Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Heat (Michael Mann, 1995)

"Don't let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner"


This is a fascinating film - it seems to have a strange 'edge' to it. Apparently its a love or hate film - with some people praising its characterisation while others feel it is a long, drawn-out action film. I side with the former, although after the first watched I did come away a little disillusioned, while after a second watch, it truly is flawless. An amazing film that secures me in the knowledge that Michael Mann is a force to be reckoned with - while Righteous Kill was a real scar on the De Niro/Pacino combo that was originally made up of The Godfather Part II and Heat. As previously mentioned, Sarah and I embarked on an Al Pacino season, and due to my first watch, to some extent I put Sarah off from watching it. Eventually, I convinced her it was going to be a good watch (not 100% sure - it had been years since that first watch but a risk worth taking) and we sat down and put aside the three hours necessary to watch it.

What I reckon ...

Having watched 'Public Enemies' the previous week and then watching this shows how talented and impressive Michael Mann truly is. This is a film which, shot-by-shot, looks sharp and progresses without rushing. Its an action movie and yet does not adhere to common 'action-movie' cliches. We see the pressures and humanity in both the cat and the mouse, before the cat becomes the mouse and the mouse becomes the cat - the brilliant two-scene sequence as we see the LAPD after McCauley and then McCauley photographing the LAPD, as he works out who they are. It then finishes with focus on the two characters alone - following an amazing bank robbery sequence that must rank with the best bank robbery sequences of all-time.

De Niro is playing Neil McCauley - a criminal mastermind with no intention of making a single mistake. He never takes risks and is willing to walk away if the risk is too great. Pacino is Vincent Hanna is a homicide/narcotics lieutenant attempting to catch him. He is someone who, upon the first time we meet him - analysing a robbery McCauley organised - he misses nothing. He knows the angles they came from - and is fully aware of how perfect the hit went down. They are both obsessed with their jobs and both show a focus and discipline for their jobs.

The whole first watch is very different to the second watch - on a first watch you don't know where the story is going, and as we look at so many different characters you are not too sure which character you should invest your focus in. On a second watch, whereby you know the story and plot, you don't have to worry about 'following' anything - so you can just enjoy the viewing and notice the smaller and incredibly significant aspects to the story. For one, the issues presented in the first act - Waingro escaping, Van Zandt's double-cross - are not expected have a knock on effect on everything that precedes it. The one thing he has always anticipated and was prepared for - leave Edie in the car (in 30 seconds...) - has a more detrimental effect. Then again, maybe he couldn't escape after all. Hanna, without realising perhaps, was one-step ahead.

The women also have a fascinating role in the story. These all factor into the narrative - nothing is simple. Edie, Neil's love interest, we are teased into thinking she might 'change' him - but we realise in the final act that he lives by his rules (see the quote) and does so, sealing his fate. In a similar parallel, Hanna also confirms his lack of commitment to his partner Justine because he knows how much the job means to him. Interestingly enough, Neil tells Edie he'd stand by her - and doesn't - Hanna says he can't stand by Justine, but to some extent, I think we are led to believe that they can continue their relationship - but on Hanna's terms of putting the job first. Edie is not a blameless victim because she does decide to stand by her criminal partner when she finds out his true profession but she is left humiliated in the car alone.

I think it would be great to dwell on that perfect sequence in the coffee house between McCauley and Hanna. It establishes so much without making anything too obvious. Vincent stating his stance "I will put you down", while McCauley doesn't even flinch to state where he stands that if Hanna gets in his way, he "will not hesitate ... not for a second". Its all over-the-shoulder shots, subjecting us to the intense stare of McCauley and the pseudo-laid back approach by Hanna. We feel every line, and are aware of the importance of every line stated. For many months now I have been collected older issues of Sight and Sound that regularly turn up at Kentish Town Oxfam (50p a pop is worth every penny!) and in one issue dated March 1996, there is an analysis of this sequence as we see Michael Mann's script notes on the sequence. The article notes how both characters are aware of the nature of time as luck and that life is short. Mann notes that Hanna, as a hunter, darts his eyes around getting every scrap of information on McCauley while they are together. Fascinating insight details that I would recommend anyone interested in the sequence.

An interesting facet - that I think has no clear parallel with Hanna - is McCauley's friendship with Val Kilmers 'Chris'. McCauley's belief and trust in Chris, to some extent, is what destroys his perfect organisation. He stands by Chris, though Chris is in a position whereby he cannot walk away in 30 seconds. Chris has a family and, though difficult at times, they support him, while McCauley ultimately has nobody making McCauleys entire arc tragic - as he is the one 'taken down'. Though a double-force with Pacino and De Niro, it is De Niro's character that we initially follow from the start and - though Hanna has met his match in McCauley - it is McCauley who is taken out. It is his story ... with a lot of scope for characterization of everyone else.

Nick James, in his BFI Modern Classic on Heat shows clear comparisons to Michael Mann's earlier work - the use of blue in Manhunter is doubled up in Heat. The whole of LA is sinked into this pot of blue paint - and it looks perfect. McCauley lurks in the shadow like a predator. James further explains the depth of each character and how, due to the intensity and perfectly pitched nature of the film, Pacino holding De Niro's hand as a symbol of understanding between the two men during the finale is exceptionally powerful while on a base level it is a ridiculous thought - De Niro and Pacino holding hands.

Which is where I end this review/analysis. The two men are at the peak of their careers - they are at an age whereby these roles reflect their history and experience, while at the same time maximising the character depth, showing how great they are (not that Raging Bull and Scarface made us think they were bad actors). The cop role of Pacino in Sea of Love is so simple compared to Hanna - a cop who has a family and a job which he has to balance so precariously. This film is a masterpiece - epic, grandoise and not be missed.

Monday, 28 September 2009

The Simon and Jo Show Podcast

The first of many, I would like to think. In this podcast we discuss this weeks releases - District 9, Fishtank, (500) Days of Summer and Dorian Gray while also focussing on the work of Sam Mendes.

In time, I would like to think that you can download it direct from this site but currently you can only 'subscribe' and all that stuff via the 'mypodcast' website which is the link above. Works perfectly for me but I strongly advise you to have a listen!

Its the first one so be kind -but tell us if you think we could improve something!

