Monday, 28 April 2014

Dom's Top Eleven Favourite Movies - Part Three

Three Amigos!

Directed by : John Landis

Starring : Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, Martin Short, Alfonso Arau, and Tony Plana

Plot : Silent movie era Hollywood. The Three Amigos, three arrogant superstars, are fired by their studio and ejected from the studio lot. Accepting what they take to be an invitation to visit a small Mexican town and replay their most famous moments, they soon realise that the situation they have found themselves in is real, and the bandits they are acting opposite are carrying loaded pistols...

Why? : John Landis is a funny director. No, seriously. He makes comedies. And he makes very funny comedies at that. There was a point where he could put nary a foot wrong. Just look at his credits and you will see a master film-maker at work. You can dispute me – you can wheel out all of your favourite film-makers, all the Scorseses and Spielbergs and, I don't know, Charles Bands you want. I won't dispute you, and will quietly explain that I wasn't disparging the directors YOU like, I was simply stating that John Landis is – or at least was – among the very best. He directed “American Werewolf in London.” He directed “Blues Brothers”. He directed “Trading Places.” He directed “Into the Night”. “Spies Like Us.”

Martin Scorsese directed Michael Jackson's “Bad.” John Landis directed Michael Jackson's “Thriller.”

Stephen Spielberg directed “1941”. John Landis directed “National Lampoon's Animal House.”

Charles S Band directed “Blood Dolls.” John Landis directed “Innocent Blood.”

Did I mention he had a hand in writing all his movies too? And that he started his film career as a stuntman? Time to re-evaluate the auteur theory friends. This man is the very definition.

So, okay, obviously John Landis has a very particular niche and he has stuck to it almost mercilessly – his was the anarchic comedy, the MAD-magazine comic strip come to life. But what was so good about him, certainly until he hit the nineties and MTV movie-making took over, was that he was a craftsman. He knew how to ground the humour, the comedy, in a world of it's own. He trades in absurdist humour that has a strange logic in the worlds he creates. Not unlike the comedies of Laurel and Hardy, his affection for the people who populate his movies still glares from the screen. But there's an anarchic stream that runs through all of his films, a screw-the-man attitude that he has kept right up to the disappointing but still pretty fun “Burke and Hare.”

His films have always had a “meta” quality to them, often breaking the fourth wall, by having characters suddenly look to or address the camera as if looking for support from the audience ( best examples are in Eddie Murphy's last funny film “Coming to America” and a horrific jump-scare during the transformation scene in “American Werewolf...” ) If you know where to look you will find endless background jokes, film references and many, many cameos from film directors Landis admires scattered throughout his filmography ( if you want the ultimate fan-boy reference to your peer-influences, you may as well just jam those peers into your movie - see below for a few of those cameos. )  

So, at fifteen, Three Amigos was the first film I ever saw Steve Martin and Chevy Chase in. It's also the first film I've ever seen a singing bush in too, though for personal reasons I won't tell you what the last one was. I fell in love with this film from the opening song ( yep, there's singing in this here comedy, songs courtesy of bouncing twit Randy Newman ) and just continued to gaze deeply into it's slightly hazy eyes throughout. The love affair has lasted.

Following the three comedians as they travel from their pampered Hollywood lifestyle as silent movies stars, to the dry, dusty and violent old-west world of the fictional Mexican town Santo Poco, the comedy in this film is mostly derived from the men's spoiled-life naivety as they encounter the simple, plain lifestyle of the
villagers, the hardened violence of the bandits, and the harsh reality of a bullet in the arm.

A straight out comedy, with no agenda for anything other than laughs, this could technically be called a spoof ( it plays riffs off the popular westerns, such as “The Magnificent Seven”, and the brilliantly funny Alfonso Arau – technically playing it straight but clearly in on the joke – had made a career of playing Mexican bandits in the sixties and seventies ) but thanks to Martin and Landis' script, and the comedian's off the wall style, Three Amigos transcends spoof and becomes it's own beast.

With the bar having been raised in Western Spoofs by Mel Brooks' overrated “Blazing Saddles” ( it's funny, in parts, and truly angry when it comes to racism down in no small part to Richard Pryor's input, but it has far too many duff gags, Mel Brooks mugs all the way through it, and it has one hell of a bullshit cop out ending ) it was smart of Landis and Martin 
( plus third writer, Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels ) to concentrate on character comedy and sight gags, muting the spoof-style gags in favour of deeply hilarious absurdism. Just witness the argument between the three men over Chevy Chase's accidental shooting of The Invisible Swordsman.

There's the impression throughout the film that Landis let Martin, Chase, and Short improvise, and certainly there is anecdotal evidence that this is so, not least of all in Landis describing the moment he realised that Chevy Chase had pulled off a scene-stealing moment in the background ( involving an accidental transfer from one horse to another ) that he had not even noticed, until editing the film.

