Saturday, December 31, 2011

Flick of The Day: Ran

One of the most celebrated Japanese film-makers of all time, Akira Kurosawa has a long and varied career as a director. Due to his westernised style of filming, he was always more popular outside of Japan then in his native land. Along with  Yasujir┼Ź Ozu, Kurosawa became the most recognised Japanese director in the west and nearly all of his work received some form of release in the US and Europe during his lifetime and the inevitable American remakes followed. Most notably, his classic tale of feudal Japan The Seven Samurai was the basis for John Sturges cowboy romp The Magnificent Seven while Yojimbo became Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars. Perhaps his best work is this sprawling epic re-imagining of Shakespeare's King Lear and today's flick of the day, Ran
An elderly warlord played by Tatsuya Nakadai is the King Lear of this piece and like Lear attempts to split his long fought for kingdom between his three sons Taro, Jiro, and Saburo. Taro and Jiro flatter to deceive and proclaim this to be a great idea while Saburo sees that this will only cause chaos and treachery. Interpreting Saburo's disagreement as a threat to his authority, he banishes him from the valley. Inevitably the old lord soon falls out with his two sons Taro and Jiro and sets off a brutal and bloody war for control of the kingdom. Across a number of expertly filmed set piece battles, this war plays itself out. Of course the great lord, now left to wander the plains with only his jester for company comes to see the error of his ways and that Saburo had his best interests at heart. 
A distilled version of Shakespeare's classic tale, with far less wordy speeches and much more emphasis on visual imagery. This film is worth seeing for that alone, Kurosawa had an eye for a shot that so many Western directors would kill for. From the natural beauty of the opening scene at a boar hunt to the epic battle scenes with variously coloured armies clashing on fields and castles, this is a feast for the eyes. In one particularly stunning scene, the ambient noise is removed letting the Takemitsu score soar while the combined armies of Taro and Jiro attack the castle which contains their banished father. Arrows, blood and ritual suicide glide by the screen.
All in all, this is one of Kurosawa's best, epic in all aspects including its length which comes in just shy of 3 hours, this is one of those films to see just for the sake of seeing it. The story is a well trodden path at this stage but Kurosawa's unique visual style and a cast of some of the best Japanese actors of their day carry it through. This would be the great master's last epic and it is fitting perhaps that it the tale of Lear.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Flick of The Day: Glengarry Glen Ross

David Mamet was one of the great voices in American theatre in the late 70's and early 80's. As a playwright, he was a founding member of the legendary Atlantic Theatre Company, winning acclaim for his 1984 play Glengarry Glen Ross, which he adapted for the screen in this 1992 drama which is today's flick of the day. Mamet's writing is heavy in dialogue which is itself fast paced and peppered with scatological language, and it reeks of the stage. However it is the kind of rich language that draws the best out of actors. Apart from his theatrical work, he has a rich body of film work with particular highlights being his Oscar winning script for The Verdict and The Untouchables.
A simple tale of the goings on behind the scenes at a real estate office in Chicago, this film has an ensemble cast of some of the best acting talent in recent memory. Al Pacino is cocky top salesman Ricky Roma, Jack Lemmon is the ageing salesman living on past glories, Alan Arkin and Ed Harris are disgruntled and desperate while Kevin Spacey is the much put upon office manager. In a role created for the film, Alec Baldwin steals the film as a hard nosed motivational speaker. Times are hard at Premiere Properties with the pressure on the salesmen to deliver land sales in a downturn. They bitch and moan about the leads they are given and generally fail to sell apart from the big swinging dick Ricky Roma. The plot centres around a theft at the office but ultimately this is a character study of men under pressure, with a tense atmosphere reminiscent of something like 12 Angry Men.
Perhaps the strength of James Foley's direction is to keep the camera moving around the theatre like sets, to make this feel less like a play. It is not fully successful however as you can't really escape the origins of the tale. Mamet's dialogue is his greatest strength but it often feel over the top and almost unrealistic here. That said, it is terribly enjoyable to see greats like Pacino and Lemmon and Spacey chew through the scenery in capital lettered verbiage. 

Blake: You got leads. Mitch & Murray paid good money. Get their names to sell them. You can't close the leads you're given, you can't close shit, *you are* shit, hit the bricks pal, and beat it, 'cause you are going *out*. 
Shelley Levene: The leads are weak. 
Blake: "The leads are weak." The fucking leads are weak? You're weak. I've been in this business fifteen years... 
Dave Moss: What's your name? 
Blake: Fuck you. That's my name. 
[Moss laughs] 
Blake: You know why, mister? 'Cause you drove a Hyundai to get here tonight, I drove an eighty thousand dollar BMW. *That's* my name.

A tour de force then, but also a dark look at the harsh realities of the working world and the lengths people will go to, to survive. Lemmon's salesman is a loser but at heart a good family man while Pacino's Roma is a slimy charlatan yet one is a failure and the other prospers. There is a morality tale in there somewhere. 
Very much a character study, this is worth seeing if only for Mamet's dialogue and the excellent performances from the ensemble cast. It couldn't be called a compelling drama for very little happens but for sharp dialogue and tense well acted scenes, this is hard to beat. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Flick of The Day: And Justice For All...

