July 29th: The Future Past

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157. The Anderson Tapes (Sidney Lumet, 1971)

Trading heavily on Sean Connery’s sex appeal this is a heist movie with a ‘modern’ twist. Or at least it was when it came out. Nothing dates quite as quickly as technology and it makes a film like this, a smidge off 40 years old, look very dated indeed. Duke Anderson is a safecracker who is released from prison after a 10 stretch and moves straight back in with his old flame. He likes the apartment building she lives in so much he decides to rob each of the inhabitants in one giant heist prix du viagra en pharmacie quebec. All the while Duke is being recorded. That’s the central conceit of the film, Duke is being recorded by various agencies and concerned parties. Giant reel to reel magnetic tape devices will have looked the part in 1971 but now they are a curio. To modern children they will look positively alien.

The Anderson Tapes isn’t a particularly exciting film, which is unfortunate for a heist movie. It’s sporadically funny, sometimes tense, Dyan Cannon and Connery lend it a kind of lazy sex appeal but it is unfortunate that Quincy Jones’ soundtrack completely obliterates everything in its path. It’s a confused bleeping, electronic mess that stamps all over every other part of the film to the point of annoyance. Finally, I can’t quite comprehend why the surveillance angle of the story is never developed, instead it is thrown away for a joke at the end of the film. Much like the film itself it seems that the Anderson Tapes aren’t that important.

It was perhaps worth watching for the major debut of Christopher Walken though, I like him quite a lot…

July 28th: City of Dirty Angels

Collateral

156. Collateral (Micheal Mann, 2004)

Michael Mann has managed to chronicle masculinity in the cinema for over 20 years now. In Collateral he brings his unique eye to Los Angeles’ nightlife in the story of Jamie Foxx’s hardworking cab driver, Max, who picks up the fare of a lifetime. The Cruiser plays Vincent, a sociopath and contract killer. It’s an excellent mannered performance from the smiling Scientologist, suiting his innate arrogance and making for a believably remorseless killer. There are shades of Mann’s excellent Heat in many parts of this and that is no bad thing but to be honest, the story, performances and script were all good but they played second fiddle to something else.

What really shines in Collateral is the city itself. A little bit of reading around reveals that Mann had become enamoured of the growing potential of digital video prior to this shoot. As a result he found that the digital camera’s were able to pick up a lot more detail than traditional film in the natural ambient light that LA is bathed in. The result is a film that looks completely unlike any other mainstream Hollywood release. Mann’s LA is back alleys empty commercial buildings and parking lots all bathed in phosphor and neon, cold electric lights, glinting metallics and pools of darkness. The city sleepily glows and hums a picture of sparse urban decay. In short, it looks incredible.

There’s a lot of noise at the moment about how digital film-making is encroaching on film and whether it is signalling the death of celluloid. I certainly hope that isn’t the case but I think digital recording represents an addition to the growing toolkit available for cinema and as such it should be greeted with wary open arms. There will be mistakes made in the early stages but Collateral represents an excellent step in this respect.

In case you fancy a read about the technicalities of filming Collateral then have a quick read of this archive article from The American Cinematographer. I warn you though, it’s a bit camera technical.

July 27th: Batshit Insane Country

Gonzo

155. Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (Alex Gibney, 2008)

Hunter S. Thompson is probably one of the most important journalists of the late 20th Century. The searing highs of his Fear and Loathing books will remain unique milestones in American literature – if you get the chance then read them. This documentary, narrated by Johnny Depp is, an encompassing look at the man.

I’m drawn to Thompson, he clearly wasn’t afraid of confrontation and radical thinking and a pretty extreme approach to life all round. He clearly inspired a following judging by the amount of people who would party with him at the drop of a hat.

The term Gonzo, meaning ‘Gonzo Journalism’, was coined to describe Thompson’s work. It involved the journalist themselves becoming subsumed into their story, writing it as a first person narrative and occasionally including fictional elements for exaggerated effect. Thompson’s work for Rolling Stone was scathing, angry and insightful at the time that it was produced, he represented the bleeding of the counter-culture into the mainstream. With his reports from the Democratic primaries in Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 he stumbled into the heart of America’s internal machinery and decided he didn’t like what he saw. The access he had then would be impossible now which makes the book even more important.

