Monday, 30 November 2009

The Simon and Jo Show Podcast: 29/11/2009

Beaming from Simon's blog, the Richard and Jo Show ...

"Well, this week Simon is missing - but alas, Richard fills in with Jo as they run down the Top 10 Films at the UK box-office while discussing in more detail The Men Who Stare at Goats, The Good, a review of Film Festivals - Brighton Film Festival and The Wales One World Film Festival amongst others. Finally the world of adaptations is discussed ... from stage to screen ... Richard and Jo explore them all!"

I hope you enjoy the show folks!

Thursday, 26 November 2009

A Serious Man (Ethan Coen; Joel Coen, 2009)

"Please, accept the mystery"


Her name is Rio and she dances on the plane. No she doesn't. I speak of the Rio Cinema in Dalston where I viewed the Coen Brother's latest movie. The Guardian tells me it is 'magnificent' while Dan Jolin in Empire gives it five stars - even Sight and Sound makes it film of the month as Michael Atkinson expands on the Richard Kind's performance by telling us about his 'magnificent' performance. I was quite excited to watch this. I remember a similar hype around Burn After Reading - the star-studded vehicle following the Oscar winning No Country for Old Men. But I never watched it due to the not-as-enthusiastic-reviews of the aforementioned film. I knew it was about Jewish-ness (Woody Allen links maybe?) and, judging from the trailer, a comedy ... it was not like Woody Allen and was not as funny as I anticipated, but thats not to say I thought it was bad because it was a pleasure to be so close to this personal touch of Ethan and Joel Coen.


The film begins with a parable: A rational man brings back a man to his house - a man who his wife is positive was killed months prior. The man walks in and is clearly not dead, os the rational mans wife is convinced he is a dybbuk - a possessed spirit - and, out of nowhere, she stabs the potential-dybbuk. The man asks - 'now who is possessed?' and leaves. I assume, this small analogy, shows how peoples actions dictate how evil they are - whether he was evil or not is neither here nor there, he helped the rational man - but the wife on the other hand, for no real, justified reason, sought it neccessary to stab him making her the evil one in the story. Actions dictate your character - not the events that surround you.

Obviously, this is an anology for the rest of the film. Poor old Larry Guptnik (Stuhlbarg) has, what we believe, every conceivable problem happen to him: his wife wants a divorce, his teenagers are selfish (much like any teenager really), he gets involved in a car accident, etc The list goes on. So he wants answers - he knows the question: what do you do if you lose (pretty much) every thing? He asks a range of Rabbi's and the comment on their assistance is 'struggling' at best. I am forced to recall Ricky Gervais' view on comedy - whereby he felt that Andy Millman in extras had to reach rock bottom before he could reign supreme at the end of the Christmas Special of Extras. Larry hits rock bottom. He feels let down. He feels as if God has let him down. Larry Gopnik wants to know how life can get better.

His son plays an interesting parallel as he struggles to find a music-player that was taken by a teacher so he can pay-off a bully. I would assume the link here is that the bully Larry faces is life. The film climaxes at the bar mitzvah of Larry's Son, Danny. Larry has tried in vain to meet with the head Rabbi and fails, while his son is granted the privilege opportunity to meet him - the head Rabbi hands Danny his music player back. Obviously, as Larry never meets the Rabbi, his 'life' is not returned to normal.

The film begins and ends with a bribe - a student of Larry's, a Korean lad called Clive - the whole film, Larry denies this bribe, trying hard to make sure it is dealt with. But alas, the envelope of money sits on his desk.

[Spoiler] Then comes the incredible finale as everything that has happened, ultimately, affects Larry into changing his morals. The whole film, you see Larry brewing and about to blow a gasket. You feel as if the film has ended as Larry is informed that he may just get his tenure, his wife may love him still, his brother - an amazing performance from Richard Kind - tells Larry how lucky he is. You think that we have seen the storm of Larry's life pass ... but alas, he gets a $3000 bill and, he cracks and takes the bribe. At the same moment a storm moves towards his son and his classmates.

Referring back to Gervais' thought on making someone hit rock bottom before raising them up, in this case, Larry hits rock bottom and tries to make sense of it all. He never does but, eventually, the pressure gets too much and he changes his moral. He chooses to end his 'seriousness' of life and decides to, rationally, accept the bribe - when the reality is, he doesn't see the wood through the trees. His brother is right - he has so much going for him, but he doesn't see it.

I throughly enjoyed this movie. It is set in 1967 and therefore sets the stage for a potential deconstruction of the nuclear family, a possibility Dan Jolin mentions in Empire but I would disagree. Merely a parable - the whole 'grass is greener on the other side' story told in Coen-style. No envy on Larry's part - envy seen as sin by Jews (I assume), merely a frustration that - to stretch out the use of the aforementioned proverb - Larry feels why is his grass not as green as others? Reality is, we all feel this frustration when sh*t happens and it is - as the parable at the start tells us - down to our actions in the face of these events that determine who we are.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Animal Farm (John Stephenson, 1999)

"All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others"

Now, I made this promise a few years ago to log, on a 3 x 4 inch piece of card, every film I watch. My intention is to be able to access my initial thoughts on a film after I watched it, hopefully, upon reading the card again, I shall tap into those same emotions and remind me better of the film. The idea came from what Peter Biskind noted in Easy Riders, Raging Bulls about Peter Bogdanovich. He done the same thing. Biskind tells us he had thousands and thousands of these cards ... having kept a record from a younger age and, obviously, watched more films. I have a few hundred since 2007, but I haven't counted them i just know I have gone through a few packs of 200 cards. Very few of these cards are used elsewhere. This was by no means the first film to get the fabled card (I had just bought a James Cagney boxset so I think it was The Public Enemy) and, as you can imagine, these reviews all tap into those cards to gage my initial reaction. It does work if you must know - in some cases showing me how naive I was upon the first viewing and, in other cases, showing me how bang-on-target I was... all in all, its a good idea and any film buff I would recommend this form of record taking. (To add to it, its interesting to find that in some cases it is difficult to fill the card while in other cases you feel you could write hundred of cards after the first view). So, Animal Farm, was an inevitable consequence. Sometimes you watch a bum film. Vantage Point is somewhere within the cards. This, though based on a classic story, is bad adaptation. I watched it alongside hundreds of pupils at my school on a day focused on equality and human rights. Rabbit Proof Fence and Watership Down were other options. But this film won out ...


