Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Flick of The Day: Jerry Maguire

Tom Cruise has had a storied career both on and off the screen, playing roles as diverse as a disabled Vietnam vet in Born on the 4th of July, an Irish peasant in Far and Away, lawyers, racing drivers, fighter pilots and secret agents. Up until recently he was untouchable at the box office, delivering consistent profits for everyone. However perhaps his best roles have been those very few where he has pushed himself as an actor such as today's flick of the day, Jerry Maguire, a potent mixture of comedy, romance and the vacuous nature of the corporate world.
Written and directed by Cameron Crowe, a flick of the day favourite with Singles, Say Anything and the great  Almost Famous, this is a tale of a self centred sports agent, Jerry Maguire played by Tom Cruise, who having sold his soul decides to grow a heart with terrible consequences for his career. After writing a preaching memo about the future of his agency in the dead of night, he soon finds himself out of work, single and with a solitary client. This is the egotistical big mouth football star Rod Tidwell played by a career best Cuba Gooding Jr. In an oft parodied scene, he requests Jerry to show him the money. Jerry's only other support is an idealistic single mother Dorothy Boyd played by Renee Zellweger who follows Jerry out of the agency because she believes in him. Jerry has to try and put his life back together while doing the best for Rod and becoming romantically entangled with Dorothy. Along the way he learns how to be a better man then he ever was when on top of the world.
The real selling point for this movie is its heart. Jerry falls hard, his wife leaves him and his friends abandon him and it is only through this callous betrayal that he learns something about himself. It is an unusually nuanced performance from Cruise, giving Maguire a soulful edge. All round the cast is excellent though. Cuba Gooding Jr is as good as he has ever been as the always over the top Tidwell, the kind of irritating whiny professional sportsman we have becomes used to seeing. Zellweger makes the most of her girl next door role as the single mother who goes against her practical nature to help a man she believes in and harbours secret feelings for.

Jerry Maguire: I'm finished, I'm fucked. Twenty-four hours ago, man, I was hot! Now... I'm a cautionary tale. You see this jacket I'm wearing, you like it? Because I don't really need it. Because I'm cloaked in failure! I lost the number one draft picked the night before the draft! Why? Let's recap: Because a hockey player's kid made me feel like a superficial jerk. I ate two slices of bad pizza, went to bed and grew a conscience! 
 Rod Tidwell: Well, boo-fucking-hoo

Crowe's script perfectly juggles the different aspects of its story from the romance between Jerry and Dorothy to the drama of the ups and downs of professional football.
Special mention has to go to young Jonathan Lipnicki as Dorothy's son Ray. He steals almost all of the scenes he is in and there is a real spark to the conversations he has with a lonely Jerry. 

Jerry Maguire: The fuckin zoo is closed, Ray. 
Ray: You said fuck. 
Jerry Maguire: Uh... yeah... I... 
Ray: Don't worry. I won't tell.

As the film moves toward a feel good and heartfelt resolution, we are left with the believe that Jerry has learned to be a better person. After all, his only real crime was to tell the truth and look where it gets him. It's a telling example of how vicious the modern world is for the individual who steps out of the corporate line.

Ultimately, the film was a massive success for all involved giving Cuba Gooding Jr his only Oscar win and yet another nomination for Cruise. A fine film, it takes a different look at the world of professional sports and the lives of the people involved.  The ending is neither trite nor overly sentimental and it makes the best of its constituent parts. I define anyone not to find the final climax compelling viewing.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Flick of The Day: Blade Runner

