Originally published ten years ago, I republish this post (slightly amended for readability) as a kind of celebration of ten years’ worth of rambling about movies.
The Rum Diary (2011) – I have to say that this Johnny Depp vehicle is not as good as the brilliant adaptation of Hunter S Thompson’s other book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in which Depp also starred. It was nice to see Giovanni Ribisi (Pheobe’s brother in Friends) as an alcoholic waster character, but it wasn’t a big part. Amber Heard was okay as the love interest but very reminiscent of Domino in Thunderball – see below, although her motivation for wanting to scoot off with JD’s character was unclear.
Based in Peurto Rico in the 1950’s this is a story of a struggling journalist / writer trying to stay off the booze and do some quality work for the struggling local paper and ultimately challenging the ‘bastards’ – moneyed elite – that want to build a hotel on a untouched island and basically rape Peurto Rico for all its resources while the local population lives in poverty. So you may be able to tell the film tries to balance the serious aspect with the post ‘Hangover‘ requirements for pissed up japes. For me it didn’t work very well, but it did make me want to read the book.
Saturday Night Fever (1977) – Some people say that they’ve ‘never seen Star Wars’ and I roll my eyes in despair. Saturday Night Fever seemed to me to be one of those iconic films like Star Wars that a grown man really should have seen at least once just to see what the fuss was about. So I took the opportunity to watch it recorded from Film 4 last week. I was really taken with the film and I thought John Travolta was brilliant in it as a struggling Italian American who believes the only thing he is good at is disco dancing.
SNF is a love story in places and a social commentary on slum life in a US city in the 70s where different immigrant cultures clash on the streets and in the nightclubs. The characters are racist, sexist and idiotic on a variety of levels and Tony Manero’s struggle to rise above it all is very watchable. The dancing isn’t bad either.
Tony Manero (2008) is a horrible portrayal of a psychotic serial killer in 1970s Chile obsessed with John Travolta’s character in Saturday Night Fever. Coming on the heels of the Travolta film on Film 4 I thought I would give it a go. In terms of a portrayal of a psycho Alfredo Castro surpasses Anthony Hopkins in the Hannibal films – it was very difficult to watch in places because the style of filming is very much handy-cam fly-on-the-wall style. The big let down for me was that because of the style of filming a lot of the film was out of focus. To begin with I thought this was being used for effect, but I soon began to believe that it was just a case of crap cinematography. For me it spoilt an interesting film.
Castro’s character is sometimes pathetic yet seriously disturbed and disturbing. For instance in one scene he finds that the local cinema is showing Grease instead of Saturday Night Fever he creeps into the projection booth and savagely beats the operator to death. The operator’s wife comes up to bring him a cup of tea to find the killer standing over her dead husband and the audience is left to fill in the blanks as it cuts to the next scene, as they are at the end of the film. The scariest thing about the story is that the killer seems to be able to act with impunity – the local police/militia being more interested in investigating anti-government protesters than investigating the murders.
Super (2010) stands up well in the shadow of the bigger more controversial ‘costumed hero’ film Kick Ass. Rainn Wilson finally shines as the God-touched everyday Joe who decides to become a crime fighter (Crimson Bolt) despite having no super powers. Ellen Page is great as his psychotic side-kick and Kevin Bacon is also good as the baddie. To my mind Boltie is more psychotic than Hit Girl if that is possible.
Where Super differs from Kick Ass is that it seems to be more ‘real’ in terms of the graphic non-stylised violence (possibly not a good thing in this genre), the troubled main character who suffers from hallucinations and depression and a more realistic ending. What it lacks in comparison to Kick Ass is the banging soundtrack and the feeling of hyper-reality.
Limitless (2011) has an interesting similarity to The Rum Diary in the fact that the main character is another struggling writer with a history of drug abuse – funny how this main character type keeps cropping up in books/films isn’t it? I wonder why…
Bradley Cooper’s character discovers a drug which allows you to unlock the 80% of the brain that’s not used giving him Sherlock Holmes type powers of observation and deduction and making him irresistible to the opposite sex. He writes a book in super fast time and makes a mint on the stock exchange while banging some hotties. Suffice to say this is in parts a moral tale about drug abuse and a very interesting exploration of this particular ‘what if?’
Anna Friel is on the bill but it is a small part and she looks awful (suffering as she is from withdrawal symptoms from coming off the mind altering drug). De Niro is okay as a tycoon type character. All in all the film is well presented, with a good soundtrack (The Black Keys being a high point) and some very very almost nausea-inducing ‘limitless’ zoom shots down the city streets.
Thunderball (1965) was a real blast from the past. I watched it in HD on ITV and the first thing that was obvious to me was the quality of the picture – gone were the blobs and scratches expected from old films – removed by a tedious frame by frame digital process by some clever bods in a lab somewhere – and the sound was okay too. Having recently read the novel I was pleasantly surprised to find that the plot was very close to the original story with only a few tweaks to up the excitement level/ bond girl action. A Vulcan bomber with two nuclear bombs aboard is stolen from a training mission and dumped in the sea off a tropical island. The bad guy has a yacht with a secret trapdoor underneath and the plan is to hold Miami to ransom for… 1 million(?) dollars (real Dr Evil stuff).
