. Still, the memory cheats. Always has done, always will do.
So last night I saw Donnie Darko.
I'd read the hype in the press. I'd seen the reviews on the interhighweb. I had heard that it was worth seeing just for Patrick Swayze if nothing else.
There's a lot going for this film. Performances are uniformly strong, and there are some great images. The use of speed is generally good, and there are some beautifully surreal moments. I laughed a lot.
Nonetheless, I left the cinema wondering why it was hailed as great on the interhighweb. I left the cinema with a faint feeling of wondering why I bothered going in in the first place.
Why is this film worth seeing?
The Magdalene Sisters.
It's an inflammatory movie, sure. It's got the Catholic Church in a frenzy, and there was talk of banning it, but it never happened. It's almost a story of good and evil, almost a story that casts the church in a demonic role.
However, that misses a couple of things. Firstly, it misses the fact that the picture painted isn't black and white. There are shades of grey in there - they're subtle but they're there.
The main point missed is that the quality of the film is very, very good. Good performances all around, especially from Geralidine McEwan, who is this week's tip for going on to do great things. Fantastic look and feel to the film, and - and this was the shocker for me - it's funny. It's gut-wrenchingly horrific in places, but it's definitely worth seeing.
A quick review of 28 Days Later - unlike Dave, we rated this movie. It may not be the most original movie ever, and it may well have descended in to misogyny in one or two places, but we thought that the Digital Video worked well, and that it was a return to form.
As for originality, it's not original. Not at all. But it's not something that has been done recently. If you're a thirty-something (or more), it will hark back to Day of the Triffids, Chimera, or Survivors. It does so quite consciously. And rather well.
In 1986, the movie to love was 37.2 Le Matin, known in the English speaking world as Betty Blue for no clearly obvious reason. Mr Twinky and I watched it at the weekend, after the shelf building, but before setting fire to all and sundry. For Mr Twinky it was the first time, for me it was the umpteenth, but the first time with the extended edition.
I was suprised at how well I remembered the film. I was surprised at how unexceptional I found it. Looking back, I remember it being ground breaking. I guess that now that ground has been broken, and well and truly trodden. It, like Betty, is no longer virginal.
One of the ground-breakers was the opening scene - a scene affectionately known as 'Betty Bonk'. It features carnal intercourse between the two major characters in the film, and was allegedly performed without the use of stunt doubles, safety nets, or any other form of protection. It's not erotic, it's not titillating at all, and it's not particularly voyeuristic. It's just there. That sets the scene for the rest of the film. Betty and her boyfriend, the mysteriously named Zorg are often seen wandering around naked - mainly at times when they would be wandering around naked if this was real life, and not an unreal film.
Betty and her boyfriend, the mysteriously named Zorg, then paint some shacks. 'Betty Blue and Pink'. This is nice. Zorg falls asleep and Betty kisses him in an intimate way. Again, no safety net, and an odd thing to see in a film. Shortly after this, Betty decides to set fire to things. Betty Burn. And they run off to Paris.
In Paris, Betty becomes a typist - Betty Book - typing up Zorg's novel, and they live a Betty Bohemian lifestyle. Then the action moved six hundred miles away to a piano store in a small town. Betty decides that she's pregnant - Betty Baby - and when it turns out that she's not, she goes seriously off the rails, eventually descending into being Betty Binkybonk shortly before the end of the film.
After sixteen years, this may not be groundbreaking any more. But it's still entertaining, although there are some moments where disbelief has to be suspended. And the look of the film hasn't dated at all. Still enjoyable.
The casting for the Magic Roundabout movie has been announced. And it's not live action, it's animated - which is nice.
Others may eulogise about the casting of Robbie Williams, as Dougal or Kylie Minogue as Florence, some may say that Joanna Lumley is entirely wrong as Ermintrude, the spacey cow.
However, for me, the casting of Tom Baker as the villain of the piece is classic. And even more inspired is the name of his character. After all, the name of the baddie should always be ZeeBadee
From the ridiculous to the sublime. It seems that Jude Law is no longer associated with Superman, and that Josh Hartnett may be up for the role instead.
People are obviously taking this casting very seriously. After all, the role of Superman had Nicolas Cage's name attached to it for years, despite all of the wailing that I did on the subject - mainly privately, I admit. Nonetheless, it came across as one of the most woeful pieces of miscasting ever, and I wailed and gnashed teeth despite the fact that I have no proof of the casting, no idea how Cage would have played it, and basically no idea at all about anything to do with this.
I understand that many of my contemporaries would like to see Patrick Warburton in tights and boots.
There's this Spike Lee movie.