In my review last week of The Adjustment Bureau, I noted the contribution that the work of Philip K. Dick has made to science fiction and to Hollywood in general. Perhaps the best film to come from his work, and also perhaps one of the best science fiction films of all time is today's flick of the day, Blade Runner, from director Ridley Scott. A critical and commercial failure on is release in 1982, it has since gone on to be highly influential and reappraised as the classic it is.
Opening with a beautiful and disturbing vision of the future, Los Angeles 2019. A dystopia in which genetically engineered robots known as replicants have become common place but are now banned from earth, forced to work on the off world colonies. We are soon introduced to Deckard, a brilliantly underplayed Harrison Ford, is a retired cop who used to work as a Blade Runner, licensed to catch and kill any replicants caught on earth. Scott's vision of Los Angeles is a dark cramped Asian city cast in almost permanent darkness with corporate advertising and its neon glow framing each shot with flying cars and at the top of this society is the Tyrell Corporation who design and build the replicants. They are designed to have short lifespans as a control however a rogue group led by Roy Batty, a brilliant Rutger Hauer have made their way to earth in search of an extension. Deckard is forced to come back on the job in search of Roy and his gang by his shady boss, the always creepy M. Emmet Walsh. Part film noir, part sci fi the film follows Deckard and his hunt for the replicants which leads to a bloody finale where he must confront the fearsome Roy.
Set to a perfectly futuristic score by Vangelis, this is a dark and yet beautiful vision of the future. A society with a junk filled culture in which advertising dominated the skyline. There are vast temple like skyscrapers which reach toward the skyline while the ground level is made up of crumbling slums of 20th Century buildings. Roy and Deckard have their final confrontation in an ornate gothic mansion in the depths of the city while neon signs for Coca Cola and TDK look down on them. This combined with a great cast make for an entertaining if dark film. Harrison Ford and Rutger Hauer are justly lauded for their performances and Hauer's ad libbed soliloquy is a great final line, evoking images of the far reaches of the universe.

"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I've watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die. "

The film is both awfully prescient and tellingly relevant in terms of the questions it asks about artificial intelligence. Advertising has become ever present in the intervening years and there is a deleted scene featuring technology like E-Readers. In terms of the replicants, it is not hard to feel sorry for them and their situation even the murderous Roy. They are forced to live a life that lasts but 4 years and yet have all of the emotions and needs of a real human. A pertinent question today as we move more and more toward the use of artificial intelligence.
While it performed poorly on its release, it has since come to be seen as a classic. It marries complex themes with and enjoyable detective storyline and this was perhaps too far ahead of its time for the audiences of 1982. There have been numerous versions of the film since its release as Ridley Scott has played around with it and had  it played around with by studios. Perhaps the definitive version is 2007's The Final Cut and this is the version I have reviewed as it fully realises Scott's vision of the film.

Deckard: You're reading a magazine. You come across a full-page nude photo of a girl. 
Rachael: Is this testing whether I'm a replicant or a lesbian, Mr. Deckard?

All in all, this is a really great film which anyone with even a passing interest in the genre has to see. The influence of its design and technical achievement cannot be overstated. Rutger Hauer gives the performance of a lifetime and there is a fine supporting cast including Daryl Hannah.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Flick of The Day: The Goonies

During my review of Super 8 earlier this month, I noted its similarity to classic film's like today's flick of the day The Goonies. Perhaps the biggest link between the two and the strongest aspect of both films is the interaction between the child actors, which gives the film a great sense of being true to life. The dialogue feels lived in. The other similarity is the sense of adventure and this is perhaps why The Goonies is fondly remembered so many years after its release.
From a story by Steven Spielberg, this is the tale of a gang of misfit kids from the "Goon Docks" neighbourhood of Astoria, Oregon who will soon be split up as a group of developers seek to turn their homes into a golf club. The stellar cast includes a very young Sean Astin as Mikey, Josh Brolin as his older brother Brandon and that most 80's of actors Corey Feldman. With nothing to do on their last weekend in the town, they hang about as teenagers are wont to do. While looking through the attic where Mike's historian father keeps some aged local history exhibits, they stumble across a Spanish map belonging to a famous Pirate, One-Eyed Willie. Becoming convinced that Willie's treasure is buried just off the coast of Astoria, they set off to find it. Along the way they fall into the hands of the evil Fratellis, a gang of wanted criminals. This being Spielberg, they eventually stumble onto Willie's trail and have to face a number of quirky and dangerous obstacles and booby traps as they race to get to the treasure before the Fratellis. 
This film is a thrill ride from start to finish with the kind of adventure filled storyline that appeals to all ages. The search for buried treasure is the kind of premise that has filled cinemas from the days of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre to Raiders of the Lost Ark. While the child cast rely on the usual tropes, (the fat kid, the pretty cheerleader, the Asian kid with gadgets), they are so well drawn as clich├ęs and the dialogue so true to life that they remain charming throughout. Their is enough humour to carry things through.

