I have to say its been an increasingly difficult task to actually identify any movies which seem to be worth a couple of hours and ten quid of my time. We’re on the cusp of summer what with ‘Iron Man‘ being released on Friday and ‘Indiana Jones‘ is now just round the corner but I felt I had to make an effort last weekend and give some films I’m not terribly interested in a whirl if only to maintain the cinema visit quota.
I quite like Mike Leigh so it’s a shame to report that his latest film ‘Happy-Go-Lucky‘ is a disappointment. The film is the story of Poppy, a 30 year old London based primary school teacher who seems cursed with a cheerful disposition and cheery outlook on life. When her bike is stolen she shrugs it off as ‘that’s life’, she talks to anyone and everyone who crosses her path to encourage a smile and a joke, she’s one of those people who would verbally chastise you that ‘It takes more energy to frown than to smile’ on the crowded 7:48 to Paddington.
Sounds hideous doesn’t she? I was wary of making the effort of seeing this at the cinema as the central character sounded so staggeringly annoying that I wondered if I could manage two hours in her company. She is of course irritating but to be honest I must have been in a rare conciliatory mood as I could stomach her relentless optimism. The film meanders – Poppy begins some flamenco classes and discovers that one of her pupils is being physically abused by his stepfather. This leads her to develop a relationship with the social worker assigned to the case whilst throughout the film she is taking driving lessons with the surly Scott, a serious minded driving instructor.
The main flaw is the usual climax that a Leigh film reaches – after the slightly hyper and mannered approach of Poppy and company in the previous two hours the film suddenly switches to absolute realism as she finally understands the attitude and actions of Scott in a shocking penultimate scene. Scott is a diluted version of violent conspiracy theorist Jonny in Leigh’s best film ‘Naked’ (which criminally is still not available on DVD) and his final revelation and outburst is quite unaffecting after his previous ramblings on how the ‘world actually works’, its ‘pyramids and elites’ and his thinly concealed racism and seething anger. At two hours it’s also much to long to arrive at its shrug inducing finale, although it does have a couple of good gags.
‘In Bruges‘ however was a much more rewarding experience. The film is a bit of a sleeper critical hit, some reviews have been very positive but the marketing for the film seems to have been very low key and I think I can see why – although exceptionally funny it is also a very dark story on the nature of guilt and retribution framed on the fate of two bumbling Irish assassins (Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleason) who flee Dublin to Bruges after a hit goes spectacularly wrong. As they await instructions from their criminal masters both slowly warm to the medieval city, meeting members of a local film crew including a drug dealing production assistant and prostitute addicted dwarf – conventional this is not. Ralph Fiennes makes quite an impression toward the end of the film as the psychotic east end crime boss Harry which he plays in a manner more akin to Kingsley in ‘Sexy Beast’ than Hoskins in ‘The Long Good Friday’. There is some spectacular swearing and very funny gags all complemented by a particularly oirish sensibility which a half-mick like me appreciated. Worth a spin.
Finally some terrific news – Del Toro has been officially announced as the director of the Hobbit movies, I can’t think of a more able and appropriate director. From the sounds of things he is anxious to retain as much of the original creative crew as possible which is very encouraging and I like some of the other intimations he makes in that interview. Given that McKellen and Serkis are back as Gandalf and Gollum respectively I think the only other concern is who will play Bilbo? Roll on 2010…
Been quiet for a while hasn’t it? I haven’t had much to blog about as I actually haven’t seen anything on the big screen, it seems that the usual glut of good films that grace cinemas in Q1 of the year has dried up and we are in the barren no-mans land until the summer blockbusters are unleashed. God help us all. I’ve also been busy trying to sort out a new flat which has gone less than smoothly, more on that little adventure later. Nevertheless dear reader I have picked up some interesting little sites and links for your perusal…
Intriguing little project here, an analysis of the opening shots of a number of movies with some thoughtful comments from bloggers such as yours truly. The quiz is pretty tricky, I got 7 from that one and a much better 8/10 out of the easier quiz. Couldn’t get either of the bonus shots, they were a nightmare. You? On the other side of the spectrum, here is a project for only the bravest of film fans.
I’ve been getting into a great podcast called the ‘Hollywood Saloon’ which you can access here. It’s run by a couple of guys who really know their stuff as a couple of LA based film makers and editors themselves who riff on a variety of topics from DVD rip-offs and formant wars, director’s cut special editions, three hour masterclasses concentrating on one director or series of films, a discussion of the best car chases – loads of stuff. The shows themselves are not just two talking heads which even for me can swiftly turn incredibly dull but they’ll employ the soundtrack or musical score to the films they are talking about running under the commentary and discussion punctuated with film clips or interview excerpts which gives the series a much more polished, professional radio transmission quality. Highly recommended.