In the process of foiling SPECTRE’s plans, Bond meets Domino who is the bad guy’s mistress but is utterly taken with Bond (she’s only human after all); to be fair the bad guy is a dick with an eyepatch and has killed her brother so it kind of makes sense. There’s lots of underwater fighting and a few gadgets along the way. However I have to say that the idea that Bond makes amusing one-liners when someone dies is so far from Ian Flemming’s character it makes me cringe. I much prefer the ‘serious’ Bond of the Daniel Craig era.
Daybreakers – (2010) My initial misgivings over yet another vampire flick were quickly dissipated as I realised that this story had not been told before (or at least I hadn’t read or watched a similar tale). The premise was that vampires rule the world but still need to drink human blood to ‘live’ normally and that the number of human’s is dwindling. The solution is either to create artificial blood (a project that isn’t going well – in an excellently gory scene the latest trial makes the volunteer’s head explode Scanners-style) or find a cure for the disease.
The evolution of a starved vampire subclass called subsiders who feed off their own blood and their treatment at the hands of ‘civilised’ vamps is I think purposely reminiscent of holocaust films – lingering shots of chains in flames emphasise the point. The special effects are very good, the blood and gore done horrifically well and the cast including Willem Defoe, Sam Neill and Ethan Hawke is excellent. I found the story to be refreshingly original* rather than a re-run of the same old bloodsucking schlock and there were thankfully no werewolves. * although there is one scene lifted straight out of The Matrix – think ‘humans as batteries’.
Talk to Her (2002) was another Film 4 offering. A Spanish film that won an Oscar, it’s about two men who love women who are in comas. One of the women is a female bull-fighter who gets gored. There are some images of bull fighting – I am not sure if the blood on the animal was real, but I wasn’t best pleased about it – it’s a stupid ‘sport’ and I don’t approve of torturing animals (not even cats). The other woman is a dancer who is hit by a car. The women are in comas so I guess it’s excusable that there characters are not particularly well fleshed-out. So I won’t go banging that drum again.
One of the male characters looked like a Spanish Karl Pilkington (Idiot Abroad) which unfortunately detracted from the film somewhat as I was sat there eating my free McDonald’s (Nuggets and a Strawberry Sundae courtesy of their Monopoly promotion – I am almost winning an iPad and a PS3 too; just like everyone else on the planet) thinking ‘he he it’s Karl Pilkington…. nom….’ He is a journalist and was kind of seeing the bullfighter before the bull got its revenge. The other male character is a bit of a weirdo and is a nurse. The story is revealed in layers in the form of flashbacks to episodes prior to the coma inducing events. It develops into quite dark material (which I can’t tell you about as it would spoil the film). There is quite a bit of contemporary dance included in the film which left me bored and hitting fast forward, but apart from that I enjoyed it a lot.
Attack the Block (2011) was a breath of fresh air to me having recently endured a Kubrick boxed set. The action, dialogue and plot are fast-paced and amusing. The story is one of an alien invasion on a block of flats in a run-down area of an inner city area (I guess London) and the fight for survival of a group of hoodies versus the ferocious aliens. The design of the aliens was simple and effective – a black hair bulk with multiple sets of glowing electric-blue teeth (replacing the usual horror cliché of ‘glowing eyes’). The flesh and blood effects of the attacks are shockingly realistic and the street-slang dialog was somewhat reminiscent for me of the droob-slang in A Clockwork Orange.
Nick Frost’s drug dealing character is the least developed of all the characters and he has little time on screen. The real stars are the street gang and especially their leader Moses excellently played by John Boyega. Established actor Jodie Whittaker who plays a nurse initially the victim of a mugging by the gang is also overshadowed by the performances of the relative unknowns. As a ‘genre’ UK film it compares well to Shaun of the Dead and I found it more entertaining than the Pegg/Frost comedy alien flick Paulie.
Cowboys & Aliens (2011) is Attack the Block but with cowboys instead of chavs and a much bigger budget. I’ll say it up front – Attack the Block is a better film – and here’s why: One fundamental issue with C&A (insert high street store based punticle here) is that when you surround Harrison Ford with good actors such as Daniel Craig and Sam Rockwell his failings as an actor show up quite clearly. The next issue is the ‘blockbuster by numbers’ script that contains so many clichés it’s hard to think of where to begin. Here are but a few examples of what I’m talking about (tropes?) – – a resurrection scene – we think a hero is dead, then they’re not – a jaded soldier fights one last battle – a man wakes up but doesn’t know who he is – guy who is consistently bad at doing something suddenly gets good at it just when it is required I am not disputing that Attack the Block followed a formula, but it was not so obvious as C&A.
Things I did like about the film were the stunts and Daniel Craig’s character. I thought Sam Rockwell was wasted, Ford mis-cast and the obligatory ‘love interest’ pretty to look at but boring in all other areas. Shame because I like ‘the director of Iron Man’ Jon Favreau – he seems like a good guy. One interesting thing (bear with me, if you’ve got this far, then you are I guess…) did occur to me and that is that the basic premise is very similar to Battle Los Angeles – pesky aliens want to take over Earth because of its resources – in this case it’s gold rather than water. So we are back to a sci-fi analogy of the US invasion of Iraq (or any other place that has got some oil) or am I reading too much into a silly sci-fi film?