Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (George Lucas, 1999)

"You can't stop change any more than you can stop the suns from setting."

Introduction

The Star Wars franchise has always fascinated me. Not in a dress-up-like-a-Jedi kind of way, but more in a creation-of-a-Universe kind of way. Lucas has developed - across many, many years - a universe with its own languages, races, ethics, politics and characters. Akin to The Lord of the Rings and cult-cinema and cult-TV like Blade Runner and Star Trek, a very simple idea has expanded and expanded and it truly is fascinating to mine the depths of research and art required to create such a monster of a franchise. With this in mind, I held back for the Blu-Ray release of Star Wars as I believed that there would always be a better version. I did not buy any of the DVD versions, but the completist in me decided 'it was time' with the Blu-Ray release and over the next six weeks, each week, I will be writing features on each film on this blog.

As unlikely as it is, I have seen Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace more than any other Star Wars film. I did not grow up between 1977 and 1983. I was born in 1984, so I was never really part of the craze until the craze was born again in 1999. By this point, I was 14 or 15 and the last thing I was going to be is a Star Wars fan. I was a man - I watched Tomb Raider and The Matrix. But I thought, in all my wisdom, that as they were prequels, I would watch Episode 1-3 and then, only then, would I watch the classic trilogy from '77, '81 and '83. So as I categorically did not watch the later trilogy, the prequel trilogy, if it was on, I would watch comfortably. And I won't lie, The Phantom Menace does not deserve all the hatred it recieves.

The Fatal Flaws

But, rather than end with a downer, let's finish on a high and get the bad stuff out of the way. Jar-Jar Binks is annoying. I doubt anyone would disagree - and the argument that Chewbacca in the original trilogy was 'annoying' in the 70's is frankly ridiculous. Chewie had so much going for him - whilst Jar-Jar is a clutz. But what is important is how everyone else is embarressed by him - whether they are grabbing his tongue in exasperation (Qui-Gon Jin) or staring out into space, deep in thought about their own destiny (Queen Amidala), whilst Binks rambles on - it is clear that your opinion of Jar Jar Binks is shared by the characters. And that makes a difference. Janice in The Soprano's is annoying and frustrating - but that's what is so much fun about her - Tony loves winding her up in the process. At any rate, apart from a short cameo in Attack of the Clones, Jar-Jar Binks is in only this film and, once its done, it is out of the way. At the time, it was a very special thing that Jar-Jar Binks was the only fully-CGI character in Star Wars, but the blu-ray changes this as the puppet of Yoda has been replaced by a fully CGI version, which, is much better.

Secondly - Jake Lloyd. He ain't great, but c'mon! He's a kid! It's a tough gig - to have the weight of Darth Vader on your shoulder's is a big ask and he could only try. But if we are honest - really honest ... Mark Hamill ain't no Brando either. Rather than pick on the kid, let's put things in perspective - the wee lad is playing the infamous role of Darth Vader alongside Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor - and only now we can say - Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman. Even Kiera Knightley is hidden away in the background and, without recognising her, its fair to say she out-acts him.

Then there is the politics. It is clear that with 'the prequels' there is an intention not just to create three films but also create a huge amount of scope for tie-ins - The Clone Wars, and the live-action TV-series that will inevitably hit in a few years. They are setting up a huge amount of back-story and, it does come across as pretty dull. The discussion of 'blockades', the 'republic' and 'the federation' bore the hell out of me. "I was not elected to watch my people suffer and die while you discuss this invasion in a committee!" ... this is frickin' Star-Wars! Let's not get all dramatic!

The Unique, Only-In-This-Film, Major Plus Points

But what puts Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace high up on the scale are the few factors which feature in no other Star Wars film. In no other film do we see the Satan character himself, personified for Star Wars, in Darth Maul. It''s strange to say that the definition in his colours appear a little out-of-date, but the adaptation of the Christian-image of Satan himself - horns and all - into a fantasy universe bring a new level to representing pure-evil. But, more importantly, it is established from the outset how Darth Maul is merely an apprentice and the true evil is the Master that commands him. Is Lucas presenting a less-than-Christian attitude towards where evil stems from? Is he arguing that evil is not from the depths of hell, but in fact a creation of ours as The Emperor has created this demon to follow his orders. 

On the opposite side of the spectrum, we have Qui-Gon Jin. The Japanese influences stem right back to A New Hope as C3PO and R2D2 clearly represent the two characters than feature in Kurosawa's Hidden Fortress. But this is established further as Qui-Gon Jin maintains a buddhist-belief system. See as he falls to his knee's and peacefuly waits for the shield to simply stop - to allow him to continue his fight with Darth Maul. These samurai themes continue throughout the franchise, but even the small ponytail of Obi-Wan Kenobi ensures that the Jedi's adhere to Eastern philosophy and conduct.

Then there is the final lightsaber fight - I will not describe it, but it is the best lightsaber battle in the entire franchise. A double-ended lightsaber VS two Jedi Knight's. The music, John Williams 'Duel of the Fates' is flawless, alongside the stunning leaps and manouveres of Ray Park (who went on to become 'Toad' in X-Men and 'Snake Eyes' in G.I. Joe).

The lightsabers have brightened a little on the blu-ray version, and the fight does look so much better for it, but the bonus-points do not end there. In high-definition, the architecture of Naboo looks simply incredible - tall classical buildings, built into cliffs with some Giacometti-inspired sculptures thrown in for a little artistic credability. Then there is the pod-race, as completely unneccessary as it may be, it does look flawless in HD. Though the spaceship Qui-Gon Jin and Co fly around within seems to recall the ship from Flight of the Navigator moreso than the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird that remains the official word on it's influence.

The Balanced Ending

The final act is crammed full of confrontations as we see (1) Qui-Gon Jin and Obi-Wan duel against Darth Maul, (2) Queen Amidala and her army storm the castle, (3) the Gungans face-off against "roger-roger" robots and then, in the final instance, (4) little Anakin saves the day as he inadvertandtly flies off in a military spaceship, destroying the Trade Federation's powerful spaceship that controls the armies and harnesses the power that hold Naboo captive. The childish fun Anakin seems to be having as he changes the future forever seems a little too playful, considering how much-of-a big-deal this is. The very idea of duality is played throughout - in Amidala's dual role as Queen and as Padme, Naboo even inhabits dual-lifeforms on land and under the sea - and yet we are led to believe that this young child will bring 'balance' to the Universe? In fact, by the end, it appears he has brought balance. 

