Thursday, 30 August 2012

The Lost Weekend (Billy Wilder, 1945)

"I'm not a drinker; I'm a drunk."
Film is an art form and, like any other art form, the content can be challenging. I watch many films that explore themes which are bleak and depressing by their nature. This is not to say that a film is not engaging and interesting - but that the content and themes explored are difficult to discuss. A film about insomnia can be slow-paced and moody, but that doesn't mean it is any less engaging (Christopher Nolan's Insomnia would be a good example). A film about the monotany of war, and the exhausting-fight soldiers go through to achieve victory may be tough to watch and repetetive in its nature - but that doesn't make the issue less relevant and any less important (I think of Malick's The Thin Red Line).
With this in mind I bring you Billy Wilder's The Lost Weekend. At a-scratch over 90mins, the film portrays a weekend in the life of Don Birnam (Ray Milliand) a writer who is a clear alcoholic. Though a pessimistic and tragic story, this film was the first to portray alcoholism in its brutal form. Prior to this, Philip Kemp writes, "drunkards in Hollywood movies were mostly figures of fun" and The Lost Weekend portrayed alcoholism as a sickness, even a psychopathic-tendancy as Birnam describes himself as 'two' Don's. The film rested on the shoulders of Ray Milliand in the role of Don Birnam and he managed to bag an Oscar for his portrayal. This truly was ground-breaking filmmaking.
Those Who Support
The film begins as Don and his brother Wick (Phillip Terry) are packing for a weekend away. Wick mentions many times how "after what you've been through..." this weekend should be a well-deserved break. At this stage Don hasn't had a sip for ten-days... but it is clear this is temporary as he desperately attempts to nab a drink from a bottle he has hidden. We then meet Helen (Jane Wyman), his lover of three-years. She is planning on joining the two brothers later on... but this is changed early on. We realise that Don is so desperate for drink that he changes the plans and stays in New York. He then steals a little money put-aside for the landlady so that he can buy a "quart of rye". Within 20 minutes, he is in the local bar, whereby barman Nat (Howard Da Silva) shows his shame in Don but still serves him as Don has cash in-hand.
A range of characters show how everyone is supporting Don - not one person condones his alcoholic lifestyle. But he still craves his drink. It would be more impressive to imagine the context of the 1940's, whereby alcoholism was not seen in the same manner as it is seen today. As noted, it was rarely portrayed in Hollywood as the illness which is presented here. Scott McGee writes for Turner Classic Movies that the timing of the film was perfect as it appeared "at the nation's theaters just as World War II [was] wrapping up". This is important as thousands of soldiers turned to alcohol to "drown out the din of combat and the loss of former comrades who did not return from the front."

Don Birnam is depicted as an intelligent, skilled writer. When we first see him, he appears to be tackling his problem well, but it goes downhill from that opening scene. Audiences could understand and, in many cases, relate to the character portrayed. He is not a bumbling fool or a vagrant, stealing from everyone. He could be your brother, your lover or your neighbour - or your work colleague.
Indeed, another opinion about the content of the film is direct from Wilder's experiences himself. Billy Wilder was not known as an alcoholic himself, but when working on Double Indemnity, he worked alongside Raymond Chandler, a recovering alcoholic. Andrew Brown writes for The Telegraph "The two did not have an easy relationship and, to make matters worse, Chandler was an alcoholic – a severe case.". With this in mind, Wilder apparently wrote The Lost Weekend for Chandler himself - as if to make a point. 
Billy Wilder-isms and Influences
Suffice to say, this film is littered with many themes, techniques and ideas that Wilder has found himself come back to. Wilder has always been a writer himself when directing, so the stories are often revealing about his attitude. As discussed, this seems to depict a character who is similar to a friend of Wilder. In addition to this, like The Apartment, Double Indemnity and Sunset Blvd, the lead role is male and has an ambiguous moral-compass. Don is an alcoholic, but we are interested in him because we care about him and feel like he may tackle this demon within.
The use of language is also in the vein of Wilder's writing. In The Apartment, Lemmon's 'C.C. Baxter' has a habit of always using the term '-wise' when describing. For example, he says " Kubelik-wise" and "Cookie-wise" at different points in the film. Other characters pick-up this trait a little too. In The Lost Weekend, bar-fly Gloria (Doris Dowling) often abbreviates terms which are not normally abbreviated - for example saying "ridic" rather than "ridiculous", "mench" instead of "mention" and "def" instead of "definately". This is such a great, stylised way of writing that it is clear that Wilder must've known how he could be setting trends. Or at least trying to create trends.
In addition to all of this, Wilder has chosen a context which is incredibly dark. It is worth noting how The Apartment touches on suicide, despite how light-hearted the film may appear. Both Sunset Blvd and Double Indemnity have their own share of 'murder' narratives. The Lost Weekend is much more clearly a darker story, but it gets more horrific in the final act as Don wakes up in an alcoholic ward. He witnesses patients lose their minds as they believe beatles and insects crawl on their bed while they sleep ... before he starts losing his own mind when he see's a mouse appear in a wall before it is attacked by a bat. This is incredibly unsettling and forces you to acknowledge the severity of the condition - and more importantly how if affects others and the health service.
The Final - and First - Shot
Citizen Kane begins and ends with the same shot. "No Trespassing" the sign reads as the camera, through a series of fades, step-by-step moves into the fortress Xanadu. As the film ends, and we realise what 'Rosebud' means, the film shows Xanadu again, and again, through a series of fades, returns to the 'No Trespassing' sign.
The Lost Weekend, in the same way, manages to bookend the film with the reveal/exit of a location. Predating Hitchcock's Psycho and Rope, the film opens on a city-scape before panning across to the open window to reveal Don Birnam. In the same way, the film ends as Birnam decides to write a story about the weekend, starting at that very moment. By moving from the 'small-scale' story of Birnam in his apartment to reveal the cityscape, it is as if to say how this story is much bigger than Birnam. Again, consider the opening of The Apartment whereby C.C. Baxter works amongst the hundreds of other workers in the office. Or, further back, to the opening (and ending) of King Vidor's The Crowd, whereby characters are revealed as amongst hundreds, if not thousands of people. Wilder is telling us that alcoholism is not limited to Birnam - indeed, it is rooted in society and we have a duty to acknowledge it and support those in need of help.
Large Association of Movie Blogs

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

My Top 10 Films of All-Time

The dust has settled. The whole "Sight & Sound list" arguments have finished. One of the sites I contribute to, Flickering Myth, asked all their writers to submit ten films which we believed were the ten "best films of all time". I sent my ten and kept hold of them for this post...