Perhaps best remembered today for Al Pacino's ranting monologue which ends the film, or perhaps for the various pastiches and homages of it, today's flick of the day is Norman Jewison's And Justice For All... A big hit in its day garnering another Oscar nomination for Pacino, it is a film which is rarely given its due in comparison to other films of the era for two reasons. Firstly it is possessed of a truly dire late 70's Disco soundtrack that would not be out of place in an episode of Cagney & Lacey and which dates the film horribly getting in the way of what is a fine tale. The second reason is the inconsistent tone of the picture, veering from a courtroom drama to light comedy, leaving the viewer never quite sure whether it is fish or foul. This is unfortunate because at its heart is a decent story of good versus evil and one of Al Pacino's more varied performances of the decade that built his reputation as perhaps the best actor of his generation. 
Al Pacino is Arthur Kirkland, a rabble rousing but ultimately idealistic young lawyer working the courthouse in Baltimore. As the film opens we meet Arthur's varied cast of clients from wealthy philanderer's like Dominic Chianese's Carl to downtrodden folk seeking justice. It becomes apparent that Arthur is not your average lawyer, with an almost unrealistic zeal for the truth, exemplified by his willingness to attempt to knock out a Judge he felt was obstructing his case. Indeed at the beginning of film, Arthur is in present for contempt of court for this attempted assault on Judge Fleming, played with a dark sliminess by John Forsythe. It is this kind of farcical event that leaves you unsure of the true tone of the film. How often outside of Hollywood could a lawyer punch a Judge and still practice law? In any case, the thrust of the movie revolves around the arrest and trial of the aforementioned Judge for a brutal rape. You would imagine Arthur would be delighted to see his nemesis get his comeuppance and perhaps he is though no sooner has he digested the news of the arrest that he is approached by Judge Fleming  to act as his defence in the trial. Fleming proceeds to coerce Arthur into taking his case on, promising to see him disbarred otherwise. Arthur's attempts to exonerate this odious Judge are at the centre of the film though they are only one strand of the various problems and sub-plots that beset Arthur before his final showdown in court. Will he defend a man he hates?
Pacino excels in the role of Arthur, perhaps because it is so different to the usual performances we have becomes used to over the years. Much like his equally talented colleague Robert De Niro, over the past 15 years or so Pacino has retreated into playing a pastiche of himself. No matter the role, Pacino's characters are the always over the top and loud. There is nothing wrong with this per se, it just feels like he is operating within himself, not pushing for the performance. Perhaps this is natural in middle age but is a delight to seem him a young man again in the role of Arthur, giving the kind of wild eyed and varied performance he can deliver. 

"You're out of order! You're out of order! The whole trial is out of order! They're out of order! That man, that sick, crazy, depraved man, raped and beat that woman there, and he'd like to do it again! He *told* me so! It's just a show! It's a show! It's "Let's Make A Deal"! "Let's Make A Deal"! Hey Frank, you wanna "Make A Deal"? I got an insane judge who likes to beat the shit out of women! Whaddya wanna gimme Frank, 3 weeks probation?"

If one Judge is Arthur's nemesis then another is the closest thing he has to friend. A criminally underused Jack Warden is Judge Rayford, an interesting character who is semi-suicidal but has a fondness for Arthur yet this is never developed too deeply.
Great performances aside, it is difficult to get past the tonal shifts that cause the film to stutter. One moment, the film is almost biting in its social commentary on the dark corruption endemic at the lower levels of the American Justice system and the next is some grand farce with Arthur taking his fear of flying up in a helicopter ride above the city with Warden's Judge Rayford in a scene that wouldn't be out of place in an episode of M.A.S.H. It is unfortunate because if Barry Levinson and Valerie Curtin's script could have taken a tone and stuck to it, this could have been a classic rather then just a film that has more positives then negatives. The is essential cinema if only to see the development of cinema in the late '70s and for the work of Pacino, but it could have been more. C'est la vie.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Daily Flick 2011 Review

So we're coming to the end of 2011, another year where great cinema has been served up to the masses in limited quantities. As is so often the case, the average cinema goer once again rewarded mediocrity with some genuine turkeys near the top of the box office. However, it is these critical flops that highlight the excellent work that has been released.  So without further ado, here are my choices for the best and worst of 2011:

Top 15 of 2011

15. Bridesmaids: Certainly one of the funniest films of the year, it marked a break through for its stars Kristen Wiig and Chris O'Dowd. The Daily Flick Review is here.

14. Between The Canals: A realistic look at life in inner city Dublin, this is a gritty gangland thriller. The Daily Flick Review is here.

13. Source Code: Duncan Jones follow up to his mind bending 2009 sci-fi Moon is another mind bending sci-fi. Unfairly maligned, this is a better film then the box office would tell you. The Daily Flick Review is here.

12. Barney's Version: A film that got a blink and you will miss it release in Ireland at the end of January. This is yet another fine performance from Paul Giamatti telling the life story of a Canadian curmudgeon and everyman Barney Panofsky. The Daily Flick Review is here.

11. Drive: A film that will top many people's end of year lists, I felt that while it was very stylish and Ryan Gosling's performance was suitably psychotic, it lacked any real heart and was violent for the sake of it. The Daily Flick Review is here.

