September 4th: Far right load of old rubbish.

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185. Red Dawn (John Milius, 1984)

What a different world it was 25 years ago. I’m reliably informed that some people lived under the impression that the events in the opening of Red Dawn, where a combined communist force suddenly invades America, were a very real possibility. How much things have changed. By the time I was politically aware the iron curtain had long since collapsed and along with it the ideological conflict of East Vs West. Had I watched it at the time I might have been inspired by the whole affair and bought into the deeply binary worldview. But I didn’t watch it then, I watched it in 2009 and as a result I almost vomited. What a hulking shit-stain of a film this is. Red Dawn is a scathing blast of propaganda straight from director John Milius, writer of the brilliant USS Indianapolis speech from Jaws. It should come as no surprise to anyone who has managed to see five minutes of Red Dawn that Milius is on the board of directors for the NRA (National Rifle Association). There’s more pro-gun propaganda in this than there is in Charlton Heston’s library. The camera even lingers over a bumper sticker bearing the infamous “from my cold dead hands” epitaph. Factor in some fulsome praise from fans of the film as diverse as Reagan’s Secretary of Defence Alexander Haig and Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh and you have a very clearly drawn line.

Where to begin then, the dialogue is stodgy and delivered with sub-Dawsons Creek sincerity by the young cast, the action is flat and uninteresting, there are plot-holes and pacing issues. It’s really just a poorly made film. Whatever favour is curried by the shock opening rapidly disappears under the weight of the flaws. Perhaps the biggest committed here is that it manages to be boring. It shouldn’t be but it is. The story rambles on without making any substantial point other than some broadly drawn stuff about war being a bit tough and how brilliant it is to have guns. Milius eschews any of the interesting shots of an American town in the grip of a communist regime in order to spend as much time as possible recreating the American frontier myth in the forest, but with more guns. The cast is hugely disappointing, the appearance of Harry Dean Stanton always fills me with hope but he seemed to be bored or embarrassed as he drawled out his pitiful lines. Similarly Powers Boothe turns up to chew some scenery but proceeds to behave like the most comically inept soldier since Sgt. Bilko. The kids can’t be faulted too much, apart from C. Thomas Howell is scarcely believable as a psychopath, but they’re young and they would go on to better for the large part.  I can’t find anything positive to say about it at all aside from mentioning my wife’s surprise at seeing Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze on screen in a film whilst not having the time of their life.

I suppose if it has a place it is as an addendum to the Sylvester Stallone canon of the 80s as the embodiment of Reagan era politics in celluloid, but I’d watch Rocky IV over this stodgy pile of right-wing turds any day of the week.

September 3rd: Criminally Bad

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184. Rollerball (John McTiernan, 2002)

I’ve mentioned it before, notably with my review of Supernova, but I’ve got a bizarre fascination with films that are failures. I love a failed movie, be it from a flawed concept or a torturous development, there is a kind of rubbernecking glee that occurs when you watch a botched job. Rollerball had a development process that appeared to last several years before it eventually slid into American cinemas in the release schedule no-mans land of February, back in 2002. What’s left from the endless re-shoots and edits is a messy attempt to update Norman Jewison’s iconic sci-fi satire from 1975. Where Jewison’s film suffers is in the pacing, it would appear that McTiernan was desperate to speed up the film a bit. As an exchange the film is completely stripped of anything but the most perfunctory social commentary, the most memorable and successful aspect of the original film is completely erased. The result is a shopping list of attractions for an ADHD teenage boy; nu-metal, tits, fast cars, extreme sports and violence. There’s really nothing to cling to here though, the sets are plasticky warehouse affairs, the script feels like a collage of advertising soundbites, it’s edited like MTV on fast forward, Chris Klein is comically bad at acting, Rebecca Romijn doesn’t want to be there and Jean Reno is auditioning for a panto villain role. Worst of all the game of Rollerball itself doesn’t make any sense, there’s some kind of ludicrous figure of 8 playing area where two teams race around throwing a steel ball at a dish. I can’t explain it any better than that because the film doesn’t even try.