One thing Sight and Sound included in the magazine was a very brief description as to why the critics/directors chose the films. Some, obviously, gave no context or reasoning. Merely ten films that they personally defined as the 'best' ten films of all time.

Here are my ten. They are in no particular order and therefore have no ranking. Ten is tough enough - choosing a specific top film is simply ludicrous. I didn't obsess over this either, instead, I pretty-much considered what first came to mind and swapped a couple when I had more than ten.

1) In The Mood For Love - I had to have a foreign-film. From the one's I know, I could've chosen Amelie or an Almodovar ... or Bergman, but this film was top of many "Films of the 00's" lists and I can understand that, whilst the others I struggle more with. Moody, personal and incredibly well-shot. The actors are shy and quiet, but the brief looks and moments are what hits you so hard. You know those passing glances.

2) Modern Times - Chaplin, equally, had to make an appearance. I love how he makes social-structures into a joke. I still wait for the 'machine' that helps me eat whilst working ...

3) Midnight Cowboy - I love the late 60's for many reasons. American film-making simply exploded into a new era. Midnight Cowboy is less mentioned but I believe it to be stronger than many.

4) Jurassic Park - Though a personal favourite, the special effects rarely reach this height. What other film has special effects that, without crazy 'remastering' still stands so strong. Even Lord of the Rings looks false - not this.

5) Signs - I love Shyamalan and I think history will support this. We shall see, but Signs was on my mind when I wrote this. A deeply personal film - set in the context of a different-type of Independence Day.

6) Pulp Fiction - New filmmakers since 1994 owe a debt to Tarantino. Still remains as slick as it ever was - and remains the best film of its type. Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Doug Liman, Guy Ritchie all owe something to Tarantino.

7) Citizen Kane - Technically genius. Perfect acting - and acting of such a difficult manner (from 20 to 70!). Socially relevant in 1941. Socially relevant today. Innovative narration.

8) Vertigo - I worry that this is too obvious, but I stand by it. I don't think Hitchcock has been as ambiguous as he is here. Though about obsession - we become obsessed through Jimmy Stewart. Herrman's haunting score. It reaches such profound heights - and deserves its No 1 spot.

9) Annie Hall - So brutally honest and true. No one is as effacing. Most filmmakers claim to make films 'for themselves', Allen is clearly doing this, but his voice is so unique and pessimistic. This film is a brilliant example of comedy at its best. John Hughes, Ricky Gervais, the-guy-who-made-The-Wonder-Years... anything whereby the fourth-wall is trashed for the sake of a good monologue.

10) The Godfather - I originally preferred The Godfather Part II (Remember, this year is the first year they have been split up in the poll) but, the more I think about it, I realise that every single thing about The Godfather is perfect, whilst what is good about Part II is how when we are dealing with all the Cuban politics, you are excited about DeNiro's Don in little Italy whilst when all of that backstory dries up, "I know it was you..." happens and you#re back into the Pacino narrative. Godfather is perfect, start to finish.

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Top 5 Good Things About 'The Lost World'

