Thursday, 29 April 2010

8½ (Federico Fellini, 1963)

"I thought my ideas were so clear. I wanted to make an honest film. No lies whatsoever."


What forced me to jump from being a mid-level only-watch-what-is-advertised attitude to film to the 'higher status' of a film-enthusiast-who-has-realised-it-is-actually-impossible-to-watch-all-the-films-but-will-die-trying attitude is Top Film lists. How can I claim to be a film fan if whenever these 'Top 10 Films of all Time' lists appear, I have only seen two of them: 'The Godfather' and 'Casablanca'. I looked at the list and, at the time - we're talking 2005 - I didn't even know who Fellini and Godard were. '2001: A Space Odyssey' , I had heard of, but I didn't watch. Over time, I was watching these - one-at-a-time - and eventually found that Fellini's '8½' was playing at the BFI during an Italian Cinema season. I trotted along with Sarah and, due to the subtitles and often-white-scenery you couldn't read every subtitle which was frustrating but I could see the reason it was so credible - though I don't think Italian Neo-Realism is really my thing.

Following Guido

The film begins as a character is breaking free from a car. This car is filling up with smoke and everyone is looking at this car as it sits, stuck, in a traffic jam. This is a metaphor for the situation our protaganist is in. We soon find that this is Guido (Marcello Mastroianni). He is a film director of Science-Fiction - a genre that is complete fantasy - and is struggling to get inspiration for his next film - effectively his ninth film but he is stuck in limbo between his eighth and ninth film. This is what we see.
He mixes imagination with reality - hence we move from his set and his conversations hrough to circus and parades. We are additionally shown Guido's childhood - or how he imagines his childhood was. This past and dreamlike state in the present is all an attempt to inspire him for a new film.

Inspiration and Self-Reference

This lead character, Guido, is apparently based on Fellini himself and - while strugglinh to create his own film - he created this film. This commentary on Art and Creativity is a tough balance - though something that many other writers and directors have tackled since - namely Charlie Kaufman in 'Adaptation' (as a writer) and 'Synecdoche, New York' (as writer/director), while Woody Allen seems to regularly approach the subject in his films.

Maybe it is this that is 'genius'. Having only seen it once - and you can see that I am merely scraping the surface, so I do not explore all the focus on lust and love and women as inspiration - I think this is primarily one of those contextual successes. At the time, there was nothing so dreamlike and sexy in cinema - clearly '8½' made cinema more reflective of the auteur, the director themselves. This has been done since, stalling my personal passion for the film, but showing me how the sixties was not just historical epics, musicals and theatre adaptations. Then again, as history showed us, Hollywood realised this too - turning to Italian Cinema and the French New-Wave to inspire what became the New Hollywood.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Waking Life (Richard Linklater, 2002)

"There's only one instant, and it's right now. And it's eternity."


Now, "Bangor Rep" has an eclectic taste - from his love of MUSE to his obsession of Spiderman, he sure is a strange creature. One thing which he loves, are films that are deemed so important they reach a special place in your heart. They get you so involved its almost spiritual - akin to an incredible song. For a long time, Bangor Rep - aka, Graham - recommended to me 'Waking Life' and, I won't lie - its a weird one. But I can see his attraction to the film. The focus is lucid dreams - those dreams that when you dream them, you can control them. You walk around in them and you are thinking, in the dream, "wow, I'm in a dream ... I can do whatever I want...". These dreams can often become wet dreams. But thats a different story altogether.

Anyway, I watched this film one morning in the hope of understanding this eclectic taste and some intersting insights came to mind.

Can I invent the word "Jim-Jarmuschian"?