We see a party. Not just any party - a Naboo and Gungan party. The music is awful and the lead Gungan spits all over himself - a real mess. It seems the after-party with Qui-Gon Jin lighting up the place was where it was at as we are told about the duality of the role of the Sith - One Master, One Apprentice... the balance is coming to the Universe, but not yet...

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Mabel's Strange Predicament (Henry Lehrman, 1914)

Over the next week, I will release three posts about some of the earliest surviving Charlie Chaplin films. This is the third of the three - the first film Making a Living and Kid Auto Races at Venice are easy to find by clicking apporpriately. To make it even better for you the readers, is how you will be able to watch the films yourself too as the films are so old, no one owns the copywright!

It is Established

This third film confirms Chaplin's 'character' of 'The Tramp' for the future. Unlike Kid Auto Races at Venice, Chaplin is not the centre-point of the film. Instead Mabel (Mabel Normand), a married woman locked out of her room in her pyjamas, Charlie bumps into and he takes a liking too. And comedy ensues - but there is much more screen time for Mabel's difficulty in hiding from her husband and hiding from Charlie - rather than Charlie himself. According to Merton in Silent Comedies Lehrman initially started directing the film, but Mack Sennett took over midway through "presumably due to more trouble between Henry and Charlie". Having said that, IMDB credits Mabel Normand herself as the director.

Drunk and Smoking

Everyone always mentions the trademark icons of Charlie is the hat and cain - but I think the drunken element and smoking-cigar are rarely mentioned. The character is rooted in this 'bad behaviour'. The film opens as drunken-Charlie is in the lobby and attempts flirting with Mabel before the film continues to show Mabel locking herself and finding herself face-to-face with Carlie again - a chase ensues to finish with Mabel hiding under the bed of a neighbour. Cue her husband arriving and looking for her and, to his shock finding her underneath the bed of another man. Then, I assume her Mother arrives, and is equally shocked. Fighting ensues - and then Charlie re-appears and the fights continue. Paul Merton notes how the fighting in the final act of this film, you can see, is much more playful and in jest, opposed to Lehrman's antics in Kid Auto Races at Venice whereby the force may be a little more than just comedy.

I will go through another three in due course, but feel free to comment below. The book by Paul Merton, Silent Comedies, has been indispensible as I have watched these films and I strongly recommend you track it down.

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Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Kid Auto Races At Venice (Henry Lehrman, 1914)

Over the next week, I will release three posts about some of the earliest surviving Charlie Chaplin films. This is the second of the three. To make it even better for you, the readers, is how you will be able to watch the films yourself too - as the films are so old, no one owns the copywright!

The First Tramp

This is the first time we see Chaplin in full-tramp outfit. And it is incredible. The short is, fittingly, short. As Henry Lehrman, playing himself, films the Kids at the Auto Races in Venice, we see a recognisable character continually walking into shot. The camera is 'real', the camera is not ignored as the audience themselves are often caught looking at the camera too - but it is perfect comedic timing as Chaplin walks into shot from different sides of the frame - only to be pushed back out of shot by the director.

Interestingly, we often see the camera showing another camera shooting the action. We are watching the filming of the action itself - whereby the actual director is directing. According to Wikipedia this cutting between the actual footage and third-person perspective of the same situation is to explain the joke better.

A Rough Push

Furthermore, Paul Merton explains in Silent Comedies that "Lehrman gets quite violent with Charlie, on one occasion grabbing him by the throat and pushing him forcefully down to the ground, right out of frame", going further to state that "the hostility between these two leaps off the screen". Lehrman had worked for Sennetts production company at Keystone Studios since 1912, directing Roscoe Arbuckle amongst others. But directing Charlie must have been tough for him because Charlie knew how good he was - through his success on the vaudeville stage with Fred Karno - and Charlie didn't take long before working with a different director. The next film would see Mack Sennett himself intervene on directing duties ... but this was the start of something big. Even watching it now, it remains incredibly funny as this drunkard, tramp wanders across the screen at the most inconvenient moments time and time again ...


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Monday, 26 September 2011

START UP: London Film Festival 2011

Shocking. Truly shocking. I had a huge bunch of films I was hoping to get this year, but alas, I cannot get them now. Priority booking for BFI members began about a week ago and general sale is today. So I thought, with my BFI membership, I would get a bunch of tickets I wanted ... but no. This year, before the tickets even go on general release loads of films are sold out.

We Need to Talk About Kevin - SOLD OUT
Shame - SOLD OUT
A Dangerous Method - SOLD OUT
Carnage - SOLD OUT
The Ides of March - SOLD OUT
Wuthering Heights - SOLD OUT
The Artist - SOLD OUT (except two tickets at £18 each!!!)

I found a few though but the higher-price ticket put me off. Don't get me wrong, I would be happy to part with a £14 ticket if I wanted to see it before the titles were announced (namely - all the films above) but, as a rule, I don't want to just randomly pay £18 for a film that will either (a) be released soon enough (The Artist) or (b) may be run of the mill international fare. I didn't know enough about The Kid with a Bike (the new Dardenne Brothers film) or La Acacias (an award winner at Cannes) to suddenly stump up the cash. Alongside all the other tickets too! The Artist nearly forced me to part with £18 for one ticket but I thought, it will eventually be released and all the hype will guarantee some sort of theatrical release in the art-house cinemas (Picturehouse chain probably...). I think, if I was given the chance, I would've paid up to £14 (maybe more) for tickets to A Dangerous Method, Shame, We Need to Talk About Kevin and Carnage.


At any rate, it does show that the film festival clearly caters to a much more affluent crowd. A crowd I do not reside within. No 'see-a-bunch-of-films' wrist-band offers here (Unless you are press...). Each film is individually priced and individually bought - Saturday night screening in Leicester Square is top price, matinee-screenings are low price. Thank God I'm a teacher and half-term falls appropriately.

I chose 4 films in total and only the first film I had planned to see from the outset, the other films I chose on good faith - and a secondary glance once I realised I wouldn't get the tickets I had hoped for. Bear in mind that, due to this, all tickets cost £7 each which is indeed a bargain. 

Martha Marcy May Marleneat Vue Screen 7, Monday 24 October 2011 at 15:00
Some interesting reviews from everywhere - but ultimately positive press. Apparently a film that sits well alongside the cult-focussed Red State by Kevin Smith

Trishna
at Vue Screen 5, Tuesday 25 October 2011 at 12:15

Michael Winterbottom's latest. Not normally my bag, but I know that he is a credible filmmaker with a following, so this may be the start of a fully fledged interest in his filmmaking. We shall see.