So, it is based on George Orwell's book of the same name. It is an allegory of totalitarianism. Totalitarianism is when a state dictates its own rules on everything - and in that respect, we mean everything. Totally everything. Inevitably, this control - which is usually a political faction rather than a democratic whole - eventually changes to suit its rulers, abusing the people under its control (when this happens, it is called authoritarianism). So, we have animals, who create rules in good faith to live by but, bit-by-bit, the rules are changed to suit the 'leaders' who, in this case, are pigs - specifically Napoleon the pig. In this film, the pigs - who topple the humans and despise how they live - begin to live like the humans themselves - getting drunk and even wearing clothes.

Enough of the politics - because you will find lots of that stuff in any books on Stalin (the ruler Napoleon the pig represents) and other historical films. You got the words, so if interested, hunt that information down. As a film - ignoring the highly intelligent allegory Orwell is responsible for - it's pretty bad. It's all live-action - akin to Babe - and therefore looks like a joke, negating any serious depth. Even though the themes explored are incredibly deep and emotionally involving. Maybe this is where books cannot be adapted - the allegory dominates your thoughts on reading the book, but when watching the film, some pig speaking Shakespearean English is more comedic than classical. And it is Shakespearean actors hired: Kelsey Grammer (as Snowball), Patrick Stewart (as Napoleon), Peter Ustinov (as Old Major), etc.

It makes the story non-linear by starting after the Animal Farm has fallen apart and then tracks back to its beginning, and how it was set up and how the animals took control of the farm in the first place. When it was Manor Farm, back in the day, the animals were abused, used and taken advantage of - and so they fought back and took over the farm.

Considering the source material, it is surprising to find that inaccuracies abound - in the book (so I see) Old Major dies naturally three days after his speech, while in the film he is shot soon after the speech. This is more 'action-packed' I assume. In the book the animals never want humans back while in the film they wish the humans would come back because the regime is so awful. I'm sure that tells a very different story - is the moral that 'sometimes you have to stick with things because change is wrong - look at these poor saps, they changed things and look what happened to them?'. Not the moral Orwell went for I'm sure.

I won't waste much time on this. Its a poor adaptation that cashes in its political stance for family fun - which is not the source material's intention. When I think of the 'adult' nature to Fantastic Mr. Fox , I only wish the same rule was applied here because it would be more accurate. Stick with the 1954 animated film - a film with enough political focus that the BBFC of 1954 rated it X ... now it's a U ... but clearly its more in line with the intentions of George Orwell. Though I wouldn't know because I watched this sh*t version instead.

John Stephenson, the director, is worked on many movies. He directed two films (at this time of writing) - this one and another kids movie called Five Children and It in 2004. His real experience lies in special effects - working on Lost in Space and The English Patient. Alas, nowadays he is a second unit director, his next gig being Andrei Konchalovsky's Nutcracker: The Untold Story ...

Monday, 23 November 2009

Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000)

"Memory can change the shape of a room; it can change the color of a car. And memories can be distorted. They're just an interpretation, they're not a record, and they're irrelevant if you have the facts."


I can't remember the first time I watched this. I think it was Uni - between 2002 and 2005. I didn't own it. Having watched the film, I once bought the triple-disc version and then, upon trying it out in the DVD, found the disc was ruined. I brought it back and they had no other ones available so i got a refund. I never bought it in the end and i don't intend to. It is one of those films people tell you,"you must watch it" as if it ranks next to Casablanca and The Godfather. It doesn't rank that highly ... and I doubt it would be in Top 10's of 2000 ... wouldn't get into a Top 20 if it came out in 1999 (what a year that was!) but its worth a watch. One of those films I only wish Hitchcock could have watched and I ponder what he would have thought - a good yarn anyway, but I don't think it is a 'classic'. Like Dial M for Murder is a good Hitchcock but it is by no means his best. But, because I have been praising the back catalogue of Danny Boyle recently i thought I would rip apart a movie that, personally, I think some people like a little too much.

So we have this completely non-linear storyline but not in any random sense of the word. The lead character, Lenny (Guy Pearce), has short-term memory-loss so we go back in time via the small segments of memory loss. While we do this, there is a running parrallel story shot in black and white which is in chronological order - opposed to the colour sequences that are, memory-segment-by-memory-segment, going back in time over the course of, say, a day. About twenty four hours ... maybe a little more (he sleeps twice so ... two days?). So, in this reversed-chronological colour strand we additionally see flashbacks to a guy called 'Sammy Jenkins' who is quite important...

That does make sense, but you may find that you need to watch the film to understand how the last paragraph makes sense. This construction of the story is a fascinating presentation - leading to a special-feature on some DVD's to watch the film completely in chronological order or in the combination of non-linear strands - as intended. We know Lenny's wife was murdered and he lost his memory in the process and he is on the hunt for the killer. We meet other characters also. Two characters who look remarkably like characters from Zion. No other than Cypher-Joe-Pantalioni and Trinity-Carrie-Ann-Moss playing Teddy and Natalie respectively.