So, I finally caught up with ‘The Wire’ and finished off Season 4 – don’t worry I’ve kept this all spoiler free as any bitch who spiked this play would be gone fr’ real. I’ve been thinking about it and have concluded that this show is probably the best American TV show ever made, quite how it gets better and better with each Season is just astounding. For me it kind of flatlined in Season 2 but was and is still light years ahead of its HBO peers, ‘The Sopranos’ or ‘Deadwood’ narrowly excluded. Season 4 focuses on the schools of Baltimore and the experiences of four young kids as they progress through the system each to a quite different conclusion and period in their lives – if this season had a motto it would be ‘Kids will learn – its a question of where’. The unobstructed realism culled from the show’s primary creative team being a retired Baltimore cop and journalist, both residents of the city for over thirty years I think is what really elevates this programme amongst its peers. There are zero concessions to melodramatics and cliche, the reality of the show and its characters (naturally based on amalgamations of real people, from street dealer all the way up to the Mayor) lead logically to conclusions and fates where even the most beloved of characters are in peril as events in Season 3 amply proved.
They manage to keep close to a dozen story arcs in the air simultaneously, intertwining and meshing them together to deliver a stunning critique of the current status quo in America. Absolute first class entertainment and I cannot fucking wait for the fifth and final season that recently aired in the states which I understand focuses on the role of the media and press in the whole sick system. For the record my favourite characters is probably Omar. Oh, and Cutty is pretty cool. But then again I can’t exclude Bodie can I? . Or indeed Bubbles or of course Bunk. Well, and then of course there’s McNulty. It would be a crime (ho, ho) to omit the chilling Avon Barksdale of course. Or Stringer. Yup, the show is densely populated with well realised, amazing and engaging characters. I might just have to resurrect my on line download procedures as I don’t think I can’t wait until Season 5 gets a DVD release….
EDIT – Fantastic timing, I’ve just had the NFT schedule for June come through and it looks like they’re premiering the first episode of Season 5 followed with an interview and Q&A with creator David Simon. There’s a man I would genuinely like to shake the hand off and thank for so many hours of sheer entertainment.
For this miscellaneous post here are some film clips based around moving home and getting a new place. Why? Well, life moves on dear reader and after almost five years in Richmond I am attempting to secure a new place by Canary Wharf with a move in date of early next month. If I manage to pull this off it will be quite a coup as I’ll be living within ten minutes of the Wharf itself which has all the amenities I need (Waitrose, HMV, Game, dozens of clothes shops, bars and restaurants, book shops) and I’ll have the West India Key Cineplex on my back door – literally. Tower Hamlets have just extended my contract which means I’ll be able to walk to the office which any Londoner will tell you is a commute that’s rarer than rocking horse shit. Oh, and City Airport is about twenty minutes away for any weekend breaks I fancy taking and my beloved BFI twenty minutes away on the Jubilee line. This is all contingent on my new nemesis, my kryptonite if you will - Estate Agents. Up until now I thought that recruitment consultants were pretty much the most loathsome and dishonest excuses for humanity I’ve had the misfortune to liaise with but these abhorent, decitful, avaricious fucks really are something else. There is a very special layer in hell, a place where the arch prince of lies Asmodeus himself weeps at the monstrously cruel tortures inflicted upon these fuckers in my fevered imagination. Watch this space and wish me luck.
In my eight years in London I’ve been to the theatre three times. Yes, that’s three times. Horrific isn’t it? You’d think that given my love of cinema that I would also gravitate to the theatre given the obvious similarities and I usually enjoy the rare visits I do make, it’s just that I have absolutely zero interest in seeing a bloody musical about Abba or Queen and ‘The Lion King’ can fuck right off. It’s also difficult to get someone to go with you, I am more than comfortable in seeing a film on my own but going to a play alone just doesn’t feel right. Shame really, given that we have the best theatre facilities on the planet (with the possible exception of New York of course) I should really make more of an effort. Anyway, enough of this rambling nonsense, last night I had the pleasure of seeing Jeff Goldblum and Kevin Spacy at the Old Vic theatre in ‘Speed The Plow‘, a play by the great David Mamet.
It’s a three hander revolving around two Hollywood executives Bobby Gould (Goldblum), Charlie Fox (Spacey) and Bobby’s secretary Karen (Laura Michelle Kelly). As the play opens Fox has just secured a massive new project, a guaranteed box office smash that is destined to make him and his friend fantastically wealthy. Karen intercedes and seduces Bobby, persuading him to make a different, more ‘worthy’ art film with her as executive producer and to dismiss the shallow, vapid projects that tinseltown churn out. The next day when Bobby confesses his U-turn to Fox a verbal battle ensues, exposing the vipers nest of Hollywood and lengths that everyone will go to in order to achieve money, prestige, fame and power.