But what of the drama behind the making of, well the studio is a lot better at signing people up to non-disclosure agreements these days so I’ve been unable to find out what was really going on but there are some juicy bits of info on the internet. Apparently Jewison hated the remake from conception, stating that he thought they were embracing the violence he sought to condemn in his original. But more interestingly John McTiernan became involved in the long running Anthony Pellicano wiretapping/racketeering/conspiracy/identity theft case. Although a minor connection, McTiernan was found guilty of making false statements to federal agents and perjury. The latest news is available HERE but it appeared to be centred on events that occurred when McTiernan hired Pellicano to snoop on Rollerball producer Charles Roven during production. It looks like the director of some of the finest action films ever (Die Hard & Predator) might be spending a bit of time in the slammer.

September 2nd: Nimród Antal: Part 2

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183. Kontroll (Nimród Antal, 2003)

Ah, sorry for the delay but I’ve been more than reasonably busy at the moment. I haven’t actually watched a film since little Seth turned up so I’ll just be catching up on a few reviews that I hadn’t got round to writing when the little chap dropped in.

Anyway, back to the second part of the Nimród Antal round-up. The American born Antal actually returned to his ancestral roots for his debut feature; a blackly comic trip through the Budapest underground. Bulcsú is part of a ragtag crew of ticket inspectors, practically living in the underground network, dealing with the weird and wonderful customers, fighting football gangs, competing with the rival crews, searching for the killer that is stalking the platforms and looking for something, anything to give his life some meaning.

It’s easy to see why this film gave Antal a doorway into Hollywood; it’s witty, lean and very good-looking (like me). The whole film takes place indoors, in the underground network, but it looks exceptional as the dark palette and stark lighting create a kind of timeless metropolitan gothic look. The script crackles with the kind of light-hearted banter a gang of friends creates, something that happens all too rarely in the multi-doctored scripts of bigger budget products. This is believably paired with Bulcsú’s personal journey, one that gives greater scope for some of the more fantastic sequences in the film. Antal shows too that he has the ability to film decent action sequences. There’s a good brisk feel to the whole film but he manages to inject pace and excitement into something as simple as a foot chase, hopefully he can retain this ability as his budgets rise.

I liked Kontroll, I liked it a lot and I’d recommend it to anyone. I’m pretty certain it’s the first Hungarian film I’ve ever seen and I’d heartily recommend that if you see it on the Film4 listings then you make an effort to record and watch it. You won’t be disappointed.

Unfortunately my brain is a little fried and I don’t really think I’ve managed to communicate why Kontroll is such a good film, I’ve not done it justice, so I’ve made a one-off decision to stick the trailer on for you to get a little taste…

With Arms Wide Open

The following, somewhat mawkish and possibly genuinely awful, video is appropriate for two reasons:

  1. It’s about having a new addition to the family.
  2. My brother used to sing it at karaoke and often introduced a choreographed all-male striptease to the proceedings, which is something you had to get used to in my family.

Whilst I continue to carry on the hard fought battle against the vagaries of cinema things have taken an unexpectedly early shift in my life. At 7.21am on the 7th September my wife gave birth to baby Seth Warrington. He dropped in on us a couple of weeks early and weighed in at a 7lb 10oz. Him and his Mum are currently having a bit of a rest upstairs whilst I attempt to do a bit of tidying up.

He’s been downstairs for a watch of the cricket, witnessing Dwayne Smith’s blistering 4 wicket over for Sussex against Notts. He expressed disappointment at England being 2 down in the One Day International series and expects to see a turnaround sharpish. Ashes in the bag or not. At least, that’s what he seemed to be gesturing.

Needless to say I might not be hitting this mythical 365 film target. In fact, I doubt I’ll get close. 250 is on the cards though and I’ve still got a few reviews to write from the past week; some more Nimród Antal, an awful mess of a remake, a right wing commie bashing blast from the past and the best comedy of the year. This blog has become pretty important to me, I enjoy doing it and I don’t think that will change for some time.

For now though I’m excited about something else, I’m excited about the little man upstairs and about how we’ll learn things together; playing cricket, irrationally disliking Australians, watching movies we’ll love and movies we’ll hate and the inevitable point where we start disagreeing about them, teaching him about the past when supporting Manchester City was mainly an exercise in contemplative misery that you revelled in rather than a shopping list of topline talent. I want to teach him so much that the list could go on and on. I’ll leave it there though – because I’m tired and because this blog is supposed to be about something else.