I say that like I'm familiar with the man's work. I'm not. I've seen half a movie, once. I was lying on a bed in South Vietnam, watching the endless rotation of the fan above me, and sweating profusely, fevered and unable to sleep. Below me in the streets, slim pretty women sped by, sidesaddle on mopeds. Spike Lee movie, late at night on some forsaken movie channel.
"Do The Right Thing". The action takes place over the course of a single day. And, as the haze of the heat ripples across the screen, temperatures and tempers rise.
This is all blurred through warm memories. I wasn't drunk, I remember that. But my stomach ached. I thought that I might die, but at the same time, I couldn't face that idea, so I decided that this was just a phase, and it would pass. Outside, a siren wailed.
Heat, oppressive and clammy, weighs down upon us, freezes us into immobility. Tensions build, everyone wanting that explosion to happen, something to validate them, to free them from the heat-induced lethargy. There is a need for release, for relief. For something.
This film has been in development hell for what seems like an age. It's the clash of two great American icons.
Superman, the man of Steel, is a man of action, a man who although he is not American fights the great American fight. Batman is almost his opposite, a dark knight, a man with no super powers, a detective. Night and day, one might say. Indeed, it's been played that way in a number of comics where the duo appear together. Theirs is a typical Grudging Mutual Respect story.
Transferring this to celuloid might be seen as a no-brainer, given the box-office attraction. But, who should be cast? Obviously, not Americans.
The current rumour is that Englishman Jude Law will be the square-jawed Superman, while Dublin boy Colin Farrell will play Batman.
Scooby Doo is a bit of a laugh, really.
It's incredibly hard to make a live action movie out of a cartoon. After all, why would anyone want to do it? Take a twenty minute piece of throw-away television, rip the heart out of it and try to make it into a huge money spinner? It's a dangerous game. People have fond memories of the original series' of Scooby Doo, and trying to drag them into a live action version is playing with a sacred cow. Or something like that. Regardless, those people who thought that Scooby Doo ought to be a live action movie prevailed, and now we have the CGI-heavy story of four perpetual teenagers and their dog.
Where the movie succeeds, it does so superbly. There's a cameo featuring a flashback to the bad old Scrappy Doo days that cheerfully recognises the special place that the little pup had in the hearts of fans. The action scenes were suitably cartoon-y, and Scooby Doo was - well, by the end of the film he was Scooby Doo. And you can't say much fairer than that.
Those looking for depth and a re-examination of the phenomenon will be disappointed; those looking for clean mindless fun will probably enjoy it.
Dense. I think that I can say that without fear of ruining the film for anyone. Whereas the plot of the other four films has been straightforward and linear, easy to follow, episode II needs charts and slide rules. I want to see it again, just to get my head round it.
It was a total immersion movie. I felt like I had been in the cinema for five or six hours, and I could have watched more. Very different from the Phantom Menace that way.
There were far too many high points to mention, including the severing of various body parts (damn good things these light sabres - sever and cauterise at the same time, so there's never any blood).
I loved it, although I didn't think it merited the applause it received. It did restore some balance to the force.
My nephew will be of roughly the right age that the first time he sees a Star Wars film, they'll all be available. This puts him in an interesting, and almost unique position to be the subject of a psychological experiment. After all, he'll be able to watch the first three without knowing that the tow-headed little boy will become the scourge of the universe. He won't necessarily connect Palpatine and Darth Sidious, will he? And when he gets to the end of Empire, he won't have to wonder whether or not Vader is Luke's father - he'll know.
Those of us who were old enough to see the first motion pictures when they first appeared now bring so much baggage to them that we can't watch movies like Attack of the Clones without wondering about these niggly little things - like how come C-3PO has no recollection of Tatooine when he gets there in A New Hope...
Gregg on George Lucas' destruction of the medium of cinema
On It's functionally dead as a medium, and has been for around twenty years. 'Star Wars' genuinely does seem to be the point where Hollywood went from creating films to mass producing films. Maybe it's wrong to blame Lucas. He didn't do it single-handedly, and probably had no idea what he was unleashing. Of course, it's the greedy studio execs who are really to blame. But I don't know their names. If someone has a... list...