The Art of Love
at Vue Screen 3, Wednesday 26 October 2011 at 15:30

Last year, I saw Little White Lies and I was impressed. One of the actors features in this film and, from the description, it has a little reference to the wit of Eric Rohmer and Woody Allen. This therefore, interests me.

We Have a Pope
at Vue Screen 5, Thursday 27th October 2011 at 15:00

I was born and raised a Catholic, so this is a 'tragi-comic' exploration of the selection process of a new Pope. I hope I will get some of the in-jokes but, if not, I can appreciate the architecture and art in the Vatican which is bound to feature.

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Sunday, 25 September 2011

Making a Living (Henry Lehrman, 1914)

Over the next week, I will release three posts about some of the earliest surviving Charlie Chaplin films. They are only short and, to make it even better for you the readers, is how you will be able to watch the films yourself too as the films are so old, no one owns the copywright!

Before The Tramp

This is one of the earliest surviving films of Charlie Chaplin showing us his skills but not in guise of the iconic 'Little Tramp' character. The story is difficult to grasp without reading a synopsis - I simplified it to show an out-of-work man is conning another out of his money, woman and job. On closer inspection, Chaplin is actually an out-of-work reporter, who is not only swindling people out of their money, but also stealing rival journalists camera's to make money through his newspaper.

What is important about this film is that, not only is it the first Charlie Chaplin film, but it is also a film that features The Keystone Cops. The waving of truncheons and chasing, and fighting, is a feature of these comedians but Charlie Chaplin brought more intelligence to comedy - though he was incredibly skilled at slapstick (and this film shows Chaplin ultimately doing what he is told to do) we are not seeing anything too complex or with deeper subtext. Even the next film, Kid Auto Races at Venice, we will see more intelligent comedy that I believe already is miles ahead of the Keystone Cops comedy of chasing and falling over.

The Origin of an Icon

Charlie Chaplins trademark character of 'The Tramp' does not feature here whatsoever, but we can see many characteristics that would become a part of him - the hat, the stick and the cigar. The character, dubbed Edgar English, is arrogant and smug but the tipping of his hat and clumsiness is refined and more-likabale (Edgar is anything but likeable) in the character of 'The Tramp'.

The film premiered on 2nd February 1914 and was produced by Mack Sennett, the man who established the Keystone Studios in 1912. Sennett would be the man who would establish Chaplin and the directed, Lehrman, would also direct Chaplin in his next feature film ...


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Saturday, 24 September 2011

What's Your Number (Mark Mylod, 2011)

"How many relationships do I have to have before I meet the right guy?"

Introduction

The fantastic folks from LOVEFiLM were kind enough to invite me to a screening of this film. I looked it up and, as soon as I saw the poster, I knew it was not really my thing. Looking like the obvious rom-com Katherine Heigl film, I had nothing invested in it. But then I looked at the actors involved - Chris Evans (creaming some money off the top post-Captain America) and Anna ("Ah-na" is how you pronounce it) Faris from Scary Movie 1-4, Smiley Face and The House Bunny playing the lead. Next up, we had roles featuring Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker) and Martin Freeman (BBC's The Office and the up-and-coming The Hobbit). Maybe, just maybe, it might be better than your average film ...

British Screening

One thing that struck me as a little odd, was how the screening was before the US release of the film. Phones taken away, infra-red goggles for security to look at the audience to check that we weren't recording it. This was top-secret stuff. Then I considered the director: Mark Mylod. He was born in the UK and directed Brit TV-series including Shameless and The Royle Family before working with Sacha Baron Cohen  on Ali G Indahouse. But then he crossed over to the US to direct a couple of episodes for the US Shameless and, primarily, co-producing and directing Entourage. Probably where he met Anna Faris. I would assume that the screening in the UK is in the hope that film will cater to British sensibilities - and I think Faris, who has a huge following in the US, has not achieved the same type of credability in the UK.

What's Your Number?

The basic premise highlights our lead character Ally (Faris) confronting her '20' previous sexual partners as she realises that, apparently, most women have had 10.5 sexual partners before meeting 'the one'. This was found through the pages of conveniently product-placed Marie Claire magazine. There is conflict in the character as, if she is not fussed about her sexual partners (to the point that she has had 20) then why would she suddenly care that she has had, what is apparently, "too many". In the Q&A that followed the screening, Faris herself made a good point that 20 sexual partners is actually a little low - Faris mentioned the number "70" as a proper estimate which the studio apparently saw as a little too excessive. This was clearly a joke, but I think that the film - though believing it is tackling a 'taboo subject' - still caters to the safest conventions as Ally is ashamed of how many sexual partners and, though she 'accepts' who she is by the end, there is clearly deep regret about the experiences. Sex is important to her and she made some bad decisions - opposed to seeing sex as an enjoyable interest with very little connection to what love truly is. That would be a controversial stance the film fails to highlight (except, possibly the character of Sheila who is very comfortable in her sexuality).

Faris enjoyed the character as a role, believing the role of Ally was "spicy" and "without ambition". But, I think the studio-interference continues as the undercurrent of Ally's interest in clay-models is an ambition she yearns for. Even the love interest in Chris Evans, is obvious as soon as he appears, holding his crotch with only a towel, and we are to believe that Ally - a character who enjoys sex, is turned off (!!!) by Captain America himself because he enjoys sex - but in a one-night stand kind of way. I'm sure I read somewhere (maybe in my girlfriends Cosmopolitan) that women like getting with the bad-guy in the hope that they can 'change' them. But Ally is apparently not interested in Evans. As if.

Cameos A-Plenty

Some great actors turn up as cameo-roles from Ally's life. Andy Samberg (of The Lonely Island) is a geeky-teen Ally loses her virginity to, Martin Freeman is a (ha ha ha) British guy. Plenty of British accent jokes here. Then Anthony Mackie plays a wannabe-President who, we find out, has a definitive reason to not pursue a sexual-relationship with Ally. In fact, Mackie revealing 'who he is', I thought was one of the funniest jokes in the film! Blythe Danner portrays Ally's Mum - who is tragically underused as she is modelled on the cliche critical parent (ala Monica Gellar's Mum in Friends)..

