27. Bug (William Friedkin, 2006)
Much as I complained about the way in which The Wrestler is being advertised in England I believe I have been sold Bug under false pretences. I was under the impression that this was a tense and explicit body horror that marked a welcome return to form for The Exorcist director Billy Friedkin. I wasn’t aware that Bug is in fact adapted from a stage play and that as a result it doesn’t play out as a typical horror film at all. Bug unfortunately failed to hold my attention at all. I suspect a portion of the blame is attributable to me but as I wasn’t expecting a stage adaptation I was disappointed with the lack of dynamism. Taking place over three distinct Acts there are leaps in the development of the characters that just doesn’t work as well cinematically. As for the acting Ashley Judd is excellent in a demanding role but I didn’t believe in Michael Shannon’s troubled CIA lab-rat nearly as much.
I’m afraid that as far as the horror nights go, a lack of action and an unappealing structure make this one a big fat fail.
26. Gran Torino (Clint Eastwood, 2008) #90 in IMDB top 250
I’m unashamedly biased about Clint Eastwood films. I’m a big fan of the man’s body of work – especially the 70s stuff. I haven’t watched much of his recent films since the old-boys reunion Space Cowboys. In Gran Torino Clint plays Walt Kowalski, a Korean war veteran whose wife has recently died leaving him living alone. Walt lives in a neighbourhood that is now predominantly inhabited by immigrant families. Next door is a Hmong family whose lives he gets entangled with when he scares off a local gang who bother their son Thao. Kowalski is however, a massive racist. Every other sentence is littered with a term of racial abuse and spat derisively in Eastwoods craggy breaking voice. Factor in that Walt Kowalski is perhaps the grumpiest character I’ve ever seen in a film and with any other actor/director you’d have a recipe for an unsympathetic offensive disaster. But with Eastwood at the helm the film is instead an amusing and moving morality play. The story is a little special for not being overtly sentimental and not conforming to any rite of passage cliché. In fact, I won’t spoil it but, something happens in this that is very rare in Eastwood films that I wasn’t expecting and that may indicate that the big fella is thinking of calling it a day.
It’s hugely enjoyable to watch Clint spit piss and fire at everyone he meets and the film is shot and edited in a patient, unhurried style that makes for a refreshing change of pace from most modern product. There is one blemish on the film though. The song that Clint sings over the closing credits is utterly dreadful. Should’ve gone for an actual singer instead pal.
25. The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky, 2008) #50 in IMDB top 250
Every now and again a role comes along that seems perfectly suited to an actor, a role that effectively mirrors their own life. In The Wrestler, Mickey Rourke has just such a role. Beaten and scarred ageing wrestler Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson struggles to hold his life together, estranged from his daughter, struggling to pay his trailer home rent and finally told by doctors that he has to quit wrestling. Rourke has effectively lived this story over the past 25 years and his face tells the story. Generic plot aside, you’re watching for the performances. As convincing as Rourke is he’s matched by Marisa Tomei whose stripper with a heart of gold, Cassidy, is Randy’s only friend. The pair of them are commodities – their bodies are their livelihood but they can no longer depend on them as their age finally catches up with them.
I have to admit to being completely bemused by the English advertising for the film. It’s focused on the, admittedly well filmed, wrestling sequences. Without prior knowledge you could be forgiven for thinking that this was the focus of the film, thankfully it isn’t. The Wrestler is an excellent character drama with very genuine performances and a worthy awards contender.
Note – I also adored the fist-pumping 80s cock-rock soundtrack particularly ‘Balls to the Wall’ by Accept. But that might just be me.
24. Blazing Saddles (Mel Brooks, 1974)
Here I am with another in the long line of classics that I somehow managed to miss over the years. It’s pretty easy to see why this film has lasting appeal as I laughed out loud whilst sat in the house on my lonesome. It’s quotable, packed with gags both big and small and it doesn’t let up. Blazing Saddles takes the Western and embraces it, subverts it and finally perverts it. Cleavon Little is fantastic as the newly appointed Sheriff and Gene Wilder is an excellent foil. The rest of the film roars along until the slightly disappointing final scenes, once the sheriff is accepted by the townsfolk then the film understandably loses some of its zeal. That’s forgiven though as Blazing Saddles has retained its overall charm and most of its gags still hit.
Everyone has a favourite bit in a film like this, mine has to be ‘Where all the white women at?’ Yours?
