Film Community Potluck – THX 1138

October 30, 2010

 

This week’s Potluck movie film was nominated by Ripley from Four of Them.

I was really pleased to be paired up with this film as I’ve wanted to see it for a very long time and had been very intrigued as how George Lucas’ directorial debut measured up against his later, ever so slightly better known work. I knew absolutely nothing about it before going into it (other than who directed it) and that was probably for the best as I hadn’t set my expectations too high; good job too because I didn’t really take much from this movie.

THX 1138 tells the story of Robert Duvall (in the titular role) as a citizen of a dystopian society where the populace are enslaved and emotionally repressed through the use of narcotics and strict law enforcement. THX manages to get off the drugs and tries to escape the city he is forced to reside within only to encounter obstacles at every turn.

Synopsis out of the way, let’s talk about my experience with this movie. I really didn’t enjoy it much. Sorry. A lot of this film felt very awkward to me; it’s shot in a strange style and there are often minutes at a time without dialogue or much in the way of incident leading to it feeling like somewhat of a trying watch. On the occasions where there is dialogue, it is often delivered in a rough, often incomprehensible manner and whilst it’s good that the film doesn’t pander to the audience or seek to explain everything that is happening at any one moment in time, it doesn’t help when you get to the end of the movie and you’re not really sure what the instigation and action was that led to the film’s climax.

Another bugbear of mine was the music which often felt intrusive (although at some moments is quite elegant) and it really got me thinking about the importance of a good score. Having watched this movie and sometimes having whole scenes almost ruined by the score, it made me thankful that Lucas collaborated with John Williams for his later movies and not with Lalo Schifrin as in this case.

A lot of the other quibbles I had with the film could easily be explained away by the fact that this film is almost forty years old and I think I need to at least pay reference to the fact that considering the limitations of technology, effects and budget that the film no doubt faced, it actually stands up pretty well now visually; it’s just a shame that the actual narrative content and structure of the film isn’t as compelling.

There are stand out moments however that really do lift this film; in particular is the car chase towards the end of the movie between THX in a super-powered rocket car and two police androids in pursuit on motorbikes. The scene is very frenetically shot and looks great nearly forty years on. There is a caveat here however in that I don’t know if this is one of the touched up scenes for the director’s cut (more on this below) and as such basically could have looked crap to start with for all I know. Whatever the weather it was still a very welcome change of pace for what had been, at least up until that point in time, a very slow and almost plodding movie.

From a narrative perspective, I also really enjoyed the fact that THX was a cog in the dystopian machine and not the man to bring the system down. There is a slight tendency within this kind of film to elevate an individual to system crashing  extremes and I think that as soon as a dystopian story becomes more about the situation than the characters within it, it instantly loses a lot of its appeal; I want to see what it’s like to exist within this society – not follow the hero who changes the world. So well done for not doing that in this case. Applause all round.

One thing I wanted to get on my soapbox about before I wrap this up is that much like in Lucas’ unyielding control over the Star Wars franchise, the director’s cut of the movie which was released in 2004 (a full thirty three years after the film’s original release) is the only way you can see this film on DVD; as far as I can tell from limited information, the director’s cut added in around seven minutes of footage and also saw Lucas tinkering with computers and the edit to change the look and feel of whole scenes. It feels strange to me that the decision has been made to effectively erase the original version of the film from existence and unfortunately I’m not able to comment on the changes made because I have no way of comparing them to the original. It does seem to me though that a later cut of a movie (especially one more than thirty years later) should be offered as an alternative to the original version and not as a way to supersede it. Shame on you Lucas.

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Five stars* that I could watch read the dictionary…

October 28, 2010

We’ve all got them, those certain actors and actresses that force us to throw caution to the wind and watch a movie even if it has had nothing but bad press.

These performers will mostly likely have come to our attention in the first place because of a role in a fantastic movie, but no matter what missteps their subsequent career might take, what blips may pepper their otherwise flawless CV, we will be with them all the way, paying the ticket price and Supporting Our Star.

Of course some guys and gals in film land are yet to tarnish their records, whilst others have done so more than once.

Here then, are 5 talents whose name on a credit list is enough to wet my whistle.

In no particular order;

 

Total Babe!

 

EMMA THOMPSON

Emma Thompson has an unflinching ability to make a fool of herself because at heart she is a comedienne. However she is probably better known for her dramatic and elegant roles in the likes of Sense and Sensibility and Much Ado About Nothing than for her deceptive turns in Stranger Than Fiction or Primary Colors.