As a fan of TV-series 24 it is perhaps not-surprising to note that this film was made a year before the TV-series as you begin to realise that in each segment, akin to each episode of 24, there is a little bit of action - in most cases ending with a cliffhanger - before moving on to the next bit. This keeps you constantly asking 'eh? whats going on? woo hoo! action! drama! oh, phew, questions answered ... [end of segement] ... eh? whats going on?' etc. So, poor old Guy Pearce has some really bad-luck getting himself involved in many little scraps. I am sure, anyone who initially had the idea for 24 could have watched this and seen the scope for how much action and drama and cliffhangers that can be put in place throughout a lots of sequences set over a short period of time. Nevertheless, this is a lot more personal and rough - as Lenny is on his own and has no CTU or FBI to assist him. The fact that he is alone means his trust in everyone else is jeopardized. This, I believe, is the crux - the real centrepoint - of the story. (While talking about 24 for the character Jack Bauer, that is his biggest issue: "you have to trust me!")

People create stories, they look back on history to stregthen themselves - learn from paste mistakes to move forward. Lenny can't learn from mistakes because he can't remember them! Bless him. But, then again, some people ignore mistakes and problems of their past and move on - ultimately making the same mistakes. (SPOILER! As we find out that Lenny literally makes the same mistake, murder (a pretty big mistake the ol' murder), again and again.)

Structurally, we have some great use of effects as, more often then not, some loud bang (on the door, phone ringing, car crash) or a little note recently written precedes or ends the reverse-chronological segments ... that way we know where we are at the end of each section. But then, the music, is so slow ... these long drawn out strings by David Julyan seem to want to imtate Bernard Herrman but seem to fall down to sound just boring.

To close, if its not bad enough that I have to accept how Lenny has no personality, I have to add to that the slow music. This could be so much faster but seems to drag on. Lenny's monotone voice recounting the events in his memory "my god, remember Sammy Jenkins". YES! I remember him. For Goodness sake. I have had long discussions with some people ... you know who you are ... about the choice of actor for Lenny. On the one hand he is such a boring protagonist (and you would think a tattoo-clad murderer would be quite interesting) and is the wrong actor to play such a role. On the other hand, he has - pretty-much - no memory so, obviously, thats how he feels. That is his outlook. So it adds to the realism. Its groundbreaking, thats for sure but I always feel when I watch this film that it could have been better -a little tweak here, a snag there would help. Its not either screenwriter Nolan or director Nolan's fault, but it is somebodies ... question is ... whose fault?

[I think it is Guy Pearces fault... all that Neighbours training methinks]

The X-Files Movie: Fight The Future (Rob Bowman, 1998)

"If we fail to anticipate the unforeseen or expect the unexpected in a universe of infinite possibilities, we may find ourselves at the mercy of anyone or anything that cannot be programmed, categorized or easily referenced."

So, I watched this a few months back prior to the more recent movie release. Sarah used to watch the TV series but stopped watching - as most in the UK did - after this movie release. My sisters were huge fans but I never was - I was quite young myself and it was always on that little bit too late. Nevertheless, only recently, Sarah got the Complete X-Files Collection and, following watching Season 7 of 24 we shall begin watching this series from the start. Something I had always wanted to do but never really had a chance and, as Sarah is more keen then i am, it gives me double the reason to start watching. Mad Men Series 3 won't start in England for a while too so ... we got plenty of time. Either way, I thought I'd use this opportunity to do a review The X Files Movie: Fight The Future as someone who doesn't know the series at all.


It is an extension of the TV-series so I begin on the wrong foot. We start the film with a huge action sequence with the FBI agents Mulder and Scully not working on the X-Files - a part of the FBI that is OOA (Out Of Action) - but as a part of the bomb unit. The film still has its opening of cavemen finding aliens thousands and thousands of years ago giving the entire film an epic context that, I assume, is the opportunity that a feature film has over the smaller scale TV-series (even though, nowadays TV series can be a lot more expensive than many feature films!)

It shows some beautiful landscapes - namely snowscapes and crop fields that look like they continue on for an eternity. I wouldn't know which artist they are referencing, but it sure looks like shots you could freeze and put on the wall. There are a few subtle references to other Sci-Fi films - namely Alien whereby humans are kept in pods.

Ultimately, without watching the TV series, there is very little to go on. We have recurring X-Files characters - the 'cigarette man' amongst others which means nothing to the uneducated and, definitively, very little is resolved. Everything is more of a set-up for the following series, I presume, rather than an opportunity to win over new fans. Even the 'plant', though destroyed is simply remade again.

We have an interesting dynamic between Mulder andScully brought to forefront as the start sequence on the bomb-squad goes wrong, the pair are forced to take the blame over the problem. But the two were always seen as outsiders if I recall - they looked into supernatural events, a subject that most people don't even believe! So the fact that we see this potential struggle for the two characters is actually quite weak because, I'd like fans of the show to help me with this, I am sure they have come up against bigger problems.

Now, as I recall, the sexual chemistry between the two is something that is always hinted at and, again, a love-angle to this film is unresolved as the pair nearly kiss but are inadvertently interrupted by a wasp and are therefore forced to follow that problem.

As you can see I am rushing. I am excited to watch the TV-series but I watched this film shortly after its release and then watched it again in the last year and this film didn't sell me on the series. Considering this film came only two years after Independence Day you wish they looked at that for a bit of inspiration - I don't want the huge destruction of the blockbuster but at least some of the ideas could have been used - the government, aliens on the planet, etc. In fact, if this was a smaller-scale Independence Day with Mulder and Scully in the foreground it would have been alot more worthwhile as a stand alone movie. Fact is, 24:Redemption was not in the cinemas (in UK anyway) because it was primarily a set-up for Series 7 ... this should have been the same. Only-on-TV so only the TV-series fans watch it or bigger and better if it was in the cinema so all of us non-regular viewers can enjoy a good Sci-Fi adventure.

So, in reference to the chosen quote. In this case, I know this is a bridge between series 5 and 6 of the TV series and I had 'foreseen' such a predicament. I only have myself to blame.


Very soon after this post was whacked online, I got an email from a media company about a competition with Volkswagen whereby there is a prize to do with X-Files. Seems pretty good to me if this is your bag ...