10. The Skin I Live In: Undoubtedly the most bizarre and macabre release of the year, this is yet another enthralling film from the Spanish master Almodovar examining the dark nature of seeking perfection. The Daily Flick Review is here.

9. The Adjustment Bureau: Hollywood once again mines the Philip K Dick back catalogue and comes up with surprisingly good results. Matt Damon shines. The Daily Flick Review is here.

8. Senna: A fascinating and lovingly edited look at a complex sporting hero, Brazilian racing legend Ayrton Senna. It captures his driven nature perfectly. The Daily Flick Review is here.

7. Submarine: The IT Crowd's Richard Ayoade makes his directorial debut with this wryly funny look at growing up in a small Welsh town. A very fine debut. The Daily Flick Review is here.

6. Take Shelter: An epic performance from Michael Shannon drives this dark tale of mental illness or impending doom? It's your call. The Daily Flick Review is here.

5. Super 8: Spielberg and Abrams combine for this heart warming tale of growing up in late 70's small town America. Recalling the best of Spielberg's work, it is thrilling old school tale. The Daily Flick Review is here.

4. The Ides of March: Clooney, Gosling, Seymour-Hoffman, Giamatti. 70's style political thriller. Can't say much more really. The Daily Flick Review is here.

3. The Guard: Brendan Gleeson gives a tour de force performance in this darkly funny Irish cop film. Combining wonderfully with Don Cheadle and a fine a script, Gleeson is superb. The Daily Flick Review is here.

2. Midnight in Paris: Woody Allen makes Paris his canvas and creates his best film in years. Romantic, funny and a joy to watch. The Daily Flick Review is here.

1. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy: A dark and riveting adaptation of Le Carre's classic espionage thriller, it has one of the best British casts put together in a grey cold war era London. The Daily Flick Review is here.

Best Irish Film:
The Guard clinches it here. Gleeson's performance is superb.

Best Documentary:
Again, it has to be Senna with an honourable mention for Scorsese's George Harrison Living in the Material World

Best 70's Film Reviewed in 2011:
Chinatown: One of the best films of the 70's, it has to be Polanski's ode to 30's detective fiction. The Daily Flick Review is here.

Best 80's Film(s) Reviewed in 2011:
WarGames: A teen drama that successfully combines romance and the threat of nuclear war and combines the talents of the always lovely Ally Sheedy and Matthew Broderick. If that's not enough, it was Oscar nominated in 1983! The Daily Flick Review is here.
Cutter's Way: A dark thriller set in a sunny beach community, quite simply the best film of the 80's. The Daily Flick Review is here.

Best 90's Film Reviewed in 2011:
The Big Lebowski: The life and times of Jeffrey The Dude Lebowski and his quest to get a new rug. The Daily Flick Review is here.

Two Flick's of the day I didn't expect to like:
1. The Vanishing: A Dutch thriller from the late 80's you say? Truly terrifying. The Daily Flick Review is here.
2. Don't Look Now: Nicolas Roeg's psychological thriller makes great use of its cast and the Venice setting for a dark tale of loss and regret. The Daily Flick Review is here.

5 Films to look forward to in 2012:
1. The Dark Knight Rises: Christopher Nolan closes off his Batman trilogy in what promises to be spectacular fashion. 
2. Rush: Ron Howard directs this story of the 1976 Formula 1 season when Niki Lauda survived a crash that almost killed him to challenge James Hunt for the title.
3. War Horse: Steven Spielberg's Oscar baiting tale of a horse during the First World War promises to be epic but won't arrive on Irish shores till 2012. 
4. Django Unchained: Quentin Tarantino. Western. Leonardo de Caprio, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Sacha Baron Cohen, Samuel L Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz. What more can I say? Well I've read the script and it is as typically OTT as we've come to expect from Tarantino.
5. Lincoln: Daniel Day-Lewis and Steven Spielberg combine for this biopic of America's 16th President. 
6. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close:: Tom Hanks and Max von Sydow combine in this tale of a boy searching a post 9/11 New York for a lock to fit a key left behind by his father who was killed in the terrorist attacks.  









Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Flick of The Day: Angel

Neil Jordan has for many years been regarded as one of Ireland's most talented directors, with a diverse body of work to back this up. Always seeming to follow his own path, he has created work as different as  the dark journey into the London underworld of Mona Lisa to the historical epic sweep of Michael Collins and the downright oddity of Breakfast on Pluto. Of course this path started somewhere and in Jordan's case it was this  little drama set in the dark days of the Troubles. Today's flick of the day is Angel.
An impossibly young looking Stephen Rea stars as Danny, a dreamer saxophone player in a travelling show band. One night after another gig in a small ballroom in a border town, Danny encounters a young mute girl and whiles away the evening with her. That night, the local loyalist paramilitaries murder Danny's manager as part of a protection racket. The young girl inadvertently witnesses the killing and is gunned down while Danny hides in the shadows. Riddled with guilt and determined to get revenge, Danny sets out to track down the killers one by one. As this murderous revenge takes hold of him, Danny finds himself becoming as obsessive and dangerous as the man he is tracking.
There is perhaps no darker period in Ireland's troubled history then the 1980's. The armed conflict in Northern Ireland raged on seemingly without end and an economic malaise forced its best and brightest to emigrate. It is this setting in which Jordan creates perhaps his darkest film. The opening scenes at the rural film are shot with a particular naturalism and are perhaps the strongest section of the film. The events of that night define the rest of the film as they define Danny. The violence of the Northern Irish troubles is hinted at but this really isn't a political film. The bad guys could be from either side, it makes no difference. Effectively, this is an insight into the deadening effect violence can have on people. Danny starts out as a happy go lucky musician and ends the film as a homicidal psychotic every bit as dangerous as the man he tracks. 
In this complex role, Rea gives the best performance of his career. In Danny, he creates a character who undergoes a metamorphosis as striking as anything seen on Irish screens to date, unravelling over the course of the film. Rea is joined in a fine cast by some great Irish acting names like Ray McAnally and Gerard McSorley. While not a film that is an enjoyable watch, it is a taut and twisting drama that makes no bones about being a bleak portrayal of an Ireland that has thankfully long since disappeared into the mists. 
Both Neil Jordan and Stephen Rea would see their careers blossom from this movie with Jordan managing to strike a balance between independent work of artistic merit and the Hollywood ethic of making money. Rea, meanwhile has forged a career as a strong character actor who is always in demand and it is amazing to think he was 36 when this film was shot in 1982. All in all, this is a classic of Irish cinema and cultural touchstone of a time and place.


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Flick of The Day: Take Shelter

The old Hollywood adage goes that the best way to win an Oscar is to make a film about somebody with a disability or illness. It is indeed a well forged path to fame and fortune though it has to be said rarely gave these films dealt with something like mental illness in a realistic and grown up manner. As enjoyable as films like A Beautiful Mind and Shine were, there was a real lack of authenticity in their portrayal of the difficulties mental illness causes. It is a pleasure then to see a film that is written  in an authoritative manner with a deeply sympathetic portrayal of a man pushed to the edge by his mind. Today's flick of the day is Take Shelter.
Michael Shannon is Curtis LaForche, a hard working family man from rural Ohio. He lives a typically banal existence with his wife and young deaf daughter in a small house on the outskirts of town. Curtis works for a gravel company and his life would be otherwise unremarkable until one day he begins to suffer increasingly terrifying dreams. These portents of doom take the form of a huge storm and his various friends, family and even his dog attacking him. The visions gradually become apocalyptic in nature as the skies rain oil and black birds fill the sky. Curtis seeks  help from his local doctor while keeping it from his wife and we learn that as a child his mother was hospitalised for schizophrenia. His nightmares comes to dominate his life and he becomes obsessed with extending and provisioning the storm shelter in his back garden. Gradually his life breaks down and we begin to question whether Curtis is himself suffering from schizophrenia or indeed a prophet of doom. Will the storm come?
Shannon has quietly built a career over the past few years combining scene stealing turns in films like Revolutionary Road and  Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans with small roles in blockbusters and recently as Agent Nelson Van Alden in HBO's Boardwalk Empire. He is gradually becoming one of the great character actors working today and his role as the troubled Curtis is his best work to date. He brings a taciturn dignity to Curtis which makes his gradual disintegration all the more compelling and heartbreaking. Fundamentally a good man, you begin to realise that there are only two outcomes to his story. Either he is suffering from debilitating mental illness of the apocalypse really is coming. We are not headed for a happy ending obviously. It is the desperation in his eyes that means you can't look away, he doesn't want to be ill and yet doesn't want to abandon his family for the safety of an institution like his mother did. 
While Shannon carries the film as the central character, plaudits must also go to Jessica Chastain for her realistic portrayal of his loving wife. As Curtis crumbles she tries to hold things together and to get Curtis help. There is a real depth and humanity to her portrayal.


Curtis: You think I'm crazy? Well, listen up, there's a storm coming like nothing you've ever seen, and not a one of you is prepared for it


Jeff Nichols direction brings the whole story together by creating a sense of impending doom as the film closes in on you. His execution of the nightmarish sequences is worthy of some praise as they are genuinely unsettling. As the film moves toward its dread filled denouement, Nichols ratchets up the tension and the storm clouds gather on the horizon.
This ending when it comes  is ambiguous at best though I found it a satisfying finale given what has come before. Without giving anything away, it would be fair to say that the ending is significant for leaving us, the audience to draw our own conclusions. Given the abrupt cuts from dreams to reality previously, this is an unusual move but a good one. Overall a fine film and one sure to be a winner at awards season if there is any justice. Thought provoking and well acted throughout, this is the perfect antidote to the asinine fare so often served up by American cinema.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Flick of The Day: The People Vs Larry Flynt