Closure

I have to be fair - this is not my 'type' of film, but I was keen to see something different and give the rom-com a chance. But it seems to have so many similarities to other films - without achieving anything unique on its own. The whole film is set within the context of Ally's sister getting married and the question is 'Who will Ally take to her Sisters Wedding?' - but then it just reminds us of the superior Bridesmaids which spoke to a much more personal and real story of jealousy and rivalry between women. Even the 'taboo' subject of sexual-freedom feels like another stab at the comedies of recent times - Hall Pass, Friends with Benefits, The Change-Up, Love, Sex and Other Drugs and No Strings Attached. The question remains - can you be sexually-active with multiple partners and maintain a loving relationship in some shape or form. The 'toast' when Ally decides to ensure that her next man will be 'the one' is almost like American Pie when they make their pact. The film makes a good point - does it matter how many sexual partners you have had when you meet someone? But, it doesn't tackle the possibility that Chris Evans, with all his sleeping around, won't change his spots. That maybe, he does just use Ally and move on - because that is possible and, more importantly, does happen. And it would make the film much more unique. Instead, they get together and thats it. Anna Faris, I believe, needs to be given some freedom to make a film that doesn't adhere to cliche and instead caters to something more real and personal. After Bridesmaids, the playing field has changed - and this film is a little out-of-date.
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Friday, 23 September 2011

The Hustler (Robert Rossen, 1961)

"The pool game is over when Fats says it's over... I came after him and I'm gonna get him. I'm going with him all the way"

Introduction

The idea that sequels are merely cashing in on a brand is obviously rooted in truth, but that does not mean sequels lack artistic creadability. Martin Scorsese has made English-language remakes of foreign films (Infernal Affairs turns into The Departed) and he has remade classic Hollywood cinema (Cape Fear becomes another Cape Fear). Interestingly, he made a sequel in the film The Color of Money - a sequel to The Hustler. Both films star Paul Newman - and both have an insightful subtext about what it is to be human and, in The Hustler, what it is to be an American.

Small-Scale Big-Ideas

Paul Newman has a young, effortless charm and his good-looks contrast against the vast majority of the characters with old, weathered faces. 'Fast' Eddie Felson (Newman) with his Father-figure Charlie Burns (McCormick) shows how, whilst Charlie is aiming to retire and relax, Eddie still wants to win and be the best. Eddie has a self-destructive edge that also plays against the calming-love from drunkard Sarah Packard (Laurie Piper) - he has to balance the two and, with an agent like Bert Gordon (George C. Scott), it is a dangerous balancing act. Roger Ebert notes how what makes Newman so effective in the role is how "He doesn't look like a hustler, but then the best ones never do." and this is true.
Furthermore, in Eddie, the first act depicts a child who has managed to sneak by on his charm for far too long - only to come up against Minnesota Fats (Gleeson) who is ultimately more mature and level-headed. Fats takes his time, he patiently sets-up and prepares and does not brag. Newman is arrogant, self-satisfied and smug about the game - so much so that this is his downfall as he cannot keep up with the steadypace of Fats. Losing the game. But think of the broader-scope of life - those many sayings about life. "An obstacle is often a stepping stone" or "Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall". We initially see someone who does not believe he can fail - and who often beats the obstacle without effort. The entire narrative is built upon how 'Fast' Eddie loses a game and is desperate to make it right - and in the process learns lessons about relationships, business and what it is to be human. Things which he did not care for before. We learn from our mistakes and, indeed, Eddie does just that.

USA and Business

My initial thought when Eddie played Fats was how Eddie may represent America: likeable, arrogant, keen to make money ("What other country will let you make $10,000 in one night?") and yet we see him lose. Fats is much more calmer and respectful. Even the comparison between Eddie and Bert is two opposing-ends to business - Bert is a cold-hearted success-is-money man whilst Eddie is, by the end, defining success as love. He loved Sarah Packard and the business is what destroyed his success. Ebert explains how what makes the film a touchstone of cinema is how "This is one of the few American movies in which the hero wins by surrendering, by accepting reality instead of his dreams". Put this in the context of the American Dream - the fantasy that working hard ensures financial success. It is clear that this film shows how this is not neccessarily the case and, moreso, that financial wealth is achievable by choosing to treat others with disrespect: unfair profit-margins that exploit the worker (Bert splits money 75:25 as Eddie shoots pool... despite Eddie holding the skills, it is Bert in a position of power to exploit Eddie) and 'hustling' tactics as you present yourself in a false-light to make the most profit.

The Future is Pool

This film created a huge buzz in the pool community - creating a huge culture of pool players and succesful gamblers (Notably a New York player who took on the name 'Minnesota fats' to become incredibly successful in the process). The traits of Eddie are also applicable to masculinity and, unlike many films of the time that present men as 'the strong, silent type', this film presents Eddie as much more in touch with his emotions. He cares or Sarah, but he finds it difficult to admit his love for her. Sarah is a fascinating character too as she is an alcoholic and, the attraction both characters have towards each other, is their state of self-destruction. Through the film, we begin to see how she becomes less interested in drink when she falls deeper in love with Eddie - but it isn't long until Eddie is drawn back into the hustling game alongside Bert, whereby Sarah loses her way again and it ends in tragic consequence. Even Eddie, as his thumbs are broken, is seen through a window as we cannot clearly see the men, in shadow behind him. Though there is no clarification of rape - and it is only noted that his thumbs were broken - I believe that the way the scene is shot has this dark undercurrent that implies how Eddie's masculinity is abused when he has had to drop so low to merely make a little money. Not to mention how the characters have an unsettling nature in their localised language - using "friend" and "boy" when referring to Eddie. The characters recall the rapist hicks in John Boorman's Deliverance, while the depraved depths Eddie finds himself in recall the slums that Jon Voight sinks to in Midnight Cowboy.

Unforgettable

The first 30-minutes of the film is almost exclusively one game between Eddie and Minnesota Fats. As I watched it, I considered whether the film would be entirely within one-night. In fact, I hoped it would be because the characters, situation and sequence is so engaging. Inevitably, it moved on, but it was fascinating to see this brilliant face-off between characters. In this one sequence, we meet every cast member - except Sarah. Throughout the film, there is a constant reference to how Eddie is a "born-loser", but I think there is hope to be pulled from this story as we cannot expect our ambitions and goals to come to us, we need to reach the goals. As a teacher, I find myself raising constantly stating how "you learn from your mistakes" and there is always a pessimism in the nature of a mistake - you have completed something 'wrong' and you have to accept that. But learning from mistakes is what is optimistic. Like the term 'loser', you need to accept the loss, learning from mistakes, and work on how to win. Ideally without becoming a cold-hearted, soulless, money-obssessed man like Bert.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Tomas Alfredson, 2011)

"We are not so very different, you and I. We've both spent our lives looking for the weaknesses in one another."