Monday, 21 September 2009

Lola Rennt (Tom Tykwer, 1998)

"The ball is round, a game lasts 90 minutes, everything else is pure theory. Off we go! "


I went through a phase with LoveFilm, I managed to get loads of free 'months' trials with the old ScreenSelect and then I moved to LoveFilm and even paid on a monthly basis for a while. I stuck a huge bulk of classic movies on the list and, at one point, this DVD arrived. I knew it was some sort of 'classic' but wasn't 100% sure why ... similar feeling when Cinema Paradiso arrived in the post. Fact is, I knew it had some importance so it needed to be watched. Sarah bailed on it first off - some classic German movie is not neccessarily her thing - so I sat down prepared to watch alone. Within the first 10 minutes, I paused the DVD and forced Sarah to watch it. It's one thing when a film has a good opening, its another when it literally forces you to find your partner to watch it too. Absolutely brilliant movie! (Though why they don't use the poster I selected above, for the DVD cover, I have no idea, because it looks so much better than the current one)

Knowing View

Its a time-shift story - akin to Sliding Doors and The Butterfly Effect - but set in this neon-coloured Berlin. Within the first 10 minutes we find Manni (Bleibtreu), Lola's (Potente) boyfriend, in a situation without 100,000 DM's that he owes a murderous drug-dealer - Manni had a very easy plan to just deliver the bag of money but left the bag of money on a train and it was robbed. Nevertheless, Lola has 20 minutes to get the money. Boom, set-up achieved. The next twenty minutes is shown three times. Even though we see three potential outcomes, there are the odd few ticks, as if some sense of deja-vu has been stumbled upon, and as she rushes past different characters we see how her life caused some sort of butterfly effect and decided the fate - whether she makes a person a millionnaire or whether they end up in prison. These small interludes are shown in photo's shown at lightening speed so it doesn't disrupt - jumping to show the fate and then jumping back into the story. All of it, exceptionally fast-paced.

Within this mix of fun-and-games, you have more sensitive issues at hand - namely, Lola's parents. Her father is having an affair and is a workaholic while minor roles, through other events, are expanded ... the guard at the bank who seems to have a paternal connection to Lola, though we never do see her Mother. Her father works in a bank also, which obviously assists the story in a huge way - considering it is money that she needs.

One thing that I always expect from any decent film is tone - a clear tone established. Does the film know what it is - if it is an action movie, then don't go too romantic. If its an out-and-out comedy, don't expect me to take you too seriously. There are always examples that surpass the criteria - 28 Days Later (though you could argue that any decent zombie film has connections to the human condition, see Romero's movies...) for example - but, more often than not, if the tone is established, then the direction and cinematography is to be praised highly (clap clap Twyker and Frank Griebe). Lola Rennt hits the tone perfectly. Time-travel movies, in my opinion, are incredibly difficult to take seriously. So, something like The Butterfly Effect I despise because amongst the fun-and-games of time-travel, we also have to suddenly take alot of things seriously - lile paedophilia and paraplegics. Woo-hoo ... woah ... thats not fun. But with Lola Rennt it is a film to enjoy the experience, whereby when it does touch on her family and love for Manni, it never goes crazy, it just uses the sequence to slow the pace before ramping it up again. And again. And again. The pace is such a key factor too (the editor Mathilde Bonnefoy managed to move to hollywood and edit The International), and this is purely down to flawless editing.

One bit which has always interested me was the animation sequences as Lola runs down the stairs. I always felt that they seemed a bit strange - as if they shot sequences that didn't work and had to create something to fill the gap, thus grabbing an artist to create the sequences. Whatever the case, this strange - dare I say it - 'wacky' mix of media simply adds to the surreal, neon edge. It also speeds up the the start of each sequence - something that wouldn't strike me as neccessary. I think about when I watched Vantage Point at the cinema, because they 'flash-backed' seven times, by the time we got to the fourth time - because it started pretty much in the same way - the audience literally groaned as it felt like everything just rewound and we had to sit through boredom for another cliffhanger before rewinding again. You don't feel like that with Lola Rennt - you actually feel like it exciting to see where it goes. You want to see the characters she bumps into and see where they end up ... you notice the tramp and beg for her to stop him!

If there is one thing I would change, it would be the, slightly pretentious beginning prior to the opening conversation between Manni and Lola. A narrator says "Man... probably the most mysterious species on our planet..." and goes into this monologue about chances and what not while moving between loads of different people on the planet - some of which are characters in the film, some not - ending with one guy stating the quoted line I have chosen at the start of this review. Not a bad call, not completely out of tone - just a little unneccessary. Other than that, it really is a brilliant movie - one of those international films whereby you realise that, sometimes, Hollywood is not as good as it thinks it is. Then again, I always felt that Go! was very similar ... released a year later interestingly (directed by Doug Liman, who directed The Bourne Identity starring Lola herself, Franka Potente) - neon colour scheme, great soundtrack, and multiple narratives - but without that great selling point of Lola Rennt of different outcomes. It's what makes Sliding Doors great, and due to the perfectly pitched tone, its what makes Lola Rennt, much moreso that Sliding Doors and Go, a film that you could watch again and again ...

Thursday, 17 September 2009

This Happy Breed (David Lean, 1944)

"I hate living here. I hate living in a house thats exactly like hundreds of other houses. I hate coming home from work on the tube. I hate washing up and helping Mum darn Dad's socks ... and what's more I know why I hate it - it's because it's all so common"


I have had - for far too long - a David Lean boxset. A 'centenary collection' with remastered sound and restored footage. £25 from Fopp it felt like a bargain (until I saw a very similar boxset for, pretty much, £15 ... bloody Fopp). Nevertheless, I recalled a huge David Lean season at the BFI whereby I attended a discussion about Lawrence of Arabia, Bridge on the River Kwai and Passage to India. Ian Christie was on the panal alongside some guy I recognised at the time - not Nick James... was it Andrew Collins? One of those dark-haired thirty-ish, forty-ish blokes who review for Sight and Sound. It was a funny event, whereby I vividly recall some old guy complaining about the footage used when screened (before discussing each film they screened a short sequence, understandably from the DVD, and this guy when into this complete tirade about how it wasn't the original reel, etc, etc) and a woman who managed to slip into her - you couldn't really call it a question - statement that she knew Sam Spiegel ("We seem to have forgotten about Sam Spiegel a force who Lean would be nothing without ... and when I spoke to Sam..." - subtle). So I think when I got this boxset I was in this huge David Lean state-of-mind. I had seen the big Noel Coward produced-Brief Encounter (brilliant ... though I did watch it in the BFI mediatheque) and the Oscar winners Bridge on ... Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia and knew the huge influence he had on Spielberg amongst others. Either way ... it sat on my shelf a long while before I actually watched a film. First off The Passionate Friends (another time ... ) and, most recently This Happy Breed.

Knowing View

Gurinder Chadha, director of Bend it like Beckham, praised this film highly and, I have to admit, it truly is a great film. I heard that apparently half of the films made in America before 1950 have been destroyed ... so it is great that in England we look after things. This really is a great film - though it does often feel like a film for a History lesson. The blurb on the back of the DVD praises the films smooth pans a zoom in's - noting the start whereby the camera flys down from atop of London and, through three fades, zooms in through the house to focus on the door - which is promptly opened by Ethel and Frank Gibbons the parents of the family about to move in. The first thing I thought of was Citizen Kane and the famous opening in that film ... a film made three years prior. Not as groundbreaking as you might think then. The title comes from Shakespeares Richard II whereby the monologue it is used within ends with the line "This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England". So you are watching a very English film with a very traditional attitude - lots of tea and well-dressed middle-class folk talking about 'society'.