"To mark the X-Files being voted into the Timeless 50, this Thursday fans can win - a two-night stay in the village of Avebury, Wiltshire, with its world-famous prehistoric stone circle dating back 5,000 years. Prize includes entrance for two people into the Alexander Keiller Museum, and lunch at The Circle Restaurant. You will also receive The X Files - The Complete Collector's Edition – 61 Disc Box Set.

Details are on the link below."

Sunday, 22 November 2009

The Simon and Jo Show Podcast: 22/11/09

Well! An Award-winning week this time! We watched The Coen Brothers Barton Fink and the most recent Palme D'or winner, White Ribbon and discuss their impact. We also discuss the most recent releases amongst making fun of Cineworld pass holders.

Loads of links to itunes and facebook on the right-hand side.. enjoy folks!

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Wall Street (Oliver Stone, 1987)

"The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind."


Now I only bought this as it was a bargain price - £3 - from the hallowed halls of HMV. The sequel is coming out soon, its one of those 'classic' movies about the materialistic eighties and, following watching Natural Born Killers a few months back and, thus, beginning to appreciate Oliver Stone, I thought this would be a good movie to watch. The infamous Gordan Gekko (Douglas) and the incredibly eighties not-so-hot-ness of Daryl Hannah wet my appetite ... so, I whacked it in and though it had its good points, there were some problems I found and maybe that is due to my lackof knowledge of stocks and shares...


Based in New York - take a guess which street - Wall Street follows Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen), an incredible name for a white-collar worker who is the son of blue-collar worker, union representative Carl (Martin Sheen). The 'elephant' that Fox wants to catch is Gordan Gekko (Douglas) a HUGE client who will spend alot of money which will bump up his earnings. He meets Gekko, Gekko see's how pathetic he is but - following Fox giving some information on his Fathers 'blue star' airline - Gekko see's that he may have a financial-incentive with hiring Fox as an insider-trader (a man who illegally finds out problems with a company while people like Gekko take stocks from the company only to sell them off for profit following the companies closure making Gekko a profit but ruining the company itself). So Gekko and Fox are buddies - both feeling they have some parrallel as Gekko himself claims he was born from blue-collar worker parents but he wasn't going to settle for the low-pay that blue-collar workers get. The plot continues to show incredible speeches on greed by Gekko and Daryl Hannah as an awful love interest for Fox and Gekko. Gekko then nearly ruins the 'blue star' airlines Bud Fox's father works for and that leads to the finale whereby Fox needs to do everything he can to save 'blue star'...

Gordan Gekko (Douglas) is an incredible chararacter - and if I'm honest - he is the only reason a sequel made. Gekko in a different situation is something that will make fascinating viewing. He has some fantastic lines: "rip out their throats" etc. Then also has a brilliant speech on greed - ultimately specifying the allure of greed and how, in the eighties, it was predominant. It makes me want to watch The Corporation a documentary I haven't seen - but apparently paints the picture that the perfect capitalist business would be psychologically profiled as a mentally unstable murderer ... Gordan Gekko is that representative. Though he doesn't directly kill anyone, the closure of 'blue star' does consequently affect Bud's dad who then has a heart attack. Nevertheless, Gekko's statistics on the US of A are shocking: "The richest one percent of this country owns half our country's wealth, five trillion dollars" and "Now you're not naive enough to think we're living in a democracy, are you buddy? It's the free market" - and the big one as quoted above. Kudos to Oliver Stone and Stanley Weiser (who, interestingly wrote a script for another sneaky motherf*****: Bush in W.).

Then there is the love interest: Darian (Daryl Hannah). Oh. My. God. What could be - and should be - an interesting, complex character (she sleeps with both Gekko and Fox... but we are unsure if she really falls for Fox and the history between her and Gekko) turns into a wooden robot who delivers lines with the intensity of a flea. Once you realise how bad she is - following her speech on interior design and artistic taste - every scene she appears in is soured b her prescence. And Daryl Hannah isn't a bad actress - see Kill Bill and Splash - just in Wall Street she is incredibly bad. Evcen winning a Razzie for her performance.

I found it incredibly difficult to enjoy passionately. I don't work in stocks and shares and don't know any bankers either so the life that is shown completely perplexes me - I know nothing. The subtext as Bud Fox has to adopt the role of a cleaner to gain inside information shows how, to succeed, this role asks someone to be something they are not and - if you can do it successfully - you actually come out the other end on top. But you have to have that killer instinct. So, that idea of screwing others over for your own success is something which happens in every workplace and I can relate to knowing people like that. But I felt that Charlie Sheen was a bit too clean cut. Apparently Tom Cruise was considered for the role and, when you think of Cruise's incredible performance in Jerry Maguire you can see how that business, money-making character can be played incredibly well by Tom Cruise ... Charlie Sheen is a cheaper version I feel.

To close - only a brief overview - it is a great film for Gekko but, other than that, beware. The protagonist isn't as interesting as he could be, the love interest is incredibly weak and finally the context is difficult to fully understand. These problems outweigh the plus-point-that-is Gekko. But it is a fascinating example of capitalism ... but I reckon' there is a better example out there...

[Nb: The poster above looks very similar to the poster for Goodfellas]

Sunday, 15 November 2009

The Simon and Jo Show Podcast: 15/11/09

Bonjour! Regardez les musique! It's a music and French special combo! The films in focus this week include Ortega's This Is It, Dreamgirls and Once when we look at music while the French films are Mesrine: Public Enemy No 1 and A Prophet - the London Film Festival's Best Film winner! Plus some details on our Welsh correspondants recent viewings ...

As you may know, we are on itunes now and facebook and are hosted on a separate free podcasting host site. All the links are on the right-hand side.

All the reviews on itunes are much appreciated!

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Trainspotting (Danny Boyle, 1996)

"Choose life... But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life. I chose somethin' else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you've got heroin?"