Maybe it's fairer to say that Lucas' success destroyed cinema as a medium. He made it fashionable for directors to be blatant about how low an opinion they have of their audience. He showed that it was possible to make vast sums of money from the sort of thing that used to be filler material for Saturday morning kid's entertainment. He showed how you could create a buzz, and a fortune, through clever marketing. He killed the epic, and created the blockbuster. And that's the key thing - a blockbuster (and blockbusters have been the driving force in cinema for the past two decades) is a lobotomised epic. And he can't write dialogue. And have you seen the amount of CGI in 'Attack of the Clones'? WTF is going on with CGI? It's more expensive, looks less realistic and less convincing, and it puts actors off. This is the second one I was talking about. 'Clones' will do more to advance the cause of the "synthespian" than anything else. Of course, the biggest problem is that I like the SW films. Like cocaine, I know they're evil, I know they're rotting my brain, but I just adore them. I was raised on them. The first two are great - as entertainment. It's not so much Lucas the man whose responsible, as Lucas the elemental force of nature, destroying cinema by simply being too successful. SW is fine for what it is, great as a sci-fi romp, a re-working of classic motifs and mythic tropes. But the way SW was made, became a blueprint for all films. The idea that you could make vast sums of money by dropping complexity, intellectual and emotional engagement, sophisticated development of plot and character, and both naturalism and stylistics, in favour of Big Explosions, simplistic plots, one-dimensional characters and more Big Explosions. As I say, the movement away from epic to blockbuster. The only way something insightful or intelligent gets made these days is if it's squirreled away, labelled "independent" (even if it isn't). The idea seems to be that a film of great visual scope can't be complex, can't operate on more than one level. Even 'Gladiator' failed to push the envelope - failed to claim the same sort of emotional and intellectual territory 'Ben Hur' managed decades ago. Sentimentality and adrenalin, that's all mainstream films engender now, and indie cinema is treated as a gauche, embarrassing side-bar for obsessives and weirdos.
And yet still I'm going to watch the new film, and derive vast amounts of guilty pleasure. And that would be fine, if real films were still getting made.
As for the nuclear thing, didn't Oppenheimer already accept the blame there?
Thank you. Have you seen any real films lately? And how does a film differ from a movie, or a motion picture? How would you classify Jarman's Blue? Or Anderson's Magnolia? Or Akira?
There's the dilemma. Is Star Wars so much of a 'must see' that I need to rush out immediately and immerse myself in it tonight - or, can I wait until the weekend. Should I wait until the weekend. Should I buy a ticket in advance, or at the door. And critically, why do I care? I've read the script. I know a large part of what has to happen because it's the second film in a series of six - and I've seen 4, 5 and 6. I don't know why I should care. Phantom Menace was a bit of a disappointment, after all.
But I do care. I hated Phantom Menace, but I own it on three different formats. I keep looking at Star Wars lego, hoping that it will be good. This is more than just a film, after all, it's a little slice of cinematic history.
Or is it? Actually, my main interest is how children of the future will see it. Daddy, why is the fourth film worse than the third? Daddy, what on Earth are Ewoks for....?
Because I can't think of anything clever to say, I'll let someone else be crude.
My cousin Walter jerked off in public once. True story. He was on this plane to New Mexico when all of the sudden the hydraulics went. The plane starts spinning around, going out of control, so he figures it's all over and whips it out and starts beating it right there. So all the other passengers take a cue from him and they start whipping it out and beating like mad! So all the passengers are beating off, plummeting to their certain doom, when all of the sudden, the hydraulics kick back in. The plane rights itself and they land safely and everyone puts their penises or, whatever, you know, away and deboard. No one mentions the phenomenon to anyone else.
From the arguably classic 1995 movie, Mallrats
You'd expect the winners of the Best Picture category at the Academy Awards to be the sort of movie that I'd like. After all, I'm a fan of quality cinema, I like to be challenged by it. Mind you, I also like Dougal and the Blue Cat. But you'd expect that the films that win would become instant classics. Wouldn't you?
So, let's run back the last 20 years, and see what I think.
I don't think there's actually any point to thinking about this, as I've got no real conclusion to draw from it.
The Lord Of The Rings is pants.
There, I've said it. It's not just pants, it's big pants. The most hideously over-rated book in the history of over-rating this sort of thing. And I used to love it.
So why is it so pants-y? Let's start with the plotting. It starts off quite well - slowly, but well. It moves along at a fair pace for a couple of dozen chapters, through a cycle of bad place - good place - bad place - good place, like a mystical travelogue. So far so good. That's "The Fellowship of the Ring" over. And then we get to "The Two Towers" and it all goes horribly wrong. The narrative gets fragmented and we're stuck with eleven chapters of the boring characters that we didn't really care much about in the first place. By the time we get back to the good guys, and the main plot, we've been faced with a whole load of characters that we're not really bothered about. And then we get back to the good stuff. "The Return of the King" is more of the same. Disjointed, and the King returning is really nothing to write home about. Then the main plot runs out and we're faced with an over-extended coda, where you know that the climax is past and all that remains is a descent into... well, sleep actually.
The writing. It's very patchy. It oscillates wildly between pseudo-medieval begatment and a style that's almost children's story or fairly tale. Some of the descriptions are woefully sparse, and every so often, just when you think you're getting into the stride of things, there will be a random song. A really, really bad random song. You read four lines and then skip forward three pages to the end, by which time Elbereth has Gilthonieled so much that you're sure that anyone listening to the Tolkien song would be gnawing off their legs, or listening to Leonard Nimoy on their walkman.