Note: Blazing Saddles is listed in the Neon book 1000 Essential Movies on Video under ‘Comedies (American)’.
22. Layer Cake (Matthew Vaughn, 2004)
So often an excellent trailer is followed months later by an average film. So I approached Layer Cake wondering if the reverse could be true as the trailer was abysmally off-putting. What a pleasant surprise it is to watch a smart film with an economical style and a very sturdy cast. Daniel Craig serves an admirable apprenticeship for his Bond role and Sienna Miller puts on some flash underwear (I’m not actually sure if she can act but she has decent career as a clothes horse to fall back on). Layer Cake deserves to join the clutch of decent modern British crime thrillers alongside Gangster No.1 and Sexy Beast. Matthew Vaughn has come a long way since being Guy Ritchie’s finance guy and has made a more watchable film than any of Ritchie’s recent dreck.
Tangent: Sorry to sound like a repetitive feminist but all the women in this are fucking rubbish characters, untrustworthy gobshites or mute eye-candy. What was the last decent female character in a British crime film, Helen Mirren in The Long Good Friday?
23. Rope (Alfred Hitchcock, 1948) #214 in IMDB top 250
Once again in the hands of the master, Rope is Hitch’s experiment in continuous shooting. With only 10 shots the film and adapted from the play, Rope is deliberately stage-like. Despite this, as I mentioned in the Rear Window review, you can feel that you are being guided by Hitchcock, manipulated by the easy flowing camera movements. Not much I can add to what’s already been written so I’m going to go off on another tangent.
Tangent: I read, courtesy of IMDB, that the film was banned in certain cities of America due to the implied homosexuality between the murderous chaps Brandon and Phillip. This implied homosexuality looks pretty tame, if obvious, in hindsight. But it’s indicative of attitudes from the time. Gay characters are morally crippled, their choice of lifestyle reflecting a lack of ethical fortitude. Have we actually managed to move on from this? Or have gay characters just climbed one or two rungs above other minority groups – meaning they can now be ‘best friends’ to the main characters?
Renaissance (Christian Volckman, 2006)
This animated French future-noir with hints of Blade Runner and Equilibrium is an exceptionally beautiful film. Using the rotoscope animation seen in Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly, Renaissance took a staggering 6 years to produce and with a daring monochromatic palette it looks quite unlike anything else out there. Unfortunately this technique obliterates the minutiae of human expression and distances the viewer from the emotional impact of the scenes. The story, police officer Barthélémy Karas investigating shadowy corporations and kidnapped scientists, is entertaining if unremarkable genre stuff meaning Renaissance is an intriguing curio but not revolutionary, despite appearances.
Note: Another 100 word challenge, any thoughts?
19. The Great Waldo Pepper (George Roy Hill, 1975)
A bit of the all-American boy, Robert Redford, seemed appropriate for a Sunday afternoon viewing. I went into the film with a bit of prior knowledge having read screenwriter William Goldman’s excellent ‘Adventures in the Screen Trade’. In it Goldman describes the process by which the screenplay was commissioned and eventually constructed and the way he realised, upon watching it with an audience, where he had made a dreadful error of judgement. At the halfway point in the film this error is made when a major character is killed, somewhat unexpectedly. Goldman said the audience reactions were absolutely dreadful. He knew then that they’d lost the audience at this point and that they weren’t going to buy into the rest of the film. Now I’ve seen it, I understand. It may well serve the narrative but it completely rips the heart out of the film. The problem is exacerbated by the callous way in which the surviving characters seem only to worry about their careers in the scene that follows. It’s a catastrophic error in the development of the film.
Aside from this the film does have a real charm about it. Goldman, George Roy Hill and Robert Redford are the team from Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid (which will also be reviewed on here soon). Aforementioned death aside, this comfortable arrangement translates to give much of the film a welcome sense of ease and of an accomplished and friendly atmosphere. Redford is a movie star, a latter day matinee idol who has a fantastic screen presence. Learning that all the actors, Redford included, did all of the aerial stunts made the aerial sequences of the film become even more impressive. This was the era of the ‘barnstormers’, daredevil pilots without a World War to fight and with plenty of skill in a bi-plane who would go from town to town offering rides and stunts for a fee. The film captures this lost era with some stunning photography and, if you can forgive the mid-film calamity, a pretty engrossing story.