Biographical films or Biopics are a very hit and miss affair, their success as a film depends greatly on the subject. There has to be an entertaining story to tell or else it can be a very dull affair, I'm thinking of the likes of Amadeus or Casino Jack. The subject need not be likeable, the success of Raging Bull attests to this, and today's flick of the day is just such a film, The People Vs Larry Flynt, telling the varied life and times of American pornographer, Larry Flynt.
The film opens in 1953, in dirt poor rural Kentucky, where a young Larry brews and sells moonshine to help his family before moving forward to Cleveland in 1973, where Flynt is a small time strip club owner played in a career best performance by Woody Harrelson. Losing money hand over fist, he decides to create a newsletter to advertise his club, and Hustler magazine is born. A self styled down to earth alternative to Playboy, Flynt becomes a millionaire overnight. Along the way he meets and falls in love with a stripper named Althea, played with abandon by Courtney Love. In and of itself, this would not make for a compelling picture, however due to his ability to push the boundaries of good taste and an unwillingness to back down, he soon becomes the subject of a crusade from the Christian right to have him shut down, led by James Cromwell  as the kind of narcissistic book burner that could only be found in the American mid-west. Flynt becomes a devotee of his right to free speech and aided by his crusading lawyer played by Edward Norton, he travels the country defending his magazine in courtrooms and in the media. It is on one of these trips that he is the victim, along with his lawyer of an assassins bullet. This radically alters his life leaving him paralysed from the waist down, and his antics from thereon are a corollary of this. As the film moves to a conclusion, both in his life and his legal struggles, it is both heartfelt and moving at times and regardless of your opinion of the man, it makes for compelling viewing.
Director Milos Forman, perhaps best remembered for his film version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, has crafted a unique film here. A strong script is backed up by some very fine performances from Harrelson, Norton and particularly Courtney Love.

Blow Dried Jerk: Uh, Mr. Flynt? I don't wanna step on your toes but things have changed since you were actively running the company. I mean I look back at the stuff you did in the 70s and it was uh sorta racy and crazy. But the country is different now. Reagan has rebuilt America and the moral majority is gaining power. 
Larry Flynt: You're fired. 
Blow Dried Jerk: Excuse me? 
Larry Flynt: You get the fuck out of my building. Doug get him out of here. You blow dryed jerk mother fucker. Take him out of here and throw him in the incinerator, cut him to little pieces and feed him to the animals out there. Get out of here.

Ultimately though, the film is carried by Harrelson in a very entertaining performance. Perhaps it is favourable direction, but Flynt's no nonsense approach to life and his home spun patriotism make him a likeable if not endearing figure. 

If the First Amendment will protect a scumbag like me, it will protect all of you
An enjoyable and thought provoking film, anchored by some great acting, this is well worth a viewing regardless of your opinion of Larry Flynt. It garnered a number of Oscar nominations upon its release for Forman and Harrelson, it lost out in a year dominated by Anthony Minghella's The English Patient.

Flick of The Day: Catfish

The perils of the Internet age are not something that has been really examined in any detail by the Hollywood mainstream. Indeed technology in general has been poorly treated, with David Fincher's The Social Network being the only mainstream release to look at social networking, and even then it was more the form of a hagiography then anything else. Today's flick of the day, Catfish, would seem to be quite a welcome change. A documentary that examines the perils of an online relationship.
Nev Schulman is a New York based photographer, specialising in dance portraits, who lives with his brother Ariel and Henry Joost, both film-makers. One day out of the blue, Nev receives a paiting of one of his photographs from an 8 year old girl in rural Michigan, Abby Pierce, a child prodigy. They become Facebook friends, broadening into a family network that includes Abby's Mother, Angela, her attractive 19 year old sister Megan and her father Vince. Nev becomes enchanted by Megan, a talented songwriter and dancer and he begins a long distance relationship via Facebook and telephone, the tools of the modern day romantic. His brother Ariel and Henry decide to document the relationship and this forms the basis of the the film. As the relationship develops, they discuss meeting in person and Megan sends him copies of her songs to listen to. However Nev discovers that these songs are taken from someone else's work on YouTube. Hurt and worried she has lied about other things, he wants to call it off. However Ariel and Henry convince him to continue. They decide to travel to Michigan to confront Megan and the family and get to the bottom of the mystery with a shocking though not unexpected conclusion.
Catfish is an engrossing film if nothing else. It has the kind of fiendishly addictive storyline that drives so many great documentary films. You really feel like you can't take your eyes off it. There have been allegations, naturally that the film is not true to life. You can draw your own conclusions but personally I would be of the opinion that the events are portrayed as they occurred, though perhaps not filmed at the moment they occurred. Also, it would be fair to say that the film-makers are somewhat disingenuous in their actions. I think any logical thinking person would have guessed what was at the end of the tunnel early on, and that they choose to keep themselves out of the loop as long as possible to make the film more entertaining and it is difficult to argue that it makes for compelling viewing.
Ultimately though the directors seem to have missed the point of the story. They seem focused on showing how shocking they believe the ending is and miss the fact that it is a sad story more then anything else and never investigates why people choose to misrepresent themselves on the internet if there is no monetary gain.  This wider context would have been useful and again I come back to my earlier point about how they allowed themselves to be taken in for the purposes of the film. I firmly believe this and it becomes obvious at the end, who is exploiting who here? The big city hip artistes or the small town loners?
That said, the film is definitely worth seeing if only for the many questions it raises, surely the sign of a worthy documentary. While not as good as the promo below makes out, it is still intriguing.