For me her best performances are where she is able to display both elements of these personae; as Nanny McPhee– the grouch and hag turned Poppins; as Prof Trelawny in Harry Potter- goofy and slapstick yet demoralised and destroyed; even Kate in Last Chance Harvey– all at sea amid the hustle and bustle until a gentle fool causes her to simply take a breath and relax.

FILM THAT WON ME OVER: LOVE ACTUALLY

FILM THAT I CAN FORGIVE: JUNIOR

 

Anyone fancy a holiday to Venice?

 

DONALD SUTHERLAND

I used to be afraid of Donald Sutherland. I remember seeing Don’t Look Now late one night and feeling like I could never read Little Red Riding Hood again.

Then my dad sat me down and made me watch Kelly’s Heroes and M*A*S*H; two films made practically back to back in which Sutherland plays almost identical character’s; carefree, hedonistic chauvinist types that care more about themselves than they do about ‘The Cause’.

Sutherland is on my list mostly because he seems to be eking out a career in those scene-stealing wise-words-from-the-old-guard roles that audiences will be familiar with. The parts played with relish by people like Elliot Gould, Martin Sheen, Michael Caine, Michael Gambon, even Max Von Sydow. Any of those men could be on this list right now, because they are the sorts that help to raise the gravitas of a film- and know how to have fun with an otherwise developmental character.

Sutherland pips all the rest to the post (wordplay) for one simple reason; he is Jack Bauer’s dad- ‘nuff said.

FILM THAT WON ME OVER: M*A*S*H

FILM THAT I CAN FORGIVE: SPACE COWBOYS/ VIRUS/ BEERFEST – To be fair he’s been in a lot of shit over the years!)

 

Friends with Spielberg... who isn't these days?

 

CHIWETEL EJIOFOR

A name that many may not be familiar with (or necessarily sure how to pronounce) but a face that lots will recognise, Ejiofor is a British actor that slapped me across the face with a knock out performance in a fantastic film (Serenity) and when I then looked into his past credits I realised I had seen him in loads of other awesome films.

Now making a name for himself in the U.S (although in admittedly similar roles each time- let’s hope he can move away from Sympathetic Agent/Bureaucrat Man sooner rather than later) Chiwetel Ejiofor is also an actor who has stayed close to his lower budget roots, and so for every Salt there is a Redbelt, for every Inside Man there is a Melinda and Melinda, and for every 2012 (eurgh!) there is a Children of Men. An acting force to be reckoned with; and apparently the next Denzel Washington (racist!).

FILM THAT WON ME OVER: SERENITY

FILM THAT I CAN FORGIVE: 2012

 

I would!

 

GEORGE CLOONEY

What is there to say about George that hasn’t been written a hundred times before?

The man simply oozes charisma and in my opinion is probably the closest thing Hollywood has these days to the old school cinematic icons of James Stewart and Cary Grant.  It’s hard to imagine him in any role that doesn’t involve him wearing a dinner suit with the top button undone, and the thing I love most about Clooney is that he doesn’t seem afraid to poke fun at himself.

In Three Kings and O Brother, Where Art Thou? Clooney showed a genuine knack for comedy timing and emotional subtlety that he has carried with him since in the likes of the Ocean’s Trilogy and Intolerable Cruelty– one of his most underrated performances if you ask me.

Susceptible to the odd misstep too (his cameos aren’t fantastic and The Men Who Stared At Goats was more crap than crazy) George Clooney at least manages to always have a smile on his face and looks like someone who is simply enjoying the ride.

FILM THAT WON ME OVER: THREE KINGS

FILM THAT I CAN FORGIVE: WELCOME TO COLLINWOOD (even I can’t forgive BATMAN & ROBIN)

 

Track down and watch this film

 

MATHIEU AMALRIC

I won’t lie to you; I haven’t seen that many films starring Mathieu Amalric. But those that I have seen have shown me an actor that is incredibly versatile and talented.

Amalric is probably best known to English speaking audiences for his performance as Dominic Greene in Quantum of Solace (one of those weasel-esque villains as opposed to the thuggish sort) but I first saw him in The Diving Bell and The Butterly, the true story of Jean-Do Bauby the Elle editor who was completely paralyzed after a stroke and could only communicate by blinking.

Amalric is magnetic in a role that requires practically no movement whatsoever, and since then I have been hooked, turning up to see him in safer European territory like A Christmas Tale, and more recently in a more supporting capacity as a policeman in Alain Resnais’ madcap Wild Grass.

Hardly likely to leave an impression on American cinema in the way that Gerard Depardieu has done, Mathieu Amalric is undoubtedly a brighter talent than that bumbling stereotype and hopefully will receive more recognition from the mainstream crowd in the future.