Introduction

I believe that literature can only be of a high standard if it is rooted in research - and so it is with trepedation that I review Tinker Tailor Solider Spy. It has been adapted from one of the greatest spy novels written by John le Carre and was adapted in 1979 as a critically-acclaimed TV-series whereby Alec Guinness played the titular character 'Smiley'. Alfredson's adaptation converts the novel into a 127-minute film, clocking in a tad over two-hours, whilst the TV-series ran for seven-episodes across 290-minutes. I have not read the novel and I have not seen the TV-series and the term "slow-burn spy-thriller" does not exactly 'light up' my eyes. What interested me greatly in this film are the outstanding actors attached to the project. Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Kathy Burke, Stephen Graham, Tom Hardy and Benedict Cumberbatch. Simply outstanding.

The Circus

In the grey-green early-70's London we are shown 'the Circus' - a le Carre name for MI-6 - whereby Smiley (Oldman) is drafted in to investigate a 'mole' who is deeply-rooted in the office. He is working almost-alone and the primary suspects are men from his generation of spies - Toby Esterhause (David Dencik), Bill Haydon (Colin Firth) and Percy Alleline (Toby Jones). Smiley's cold and calculating thought process is where Alfredson focuses our attention - regularly shooting the back of his head as we slowly come to think what he thinks.

The context is important as the time reflects the end of an era in  British intelligence. Smiley and the men he investigate are "war-winning gentlemen-spies" from the same class, race, and gender of society. Though it is Smiley's Oxford education, opposed to Cambridge, that we may assume sets him apart. John Sutherland details how when le Carre wrote Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy "MI-6 had been shaken to near destruction by the belated discovery of traitors at its core - notably the 'Cambridge spies'". The fascination of this story spawned many adaptations - even recently in the 2003 BBC four-part TV-drama Cambridge Spies starring Toby Stephens, Tom Hollander and, interestingly enough, Benedict Cumberbatch.

Not my Cup of Tea?

From reading the 5-star review in Empire and the 5-page coverage following the front-cover "Gary Oldman is Smiley in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" in Sight & Sound, it is clear that the film is a strong adaptation and for espionage aficionado's, an engaging thriller. But I personally felt a little out-of-touch. I try hard to appreciate the context of a film but I found it difficult to fully appreciate the drawn-out scenes that were forcing us to think-what-they-are-thinking. The character of Smiley is almost hunched and his plain Aquascutum raincoat seems ill-fitting and at odds with Benedict Cumberbatch's smartly-dressed investigatory-assistant. This is not to say that it is a bad thing - the sombre colours of the greys and greens lean well to the era and I think Alfredson is a master at creating a time that is cold, isolating and lonely. The blues-and-whites in Let the Right One In are replaced by greens-and-browns - both Oskar and Smiley are desperately alone. Even Smileys unfaithful wife, though incredibly important in the novel, Alfredson only depicts the back of her head and her prescence in room at the end of a corridor. This lonliness can be difficult to watch - and the Anglo-Soviet politics seem to isolate me as a viewer - it is my lack of research into this topic that divides me from the primary audience of this film.

I managed to watch this film through a LOVEFiLM screening at The Soho Hotel and the screenwriter introduced the film by stating how he hoped nobody 'got lost' in the plot. I don't believe I did and I doubt anyone paying attention could - it is exceptionally well-written and clearly includes details that many could appreciate. But unfortunately, I think I shall try and rent a few more "slow-burn spy-thrillers", because at this moment I feel I stopped short of becoming throughly engaged throughout.

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HECKLER Documentary - FREE TO WATCH!

I'm mid-watch now, but I thought I'd share:

Thanks to Anomalous Materials for the link! 

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Monday, 19 September 2011

Across the Blogosphere ...

I haven't created a post like this for a while. But, when there is some good stuff out there, you blow the horn and let people know. Taking a leaf from Andy Buckle's 'Links' Page, I'll first link to posts you may have missed that I have written before telling you others I recommend. A huge bunch has been written as analysis-posts for Man, I Love Film with reviews of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Guard, but exclusively on Screen Insight I have covered the American Pie trilogy: American Pie, American Pie 2 and American Pie: The Wedding.

Elsewhere, Ryan - of The Matinee - has covered extensively on the Toronto Film Festival. Last year I used his TIFF coverage to help me choose my own choice films from the London Film Festival - indeed, this influence will continue this year...

Kai has also been a busy-bee with his own coverage of the TVIFF festival in California. I believe that during his time covering this festival he managed to nab an interview with actor Mike Wiles (Fight Club and Magnolia to name a few)!

The Kid in the Front Row always delivers with some great content and, only recently, he collected together a bunch of articles he has written on The West Wing. I know he loves it, but alas, I do not. Which reminds me, Jess from Insight into Entertainment also placed up her Top 5 West Wing episodes. I don't like The West Wing - let's just clarify that again.

I have been absolutely loving the LAMBcast of recent months - specifically due to the Rants and Raves of the Week. In fact, if I tune out with the 'main feature', I will skip ahead to the rants and raves. The passion, the frustration ... brilliant!

And finally, Ben Cooper at Anomalous Materials wrote a brilliant write-up about his love for John Williams Schindler's List score. It is incredible and I only wish that more people wrote about soundtracks ... that reminds me... I really should do another Incredible Soundtrack post ...

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Friday, 16 September 2011

American Pie: The Wedding (Jesse Dylan, 2003)

"It's time for me to boom-boom with the bridesmaids, Finch-f***er. 'Cause I'm gonna hang out with my wang out, and rock out with my cock out"

Introduction

I think the American Pie folks missed a trick here. I know that I watched the first film when I was in my latter years of school at the age of 15/16. Then American Pie 2 came about when I was about to leave for University in 2001 and then, mid-Uni, American Pie: The Wedding came about. I wasn't going to weddings and I couldn't relate. They had to strike when the iron was hot - and the drop from $145m to $104m between American Pie 2 and American Pie: The Wedding proves that the franchise was showing a little bit of strain... but what about an American Pie 3? as the guys graduate? We skipped a huge chunk of time and the entire film changed dynamics. No Heather, Vicky, Jessica or Nadia. No Sherman and crucially, No Oz.

Does Jim even like Stifler?

Without Oz, Stifler seems to have very little connection to the guys. In American Pie, Oz and Stifler were friends via the La Crosse sport they played together and, in American Pie 2, he was just squeezed in as the guys needed a fifth person to fund the 'summer they'll never forget' - but it worked because Oz and Stifler generally stuck together and you could see they were close friends at University. But Oz isn't in American Pie: The Wedding. Stifler, it turns out, is a bus driver and crashes their engagement party, inviting himself. Furthermore, it turns out he is a skilled dancer. However uneven this aspect is, Stifler seems to adapt. Initially, he is absolutely crazy. His attitude is rude and confrontational - ruining the cake, making fart-sounds, fu*k-this, fu*k-that and constantly laughing with a hysterical edge. He really seems unhinged... until Cadence (January Jones Pre-Mad Men) arrives and Stifler changes to become Finch-like (as Finch becomes the Finchmeister). This obscure narrative is so successful as we are back again in American Pie guy-chasing-girl zone.

