Monday, 30 July 2012

Gentleman Broncos

Title: Gentlemen Broncos
Director: Jared Hess
Released: 2009
Staring: Michael Angarano, Jemaine Clement, Héctor Jiménez, Mike White, Sam Rockwell, Jennifer Coolidge, Hailey Feiffer
Plot: Following Benjamin (Angarano) is an aspiring sci-fi writer and eternal loner, whose entry at a writing competition being held at a local fantasy convention, gets ripped off by his hero the legendary (if slightly eccentric) sci-fi writer Chevalier (Clement). Meanwhile Benjamin also has to contend with his equally eccentric fashion designer mother and the town’s most prolific indie film maker Lonnie (Jiménez).

Review: There are directors whom I think I will never understand their appeal and I guess Jared Hess is a prime example of this, for after exploding onto the indie scene with the cult favourite “Napoleon Dynamite”, he made a brief assault on mainstream film making with the underrated “Nacho Libre”, before returning to his indie roots once more with this week’s film in question “Gentleman Broncos” were he continues to peddle his unique brand of awkward humour, in what could easily be considered the spiritual sequel to “Napoleon Dynamite”

Fans of Hess’s previous films might as well start hunting this one down now, seeing how it’s essentially more of the same, which will no doubt raise further groans if your like me and didn’t exactly get what was supposedly so funny about “Napoleon Dynamite”. A movie whose only purpose seemed to be, so that minor celebrities could try and seem slightly hip for listing it in their favourite movies. For myself it was a film with a spattering humorous moments, scattered amongst a cast of truly unlikable and frequently nauseating characters, whom Hess seemed to have little interest in making any more appealing and here’s it’s essentially a case of same song second verse, as he introduces a new set of equally awkward characters living out their lives in small town America, while perhaps he does deserve some credit for at least giving us here a fairly likeable lead character.

Benjamin is a man of few words, as he spends most of the film shifting almost wordlessly from situation to situation and generally struggling to muster any form of emotion beyond comfortably numb or infuriated rage. Still while he might lack any of the admittedly misguided confidence that Napoleon had, he certainly makes up for it with writing talent, as he obsessively writes to escape his humdrum existence, crafting his own hero in the form of Bronco the lead character in his book “Yeast Lords”, an infinitely masculine character who battles evil Cyclops over yeast production and whose adventures are played out as short movie clips at various points of the film with Bronco being played by Sam Rockwell, who honestly embodies this random role, even when he’s playing the transvestite version Brutus who replaces Bronco in Chevalier’s rip off version of the novel “Brutus and Balzaak”, with both versions of the story being essentially what you’d expect one of Hess’s fantasies to be like with flying stag’s, a gonad stealing villain let alone the aforementioned Cyclops which for some reason all look like Bernard Bresslaw’s Cyclops from “Krull”??

Still back in the so called real world of this film, it’s clear that Hess might have been aiming for Chevlier to have been the villain of the film, he is woefully underused here, especially as his workshop scenes at the bizarrely titled “Cletus Fest” were he hands out questionable pearls of writing wisdom to aspiring writers being amongst the strongest scenes we get outside of the Bronco shorts. Still the main problem we have here though is that it is really only in the last thirty minutes that he becomes any kind of threat to Benjamin and even then it’s only as far as a heated exchange. No doubt “Flight of the Concords” fans will no doubt lap up this appearance by Clement, who has along with his role in the equally awkward “Eagle Vs. Shark” has really started to make a career from playing droll characters of questionable moral standards and this is yet another fun character to add to his repertoire, let alone baring a striking resemblance to director Hess.