It traces the life of a family between WWI and WWII: The Return and seems to capture a very specific attitude in England of the time - apparently. I wasn't there, it simply seems to be the case. Frank Gibbons (Robert Newton) fought during WWI and, amongst many fantastic sequences between him and his neighbour Bob (Stanley Holloway), the two state that there won't be 'no war in our time'. Its difficult to imagine that attitude now - these two men who had fought during a World War. Who have seen the horrors and never want such a thing to happen again, having to live through the second World War two decades after. Truly a moment in history forgotten and rarely recorded. In the house are Frank and Ethel Gibbons (Celia Johnson), their three children Reggie, Queenie and Violet - Vy - and some entertaining family members in the guise of Aunt Sylvia (a brilliant sequence when 'Syl' sings a Christmas song completely out of tune provokes Frank to sneak away and have a cheeky cigar - its stranger still because I though he has this Mike-Myers quality too making it that much more cheekier) and Mrs Flint, who appears to be the Nana.

You have a great contrast between the kids, whereby Reggie is initially a man in strong support of the poor, praying that more money is given to people in poverty (this is influenced by his friend Sam, who loses his passion for his view when he marry's Vy). Queenie on the other hand hates the house and middle-class of society she lives in (see the chosen quote) - trying exceptionally hard to have a rich lifestyle. You have a short sequence set in 1928, whereby you see how free Queenie is as she dances. We also have Bob's son Billy - a Navy man - who never stops loving Queenie. Asking her to marry him many times - and being rejected - before finally winning her heart. The entire last act follows a situation whereby Queenie leaves the family home for a married man - Billy still loves her - but the shame she brings on the family forces her mother to hate her. To the point that she never wants to hear her name uttered in her house. Luckily the marriage to Billy rekindles their relationship.

Nevertheless, I am worried that the blatent influence of Welles on the opening may affect you view on this film and David Lean. There is still some flawless sequences in the film. At one point the camera seems to pan across a room and then, without an interruption, zoom out of a window and into the garden. Take Kane and add to it I guess. Another sequence, which reminds me of that sequence in Taxi Driver - when Travis is told via phone to leave Betsy alone - is also perfectly shot. Vy enters the house to inform Aunt Syl and Mrs Flint that Reggie has died in a car accident - her parents are outside and rather then show us the whole sequence, we see Vy go outside as the camera pans very, very slowly across the empty dining area. It must be a full minute before we see the parents drag themselves inside in complete shock. A speechless moment.

To conclude, the film places a firm emphasis on the family unit - and the strength of the couple Frank and Ethel themselves. Their love is what keeps the family together (well, Queenie leaves so ... maybe not always together). Interestingly, Ethel is a housewife/mother very clearly - though stern and strict - she doesn't work, and she supports Frank in every way so the establishing of the female in the house is a clear facet to the film - to the point that the freedom Queenie exercises is frowned upon by the family and, even for Queenie herself, she admits her 'wrong-doing' only to return to the family and marry the neighbour who has always been a traditionalist (even following in the military footsteps of his father). It is still a great study of this period with characters who are watchable and interesting - to the point that you feel strongly for the family when Reggie dies.

Stranger still is that one year later, Celia Johnson starred in the Noel Coward/David Lean combo of Brief Encounter - a film that explores female freedom moreso with Celia Johnson playing a character much more complex than This Happy Breed's Ethel ...

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

The Third Man (Carol Reed, 1949)

"Don't be melodramatic. Look down there. Tell me. Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever?"


I have seen this film a fair few times - and, from what I have read, it has been incredibly influential. Inspiring the tilted camera Spike Lee uses, inspiring the entire film-noir genre, etc. I watched it as a must-see Orson Welles film. I watched Citizen Kane for the first time shortly before I watched this and Welles is simply amazing. Something about his persona and look - the cherubian, sneaky, childish look that is fascinating. Apparently he bmbed later in his career because of a certain element of arrogance on his part ... and that truly is a shame. Nevertheless, The Third Man was released eight years after the masterpiece Citizen Kane. Not that Citizen Kane did brilliantly on its initial release. Either way, Welles became exceptionally established after Kane and, hence, when he decided to take the infamous role of Harry Lime in The Third Man he had many strange requests on set and was required for only a very short while for very few scenes. Personally, Sarah's Dad told her that Joseph Cotton was the real star of Citizen Kane and in this film Cotton was the lead role ... I was in for a treat on that first viewing, but now I have seen it many more times and there are countless reasons for you to watch - and rewatch this film - that ultimately outweigh my initial reason (Cotton and Welles) to watch this film.

What I reckon ...

The entire story is initially based around Harry Lime (Orson Welles)- a recently-deceased friend of Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton) whose death, at the very start of the film, was within 'suspicious circumstances'. When he died, three people assisted and, everyone knows who two of them were - but no one knew who 'The Third Man' was. Carol Reed himself even narrates the introduction to the film, setting the scene in Vienna whereby there are four sides: German, English, Russia and America setting it after World War II, whereby Holly himself, a Westerns writer, arrived. As soon as he finds out about this mysterious 'third man', Holly decides to become detective and look into it himself and, bit by bit, he unravels the mystery to reveal that the third man was in fact Harry Lime himself setting up his own death ... the story shifts and now begins to turn into a strange film whereby Lime's true profession and criminal behaviour is revealed. This entire shift in plot happens over an hour into the film, but the reveal of Harry Lime is not only a brilliant 'twist', but a fantastic sequence utilising every unique aspect of the film to enhance the event. The sequence utilises the up-beat and relaxed music on the zither by Anton Karas (this is a brilliant soundtrack not for its memorable theme but also its effect on the film and, inevitably, the audience - it keeps you calm and makes you not take the film too seriously and enjoy the experience rather then get angry at the possibly-upsetting and dark issues it raises ... drugs, murder, etc) and the camera tilts and reveals deep, dark shadows before panning up as a sharp light, lights up Orson Welles. The man we know is Harry Lime.

It is these silhouettes that make the film fascinating, silhouettes moving in the alleys - chasing and being chased - and these are what became and are such a huge factor to the film noir genre.

As previously stated, Carol Reed himself starts the narration - as if unaware - stating 'oh, and Holly Martins' when introducing the main character. Graham Greene wrote the book and the screenplay and, having watched Brighton Rock you can see these similar themes whereby you have these amazing, complex 'bad guys' (Harry Lime and Pinkie Brown) while there are also innocent characters who are involved without planning to be (Holly Martins/Rose). So, as no doubt most people would and do, these Greene novel adaptations would be brilliant watched together.