So why on earth do people like the thing? Why did I read it four times before the age of ten, with irritating regularity?
It's a curate's egg. The first two books are quite good, really - quite well focussed with a narrative thread that runs throughout. It's clear what's going on, and the chapters set in Moria and Lothlorien are inspired. Few of the characters in the fellowship are weak, with the obvious weakest link being Boromir.
I suspect that many people have not actually read Books three and five, so have no idea who Eomer, Eowyn, Faramir and characters of that ilk are. You can skip those books quite easily and just read the hero's journey plot, which is much more interesting and satisfying. And read chapter five of book three.
The book is frequently voted the best book of all time by "the public". It's never a critic's choice, and doesn't deserve to be. One suspects that people vote for it because it's the biggest book that they ever read, and because they blank out some of the bad bits and just focus on the good stuff. And there's plenty of good stuff in there.
Somewhere in the last couple of years, Disney snuck out The Emperor's New Groove. They were kind of embarrassed by it, because at one point in its history it was going to be a huge sweeping drama of Aztec times called Kingdom of the Sun. There were going to be hordes of Llama sweeping majestically across the Andes, or something. And instead we have a film about a spoiled prince that turns into a llama.
Doesn't sound too inspiring, does it? I've watched it twice in three days. Why? Because it is pure, unmitigated fun. From beginning to end, with only the briefest pause for a moral in there that isn't too heavily laid on. The cast of characters are engaging, Eartha Kitt is fantastic. It's best compared to the anarchic humour of some of Warner Brothers classics, which is saying something really. Hard to believe that this is the same company that brought us the preachy Hercules, or the slightly forgettable Tarzan.
This is my second attempt to write a brief review of East Is East. It was a hard one to write about, because it's a hard film to pin down. So, start with facts.
It's set in 1971, in a small town in England. The main characters are a Pakistani father who arrived in the forties, his English wife, and their six children who have grown up in England. The film touches on some very serious issues, most of which are as relevant today as they were in 1971. It's also very cleverly written and very funny.
The serious side is very broad - it covers issues relating to immigration, racism, family, domestic violence, tradition. While the heart of the film is the family conflict between the father and the children, it brings up my main concern on this topic. The children don't feel that they belong anywhere. Perhaps that's true of all twenty-somethings, but here it's heightened. This was a strong family, with real problems, and the film handled them so well that I was left wanting to know what happened next.
I have to start here with a disclaimer. I'd had two pints of Kilkenney, half a bottle of champagne, and a medium quality burger when I saw
The Man Who Wasn't There. Possibly not the ideal way to see it. But, nonetheless, I saw it. And I stayed awake for most of it.
With success, the Coen brothers are possibly getting more experimental in their work. Their earlier self-aware bizarreness is being supplanted to make room for stories like O Brother Where Art Thou, and this story - a much smaller story, but one that retains a core of slightly skewed logic. It's not crazy, it's not off-the-wall. At times, it's not even interesting. But it's a beautiful, beautiful movie.
The cinematography is excellent, and actively enhances the storytelling, giving a feel of the period by self-consciously emulating the media of the time. I'll watch it again, sober, and it'll probably improve dramatically.
There's a kind of purity to the escapism in The Mummy Returns that I adore. It's got unrelenting pace, a kid who's not too annoying, and Rachel Weisz proving that there's more to her than "demure". Possibly the pinnacle of a type of movie that includes the classic Sharon Stone flick King Solomon's Mine.
Or perhaps not. Widely panned for having no plot, and for spawning the acting career of "The Rock", this is a picture that divides communities along parallel lines. Father against son, mother against step-aunt. Not since the Phantom Menace witch hunts has there been a cinematic experience this divisive.
I'm officially closing the HIV testing topic for at least a month. I know that I behaved in a possibly self-indulgent way, but I know why I behaved that way, and I think that there are things that I can do to help other people avoid making the same mistakes that I did. But enough for now.
The important question now is do I fork out 60 quid for Red, White, and Blue on DVD. Them being three Polish films what I have never seen. Are they any good? Critically, given that they are good, what about them will make me stay rooted to the sofa throughout them rather than getting itchy feet and going to play "Alice" some more. Answers by comment or e-mail (spot the new link on the left, my children).
There are two ways to approach the making of a film. The first is to consider it primarily an act of creation, to produce stories which may be unsettling but are beautifully told. This approach values the medium of creation; it uses cinema as a canvas, if you will, on which to paint a story.
The second approach is to consider film making primarily as an act of commercialism, to produce stories that will grab the imagination of the audience, or to make films that will shock or intrigue. This approach values the coin of the customer; it uses cinema as a cashcow, if you will, from which to extract maximum profit.