On my 12-hour return journey from Ireland, it got to a point whereby the music and podcasts on my ipod was simply not enough. I wanted to watch something, and I chose The Lost World: Jurassic Park. I managed to catch up with a little of 'Frankly, My Dear' (Scott and Whitney's podcast) and they noted how - and I'm parahrasing - "The Lost World is so bad that it puts in doubt whether Spielberg actually directed the film and, though people claim that it's only the San Diego bit which is bad, in fact, the whole thing is awful".
Personally, I was a huge fan of Jurassic Park and when the film was released in 1997 I watch it at the cinema twice and bought the VHS on the day of its release. I watched it regularly and I simply couldn't recall the film being 'that' bad. I recorded an episode of 'The Simon and Jo Film Show' whereby we discussed the trilogy - and I could see the major flaws too.
But there are good points. Points which bring me back to the film time and time again. Equally, it assures us of Spielberg's involvement and, though the flaws of the film are not in the final act alone, it does clarify that the film could've been brilliant.
1. Ian Malcolm Returns
The best character from Jurassic Park, lets be honest, was Dr Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum). After The Lost World, everybody jumped on the Alan Grant bandwagon. We wanted him to return and he did. In addition to this, he is the most 'normal' character of the bunch. His cynicism we relate to - his sarcasm when he mocks Nick (Vince Vaughn) and Eddie's (Richard Schiff) fascination, his horror at all the dumb-ass decisions others make. I never think he is a problem in this film - and he is the #1 reason I would rewatch the film.
2. Conversation between Malcolm and Hammond
This could stretch to include Malcolm's conversation with INGEN's new owner Peter Ludlow (Arliss Howard) too, prior to Malcolm meeting with Hammond. These two scenes show the state of the world post-Jurassic Park. We know about the cover-up of the deaths we saw on the island - and most importantly, Malcolm has been discredited for the sake of the organisation. A huge capitalist argument here. Then we see the return of John Hammond - clearly going a little bit crazy now.  What is better is how Malcolm is so adamant about not going - in fact, his first reaction is contacting everyone else and ensuring they're not going too. It is only because he doesn't want his girlfriend to die, does he go. I can understand that - and it truly sets up the film.
3. The Opening Sequence/Compsognathuses
Stan Winston and ILM prided themselves on the amount of dinosaurs they created for this film. It is clear this is primarily about a wide range of toys becoming manufactured for publicity - but only a few dinosaurs do I believe were really effective. The compy's specifically. Like the first film, this was a creature which, in production, was either CGI or a puppet (whereby the sticks were edited out). Almost like insects and rodents, these creatures really get under your skin. The opening sequence, despite the posh-British accents, has this as its highlight. This tiny child fighting against these lizard-like creatures jumping up and down truly is impressive. More impressive is when we see them later on - and their attack on Dieter (Peter Stormare). We see the mouth nibbling at his ears and wrapping around his nostrils - a brilliant sequence and a brilliant creature to add to the series.
4. The stampede of dinosaurs/Posthelwaite - "the dome-shaped... the ... the ... Friar Tuck!"
These final two points are more minor, but credit where credits due. The stampede sequence whereby we are introduced to the 'other' team is a kids dream come true. A wide range of dinosaurs charging through the land. I wish we could've seent the start of this stampede, but time is a constraint I imagine. The different dinosaurs - and Tembo (Posthelwaite) desperately trying to read the names, giving up, and referring to them as "Friar Tuck" or "Elvis". In addition to this, it really is sad to see the mistreatment of the creatures. I know its all CGI, but when "Elvis" falls down it simply seems cruel.
5. The importance of T-Rex/Long-Grass
Spielberg knew what we liked. We loved the T-Rex and the Raptors. Here we see two Tyrannosaur's and a short sequence with the raptors - the highlight is the long grass. Seeing the grass turn to shadow as the raptors home in on the group of people. At least we don't have a 'bigger' dinosaur or a 'scarier' threat. It is the same threat in a different context.
Yes, the character of Kelly is a huge problem (She is Malcolm's child? She is a gymnast?). It is clear that producers - and Spielberg himself - had to cram in as many 'toy' connections as possible and thus we have two 'baby' dinosuars (eugh) and lots of 'functional' cars. Then there is the San Diego finale. Huge flaws and it would struggle to be a good film at the best of times - but it is not without it's merits.
Large Association of Movie Blogs

Sunday, 26 August 2012

The Weekly Review: 26/08/2012

A weekly round-up of what I have been watching, listening to and discussing. Rather than just posts about film, this is a bit more all-encompassing as I think my interest in cinema and art crosses over and between a variety of sources...

Highlight of the Week
I write this post in the middle of the Peak District, in a rented house, with friends. No sirens from the high street. No shouting and talking from the restaurant next-door. Absolute peace and quiet. Visited some caves and a bird sanctuary. There is something suprisingly harsh when a huge bird flies ... only to hit netting and land again. Poor herons. Today I visited Chatsworth House - a building used as a location for Joe Wright's Pride and Prejudice, The Duchess and The Wolfman. I hoped it was the setting for Wayne Manor in Batman Begins, but alas, it is not. That accolade goes to Mentore Towers in Buckinghamshire.
The Skin I Live In: Still remains my favourite film of 2011. I can see why it is a strange choice mind you - it is not as epic or grand as many films. It doesn't have the scale of War Horse or the gritty-but-comedic uniqueness of Attack the Block. It is a very fun Hitchcock-like tale, with hints of torture-porn, which festers in your mind after the film. So many things to talk about...
The Expendables 2: Joint-editor of Man, I Love Films Dylan was shocked that I loved this film. Apparently this is not the type of film I like. Despite analysis of every Terminator film, every Rocky film and an appreciation (not a whole-hearted support) of the first film. I think the film manages to balance the action and comedy perfectly. I now want another one - with a team of 'new' action stars (Taylor Lautner, Sam Worthington, Chris Evans, Jeremy Renner - led by Matt Damon or Colin Farrell) or a team of female action stars (Kate Beckinsale, Milla Jovovich, Jennifer Lawrence, Noomi Rapace - led by Linda Hamilton or Sigourney Weaver) and they fight against Liam Neeson and Channing Tatum (as a henchman).
Bamboozled: This is an incredible film and has surely started a Spike Lee season for me. The final montage had me in pieces. Themes about money - and the need for money in society. The importance of history - and respecting the history. A brilliant film.
The Darkness: Vastly underrated band. I loved the second album - and indeed, it achieved a 4/5 rating within Q magazine at the time. But it bombed royally and the band fell apart. They have just released a third album, Hot Cakes, and its great. If only the second album achieved more listeners - it really is fantastic.
Oasis: I relistened to Heathen Chemisty. Again, a vastly underrated album. I think 'She is Love' is potentially one of my Top 5 Oasis songs ever.
The Matineecast: Caught up with an episode whereby Ryan spoke to Corey Atad. Some great discussion about the Sight and Sound Top 10 poll. Should Vertigo be in the top spot? Is Citizen Kane 'that' good? Make sure you tune in!
TV/Theatre/Art Galleries/Books/Misc:
'Film and Philosophy: Taking Movies Seriously' by Daniel Shaw: I had to give up on reading the biography of Chaplin. I hate that. But now I'm reading a book that fully supports my type of viewing and analysis of cinema. The idea that films, unlike theatre, imitate the mind more accurately (You can flashback when you think about something, or you can focus on something important in your mind - both of which are techniques cinema uses) whilst other filmmakers believe that cinema is about accurately representing reality. So, tension can be depicting by - as a viewer - waiting for something to happen on-screen, rather than using filmmaking techniques to 'create' tension. An example Shaw refers to is Nanook of the North whereby we sit and wait for an eskimo to catch a fish - and feel equally satisfied when, after waiting a long period with him, he catches a fish. I'm paraphrasing - suffice to say, I'm enjoying the book.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Enemy of the State (Tony Scott, 1998)

"It's more than a theory with me. I'm a former conspirer"

Due to my recent viewing of Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation, I considered a follow-up analysis of Enemy of the State. The more I thought about it, the more I was keen to watch it at the very least. The recent coverage regarding Julian Assange equally struck a chord - and I viewed in the evening at 7:30pm, only hours before director Tony Scott took his own life by jumping off the Vincent Thomas Bridge in Los Angeles. With this in mind, I would like to think that this discussion about Enemy of the State, one of Tony Scott's finest films, can serve as a tribute to a director who was so much more than, as the media seem to highlight, Ridley's filmmaker brother.