Flick of The Day: 12 Angry Men

It is difficult sometimes to understand the popularity of some films. I'm sure you can think of at least one film that is near universally popular and adored but that you just can't bring yourself to enjoy. Then again, popularity has rarely been an indicator of greatness. If it were then Titanic would be the greatest film of all time, rather then an over-long teen romance punctuated by explosions. That said, to every rule there is an exception and if there is one film that is both well liked and acclaimed then it is today's flick of the day, 12 Angry Men, director Sidney Lumet's classic psychological drama of a deliberating jury.
On a sweltering Summer day in a Manhattan courthouse, 12 white males deliberate on a teenage Puerto Rican boy accused of murdering his father. A fantastic ensemble cast of some of the best character actors of the day each bringing their own views, backgrounds, suspicions and prejudices to the table. Martin Balsam, Lee J Cobb, Ed Begley and Jack Warden each give stunning performances as the various jurors. After the first ballot, the vote is 11 to 1 to convict with the sole dissenter being Henry Fonda, Juror Number 8 and the film's conscience. As Fonda persuades the others to re-examine the evidence piece by piece, cracks begin to appear in the case and we learn more about the backgrounds of each of the men. Cobb's Juror Number 3 is a bully with an estranged son, Warden's Juror Number 7 wants to get to a ball game and has a natural mistrust of foreigners. Others are loath to make a wave, some want to blend in but to a man they have not examined the case in their own minds. As Fonda chips away at the case, he brings more jurors to his side as the temperature rises throughout the day until each man draws his final conclusion and a decision is reached.
A landmark film on its release, it has withstood the test of time because it asks fundamental questions of the jury trial system and does so in an entertaining and persuasive manner. Fonda has never been better in his role as the doubting Samaritan but it is a real ensemble piece and some of the best performances come from the lesser known talents. The cross section of society in the characters is well balanced, though this being the 1950's all are white males. 

Juror #3: Everything... every single thing that took place in that courtroom, but I mean everything... says he's guilty. What d'ya think? I'm an idiot or somethin'? Why don't cha take that stuff about the old man; the old man who lived there and heard every thing? Or this business about the knife! What, 'cause we found one exactly like it? The old man SAW him. Right there on the stairs. What's the difference how many seconds it was? Every single thing. The knife falling through a hole in his pocket... you can't PROVE he didn't get to the door! Sure, you can take all the time hobblin' around the room, but you can't PROVE it! And what about this business with the El? And the movies! There's a phony deal if I ever heard one. I betcha five thousand dollars I'd remember the movies I saw! I'm tellin' ya: every thing that's gone on has been twisted... and turned. This business with the glasses. How do you know she didn't have 'em on? This woman testified in open court! And what about hearin' the kid yell... huh? I'm tellin' ya, I've got all the facts here... 
Juror #3: [He struggles with his notebook, throws it on the table. The photo of him with his son is on top] Here... Ah. Well, that's it - that's the whole case! 
[He turns towards the window as the other jurors stare at him] 
Juror #3: Well... say something! You lousy bunch of bleedin' hearts. You're not goin' to intimidate me - I'm entitled to my opinion! 
[He sees the picture of his son on the table] 
Juror #3: Rotten kids... you work your life out! 
[He grabs the picture and tears it to pieces. He suddenly realizes what he's doing] 
Juror #3: [Breaks down] No. Not guilty. Not guilty.

Lumet's real genius as a director here, is how the tension ratchets up as the day progresses. The film opens as a reserved almost up tight piece but as the claustrophobic jury room closes in on the men and the tension begins to mount it opens up into something very special. The camera seems to take a tighter view of the men's faces and oppressive heat takes it toll. Ultimately the tensions reach their natural conclusion and the jurors are forced to confront their own prejudices in the search for the truth. There are some fine set pieces along the way and each actor is given their chance to shine for really this is an actors piece.
Currently sitting at Number 6 on the IMDB Top 250, a position apparently owed to the fact that it is one of the few black and white films that American schoolchildren are exposed to though it is a fine film and worthy of its position. That said, it is a product of its time. As noted, the jury is all white and all male and the cigarette smoke hangs in the humid jury room. 

[last lines] 
Juror #9: Hey... what's your name? 
Juror #8: Davis. 
Juror #9: My name's McCardle. 
[pause] 
Juror #9: Well, so long. 
Juror #8: So long.

12 Angry Men is a interesting compelling film even today and well worth a look. Directed by the legendary Sidney Lumet who passed away earlier this year, it is a fine example of his work which includes such diverse work as The Pawnbroker, The Verdict and Dog Day Afternoon.





Monday, November 28, 2011

Flick of The Day:The Big Lebowski

It would be hard to argue against the Coen Brothers as the most consistently entertaining and talented film-makers of the last 25 years. They have consistently delivered great cinema across many genres, from their debut with the suspenseful thriller Blood Simple to the gangster epic Millers Crossing, the darkly comic Fargo and their Oscar winning western True Grit. Perhaps their best work, or at least their most quotable and comic picture is 1998's The Big Lebowski. Today's flick of the day, it is a deeply funny comic riff on a Raymond Chandleresque caper.
Jeff Bridges, in a once in a lifetime performance, is Jeff 'The Dude' Lebowski, a layabout bowler and a Creedence Clearwater fan in 1991 Los Angeles. The Dude spends his days bowling and arguing with his two friends, ex-surfer Donny played by Steve Buscemi and Vietnam vet cum psychotic Walter played by the incomparable John Goodman. Arriving home one evening, he walks in on two hoodlums looking to collect a debt owed by a Jeffrey Lewbowski and his trophy wife Bunny to a Jackie Treehorn. One of them decides to urinate on The Dude's rug when the case of mistaken identity becomes apparent. The Dude decides to contact the big Lebowski and get compensation for his soiled rug. He is quickly drawn into a web of double crosses as he seeks to get to the bottom of the disappearance of Bunny Lebowski involving a trio of German nihilists, a pornographer,  a teenage car thief, a private detective, an artist who describes her work as "strongly vaginal" and Dude's crazy friend Walther.