I didnt see this film for ages. Released in 1996, I don't think I watched it until 2003 or 2004. Embarrassing. Then again, I didn't watch Pulp Fiction the whole way through until 2002. But I did watch The Godfather in my mid-teens which is pretty good I think. So many people miss out on watching Coppola's masterpiece until their mid-twenties. I knew this would be good though. I don't know why, but from all the footage I have seen, I knew it was going to be hip and cool and, ultimately an entertaining movie. Turns out, it is also incredibly well-acted with Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Jonny Lee Miller, Kelly MacDonald and Ewan Bremner. All of which, folowing this film, were set up for life. The film itself, in my opinion, began the whole drugs, clubs and fast-paced adreneline movies of the 90's. So, 1996, Trainspotting. Lola Rennt in 1996 and then, both Go and Human Traffic in 1999. I love these movies - yet watched the 1999 movies many times before getting Trainspotting in. So, after a Christmas in 2003, I recieved this and, since then, I have watched it at least 3 times. Never loses its sparkle.


It is centred around four characters primarily: Renton (The lead role played by McGregor), Sick Boy (Miller), Begbie (Carlyle), Spud (Bremner). There is a fifth character, Tommy (Kevin McKidd) but I don't feel like we see him as much - important in the first act, but then it moves away from him in the second act and he's not in the last act at all. The story progresses as we initially see a heroin addicts day-to-day life - until it screws-up royally as a baby of another addict dies. Everyone vows to stay clean - and Renton attempts to - but, ultimately, fails. Note that Begbie doesn't do drugs - he is simply the most violent alcoholic ever. Tommy initially doesn't do drugs, but post-break-up with his girlfriend he begins the downward spiral.

The whole film has a surrealist edge - so in a similar way that we visually lost perspective looking up the stairwell in Shallow Grave - in this film it goes further, showing entire surreal sequences as Renton disappears down a toilet and begins swimming amongst pure, water to find the pills he - by mistake - excreted seconds prior. One section shows Renton go cold turkey and try and give-up the drugs, but goes completely nuts. Cue another strange surrealist sequence as a baby crawls on the roof (a baby that recalls the plastic baby toy in Shallow Grave). This whole sequence even has good ol' Dale Winton - one of the UK's mid-nineties TV personalities. One of the few dated aspects to the movie. I guess, now, it would be Ant 'n' Dec.

Based amongst the Edinburgh clubbing, drug scene, Boyle did state that he wanted the music to have a timeless quality to it - and so we have everything from Iggy Pop and Lou Reed through Pulp and Blur and out to Underworld and Leftfield spaning a time period from the 70's through to the 90's. A real fantastic selection of music. I could do a whole blog on the music alone. The use of Lust for Life by Iggy Pop is interesting as it is shown at start (Danny Boyles running-through-the-streets, fast-paced start ... we see it again in Slumdog Millionnaire, even Millions has the two kids running around the house being built around them during the opening credits) and also shown midway through, but with a different tone. What began as sneak-theives and petty-theft becomes, by the second time we see the same sequence with the same music, a sad situation, whereby we feel pity and hopelessness. They still can't kick the habit.

Interesting facet is Swanney's house. Swanney is the dealer in the film and he has a grimy, dirty hole of a house where the druggies go. Boyle mentions on some special features that this house where they shoot up and knock out is representative of skin - with puncture and problems throughout. It has such a damp feeling and you really see how low these character shave got to reside in such a place. Even when Renton OD's to the tune of 'Perfect Day' within the house, it is this horrible place he is taken out from, by his feet, as he is left on a road to be picked up by ambulance.

The whole 'choose life' monologue is incredible and, I'm sure, will remain as one of the most important film-monologues of the nineties. Now theres a feature for 'Empire' or 'Sight and Sound' ... maybe even Adam Kempanaer and Matty Robinson can do a Top 5 'Best Monologues of Cinema from...' each decade? Taxi Driver's 'are you talkin' to me' would be in there. Maybe, having mentioned The Godfather the opening 'I believe in America...'. Whatever the case 'choose life' would be amongst the top 10 at the very least if not the number one.

Righto - its an incredible movie with every aspect you want from a film. It's iconic and always shall be - no doubt constantly rehashed and inspired-from akin to Tarantino's Pulp Fiction two years prior. Iconic to the point that, in 1997, following all the publicity for the film - having not seen the film - my younger brother and I, when set free with a cheap camera took pictures of each other looking like film characters - one of which was the whole Renton holding himself pose in the poster above). At the aged of 10 and 12, thats pretty impressive for a character look and style. Danny Boyle had truly arrived. (We also done a Forrest Gump picture and many pictures of ourselves lay on roads as if we had just been ran over... strange children we were)

I only wish Porno, Irvine Welsh's follow-up novel, was made next. I read the book a short while after having watched the film and it has been written as if the first film was its predescessor. from what I hear, a character omitted from John Hodge's screenplay for Trainspotting is equally missing from Porno which gives the indication that Porno was made, to be made into a film. It has been a while since I have read it but, from what I recall, Renton is in Amsterdam, Sick-boy is the lead character (imagine that, a whole new perspective in the Trainspotting universe!) and Begbie is released from prison and - unintentionally - they all happen to bump into each other. I loved the book and I, even now, still chase up details of the film because so far, all i know, is that some company has got the rights but people are waiting on McGregor and Boyle to agree. Jonny Lee Miller probably needs to jump on this while Carlyle, having fallen from grace into 24:Redemption and Stargate (apparently made, in the hope that it becomes 'cool') shouldn't be too hard to convince. Then there is Kelly MacDonald. Just done Michael Keatons directorial debut and having worked with the Coen Brothers. Might be quite difficult. At least they need to look old and haggard ... so they could film it in another ten years when their credability is completely gone.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Shallow Grave (Danny Boyle, 1994)

"If you can't trust your friends, well, what then... What then?... Oh, yes. I believe in friends. I believe we need them."