Three Decades after Nixon

Following my appreciation of The Conversation, it is important to bear in mind the context that I will discuss this film within. Indeed, it is widely regarded as a sequel-in-spirit to The Conversation. There is a wide range of correlations ('Brills' costume and hideout, a sequence between Robert and Rachel clearly imitates the conversation which Hackman was obsessed with in The Conversation, photo-image of Hackman, etc) and yet one glaring discrepency - Hackman is Harry Caul in The Conversation, whilst in Enemy of the State, he is revealed as Edward Lyle - with a codename of 'Brill'. I personally believe this is only because it determines the films as separate. They are both very different stories in narrative-form and, though I don't know the cost of studios giving permission to create 'sequels', I'm sure it is a cost which ultimately was not worth the money. We can see it is 'supposed' to be connected, but the clarification of the characters name is just a way the filmmakers can't get caught-out on copywright issues.

The truth is without question - my issues with The Conversation were specific to the time period. How can a film about surveillance, in the 70's, be relevant today. The angle screenwriter David Marconi goes for is showing how, if anything, suveillance is more scary, more intrusive - and always used by the government to their own ends. Ironically, The Conversation was successful because the public were suddenly aware - through the actions of Nixon - how surveillance was being used. Enemy of the State shows Thomas Reynolds (Jon Voight), a senior member of NSA, completely abuse the power he has been granted, by  incorrectly hunting down Lawyer Robert Clayton Dean (Will Smith). The Conversation always showed the 'bugger' professional in his small, crampt, office - somebody hidden away and, in Harry Caul's case, skilled in surveillance so much, mistakes would be rare. Enemy of the State has huge control rooms and high-paid executives running things ... and this power is dangerous and mistakes are inevitably made.

Controlled Chaos in the Control Room

I watched The Bourne Legacy, shortly before and it is fascinating to analyse the direction and editing when showing a control room. In Tony Gilroy's recent effort, it was merely cutting between one room and what was happening on the streets with Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner). Tony Scott manages to cut between, not only the sequence on the streets, but in addition to this, multiple control stations. One station is based at NSA, another in the back of a van and - to top it off - to add pace, Scott cuts away to satellites above the earth, birds-eye-view shots, CCTV footage and additional monitors that are recording the events. It is always exceptionally clear what is going on and the characters within the control room hold personality ("Wanna blend?") and our attention. Thematically, these sequences are so important too as it relays the reality of surveillance - and how it covers and tracks our every move. Enemy of the State is a masterpiece when it portrays these sequences - and Tony Gilroy clearly didn't do his homework because The Bourne Legacy seems to fail at simply cutting between the two places, often repeating the same directions (just in a slightly different manner).


I have kept a passing interest in the recent developments in the Julian Assange news story. It seems that Assange is concerned that, upon his arrest for a "rape and sexual assault" allegation from Sweden, he will then be extradited, from Sweden, to the US to face charges against him regarding his release of information via WikiLeaks.
In Enemy of the State, my favourite monologue from Reynolds is his reaction - and decision - to pursue Robert Clayton Dean (Will Smith). It reads as follows:
"I've seen killers walk free because the eyewitness was an alcoholic. I've seen sex offenders that couldn't be touched because the victim was a call girl. Credibility. It's the only currency that means anything on this kind of playing field."
Harry Caul, in The Conversation, continually questioned the morality of his actions. He was paranoid about the reaction of his clients. Will his surveillance be the leverage someone needs to justify murder? Enemy of the State openly questions morality - but rather than asking whether people should be moral, Enemy of the State assumes it is a given that people are immoral - or at least, everyone has demons in their closet. Thomas Reynold's uses Robert Clayton Dean's moments of weakness to wreck his credability. An affair, which Dean and his wife managed to overcome after "four years" of counselling is brought up again.
"I want to know about his parents. I want to know about his gambling problems, his urine samples, his porno rentals. I want to use every means possible to get what we need."
Everyone has their vices and, with surveillance tracking everyone and everything, it is easy enough to use that vice as leverage over another. With regard to Julian Assange, I question if the allegations held against him are to destroy his credability prior to holding him accountable for his actions under WikiLeaks. Considering we are talking about the nature - and power - of classified information, I don't think it is too far-a-stretch.
This truly is Tony Scott's strongest film. On the one hand, it is easy to dub Top Gun as the most critically acclaimed and, with regard to the time-period, you may be right. There is a clear connection between the fast-editing, pace and attitude of Top Gun in comparison to the MTV music videos and sports-adverts that influenced cinema largely in the 1980's. In this respect, Top Gun was ground-breaking. But I believe Enemy of the State, in the canon of Tony Scott's films, stands taller. It remains relevant today and, as technology becomes more advanced, you can only worry yourself thinking about how far technology has come since the films release in 1998. (14 years ago now!)
So many elements make this film a perfect storm of flawless filmmaking. The supporting actors in Enemy of the State are possibly the strongest force to be reckoned with - and in a few cases, the most credible roles they have played. Jack Black, Barry Pepper, Jamie Kennedy, Seth Green, Lisa Bonet, Jason Lee, Gabriel Byrne, Philip Baker Hall, Tom Sizemore... the list goes on. Will Smith manages to show that he can hold a serious-drama whilst Gene Hackman and Jon Voight reach their usual heights. The orchestral - but electonic - Trevor Rabin and Harry Gergson-Williams score capturing a sense of classical, 'old' elements in a modern age. The electornic clicks, buzzes and effects almost interrupt the sweeping strings - in the same manner that this technology interrupts Dean's life. Chris Lebenzon's editing between such a broad range of sources whilst the moody Baltimore is captured so well by cinematographer Daniel Mindel. All of this under the watchful eye of a master: Tony Scott. The fact that it has a subtle connection to The Conversation, is the icing on the cake.
Large Association of Movie Blogs