Having watched 'Coffee and Cigarettes' many years ago, this film seemed to have a similar - can I say narrative? - thread to that. Multiple conversations between characters. I am sure this dates back to Greek philosophy whereby metaphorical characters play out roles and situations to make a point or to explore and issue. Off the top of my head, Plato's Allegory of the Cave is a fictional world that uses characters to represent a way of thinking - rather than simply explaining "everything is fake", he uses a situation to make his point. In a similar way, I assume Linklater and Jarmusch do the same things. Only recently, Jim Jarmusch released 'Limits of Control' and, again - though in a different context (assassin on the hunt...) - this involved many conversations between characters. Though I haven't seen the film, many critics seemed to make the pint that Jarmusch was losing his touch by using this technique. One thing that is interesting is how Linklater chose to use Julie Deply and Ethan Hawke from his the 'Before Sunrise'/'Before Sunset' diptych. I would assume a practical choice - and something that would assist the marketing of the film - but this self-referential style again mimics a very artistic style. The film is not only a work or art - it is a work of art Linklater feels is very important. To stress the issue moreso - Linklater appears himself alongside Soderbergh and others...

Linklater, in a god-like position (well, he is the director...) states the claim that lucid dreaming could be 'tastes' of the afterlife. A little hint of what is waiting. Is this his personal opinion or is he 'playing the role of God' considering his position in the making of the film? Again, we get wrapped into this dream. The dream is confusing, the film is all over the place - jumping from fiction to what could be fact. But this merely makes the film more involving. You are not watching mainstream cinema - this is film as art. 

Harking back to Strings

The soundtrack raises more parrallels. The use of strings give the film an element of Hitchcock - as Bernard Herrmans strings screech out to make the surrealist film even more relevant. Obviously, 'Vertigo' would be the first port of call - a film that could effectively be a dream within a dream. Dare I say it - a lucid dream. Then, on another level we have Salvador Dali - the popular surrealist artist. Perhaps, linking Hitchcock to Dali, 'Spellbound' is the real inspiration. Suffice to say, I have not seen 'Spellbound' so hesitate to make a parrallel.

Animation for Adults

The artistic style that is used in 'Waking Life' preceeds 'A Scanner Darkly', whereby Linklater shows varying uses and different styles of animation-on-top-of-live-action - apparently called 'rotascoping'. This gives him an opportunity to experiment and find out the scope of such a style. I would personally assume that this entire film was merely taking advantage of the medium and exploring it - the fact that he could release it and make money off of it shows a more business-savvy element to Linklater. Though it does suit the theme - dreams, lucid dreams and an attempt at visually a subject that - as any lucid dreamer knows - is hard to pin down.
How do you show the fluidity of movement between rooms - a fluidity that, in a dream remains normal, but when you think back you can't understand how such a movement could happen.
I shall close this brief overview here. This is an experiment. Using fascinating themes and discussion topics to keep you interested, but ultimately an experiement. The maxim "Sanity is a madness put to good uses; waking life is a dream controlled." is where the title comes from and it is Linklaters masterful direction that makes the viewer stick with it. Its interesting reading synopsis' for the film, as I feel this narrative is merely what binds everything together. It is, as Roger Ebert described the film "a cold shower of bracing, clarifying ideas" - but ideas without a character you root for or a narrative you expect an ending from. That is a unique type of film to enjoy and I am unsure whether I did enjoy it. But maybe that is merely my dreamlike confusion upon finishing the film...

Sunday, 25 April 2010

The Simon and Jo Film Show: 25/04/2010

This week we begin at the Tate Modern Art Gallery, near Blackfriars. The film of the week is ‘The Ghost’ or ‘The Ghost Writer’ in America. The usual banter on the Top 5 London Box-Office and obviously lots of news on the delayed Bond franchise and ongoing and continuous release of Avatar and, the plonker that is, Sam Worthington.

The second chunk is an Art-related/Brosnan-related caper that is, effectively, a guilty pleasure.

For Bournes Brain Baffler:
4 - Fletch from Blog Cabins - 3/10
4 - Simon from Screen Insight – 3/10
3 - Jo from Screen Insight– 5/10
3 - Rachel from Rachels Reel Reviews – 5/10
2 - Mad Hatter from The Dark of the Matinee – 6/10
1 - Emlyn – 8/10

[If you have your own results, do email me them or comment on the appropriate post and I’ll put your link up… of course, anyone could lie but the assumption is, you don’t.]