Elgin Perkins: Hello guys. I'm Mr Perkins, Troy's father. 
Richard 'Data' Wang: I know Troy. He's that cheap guy. 
Brandon Walsh: My dad's not home Mr. Perkins. 
Elgin Perkins: Is your mommy here? 
Brandon Walsh: [scarcastic] No, actually she's out at the market buying Pampers for all us kids. 
Elgin Perkins: [feigning laughing] Papers Joe. You can give these to your father to read through and sign. I'll be by to pick them up in the morning.

As usual with Spielberg, this is never a film that talks down to its youthful audience, nothing is sugar coated for a childhood demographic and perhaps that is why it still appeals to adults even today. Perhaps one of the worst development of the last 20 years has been cinema created purely for 5- 10 year old's with no thought for the parents forced to sit through it. One can't help but look back at this film with nostalgia, it is a triumph on all fronts. Its perfectly melds the need for action set pieces with old fashioned storytelling. The film spawned a number of poor imitators in its wake but none had the lasting impact of Richard Donner's film. Donner coaxed performances from the child actors by playing little tricks on them. They were not allowed to see the full scale model of Willie's pirate ship until they filmed the scene for the first time. Thus their reactions were genuine childhood wonder and this feeds throughout the film.
While very few of the cast, Josh Brolin apart, would go on to great fame and success, they each excelled in their own little way in this film. Donner would go on to make all four of the increasingly turgid Lethal Weapon franchise but this is perhaps his best work. All in all, a very enjoyable film and one to seek out if you haven't seen it yet. It is one of those touchstones of growing up in the 80's and 90's. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Flick of The Day: The Adjustment Bureau

Hollywood will forever owe a debt of gratitude to the American author Philip K. Dick. Perhaps not as well known as he should be, Dick was a writer of grand metaphysical science fiction exploring such disparate themes as authoritarianism, drug usage, mental illness and elements of theology. Like so many writers, Dick spent most of his life in relative poverty and yet since his death his work has been adapted into numerous big budget pictures, sometimes well sometimes poorly but always profitably. Film's include Total Recall, Blade Runner, A Scanner Darkly, Minority Report and today's flick of the day, The Adjustment Bureau.
David Norris is a dashing young politician, ably played by the usually dashing Matt Damon, with a promising future as a Congressman and campaigner. However, on the night he loses his first big election he meets a young woman named Elise, played by Emily Blunt while practising a concession speech in the toilets. Making an instant connection, they appear perfect for each other. Then fate intervenes to pull them apart. Years pass and David becomes enchanted by the memory of Elise, seeking her out on city buses. Eventually they reunite only to be separated again. However, what if it is not fate pulling them apart but something all together more sinister. Enter the Adjustment Bureau. A group of dapper gents dressed like Mad Men, who intervene in human life to ensure everything stays according to the plan set down by the The Chairman, a god like being. There are fine turns from John Slattery and Terence Stamp as adjusters. Of course before long David stumbles on the bureau doing its work and they tell him the truth. That the plan says he and Elise are not to be together. He cant't leave it alone though and sets about defying the bureau and seeking out Elise so that they may be together. How far is he willing to go for a relationship?
While at times mind bending, this is a thoroughly enjoyable tale. It strikes a fine balance between an old fashioned romance and the action of a chase movie. Depending on your point of view, you may view David and Elise's obsession with each other as unreasonable but I suppose anyone with a romantic bent can't but fall for their love at first sight tale. Such a story is as old as time, from Tristan & Isolde to Romeo & Juliet, star crossed lovers overcoming resistance has always made a good story. It helps of course that there is some fine chemistry between Blunt and Damon. The film asks that fundamental question, how far are you willing to go for love? In the case of Elise and David, the answer is pretty damn far.
The film hints at the larger consequences of Elise and David staying together not just for their own lives but perhaps for the world in general. If there is any criticism it is that not enough is made of this. The special effects and the powers of the adjustment bureau are particularly enjoyable aspects, giving the film the wow factor which when added to a great story makes for a decent film.