Anecdotal evidence ( and an hilariously awkward with the three men on set ) also suggests that Chevy Chase was a nightmare to work with while shooting the movie ( what's new? ) which is a shame as an adult to find out. Chevy has always been my favourite funny man, and it has always been his odd mix of out and out slapstick and quite bitter comedy ad-libs that I have emulated in my own writing and stage performances. This stems from this movie, and it's a shame to learn that he was so disliked in the end. But, just as discovering that everybody who worked with William Shatner during Star Trek hated his guts doesn't actually change your pleasure of viewing the series ( and maybe even adds to it! ), knowing that Chase was a bit of a dick at this point in his career doesn't really hurt an enjoyment of his performance.

All three men play ( and are played ) to their strengths. Martin is warm, kind of uncle-cuddly, and utilises his elastic physicality brilliantly throughout. Chase is straight up naive, and again very much plays on his ability for sometimes ridiculous physical gags ( not unlike Peter Sellars in his earlier Clouseau incarnations. ) Short is a loveable, giggling goof, young, naive and rubber-bodied. The one-lines in this film wouldn't be the sharpest ( Martin's ability to create silly play-on-words influences the script tremendously ) but the sharpest line in the film describes these guys perfectly : when asked which one she likes the most, one of the female villagers replies “I like the one who is not so smart.” A pause. The confused retort : “which one is that?”

For Landis' part, he marshals three egos, a period setting, some epic set-pieces, hilarious sight-gags, ridiculous word-play, shoot-outs, horses, sing-a-longs, and the best comedy moment EVER ( “you SHOT the invisible swordsman!” ) into one, cohesive, beautifully shot, perfect-comedy-timing boasting, ninety-minute movie.

I don't know if it's the best film Martin, Chase, and Short have done. I'd certainly pine if I didn't have “LA Story,” “Fletch,” and “Innerspace” in the oul DVD storage hut. But to my mind it's the warmest, funniest, silliest thing each man has ever done. It has seen me through twenty three years of highs and lows, and I still love it to this day.

I'm glad they never did a sequel. But I wish they had.

Selected Landis' Director Cameo




THE BLUES BROTHERS - Frank Oz and Steven Spielberg.

INNOCENT BLOOD - Dario Argento, Frank Oz, Sam Raimi, and Michael Ritchie,

INTO THE NIGHT - Jack Arnold, David Cronenberg, Jonathan Demme, Amy Heckerling, Jim Henson, Colin Higgins , Lawrence Kasdan, John Landis, Jonathan Lynn, Paul Mazursky, Daniel Petrie, Don Siegel, and Roger Vadim

SPIES LIKE US - Michael Apted, Martin Brest, Joel Coen, Larry Cohen, Costa-Gavras, Terry Gilliam, Frank Oz, Sam Raimi, Ray Harryhausen


BEVERLY HILLS COP III - Martha Coolidge, Joe Dante, Arthur Hiller, George Lucas, Peter Medak, George Schaefer, Barbet Schroeder, and John Singleton and Ray Harryhausen.

Next Wednesday...

So since I've enjoyed writing this list so much ( and since it's kept me out of trouble, more or less ) I'm going to keep going with the lists, if it's okay with you. If it isn't, up yours. This is my blog, in case you hadn't gotten that from MY name being in the title, and NOT yours. Jesus, the cheek!

As someone who studies and - let's face it - over-analyses movies, I'm going to start delving now into MY influences, the directors that I admire and, if I were John Landis, would have as a cameo in one of my pieces, were I the calibre of Hollywood movie maker that could command that kind of cameo.

You don't HAVE to keep reading, dear bloggist, but I do appreciate it when you do!

So here I go, compiling once again.

Thanks for reading.

See you next wednesday!


Saturday, 26 April 2014

Dom's Top Eleven Favourite Movies : Part Two

Top Eleven Favourite movies in the order they come to me as I look at my DVD collection

Part Two

SO!! I totally intended to get this done yesterday but vile events conspired against me.

This is the next five in my TOP ELEVEN FAVES for the time being!!!

( yes, the next five! There's one more still to come!!! )

Valhalla Rising

Directed by : Nicholas Winding Refn

Starring : Mads Mikkelsen, Gary Lewis, a slew of actors who crop in loads of viking movies and why wouldn't they? LOOK AT THEM!!!! They ARE Vikings.

Plot : Ostensibly a Viking movie, “Rising” follows Mikkelsen as the mute “One-Eye”, a captured thug in 1000 AD. One Eye, a silent warrior of supernatural strength, has been held prisoner by the Norse chieftain Barde. Aided by Are, a boy slave, One Eye slays his captor and together he and Are escape, beginning a journey into the heart of darkness. On their flight, One Eye and Are board a Viking vessel, but the ship is soon engulfed by an endless fog that clears only as the crew sights an unknown land. As the new world reveals its secrets and the Vikings confront their terrible and bloody fate, One Eye discovers his true self. 
( Lazily taken from IMDB; I totally have to learn the skill of plot-summary )

Why? : If you like “Drive” then you are not necessarily a fan of Danish director and cinematic enfant terrible, Nicholas Winding Refn. But you do like his style, and as a result if it wasn't for the infuriatingly oblique nature of some of his movies, you would probably already be a fan. He's like that.