A small subplot revolves around Harry's girlfriend Anna (Valli) who assists Holly in the search for 'The Third Man'. Anna constantly refers to Holly as 'Harry'. Holly is clearly interested in and in a timeless finale, through a deep focus, she walks from the back of the shot - in focus - walking straight past Holly who awaits her, rejecting him completely - turning Holly into this romantic victim before the credits roll. Harry's crime of changing and diluting penicillen ruined and, in effect, killed people and even in death he was ruining this part of Holly's life.

The whole film is showing these contrasts of love - love towards a friend, love towards a potential lover and how these things can change incredibly quickly. This links back to the chosen quote above - your actions hit others, repurcussions are inevitable - as inevitable as Harry being found out. The film looks stunning and the depth of each character - I've not even dipped into discussion about Trevor Howard - is fascinating. Harry is so corrupt and sinister it truly is facsinating, balance this with Welles cherubic charm and you have this incredible contrast.

I'm going to stop because I feel that there is so much more to consider and, after a little research, I could do a Part II to the review. But initially these are a fair few points to start on ... and that in itself makes The Third Man a fantastic movie.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Dorian Gray (Oliver Parker, 2009)

"You have the only two things worth having: youth and beauty"


I reckon had Jo not managed to win a competition to the preview, press screening of Dorian Gray I would never have seen it. Having watched it though, there are a interesting points to make. We all know the story - picture shows the true character of a person who keeps the same youthful and beautiful look while committing every moral sin possible.

Not to mention, while at the screening, we saw Kim Newman. Kim-fucking-Newman. What a legend. Reviewer of films for Sight and Sound and Empire amongst other magazines. I went up to him and told him that, well, I thought he was cool because he reviewed the Saw movies - especially Saw V without scathing hatred, mentioning the likes of Edgar Allen Poe as an influence. Good for him. I wrote down my name without any spaces and told him that, if he typed it into google this site should come up. I checked afterwards and, well, it doesn't ... so ... opportunity lost. Mental note - I must know this websites URL! Anyway, the movie itself ...

What I reckon ...

It starts off as Dorain (Ben Barnes) arrives in London - a completely grey, CGI backdrop as Dorian looks in awe at the city. A city, which doesn't look as great as it has in other films. The deep bass strings are reminiscient of James Newton-Howard's scores so the tone of the movie is comfortable but the film never does seem to pull-off the credability and emotional journey it should take you on.

Wotton (Colin Firth) is the man who influences Dorian Gray the most - with a live-for-the-day attitude. He appears to despise marriage and enjoys drugs, drink and sex... a world which Dorian is soon accustomed to. Early on, Wotton tells Dorian he has what every man wants - "Youth and beauty" (opposed to the strange don't-want-to-look-gay change to the trailer, whereby he says Youth and 'looks') and Dorian exploits this in every possible way. The script is brilliant - especially considering its the first screenplay Toby Finlay has written, which makes Ben Barnes bored and flat delivery that much more of a shame. The direction sometimes changes from this grey London smooth shooting to warm slow pans of the sexual moves - you can see it in the trailer and its the same every time. Not a chance to show a shot of Dorian showing remorse? No, why do that when we can just assume he is evil. I personally always felt that the interesting fact of Dorian is that he is human - to some extent, as a young man, we all want to do what he does - but we don't because we don't want to suffer the consequences. Maybe if Parker considered visually showing this human side, it might have been more interesting. Then again, maybe that was beyond Barnes acting abilities.

Thing is, I saw a trailer prior to District 9 which did seem to show a good film - some really great sequences and lines. Reminding me that, for one, Rebecca Hall is great - Wotton's daughter who, by chance, is a photographer (a character created by the script writer opposed to being a creation of Oscar Wilde). Wouldn't there have been an opportunity to have her photo's reveal the true Dorian ... and this leads to some unneccessary murder (akin to his painter buddy), getting close to insanity and, boom, he is brought down somehow. Nope. That doesn't happen, someone finds out about the picture and the big scary moving, strangely wriggling and CGI-mess that the picture is gets burnt and Dorian is locked away with it to burn with it. No depth, no meaning - just unlucky really. Found out and caught out and thus, dies. He doesn't regret at any point - he appears as if he may regret but never admits defeat. So, yeah, he is just evil.

Dorian at one point even travels the world apparently - but alas, we only see London and never witness what could have been the best part of the film. I assume it would have spoiled the mood but to think that we could of ventured out of dull not-so-gothic London and seen an exciting world - and how Dorian might be worse than a drug-infested, drunk whore - maybe a bit more murder and whatever could have shifted the pace while also showing how deep his evil runs. Then again, if I was to do it, I'd rather keep him as a young man who has just been influenced easily.

To finish, there is a quote that Dorian states about Happiness and Pleasure not being the same thing - and I liked this. I liked how he did realise his - ultimately fatal - flaws. How his greed for pleasure, affected his happiness. But this was, like most of the film, a factor never resolved. As if the small seeds of promise were planted but never fully explored. Happiness and pleasure aren't the same thing - and could we have seen Dorian attempt to be happy - to attempt to push away his vices but cave. Clearly no room for that in this adaptation. To top the whole thing off, Parker does an unneccessary non-linear structure - showing us see Dorian killing the artist who created the picture during the opening (we don't know who it is at this point) and then one hour-or-so into the film, its revealed who it is. I mean, we know he is evil, and following this act there evidence for how horrible he becomes is showing him engaging in S&M. Heaven forbid - not leather! He see's himself as God, but does not eplore the Godlike attitudes he appears to impersonate. He kills Basil, thats a turning point, fine - does he kill anyone else? Maybe they felt it was simply not worth exploring.

I don't know. I didn't make the film. But what I felt - pretty much the entire way through it - was that it should have been directed by someone else. Someone who understood horror - and Gothic horror. Someone who may have adapted a legendary story himself prior to now. Someone who has ties to Johnny Depp - imagine that, Johnny Depp as Dorian Gray (he would have to be alot younger ... but imagine it...). Or can at least find actors of the same calibre. Step up to the table ... Tim Burton.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Saw II (Darren Lynn Bousman, 2005)

"Can you imagine what it feels like to have someone sit you down and tell you that you're dying?"


So, we continue the Saw reviews with Saw II. The first 'sequel' to the franchise establishing the majority of features prevalent in the future sequels. Jo and I watched this straight after having watched Saw on DVD so the comparison between the two was an inevitable dicussion - Jo preferring Saw II to its predecessor. I must admit, to some extent, I agree because the story is still strong, it still has a twist you never see coming and - what pushes it over the edge - you actually have half decent actors (more specifically they are half decent and in no way 'good' or Academy Award winning). Nevertheless, I initially saw this at the cinema (Who did I watch it with - I think it was Pete but I am sure he was back in Lampeter at this point) but, upon meeting up with my, at this point in time, one-year-long girlfriend Sarah we decided to watch a film the choice was as follows Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were Rabbit or Saw II. The second watch for me or the first watch for Sarah. Note, Sarah hated Saw. Well, as the loving partner that I am, I convinced her to watch Saw II. My own testement that I was prepared to watch it again just so she could see it - it was that good. Again, Sarah hated Saw II and that was very nearly the end of our relationship then and there. In time I did watch Wallace and Gromit and now, in hindsight, I am glad it was Saw II I watched.