Now, I’m off to dig out that copy of The Dark Crystal, “this is what special effect used to look like”…

September 2nd: Space Jesus

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182. <a href="http://www.imdb vente viagra pfizer.com/title/tt0090793/”>Captain EO (Francis Ford Coppola, 1986)

The always excellent and comprehensive movie blog /Film brought this little gem to my attention the other day. It was initially produced by Disney with the assistance of George Lucas as a theme park attraction and it was shown in 3D with a laser show.

Michael Jackson is the titular Captain EO; he leads his spaceship, crewed by a ragtag assortment of Rick Baker’s finest puppets/robots, to a dark planet ruled by a terrifying evil queen in order to give her a gift.

Clocking in at 17 minutes this cost $1million per minute at the time of release, making it comfortably the most expensive bit of film going at the time. It’s probably still up there as inflation adjustment puts it above $30million today. Using the cream of the special effects crop Coppola and Lucas have made a kind of interstellar Thriller style music video. To see these old effects is a bit of a joy because they are so rarely used nowadays. I especially liked the costume design for Angelica Huston’s evil queen – it reminded me of the Jim Henson productions Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal; a time when special effects seemed a whole lot more tactile. Of course I haven’t seen it as it should be watched, I had to settle for a laptop with some dimmed lights but the intention is pretty clear. It’s fun and slightly silly and with good reason – it’s a theme park ride, just a slice of entertainment. I liked that it presents Michael Jackson as a sort of musical space Jesus, its how I always imagined he saw himself anyway and a perfect vehicle for the man.

I looked around for the highest definition version of the film that I could find and got this YouTube 2-parter. Enjoy…

September 2nd: Fun with Free Markets – Part 3: Greed is God

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181. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (Alex Gibney, 2005)

Shown by Channel 4 as a kind of partner piece to The Shock Doctrine this documentary seeks to show how one of the biggest and seemingly most successful companies in recent American history was the perpetrator of one of the biggest cases of fraud in the history of the stock market. I know that might sound a little dull, like it might not make for particularly interesting viewing but this is one hell of a story with a cast of reprobates so devious that they make Gordon Gekko look like Father Christmas.

Enron was a company that started out as a natural gas pipeline in Houston. By the time of its collapse it had expanded through the 90s to become an enormous corporation listed as a Fortune 500 company and ranked amongst their ‘most respected’ investments. That’s one hell of a story arc.

There’s a central cast of intriguing characters beyond the company figurehead and central fall-guy Ken Lay. There’s the neo-fascistic CEO Jeffrey Skilling, who reinvents himself from boardroom geek to macho business aggressor. The man responsible for implementing a ‘rank and yank’ employee system, you received a yearly rank of 1 to 5 based on your earnings for the company, Skilling mandated that 10-15% of the staff had to be a 5 and that they would be immediately sacked. There’s the mysterious Lu Pi, put in charge of an important section of the business he is revealed to be obsessed with strip-clubs and brought strippers to the office to prove his position to them. And then there’s Andy Fastow the man who invented companies who dealt purely with Enron, thus guaranteeing the appearance of a thriving business where one didn’t exist.

Enron used ‘Mark-to-market’ accounting techniques. This is a key thing to understand in the film, it’s central to their money making techniques. Not being an accountant I’d have to say that ‘Mark-to-market’ accounting sounded an awful lot like ‘Making shit up’, funnily enough that seems to be how it turned out too.

With an entertaining soundtrack and a story that has a little bit of everything this film surprised me because it was far more interesting and entertaining than I ever thought it could be. In the words of my least favourite person on the face of this planet (Richard Littlejohn), ‘You couldn’t make it up.’

September 1st: Nimród Antal: Part 1

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180. Vacancy (Nimród Antal, 2007)

This is the start of a little double bill. You might not have heard of Nimród Antal before but you will hear more about him in the coming years as he has just signed with Robert Rodriguez’ Troublemaker studios to direct the reboot (possibly a prequel) in the Predator franchise. Well, upon hearing this news I thought it’d be about time to see what he has directed so far.