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

The [Three-Day Late] Weekly Review: 20/08/2012

A [Three-Day Late] weekly round-up of what I have been watching, listening to and discussing. Rather than just posts about film, this is a bit more all-encompassing as I think my interest in cinema and art crosses over and between a variety of sources...

Highlight of the Week

Visiting Mum and Dad in Ireland. Always a great, restful escape from the busy-ness of London. Rather than fly, Sarah and I travelled via the Irish Ferries and it was an incredibly choppy-sail over. I doubt we will travel in this manner because, ultimately, it took 12-hours. Each way. Just too long.


Frankenweenie: Can't say nuffink. Damn Embargo.

Sleeping Beauty: Fascinating to think how this turns to all the previous 'Princess' classics and mangles them together. In an animated way that was, for the time, unprecedented. Almost Art-Deco in a way.

Cool Runnings: Sarah had never seen this (shock!) so it had to be done. And with all the crazy Olympics stuff going on, it seemed exceptionally relevant too.

Pulp Fiction: Still incredible. Should've been in the Sight and Sound Top 10 Films of All-Time. I think the vast majority of filmmakers post-Tarantino, are influenced by him in some way. Everyone from Edgar Wright and JJ. Abrams, through to Guy Ritchie and Fernando Meirielles

The Conversation: I didn't realise it had a connection to Blow-Up ... if I had known this in advance, I'm sure I would've watched it sooner.

The Lost World: Jurassic Park: I want to write a post about why this film could've been so good ... and indeed, there are many elements which are still fantastic. Unfortunately, alot of it is money-maker shlock.

Enemy of the State: We watched this mere hours before Tony Scott passed. It really is a brilliant film - and a film which, with regards to Control Rooms, Tony Gilroy should've paid more attention to this before directing The Bourne Legacy


The Hollywood Gauntlet: A third released covering The Avengers. All Hollywood Saloon fans were desperate to hear Andy and John's take on the series - at least this is 50% of the 'Saloon' giving their opinion. Indeed, we still wait with baited breath for Andy VS Hollywood...

The LAMBcast: Jason Soto is brilliant. And, after listening to them list their Top 5's I also now love Nolahn. I never realised before how isnightful he is. A great bunch of Top 5's - including the Top 5 Films that shoulda-had-car-chases and Nick's horrific Top 5 Films That He Never Wants To Watch Again. I had only seen Anti-Christ from the list... but I know of all the others... and I never intend to watch any of them!

/Filmcast: Scott Mendelhson featured on the episode discussing The Bourne Legacy. An episode which, in all honesty, I was in complete agreement with. The side-episode about the John Powell scores was incredible - David Chen really has a way with words and can describe and analyse a score so well. The parallel between the music and the themes of the story I rarely make, but Chen eloquently highlighted this.
James Newton Howard: God his soundtracks are good. Especially his Shyamalan scores - The Village and Signs.

TV/Theatre/Art Galleries/Books/Misc:

Fitness: I am eating porridge every morning. Sit-ups and push-ups every evening. Cardio every two days. I'm not in the 'zone' yet... but slowly and surely ...

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Thursday, 16 August 2012

The Conversation (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)

"We know that you know, Mr. Caul. For your own sake, don't get involved any further. We'll be listening to you."


In a world whereby Google Maps can place you anywhere in the world and 'data bugs' have become a hobby for people to find - it seems that gadgets surveillance and The Conversation are potentially out of date. Where does Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) fit in? Would he be as respected or successful in 2012? Then again, in 1998, Tony Scott released Enemy of the State, a sequel-in-spirit to The Conversation, at a time whereby gadgets were front-and-centre but again, 14 years later, looks a little out of date.

Immediate Start

The film begins immedietly. We see Harry and his team observe and record a couple - Ann and Mark (Frederic Forrest and Cindy Williams) - as they discuss a clearly-confidential matter. The couple walk in circles and find a busy-place to meet ... and even clock onto one of the team listening to the conversation. The story unfolds as Harry realises what he has been employed to do - and the morality behind it.

I believe what many people take away from the film is the ending, which turns the story on its head. The idea of surveillance was very new during the seventies and became something that could be seen as a negative and controlling influence of the government. The film seems to paint the picture that the awareness of the true amount of surveillance (in the 70's!) drives people to paranoia or to apathy. Or, akin to the moral-stance of Burn After Reading, it often simply confuses the issue to further - which is the c\ase, as the film draws to a close.

Harrison Ford in a Pre-Star Wars role

Coppola specifically notes the influence of Antonioni's Blow-Up, and this is clear thoughout. In both films the lead actor is over-analysing an image - or in The Conversation, a tape-recording. But whilst Antonioni seems to delve deep into the multiple attitudes and changes to the art world, Coppola seems to attack the very nature of observing in and of itself.