Well ... this is a strange film. Stranger than I expected. As mentioned on this weeks podcast, I am a big Danny Boyle fan. Any film of his I shall watch opening weekend - few directors get the same respect from me. Nevertheless, this film I have been holding back on. I have watched all his other films (even the lesser known Strumpet ... but not Alien Love Triangle...). So, because this film was the directorial-debut starring Dr Who and a Jedi I thought I'd save it for a special occasion. Interestingly, it was when I swapped a few DVD's I saw this on Bluray and thought, well, who knows ... nows the time to see the film that I have held back from for a long while ...

What I reckon... [Nb: I'm getting a bored with 'what I reckon' as-the-title tag - any advice on changes?]

The film begins as three flat mates - journalist Alex (McGregor), doctor Juliet (Fox) and accountant David (Eccleston). Alex is incredibly annoying - constantly talking as Juliet, pretty much, keeps him going. Much to the disappointment of David. The film begins with a type-of overview of friendship and what friendship is to these characters. And I wouldn't be suprised if the writer thought "right, how can I get three best friends want to literally kill each other in a short space of time as an entertaining movie?". The three flat mates need to interview a bunch of people who could potentially be their flat mate - becoming very nasty in the process. One ginger-lad called Cameron is completely offended as they claim 'why would we want to live with some like you'?. Its pretty harsh and, as you think they are all smug wankers, the joke is on them. But thats who they are, so you can't fault the actors playing such roles to a T. So, eventually, Juliet interviews a man separately and, they look like they are hittingit off - especially as she makes clear she is single by telling him to tell her ex-boyfriend on the phone to sod off. This new guy goes into his bedroom, locks the door and - before you know it - he's dead (in a pose remarkably similar to Henry Wallis' Chatterton in his 1856 painting The Death of Chatterton). They find his body and are all a little ... 'weirded out'. Not in shock (well, David says "I've never seen a dead body before" in stunned awe) really - Alex is rooting through his stuff and Juliet practially covers the naked dead man and then calls the ambo. Then they find a suitcase full of money. In shots that are used again in Millions they are unsure what to do - wanting to keep the money. They dispose of the money, with David pulling the short straw and having to chop up the body. The whole film becomes this horror-movie - with David going more and more mental while Alex spends money and the people who are owed the money begin to close in on the flat.

Its a bit strange because it destroys every ounce of good in each character - but they are a bit annoying anyway - but they become completely destroyed over the film. The first act sets all this up with chopping up the body finishing this section, the 'centre piece' is each character getting more a more confused (except Alex who just watches daytime TV and doesn't really give a shit) - David goes completely insane and begins to become a peeping-Norman Bates character. I reckon Psycho was an influence because, alongside the peeping holes thing, there is a shot which looks just like the Janet Leigh shot after the camera zooms out from the eye in the bathroom, post murder.

The film finishes as they are all content with killing each other/calling the cops and giving each other up. But then again, any murder/chopping up is going to screw you up. I don't think thats about friendship - more about sanity and state of mind. Even the flat seems quite unique - and a character unto itself. Pastelly colours - stange paintings hung on the walls looking down on them. The red phone. Making the flat seem quite a spacious place - and possibly separating all the characters further. We first them close together on a sofa at the start and, as the film progresses they get further and further away from each other.

The them itself is prevalent in lots of Dany Boyle's movie. On a purely practial level with whole 'Bag of money' theme, we see it again in Millions and, to some extent, it is a bag of money that gives Renton the opportunity to escape in Trainspotting (Also, a weird baby thing is in Shallow Grave too...). Taking the idea further and considering the notion of greed, and wanting something that isn't actually yours - McGregor tries to rob the business of Cameron Diazs' father in A Life Less Ordinary while Slumdog Millionnaire has this Millionnaire program at the centre of it - though this is not the motive of the lead character.

To close, unlike Slumdog this is not a love story. It is about how much money is worth - and the cost. In a world of celebrity culture, this shows - back in 1994 - these issues as they began. What people do for money - and how far people go for money? Apparently, in the early days of filmmaking - or any business (think about the beginning story of Facebook), everyone is friends and only when the big bucks start coming in do friendships change. This is interesting, as clearly that entire situation is played out here over the space of a few weeks. An interesting double-bill would be with No Country for Old Men with the one guy, finding a suitcase full of money. I didn't love the film as much as I thought I would - maybe my expectations was too high, but I can see how - even at this stage - Danny Boyle was a force to be reckoned with. Some interesting shots: the beating at the cashpoint from the perspective of the cash machine and the shots looking up the staircase with the fast-paced road travelling at the start shows a unique, exciting perspective that soon enough inspired many movies to come. Moreso with Trainspotting but still, the signs were there with Shallow Grave.

The Simon and Jo Show Podcast: 08/11/2009

British Special! Whoop whoop!

"This week, as part of a British Film Special (with a little French music) we look at An Education, Harry Brown, Starsuckers and the nominees for The British Independent Film Awards."

Do try folks to review our podcast on the itunes website and then we get a bigger fanbase and then we get paid for doing something we love!
All the links for the show - in itunes, etc, is on the right hand side!

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Glengarry Glen Ross (James Foley, 1992)

"Your name is "you're wanting", and you can't play the man's game, you can't close them, and then tell your wife your troubles. 'Cause only one thing counts in this world: get them to sign on the line which is dotted."


Screenplay written by David Mamet and based on his own play performed 8 years prior, this is a film that has always been known as one of the must-see-movies from Pacino's canon. I happened to see the stage play advertised countless times when I first started travelling to London - though never managed to watch it. The London production of the time had Jonathan Pryce, Aiden Gillen (Carcetti from The Wire) and Anthony Flanagan (Cop Tony, from Series 1 of Shameless) and was before The Old Vic' put on Mamet's other fantastic play Speed-The-Plow. A play I did see (Spacey and Goldblum ... incredible). Interesting because Jonathan Pryce was in this movie too - as more of a side character - while in the London adaptation he plays Jack Lemmons role, Shelley. More background? Alan Alda, Jeffrey Tambor (from Arrested Development) and Liev Schrieber (from Wolverine) starred in the Bradway 2005 version. Liev Schreiber and Aiden Gillen both played [in the movie] Pacino's role - Ricky Roma.