The Dude: And, you know, he's got emotional problems, man. 
Walter Sobchak: You mean... beyond pacifism?

This is a gem of a movie, an absurdist take on the kind of hard boiled detective tales so often set in Los Angeles and penned by the likes of Chandler and Hammet. It has the kind of gleefully bizarre cast of characters that one only encounters in a Coen Brothers picture. Bridges' The Dude is a latter day stoner Philip Marlowe and his interactions with his crazy Vietnam obsesses friend played by Goodman are a highlight of the film. 


Donny: Are these the Nazis, Walter? 
Walter Sobchak: No, Donny, these men are nihilists. There's nothing to be afraid of.


Less of a cogent tale then a series of encounters between The Dude and the oddballs which populate Southern California. In that sense, it is perhaps the most quotable film of all time with so many witty one liners, it is difficult to pick your favourite. Add this to a series of bizarre dream sequences  set to the music of Kenny Rogers and you have a film that really can't be missed.


The Dude: Mr. Treehorn treats objects like women, man. 
Malibu Police Chief: Mr. Treehorn draws a lot of water in this town. You don't draw shit, Lebowski. Now we got a nice, quiet little beach community here, and I aim to keep it nice and quiet. So let me make something plain. I don't like you sucking around, bothering our citizens, Lebowski. I don't like your jerk-off name. I don't like your jerk-off face. I don't like your jerk-off behavior, and I don't like you, jerk-off. Do I make myself clear? 
The Dude: [after a pause] I'm sorry, I wasn't listening. 


A commercial failure on its release in 1998, perhaps because its unstructured tale of idiocy clashed with the kind of crowd attracted to the Coen's work after the roaring success of Fargo. In the years since, it has come to be seen as the true classic it is and indeed has spawned a whole cottage industry of Dude related paraphernalia and even a festival.

Walter Sobchak: Nihilists! Fuck me. I mean, say what you like about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it's an ethos.

Ultimately, this is the kind of film you either love or hate. You either buy in to the bizarre circumstances and run with it or you don't. It is a brilliant film held together by a fine ensemble cast and with perhaps the best script the Coens have ever written. A real must see.


Da Fino, Private Snoop: I'm a brother shamus! 
The Dude: Brother Seamus? Like an Irish monk? 
Da Fino, Private Snoop: What the fuck are you talking about?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Flick of The Day: Pater

I have often pondered the cultural divide between nations, particularly when it comes to cinema. It often appears that European cinema is far more cultured and worldly than the standard multiplex fare created in Hollywood but then perhaps that  is just a perception formed by the fact that we tend to only see the higher quality films from Germany, France, South Korea, etc exported to our shores given the costs of subtitling and release. I am sure each of these countries produce plenty of dodgy action and schlock horror flicks. We just never see them. That said, there is undoubtedly a wildly different attitude in cinematic taste from country to country. The less developed a country, the less developed its tastes though this is not a hard and fast rule. Since the dawn of cinema, it was the art form of the poor working classes. Imagery transcends language barriers in immigrant communities so much easier than other forms.
With this in mind, today's flick of the day is Pater, an experimental narrative from France which received an inexplicable 17 minute standing ovation at Cannes and yet will probably never receive a cinematic release outside of France. A matter of national taste surely.
From director Alain Cavalier and actor Vincent Lindon, two doyens of the French avant garde cinema comes this experimental political satire. Over a serious of lunches and meetings over the course of a year, the two men take on two characters and create a narrative around them that is at once compelling and complex. Cavalier becomes the President of France, an ageing politician looking to retire. Lindon is his new Prime Minister. Together they aim to change France forever by instituting a maximum wage in France. As the meetings progress, they become more drawn into their tall tale and the characters they have created, ad libbing conflicts and speeches they will give as they lurch from one policy decision to another. 
While never likely to be a commercial success outside of France, there is an interesting film here. Filming with handheld cameras and playing without a script, this is as much about film making as it a story.  It is interesting to see talented people become drawn into roles they have invented and driven from the beginning. At one point, Lindon acknowledges this, saying that he now walks down the street wondering why the nation doesn't consult him on important matters like his character.
I think it probably says much about France that this film was such a success at Cannes. As a nation, they would seem to have more time for the arcane and the odd then other nationalities I can think of. Alain Cavalier has long forged his own path in French cinema and it is a testament to his talent that he can attract an actor of the calibre of Vincent Lindon to such a non-commercial project. While not to everyone's taste, it stands up as piece of cinema if not as a piece of entertainment.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Flick of The Day: The Ides of March