David Norris: What ever happened to Free Will? 
Thompson: We actually tried Free Will before. After taking you from hunting and gathering to the height of the Roman Empire we stepped back to see how you'd do on your own. You gave us the Dark Ages for five centuries... until finally we decided we should come back in. The Chairman thought maybe we just needed to do a better job of teaching you how to ride a bike before taking the training wheels off again. So we gave you the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Scientific Revolution. For six hundred years we taught you to control your impulses with reason, then in 1910 we stepped back. Within fifty years, you'd brought us World War I, the Depression, Fascism, the Holocaust and capped it off by bringing the entire planet to the brink of destruction in the Cuban Missile Crisis. At that point a decision was taken to step back in again before you did something that even we couldn't fix. You don't have free will, David. You have the appearance of free will.

All in all a fine film, and another fine adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story which once again begs the question, how long can Hollywood plow through his body of work for ideas? A while longer I'm sure. In any case, Matt Damon and Emily Blunt make the best of their roles.Well worth a look and those peddling the idea that this is a poor man's Inception would do well to reconsider.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Flick of The Day: Super 8

Today's flick of the day, Super 8 is an ode not just to the 1970s childhood of creator, JJ Abrams but to the kind of child friendly films created by Steven Spielberg in his heyday. As has been noted elsewhere, this film owes a debt to the likes of E.T and The Goonies but quite specifically to Close Encounters of the Third Kind
In the winter of 1979, Joe Lamb loses his mother in a work accident and he and his father, the town Sheriff are left to find their feet. The film fasts forward to the following Summer with Joe and his father sharing an increasingly fraught relationship. Joe spends his days making a zombie movie on a Super 8 camera with his friends including best friend and bossy director Charles and the object of his affections Alice. Late one night, they sneak out to film at the local railway line. As they play with make-up and lighting, a heavy freight train thunders into view. A  car suddenly appears driving down the tracks, causing the train to derail in a fiery wreck. Before long, the military arrive and the motley crew flee the scene. Of course, strange things begin to occur around the small town. The military deny there is anything wrong but Joe and his father are not so sure. As things began to go awry and the military lose control, Joe and his friends try to find out what has been causing it and come to a shocking discovery.
This really is a fine effort at the kind of feel good sci-fi film created by Spielberg. The kids are terribly precocious and entertaining with particularly fine turns from Elle Fanning and Joel Courtney as Alice and Joe. The film exudes the kind of heart that was so evident in E.T and The Goonies and is filled to the brim with period elements and pop culture giving it an authentic feel. The teenager with a new invention called a Walkman, listening to Blondie. The kids sing along to My Sharona and a news broadcast talks of the 3 Mile Island disaster. It drags you into this little world and before long you are rooting for the small townsfolk against those pesky Air Force men.
As the film moves toward a finale, it becomes obvious that it is as much a story of Joe and his father coming together and grieving over the death of his mother. I suppose the difference between this and some of Spielberg's efforts is Abrams is not gifted when dealing with emotion. Remember how sombre and quiet E.T was at times. Super 8 always feels loud and bombastic even in tender scenes. That said, overall there is much to enjoy. This is a story driven Hollywood blockbuster and there is no 3D in sight. Be thankful for small mercies. It is a damning indictment when making a film that is effectively a homage to another director is a cause for celebration.
Perhaps I am too harsh though for in a Summer of tripe like yet another Transformers film, this is the best film I have seen bar John Michael McDonagh's The Guard.  I predict a bright future for some of the child actors and look forward to the next effort from Mr Abrams. Well worth a trip to the cineplex.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Flick of The Day: High Fidelity

Adapting a classic novel for the screen is a difficult proposition. If you swerve too far from the source material, you alienate the core fanbase. On the other hand, if you are too slavish to the material, the film doesn't stand on its own two feet as a work of art. There is of course a happy medium and today's flick of the day, High Fidelity, is a pitch perfect adaptation of Nick Hornby's wonderful novel.