What I reckon ...

It is set over two acts and over two days. The first act is this moody evening while the second act is in the morning. The sales guys sit in a dull office and they are called together for a meeting with an external motivator - Blake, played by Alec Baldwin [a character not in the play]. He gives them an ultimatum - close deals, that night, or be fired. Only two of the group of real-estate agents will get the prized 'Glengarry' leads ... while everyone else will be fired. Amongst a range of characters, we have Shelley (Lemmon), an older man who has not had a great run of sales in recent months, while we also have Moss (Ed Harris) and George (Alan Arkin) trying to find a way to keep there job. Then we have cock-sure Ricky Roma (Pacino) who appears to be closing deals easily - a real pro. The statement of 'Close, or be fired' by Blake does make me think of The Apprentice ... do you think Alan Sugar and the BBC may have watched this film shortly before making the TV series?

Considering Blake is not in the play, it is incredible to see such a scene play out - Baldwin just insults and slams every agent in the room. explaining to them how sales work: "Always be closing, ABC" and "Attention - do I have your attention?", decision, interest, action. Funnily enough I worked in sales for a short while and these same tactics are employed - I'm pretty sure we even laughed about the similarities while being trained.

Whats incredible is the speed of the delivery - its non-stop. Every line is clear and succinct, showing caffeine-high employees working too hard to satisfy bosses who we never see. Each character has a motive and a plan to get money - reflecting this competetive attitude of masculitinity. Shelley, a character with few saving graces, seems out of his depth and he sinks exceptionally low to stay a man not lose his job. Masculinity and what it means to be a man is often a theme in Mamet's plays - and this is no exception.

Obviously the agents are the lead roles, but there are some subtle performaces by Spacey and Pryce on the side. Kevin Spacey plays Williamson, a character despised by the lower ranks. He has a complex outlook - holding the keys to the guys future. Williamson gives the leads to the agents to help them out - so this hatred stems from a frustration towards the power Williamson has over them. Pryce plays a minor role of James Lingk - he is easily manipulated and Ricky Roma mainpulates him for everything he is worth. Luckily, Lingk's wife intervenes and stops him from spending any money - but it is fascinating to see how the sharks simple eat him up with no thought to his family or future.

This is a great film - but it relies on the actors and the delivery, which is perfect in this case. To go against it, you have to consider how it translates as a film. It is still set in one room (pretty much) and is short ... so, you have to question whether its initial run on stage is how it is meant to be seen. Then again ... no Alec Baldwin character, Blake (seriously, find the single scene he is in that creates the tension many movies die for), making this a very unique version. But, as a stage play you wouldn't have the actors either. Ultimately, no Pacino.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Band of Brothers (2001, Based on a novel by Stephen Ambrose)

"What were you thinking? Dragging our asses half way around the world, interrupting our lives... "


So I did watch this a long time ago. Initially with Al and Ollie (a man who appeared in Aberystwyth over a summer in 2003 and never returned...) and then again when I purchased the boxset. A tin boxset at that something I was incredibly proud of until I found that you could get the tin boxset for £15. Bloody HMV. Nevertheless, for God-knows how long I have been telling Sarah to watch it and, following a failed viewing of a scratched-DVD of Generation Kill and completing series 2 of Mad Men we thought now was the time to embark on Band of Brothers. Not to mention howit (a) featured Donnie Wahlberg (who was often mentioned recently in the house due to the Saw franchise topic of recent weeks) and (b) the semi-sequel to Band of Brothers beginning its publicity run. The second series is called The Pacific and starts in 2010 ... starring no-other-than Joseph Mazzello, aka, Tim from Jurassic Park. As a 10-year old boy, it was he I always wanted to be.

What I reckon...

This could be a very long post because there are so many facets to the series, but I shall try to summarise differents aspects on an episode-by-episode basis.

This was the critically-acclaimed beginning to the series. If I recall, this opening episode was a huge success as it showed the exceptionally high-quality of the series. Not to mention it starred Ross from Friends. I must admit, as soon as you see him its a bit awkward, but within a minute or two - "contraband!" - he shakes of his Ross-attributes and is the excessive Liet. Sobel. We see the boot camp that the 'Band of Brothers' - aka, Easy Company, aka, the 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment who were assigned to the 101st Airborne Division during World War II. Phew. Its only a 10-part series and we are expected to get to know a huge range of characters and this section gives us a little taste of the main members of the group - namely Winters (Damien Lewis who is flawless in this. I was excited to watch Dreamcatcher following this series and then my expectations of Lewis was lowered again... bloody Stephen King adaptations), Nixon (Livingston), Lipton (Wahlberg of Saw II, III and IV), Malarky (Grimes whom I''ve seen on the DVD sleeves for ER ... will he be the next Clooney?) and 'Shifty' Powers (Youngblood Hills), Luz (Gomez), "Bull" (Cudlitz) ... and loads more. My personal favourite is Guarnere (Frank John Hughes who, strangely enough, I have only recently seen in Series 7 of 24 and he turns out to be in the last series of The Sopranos) and Martin (Dexter Fletcher, aka, Babyface from Bugsy Malone and Soap from Lock, Stock).

Currahee is the hill Sobel constantly orders the company to run, jog, walk up every weekend as they break minor rules. Interestingly, Sobel in reality post-WWII actually tried to shoot himself and failed and was in an institution until he died. Weird. Strangely enough also, 'Currahee' is an Indian word that means 'stand[s] alone'. So, maybe this means how the company worked together to split away from Sobel and went against standing on their own, instead opting to work as a team. The actual guys in Easy company claim that, though they despised Sobel, his demanding expectations were what got them through the war.