However what is still not clear to me though is why Hess, seems to have such a fascination with making such unlikable characters, as three films in and his motives for this are none the less clear with the prime offender here being Lonnie, a character who made me want to strange the life out of him every time he appeared on the screen, as every aspect of this character seems designed to either make my skin crawl or just annoy the crap out me, especially with Jiménez who was so much fun in “Nacho Libre” yet just plain horrible here constantly pulling what would by all observations seem to be his best impression of a trout, as every scene with this character is painfully over played, while we also get at the same time our redneck quota is filled by Mike White’s Dusty, who appears as a part guardian angel and part Whitesnake tribute act, while for myself being another skin crawling character, especially when his sole funny moment in the film is when his pet snake decides to take a dump on him, though it is unclear why Hess is so obsessed with characters as greasy as this, especially when they have all the personality of a house brick.

On the more redeeming side of things, Hess has once more compiled a decent soundtrack which see’s Zager & Evan’s “In The Year 2525” making a welcome appearance over the opening and end credits, much like Cher’s “Just Like Jessie James” towards the end of the film, no doubt replacing what would usually be a classic moment to dig out something from the Journey / Jefferson Starship back catalogue, while the majority of the soundtrack is divided between Ray Lynch and John Two-Hawks to impressive results.

While Hess might seem like the kind of director I would normally rave about, especially being a fan of Terry Zwigoff (Ghost World) and Todd Solondz (Welcome To The Dollhouse”, his characterisation lacks any of the quirk charm or smart dialogue and perhaps it’s the overwhelming sense of ordinariness in comparison that these character process, which makes it so grating, especially when it seems like Hess is basing his characters on the weirdo’s you usually find at the bus station. Still if you liked “Napoleon Dynamite” you’re probably going to lap this up, while if you’re like me it’s one probably best avoided, as there as this film proves a point were quirky just becomes plain weird!

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

The WTF? Book Club

In an attempt to kick start some interest in cult and obscure fiction and thanks largely to the inspiration provided by Jenn over at "Cavalcade of Perversions" who no stranger to some of the books in question, has been making her attempts to showcase great cult fiction. Sadly most of these books usually get overlooked in favour of whatever the latest fad is or perhaps what ever happens to be in the top 40 list.

So to help promote this shared personal mission to get more folks reading, I have launched "The WTF? Book Club" were at the start of each month we will nominate a book to read, with a discussion to be held at the end of the month for everyone to share their views and opinions. Aswell as this I will be aiming to post a full review of that month's chosen book here on the blog. Aswell as this I will of course I will also welcome links to any fellow bloggers posting reviews of the book and hopefully spark some cross blogging discussions aswell.

The hope is that this group will help introduce those whose reading consists of more than what's currently in the top 20 list, find some new authors and read books you might not have heard of as over the course of the coming months, we will be looking at books from a wide variety of genres from social satire and horror to Bizzaro fiction and maybe even a few which will that make you stop and say "What the f**k is wrong with this person?", as we feature books by authors like Bret Easton Ellis, Chuck Palahunik, Katherine Dunne, Edward Bunker, Charles Bukowski and more.

So why not head over to the Facebook page and join in the poll to choose our first book selection to be read in August.

Welcome to the club!

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Shock Horror!! I Won An Award!

 A blog is very much like each writers child and one which most of us view with the sort of parental pride, which see's you constructing the trophy shelf not long after they are born, only to often find that the child is a lethargic lump whose awful at sports and hence leaving your trophy shelf to gather dust. This in blogging terms is essentially the times when you wonder if anyone is actually reading your blog and if your just pretty much talking to yourself. It will also be around these times of doubt that someone will leave you a nice comment (or occasionally one to tell you that you don't know what your talking about in the case of "The Host") which restores the faith on what your doing.

However even more to my surprise was the fact that someone or more precisely the awesome "THEGREATWHITEDOPE'S mecha-blog-zilla"  has chosen to give me "The Liebster Award" which is the German word for sweetheart / beloved person.....I never knew he cared so much.

 So the rules for possession of The Liebster Award are as follows:

1) Each person must post 11 things about themselves.
2) Answer the question the tagger has set for you.
3) Create 11 questions for the people you have tagged to answer.
4) Choose 11 people and link them in your post.
5) Go to their page and tell them.
6) No tag backs.