An Apology?

I even feel that they are almost apologetic to the gay-community. American Pie 2 presented a porn-version of lesbianism which though catering to the teenage-boy audience, it also presents a stereotype sex-obsessed women who are only too keen to strip-off in front of the guys. Not to mention how, it turns out, the girls are not even gay and therefore fall for the irresistable Stifler by the end montage. American Pie: The Wedding presents us with a loveable gay character in 'Bear' (Eric Allan Kramer) and uses the gay-community to mock Stifler's macho-pride - his hyper-masculinity and homophobia is an image and, in this environment unlike the high-school and Uni-campus, he is out of his depth. But this is flipped again as Stifler has a feminine-edge in his dancing - winning over 'Bear' and, neccessarily, the dress-maker Lesley. When Stifler is laughed at, I find the scene fascinating - as if suddenly Stifler himself may have realised how isolated his outlook is. Especially when you consider how, in American Pie, as Oz is singing and dancing post-La Crosse match, Stifler's comment is: "my god, you're gay". Who was to know that Stifler was a skilled dancer even then?

The Conclusion?

It is a shame to think that, if The Hangover was released before this film, the filmmakers could've learned a few tricks, but I think that they had a limited time to capitalise on brand of American Pie. Eugene Levy remains the stand-out feature and his scenes with Jim and Michelle can make you feel a little weepy - if only everyone had the bond like Jim and his Dad. Kev and Stifler's Mom are merely standing in the background and the jokes remains consistent to the previous films - the pie incident that turned into the glued-VHS incident ... consequently turned into a short pubic-hair incident. The Stifler-joke inevitably led from sperm to urine to, inevitably, shit. He's eaten and drank it all. I can see why it had to stop then - but the films were consistent. All three films made over $100m, Rotten Tomoates rates the films with 59%, 52% and 55% respectively. To think the Saw franchise managed to run 7 films before stopping, there is a slight shame in the lack of American Pie 4: The Baby or American Pie 5: The Family. They had good characters but maybe Finch marrying someone other than Stifler's Mom would simply not work. Though there was one direction they could've gone ... at the end of the gay-nightclub sequence, 'Bear' makes an introduction to Kev ... could Kev be gay? I think, for the same reason Chris Penn's 'Stiflers Dad' role was cut out of American Pie 2, the real drama couldn't be tackled in depth. Therein lies the difficulty in making another film ...

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Great Expectations (David Lean, 1946)

"I have come back to let in the sunlight!"

Introduction

The trailer for Great Expectations displays the text "What forbidding mystery lay behind the shutters of Satis House?". By 1946, Citizen Kane and Xanadu had already screened across the world whilst, prior to that, the Oscar-winning Rebecca portrayed the mystical Manderlay too. It seems that cinema had a huge interest in large, decaying buildings - a relic of the past and an old tradition that, within its walls, secures madness in the mind of its tenants. Great Expectations is much less obsessed with the 'mystery' of Satis House - despite what the trailer says - and is much more obsessed with the world outside of the house and the fascinating characters that inhabit that world - we all know Pip, Estella, Magwich, Mrs Havisham and Mr Jaggers - and, more importantly, we find out about the different strands of society these characters come from.

A Historic Text

The story was originally written in 1860 by Charles Dickens and, since then, it has been portrayed many, many times - with a 2012 release directed by Mike Newell (Ironically, another Harry Potter director in Alfonso Cuaron helmed the 1998 adaptation) and to star Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes and Jeremy Irvine as 'Pip' (The screenplay adaptation is by David Nicholl's - the writer of One Day, Starter for Ten and The Understudy). The fascination resides in the multiple themes Dicken's raises that are still relevant today - issues about class and society, the idea about your heritage and where you are from - the insight into identity and how your upbringing affects your outlook on life and how you treat others. Our lead role in Pip (John Mills) is a role whereby from the very start we see how, through no fault of his own, he is forced to commit a crime - stealing bread and food for an escaped-convict (Finlay Currie). Though this guilt is carried throughout the film, it is nevertheless an attitude which is condoned in the morals of his good friend Joe (Bernard Miles) who states that he "wouldn't let someone starve to death". This kind gesture of Pip, though criminal in its theft, is an act which contributes to the rest of his life as an unknown beneficiary funds Pip to move to London and become a 'Gentleman of Great Expectations'.

Small-Scale to Grand-Epic

David Lean is either known for the sprawling epics he created in the 50's such as Lawrence of Arabia and The Bridge on the River Kwai or the small-scale theatre-adaptations of Noel Coward including Brief Encounter and Blithe Spirit. Great Expectations is the film which shows how Lean is moving away from the small-scale drama's and towards bigger and grander stories. We have the small-scale story involving Pip and Joe or Pip and Hubert becoming close friends whilst Pip and Estella cross paths at multiple points. We also have the much more ambitious scale as we see the opening-shot of Pip running across the marshes towards his parents grave - almost hinting at the deserts of Lawrence of Arabia and potentially the single-child running across the frame akin to Empire of the Sun. The silhouettes backed onto the stunning vista's lose no sense of scale in black and white. Even the themes become much more prevalent as we see the judge sentence a group of convicts to death - the slow pan across each criminal reveals the area of society they hail from. These are the underclass and poverty-stricken people who are forced to turn to crime merely to stay alive. This theme shows a bigger story to tell - and a scale that is not small at all, but in fact a global issue regarding the divide between the upper and lower class. Even the isolated, controlling and heartless character of Mrs Havisham (Martita Hunt) is clearly representing the upper-class and their lack of love and kindness - the very idea that the upper-class are blissfully unaware of the havoc they cause to other sects of society.

It is worth noting how Joe Wright looked upon David Lean's Great Expectations as an influence for Atonement. I can see how John Mills and James McAvoy both have an air of innocence and yet a rugged working-class look that fits well in David Lean's British films. Joe Wright specifically noted how:
"There are moments like Pip running through the graveyard with the trees wiping the frame from right to left as he runs. Then Pip slams into a great trunk of a tree which turns out to be Magwich. It's another moment of genius ... There are technical lessons to be learned from Lean - but emotional ones as well".
That sequence is heightened by the great sound effects of wind and tree's bending and twisting - as if to say that at any moment something will break...

The Future Looks Bright ... 