There's nothing wrong with either approach, though. Both can produce fantastic cinema, both can be commercial. They're not completely exclusive. But you can tell by looking at them; sometimes cinema is product, and sometimes cinema is art.
There's something about European films that is forever frozen in the 1950s. This is a beautifully shot movie , set during the Spanish Civil War. It's not a happy story, but it has funny moments. It's not a great moral story. It's just a story about the way that people interact, and therein lies its charm.
And the acting, of course. Platoons of child actors who don't come across as childish at all.
I was watching this and I formed my new theory of 21st Century Cinema. There are two ways to approach the making of a film. The first is to consider it primarily an act of creation, to produce stories which may be unsettling but are beautifully told. This approach values the medium of creation; it uses cinema as a canvas, if you will, on which to paint a story.
The second approach is to consider film making primarily as an act of commercialism, to produce stories that will grab the imagination of the audience, or to make films that will shock or intrigue. This approach values the coin of the customer; it uses cinema as a cashcow, if you will, from which to extract maximum profit.
There's nothing wrong with either approach, though. Both can produce fantastic cinema, both can be commercial. They're not completely exclusive. But you can tell by looking at them; sometimes cinema is product, and sometimes cinema is art.
Brotherhood of the Wolf is a French film, it may be about werewolves, and it's been described as 'Merchant Ivory goes Kickboxing'. A mixed recommednation, to be sure. So, let's start with the good things about Le Pacte Des Loups. It looks great. It's got some stars in the cast. We managed to miss the beginning because they started the film before they opened the doors to the cinema.
On the other hand, it's really a hodge-podge of ideas, some of which work and some don't. There may be a coherent plot in there - in fact, I think that there is, but it's well hidden. Some stunning set pieces, though. Just a bit silly.
Ruth put her finger on it. I fall asleep during movies (which makes my commenting on 100 of them an odd conceit). I fall asleep during them in cinemas, I fall asleep when they're on television. I suspect that it's a combination of warmth, comfort and dark. I suspect it's related to my diet. I honestly have no real idea why.
But I've not fallen asleep during any recently. Since July, my cinema-going has consisted of:
All of these I stayed awake throughout, and all of them I enjoyed, with the exception of Doctor Doolittle II which I suspect we only went to because it seemed the most interesting thing to do in Adelaide.
nbsp; 5: Some Like it Hot the greatest comedy ever made
4: Pulp Fiction has a lot to answer for in the world of broken narrative
3: The Shawshank Redemption simply a great, understated, masterpiece
2: The Godfather (I & II) which just makes me want to see them more.
1: Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back but not Return of the Jedi or Phantom Menace
11: Psycho another classy piece of misdirection. Made in B&W to save the budget - that makes the film
10: Goodfellas (adds to list)
9: Schindler's List one of those films you're sure that you remember, because you don't want to see it again because you're still in shock from the first time
8: Blade Runner defines science fiction thereafter. Possibly defines post-modernism
7: It's a Wonderful Life falls into the 'classics I don't feel the urge to see' category
6: Gladiator not as good as it's cracked up to be, but hugely stylish
17: The Usual Suspects great misdirection
16: Casablanca you can tell a film's a classic when every line is a cliché
15: The Matrix a hard act to follow
14: One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest again, I must see this
13: Apocalypse Now harrowing
12: Jaws a special effect movie saved by the desire to keep the effects off-screen
22: Taxi Driver fantastic picture of detachment
21: E.T. The Extra Terrestrial one that I think I remember really well, but probably should see again
20: Raging Bull looks great; never seen it
19: Citizen Kane so far ahead of its time, it doesn't show.
18: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon an odd choice. China is actually like that, though
28: Kes I should watch this - in the right frame of mind
27: 2001: A Space Oddysey brilliant, but probably in this list becayse people think it ought to be
26: The Wizard of Oz had to be in this list
25: LA Confidential fantastically stylish, dark movie
24: Singin' In The Rain pure fun
23: Monty Python's Life of Brian oddly important
33: Trainspotting up there with Clockwork Orange (not in this list! Shocking)
32: Gone with the Wind one to be watched on a long Sunday afternoon, with lots of liquor
31: Fargo one of the most underrated comedies of our time
30: Lawrence of Arabia beautiful
29: Vertigo we caught some of this on holiday. It looked creepy, but we kind of missed the point.
36: Alien reminds me of the school lecture theatre, and Mrs B. Enough said.
35: The Graduate is one of those seminal movies where you can identify single frames, just by the positioning of the characters and the camera. I know what I mean.
34: The Full Monty Funny, but not as much of a classic as people think
40: Toy Story a classic - although not as good as the sequel
39: The Great Escape is this where I confess to not remembering if I've seen this or not?