Okay so lets kick this off with

11 Things About Myself

1. I have a worrying obsession with Collette Hiller, whose character of Ferro in "Aliens" was easily the coolest of any of the colonial marines.
2. My gran is possibly the person most responsible for my interest in horror movies, having spent many a misspent hour watching the likes of "Critters" and "Psycho". Her interest in horror films has also lead to interesting comments from her such as her opening a phone call with "Have you seen "I Spit On Your Grave" aswell as her recent comment that "Silent Hill" was abit timid!
3. I really like Pro-wrestling, no matter how much you want to tell me that its all fake
4. My fantasy diner party guest list would comprise of Quentin Tarantino, John Waters, Chuck Palahniuk, Elizabeth Wurtzel, Bret Easton Ellis and John Peel
5. I hate Musicals apart from The film version of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and "Calamity Jane".People just randomly bursting into song and dance is just wrong
6. I hate Karaoke were all your favourite songs butchered by strangers, yet I love Car-e-oke. I mean what else is the car stereo for??
7. My desk is always messy
8. I love Anaemic tea, but drink mainly coffee at work
9. My grandad was my biggest inspiration for me being a writer, having sparked the interest when he told me that I'd seen "Gremlins" so many times that I could write the script when I was a kid. This lead me to writing on his typewriter a questionable novelization of the movie. He was also responsible for creating a number for unofficial spin offs to "The Lord of Rings" were the characters dealt with slightly more trivial quests like trifle contests and soap box derbies, which he used to tell as bedtime stories for myself and my brother.
10. I love to read as much as I love movies and always have a book (or three) on the go, with my favorite authors including Bret Easton Ellis, Chuck Palahunik, Augusten Burroughs and David Sedaris

11. The first Godzilla movie I ever saw was "Ebirah Horror of the Deep" released stateside as "Godzilla Vs. The Sea Monster and sparked alongside "Destroy All Monsters" a life long obsession with Kajiu monsters.

11 Bloggers Who Deserve This Award

Jenn (Cavalcade of Perversions)

Emily (Deadly Dollhouse of Horror Nonsense)

The Goodkind (Lost Video Archive)

Diive Mistress (Zombots!)

DTV Connoisseur (Direct To Video Connoisseur)

Bryce (Things That Don't Suck)

Horror Movie A Day 

Patrick Galloway (Asia Shock)

Michele (The Girl Who Loves Horror)

Neil Fulwood (The Agitation of the Mind)

The Film Connoisseur (The Film Connoisseur)

The 11 Questions He Wanted Me To Answer

1. Can you remember the first TV ad for a horror movie that scared you?

The one which sticks with me was the teaser trailer for the seriously underrated "Alien 3", with it's tagline of "Three Times The Terror" plus I'm sure the footage of Ripley with the Alien had been edited so that it had an additional set of Pharyngeal Jaws, but I'd be darned if I've been either the trailer or footage to prove that this wasn't just a childhood delusion.

2. Whenever you look through your movie collection (we all have them), what movie do you find yourself surprised that you even own?

"The Truth About Cats And Dogs" which is such a great romantic comedy, yet it looks so out of place amongst the rest of the collection which is essentially made up of cult, foreign and obscure movies.

3. We're all bloggers here; in your writing, what word do you find yourself misspelling most often? (mine is "teh";  I HATE THAT ONE!!!)


4. What is the least funny comedy you have ever seen?  This can be TV show or movie.

"Cop Out" is possibly the first film that comes to mind, especially as it really showed how far Kevin Smith had fallen from the glory days of "Dogma" and "Clerks". I find that he relies on fart and dick jokes way too much, which really stopped me liking "Clerks 2" especially with the whole donkey fucker scene.

5. Okay, describe Tom Cruise in one word (besides "short").


6. You have a chance to interview an icon of the horror acting world, living or dead.  Who is it and why?

Seeing how Collette Hiller (best remembered as dropship pilot Ferro in "Aliens") isn't really classed as an icon outside of my own personal (and perhaps healthily obsessive) opinion, my next choice would be Kane Hodder. Not only is he the embodiment of the Friday the 13th franchise by giving the most memorable performances of any of the actors who played Jason, with his raging bull style he brought to the part from Part 7 through to "Jason X" and now he is crafting another potential slasher icon with Hatchet's Victor Crowley. I guess his main appeal is how he is still not sick of talking about his iconic roles with the fan's who he has also a sideline in throttling for fan pics.