Harry Caul is a private "bugger" (as in he "bugs" houses!) which in turn emphasizes the conflicting attitudes as, within surveillance-circles he is well-known and respected whilst outside of this, he is proud of not being known as he refuses to use a phone and acts and dresses in a manner that excludes him from society. This lonliness extends further as he is racked with guilt - and he believes he is responsible for the murder of a family (which was in response to a client finding out information, sourced by Caul). Blow-Up doesn't truly explore the themes of guilt and lonliness that The Conversation, but the steady pacing and back-and-forth between narrative and images.tape-recording constantly force you to think about the words spoken and what they mean. By the end of the film, many of the lines you will know off by heart, because they are repeated so often.

John Cazale in the far background

As Philip French observes in The Guardian, between 1970 and 1979, Coppola was the best working filmmaker in Hollywood. Between Coppola's scripted-Patton, the double-whammy of The Godfather and The Godfather Part II, and then hitting a home-run in '79 with Apocalypse Now, surely ensures Coppola as one of the best filmmakers of all-time. I don't believe that these films, and this period in Coppola's life can be ignored due his more-personal, but less-commercial efforts of recent years including Youth with Youth and Tetro. Indeed, The Conversation was nominated for Best Picture but lost-out to The Godfather Part II. If there is one way to lose an Oscar, it is surely to another film you've directed from the same year.

Personally, I love a specific actor that features in The Conversation. Every single feature-film he acted in was nominated for a Best-Picture Oscar. He worked with directors Sidney Lumet and Michael Cimino alongside starring in three Coppola films. Of course, I talk about John Cazale. A man who Al Pacino stated that "All I wanted to do was work with John for the rest of my life". This rounds up my viewing of all five Cazale films and he really does steal the show - an actor who was taken much to soon, dying in 1978 of lung cancer.

The Perfect Time

The Conversation is a brilliant film - but I would assume watching the film again would benefit me greatly. The recurring sequence from the start of the film, I believe, would almost become hypnotic when you watch it a second time. As if Harry Caul is wandering in a dreamlike state, as this sequence plays in his mind. I would assume, this dreamlike state was what many American's felt when it was revealed, in 1973, that President Richard Nixon's administration was found to be bugging his opponents offices. Named after the Hotel which was bugged, it was called the "Watergate Scandal". To imagine how this event rocked the country in one-year before The Conversation was released, it seems exceptionally timely, premiered on 7th April 1974, in the middle of the hearings about Watergate, and before Nixon stepped down from office in August. The idea about recurring themes, I'm sure many viewers related to, as they recalled how horrendous the situation was as Nixon completely abused the trust of his country.

This film is perfectly timed and it is fascinating as an example of the climate in America - and the ongoing-controversy of surveillance.

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Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Saludos Amigos (Various Directors, 1943)

"Adios Hollywood, Saludos Amigos!"


I purchased Pocahontas on Blu Ray. This would be a very strange thing to do if I wasn't watching the entire back-catalogue of Disney animated features but, more importantly, I need to be writing faster if I want to reach Pocahontas anytime soon. Following Bambi, the Disney studios changed dramatically. First off, the world was at war. But before America joined World War II in 1941, the US Department of State funded the Disney studios to commit to a 'Goodwill' Tour of Latin America that adhered to a 'Good Neighbour' policy. Saludos Amigos was the first of six-films that were made during the 1940's - opposed to the previous three films which, though released in the early forties, were all animated and created at the end of the thirties. Indeed, Bambi had been planned shortly after Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. The film is not exclusively animated either - as it shows live-action sequences that show the animators themselves on the plane... this is not the usual Disney film, thats for sure.


What is interesting - and at the time, must've been much more interesting for viewers - was the information about animation that was shown. The live-action sequences show animators on the plane and even the artists drawing and sketching. This, in and of itself, is fascinating to see. During the hey-day of Disney, it is great to imagine how fascinating this was to viewers to watch Disney artists and vocalists such as Pinto Colvig (voice of 'Goofy'), Norman Ferguson (chief animator of 'The Witch' in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves) and Walt Disney himself in more relaxed circumstances - especially seeing their dexterity and flexibility in creating characters.

The first story informs us about Lake Titicata (a lake on the border between Peru and Bolivia) with the (exceptionally famous) Donald Duck. There is a fascinating contrast in art-styles - and this is why I personally love watching these films in HD where possible. This then shifts to return to the animators trying to capture views from the plane, draw Calleberos, dancers and singers. This footage truly captures the culture of the country - and the position the artists are in trying to 'catch' the people in a cultural moment. There is a sequence whereby a narrator informs us of the similarities between the Texan Cowboys and the Gaucho - and this is creatively edited together as the horse is often pushed off-screen, and into the next frame. Our Disney pal 'Goofy' plays the Gaucho to much comedic effect.

A New Character

One thing the Disney studio attempted to create with this film was a new, South-American character in a parrot named Jose Cariola. As a prelude to his introduction, we see an animated, colourful sequence showing the detailed plants and nature in South America before meeting with Donald Duck again. It is he who introduces us to Jose - a samba dancer. Jose became a South-American Disney-branded character that would go on to appear in the The Three Calleberos (another Disney animated classic) and appear moreso in comic-books and within Disney resorts.

The film is clearly weaker than the previous five - and it doesn't pretend to be anything more. But I would be interested in knowing the influence for the sequences at the start. The dancing in the clubs reminded me of a 2011 Oscar-Nominated animated-film Chico Y Rita, whilst the opening credits - alongside similar music - brings to mind the 'Three Blind Mice' opening of Dr No. I would not be so brash to say how Chico Y Rita and Dr No were directly influenced by Saludos Amigos, but clearly the artistic-influence may have been one-and-the-same.
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Tuesday, 14 August 2012

The [Slightly Late] Weekly Review: 13/08/2012

A [slightly late] weekly round-up of what I have been watching, listening to and discussing. Rather than just posts about film, this is a bit more all-encompassing as I think my interest in cinema and art crosses over and between a variety of sources...