38: Withnail and I is almost the definition of a cult film
37: Silence of the Lambs is everything that Hannibal is not. Genuinely scary, even when performed by French and Saunders.
49: The Exorcist; a classic thriller. Feeds on the audience beautifully.
48: Chinatown looks like one to add to my list.
47: Kind Hearts and Coronets; one of the earlierst movies to feature Alec Guinness playing 8 roles.
46: The Good The Bad and the Ugly has a man with no name and a classic soundtrack
45: Deliverance metaphoric.
44: Fitzcarraldo is about obsession. I'm completely unfamiliar with this.
43: The Sound of Music is now playing in Dublin. I could go along and sing along with those lovely Nazis.
42: Four Weddings and a Funeral Much loved. I thought Charlotte Coleman was great. Oh well.
41: The Third Man has a classic tune or two.
57: Rebel Without A Cause is one of those 'must-see' movies, that I've never seen because I worry that I'll be disappointed.
56: Dr Strangelove on the other hand, doesn't disappoint. The jokes are so good - but they shouldn't be.
55: Jean de Florette & Manon Des Sources is another odd coupling of movies. Sold the French countryside to generations of tourists.
54: Titanic; cheery comedy romp starring Kate Winslett, and one of the guys from "Queer as Folk"
53: The Jungle Book; one of the films where every single moment is famous, and has been seen on Disney shows a zillion times. And it's still too short.
52: Sunset Boulevard features the classic line: "I am big; it's the pictures that got small." Hollywood bites itself. I'm ready for my closeup.
51: The Italian Job is now a car advert. Oh dear.
50: Annie Hall I should see soon. Except Mr Twinky tells me we've missed it
66: Bonnie and Clyde was the Pulp Fiction of its day. Stylish.
65: Metropolis was one of the first Sci Fi films. It's a thin plot, with the moral that women are evil, and some great design.
64: Spartacus is another movie oozing with subtext. No trace of Jesus. By the way, I'm Spartacus
63: La Dolce Vita is the ultimate film portrayal of decadence, although Richard would probably disagree.
62: Blue Velvet is one of those films that you either hate, or dislike but grow to love. It's overwhelming, and a classic.
61: Secrets and Lies is great. Brenda Blethyn is fab as ever, and it's fantastically thought-provoking.
60: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is one of those westerns that tells you more about the time it was made than the time it was set. Easily identifiable, and beautifully shot.
59: A Matter of Life and Death is another film where even the name rings no bells. But it's got the classic depiction of heaven in it, and looks way ahead of its time.
58: Seven Samurai insipred so many copy cat movies, that there's no reason not to honour it in this list.
73: M*A*S*H; a movie I can't disassociate from the TV series. 72: Brief Encounter is one of Mr Twinky's favourite movies. I watched it with him. Lots of subtext.
71: Don't Look Now is a familiar name, but not a film I know at all.
70: The Seventh Seal is the classic 'chess vs death' movie. Not starring Dawn French.
69: The Searchers sounds like a sixties band.
68: Get Carter with Michael Caine, not Stallone. The Stallone version has Faye Wong on the soundrack, but despite that it's crap.
67: King Kong is still a classic love story between a man and his monkey
79: Goldfinger... ahhh, Jill Eaton, and Honor Blackman as Pussy Galore. Groundbreaking 78: Cabaret, which Mr Twinky made me watch. He knows all the words, and the gestures. Beautifully dark.
77: The Three Colours Trilogy are three films, not one. This is where I confess that I've seen none of them. None at all. I am a bad person.
76: The Producers inspired a Broadway musical that we couldn't get tickets for.
75: Top Hat's another classic musical, although Astaire would be unlikely to sing 'Springtime for Hitler'
74: The French Connection hasn't been on television for ages. Improvised scripts, but I picked my feet in Poughkeepsie. Seminal.
87: Ice Cold in Alex is the first film in this list that I can honestly say rings no bells. It's got product placement in it for Carlsberg that they then used in an ad in 1988. 86: A Bout de Souffle or 'Breathless'; looks fantastic.
85: Enter The Dragon is the classic Bruce Lee movie that people move half way across the world to try to emulate
84: The Adventures of Robin Hood; pure classic. Glorious colour, and pure escapism throughout
83: Saturday Night Fever's another one I've not seen, starring young Travolta; the movie knows its cliches, though
82: High Noon isn't about drugs. One of those films that stays with you long after it's finished.
81: The Gold Rush is Chaplin at his best. Not fashionable at the moment, he is.
80: Snow White a pure, unadulterated classic. Important in all the right ways.