What I reckon ...

So, it is now an established franchise - and like any decent horror movie it has its opening death. A key stuck behind some dudes eye - this key is what will help him escape from the face crusher attached to his neck. (Note the limping character in the video that shows how the key was placed behind the eye ... is that the infamous Dr. Gordon ... still alive?). A brilliant opening that not only shows we are back in the same territory - but that the writers had plenty of left-over material from the first film to use in these sequels.

The next bit, we are introduced to - possibly the best character in the series - Det. Eric Matthews (New Kids on the Block, brother of Mark, Donnie Wahlberg). This is great because I actually knew who this actor was - too young or too non-American to know New Kids on the Block - I knew him from flawless HBO TV-series Band of Brothers so I was incredibly happy that a decent, credible actor was on board. It was a cliche role - a divorced man with a teenage child who hates him whereby their last words - "Well then go!" - would inevitaly haunt him. But then again, it somehow created this bigger, explansive universe. That, in fact, there was more to Saw then a horrible, dirty shower room. Matthews judged people just like Jigsaw, Matthews decided and created their fate by setting up their crimes - because he knew the truth - much like Jigsaw. So we have a fantastic duo, pitted against each other.

Not only that, but we don't even spend the entire film seeing the cop always one step behind Jigsaw. In the first act they are sitting opposite each other talking in a controlled environment (ultimately controlled by Jigsaw, but then again, swamped with squad cops...) The atmosphere is incredible. A twist you know has to come but you can't understand - how on earth will Jigsaw escape? To be honest - when we get to the end, there are enough 'finales' to cover all bases, so if you worked out one twist, there was always another that you didn't get - guaranteeing that fantastic i've-been-fooled finale.

Jo and I both felt that this film has so much great stuff going for it - Saw II is bigger nad breaks conventions. The soundtrack is more diverse and fitting - no plopping water sounds from the first one. The situation in the house is huge - with lots of traps and, to top it off, none of the people folow the rules. So instead of watching people follow the rules and 'escape' (Amanda in Saw) or people fail to follow the rules and, within seconds, we see die (any of the other victims in Saw) we actually see an entire group of people do every single thing wrong. Xavier - the big wrestler guy simply never listens to anyone - he argues, he throws Amanda in a pit of needles. He is the worst character yet. Even when one girl in the house dies by placing her hands into two boxes with sharp entrances - we know the trap isn't for her but she does it anyway. Everything is simply messed up. There may also have been loads of other traps in the house we never see too! An interesting possibilitiy - and maybe a gap that could be filled in a sequel.

Another fantastic facet to this sequel - which is specific to Darren Lynn Bousman - is some of the transitions between scenes. He decided in some cases to have sets set up next to each other so characters can walk between sets creating a surreal switch between scenes - at one point Matthews is on the phone in his apartment and then he walks through a door and he is in a crime scene. Its a very small addition - but it is so significant because it creates an element of fluidity to the film.

We also get the flashbacks - a feature of all the movies - whereby we see how Jigsaw found out about his cancer, how he tried to kill himself and how he decided to 'appreciate' life. You really feel sympathy for this psychopath - especially when you see how corrupt Matthews is. When Matthews kicks the crap out of Jigsaw who do you feel sorry for? The detective with the missing son or the psychopath with cancer being kicked like an animal? Tough choice.

We're introduced to Rigg - a tactical commander who wants Jigsaw dead. He has a clear outlook on justice and does not believe in Kerry's, lets try and understand him, methods. I think as we find out about accomplices and what-not, Kerry clearly had a point because she wanted to get to the root of the issue rather than just lock him up. Anyway, Matthews is stuck between the two of them and the pressure is on regarding his son who is locked in a house with lots of crimincals and Jigsaw traps.

Right, I seem to be just randomly making points so I shall bring it to a close. I am sure there is such a thing called Saw-overload. Saw II is a bloody good sequel, but like anything, if you didn't like the first one - chances are, this isn't going to be a brilliant watch. It seems to just establish itself more and be clearer on its tone. Its grimy, its dirty - its a world of hatred and destruction and people like Jigsaw is who is going to change it. The new apprentice - Amanda - though not powerful and sinister enough to take Jigsaws place, she was an interesting addition. Moreso for the next sequels as you have an interesting dynamic between Amanda and Jigsaw but, as she shuts the door stating "Game Over" in her feminine, pseudo-sinister way, it pales in comparison to Jigsaw at the end of Saw.

Then again, in my opinion - as Daniel falls out of the safe, literally safe and sound proving that if Det. Matthews just sat and talked to Jigsaw his son would be safe, you could not help but be a little amazed. True to his word, Jigsaw 'tested' the detective but - Matthews (the cliche flawed cop) completely failed. That twist alone tops all the others - Amanda's reveal, Xavier cutting his flesh for his number, the video-feed not live, etc. Really is brilliant - and it is that pay-off that makes me watch the next installment.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Saw (James Wan, 2004)

"So are you going to watch yourself die here today, Adam, or do something about it?"


I always felt cheated when I watched The Exorcist or Psycho whereby the true horror never really affected me. Apparently people vomited and passed out watching The Exorcist while when I watched it - don't get me wrong - it was scary, but the whole 'ground-breaking' aspect doesn't bother someone who has watched Scary Movie 2 prior to watching it. I watched Saw after it was recommended to me by a friend who worked in a cinema (Mike B). He told me the situations people woke up in - " a girl wakes with a reverse bear-trap on her head, she has 5 minutes to get the key to get it off of her head ... the key is in the stomach of a paralysed man laying on the floor". I was amazed. It sounded incredible. To be honest, I know that my flat mates were unimpressed - many considering my sanity at the time. I think I appeared that little bit too keen - nevertheless, it eventually arrived in Aberystwyth Commodore Cinema and I was ready to go, but was not willing to go. More importantly, no flat mate would join me either. If I recall, Beth was simply horrified by the content and, therefore, this did not impress Alistair much - while Jo, I believe, was watching something else at the Arts Centre cinema (who would think there was any choice in Aberystwyth cinemas?), Rhys J was unimpressed - mostly because his girlfriend was unimpressed - so I was in a sticky situation with no friends to go with. I contacted a different friend - Lawrence - an open-minded semi-Gothic chap who, if he was free, probably would enjoy such a movie. He was free and he joined me. The lucky thing.