For such an amazingly populist and popular movie, however, it's interesting to note that if you are a fan of Refn, you still probably adore “Drive” and would even go so far as to class it, alongside the searingly brilliant “Bronson” as his best movie. This is not always the case with us fanboys – we fanboys tend to tear apart anything the populist mainstream takes to its heart. Score one for our fanboy acceptance!

“Valhalla Rising” is probably not his best movie but it's my favourite nonetheless ( and in fact, is Refn's current favourite too! ) Pretentious, beautiful, flawed, sometimes horrifically violent, it is is essentially an almost plotless mood piece, musing on the nature of existence, spiritualism, and man. Quite the pinch to squeeze into an almost silent ninety minute movie that spends much of it's time looking at clouds or water. Sometimes both.

But it's the way Refn shoots and edits this film, shooting on digital in quite dreadful conditions in the mountains and grasslands of Scotland, and grading and editing his film into a slowly unfurling acid-fuelled dream, that makes this such a unique beast.

There is a consistent otherworldly undercurrent to this “viking” movie that hints at more going on than we are being shown, in particular with One-Eye's oddly symbiotic and seemingly telepathic relationship with Are, the boy.

Citing Heart of Darkness in the summary above is interesting, and fairly accurate. This does have a certain comparable quality with Joseph Conrad's original novel – less so Coppola's film adaptation, Apocalypse Now” - in that it follows a tightly wound soldier/warrior on a river-bound journey surrounded by slowly maddened men, towards the unknown, ultimately encountering the dangerous indigenous population of an unknown isle.

Where it differs is that the foe waiting at the end of the journey in “Rising” is existential; One-Eye must ultimately face himself.

Mikkelson – who was apparently happy to take on the role for a director with whom he'd already twice worked with, in the first two “Pusher” movies, because he thought it would be an easy gig – is a revelation in this movie. With no dialogue, and only one eye, he manages to quietly express motivation and emotion ( though the character's emotion rarely varies from quizzical, pensive, or simply volent – necessarily so given his status in life at the beginning of the movie ). He is immensely charismatic, with a fierce, lean, muscled body, never afraid to get down, dirty and ugly where necessary.

His final acceptance of what must be at the end is brilliantly portrayed and makes this film worthy of revisiting, along with Refn's striking direction and the film's unique mood.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

Directed by : Tom Stoppard

Starring : Gary Oldman, Tim Roth, Richard Dreyfuss

Plot : Based on Stoppard's first, and possibly most popular play, and taking it's cue from “Hamlet”, the story revolves around the perpetually confused main characters as they stumble around the outskirts of the main play, trying to figure out their names, their status, and ultimately their purpose.

Why? : A lot of reasons, but let's just start with the obvious – Gary Oldman and Tim Roth together in a movie where neither one of them are over the top, shrieking villains and are in fact closer to a Laurel and Hardy double act. Or perhaps a better comparison would be Bob Hope and Bing Crosby in their road-movie phase, with Richard Dreyfuss in the Jane Russel role!

That's it, that should be enough.

Oh you want more? Fine.

So let's be upfront and state that this is a bit of a niche movie, really. It's not entirely well-directed, it's a little sluggish, one might even say indulgent at times. This was Tom Stoppard's first – and if I'm right, only – feature film. A rightfully respected stage director and writer, it was a wise decision to let the man who knew this play inside out adapt and stretch it for the big ( really, the small – like who actually went to see this in the cinema flickers? ) screen, but from time to time his lack of experience, and his theatrical background shows.

But I don't think this is a bad thing. In fact I'm not sure anyone else could have attempted this film and pulled it off with as much genuine charm as Stoppard managed. His naeivity in film-making translates into the naeivity of his characters and god damn it if it don't friggin work. The only other person I would trust with this material, would be my boy Kenneth Branagh.

The main draw is seeing Oldman and Roth bounce off each other with Stoppard's incredibly rich and funny dialogue. They are perfectly cast ( though interestingly, and rather in keeping with the nature of their characters, they were both initially cast in the opposite roles to which they ended up ), and create memorable and likeable characters, Oldman sweet, naive and curious, Roth rough, impatient, and smart.

Beyond that is the way in which Stoppard plays with the themes of “Hamlet”, and filters his own themes of identity, status, and purpose throughout. Though surprisingly frothy, there is a strain of darkness running throughout, the inevitability of the title drawing ever near.

For a film filled to the brim with yabbering characters, there are some strong visual set-pieces in the film, from the beautifully choreographed, silent and masked re-enactment of the murder of Hamlet's father, to Oldman's consistent curiosity leading to invention and discovery, inevitability dashed by Roth's impatience.

I first saw this movie when I was around seventeen. I think it works better for an adult audience who has had a little life experience, and a little time to absorb Shakespeare outside of school.

But I fell in love with it then, so I don't see why other's won't now.

Dead Man's Shoes

Directed by : Shane Meadows

Starring : Paddy Considine, Toby Kebbell several of Shane Meadow's pals

Plot : A disaffected soldier (Considine) returns to his hometown to get even with the thugs who brutalized his mentally-challenged brother (Kebbell) years ago.