7. What was the last movie you saw that fully enveloped you so that you actually cared about what you were watching?

 "Detachment" was possibly the last film to fully draw me in and it's such a shame that it will no doubt not get the attention it deserves, especially when Adrian Brody is so mesmerizing throughout, while every character seems to matter to the film and it's structure than being there simply to push the narrative forward.

8. DVD or Blu-Ray?

DVD for myself, but that's mainly due to not being one of these folks who needs to keep up with every technological advance and no doubt the reason my TV is as old as it is, let alone the fact that I still own a VHS player....well I also have a top loader and a betamax which I for some reason I can't bare to part with.

9. The best episode of "Mystery science Theater 3000" is... _______________________.  (If you have no idea what "Mystery Science Theater 3000" is, write BUNNY POOF.

I don't think that show was ever shown in the UK, but I have seen a couple of them with my favourite so far being "Gamera Vs. Barugon" if only for the line "Nothing missiles hate more than rainbows!"

10. What snack do you usually sneak into a movie theater?  Be honest.

I love sneaking snacks in, as I resent how inflated the prices are at the cinema from the ticket prices onwards. My usual snack of choice is chocolate covered peanuts or Chocolate Brazils. I did have at one point have a competition with my friend to see what the most random thing we could smuggle in was, of which the highlight was the cheese board we managed to smuggle in.

11. Are you answering these questions in your underwear right now?

Strangely no, especially seeing how I do spent a large amount of time walking around the house in them.

11 questions for the people I have tagged to answer
1. Who is your favorite Kajiu monster and why?
2. Were does your interest in movies come from?
3. You are being sent to your own private island so what book, film, album and luxury item are you taking with you?
4. What is the most underrated film of all time?
5. Is Noel Clarke the worst thing to happen to modern cinema and as such should be banned from any kind of acting / directing  / writing project or am I overreacting?
6. Why should people read more, rather than just waiting for the film version?
7. What is the scariest movie ever made?
8. What film is most memorable for traumatizing you as a child?
9. What are your golden rules of blogging?
10. How big is your watch pile?
11. What was the last scene in a movie which truly blew your mind?

Thank you again for this award and congratulations to everyone I awarded it to in return.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Thank God It's Friday

Title: Thank God It's Friday
Director: Robert Klane
Staring: Jeff Goldblum, Marya Small, Chick Vennera, Mark Lonow, Andrea Howard, Ray Vitte, Chuck Sacci

Plot: Set over the course of one night at the hip LA night club “The Zoo” following the intertwining stories of the patrons and staff on the night of their big dance contest.

Review: "Thank God It's Friday! is the greatest Disco movie ever made! Now no doubt there will be those of you who will immediately question such a statement by immediately bringing up disco mainstay “Saturday Night Fever” the movie which most folks would (misguidedly)  bestow such a title upon and it’s unsurprisingly seeing how that film has over the years since it’s release has become such a cult movie spawning Broadway musicals, a soundtrack which is reportedly the best selling soundtrack album ever, a really questionable sequel directed bizarrely enough by Sylvester Stallone let alone the numerous imitators which followed in it’s wake including the cringe worthy “Xanadu” a movie doubly painful for myself being the huge ELO fan that I am. “Thank God It’s Friday” (TGIF) is certainly not one of those imitators as it surpasses “Saturday Night Fever” (SNF), not only in terms of the story, but especially with the soundtrack were it substitutes The Bee Gee’s for the much cooler choices of “The Commodores” and disco legend Donna Summer, both of which also get to play prominent parts in the film, with “The Commodores” playing themselves as the club’s headline act, while Donna Summer plays aspiring disco singer Nicole, which essentially is a way to link in her performance of “Last Dance” which Summer would go on  to win the “Best Song” Oscar for….hmm now where’s your Oscar SNF??