A little late because, again, it seems that a Summer Holiday becomes much more busier when you are recently engaged. Many-a-trip to see family and a great time with friends!

Highlight of the Week

Tom & Gem's Wedding: Saturday saw me as an usher to a best friend. A fantastic day with a fantastic couple. Funnily enough, the friend briefly became a blogger - and still has a site active. A strong interest in silent cinema and Ozu see's him purchase some incredible films that I only wish I could watch myself. Ironically, his interest in these films made for the perfect run-of-jokes for his Best Man, shocking everyone with his ownership of the exploitation 1988 Italian-Horror classic Ratman


Funny Games: Sarah became fascinating by Michael Haneke after we watched The Story of Film, and consequently recieved a Haneke boxset for her birthday. I have only seen White Ribbon myself, so hopefully this present for Sarah should rectify this as we watch his back-catalogue together. Suffice to say, Funny Games is brilliant. And I completely "get" the reasons behind a US remake.

Cool Hand Luke: My belief that Inception is a Pro-Atheist work of cinema can join the ranks of other Pro-Atheist cinema that includes Cool Hand Luke. What other films are Pro-Atheism (opposed to Anti-Religion ... because that's easy to do)

The Bourne Legacy: My god. What an awful film. It is not the fauly of Jeremy Renner of Rachel Weisz. The buck purely stops with Tony Gilroy who wrote the script and directed the film. Bad pacing and, in many cases, completely over-complicating the matter. I think the trick that Doug Liman and Paul Greengrass pulled was making a very simple story seem complex. The Bourne Legacy is over-complicated and yet could've been much more easier to digest.


/Film: Caught up on a couple. Great discussion on the Cloud Atlas 5-minute epic trailer. I'm with Dave and Adam: Could be an epic-mess. It clearly wants to be incredibly profound - the question is whether it can effectively reach those heights. I think people who hate The Fountain can relate to that outcome. The episode on The Dark Knight Rises whereby they assessed the feedback had one letter summarising the film in the exact manner I did recently. The biggest complaint is "Why don't we see more of Gotham under Banes' rule". My answer is what would need to be removed to make that happen. It's already 2hours 40mins long. 20-mins showing Gotham-ites losing it, might've just been too much.

David Guetta: Was close to seeing him in Ibiza but never did. He really does manage to capture the right beat that you crave a dance too.

Hot Chip: Great to work out too and a damn good album. Much appreciated Alistair and Richard for constantly reminding me how good these musicians are.

Frankly, My Dear/The LAMBcast: Discussions on The Dark Knight Rises seemed to raise the same ol' argument about minor issues - How did Batman survive the explosion? How did he get back to the city? How did he survive his back being broken? Rapper Scott argues the impossibility that you can't survive a back-break using a rope. Seriously guys! It is a Batman film, the themes are consistent. I wouldn't appreciate Nolan showing us the long, boring journey Bruce Wayne made to get back to the fictional Gotham (for all we know, the prison is on the outskirts). I wouldn't appreciate Nolan developing some convuluted story whereby a spinal-specialist "happened" to be sharing his cell. This is the very definition of nit-picking I'm afraid.

TV/Theatre/Art Galleries/Books/Misc:

Olympics 2012: Sarah and I were lucky enough to watch the Taekwondo, which, Team GB won with Jade Jones. I find it fascinating how much column-inches is given to Pendleton, Ennis and Mo Farah. They are great and well-deserved winners. I'm more impressed with the sporting stars who weren't funded as well - but still came out on top.

The Bodysculpting Bible For Men by James Villepigue and Hugo Rivera: No need to explain. I have a very long road ahead of me...

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Thursday, 9 August 2012

Cool Hand Luke (Stuart Rosenburg, 1967)

"What we've got here ... is failure to communicate..."


I remember at University I watched One Night at McCool's and, mentioning to a friend that a certain car-washing scene was clearly referencing Cool Hand Luke, he replied that he was suprised I had seen such a film. Apparently, it wasn't the 'type' of film I would watch. At the time, it probably wasn't. Indeed, I had not seen the film at thatr point in my life. I just knew that any car-washing involving women pressing-themselves against a soaking-wet car, pouring suds onto their chest, is always from Cool Hand Luke. I think I knew this because a "50 Sexiest Scenes from Films" programme placed this sequence in the Top 10. As a teenager, I wasn't going to forget that. But there is so much more to this unforgettable classic...

Nothing to Lose

The set-up is simple. Luke (Paul Newman) has been placed in prison for vandalising parking meters in a small town. For his sentence, he is sent to a prison camp whereby the prisoners pave roads and cut down long-grass. Its a labour-camp like no other, but Luke inspires the prisoners within through refusing to "stay down" after a fight with inmate Dragline (George Kennedy) and after winning a flippant bet to eat fifty hard-boilded eggs within an hour. The name "Cool Hand" Luke is given after he wins a game of poker by bluffing what he has - telling the inmates that when you have nothing, you have nothing to lose.

The idea of hope in such dire circumstances is what truly separates this film from the pack. It is not a story of redemption or simply a bad-guy-turns-good. It is much more. Through paving a road Luke manages to earn 2-hours of peace for the inmates as the job is completed faster than expected. The challenge of fifty-eggs manages to, for a few moments, give the prisoners something different to think about. The comparison to The Shawshank Redemption is clear and overwhelming, but there is a crucial difference. After eating fifty eggs, Luke lays on the table almost naked. Arms outstretched, legs together in a clear Christ-like crucifix. But Luke doesn't believe in God - and the prisoners idolise Luke. The Shawshank Redemption is known to be an uplifting, Christian-story of hope. Cool Hand Luke is almost the opposite - as, I believe, it directly challenges faith in the world and argues atheism at its heart.