All music is by Alexandre Desplat from ‘The Ghost’ soundtrack.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Cemetery Junction (Ricky Gervais; Stephen Merchant, 2010)

"Whatever you desire, imagine its in front of you right now and just grab it!"


I am normally never too keen on reviewing films we've reviewed recently on the podcast - because i'd rather mix-it-up a little and have a bit of variety. But, I have just re-capped the Kermode and Mayo podcasts - or, more specifically, the Richard Bacon with Floyd and Boyd podcasts. They spoke to Mark Millar - writer of Kick-Ass (annoyingly, if only I had listened to the podcast earlier, I would have nabbed an extra 'point' in Bourne's Brain Baffler) and additionally had Ricky Gervais guesting. The thing is, both Jo and I - both huge Ricky Gervais fans - completely disliked Cemetery Junction and yet, Floyd, Boyd and Richard Bacon all loved the film. They were gushing to Gervais about how good it was and, in the following weeks podcast, continued to gush about how great it is. I can't help but think that they are praising Gervais rather than Cemetery Junction. Thing is, as the fan who constantly quotes from The Office- "has he passed the forklift-drivers test? he gives the forklift-drivers tests" and a fan who constantly defended Extras - and was positively touched by the finale given: the poignant finale regarding Millman's fame-kamikaze - only to be even more loved was inspired. Fact is, Ghost Town wasn't great, The Invention of Lying - though an interesting talking point, simply was too twee and cliche in its rom-com style. And, after only a single watch granted, Cemetery Junction hardly 'establishes' Gervais and Merchant - if anything it knocks them down a peg or three. I'm sorry Ricky - I think you are a legend in every sense of the word - but this was simply not good enough.

The Same Theme

It opens as Freddie (Christian Cooke) is interviewed by Mr Kendrick (Ralph Fiennes) - who, on hearing Freddie explain how 'Mr Kendrick' was his inspiration - getting 'out' of the shithole that is Cemetery Junction - gives him the job. This passionate, heart-on-your-sleeve trait that Freddie has is what gets him quite far - enthusiasm going a long way. Nevertheless, it is Freddies friends that we track alongside - good-looking Bruce (Tom Hughes) and not-so-good-looking Snork (Jack Doolan). Its revealed at one point that Bruce - and assuming they were friends since school - is twenty, placing the boys that little bit older than goofy teens - more-like, foolish boys who spent more time farting-on-each-others-heads and taking-the-piss out of the police rather than study at school. Nevertheless, Freddie is intelligent and we know from the opening sequence that the theme is, again 'Breaking Free' - akin to Tim and Dawn in The Office, the twenty-something lovebirds who are well-aware of the dull-life they have chosen to live - and, in Dawn's case - the passions sacrificed for the steady-job life. So, this is territory seen before - but this time it is in the seventies with a crackin' soundtrack featuring Led Zeppelin, Elton John, T-Rex and David Bowie.

The Truth of the Working Class

My problem is this - why is everyone so unhappy? Gervais, playing Freddies Dad, is constantly bickering with his Mum - all very funny, but worryingly knocking the 'dreams' Freddie has at every corner. Freddies housewife Mum who hasn't 'seen parts of Reading', while Bruce's Dad is a lonely alcoholic - finally we come across Ralph Fiennes and Matthew Goode, as Mike Ramsay, who - although successful - clearly have mixed morals. One sequence shows Goode convince an elderly couple into a life-insurance deal and Fiennes character doesn't even say 'thanks' for a cup of tea - so clearly they are unlikable characters. Nevertheless, this is clearly not an accurate depiction of all working-class men of the seventies in Reading. I've said it once and I'll say it again - we need more films like Five Easy Pieces rather than another pseudo-inpirational tale aking to Rocky. Gervais shows how Tim, though stuck in his office job - a job he doesn't like so much - he effectively does so for Dawn. Dawn has her own art which she is forced to not focus on through Lee - even David Brent, though a complete plonker, lives for the attention he craves. The simplistic attitude that 'all you have to do is get on a train and get out of town' is short-sighted. Freddie was leaving to 'travel' - akin to Julie's cousin - but how on earth can he do that? How can he afford it? He does have the confidence to probably blag a job here and there - but you follow the simplistic story through and you realise that, ahem, maybe not.