Rob, played by the terribly likeable John Cusack, is breaking up with his girlfriend Laura. He begins to think back through his relationship failures over the years, in the hope of gaining insight as to why Laura left him. While he works through these in flashbacks, Rob expands on his life as the owner of a poorly located record shop, Championship Vinyl, where Rob and his oddball staff played by the brilliant Jack Black and Todd Louiso spend their days talking music, compiling top 5 lists and generally treating their customers poorly. Rob comes to realize that each of his failed relationships had a different cause and that he isn't doomed to be dumped. Ultimately Laura wants more from the relationship then Ron had been prepared  to give and to Rob's horror moves in with uber-annoying hippie Ian, a wonderfully over the top performance from Tim Robbins. Can Ron and Laura work it out?
This really isn't your standard rom-com about a man with relationship trouble who happens to own a record store. It is so much more. It is a film about people who put popular culture at the centre of their lives to the detriment of everything else. Rob's problem is that he still lives like a teenage boy, obsessed with music. It is very true to the source novel, despite shifting the action to Cusack's native Chicago. You don't have to a music snob to enjoy the film but there are plenty of in jokes to satisfy the trendy obscurists. The Beta Band sales drive is a personal favourite and overall there is a lot of humour. Jack Black makes the most of his turn as the obnoxious Barry, capturing perfectly the character Hornby wrote.

                                              Barry's Customer: Hi, do you have the song "I Just Called To Say I Love  You?" It's for my daughter's birthday. 
Barry: Yea we have it. 
Barry's Customer: Great, Great, can I have it? 
Barry: No, no, you can't. 
Barry's Customer: Why not? 
Barry: Well, it's sentimental tacky crap. Do we look like the kind of store that sells I Just Called to Say I Love You? Go to the mall.

Stephen Frears is of course an old hand at this kind of thing, having adapted two of Roddy Doyle's Barrytown trilogy for the screen amongst other things. In short there is much to enjoy here.
The film, of course, is possessed of a great soundtrack with literally hundreds of songs and snippets of songs slipped into the film. It illustrates Rob and his friends obsession and carries the film along nicely.

Rob: I can see now I never really committed to Laura. I always had one foot out the door, and that prevented me from doing a lot of things, like thinking about my future and... I guess it made more sense to commit to nothing, keep my options open. And that's suicide. By tiny, tiny increments.

All in all, a great film adaptation of a classic novel. Of course the novel is still more enjoyable and better somehow but this is as fine an adaptation as I have seen in awhile. The script and the characterisations are perfect. Cusack excels as the man-child, while Jack Black plays the ignorant clown better then anyone else. If you haven't seen it, check it out.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Flick of The Day: In The Loop

Political satire is a tricky thing to pull off but when done well can be devastatingly biting. The BBC series The Thick of It has for a number of years been the best comedy on British television. Its creator Armando Iannucci has managed to largely transfer the raw energy of that show to the big screen with this adaptation and today's flick of the day, In the Loop.
Transplanting much of the cast of the television series albeit in different roles, the film follows in much the same vein. It is the background to the broader political machinations, there are no Presidents and Prime Ministers just staffers and advisers and small time cabinet ministers played by the likes of Tom Hollander and Chris Addison, all under the viciously acerbic gaze of Director of Communications Malcom Tucker, played by the incomparable Peter Capaldi. Tucker is loud profane and always great viewing. The cast is rounded out by the always good James Gandolfini as a US General.The story revolves around a prospective American military invasion in the middle east and the path to war. 
There is some great knowing humour in the various background rivalries between government departments as they move ever closer to war. From Hollander's witless Minister to Addison's incompetent and breathlessly ignorant adviser, there is an air of truth to these characters. Government is portrayed as being as incompetent and small minded as we have always secretly imagined.