It truly is a great film - and I think the only thing which may turn people off is the Georgian context: You either like period drama's or you don't. David Lean's use of shadow and scale is something to be marvelled at throughout the film, but it is by no means exclusively static shooting. In fact, an expressionistic sequence as Pip is ill and staggers home to bed rivals those regular New York scenes as Pip walks directly to camera as passers-by knock past him and we see light flashing as the camera takes us to his bedroom before he passes out. 

One of the closing lines are "I have come back to let in the sunlight!" and indeed, David Lean is working on a bigger canvas and larger scale - Lean is opening the windows and showing all the detail to these characters and situations. We see Jean Simmons and Alec Guinness in early roles whilst a short sequence as Pip and Wemmick (Ivor Barnard) have to nod at different points to entertain Wemmick's "Aged P" sprinkle a little humour into the mix. It was still a few years off before Lean set off for Hollywood, but clearly they knew he was coming. As the film was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Writing at the Oscars ... it was only a matter of time before he would arrive.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Incredible Soundtrack #20: Space Jam (James Newton Howard)

The music attached to a film creates the environment, I believe, moreso than the literal environment depicted through the visuals...

Considering James Newton Howard composed the score, you would think that I would write about that but alas no. I'm going down nostalgia aisle and I reflect on one of my first soundtrack purchases: Space Jam.

I bought the ex-rental chunky-video-case from a little store in Broseley when I was roughly 14 years old. I hadn't seen it at the time but - wanting to be cool and hip - I knew I needed to know a film featuring Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny. At the time, I Ioved the film and - as one of three videos I owned - I watched it many, many times. So much so, that the soundtrack became ingrained in my mind... and so I choose ...

3. Space Jam (Quad City DJ's) - Ridiculously enough, this was the song that I was most excited to listening to again. Happy, happy times.




4. I Believe I Can Fly (R.Kelly) - Unforgettable, and one of those songs that are copied time and time again on X-Factor and [insert crap pseudo-music competition here] shows. Shame that R.Kelly is a perv.



5. Hit 'Em High (Coolio/B-Real/Busta Rhymes/LL Cool J/Method Man) - Younger Bruv Graham loved this song. And played it too many times and, though he mocks me for knowing the whole of the first verse of Molella and the Outhere Brothers "If you Wanna Party" when I'm sure he knows the full lyric to this... Greeeetings Earthlings ....



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Monday, 12 September 2011

American Pie 2 (J.B. Rogers, 2001)

My brother said by the end of the summer I'll get the big picture. And I see it. No matter what, times change, things are different. But the problem is, I don't want them to be.

Introduction

The American Pie Reunion post got me thinking about the group. In fact, it even prompted me to re-watch all three films and write about them - I've already written about American Pie, so this is next up. I'll admit the temptation to watch the four films released since American Pie: The Wedding did linger a little longer than it should have in my mind but I think the only thing I would want to see is  Eugene Levy's scenes - and I have a funny feeling that he was paid lots for a one-day shooting schedule. I'll turn to YouTube for that methinks. But the second film at any rate was ambitious - 11 characters on the poster and 11 stories that had to be shown - inevitably there was going to be problems, but I remember that personally I was incredibly excited to see it and the fact that everyone was back merely heightened my excitement for it.

Small Fish in a Big Pond

The whole 'next step' mantra that Kev seems to live by is what propels us into this next film. Rather than the four guys tackling small issues and making them into big-dramatic-story-arcs (losing their virginity is hardly a big issue but, as a teenager, it is), now it seems they are tackling much bigger issues that everyone can relate to: Kev still obsessed with an ex-girlfriend, Jim concerned about his sexual-ability and, even Oz and Heather tentatively try and cope with a long-distance relationship.High School is a small place - and their presence seemed big, but now they are at different Universities across the world and when they are apart they are not as strong or as confident. We see characters mature and become much more sensible in their outlooks - and this is a great way to continue the story.

Even Stifler is fleshed out that little bit more. Originally, Chris Penn filmed multiple sequences as Rick Stifler, his Dad, but these were cut out of the film on the grounds that it was a bit too dramatic - they were replaced by Stifler's brother instead. It still stands though that Stifler kicking out two guys from his party as they disrespected his Mother ("she was a Saint!") alongside how his bully-antics are acknowledged on multiple occasions as he is either pee-ed upon or, in the most revealing scene, he comes across as so shallow that he will "kiss every guy and grab every ass" to sleep with the girls that he believes are lesbians. In the first film, Stifler was more of a scene-stealing side-character: he held parties, he mocked the guys and his Mum was hot. In this film, it is clear that Oz and Stifler have become much closer at University and that what makes him such a good friend is that despite all his male-chauvenistic shortcomings, he still pitches in and helps out and he is ultimately after the same thing: lots of fun with friends. Unlike American Pie: The Wedding, this film shows how Stifler is realistically still a part of their group. 

Sex-Obsessed and 'The Next Step'

What is great about American Pie 2 is the change in Jim. American Pie presents Jim as sex-obsessed throughout - the vast majority of situations he found himself in - the pie, the tube-sock, the double-come - all happened as he was simply desperate for sex. In American Pie 2 this is not so much the case - in fact it is merely his clumsiness which is the problem. All the band-camp scenes ("Come on Petey!") are rarely sex-based, just clumsiness whilst the glue-sequence is again just unlucky. His arc changes him from sex-obsessed ("you suck") to sex-comfortable. And that's a big change that I believe most men don't make until much older than Jim's 19-year-old self. Then again, Oz has already made that step and his original plot involving both himself and Heather cheating on each other, though tragic and lacking comedy, would be the 'next step' in relationship challenges. Instead, I think Oz becomes a character who is a rock - he stands by his girlfriend and celebrates the fact that he has found 'the one'. Stifler is constantly mocking him for it but it is realistic to assume that Oz's comfortable and confident attitude towards sex and relationships (which is equally reflected at the end of American Pie as he doesn't even want to discuss his private sex-life) inevitably influences his friends  -and namely Jim.

The Creator of the Pact

The creator of the pact in American Pie, Kev, is the friend who 'comes up' with the beach-house plan (again, a great Casey Affleck cameo in there too). But, much like the first film, Kev's pro-active nature is what, by the end, we are expected to disagree with. If you remember in American Pie, what makes the film interesting (and makes the spin-offs less so) is how, despite all four guys making a pact to all have sex - and indeed, they all do - the moral of the story is that it doesn't matter. Kev sitting on the steps ready to go home because of the pressure he put on others and how unfair it may be to Vicky. In American Pie 2, again, Kev goes off in a sulk. This time ending up on the beach (originally, he went back to the school but the location jarred with the sequences on either side so it was re-shot) and he reveals that the reason he organised the trip was to re-claim old times ... but in fact, he needs to move on. It seems strange that the attraction to the films and the entire set-up is always belittled whilst we, as viewers, get to enjoy watching the films on the basis that the idea of four-guys-trying-to-get-laid and our favorite characters all together on the beach is actually what is interesting. At least in American Pie: The Wedding it didn't end with Kev going off in a sulk and everyone agreeing that weddings are unnecessary.