Following the movie, I was so scared and, thus, amazed at how scared I was that Lawrence and I had to resort to the local pub and drink. Conversing about how it was made and what was good and bad about it - thus fictionalizing the story, putting our minds at rest prior to going home. In the dark. Alone. I felt that the fear I felt as I squinted my eyes and waited for the flash of the camera to reveal the inevitable enemy lurking in the shadows must be similar to the fear felt by others in a very good horror movie. I had never seen something quite like it - and I was proud to have seen it at the cinema and 'survived'. (Coincidentally, turns out events at Saw III led to people fainting and vomiting akin to The Exorcist -

Saw and its predecessors have remained with me ever since and, prior to the release of Saw VI it seems only fitting to review them all because, seriously, I think the films are - though cheap and fitting for the horror genre - they are also interesting, ethical dilemmas ("What would I do in that situation?" rather than " yeah, Jigsaw is spot on with that one") and gritty, sordid horror movies which - if I may praise such a genre - fully deserve the title of torture-porn. With the dumbing down of certificates, these 18-rated movies, are all thats left of the gratuitous horror that you need to keep well away from the kids - but on a special evening, with the lights down low, with friends or even daring partners, these films give such a rush. A feeling that the fear of the screen and what may be shown may be morally wrong in and off itself.

What I reckon...

The first watch, as I recall, was a complete blur. I was overwhelmed with the horror-rush I was experiencing. I was intrieuged to find out the outcome - and the different situations that was presenting themselves. Obviously, how the Doctor and Adam would escape was an interesting reason to pursue watching. I bought the film to go through the experience again and, just the menu on the TV screen gave me chills, and it wasnt long before I 'hooked-in' other friends - Rhys BL, Jo and [at-the-time] my new girlfriend - and on the second viewing I could clearly see some major problems. Namely the acting - which is terrible. Cary Elwes as Dr Lawrence Gordon is simply boring - mundane, monotonous, and uninteresting. While the screen-writer Leigh Whannell played Adam as this hugely annoying, whiney unlikeable photographer. You could argue that this is their 'characters' ... but then you probably wouldn't mind whether they died or not.

Nevertheless, having watched it recently I was also interested at how the flashbacks - that are an important facet to the sequels - is solidly placed in the main feature itself. The only 'escape' from the room Adam and Dr Gordon are stuck in is these flashbacks. It is also a film that has this - not gothic - but 'heavy-metal'-anger tone. As Amanda attempts to take of her head-trap ("think of it like a reverse bear-trap") the camera simply shoots around her - dizzying to watch - while a guitar 'rocks' the soundtrack. Not wholly neccessary put clearly suits the intended audience - an audience that is more firmly established, whereby the soundtrack is more profitable. In Saw the score is entirely created by Charlie Clouser with a stunning string sequence that merges into the credits. From Saw II onwards the films end in silence - only to rock-on with the likes of X Japan and Soulidium and whatever hip-goth-rock band is in fashion to play over the credits. Shame because the strings sounded great over the credits.

Anyway, some funny things to consider when you have watched the other films. Namely how the plausible survival of Dr Lawrence Gordan...

Loads of youtube videos and imdb messages posts and forums talk about this. Apparently there is 'all this footage' scattered throughout the franchise to show that he survived - from limping Jigsaw accomplices (Saw II) through to bloody rags (Saw IV), not to mention the fact that his status on the official Saw website states that he is 'unknown'. I guess that pretty much means a cameo at the very least.

Finally, the film is suprisingly different to the later installments. In one sense, its unsure of the tone it wants to set - maybe not unsure, because it still looks gritty and sordid like Fincher's Se7en - a clear influence. What it seems to do, is have no shame in actually shooting sequences in different settings other than gritty, dingy sets. For example Dr Gordons family live in a very 50's-esque house - with deep reds and a very plush quality to it, which then accentuates the dirty nature of every other set - the 'room', jigsaws pad, etc. Even in the second one, it seems to remain very dark and dirty - horrible police offices and that house falling apart. I question if this simplification in tone in the series may have made them all a little ... how to put it ... too obvious?
Nevertheless, the twist ending floors anyone not in the know and places this film into a category bracket that few horror films achieve, but I question if the completely flawed acting is bad enough to destroy that status in equal measure. Will Saw remain a classic? If anything, the fact that the Saw franchise is the only longest-running, consecutively released franchise - beating Lord of the Rings - currently - by a further three sequels. So, the franchise will go intot he history books at the very least

The scale of Saw is incredibly small - few characters, small situations which affect few people. But the ante was up the following year. We plow on and watch Saw II ...

Friday, 4 September 2009

Watchmen (Zack Snyder, 2009)

" I heard a joke once: Man goes to doctor. Says he's depressed. Says life is harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world. Doctor says, "Treatment is simple. The great clown Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go see him. That should pick you up." Man bursts into tears. Says, "But doctor... I am Pagliacci." Good joke. Everybody laugh. Roll on snare drum. Curtains."


This has been a long-time coming and - opposed to some 'introductions' I give, this deserves an introduction. First off, I have never really cared for comic books - my childhood was shrouded by Action Man, Jurassic Park, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Live and Kicking, Cartoon Network, etc, etc. Not big into football (though was briefly into Wrestling - having a Brutus 'The Barber' Beefcake poster on my wall. Funnily enough I found the picture: and not big into comics (only a brief stint reading Tintin) so I don't know about rivalries between DC and Marvel, I don't know who is better - Spiderman or Superman, the whole X-Men and Avengers, etc. It was not a part of my childhood. Because of this, I only knew what I heard through the grapevine and, to be brutally honest, Watchmen I never knew about until the pre-publicity came about, whereby every book on the Watchmen were sitting on point-of-sale displays in HMV. Nevertheless, it wasn't long before friends (you know who you are) began telling me how the film release of this is a huge deal. 'The first graphic novel' and 'its a comic book with rape in - its so-o-o-o dark', etc. I was always a bit mystified because, when this growth in populairty comes shortly before the film-release it all seems a little dubious. Like the marketing campaign got everyones interest perked enough to start word-of-mouth, getting everyone psyched. Fact is, say with the release of Tintin next year - there is going to be pre-publicity for the comics again and inevitably it will be the talk of the town. Either way, Sarah's a big fan of tintin herself and - to be honest - she goes through 'Tintin' phases every now and then when she reads one of the comics. At no point did these friends who suddenly became huge fans of Watchmen did they care so much at Univeristy, or shortly after Uni, it was only when that first trailer 'which looks awesome' - using Muse for the soundtrack, very hip - did all these closet-Watchmen fans emerge. Thats how I saw it - because fact is, I didn't understand the hype. The trailer looked like any other comic-adpatation, neo-noir, explosive blockbuster release - maybe a little more 'epic' in its scale. Could have been The Spirit or The Punisher for all I knew. Then I saw the infamous Empire strapline: "The Citizen Kane of Comic Book Movies". C'mon. Really.