Why? : Look at the plot summary above. It seems really quite straight-forward, don't it. Straight forward and familiar. Right?

As with “Valhalla Rising” however, there is so much more going on here. And as with “Valhalla Rising” it is often quite hauntingly spiritual.

As per the summary, the beauty of this movie is in it's spareness. Nothing is wasted, no shot, no pluck of music, no moment of character building.

Devised through work-shopping his actors, Meadows ( and Considine ) created a bare-bones script around which to pin the action. Allowing his, sometimes first-time actors to improvise on-screen creates a nervous, naturalistic energy entirely at odds with Considine's precise, committed darkness. It's the conflict between these two styles, and the characters they draw, that brings this angry film alive.

Paddy Considine is absolutely searing in this, perhaps the best he has ever been – controlled yet vicious, blank yet bubbling with emotion, and in each of his confrontation scenes with the various thugs involved in his brother's brutalization, utterly, compellingly terrifying.

He is an angel of death and the audience is never entirely comfortable being on his side, in no small part down to Meadow's choice to slowly reveal the extent of each thug's involvement in the incident that traumatised the soldier's brother rather than show it up front to give the audience an excuse to justify and enjoy the brutality. The violence, though creative, is never glamourised.

There is catharsis in the violence, but Meadow's and Considine work very hard to show the consequence too. These are not your average grunting cinema thugs, the actors have each breathed life into their characters and in some cases make them genuinely likable.

The film was shot on digital, in three weeks. It often looks it, grainy, wobbly, and just a hair's breadth off. But this adds immeasurably to the grimy feel of what is essentially a slasher movie, with Considine's soldier sometimes casually, sometimes brutally, always inventively picking the thugs off one by one.

As with all Meadow's films a rich vein of Northern humour permeates the film, but this slowly drains out as the almost biblical final act crawls in and the reality of what happened to the soldier's brother is finally revealed.

Toby Kebbell deserves special mention – a character actor usually more at home with brash, charismatic loudmouths ( see Rocknrolla – so, seriously, it really ain't that bad! ) - for his incredibly subtle, emotive performance as the soldier's mentally-challenged younger brother. Soft, gentle, and child-like, his is the heart of the movie, and the antithesis to the violence.

A brilliant, dark, funny, scary movie, Meadow's and Considine's fiercest and finest work to date.

For a few dollars more

Directed by : Sergio Leone

Starring : Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Gian Moria Volonte

Plot : When Volontes sleazy, whacked out Bandit is broken out of prison with plans to rob the most highly protected safe in Mexico, he is hunted down separately, and later begrudgingly together by two bounty killers : the tricky and youthful Monco ( Clint ) and the older, experienced Colonel Mortimer ( Van Cleef ). Forming a fraught, untrustworthy alliance the two men chase the bandit and his men down, double-crossing each other as they go, before a final reveal leads to a showdown between Mortimer and the bandit.

Why? : Returning as Joe, the man with no name, Clint Eastwood portrays Monco in this brilliant follow-up to Leone's surprise hit, “A Fistful of Dollars”. Where that film replayed Akira Kurosawa's “Yojimbo” in a wild west setting, however, “More” expands into a new, twistier, stranger world, inhabited by drug-addicted, violent, yet strangely rueful villains and a far deeper emotion than it's predecessor.

The stars of the movie are, of course, Leone's incredible, widescreen direction, Morricone's rich score, the three lead performances. It goes without saying that Eastwood is the epitome of cool in this flick ( although he adds shades and a very palpable maturity to his character by the end of the movie ), and that Lee Van Cleef can pull of a pipe-smoke filled “naturally” will charisma and world-weary charm. But the actor who stands out in this for me is Gian Moria Volonte as the lead bandit, El Indio.

Returning to Leone's world from a smaller, blunter role in “Dollars”, Volonte is wonderful in this movie, hauntingly moving in one moment then braking viciously the next, he plays his role as a man possessed, and the surprisingly emotional resonance at the heart of the conflict between El Indio and Mortimer
plays consistently across his face in quiet moments.

The film is less concerned with violence in this movie, all though it has it's fair share of kicks, punches, and bullets to the head, and more concerned with legacy and consequence. There is a fairytale quality that oozes through it, thanks in no small amount to the lullaby-esque music that tinkles throughout.

All the criticism levelled at this movie by non-believers are true – it is flawed. The plot often feels like they were making it up as they went along ( they probably were ), Leone has a big old Italian attitude to women that often borders on misogyny ( see Once Upon a Time in America for the zenith of this attitude ), it's a hell of a long movie, and the dubbing is at times hilariously awful.

To me, these are all obvious and charming in their own way. But the epic style, complex characters, increasingly bleak mood, wry humour, and balls-out cool of the movie far outweigh those flaws.

People might ask me ( I don't know, is anyone reading down this far? Did you give up at NEDS and my Tarantinoesque claim to being a part of that world? ) why did I choose this than the technically superior “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”. Hard to explain, I guess. I love that movie to bits and in fact it forms a part of my childhood movie awakening in much the same way as Star Wars did.