Vacancy is Antal’s American debut and it’s a pretty assured way to make your start. David and Amy Fox are a couple on the verge of divorce, their relationship has dissolved to the point that they just snipe at each other all the time. During the course of a car journey home from their relatives David takes a short-cut and the car breaks down, they opt to spend the night in a strange little motel and wait for the garage to open in the morning. When watching one of the strange slasher videos left by television they notice that the room where these people are being brutally murdered looks very familiar indeed.

Watching Vacancy feels a little like watching an audition tape from a director on the up. The set-up is quick and efficient and the script works in creating a believably on-the-ropes relationship. When the action starts and the locals start to torment the couple, Antal gets to show off his repertoire. He has a fantastic ability to use the camera in limited spaces, so despite Vacancy predominantly taking place within the confines of two or three motel rooms and a network of tunnels the tension never dulls. On this evidence Antal should be able to ratchet up some tension with one of the best loved creature features from the 80s. As for Vacancy – it’s a taut, nasty little film that doesn’t outstay its welcome and has the decency to avoid a trite ending.

September 1st: Fun with Free Markets – Parts 1 & 2

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178. The Shock Doctrine (Mat Whitecross, Michael Winterbottom, 2009)

179. The Shock Doctrine (Alfonso Cuarón, Jonás Cuarón, Naomi Klein, 2007)

Two films with the same title by two sets of very talented people. The adaptation of Naomi Klein’s book ‘The Shock Doctrine’ seems to have been quite convoluted. First Alfonso Cuarón and his brother teamed up with Klein to make a 6 minute short film almost as a way of advertising the book. Before we go any further with this review, why don’t you have a watch of it…

This is just a taster for the larger issue at hand. Whitecross and Winterbottom’s feature-length documentary is a journey into the meat of the matter. Each of the snippets from Cuarón’s film are expanded and the story is told over a grand, even epic, scale. This is the story of an economist called Milton Friedman and his idea. Perhaps not just an idea, given the remarkable effect of Friedman’s ‘idea’ it just doesn’t seem like a big enough word, but it will have to do. The idea is one that sounds attractive, it is beguiling in its simplicity and more than that, it offers the chance of a kind of utopia – it is the notion of the ‘Free Market’. Klein’s book, and this film, describe how Friedman’s ideas on Free Market economics went from being a marginalised backwater of economic theory to being the reasoning behind so many international events in recent years. It is the story of how deregulated trading isn’t a utopian saviour but a dangerous and unpredictable beast powerful enough to bring a country to its knees.

Now, this isn’t a politically motivated blog but I have some understanding of economic systems and their impact on national systems. I also understand how economic systems can be functionally tied to political ideologies. The Shock Doctrine is the story of how an idea can reach out from a classroom in Chicago and become a dominant global ideology.

The argument is drawn clearly and with enough evidence to be compelling; from the military coups in Chile and Argentina through the right wing governments of Thatcher and Reagan, a stop off with Boris Yeltsin and the collapse of the Soviet Union and ending with our current embroilment in Iraq – Naomi Klein has drawn a path connecting all these events to the economic ideas of Milton Friedman. At points the power of the message is a little overwhelming, it made me angry to see the atrocities committed in the service of enacting national changes. To see the rich get rich and the poor, well the poor get eaten up by the system. It is horrible and brilliant. Sickening and yet so very clever, so smart as to be almost admirable – but that doesn’t make it right.

They are preaching to the converted with me, but I urge you to seek out this film. Find it and watch it and understand some of the underlying ideas that run our lives on a day to day and nation to nation basis. A word of warning though, you might get angry. 

September 1st: Shetland of Hope and Glory

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177. The films of Maddrim Media (2008-2009)

A bit of a change for the Chris Vs Cinema blog today and it comes with a little story, so I guess I’d better start from the beginning.

Whilst gently perusing the internet and listening BBC radio I heard esteemed film critic Mark Kermode describe the Northernmost film festival in Britain which takes place in Shetland. He recommended watching the short film Masks by Maddrim Media as it opened the festival last year.

So I watched it and I was pretty impressed, it shows a good understanding of pacing and manages to make a tight short film based around an issue without being preachy or infantile. This is most unlike my own formative experience of making a short film. One about the dangers of taking ecstasy, which displayed none of the above attributes and also had the misfortune of starring me. If you fancy watching Masks, I’ve embedded it here…

Follow the link at the top of this article to watch more Maddrim shorts.