94: Easy Rider Another one I must see. Probably why Dennis Hopper is important. Certainly a breakthrough for Jack Nicholson 93: Henry V Not a sequel. Olivier, I believe.
92: Way out West is Laurel and Hardy's funny movie. On the trail of the lonesome pine, you know.
91: Hard Day's Night ie the Beatles movie. Don't see the attraction, myself (except the young Paul McCartney.
90: The General is vintage Buster Keaton. Some beautiful images.
89: The African Queen is Bogart and Hepburn at their best. The film that gave us the line 'oh look, flamingoes' unless that was Doctor Zhivago. Not starring Kate Mulgrew.
88: Battleship Potemkin was banned in Britain until 1954, largely due to the fact that it was in black and white. Stunning.
100: Do The Right Thing Sultry hot summer and a perfect film 99: Saturday Night and Sunday Morning Albert Finney when he was cute
98: The Terminator in which Arnold speaks 74 words and kills 27 people
97: Bride of Frankenstien is the movie that gave the world a brand new hairstyle. Sad, emotional horror movie
96: Belle de Jour is possibly the most adult film about sex ever made, but I've not seen. Yet.
95: My Beautiful Laundrette is a great film that launched the career of Daniel Day Lewis and buried the career of the other guy who was in it Gordon Warnecke
I wanted to see Ghost World based on almost no advance publicity. I saw the poster in Los Angeles, back in July. There was something about the imagery of the poster, about the title, that made me think instantly that this would be the sort of quirky movie that I would enjoy. A closer look, and I discovered that it was a comic-book adaptation (patchy record) funded by Granada (good record) and starring Thora Birch and Steve Buscemi (both good).
The movie doesn't disappoint. It's a story of disaffectation, about a girl who gets out of high school thinking that she has all the answers. But she doesn't. She doesn't have any of the answers. She doesn't have a clue how the world works, how her friends think, how her family thinks. But she tries.
Therein is the beauty of the movie. I remembered what it was like to be a teenager again. A real teenager, and not a Beverley Hills 90210 Buffy the Vampire Slayer Roswell High teenager. And I came away learning nothing. Perfect.
I watched The Phantom Menace again this week. Despite the fact that clearly I fell asleep during the climactic battle - you know, the one with all the pauses while Ewan McGregor pretends to act pained as he's running down the magic corridor with the pointless forcefields - I now can't get some of the music out of my head. Most distressing.
I'm amused by the sensitivity that the movie industry is showing. Trying not to show movies featuring terrorism. The only reason that terrorists have become the bad guys in movies in the first place is that the public needs someone to rally against, and the Russians don't cut it any more. So you're left with big business or terrorists. Not much choice there, really.
I wonder how long it will be before the same people that are currently saying that they must be sensitive start saying that they must produce propaganda?
From the Financial Times
As a modern movie it is so postmodern - attitude-striking tableaux, stylised fight scenes, photography in a delirium of mock-handtinted colours - that a new term needs to be invented. Post-futurist? Pre-nostalgic? Preter-preposterous?
It's a bloody good movie.
When considering pornography as an image for discussion, placing it in the category of art by so doing, you really have to look at the whole film, rather than individual act or further subdivision. After all, how else can you convey the chopped, changed, broken narrative that is an essential part of the art of pornographic cinema? After all, it is a film that is uniquely designed to be watched in a particular way, and the structure of the drama must reflect that.
In LA, we were having our final coffee at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf that we used to go to on Sunset, and Mr Twinky bashed me on the arm and pointed at the short lady walking by. I thought nothing of it, beyond the fact that I'd seen her a couple of times before. Naturally, she was Linda Hunt, who came to public note as the Shadout Mapes. You know the one - the housekeeper.
No visit to Los Angeles is complete without a visit to a theme park, so last night we decided to go to Mann's Chinese Theater. Sadly, our plans were derailed by Jackie Chan, Hong Kong celebrity, and his crazy plans to hold a movie premiere, despite my best advice.
So we went on a roller coaster ride. Annette drove us half way across Hollywood, and we wound up at a multiplex in a mall, watching AI on a tiny screen. I'm sure that on the medium-sized screen wasn't the way Spielberg or Kubrick wanted me to see it, but it was a pleasure to watch nonetheless. The movie works on a number of levels. There's the wonderful superficial level - watching it for Haley Joel Osment's acting. The kid is electric, and a pleasure in every scene. You could expand your thoughts a little and consider the plot.
But moving away from that, AI is a movie steeped in movies. It's partly Spielberg, partly Spielberg-trying-to-do-Kubrick. That's interesting to watch. It also builds heavily on The Planet of the Apes and The Wizard of Oz, and spotting the moments of hommage is a challenge in itself. I loved the whole Rouge City sequence for that...
And today we went to Six Flags, and Mr Twinky made me go on all the rides, the swine.