In the end though, I think I love this movie for it's personality, and it's personal touches. Yes, “The Good...” is bigger, brighter, better. But “For a few Dollars More” is rougher, quirkier, and less bogged down in it's big themes.

It also has an AWESOME final shootout that combines cool, static violence with genuine emotion. ( Warning spoilers contained in this clip - but god damn it it's worth watching!! )

Beat that Tarantino, you hack.

Beautiful Girls

Directed by : Ted Demme

Starring : Timothy Hutton, Matt Dillon, Lauren Holly, Uma Thurman and that guy who ever since he played the back-stabbing best friend in The Truman Show has essentially been typecast forever more.

Plot : In this romantic drama a group of high school buddies reunite for their high school reunion in the small town where they grew up. They deal with the life challenges of finding women to love and be loved by, committing to a relationship, and getting past their childhood dreams and desires to deal with reality and appreciate life. ( Totally stole this from IMDB again, but bear with me – there's a reason )

Why? : This is a very small movie that occupies a certain niche in movies. A gathering of old friend's lives are changed by the one returning guy who got out of their small town and found success. Hell, I've written a version of this story myself.

So the above summary, and the bizarrely jovial trailer, are technically correct and is good enough to stick on the back of a DVD cover, I guess. But it's not a romantic comedy by any stretch of the imagination, in many ways it's anti-romantic, dealing with relationships as it does in a very bittersweet, mature manner.

Nor is it about a group of high-school buddies getting together and suddenly having to deal with all these new things in their lives. What I love about this film is that their lives are being lived, and we simply drop into them just as Timothy Hutton's jazz-pianist and Uma Thurman's sexy cousin do.

The heart of the story is the return of Hutton to his family home, a home filled with a terrible and quiet sadness as Hutton's father and younger brother are still coping with the loss of Hutton's mother. Lonliess and loss permeates these characters, as two men at the opposite ends of the spectrum who relied excessively on the only female in their lives, deal with the everyday things she used to do.

Stretching out from this, Hutton acts as our guide into the world of the friends he left behind, a funny, sometimes embittered group of men getting by day to day, and in much the same way as Hutton's family, keeping their heads in the sand about the way their lives are going.

The film benefits from several things – the sadly late Ted Demme is a terrific director of actors, and juggles the cast, their quandaries, and the larger canvas around them with quiet confidence. Scott Rosenberg's pithy, bittersweet script refuses to ignore the emotion behind these characters, yet rounds each of them into real, and rounded people. He is not afraid to push a little darkness into the script, as shown by the ravaging effects Matt Dillon's affair with his high-school sweetheart is having on his family, and the people around him; and in particular in Hutton's self-aware attraction to the thirteen year old Natalie Portman ( brilliant in this, capitalising on her strength as a child actress but adding depth and maturity. ) The acting from every single performer is pitch perfect, from Hutton's cool confidence, Thurman's self-awareness, and in particular the quirky and loveable Max Perlich ( whom fanboys will recognise from Buffy ).

What is truly wonderful about this movie, however, is the treatment of women as more than just sex-objects, or – as the summary seems to hint – romantic objects of affection. They are rounded both by Rosenberg's treatment of them as people, not just “women”, and by the terrific performances of the cast. They embody real emotion and character, as opposed to Hollywood emotions, even as within this world, it is obvious that they are almost all in a pedestal in some way, be it Uma Thurman's sensuality, or the lost mother.

There is romance in this movie, and a lovely subplot involving Hutton and his out of town girlfriend, as Hutton questions his loyalty to her. But this movie is not so much a romantic drama, as an anti-romance dramedy.

So hey, you made it to the end!!!! Awesome for sure!!!

This particular article was written in bed over a lazy, and frankly smelly Saturday afternoon, afraid to get out of the covers in case several pot-shots were taken at me by some particularly nasty individuals ( don't worry, there'll be a particularly angry blog charting my current experiences, once it dies down a little. It will be a true inside-the-war correspondence ).

But I have decided to let myself wallow and dwell over the last movie, and perhaps watch it again to really soak it up.

So until the next time,

ciao for now


Thursday, 24 April 2014

Dom's Top Eleven Favourite Movies : Part One

Top Eleven Favourite movies in the order they come to me as I look at my DVD collection

Part One

Sometimes I am accused of being slightly negative in my ramblings and rantings about movies. I can dig that, but I would counter that, well, I've seen some amount of overpraised shit in my time and I guess it pisses me off some.

However I thought, while I'm gearing up to do a bit of work on sequels in the next few weeks, I would put forward a fave-list of movies I have nothing negative to say about at all and would in fact unreservedly recommend.

Here then are the first five of my top eleven fave movies ( right now ). Why eleven? Fuck you, that's why.

Eastern Promises

Directed by  :  David Cronenberg

Starring : Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts, other people who also act in it with their faces and mouths and stuff.