As an additional bonus for you lucky people reading this I managed to get hold of Chris Halcrow, the Chairperson of Maddrim Media, and squeeze some answers out of him about the group and their activities….

Chris Vs Cinema: How old are you chaps and how/when did Maddrim Media get started?

Chris @Maddrim: We’re all within the age range of 13-19. Maddrim was started in 2006 by Ms Aidan Nicol who was really interested in film and media. She contacted Shetland Arts (http://www.shetlandarts.org/) and the Youth Services Department who were both eager to help. Shetland Arts acquired funding to buy equipment to hire out to people (free of charge) and so we use their equipment and they pay for workshops to help us when and if we need it. The Youth Services Department help with the admin type stuff and doing some of the dirty work.

CvC: Dirty work?

C@Maddrim: Yeah, no one was keen on asking a graveyard if we could film there, so we got our trusty Youth Worker to do it!

CvC: Ha! I see, so what is the plan for Maddrim in 2009.

C@Maddrim: The plan is to just keep making films. For a while we’ve been trying to branch out, but we had a bit of an epiphany, after a horrific radio project, that it was film we really wanted to do! We’re currently trying to recruit a new wave of guys since a lot of us are off to university this month. So until Christmas it’s a case of getting the new guys up to speed, then we’ll be starting the fun process of making films for the summer. Hopefully we’re getting some cash for real props which will be quite exciting.

CvC: You’ll certainly be helped by your celebrity patron, what can you tell me about the connection between Maddrim and Mark Kermode?

C@Maddrim: Mark comes up for the annual Screenplay festival and he was very kind to us about our films. He really encouraged us and last year we impressed him with our growth (mind you, the films for our first year were horrifically bad!). It’s always a nice atmosphere with Mark and he seems to like us.

CvC: It’s fantastic that he is getting involved like that; he’s really complimentary on the radio when mentioning you. What is this talk of a screening at the festival taking place at a bus stop?

C@Maddrim: Well, Mark is headed to Unst on Thursday. It is the northernmost populated island in Britain and it happens to have a fantastic bus stop in it. It’s got tonnes of stuff in it – a TV, decorations, a laptop etc. Shetland Arts have organised a film screening for Mark and his Mum and some of our members are being the ushers, it should be fun!

CvC: Mark Kermode pointed out that Masks is available to watch on YouTube, I’ve watched the rest of the films on there and I think Masks especially shows some real promise. Will we see any more activity on YouTube after the upcoming Screenplay ’09 festival?

C@Maddrim: You can expect a LOT of action on YouTube. We have 12 films waiting to get put up over the next couple of months from this year’s film festival – including a sequel to Stallion Head! We’ve also just started up www.maddrim.com, which is lacking content wise at the moment but should be getting busier as time goes on!

CvC: Good stuff, I’m looking forward to watching it. If nothing else I’m interested in seeing a bit more of the Shetland scenery, you’ve got some pretty dramatic backdrops at your disposal.

C@Maddrim: We sure do. We’re hoping to have a residential film making weekend in one of the northerly islands in the near future – plenty of awe-inspiring scenery there!

CvC: And what for the future, what do you want to achieve with Maddrim?

C@Maddrim: Next year we’d like to enter our films into some other festivals if we can push the quality up there.

I’d like to wish them luck with that because I think it’s great that cinema can exist like this and be a constructive force in a community. I’d also love to see pictures of Mark Kermode watching a film in what sounds like an amazing bus stop. 

August 29th: You’ve already met

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176. Meet the Fockers (Jay Roach, 2004)

When Greg Focker brings his wife’s uptight parents, including ex-CIA operative Jack, to meet his hippy parents Rozalin and Bernie, hilarity ensues in a never ending clash of cultures. In a sequel to the 2000 film Meet the Parents Ben Stiller phones in a performance as the awkward-but-nice Greg whilst Robert DeNiro continues his never ending descent into becoming a comprehensive parody of his early, brilliant, performances. This film is so spectacularly middle-of-the-road it could walk up and down the M1 without ever being hit. The only real entertainment comes from Dustin Hoffman and surprisingly Barbra Streisand, who appear to actually be having some fun.