Day of Days
This is where we first meet Speirs - another favourite role. We see, in detail, a specific operation called Brécourt Manor Assault that, apparently, is still taught in military academies across the US. The start of the episode shows us the company landing on D-Day as people completely detroy planes attempting to drop off troops. Its crazy because you just have to imagine the horror as you see a plane alongside - scratch that - you see loads of planes doing exactly the same as you being shot out of the sky. You are inevitably going to think you are going down next. Then, upon landing, you have to navigate your way to the grouping point. We have the subtle introduction of the idea that the enemy is exactly the same as yourself - namely, malarky speaks to a 'Kraut' who was actually in America and brought up in a place close to him but was recalled for the war effort in Germany. Then you have the infamous sequence with Speirs as he offers cigarettes to the German POW and then guns them all down ... a rumour that gives Spiers a fear that stretches across the company and demands respect.

An episode told from the perspective of Blithe (Marc Warren) - a soldier controlled by fear. We first see him staring into the sky, far away from his company. He tags along with E-company and others soon see him as a soldier who ducks for cover - it is Winters and Spiers who give him a different perspective. Spiers advice: think that you're already dead... (no positive thinking really) and then Winters who simply forces Blithe to accept his role: to support and help others. It is after this that he gains confidence - eventually leading others into a house, only to be shot. Many people feel this is the best episode and I think, unless you are in the military, you would always fear that you would be the one ducking for cover, constantly saving your own ass and hoping you won't die. The credits tell us that, in reality, Blithes died a few years later in the forties. Thats not true, he lived on into the sixties. These small discrepencies don't ruin much but, as a character, I think the fact that soldiers who might have got over their fear still died for others.

This is interesting as we see a mission that failed - notably called Operation Market Garden. This is also within the context of a topic regarding replacement soldiers - soldiers who would replace others who died and would therefore have difficulty fitting in. Interesting cameo as James McAvoy is one of the replacements ... see how it all pans out for him in this episode. We also see the episode from the perspective of 'Bull' - a soldier who is alot kinder to the replacements than the other men of E company.

This episode is directed by Tom Hanks and so has to be held up a little higher than other episodes, but considering Hanks produced the series he had first pick, no doubt, of which one to direct. This episode is different to the others - non-linear and showing Winters last bullet fired during the war. Some incredible themes as we see how difficult it is to adapt to civilian life - with memories haunting you. While we see Winters adapt to a more office-bound promotion.

Up until now, you see the war as similar to a computer game. Great teams, working together, shooting the bad guys. This episode shows the reality of war during the forties before 90% of the things we have. Low on ammo, low on supplies, low on medical provisions and, ultimately, low on morale. This is from the perspective of 'Doc' Rowe aplyed increidbly by Shane Taylor and we see how many people died simply under the conditions -freezing conditions wearing no socks loses you your foot. We even find how Buck, mind the pun, is buckling under the pressure of war and the casualties of war.

The Breaking Point
From Lipton's perspective as he attempts to keep people positive even though everyone is dying and everyone is ill and hope is almost lost. They have an awful CO who dodges any responibility and leadership leaving Lipton to lead everyone. We then see Speirs in action as he assumes responsibility by putting his life on the line ... amazing episode that brings us out of the depths of despair in Bastogne.

The Last Patrol
We now begin to see the war finish and talk of the war ending. Nobody wants to take unneccessary risks and therefore no-one wants to fight anymore ... they had got this far, they don't want to die in the final stretch. Its fascinating as we see this from the perspective of Webster as he missed out on Bastogne and, to some extent, is dislike because of this. It is really great to see the specific organisation and the realistic implications on taking on such a mission - the last patrol refers to a patrol and capturing of German troops that a specific unit is assigned to for the sake of information. The expendability of troops by their superiors is clearly shown here ... but we do see Winters human side and how he decides to tackle such a difficult issue.

Why We Fight
This is great because is focusses on, at this point, why the soldiers continued on. People had died for this war and they were seeing selfish Nazi soldiers surrendering and the thought taht the soldiers who are dead are not worth the Nazi's that survived ... but it answers this question by showing the reason why they fight. For the victims who are innocent. For the civilians who have done nothing wrong. The jews in concentration camps. The German children who are unaware of the atrocities of their fathers. You have a great coda whereby a destroyed village is being cleared up by the villagers - a camera pans across the entire site beginnning and then ending the epidoe with a four-piece string quartet.

The war is all but over and E-company are sent to the eagles nest where Hitlers holiday getaway is based. The idea that 'in a different situation we could be friends' with reference to the nature of war is a prevailing topic and it finishes the series. We see French and American allies murder others and the brutality and violence war creates. Who is good and who is bad is blurred here and so, we don't think "Well done us, we won the war" - it was more, what is the point? A great finale as we are revealed who the war-veterans who introduced each episode is and where their lives ended up. A nice suprise mid-episode as Captain Winters has to demand a Liet to "Salute the rank, not the man"

This has an amazing cast - and it is not suprising than the majority went on to do better and those who didn't must have made some enemies somewhere because a role in this must have been gold on a CV. In 2001, this was the beginning of the new-wave of credible TV. It makes Saving Private Ryan appear to not have enough scope and, to be honest, I reckon only computer games with their impressive length can cover so much ground. But, as a TV-series, this shows how the depth of The Wire and the gradual growth of character sustains and makes a TV-series better than cinema. Then again, the series demanded cinematic value. An episode directed by a cinematogapher for The Abyss, Mikael Salomon, music by Robin Hood: Prince of Theives composer Michael Kamen, Devil Wears Prada director David Frankel, Wimbledon director Richard Loncraine directing other episodes and obviously Spielberg and Hanks makes it a series that is more cinema than TV - but alas, the depth could never be covered in a three-hour film. Maybe TV series should begin to be shown in the cinema because this, in a cinema, would be incredible ...