Plot : Investigating the death of a young mother to find a guardian for the girls new born baby, London nurse Naomi Watts becomes increasingly embroiled with the Russian Mafia Underground. Seeking help in translating the young girl's diary from a local restauranter – in reality one of the mafia bosses of the Vory V Zakone brotherhood, and someone who may know more about this girl than he is saying – she is shadowed by chauffeur and Mafia assassin Viggo Mortensen, who finds his loyalties tested as the world of violence he trades in threatens him at his own doorstep, and concepts of “family” are thrown to the fore.

Why? : Like a lot of people who study films, I find David Cronenberg a fascinating film maker to analyse. Cited for his fixation on “body-horror”, this description to me has always missed the point of his movies. I would describe him as a film maker with a “body-fascination”, be it through disease, sex, violence, or transformation. In this instance, the Russian Gangland brotherhood the Vory V Zakone's tattoo fetish proves one of the most memorable body-fascination moments, as a naked Viggo Mortensen displays his lifetime of experience through the tattoos on this body. There is also a rich theme of birth and rebirth running throughout the piece, centring overtly around the birth of the mystery as a new life is brought into this world, and subconsciously with the machinations of the brotherhood itself.

Most people tend to point to A History of Violence as being Cronenberg's most accessible film. I adore this movie, but I completely disagree. It has a fetish for graphic violence and a comic-book stylisation that I would suggest many average film-goers would be quickly turned off by, in particular in the characterisation and dialogue.

“Eastern Promises” on the other hand has quite a weak screenplay, really. It's narrative is almost Nancy Drew in it's woman-investigates bad people simplicity; it feels like what it is, a TV movie by a writer – Stephen Knight – who is far more comfortable writing small-screen pieces than cinema, where characters talk about themselves and their feelings quicker than revealing themselves through action.

BUT – it still works brilliantly, in no small part to the terrific acting from every cast member – Watts and Mortensen in particular, she brittle yet tenacious, he sleazy, violent, yet strangely sympathetic – and specifically down to Cronenberg's obsessive eye for detail, and ultimate distaste for the things these men do. He maintains a ferocious mood throughout the piece, constantly pointing the audience towards the threat of violence that only very rarely truly spills out ( see the much cited and rightly praised steam-room fight – vicious, raw, horrible, utterly compelling and as revealing of Mortensen's character as it is of his tally-
wacker ). As the true nastiness of these men creeps in from the corners of the story, we – like Watts – find ourselves disgusted yet compelled to delve deeper.

The true success of this movie is in allying our sympathies not only for Watts plight, but for Mortensen's, rewarding our sympathies with what on the surface might seem a trite conclusion, yet one which makes absolute sense and has far reaching resonance for the characters we've grown to trust across the running time.

One of my absolute faves, and one of David Cronenberg's true masterpieces.

Star Trek : The Motion Picture

Directed by : Robert Wise

Starring : The Cast of Star Trek, and some guy who went on to star in “7th Heaven”

Plot : An alien phenomenon of unprecedented size and power is approaching Earth, destroying everything in its path. The only starship in range is the USS Enterprise-- still in drydock after a major overhaul. As Captain Willard Decker readies his ship and his crew to face this menace, Admiral James T. Kirk arrives with orders to take command of the Enterprise and intercept the intruder. But it has been three years since Kirk last commanded the Enterprise on its historic five year mission... is he up to the task of saving the Earth? ( From IMDB )

Why? : Because, hands down it is just the best Star Trek movie there is. Eschewing the camp, action-film formula that every other movie stuck to after this failed miserably at the box office, “The Motion Picture” is a proper sci-fi movie that dares to ask big questions, yet still manages to be a Star Trek movie proper in its own right. The special fx for the main still stand up ( although Wise did consent to some new CG additions for its DVD/Laserdisc release a few moons ago ), the characters are properly developed and delved into, giving great justification for bringing both the characters and the franchise back, and the 2001-esque final moments thrill physically, intellectually and emotionally.

The best thing about this film is in the way it handles the aged cast. In much the same way as Clint Eastwood's latter day career has focussed in on his age, yet still dipped into his genre roots, “The Motion Picture” consistently reminds the cast AND the audience that this is not the youthful cast of the TV series. Both in it's more serious, even existential tone and in pitting the aging, experienced yet slightly bitter Kirk against the youthful, and possibly better-able Dekker, the film gives us a far darker conflict at its heart than any other Trek movie; it even dares to discuss death, the afterlife, and legacy in a fully adult manner – in the Star Trek franchise's first blockbuster foray.

Needless to say, it came out at the wrong time. Critics and audiences, still wowed by the bombast and simplistic fantasy bluster of “Star Wars” ( without whom it should be added, this film would never have received it's opportunity to exist ), despised this movie, which led – in much the same way as the critical drubbing Tarantino's best film “Jackie Brown” received, led to him popping his head up his own arse to create pop-culture reference movies with no substance – to the franchise disappearing into a black hole of camp explosions and lazy comedy at the expense of it's increasingly aged crew.

Yes, “Wrath of Khan” followed up on the age-crisis at the heart of “Motion Picture,” but with a sledgehammer unsubtly ( the Kobyashi Maru test anyone ? ) that remained not only for the Original Cast movies, but for every Star Trek movie beyond, referencing the characters age as though it were something to be laughed at, ignored, and ironically referenced, but never again challenged.