The cast of characters are a certainly a colorful bunch to say the least, including the uber sleazy Tony Di Marco (Jeff Goldblum) who uses the club as his personal pick up joint, Jackie (Marya Small) who by day is a dental hygienist and drugged up disco freak come the weekend and the self confessed leather man as well as spontaneous disco dancer Marv (Chick Vennera) to name but a few of the fun characters we meet through the course of the night as they all pursue their own personal goals of hooking up, dancing or just trying to get to the club as in the case of the Floyd (DeWayne Jessie) the roadie for “The Commodores” who frequently can’t seem to catch a break as he tries desperately to get to the club in time for their set. Still despite the numourous story lines the main story at the heart of the film is that of the young straight edge couple Dave (Mark Lonow) and Sue (Andrea Howard), celebrating their wedding anniversary and end up going to “The Zoo” after an impulsive decision to go dancing by Sue. What soon follows is their wide eyed induction into the crazy disco scene, as Sue finds herself the target of Club Owner Tony’s advances after he makes a bet with The Zoo’s resident DJ Bobby Speed (Ray Vitte), meanwhile Dave is soon taken under the spaced out wing of Disco freak Jackie who soon has him hopped up on drugs and referring to himself by his new alter ego “Babbakazoo”.

Despite being a largely no name cast with the always enjoyable Goldblum being pretty much the only named actor making another memorable early appearance, having only just established himself as an actor after playing various bit roles including his memorable debut as one of the thugs in “Death Wish” . Still despite the lack of named actors, all of the cast are more than believable in their roles even when it comes to the more flamboyant and fantastical characters which could easily have turned out irritating such walking punchline such as Gus (Chuck Sacci) who not only has a serious temper, but also the questionable catchphrase of “You bet your sweet ass your sorry” when not looking for his date, as he sets about causing random acts of destruction or just generally threatening anyone who happens to bump into him, in what is just one of the numerous running jokes, aswell as Floyd’s constantly being stopped by the cops on his way to the club or just people constantly crashing into Tony’s Porsche. A car which he seemingly loves almost as much as himself. Thankfully Director Klane restrains from running them into the ground just because they prove to be funny more than once. The humour of the film really is an advantage that TGIF has over the other disco movies, a key ingredient that would be missing from many of the other disco movies, which tended to play to more straight as if trying to provide a snapshot of the disco era, which arguably is somthing that TGIF also does better not only capturing the funky sounds and certainly questionable fashions of the era, but also feels so self contained, almost like a postcard from the era as it almost perfectly captures the year of it’s release on film, as Director Robert Klane feels free to move through the club as he pleases stopping off with one character before moving on to the next to help carve a colourful and fun picture of the disco scene, while also using real nightclub “Osko’s” which not only boasted four dance floors but also an ice cavern themed room known as “The Cave” all of which can be seen throughout the film (including some brutal footage of the club’s strobe lights), as can the club’s owner Osko Karaghassian, who puts in a cameo as a club bouncer. The club has however since been demolished making this film perhaps the only real document of the club’s existence.

The other advantage the film has is it’s refusal to turn into a moralistic tale about the dangers of drugs or promiscuous sex, by flat out refusing to let anyone spoil the fun by becoming overly serious, instead focusing on leaving you with the same euphoric feeling of a great night out and it largely succeeds even with the majority of the mainstream (for it’s time) humour and numerous storyline that Director Klane somehow manages to juggle throughout.

Sadly the film would prove to be both a critical and commercial failure, with film critic Leonard Maltin, not only rating the film as “BOMB” but also going on record to say that it was “Perhaps the worst film to ever win any kind of Academy Award” but then this is the same man who didn’t get Fulci’s “The Beyond” either. Today it seems that the film has largely forgotten and it was only by chance that I stumbled across it on late night TV and this also can also be seen with it’s current availability, with the film currently only been released on region 1 DVD which is good news If you have access to a multi region DVD player or live stateside, otherwise it can be picked up pretty cheap on VHS for those of you like myself who never threw out their Video players when the rest of the world upgraded to DVD.