And I hate writing this - I hate the fact that this is actually the type of thing people (me?) write to stop themselves from achieving their passion. People convince themselves that they 'can't get out' of whatever town or family or situation that pulls their dreams into focus. Personally, I am hoping that the passion and constant chip, chip, chipping away at my goal is what will take me there. I know what Gervais is trying to say about breaking free - my family chastised me when I was to train to be a teacher (because I already had a job so should 'stick at that'). Hardly a risky profession to 'break in to', but I still had to win people over to do it. Fact is, I am in a profession whereby I am constantly surrounded by passionate kids and surrounded by Art - every day I draw and I also have the time in holiday breaks and weekends to write and watch whatever film I'd like to. So far, I am in a position to pursue my goal outside of teaching - but I have not reached it. (NB-the goal is anything that constantly keeps me involved in cinema - writing about it, making, it, viewing it ... you pick...)

A Comparison with An Education [Spoilers for both An Education and Cemetery Junction]

A film, which I feel would be a superior counterpiece to Cemetery Junction, is An Education. Both set in the hazy glow of the seventies and sixties respectively. Both use these time-periods to raise current issues. Both protaganists Freddie and Jenny (Carey Mulligan) know that there is 'more to life'. Interestingly, both Freddie and Jenny want to go to Paris - and yet come face-to-face with characters who back-hand their wishful thinking. Obviously, as each film progresses, the outcomes are completely different. In An Education Jenny, with the assistance of creepy David (Peter Sarsgaard) - gets to explore Paris and the hub-bub of London - even demanding her Headmistress to explain what the point is of her education if she will only end up in a life that is 'hard and boring'. Freddie on the other hand is working that 'hard and boring' life as a life-insurance salesman - Bruce moreso as a sander in a factory - Freddie finds it difficult to 'break free' - but he does and he gets the girl. End of story. The complexity I miss in Cemetery Junction is the issues that are raised in An Education during the final act. We completely stand by Jenny and her views - no one wants to live a 'hard and boring' life - that is not the point of it all. But Jenny's desires get the better of her and she invests her life in David - who, we find out, is having an affair. David is married and, potentially, had no intention to support Jenny. Jenny breaks down - she could have gone to Oxford but, because of this passion for perfection, with the assistance of David, she blows it. Well not really, the last five minutes - the worst in the film - give An Education that happy ending we want poor Jenny to have.

Fact is, it is that separation of blind-ambition and true-passion that provides the conflict in An Education whilst in Cemetery Junction, it is unclear what Freddie wants to do with his life - if anything, it doesn't matter - he just wants to 'explore'. I think everyone wants to 'explore' the world but for some, it takes many years of saving up and preparation. I think in seventies Reading, witht the cost of flying and all that, Freddie could get to Brighton and then he can'g go further. 

Potential Complexities

One thought crosses my mind. Gervais - who truly is an inspiration - says how this is the most personal project he has worked upon. Gervais had parents much like the ones portrayed in Cemetery Junction and he himself was brought up in Reading. But one thing that inspired his writing of The Office was many years - something like eight years - he spent working in an office. Personally I have never been in a job that long - but I am well aware of how you can get comfortable very easily in some jobs. A more complex angle would be to show Freddie at a point when he is fimrly at Mr Kendricks' Life-Insurance company - more like Matthew Goodes character - but over the course of the film realises how he never 'took a risk' and the conflict is whether he will take that risk to pursue his dream, whatever that might be. I am sure films like this has been made before, but with this unique Gervais-tone, it would bring a special uniqueness to the tale. Fact is, someone who has nothing to lose at the start of the film doesn't really lose much by the end of the film by 'breaking free'. I think thats the crux of it - from the very start, you know Freddie could and would do better. You know Fiennes is sinister. You know prospects in Reading are slim. So, the tension over whether he will leave Reading isn't there. Of course he'd leave Reading - who wouldnt! (and from spending a year there myself ... I would agree. 'The Oracle' is not exactly 'the place to be'). The complexity would lie in showing the attractiveness of this comfortable job - the potential family and happiness that people do and could find in a steady income. The twist being, Freddie has a special talent of passion that he needs to embrace 'before its too late'.