FILM THAT WON ME OVER: THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY

FILM THAT I CAN FORGIVE: I haven’t seen him in anything rubbish yet.

So there you have it. Hardly a comprehensive list (there are so many other actors and actresses vying for a position in my top 5) but perhaps simply a glimpse into the type of performers that leave me yearning for more.

Now it’s your turn; Who would end up in your top 5? Who wouldn’t? Let me know below. I’ll give you one of mine to get you started…Lisa Kudrow puts me off movies like mouldy bread puts me off sandwiches…

*Point of notice. All of the above performers should be considered to pale in significance to one Ben Affleck, a man I have nothing but love and admiration for, and who far and away I would cross treacherous waters just to get a glimpse of in a film. Mr A has done his fair share of monkey shine I know, but I feel he does so with such a charm and ease that it’s as if he himself knows it will lead him to derision. I particularly look out for any films in which he has a cameo as those are the ones in which he seems to have the most fun. And I’d certainly let him rummage in the back of my Volkswagen…if he ever asked!


Tag Team Review – A Town Called Panic

October 26, 2010

As always with the Tag Team Reviews, Chris M is in blue and Chris W is in green.

A Town Called Panic is easily one of the most fun things I have seen either in or out of the cinema all year. It’s a Belgian movie that tells the story of a Horse (Cheval), a Cowboy (Cowboy) and an Indian (Indien) who all live together in a house. Some stuff happens. Some really weird stuff. And it’s brilliant. If I was to tell you it was directed by Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar, you might not know who I was talking about, but if I were to tell you it’s from the guys who made the Cravendale Adverts, you’d be much better prepared for what you’re getting yourself into in seeing this movie.

This film very much feels to me like what would happen if you gave a small child a bunch of toys and just said “right go on then, play with them” and then recorded it. It’s the kind of creativity and humour that seems to eke out of us as we progress through life until we eventually lose it and end up just thinking fart jokes are funny (which they are).

The thing is, the comedy on offer here really wouldn’t work in any other format, whether that be animated or live action and for me it really really benefitted from being seen in its own language. I watched a couple of the shorts on youtube dubbed in English and… they’re just nowehere near as good.

It’s probably come and gone by now but when this comes out on DVD I implore you to get a bunch of people together to watch it, I guarantee you won’t have a clue what’s going on, but you’ll probably be laughing too much to care.

I can see how this might not be to everyone’s tastes so for those of you feeling less than inquisitive and not prepared to go into this with no idea what to expect, you can see one of the shorts here, it benefits if you have a little knowledge of French, but you should be able to follow it quite easily anyway.

For me though watching this movie filled me with joy. Pure unadulterated joy. And it’s a long time since a movie has done that.

Captain Madden singing the praises there, and rightly so, A Town Called Panic is certainly an enjoyable picture and rewards those who will search it out (I waited a month to get the chance to see it) with a fantastically paced yarn that doesn’t waste time with character development or plot consistency and instead focuses on a laughs-per-minute ratio higher than any other comedy you are likely to see this year.

CM’s synopsis is wonderfully apt too- there is no point in either of us trying to surmise the goings on in the 75 minute running time (finally, a SHORT FILM!!!!) because to do so would ruin the surprise for any future viewers and also perhaps put some people off due to its sheer randomness. Random is an oft used word by town-centre-stalking teenagers these days but even they wouldn’t be able to act in on the joke that is A Town Called Panic- it is a magically leftfield offering that will have even the most jaded of cynics cracking a smile and harking back to their own childhood playtimes.

I would like to offer a thought on audiences though if I may. Whilst discussing …Panic over dinner with a friend afterwards the word ‘niche’ was used to describe its appeal. Whilst I think that the film is perfectly accessible for all and could be enjoyed by any type of cinema goer I fear my friend may have had a point in terms of the types of people who may be considering watching the film in the first place.

I saw …Panic at 1pm on a Saturday afternoon and was impressed to see a few younger children in the theatre with their parents. Whilst there are two mentions of the S-Bomb in the film it is admirable to see children finding pleasure from a picture that audibly at least will mean nothing to them- the visuals alone kept them laughing throughout.

However their presence got me wondering whether for many this film has been avoided simply because, from the poster at least, it looks like a kids film. No problem with that of course seeing as kids seem to love it, but for a film that is brimming with so many adult references and is such an overt homage to a myriad of different genres (with an absolutely fantastic parody of Singing in the Rain thrown in) it seems a shame that perhaps hosts of men and women might miss out on this film for no other reason than they have no sprogs of their own to take with them.