All this is covered in the film but so is the less savoury side of Thompson, the rampant alcoholism, the gun obsession, the womanising and his eventual suicide. It’s easy to romanticise but the documentary is brave enough to include the criticism from his ex-wife about the way he ended his life and his brazen affairs. This stops the film from merely being a one-sided glorification of the man. Hunter S. Thompson could be a lazy ingrate, but he could write like no other and this is a fitting testament.

July 27th: Greaseless Lightening

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154. Who Killed the Electric Car? (Chris Paine, 2006)

Who killed the what? Electrickery in a car? Surely this is a kind of madness?

It would seem that it isn’t any kind of madness, Chris Paine’s documentary is desperate to point out that the most sensible thing any of us could do is to own an electric car. We’re introduced to the rich history of putting sparky juice in cars, a history that stretches back as far as the infernal combustion engine. But the electric car has been a distant second place to its carbon emitting brother for its whole existence. What the documentary really charts is the efforts of the major automotive industry to expand into electric vehicles during the mid 90s and their, seemingly inexplicable, desire to shut the whole thing down a decade later.

Who Killed the Electric Car is one of a number of ‘Eco-docs’ that have emerged in recent years, this is one of the more intriguing stories though. Unlike the efforts of The 11th Hour and An Inconvenient Truth this isn’t a global threat story, it concentrates on the kind of corporate shenanigans that would greatly intrigue Joel Bakan (author of The Corporation and writer of the film adaptation too), Michael Moore or Mark Thomas. The likes of General Motors and Toyota offered electric cars on a lease in California, you charged them overnight in your garage and they had a range of about 100/120 miles before they needed recharging. Great for a commute or a city runabout said Tom Hanks, Mel Gibson and the pantheon of celebrities who stepped onboard. Why then, scant years later, did the companies take back the cars? Why did they recall these cars and what did they do with them? That’s the intrigue and it’s unlikely that these car companies banked on the determination of California’s hand wringing, liberal, tree hugging hipsters to find out what was going on. So who did it? Who killed the latest incarnation of the Electric Car? Round up the usual suspects in an Eco-Doc – Big Oil, Big Business and the Government. They all come in for a volley of criticism but perhaps the most surprising target is the emergence of the Hydrogen fuel cell. If we’re many years off having streets full of Hydrogen cell fuelled cars why not have electrics in the interim? It’s an intriguing question from a thought provoking film.

How good am I? I’ve found that this is another film you can watch for free via the magic of YouTube, and it’s all legal too! – CLICK HERE. 

July 27th: King Nothing

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153. King Lear (Grigori Kozintsev, 1971)

When you approach a black and white Russian version of one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies you could be forgiven for feeling a little bit of trepidation. I mean, that sounds like quite an ominous film. My own fears were allayed when I realised that this is a pretty special adaptation. The translation and screenplay from Boris Pasternak lay the groundwork for perhaps the most definitive cinema adaptations of the great man’s work. Kozintsev directs with a steady and intuitive hand as the action takes place in a timeless pre-history era, Dmitri Shostakovich provides the mournful score and the action is framed and photographed with exceptional clarity and beauty by Jonas Gritsius. It is accessible but at the same time there is definitely a sense of this film being somehow monolithic. It hasn’t aged in any way, it seems as close to the ideal adaptation as I could imagine.

Lear, in case you haven’t been exposed to the story, is an aging monarch who decides to split his land between his three daughters, Goneril, Reagan and the favoured youngest Cordelia. At the ceremony where this is to be finalised Cordelia refuses to enter into the spirit of things when she doesn’t praise her father as lyrically as her sisters. This sets in motion a series of events that lead to relatively awful ends for just about everyone. It is slightly more intricate than that but, y’know, I haven’t got all day.

The key aspect of Lear is performance. The role of Lear itself is regarded as one of the greatest roles an actor can play and seems to be held with a mixture of fear and awe by those who tread the boards. Perhaps it is the madness of the part that is so difficult to play. I know that Yuri Yarvet’s performance in this film is exceptional. By the end of the film, and Lear’s mournful cries of ‘Never,’ I was totally sold at the tragedy that had befell the King. It is above and beyond, it is a spellbinding piece of cinema that will stand for a very long time.