This is the living embodiement of the concept of original, and best.

Twin Peaks Fire Walk With Me

Director : David Lynch

Starring : Most of the cast of the original TV series, Moira Kelly, and for some reason Chris Isaak.

Plot : Charting the last seven days of TV series kickstarter Laura Palmer, the film delves into the drug-addled despair of a prom-queen, and the possibly supernatural forces conspiring to abuse and ultimately murder her through spite.

Why? : Another flick that received a bizarre and unnecessary drubbing from pretty much everyone, this is David Lynch's best, most original, and darkest movie to date.

In reality, this film didn't stand a chance. Drubbed by critics and ignored by audiences, like “Star Trek The Motion Picture,” it simply hit at the wrong time. Twin Peaks had briefly been a phenomenon on the small screen, a dark, witty, weird and twisty murder-mystery tale that drew in millions of fanatical viewers ( myself included ) before shitting on them spectacularly during it's second season.

This is why the audience were simply not there for the film. No one cared anymore, except it seemed David Lynch. Lynch had been a critical darling, albeit briefly, for his Triple Slam of Awesome Movies (tm), "The Elephant Man," "Blue Velvet," and "Wild at Heart" ( we ignore "Dune" because everyone else does and with that logic in mind, it simply never happened ).

For some reason, despite – or retrospectively, perhaps because of – his returning to the by-then familiar Lynchian themes and imagery of the previous movies, which critics had pretty consistently jizzed over up to this point - sexual extremity, strobing lights, red lips on porcelain skin, undercurrents of almost operatic evil in otherwise placid people and places, and a twisted yet silly streak of humour – the critics turned unexpectedly and viciously rabid on this one.

It was a backlash, partly fuelled I suspect by the Twin Peaks brand name and the sheer brilliant cheek of setting it BEFORE the series began, rather than following it up as most TV-based movies do ( see the recent “Veronica Mars,” for example ) or spoofing it, in the manner of a “Brady Bunch” or the hideously awful “21 Jump Street.”

But the backlash ignored the facts in favour of some extremely emotive and smug French booing ( at Cannes, where it was roundly booed by idiots ).

Taken on it's own terms ( granted, hard to do given the pedigree ), this is an original, truly dark, deeply emotional movie, charting the headlong and speeding nosedive of a sexually pressurised, drug addicted, and possibly parentally abused teenage girl as she lingers over her last seven days alive, with the knowledge that her time is running out. Beautifully shot, paced, and acted this is a long movie – but necessarily so to allow for the slow-burn at its difficult heart. Sheryl Lee – looking somewhat older than the seventeen year old she portrays, it has to be said – and Ray Wise reprise their roles as daughter and slowly unwinding father Laura and Leland Palmer respectively, and give perfectly judged, raw, operatic performances. Wise in particular veers between heart-rending, as the father with a dark secret, and terrifying, as that dark secret itself unfolds.

Lynch never bettered the set-pieces and mood he created for this movie, though it informed every film he made after with it's left-field ( and it has to be said slightly misogynist ) sexuality, strobing imagery and darkly shadowed compositions that force the viewer to fear for what might lurk in the corners of the screen. Add to that a smoky, gorgeous score by Lynch regular Angelo Badalamenti, and a weird series of cameos from the likes of David Bowie, Chris Isaak, Kiefer Sutherland, Lynch himself and a backwards talking Jurgen Prochnow, and this film is nigh-on perfect.

Boogie Nights

Directed by : Paul Thomas Anderson

Starring : Marky Mark, The Bandit, Don Cheadle, your one from Killing Her Softly, and a red-haired plank of wood.

Plot : Charting a reperatory company of porn performers and film makers across several decades, Boogie Nights zeroes in on literally-rising star Marky Mark, from his discovery, rise to fame in the hey-day of seventies porn-acceptance and inevitable fall from grace as the grubby and drug-fuelled eighties take over.

Why? : Because everything about this film is so completely off-kilter and yet so overwhelmingly perfect it's not even funny.

It's a masterpiece directed by a twenty-seven year old. It's a film that exclusively charts a group of pornographers yet treats them with according dignity, and rare bouts of almost patronly scorn. It wears every one of it's Scorcese, Tarantino and Spielberg influences on its sleeve yet somehow manages to seem thrillingly original. And you get to see Heather Graham full frontal, vagina and everything!

In its own way, “Boogie Nights” is a truly pornographic movie – not so much in its tasteful depiction of intercourse but in it's absolute indulgence in every single frame; the gliding, glorious long-take camerawork ( at one point hedonistically diving into a swimming pool to continue following its characters ), it's frank, sometimes affectionate and often harsh depiction of the reality of porn, and the effects it has on both male and female performers, it's overwhelming pace, it's decade-savvy jukebox soundtrack, and in the sheer number of characters it follows.
The acting is superlative ( with the exception of the truly wooden and inexpressive plank that is Julianne Moore ), with special mention going to Don Cheadle's constantly out-of-his depth performer for soliciting some of the best laughs and deepest pathos within the film.