This entire hype amongst my friends ultimately created a Watchmen weekend, whereby friends travelled to London, tickets were booked months in advance at the IMAX and a group of us went at 11.30pm (that was a bad decision). But I thought, maybe I was out of the loop. maybe I didn't get it - it was some comic book thing that just passed me by, but was incredibly important so (contrary to the inevitable comments from Jo and Richard) I went in with an open mind ...

What I reckon ...

It really wasn't great. In fact, I thought it was awful - dragged on for way too long and had some absolutely cringe-worth sequences ("hallelujah, hallelujah". Did I give a flying fu**. No.). I think the fact that it came shortly after The Dark Knight (a superior film in every possible way) probably didn't help. I knew what an excellent dark, edgy, graphic-novel adaptation should be like and Watchmen simply didn't come anywhere close to the grade.

First off, I have now read the Watchmen comic book that, as everyone points out, was 'One of Time Magazine's 100 Best Novels'. I have also found out that Alan Moore - one of the writers of Watchmen - refused credit on this film adaptation (but he also claimed that Hayter's script was "as close as I could imagine anyone getting to Watchmen" ... a script that lifts alot of text directly from the comic-book itself...) , while with all the 'it was the first of its kind' stuff, turns out that a year prior to the Watchmen graphic novel was a miniseries that had very similar themes called Squadron Supreme - four characters called Nighthawk (Funny, because in Watchemen there is NiteOwl), Doctor Spectrum (Strange, in Watchmen there is a Doctor Manhattan...), Whizzer and Hyperion. They lived in an alternate world to the Marvel Universe. In the comic, members in Squadron Superior were removed for abusing their powers - in one case a superhero forces another to love him (Reminds me of Watchmen whereby The Comedian rapes - and then becomes the father of Silk Spectres child...) and the comic explores the origins of each of the four characters. To be fair, from what I have read, it is by no means the same. The credit Watchmen - alongside The Dark Knight Returns - have, still stands, as Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns are without a shadow-of-a-doubt the first examples of what became graphic-novels. Nevertheless, even with this small bit of insight, there is a little bit of an edge taken off of the Watchmen comic book, and therefore the film. As well written as it is and as interesting as it might be - rather than a unique where-did-this-come-from? attitude - turns out many themes and ideas had been done and Watchmen is an inevitable, though important, progression of some-sort in comic story-telling. Maybe thats a bit harsh, but I remember shortly after watching the movie feeling that for the sake of the film, as dark as the film is, The Dark Knight was more successful while, in terms of the epic nature of the film (a whole world created, a whole history, etc) something like Lord of the Rings even, completely surpasses the 'epic' nature of Watchmen. I'll bet if this was released shortly after the comic book in the late eighties, though special effects may not have been great (then again, only Dr Manhattan is a super hero...), it would have been the bar all comic-book movies would have been compared with. That didn't happen - Watchmen comes after the comic-book adaptations are solidly established in cinema thus paling in comparison to most adaptations that came before it.

Thing is, it came so late that any contemporary relevance is (pretty much) gone. Snyder has adapted the graphic novel very closely - Empire's DVD review of a directors cut release (the second of three DVD releases in one year: Theatrical, Directors Cut and 'Ultimate' version) states that "so faithful was the theatrical cut to the source material that there's little overmatter left". The Cold War is over - we now have the whole post-9/11 issue floating about explored by The Dark Knight - so what is the pull to this dated story? I think we all know the answer - money from me and my cronies going straight into the pockets of Mr Snyder and Co is the reason.

The biggest difference [spoilers here - not that I have ever prepared readers of the this blog before] is the change in finale in the film over the finale in the book. Now, as I recall, the finale of the film was some sort of huge Dr Manhatten inadvertantly destorying New York - Kim Newman even claims this as some sort of better ending - but, I have to admit, as ridiculous as the graphic-novel is, I prefer the graphic-novel ending and not the films. The plus-point of pictures is that, a powerful picture sticks with you - and the comic images of the destroyed NYC: the corpses, blood and destruction forces you to appreciate the range of perspectives of each character.

On the one level we can't ignore it - see Rorshach. On the other we can completely understand it - see Dr Manhattan. But if we did not control it and we did not create it then how do you continue in life? Moving on - understanding the horror of humanity is part of the problem, and - more importantly - working with others to achieve success is important, thus NiteOwl and Silk Spectre work together. One-man crusades do not work - whether you are the one 'rebelling' (akin to Rorshach) or whether you are the one who has the intelligence to surpass emotion - and thus lack humanity like Dr M - to engage in 'neccessary' deaths means your perspective is skewed.

Two things come to mind. First, "one mans terrorist is another mans freedom fighter". Secondly (probably the same point), it reminds me - and I don't know why this is the film that reminds me, it probably should be something better - but Swordfish directed by Dominic Sena had a great sequence with Travolta - as a terrorist - explaining to Hugh Jackman - a hacker hired to help - the entire 'you gotta break some eggs to make an omelette' analogy. " If you could cure all the dieseases in the world, but you had to kill one innocent child - could you do it?". Jackman answers, obviously as the moral compass, that "no one is worth the life of ..." etc. But it is a difficult dilemma because on the one side you have the rational, logical sense of Dr M that clearly makes senses but lacks humanity, while on the other you have the humane (?) perspective that extremist Rorshach has whereby morals and humanity come first and foremost in any future, in some cases ignoring rational and logical solutions. An age old argument I'm sure, but it is a fascinating discussion after a few drinks. I won't bother answering it here - it is simply a focus point of Watchmen that I think is shown better at the end of the graphic-novel rather than the film.

More practically anyway, I had a huge discussion about possible changes that would have improved the film - and, obviously this is all my own perspective and take on making a film of a two-decades-old comic book that utilises the current climate in cinema to support the style of filmmaking without getting rid of the underlying themes and intentions of Watchmen.

1. The tone of the film. The colour schemes primarily. The comic book, from what I can see, has a pretty dated style. Its not especially unique in its tone - if anything I can imagine what makes the comic so great is that is mixes this standard superhero-style comic-tone with themes that are more rooted in realism and therefore creating an interesting contrast. Fact is, the tonal quality of darker themes have become established and enhance the art form hugely - so twenty years after this possibly neccessary 'contrast' it would have been a better idea to look at other comic-book adaptations in the past for a little inspiration: The stylized Sin City and modernized X-Men would have been good starting points ... but alas, we have a film that looks weak in its presentation doing nothing to change the visual scope that film can offer.