Unfortunately when the four guys have the conversation on the beach, despite interesting points being raised - nothing is really answered. It is a simple case of "I have a feeling things are going to get better" and they go back to the party.

Good Effort

I think that Adam Herz worked so hard on this script and put his heart and soul into a huge amount of plots that ultimately got cut. They even got filmed too. I think with a blu-ray release being inevitable, they need to put all the Stifler's-Dad and Heather-and-Oz plots back in just for shits a giggles. Keep the normal version of the film - the theatrical and the 'uncut' version - but a three-hour epic version would be an incredible watch. Bottom-line is that the film is a just a little too busy and it plays a little bit weaker than the first film - but I still laugh heartily to the trumpet-ass joke, "c'mon Petey!" and Nadia getting excited about The Sherminator. I think a few problems also lie in the very limited perspective on homosexuality - as if lesbians are only alive for sex-jokes. I think they realized this and dealt with this in the next film ...
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Sunday, 11 September 2011

American Pie (Chris Weitz, 1999)

Still, for Mostly Unsure

*This was originally publish
ed on 6th May 2010 but I have edited it a little and written new posts for American Pie 2 and American Pie: The Wedding to follow this week so let's start from the first piece...

"Well, they're safer than a tube sock..."

Introduction

I am going through a phase of weeding out the unneccessary DVD's in my collection. In my opinion, everyone has a DVD pile at their house its not about how many DVD's you own - its what you own (this sentiment eventually led to the A-Z posts). If you only have a stash of the free DVDs that came with the newspaper or have too many teenage rom-coms, your film-knowledge credability takes a little blow. As a film fan, your film collection represents you. What you stand for - what you aim to understand, etc.

Fact is, with American Pie I can vividly remember wanting to watch it. I remember first watching it post-house party - a house party Mum and Dad shouldn't have known about, but the did find out about it because of so many kitchen appliances being broken. My best friend - and fellow blogger Pete, you must remember this party. Legendary.

It was the early days of the DVD and, as one of the first ten or twenty I owned, I watched and rewatched it many times (certain sequences many, many times ... but thats private and, as a teenager at the time, its allowed). But now, I look at my 'threesome' boxset and have to decide. Should it stay or should it go? I have never watched anything further than the third American Pie movie - American Pie: The Wedding. So, do I wait until I care enough to be a completist and watch the others (will I really watch them?) or, even await, the potential 2012 film: reuniting the original cast for American Pie 4?

Jim and his sock

The film primarily follows one character - Jim. Yes, we know all about his buddies, but we care about Jim. Nevertheless, it is fair to say that from a casting point of view we do have an ensemble cast all with the same 'goal'. Akin to 'Porkys' they plan to lose their virginity. The thing about American Pie for me and my buddies is that we all associated ourselves with the different characters. The sports-like dude, the clever-but-clearly-a-geek dude, the friend-who-has-a-steady-girlfriend and then the middle-of-the-road-one with weird parents. I would assume I was that one with weird parents. Not to mention the parties we went to were not too unlike Stiflers ... but with less sex. For me. Chances are that at these parties, behind the dark corners, dark deeds took place ... which began in the rumour mill Monday morning in college.

The structure of the film is interesting as all the character have an anti-climax two-thirds into the film. So Finch's plan to build a reputation fails when he shits in a girls toilet, Jim loses Nadia by breaking some type of surveillance law. I'm sure, if you did what Jim did yourself you wouldn't be praised by anyone - you'd be simply called a perv. Kevin finds the bible but blows his chances of nookie by shouting a little too loud (in honesty, he rectifies this pretty quick...) and then the La Crosse fella played by Chris Klein, Oz, loses his girl when he appears to be mocking her (well, Stifler was mocking her, La Crosse man was merely a bystander).

A Moral Compass

Obviously, a film like this needs a moral compass. The characters have to have some sex but they can only do this by changing their attitude to it. Jim gets sick of the bet - happy to settle for minx-in-disguise Alyson Hannigan ("This one time at band camp..."). Kevin and Vicky (Tara Reid), on their separate struggle to have sex 'for love'. Then they split up. Oz bails on his sporting skills to be in the choir and revealing his passion may actually be singing and he, turns out, is 'actually' in love. And - very brave for a first time I think - he loses his virginity outside in what appears to be a very public cabin. Lastly, what appears to be quite a strange occurence is Finch and Stiflers Mom. Finch's moral compass doesn't really change... he is just abused.

Fact is, for a teenager...

The film is quite explicit - in a comedic manner and in a jovial tone, but there is plenty of nudity and conversations about 'stuff' many people would find quite offensive. The film discusses sex positions and the nature of sperm (seen sitting in a beer). Its obviously all in jest - all merely comedy - but it surely informs teenagers. I know when I was a teenager, I didn't know too much so the information about positions and stuff did help me understand a little more. In a more interesting way, deeper issues of desperation and pressure is also raised. The idea that Jim's completely embarressing situation 'came too soon' and, again, shows that this small faux-pars in your teenage years aren't such a big deal. Even the involvement of your parents in your personal life - these are all relatable and make light of a time in a teenagers life that can be incredible awkward. It even showed the pain of sex during the first time as Vicky and Kev do the deed. Yes, this is balanced out by the nympho Jim has to deal with and we don't see Oz and Heather, but for anyone who is worried a little about these situations, the actual reveal of a certain element of truth should put them at ease.

I do love the film, but I am in two minds. I have grown out of these films, but I watched it so many times and I adore the characters. It even informed my music taste - introducing me to Bic Runga and her beautiful song 'Sway' and it made me take Blink 182 a little seriously (not much, just one song: Mutt). I think the important role the film - and the two sequels - played in my life is something I will cherish, and is the reason I am keen to re-watch all these films. There are problems ("Do you know Chris Finch?" to a classmate they have studied with for a whole year!) but I think it is a much better film than the average teenage-comedy and it has great heart. Not to mention Eugene Levy scene-stealing every single sequence he is involved in.

Wait a sec' - its eleven years old! F*** me. I am old.

Tomorrow, we continue with American Pie 2 ... 
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