Note: The Great Waldo Pepper is listed in the Neon book 1000 Essential Movies on Video under ‘Flying Movies’.
20. Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, 2008) #190 in IMDB top 250.
Oskar, a bullied, shy 12 year old boy in a snowy Norwegian town befriends Eli, a girl who has recently moved in next door. But Eli has a secret that means she’ll always be 12 and she can’t be exposed to sunlight. Let the Right One In is a beautifully shot portrayal of the beginnings of adolescence where adult emotions and situations begin to violently invade childhood. The film is dependant on the child actors and their performances are utterly convincing, especially Lina Leandersson as Eli who conveys the combination of ancient ferocity and isolated youth with understated aplomb.
Note: I’ve set myself a kind of ‘commission challenge’ with this review of making it only 100 words long. Let me know if you think I managed to get everything across.
Clerks II (Kevin Smith, 2006)
I approached this film with a deal of apprehension and I think I need to explain why, to give some context my thoughts and ramblings. I started really loving Cinema when I was 15/16, around the time I first bought an issue of the now sadly defunct Neon movie magazine and began spending an unhealthy amount of time in Jack Beanstalk Video in Timperley. I remember very clearly at this time that I read somewhere about Clerks (Kevin Smith, 1994) having been a success on the festival scene in America and getting a video release in the UK. I managed to watch the film on its premier on Sky Movies and I absolutely loved it. I was obviously a bit impressionable but I thought ‘this is it!’ This was the breath of fresh air for my generation of audiences. It was sharp and witty, it had great songs, great characters and things that actually related directly to me. I worked in a cornershop, I smoked myself insanely stoned, I had no idea about what I wanted to do in life and I was definitely having issues with women (how to find them, what to say to them and not make a tit of yourself). So Clerks was largely to blame for my ensuing film obsession. I obsessed over Kevin Smith’s subsequent films but, over time, steadily fell out of synch with what he was doing from my disappointment with Dogma to the extent that I didn’t bother watching Jersey Girl or Clerks II. Maybe I felt like I’d grown out of Kevin Smith or that I’d gotten to a stage where he wasn’t important anymore.
So when a friend of mine, knowing about this blog and my challenge, lent me Clerks II with the words ‘It’s rayt fucking funny’ I was a touch worried about how I was going to find it. I was a bit surprised at the warm sense of return at the start. To see the characters back, not in bit parts or cameos but in a story of their own, was really pleasing. The return is definitely re-treading old ground but it’s pretty comfortable ground and for the most part it’s funny too. The same Kevin Smith problems that saw me drift away from his work are still in evidence; despite it being his strength the script can be too wordy by a fair distance (leave the Star Wars shit alone!), the editing is occasionally clunky and the sentimentality wins through in a very American way. That said it certainly isn’t the disaster I feared, the humour hits more than it misses, poor Brian O’Halloran’s inability to act is offset by the other cast members (Trevor Fehrman as Elias is superb) and it lead to me wallowing in a weird nostalgia as you can tell by this somewhat bizarre review.
Cheers to Shaun for the DVD and cheers to Andy for this alternative response/review when I told him I was watching Clerks II…
“It’s utter, utter, UTTER balls. I went through that film doubling my loathing of it every minute that went by.”
Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954) #16 in IMDB top 250.
What can I add, when watching a film that has been written about ad infinitum and will continue to be written about? What? Well, it’s quintessential Hitchcock really, encompassing his core themes of voyeurism and sexuality within a fantastically tight scenario. Now endlessly referenced in popular culture, Rear Window, unlike Soylent Green, lives up to its status of ongoing cultural importance – in this case the film is worth the credit. It’s filmed with real economy, no shot is wasted. You feel, from start to finish, as if you are in hands of a master manipulator. The pacing is tight and never allows for any boredom because the story develops with such a gentle ease. Jimmy Stewart manages another career defining performance (how many can one actor have!) and Grace Kelly is a blinding mix of New York glamour and adventurous muse. A classic in every sense.
Perhaps more importantly, why hadn’t I seen this before? Embarrassingly I can’t really explain, my Hitchcock experience is relatively threadbare for a student of the cinema. Many thanks then to Russo who has leant me the Alfred Hitchcock 14 film box-set, expect to see a few more reviews of the great mans movies and I hope to be able put forward some more salient and interesting points rather than just spunking praise all over the place like an excited terrier.