2. Why make sure that the film so closely follows the plot structure of the comic? When you watch a film and when you read a novel - of any sort - the whole process of receiving the story between these two forms of art differ and should be changed accordingly. In the comic and film, we are slowly shown flashbacks of each character as we start each chapter pretty much - why not show the entire 'history' of the characters themselves during the first act in the film - establish a much more interesting Veidt, who is clearly a much more imposing and fascinating character in the graphic-novel than in the film - so that for the second act you can plough ahead with the story itself without worrying about filling in the gaps - the pace would be non-stop, rather than splitting it up with little flashbacks here and there ... this leads me to the next point whereby, the whole scope of the comic-book would be better suited to a ...

3. Trilogy - imagine it. Mix up the plot so that it fits neatly in a Trilogy (Apparently The Two Towers is completely different as a book in comparison to the film, but, as part of the trilogy it is a brilliant section that keeps the films consistently watchable.). First film introduces Rorshach and is all Film-Noir-ish as he begins to uncover the plan in detective mode, introducing briefly the characters and starting the whole story off - this film finishes When Rorshach is arrested. Part Two Rorshach is in prison, while the film is more focussed on Dr Manhattan. Obviously NiteOwl and Younger Silk Spectre semi-work with Rorshach in the first film, but are more in the forefront in the second film. This finishes as NiteOwl and Silk Spectre work together and break Rorshach out of prison. Third Part we have 'the showdown', whereby everyone is finally together and the character focus in the film is Veidt and, ultimately, his demise. Perfect. You could keep all the Black Freighter stuff in a trilogy, you can get a lot more focus on the Minute Men and explore those characters alot more - so Hooded Justice and Dollar Bill we would see their sections and 'know' them alot more, feeling alot more towards the whole world-that-has-heroes context. Would have been brilliant I reckon. When planning The Godfather Part III Coppola claimed that he intended each film to surround the other brothers of Michael - so Part I is about Sonny, Part II about Fredo and, therefore Part III about Tom Hagen. Obviously Duvall didn't star in Part III so that idea was dropped - but the focus on different characters outside of the main plot itself could have been applied well to a Watchmen trilogy.

Fact is, they didn't do any of the above - playing it safe with, pretty much everything, shot-for-shot. I'll finish recalling the line quoted, in the film spoken by Rorshach, this could have been a film with real heartfelt emotion, real depth to character and real change to the comic-book film genre but instead it becomes this excessive, violent and pretentious film that does not only not give justice to the themes it tries to explore but, more importantly, fails at giving depth to a comic that had so much. The quote above could be delivered with intensity and sadness and - in no-way the fault of Jackie Earle Haley - it comes across as pretentious and false. Much like the majority of the movie.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (Robert Zemeckis, 1988)

"Back in those days, me and Teddy liked working Toontown, thought it was a lot of laughs."


Right, this was a request from friends and I thought - rather than continue on a more in depth (ultimately time-consuming) critique of Watchmen or beginning the epic analysis of each Saw movie prior to the release of Saw 6 I thought it would be good to give a little insight into a few of the facets of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Turns out it has alot more references that the adult - rather than the child - would see ... especially if you know your movies. I am positive there are many, many more that I am completely oblivious to because the film is rooted in American film history. The background of the director is a pretty big deal too - no other than Robert Zemeckis post-Back to the Future (Though I think its before he filmed the back-to-back filming of the sequels). Nevertheless, its the same man behind Forrest Gump and What Lies Beneath ... so clearly we are not too far from the Brat Pack directors of the late seventies and early eighties.

What I reckon ...

The start is incredible - as we see a cartoon being made - only for it to be revealed that the cartoon is filmed in live-action. The cartoons are living, breathing creatures that roam theearth amongst us humans. Not only that, but the cute baby is not cute at all - he sounds like an old man and with the attitude to go with it!

The more adult themes reside in its choice of context - 1947, Film-Noir. The same era as Singin' in the Rain whereby rather than a problem arising between talkies and silent movies it is the 'toons' that are the problem - personified by Bob Hoskins 'Eddie Valiant' who claims 'doesn't work for toons'. We are revealed why ... a 'toon killed his brother with a, sob sob, piano. (!!) I have to admit this strange black-humour seems to be scattered across these eighties movies - awkward 'I-think-thats-funny-and-it-is-but-were-talking-about-death'. The sequence it brings to mind is in Gremlins whereby a character reveals that their father killed themself by getting stuck in a chimney dressed as Santa Clause. Ha ha ... oooh.

Valiant, as straight as his performance is against the 'wacky' toons is a tragic figure. He's a drunk (quite a dark subject...) and has no money - clearly having trouble getting business. The whole Roger Rabbit-Eddie Valiant combo is up against a an interesting character who rings bells ... Christopher Lloyd's Judge Doom. This links to two previous posts of mine: The Public Enemy and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Raiders was seven years prior - so I am sure that Zemeckis' buddy Spielberg may have assisted here because, as the bad guy in Raiders, Christopher is suitably dressed like the Jimmy Cagney criminal at the end of The Public Enemy. In the rain - black hat, black jacket ...

Interestingly enough, another link to the film is the Smile, Darn Ya, Smile sequence - the swap-over whereby Hoskins becomes the human in a cartoon world, opposed to Roger - who for the majority of the film - has been the cartoon stuck in the human world. Nevertheless, on the DVD of The Public Enemy the original Smile, Darn Ya, Smile is featured as part of the 'Warners Night at the Movies'. I couldn't find any information as to whether this was orginally the case back in 1931 ... so, if you know, please do tell.

We also have Jessica Rabbit - the 'New Woman', a new cartoon to replace the Betty Boops of the world. I felt when I watched the movie that maybe there was a point deep down in all this - that maybe the innocence and playfulness of cartoons of the forties is being lost. It times nicely to the time when graphic-novels began - with their sinister, darker stories. No innocence - just real pain. Jessica Rabbit is bad - she double crosses and then is good and then bad and then good again (should she be trusted?) to suit some sort of finale. Maybe a little research into cartoons of the eighties might reveal the point trying to be made - the sinister edge to cartoons perhaps. Viz magazine began in 1979 for one ...

Interesting little factoids to recall are how this is the first time that both Disney and Warner Bros characters appear together - the first and, apparently, only time. Its nice to think that in such a business age they forgot their differences and worked together for comedy (and alot of money I imagine was gained from this production...)

I love the movie myself - and the message is probably one of the most important ones. Don't take life too seriously. See the funny side. Laugh things off. Its completely true. One of my younger teenage memories was a time when, having attempted to go to bed early, I wore some stretched Lion King pyjamas when asnwering the door to my friend Pete - I was incredibly embarressed and, consequently was mocked relentlessly by Pete. My older brother told me that I should have just shrugged it off - just laughed it off - and then Pete probably wouldn't have found it so funny because he wouldn't have seen how emabarressed I was about the situation. I reckon' he would have still mocked me. Inevitably. But the alternative possibility links to the message of good ol' Roger Rabbit: Having a sense of humour is the most important thing.

Next Stop ... Space Jam ...