Even Bruce's narrative is more interesting as his relationship with his Father is rooted in self-hatred and self-denial. He doesn't want to be like his Dad but, we find out, he is pretty much the same. But like most predictable facets to the film, Bruce decides to ... well, it looks like he accepts his similarities and stays home to be much more like his Dad. Probably more than that - Bruce obviously stays to look after his Dad. All very touching - but add another dimension. What about if Bruce was more keen to travel than Freddie but his Dad was what pulled him to stay - now that is a conflict.

A Fair Verdict

So many people are heaping praise on this film and, following Travis and Nick's Demented Encyclopedia podcast on 'movies people love but I hate', this seems to be one of them for me. Luckily, I'm not completely on my own: Jason Solomons and Peter Bradshaw didn't care about the lead three characters at all, claiming that it was only funny when Gervais was on screen and everything outside of it was pretty dull.

Seriously, I cannot stress how much I am a fan of Gervais. Listening to Ricky on the normally-Kermode-Mayo-but-instead-is-Bacon-and-Floyd-and-Boyd podcast, he still seems such a great bloke but, alas, these ventures into cinema have truly let me down. I even saw Ricky live at The Royal Albert Hall on his Fame tour! I really want to love these films but unfortunately I truly do not.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Bourne's Brain Baffler

Many months ago, Richard Bourne challenged Jo and I to a 10-question quiz - a quiz that, back in the day - was put up onto the internet so everyone could join in. Turned out, some people had a listen to the short quiz and enjoyed it a fair bit.

Consequently, Richard challenged us again and now - due to our switcheroo to - this gave us an ideal opportunity to not only put the previous 'Bourne's Brain Baffler' online but, additionally, a new one for all those who enjoyed it.

Do tell us which questions you liked and if you liked it at all! Though this won't become a weekly thing - more a random 'bonus' every now and then - it is still something that most people should enjoy!

The Simon and Jo Film Show: 18/04/2010

The main review and focus this week is Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchants first feature-film 'Cemetery Junction'. This includes Simon's long-awaited opinion on 'Ghost Town'. We also cover this weeks film news and cover the London Top 5 films ... which is different to expectations. Jo reviews and discusses 'The Maltese Falcon' and, in celebration of Shakespeare, we recommend Baz Luhrman's 'Romeo + Juliet'.

Links discussed:
He Shot Cyrus naming his top 5 podcasts!
And the Duke of York's Picturehouse in Brighton - aka, Spendor Cinema

All music is taken from the soundtrack to Romeo + Juliet

The list of Films in Competition at Cannes:
• Tournee (Mathieu Amalric) – The James Bond baddie in Quantum of Solace now directing!
• Des Hommes et des Dieux (Xavier Beauvois)
• Hors la Loi (Rachid Bouchareb)
• Biutiful (Alejandro Gonalez Inarritu) – Previously directed Amores Perros
Un Homme Qui Crie (Mahamat-Saleh Haroun)
Housemaid (Im Sangsoo)
• Copie Conforme (Abbas Kiarostami)
Outage (Takeshi Kitano)
Poetry (Lee Chang-dong)
Another Year (Mike Leigh) – Previously directed Palme D'Or Winner Secrets and Lies in 1996
Fair Game (Doug Liman) – Previously directed Go, The Bourne Identity and Swingers
• You. My Joy (Sergei Loznitsa)
• La Nostra Vita (Daniele Luchetti)
• Utomlyonnye Solntsem 2 (Nikita Mikhalkov)
• La Princesse de Montpensier (Bertrand Tavernier)
Loong Boonmee Ralek Chaat (Apichatpong Weerasethakul) – Previously directed Syndromes and a Century

Monday, 12 April 2010

2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)

"I am putting myself to the fullest possible use, which is all I think that any conscious entity can ever hope to do."