Paul Thomas Anderson is a strange beast. He's been pretty much allowed do what he wants, which has resulted in some genuine cinematic gems ( “Magnolia” ), some odd-ball left-field experiments ( the wonderfully autistic “Punch Drunk Love” ), and latterly some truly head-scratching, pissy indulgence ( the wasted opportunity that was “The Master” a sort of okay movie with little to say and a very long running time in which not to say it. )

What's brilliant about him is that he divides audiences. But what's truly brilliant about this movie, is that it's the only film he's made that doesn't do that. Even my dad likes “Boogie Nights!” And he hated “Crimson Tide” for fuck sake.

It's a film with great heart, great wit, and befitting his then-age, a vibrancy and affection that has long disappeared from Anderson's increasingly bitter movies.


Directed by : Peter Mullen

Starring : Conor McCarron, Peter Mullen, and Gary Lewis

Plot : Set in working-class Glasgow through the seventies, “NEDS” ( Non-Educated-Delinquents ) follows the studious, overly-intelligent but increasingly emotionally destructive John McGill, a sponge for the violence he witnesses and ultimately involves himself in, inspired by the street-gangs of his Glasgow suburb, and his own alcoholic, weak but verbally abusive father.

Why? : Peter Mullen is one of those all-rounders you just want to hate. As an actor he is raw, angry, always empathetic, and although one could call him one-note, he plays that note clearly, and with enough variation to create melody.

As a writer and a director he has managed to perfect a blend of gritty, angry social realism with an almost whimsical, spiritual poetry.

The gruff-faced Scotch bastard has it all.

Mullen came to the fore in Ireland for tackling “The Magdalene Sisters” at a raw point in the country's history. Biting, angry, satirical, and oddly funny, it was a calling card for Mullen in more ways than one, setting out his stall from the off.

He busied himself taking acting roles in films as diverse as "War Horse," "Children of Men," and the excellent "Tyrannosaur," while searching for a personal project to follow. "NEDS" became that project.

And this is the film by which he should be measured. Up front I'll admit that I'm slightly biased, not only because I pretty much worship the ground Mullen walks on but because I grew up in Scotland across the Eighties and Nineties, and though never in the extremes presented by this movie, I was witness to that peculiarly Scottish form of petulant, give-all working-class violence this film describes.

With two, young first-time actors, Mullen charts five years or so of his main character John McGill's life, starting as a blushing, nervous, overweight twelve year old and slowly transforming into the vicious, knife-wielding thug seen in most of the promo material.

Right from the off Mullen surrounds McGill with male-perpetrated violence: the opening threats from the Secondary-School thug he exacts terrible revenge on at the height of his own violent awakening; the male teachers indifference, vanity, and of course their use of corporal punishment; the peers around him, talking tough, bantering one moment and beating the next; his older brother, a feared young leader in a thuggish gang, and the father who abuses his family, drunkenly screaming at his wife and terrifying his young daughter each night.

Dealing with the consequences of violence, all through this film we're left in no doubt who in society is to blame for the perpetuating of it, but what is special about this movie is that it also accepts that some people are simply more predisposed towards it than others. In this case, the frightened and retiring child that McGill once was, transforms horrifically into that vicious, alienated and angry thug. It suggests however that not only is the exterior influences that push him in this direction, but an interior conflict, a sociopathy that would largely be ignored in that environment.

Yet at no point do we lose sympathy with him, down both to Mullen's superb direction, and the naturalistic performance of first-timer Conor McCarron as the older McGill. Witness the moment he lazily realises he is no longer frightened of his father's violence, and watches the old man at the bottom of the stairs with, at first detachment, then pity, and finally violent resolve.

Mullen has drawn incredibly natural, almost documentary-like performances from the entire cast, adding to the grittily realistic feel of the movie. But McCarron stands out, especially in the last act as the world closes around him and topless – with two knives tied to his hands – he walks out into the burbs to lash out at the world and everyone in it.

As the film moves into it's final act, it becomes something very different. In fact, Mullen HAS come under flack, bizarrely, for betraying the social realism at the heart of his movie with a slow drift into poetical whimsy. He sometimes relies a little too heavilly on religious imagery but then, his story is set at the heart of Catholic Scotland. Based very loosely on Mullen's own upbringing, this film plays out as a fable, and one with a beautiful ending.

But the whimsy works because we're increasingly seeing the world from the point of view of McGill. At first we're scared for him and by the end, scared by him. Yet we do want to see the people who have pushed him to this point punished.

The greatest thing about this movie though? When we finally do, it fills us with dread and horror, and makes us realise that – generally speaking – we are ones who are not predisposed towards violence.

Powerful, biting, angry, funny, and ultimately uplifting. A word of warning though - along with the ugly violence portrayed in the movie, there is also unwavering commitment to that completely indistinguishable inner-city Glasgow accent. Subtitles may be required.

Okay, so that's a lot of reading and clicking on links and checking out awesome movies for one day!

Part Two will be finished in a day or so!

Leave comments, comparisons, denials and pictures of yourself naked if needs be!

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