Sir Jonathan Tutt: Let me tell you the process here, Malcolm, and why that's not possible...
Malcolm Tucker: Just fucking do it! Otherwise you'll find yourself in some medieval war zone in the Caucasus with your arse in the air, trying to persuade a group of men in balaclavas that sustained sexual violence is not the fucking way forward!

Of course all the best lines are Capaldi's much as it is in the series. If there is one major flaw, it is that it just isn't in the same class as the tightly written show upon which it is based. The film feels stretched too thin over its running time. There is only so many Capaldi one liners that can carry it through.
That said when its good, it is very good and is still a witty class above all of its peers. It loses itself in the second half of the film but overall is well worth a look.

Lt. Gen. George Miller: I'm a voracious reader. I'm the Gore Vidal of the Pentagon. 
Karen Clarke: Gore's gay. 
Lt. Gen. George Miller: No, he's not! 
Karen Clarke: I beg to differ, but... 
Lt. Gen. George Miller: He's gay? 'Cause I've been saying that Gore Vidal line.
Karen Clarke: He is gay. 
Lt. Gen. George Miller: [pause] Guess I'd better stop saying that then.

All in all, an enjoyable film and anything that spreads the genius of Iannucci around the world is a worthwhile expedition. There is also a small but very funny cameo from Iannucci regular Steve Coogan. Capaldi and Gandolfini are the real stars of the film and their final stand-off is a sight. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Flick of The Day: Friday Night Lights

Sport, as we have noted before in our reviews of Fever Pitch and Senna, contains all the basic elements of great drama. There is the necessary conflict in that there can only be one winner in a game. There is the full gamut of human emotion from the heartbreaking tragedy of Aryton Senna's death to the elation of Arsenal's winning season in Fever Pitch. It is something which brings out the obsessive in us all. Today's flick of the day, Friday Night Lights, attempts to document this obsession in the form of a small town football team in West Texas.
Odessa, Texas 1988. The home of the Permian High School Panthers, a football team setting out on the road to a State Championship. From the early days of pre season training to the bitter finale, the film attempts to document the entire season in a town where football is the only game and where second place is not acceptable. The obsessive nature of the townsfolk is scary at times as it threatens to weight down the student athletes. The young cast and the small town people are well sketched. There is the star player who will supposedly carry the team to glory, Boobie Miles played by Derek Luke. The tough quarterback with a hard family life, Mike played by Lucas Black of Fast and the Furious fame. The abusive and domineering father played by a surprisingly good Tim McGraw and above all the world weary head coach played by a career best Billy Bob Thornton,
The first thing that must be said is that the film transcends its sport. I have little or no knowledge of American Football and yet I found it very compelling. Ultimately this is a tale of the power of hope and the dangers of obsession. You would have to a heart of stone not to feel a little sympathy for the team at their lowest point. They go through everything together as a team and undoubtedly come out at the end as better people because of it.

Coach Gary Gaines: [half-time speech] I want you to take a moment, and I want you to look each other in the eyes. I want you to put each other in your hearts forever because forever is about to happen here in just a few minutes. I want you to close your eyes, and I want you to think about Boobie Miles, who is your brother. And he would die to be out there in that field with you tonight. And I want you to put that in your hearts. Boys my heart is full. My heart is full.

Thornton is near perfect as the coach under an immense pressure from the various grandees around town to deliver a title. He inhabits the role to a degree I have not seen in his other work. Lucas Black also gives a fine performance as the taciturn quarterback who is torn between looking after himself and looking after his ill mother. Tim McGraw is also excellent as a deeply flawed father to one of the players, in a compelling and intense performance.
All in all, this is an enjoyable and compelling film, making the most of a great real life story adapted from a 1990 bestseller by American journalist H.G Bissinger. There are some fine performances from a decent all round cast and it manages to get to the heart of the dangerous obsession fans have for their teams to the detriment of the rest of their lives. Well worth a look.

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