Well, lets face it – this would have to a fuck up of spectacular proportions for me not to like this what with two exceptional actors, David Mamet’s machine-gun dialogue and a Hollywood setting – it’s practically designed for Minty. I know absolutely nothing about theatre so I won’t brave any sort of analysis other than to say it is a quite effective critique of Hollywood and the prevailing impulse of commerce triumphing over art. The dialogue is first class clever, brutal Mamet (We’re gonna be so rich, we’re going to have to hire someone just to figure out the things we want to buy’, ’Life in the movie business is like the beginning of a new love affair: it’s full of surprises, and you’re constantly getting fucked’ and ‘everything’s temporary….until it isn’t') which was delivered with consummate skill by Goldblum and Spacey. Overall it was just so laugh out loud funny which I hadn’t expected, it was more like a straight out comedy than some sort of searing examination of masculinity and the male psyche that you’d expect from Mamet.
I’ve been a fan of David Mamet’s movies and screenplays for years. ‘House of Games‘ is a seminal 80′s film, ‘Glengarry Glen Ross‘ a terrific drama and one of the best play to film adaptations I’ve ever seen, ’Spartan‘ is a much underrated low-key action movie from a few years ago and ‘The Spanish Prisoner‘ is a great con artist movie. Mamet’s trademark dialogue and his labyrinthian plots with their many twists and deceptions really appeal to me, as does the frequent examination of business and commerce and the games and competition they engender in the human animal.
Finally, no – before you ask I haven’t the fainest idea what the title means either.
After getting the lovely new Kubrick box set with all the lovely new documentaries and commentaries, I stumbled across this entertaining film discussion programme from I’m guessing 1971, the year that ‘A Clockwork Orange’ was released. Watching Anthony Burgess and Malcolm McDowell smoke like troopers is quite amusing, as is the host William Everson’s observation that the soundtrack and nadsat language (which for some elusive reason makes me think about lolcats language now) give the film a timeless quality which will ‘make it stand up to viewings in say, the year 2000.’ 2000 was the year that the film was re-released in the UK, oooooh, spooky eh? No, er, well OK, moving on…
EDIT – Looks like I missed a trick here, this week was the 40th anniversary of the release of 2001 and here is a nice link to all sorts of stuff about it. Enjoy.
I’ve caught a few of the old Marx Brothers movies recently, the less famous ones such as ‘Horse Feathers’ as opposed to ’A Day at the Races’ or ‘A Night At The Opera’ which I all caught years ago. My favourite repeated sequence that they included in most of their films were the brief musical interludes, specifically Chico playing the piano which never fails to delight, as well as Groucho’s wisecracks of course.
Lying in bed, plagued by my perennial insomnia recently my mind turned to inappropriate film double bills, prompted by a recent discussion on the Mark Kermode Radio 5 film podcast and a conversation I had with my brother’s girlfriend. She explained that when she was a teenager and had sleepovers with her friends, one of the rules was that you had to watch a ‘girly’ film and a ‘scary’ film. ’Ah, you mean like ‘Dirty Dancing‘ and ‘Make Them Die Slowly?’ I enquired. Or ‘Ghost‘ and ‘SS Experimentation Camp‘? my brother chipped in. London cinema legend ‘The Scala‘ apparently used to host amusing double bills for the pleasure of the dubious patrons and residents of Kings Cross so I thought what would I suggest curating were I in the enviable position of managing my own independent and financially secure cinema. So here goes:
Can you think of any more?
Well, good question – what did happen to John Hughes? Anyone growing up in the eighties loves at least one of his teenage epics. I will always remember one Christmas at school when our entire year was filed into the Assembly Hall and shown ‘Ferris Buller’s Day Off’ which on reflection is a ridiculous thing to do – hey, let’s show kids how cool it is to ditch school and skive off? I reckon it was a way to get all the kids together whilst the teachers had their own Christmas ‘party’ in the staff room whilst a couple of teachers who took the short straw had to chaperone us. I’m sure Mr. Bardrick was uncharacteristically friendly when he passed me at the school gates later on and he was weaving from side to side on the pavement – strange…..
One of my all time favourite film makers is the great John Carpenter. He is probably more responsible for my love of cinema than anyone else (Kubrick included) as I’m sure he was the first director I actually recognised as having a identifiable style which lead to me actively seek out his other films. I think the first video I ever bought was either ‘Escape from New York’ (check out the deleted opening sequence here) or ‘The Fog‘ (Spoliers) and I recall very clearly the very first DVD I got – ‘The Thing‘ (Spoliers again) which had that most remarkable of things, a directors commentary. It’s a shame he quite honestly lost the plot after ‘They Live‘ although I can actually see qualities I like in ‘In The Mouth of Madness‘ and at the very strong risk to any credability I may have acquired over the past 18 months, ‘Escape from LA‘. I did have a reason to bang on about Carpenter but you know what – I’m fucked if I can remember what is was. Oh well, sweet dreams….