Here’s a special treat for you if you fancy watching this particular version of King Lear as it is available in its entirety on Youtube – Click Here.

Note: King Lear is listed in the Neon book 1000 Essential Movies on Video under Russian Movies.

July 26th: The Future is Blue/Grey

minority-report

152. Minority Report (Steven Spielberg, 2002)

Philip K. Dick was a fabulous author and a continuing rich source of inspiration for cinema, when his stories are adapted well they have given us the likes of Blade Runner. When they are adapted poorly we get films like Paycheck and Imposter. If you haven’t heard of them don’t be surprised, they are quite average. The attraction lies in the scope of Dick’s work, the meditations on what memory means and whether memories constitute the core essence of the human experience. These ruminations can be used as a framing device for a superior action film like Total Recall or they can be explored in more depth as in Blade Runner.

Minority Report is a little different, being a short story that differs slightly from the usual exploration of memories and instead questions the notion of free will as an essential part of the human experience. The Cruiser stars as John Anderton, the lead member of an experimental ‘Precrime’ police unit. A unit which utilises future visions of three ‘precogs’ in order to predict when and where a murder will take place and prevent them from ever happening. Things go a pear-shaped when The Cruiser comes up as the lead suspect in a predicted murder so he does a runner, eventually picking up the lead Precog and trying to unravel the set-up. There’s plenty of typical late Spielberg on display in the film, the shattered family unit (remarkably similar to The Cruiser’s family in War of the Worlds), some flashy camerawork and a bum-number of a running time. It’s also a remarkably blue film, I don’t mean tits’n’arse, but this is more blue-grey in colour tone than Michael Mann’s Heat. In that film the colour had the effect of lending cold and blank tone to the ultra-modern city of Los Angeles, it was ideal. Here it has the unfortunate effect of looking a lot like a grim car advert from the future.

There’s very little to write about Minority Report that could be interesting. It continues the downward curve of Spielberg’s action output, a curve that surely reached its horrible nadir with the fourth Indiana Jones film. When his more serious output, such as Munich, is so accomplished it really does make you think that he should concentrate on that kind of thing rather than clinging to dream of making another Jaws or Jurassic Park. One way of improving might be ditching the shattered family angle and at least 30 minutes off the running time.

Here is an interesting bit of trivia from IMDB about the gestation of the project and about a film I would probably have enjoyed a bit more…

“The story “Minority Report” by Philip K. Dick was originally adapted as a sequel to Total Recall (1990) by writers Ronald Shusett and Gary Goldman, later joined by Robert Goethals. The setting was changed to Mars with the Precogs being people mutated by the Martian atmosphere, as established in the first film. The main character was also changed to Douglas Quaid, the man played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. The project eventually fell apart but the writers, who still owned the rights to the original story, rewrote the script, removing the elements from Total Recall (1990). This script was eventually tossed out when novelist Jon Cohen was hired in 1997 to start the project over from scratch. The only original element from the early script which made it to the final Minority Report (2002) film is the sequence in the car factory, an idea that Steven Spielberg loved.”

July 25th: 6 Feet Under

Box

151. Box (Takashi Miike, 2004)

The final film off the Three Extremes DVD is by legendarily mental Japanese director Takashi Miike. It’s bizarre that the shorter format seems to allow for more creativity but it seems to liberate the film-makers from the structural demands of the feature film. Box is a story of revenge and regret, typical themes for Japanese horror. It’s a claustrophobic and tense tale of a woman who is haunted by visions of her twin sister who died when they were young. To reveal any more of the story would spoil it but it is a startling little number, an enjoyably spooky tale for a late Saturday night.

July 25th: The Race Card

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150. True Crime (Clint Eastwood, 1999)

During the late 90s Clint made a few films that didn’t really interest me, this is one of them. After watching it my fears were confirmed, it’s a pretty dull affair about a disgraced journalist seeking redemption by trying to save a man wrongfully scheduled to die by lethal injection. It sounds like something you might find Perry Mason appearing in. It seems especially weak given Clint’s recent run of excellent work that I’ve seen this year with Gran Torino, Flags of our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima. The performances are a bit of soap opera fluff and it’s quite dull, not only that but there’s no excuse for it clocking in at over two hours. Nor is there any excuse, other than the man’s vanity, for Clint to be humping a series of women 30 years his junior.