Having covered this, to some extent, on The Simon and Jo Film Show and with 1001 Movies blog having this as a film coming up there too, now is the time to do this review. Now I have only seen this film - and it was a few months back. But, I still got my notes so theres nothing stopping me. I'm on holidays too so ... now's the time.

Without words...

One of the big - of the many - iconic aspects to this 'classic' movie is the opening: twenty minutes of apes - showing the evolution as apes communicate. By finding a black monolith they begin to think and become violent and aggressive. The dawn of man. This has become inspirational to so many filmmakers - namely on There Will Be Blood and Wall-E - whereby we hear no speaking during the opening. In There will be blood it even has the similar use of strings-score. Albeit with legend Jonny Greenwood composing. Nevertheless, following this verbally-mute beginning, it continues with the biggest jump-cut the world has seen as a raggedy-old bone is thrown in the air and, cut, we see the spaceship and the beautiful music of Johann Strauss II's The Blue Danube 'waltz' through the blank canvas or the universe. Over five minutes of floating items to classical music. Can anything be more awe-inspiring, mor breathtaking and maginificant that it forces you to question the forces at play behind both events. The spirituality and God that has created such a majestic vision.

The one thing tying all this together is the unexplained and unanswered questions of the black monolith - recently seen again in those bloody LG adverts.The huge questions this single abstract form begs for answers - to think its compared to a phone. Without going off too much on a tangent, I only recently watched the Oscar winning Logorama short (From Nevermind Popular Film blog)- and if you are interested in the world-of-brands that LG has now turned 2001: A Space Odyssey into then check out this short - because it truly says how destructive and dangerous this world of capitalism and brands truly is.
Nevertheless, by jumping a millenia to see this continued exploration of the galaxy we realise that with all the technological advancements that has been created we are still searching for the answers to no avail. Strangely enough, having watched Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull only recently, it is a similar theme: we can search and crave for all the knowledge in the world; we could know everything. But it is the journey in finding, bit by bit, this knowledge that is the beauty of being human. This constant question-asking is important - the answers not-so-much.

The only narrative we can grab a hold of is following 'Dave' and his conflict with "I'm sorry Dave..." HAL-9000 as Dave realises that the machine created is the machine that will inevitably destroy. Dave's story ends as he is trapped in infinity, getting older and again - coming face to face - with the black block. What is the point of all this? As already established - it is the questions raised not the answer.

Only the Big Questions in Big Space

On a closing note - because again, akin to Apocalypse Now, I will inevitably come back to this film. Hopefully at the cinema on Jo's - and Barry Normans - recommendation. HAL-9000 has been parodied/spoofed/inspired others so many times - notably in Duncan Jones' Moon and in Ridley Scotts Alien on the Nostromo. It is this that puts this film on a plinth - or should I say monolith - as it not only tackles the huge questions of life with the required majesty and awesome breadth needed, it has also become a stapple of the Sci-Fi genre inspiring countless imitators - in its narrative, in its set-design, in practically every aspect.

I have never been a huge Sci-Fi fan, but I know from reading about Danny Boyle's Sunshine that there are two types of science-fiction film: the Star Wars, Star Trek adveture sci-fi and then there is the abstract life-question films - that inevitably ask questions about faith and spirituality. 2001: A Space Odyssey is firmly in the latter - and I question if any other film has come close to portraying such an issue with such brutal scope. Without answering a single question that was raised.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

The Simon and Jo Film Show: 11/04/2010

This week Simon and Jo cover all three Bourne films: The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum. They then discuss the new releases and Top 5 London Box-Office and then continue their quests - Simon watching anotherBest Picture Academy Award Winner and Jo watching another 'Sci-Fi' classic at The Prince Charles Cinema.

Links for things discussed in this epidsode:

Mike at  GMAM - aka: Got Me A Movie - reviews Kick-Ass
The LAMB celebrate the 500th Movie Blog ... there are so-o-o many!

Music is from The Bourne Identity - with a few tracks by Moby (Extreme Ways) and Paul Oakenfold (Ready, Steady, Go!)