So fear not childless reader! A Town Called Panic IS for you and you should snatch any opportunity you get to go and see it.

Speak to you soon!



Film Community Potluck – Cemetery Junction

October 24, 2010

 

Welcome to the first of a new regular feature for Casta (I hope) – the film community pot luck draw. Whilst Chris of the Wakemans has been off watching movies with other people, I’ve been sat in at home reading the internets. Luckily for me, the fantastic folks over at Anomalous Material have begun a new community feature whereby everyone nominates a movie and then they’re randomly assigned to all those taking part who watch the movie and post back on the site with their thoughts on whatever they had to watch. It’s a fantastic feature and gets some great discussion going – it’s always the more the merrier so if you fancy joining in then head over there and sign yourself up!

This week Marc from Go, See, Talk nominated the film that I was eventually paired up with; Cemetery Junction.

Despite my hesitation towards Gervais and Merchant, I was actually really pleased to be paired up with this movie as I narrowly missed the opportunity when it was out at the cinema this year; I’d heard some quite good things about it and was interested to see how this would weigh in against previous collaborations from Gervais and Merchant.

Cemetery Junction tells the story of three young men who are all looking to make something out of their lives in a middle to lower class working town in early seventies England. It’s a more than typical coming of age story that stands out because of the quality of the three leads and how relatable their situation is. The setting works surprisingly well (obviously drawing on Gervais and Merchant’s own youths) and is really reinforced by one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard in recent memory. I had a great time watching this movie and there were numerous occasions where I had to stifle laughter in slight disbelief at the raw seventies dialogue.

The only thing that stood out to me about this movie to be particularly annoying was the appearances of Gervais and Merchant on screen. As much as I enjoyed their writing and found their direction to be relatively inoffensive, their roles in front of the camera felt completely obsolete and bordered on indulgent. Gervais is basically the same as he is in every other role he’s ever done and Merchant appears in the most needless five second cameo I’ve seen in recent times. It’s a shame really that they felt compelled to give themselves roles as it adds a certain branding onto the movie which I would have thought they might have been keen to move against being as this is somewhat of a departure from other things they have written in the past.

All in all it’s a very competent coming of age/ making something of your life movie, with a strong young cast in the lead roles and a solid support behind them, especially in the form of Ralph Fiennes who adds a good deal of gravitas to the movie. For me, it stands as an interesting indicator as to what could come from Gervais and Merchant in the future; I just hope they keep themselves out of their movies in the future and concentrate on the behind the scenes elements, instead saving screen time for movies in which they are the principal cast.

A highly enjoyable and recommended watch for anyone who ever felt like they wanted to make something out of their life and can stand a bit of close to the bone seventies humour.

Cheers Marc!


Episode 25 – To Cast a Thief

October 19, 2010

 

To Cast a Thief (right click and “save as” to download)

Welcome back Casta fans to another fun filled episode of your (now actually) regular movie podcast funtime! This episode we review The Social Network, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps and the NT Live showing of Complicite’s A Disappearing Number. Chris also racks my brain with Back to the Future questions in Castamind and I make fun of him for being old. Win!

Don’t forget to check out our ongoing Human Centipede poll on the right there too – sound off and make your vote count!


Project 365: Weeks 35-40

October 17, 2010

So here we are chums, in this our week of celebrations, there’s yet another thing for us to be excited about – I’m up to three hundred! Take a minute and think about that – let it sink in… THREE HUNDRED MOVIES SO FAR! Only sixty five to go! Surely I’m on to a winner! Woohoo!

I watched thirty five films in the six weeks since the last update, eighteen of which were at the cinema! Go statistics!

So the thirty five then;

266. The Girl who Played with Fire
267. The Italian Job
268. Flags of our Fathers
269. Samurai Fiction
270. Michael Clayton
271. The Human Centipede
272. So I married an Axe Murderer
273. The Illusionist
274. The Switch
275. Grown Ups
276. Dinner for Schmucks
277. Going the Distance
278. The Visitor
279. Swingers
280. Cyrus
281. Tamara Drewe
282. The Other Guys
283. Devil
284. The Town
285. Winter’s Bone
286. The Hole
287. Almost Famous
288. Bronson
289. Buried
290. Carrie
291. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
292. Back to the Future
293. El Topo
294. Fast Times at Ridgemont High
295. Goodfellas
296. Hard Candy
297. Enthiran: the Robot
298. In the City of Sylvia
299. Junebug
300. A Town Called Panic

Highlights: The Illusionist, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Back to the Future, A Town Called Panic
Lowlights: The Human Centipede, The Other Guys, Bronson, El Topo

Surely I’m on the home straight now!