The political thriller is very much a phenomenon of the 1970's when films like All The Presidents Men, The Parallax View and The Candidate took advantage of the cinema going public's cynicism and lack of public trust in the wake of the Watergate scandal. For the first time, people began to question the character of their political figures with a degree of circumspection. This kind of introspective and downhearted view of America gradually disappeared during the Reagan era, when the enemy was no longer within but in the left wing ideology of films like Salvador and a former flick of the day, The Killing Fields. Today's flick of the day, The Ides of March, then is very much a throwback to a different era from its stark opening credits to its dark hearted ending, and all the better for it.
George Clooney makes a welcome return to form as a director after 2008's misbegotten Leatherheads with this extremely well acted old school thriller. The cast is stellar, Clooney himself is the idealized Democratic Presidential candidate Mike Morris on the cusp of victory in the primaries. His campaign is guided by the hard bitten campaigner Paul, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman and the idealistic Stephen Myers, played by current Hollywood golden boy Ryan Gosling, most recently seen in Drive. Together they are engaged in a bitter war with the opposing strategist played by the ever reliable Paul Giamatti. A great ensemble cast but this is very much Gosling's movie. He holds the screen in a manner that at once confirms him as an actor of note, if his previous performances in Blue Valentine and Lars and The Real Girl were not enough.  Stephen is approached by Giamatti to switch sides in the final days of campaigning for the Ohio primary and neglects to tell his boss Paul about it. He soon finds himself on the outside looking in but not before discovering a dark secret involving a staffer played by Evan Rachel Wood with tragic consequences that could derail Mike Morris's campaign.
Adapted from a play called Farragut North by Beau Willimon, this film's theatrical origins are evident from early on with some long dialogue heavy scenes. This is no bad thing though for it allows the actors to really put some meat on the bones of their characters, something so often missing from modern thrillers. Gosling gives a very powerful performance as an idealistic young man, a true believer who sees his innocence completely dispelled. The best scenes are the one on ones between Gosling and each of the other leads. A tension filled scene in a Hotel room between Gosling and Hoffman, a look behind the curtain of idealism between Giamatti and Gosling and finally a dark late night game of verbal chicken between Clooney and Gosling. Each scene gives the sense that Clooney deliberately built the film around his actors, giving them the opportunity to show off their considerable talents. 
Ultimately though this is a drama, and a downbeat one at that. By the end, everyone including the audience is stripped of their innocence and the films ends quietly and ambiguously. Indeed, at the screening I attended nobody moved as the credits began to roll which I have always taken as a sign of a film hitting its dramatic targets. 


Tom Duffy: Get out, now. Or otherwise... 
Stephen Meyers: Otherwise, I'll end up like you? 
Tom Duffy: Yeah, you end up being a jaded, cynical asshole, just like me.


It could be argued the film is deeply cynical about the American election system though my personal view is that it is if anything more realistic than one would care to imagine. A fine drama, backed up by a superb male cast who make the best of their roles and Clooney deserves credit for having the gumption to cast himself as the slickly packaged candidate, a role so perfect for him that  you could easily see it ruined by casting somebody else. A fine film and well worth your time.


Monday, November 14, 2011

Flick of The Day: George Harrison Living in the Material World

The Beatles are one of the cultural touchstones of the 20th Century and their story has been told many times across numerous formats. It is refreshing then for director Martin Scorsese to look at this in a different light by examining the life and times of perhaps the most interesting member of the group, George Harrison in his new documentary Living in the Material World, which is today's flick of the day.
Music, and particularly that which he enjoyed in the 60's and 70's has long been an important part of the work of Martin Scorsese. There is an obvious love there for his favourite artists which comes through in his use of music. This passion is put to good use in this enjoyable and in depth look at George Harrison's life. It opens with his youth in Liverpool, a warm and loving family upon which he built his life. Moving on to his life with the Beatles, we see in depth how it shaped him as a man. Each of The Beatles look impossibly young at the beginning and haggard by the end, perhaps a metaphor for their time together. It becomes apparent that it was but a small part of Harrison's life. For his part, he set out to live his life in a spiritual manner and his life after The Beatles was at the heart of this. Scorsese is at pains to emphasise this aspect of his life and it shines through as the strongest aspect of the film. 
If Harrison had a credo, it was to live life to the fullest and just the once. He would probably have no time at all for people sitting around dissecting his every decision. However, this is the level of depth the documentary goes into without really giving us great insight. There is a wealth of footage, and any fan will find much to enjoy as each major event is well documented and ultimately what you are left with is a portrait of a man who lived life to the full, made the best of his gifts and was rich in friends. The number of people who speak of their love for George is an incredible cross section of talented individuals. From Eric Clapton to The Pythons to Jackie Stewart, he seemed to attract people from all walks of life.
All in all, this is a worthy look at an interesting man and if the picture has a flaw, it is that despite all of the footage and the interviews and an obvious attempt to examine his spirituality, you aren't left with a complete portrait. Yet it comes in at over 3 hours and 20 minutes running time, leaving you with a feeling that focusing on less in more detail might have created a fuller portrait of the man. That said, there is much here to enjoy and Scorsese seems to really care about Harrison, rarely is their a negative word about the man. We never really examine his heavy drug use post The Beatles and rarely are events stitched together with the kind of cogency required of great documentaries. However, it is fascinating all the same and well worth a look.

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