I need to update the background for you. We're staying with friends in West Hollywood. Sandwiched between Sunset Boulevard and Santa Monica Boulevard, this LA suburb is predominantly populated by gay men, and our friends appear to be the only straight couple in their building. We're just south of Beverley Hills, home of "Rich and Famous" people. So, on Tuesday night Annette, Mr Twinky and I went out for drinks and dinner at a hotel. Food was good, we were surrounded by beautiful people talking in beautiful-people-ese, etc. There was a lady in a glass box behind reception, just sort of lying around and reading and being art. It was the sort of slightly surreal situation where you realise that you don't quite fit in, but that the only way to fit in would be to become totally artificial and sacrifice your personality on the great altar of the body beautiful.
Pause. Skip forward. Leaving. Walking down the steps, back on to Sunset Boulevard, I see a face I recognise. The reason that the face is fresh in my mind is because it's plastered all over LA. One of Mr Twinky's favourite actors. I try not to stare, just because I'm not sure it's him, and if it is, I don't want to stare anyway. Round the corner and I tell Mr Twinky that I think I've seen Breckin Meyer. Mr Twinky therefore goes back to check. I was kind of embarrassed, but kind of proud of the man's gall. Apparently there was a body guard there too, and Mr Meyer shied away from Mr Twinky's gaze, thereby proving that Mr Twinky was right.
One celebrity down, several thousand left to go...
I'm almost apologetic about the fact that I am not a Woody Allen fan. I can't quite place why it is, but it's a deep rooted urge not to like him. I think that part of it may be the fact that when I was first introduced to his oeuvre, I was a student, expecting something that was as much of a cult classic as "Love and Death" from each of his films, and the next one I saw was "Zelig" which left me disappointed.
Therefore, I went in to Small Time Crooks with low expectations. Excellent movie.
Billy Elliot was one of those films that came with a huge amount of baggage attached to it. Mainly the critical acclaim, which is always one of the things that puts me off movies. After all, something like The Full Monty is not an exceptional movie. It's just a film, plus a lot of hype. Billy Elliot is a far superior product.
From the theatrical direction, through to some of the ambiguities in the script, to the soundtrack, to the acting, this is a film that is very satisfying in many ways.
Thoroughly enjoyed Ronin. Part of that, I'm sure, is that De Niro has carved a niche for himself as the man of violence who has the weight of the world on his shoulders, who has experience, but has lost none of his sharpness. That and the fact that there are some fantastic action set-pieces, including a car chase that's incredibly well choreographed.
For the dads out there, Natascha McEhlrone is in it too. Hiding her talent behind a dodgy Irish accent, though. All in all, not a film for the squeamish. I had thought it wouldn't be a film for me, but I was proven wrong.
Vietnam. It's a place that has a very personal significance to me, and I wish I could explain why. It's one of the few places in this world that I care about and want to know more about. Fortunately, it's one of the parts of the world that Americans obsess about, and that brings me to Heaven and Earth.
It focuses on the Vietnamese side of events, focusing on one woman's life, and the events that conspire to drive her far from her home, far from her family. She becomes something very removed from her original, innocent self. The story covers some forty years of her life, and focuses on the moments of transition. Heavy with voiceover, it is nonetheless sumptuously directed, and some of the imagery is particularly striking and memorable.
Being on the other side of the world from the Oscars means that I can't watch them live, although they are being aired here. There's a repeat later. I'll watch that. In the mean time, I know that as each award is announced, the word will be spreading over the internet, and I could find out who won instantly. This year, I am trying not to do that. It's an exercise in patience. An exercise in extreme patience.
Of course, I am feigning complete disinterest in who wins. "Best Picture? Well, Von Trier wasn't even nominated, was he? No real interest in that one. Actress? Julia Roberts has proven that she could act her way out of a paper bag, but who would want to put her in one?" Nonetheless, I am fascinated.
All I'm saying is that somewhere out there is the man you are supposed to marry. And if you don't get him first, somebody else will, and you'll have to spend the rest of your life knowing that somebody else is married to your husband.
I was almost late for work this morning, due to a movie on HBO called "I Married a Monster". Obviously, even the name screams 'B-Movie' in this bizarre remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers twinned with The Stepford Wives twinned with something else that escapes me for the moment. But I was rivetted, indeed I was. I have no idea why.
Last night, we finally saw Dancer In The Dark. Extraordinary movie. Absolutely extraordinary. Great performances, and a resolution that satisfies both the need for a dramatic resolution that doesn't pander to Hollywood, and at the same time left me feeling incredibly positive.
I was surprised to discover that it doesn't follow Von Trier's rules of chastity, although it comes close. And Bjork is fantastic.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the longest thing I've written in weeks.