Review – Mr Nice

October 15, 2010

Ho Hum! Get ready for a lot of complaining.

I was really looking forward to seeing Mr Nice because Howard Marks is one of those iconic ‘rogue’ characters that I know a little bit about but not enough and was interested to see his reign of drug trafficking/ spy-gaming put up on screen. Having dipped in and out of his books he is clearly someone who doesn’t take life too seriously and has made the most out of his rollercoaster journey of legend.

What a shame then that I endured this Rhys Ifans starring, Bernard Rose written and directed 2 hour long meander of a film that does not in any way do justice to the reputation and myth of Mr Marks himself. If anything it makes him seem like a generic stoner (although maybe that’s the point?).

To the dissect-mobile!

Let’s start small: The first time Howard meets his eventual wife Judy (played with emotional abandon by Chloe Sevigny) she remarks that he looks like a drug dealer. HOW CONVENIENT! What a delightfully apt turn of phrase to say to a person who will eventually become a drug dealer. Because in my book of references his appearance looks like a Rockstar/Stoner/Artist/Drug Dealer/Homeless person/… anybody basically who is tall and thin, has a deep voice, wears sunglasses indoors and has long scruffy hair. My point is that that line could’ve been changed to fit whatever career choice the ACTUAL Howard Marks had chosen to make had his life then been turned into a movie anyway and as a result the line, and by association the movie, rang a little hollow.

Moving on to Mr Ifans now and first let me say that I actually don’t mind Rhys Ifans. I wouldn’t say he is particularly talented but he certainly plays to type and I think he is effective in that style and more power to him. However therein lies the problem for Mr Nice as in this film he is playing a real person. Ifans performance here feels no different to the characters he plays in The Boat That Rocked, Enduring Love, Notting Hill or The 51st State to name a few. They are all slightly groovy types, who don’t care about ‘The Man’ and sound a little bit out of it. They are cocksure yes, but not necessarily firing on all cylinders. Early on in Mr Nice we learn that Howard was actually quite a clever little duckling, but once Marks grows older and plies his illegal trade it ceases to be communicated to the audience as he rides his booming wave on luck and happenstance more than skill. I feel that although Ifans’ performance is actually very good and probably worth some credit, it will never obtain it because it is TOO similar to everything else he has done and as such his Marks does not feel like a real person, just a caricature.

What next? Oh yes, I would love it if someone could tell me if Mr Nice is supposed to be a comedy or a drama. Because sometimes it gets quite intense and serious and other times it’s a stoner farce. I don’t mind a drama/comedy hybrid when it’s done well, but this one’s strokes were just way too broad.

Next in the firing line- duration! I expected Mr Nice to be about 90 minutes long. I expected this so much that I bought (I say bought) a ticket to see another movie starting after it. But things ran on. And on. And on. Maybe I was wrong to expect it to be a bit shorter, but knowing an (admittedly little) amount about Howard Marks life story I didn’t expect it go around in so many circles. Marks is in and out of prison, having meetings and setting up deals all over the place and his life goes through so many sequential ‘stages’ that it just gets boring and tedious. It might not be realistic to leave things out of a biography, but I think Mr Nice might’ve benefitted from losing about 20 years from this life story. As it was I didn’t see the second film in my double feature AND I missed the last 5 minutes of Mr Nice because I had to go and feed the meter= Annoying.

And finally I shall say a small piece about the supporting cast. Let us skip Chloe Sevigny (yet another female role given too much screen time to appease the demographics without first being written well) and cut straight to the bit parts played by some pretty recognisable faces and top acting talent; Crispin Glover turns up for a spell as a suited and booted hippy; Omid Djalili is typically impressive as Marks’ connection to the Middle East hashish industry; David Thewlis and Andrew Tiernan show up as IRA heavies; and even Christian McKay shows up as an old Oxford school friend-turned-spy who recruits Marks for MI6. None of these roles require anything other than stereotypical performances from the actors, and none of the characters have any depth whatsoever. That is unless we’re supposed to infer depth given that we know they are based on real people. Even worse is the fact that none of them get enough screen time for the actors to really leave an impression on the film or steal a scene, and so it seems like a complete waste of talent. Christian McKay’s performance is the most annoying of these given that having stolen the show from underneath Zach Efron (of all people) as Orson Welles already this year, he surely should be getting meatier parts by now that warrant more than a weekends worth of shooting and 5 lines of dialogue. It is utterly disappointing.

Much like the film itself.

I wish I was recommending Mr Nice, but integrity won’t let me do it. Avoid.