Faith and its Falseness

Following the visit from Luke's mother, he manages to become inspirational. It is this section whereby Luke provides hope to the convicts. But then his Mother passes away and, rather than speak about seeing her in the afterlife, he sings the following song:

"Well, I don't care if it rains or freezes, long as I got my plastic Jesus, sittin' on the dashboard of my car/ Comes in colors, pink and pleasant, glows in the dark cause it's irridescent ... Take it with you when you travel far.

Get yourself a sweet Madonna, dressed in rhinestones sittin' on a pedestal of abalone shell
Goin' ninety, I ain't scary, 'cause I've got the Virgin Mary, assurin' me that I won't go to Hell."

His Mother has passed and, rather than pray, he reminds himself that faith is crutch people use to hold them up in times of need. Faith is the hope that people cling to, to convince them that the world around them is safe. In the same way the prisoners cling onto him, to take their mind off the reality about how confined they truly are. The scene is followed almost immediately by the guards telling Luke that he will be staying in 'The Box' for days, as many prisoners often try to run after a family members die. As if to highlight how the brutality and cruelty between humans is more 'real' than a plastic Jesus telling you everything will be okay. For Luke, it is not okay - and his justification for his atheism is due to human nature. How can there be a God when people treat each other so badly? How can a prisoner commit a sin in the first place, if they truly believe that God will judge them in the afterlife?

The iconic line that hits the first time after Luke fails to escape - "What we've got here... is failure to communicate" works both ways. In the same way that Luke understands how he is expected to act - he disagree's with the harsh-labour expected of him in correlation to his crime. Like faith, and indeed, prayer - the lack of verbal communication highlights the falseness of faith. There is no understanding or clarification to the true realities of the world. Especially in the few texts available - the vast interpretations of the Bible, unto itself, show a "lack of communication" from God's part. Within the context of the prison, this lack of communicationis is personified in the 'Walking Boss' (Morgan Woodward). A prison guard who doesn't speak and always wears sunglasses - therefore we never see his eyes. This man has no soul and only exists to create fear amongst the prisoners. He is a perfect marksman. He can, and will, shoot you if he needs to. The camera often cuts to Woodward when the Captain (Strother Martin) speaks - as if to highlight how he may be the true Captain.

Does the 'Walking Boss' protect the men? Does he support them or give them strength? Does he help the men when they are in times of trouble? No. It seems that he simply watches and he takes away any hope they have. Luke becomes the prisoner's Saviour - and the hope that they cling onto:

"Hope becomes a coping mechanism, a way of convincing yourself that it’s better to contemplate Luke’s gloriously failed escape than to stage one’s own, and the net effect of actual “subversion” is to make the situation worse." - Adam K (An und fur sich)

The site, An und fur sich, even goes so far to say how Luke himself is akin to the character Lucille (The girl who washes the car in one scene). She teases the hope of escape and a future - and Luke does this too. Luke acts as if he is free - and this is what the prisoners want too. We might be able to be subjective about what Luke either is, or symbolises, but we are also shown Luke's inner struggle too. And Luke is no Andy DuFrane

The Opposite to Shawshank

The Shawshank Redemption ends by (spoilers...) Andy Dufrane (Tim Robbins), the innocent man in Shawshank Prison, escaping through the back of his prison cell. Something he personally worked at, chipping away at it for many years, before achieving his escape to a heavenly beach. Rosenburg directs Cool Hand Luke to show how when Luke escapes, it provides hope for the convicts. Until he is returned. He tells the prisoners about how a policeman, purely by chance, found him. We are not shown this - and we question the truth to this story, but the fact remains: He is caught.

He tries again and manages to succeed. He sends a picture of his exploits as he sits with two attractive women. The prisoners are amazed - fascinated by his escape and they talk about it as if Luke was a myth. Until he is brought back, again. He is covered in blood and has been beaten by the guards. No chains can bind him perhaps and "the man" always catches up with him. He tells the prisoners the picture is phoney. He is physically and mentally tortured by the guards before "cracking" and getting his "mind right". This man is not the quiet, sensitive hero. When Luke "cracks", it is tragic.

In The Shawshank Redemption, an important - I'd say crucial element - to the story is his innocence. Andy Dufrane is in prison for a crime he didn't commit. Luke, in this film, has comitted a crime. There is no doubt about this as we see him commit the crime in the opening sequence. Whilst Dufrane mocks the authority, Luke directly challenges it. He confronts it by almost ignoring the shckles that bind him. He charms the guards so that they even see the injustice as they apologise when told to place him 'the box'. The finale of the two films are also tragically different. Whilst Dufrane successfully escapes (on the first attempt), Luke escapes three times - and the last time shows how institutionalised Dragline is. Indeed, Dragline still believes the chance the police will give them. But again, the "failure to communicate" is what kills Luke. God doesn't offer a hand when Luke turns to him - and, as if to show the cruelty of man, as soon as Luke shows his face, he is shot down. 

There is a little ambiguity over Luke's true character - did he really make a "phoney" picture? did he "crack" under pressure? I believe this is the same with regard to a certai ambiguity over the scathing attack it has on faith. Luke turns to God as a cynic. He doesn't want to believe - at no point has he wanted to believe. The notes I have raised are primarily from his perspective - and maybe we are not expected to see the story in the same light. Should we see it as a moral tale about someones refusal to accept God - and the consequences?

We know that Hollywood has a difficult time in clearly showing us a story that actively attempts to dismiss faith. The horrendous execution of The Golden Compass is a tribute to what happens when someone bastardizes an atheists argument in fictional form. In the sixties, this must've been much more difficult. Ambiguity is neccessary - but I think we see the point.

People turn to faith because they need hope. Because they need something to tell them there is more to this world than the cruelty and inhumane treatment between others. Ironically, it is the inhumanity which is real - and faith which is unreal.

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