While other clubbing movies would follow in the wake of the death of Disco all trying to create a time capsule of the clubbing scene they represent such as “Human Traffic”  and it’s portrayal of the 90’s clubbing scene or Avangelina Ao’s little seen “Nightlife trilogy” (for those of you who like underground indie movies), would come close yet ultimately would get caught up with their genre restrictions, while even the biopic “54”  about the famous New York club “Studio 54” also fell foul of bringing morals into the actions of it’s characters, rather than focusing on the decadence the club was more famous for and perhaps this is what makes this such a special and unique film and worth watching for what is truly the essential snapshot of the days of disco.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Boxset Binge #6 - Braquo (Season 1 & 2)

Currently it would seem that the American drama powerhouses such as HBO and Showtime are the ones currently dominating the market when it comes to quality TV drama and as a result when it comes to picking new shows to watch, that I often find myself opting for the American presentations, especially when the quality of the acting and especially the writing has frequently proven, that they are the ones truly setting the benchmark for TV drama. More so when you consider the abysmal BBC productions being churned out with predictable writing and often with production values which would make even the SYFI movie of the week blush, while further frustration only being caused by their refusal to attempt anything risqué (unless it features lesbians) for fear of reprisal (just look at the current state of “Doctor Who” for a prime example of their shortcomings), leaving the likes of Channel 4 Productions and more recently Sky Productions to provide even the slightest hope that the TV drama market might not now be an American dominated arena.  Still it is as I make such sweeping statements that this French drama would appear seemingly from nowhere and turn everything on its head.

Now before you go any further I should warn of potential spoilers ahead, due to the fact that this review is covering both seasons of the show as one uber boxset binge.

Set around a squad of tough and frequently rulebook-ignoring cops, led by Eddy Caplan (Jean-Hugues Anglade), who acts like a father figure to the other members of his squad which include the drug-addled and volatile Theo (Nicolas Duvauchelle), the Man Mountain and chronic gambler Walter (Josepth Malerba) and the feisty and permanently leather jacket clad Roxane (Karole Rocher). Working frequently in the grey area between the police and criminals, their methods constantly question which side of the law they belong to while sharing an unbreakable bond to keep their off-the-book mission from their superiors. Season one sees the team, attempting to clear the name of their former colleague and squad leader Max, who commits suicide after being wrongly accused of corruption. Season two see’s Caplan being sent undercover to infiltrate a gang of former mercenaries known as “The Invisibles”, who have stolen 400 kilos of gold, while adjusting to the fallout from the events at the end of season one.

Created by the former cop turned director Olivier Marchal, who previous drew on his experiences to bring us films like  “A Gang Story” as well as the incredible and painfully overlooked “36”, with this series truly being the acumination of his work so far as he appears here on directing and writing duties to craft a truely gritty police drama, which has already drawn comparisons to both “The Shield” and “The Wire” and despite being short seasons with each one consisting of eight episodes, it never feels as if anything is being sacrificed due to lack of run time and if anything only feels like a tighter and much faster paced show than some of it’s American contemporaries which generally clock in around 21 episodes per season. With such a tight schedule, Marchal has the advantage of being able to suddenly drop in moments of actions, rather than having to spend several episodes building up to them, though never at the same time feeling the urge to telegraph these moments, which frequently come by surprise and even more often without warning.

Caplan’s crew while showing little regard for police procedure are not a lawless band of thugs, even though their actions often put them dangerously close to crossing the line between the police and the criminals they hunt. Still with their unwritten code of honour they do what they must to get the job done, while frequently getting mixed up in the dark Parisian underbelly as Caplan more than once throughout the series makes a deal with the devil in order to further his investigation. As an interesting counterpoint to the often questionable actions of the team is Internal Affairs officer Vogel (Geoffroy Thiebaut), who will do anything to ensure that Caplan is exposed for his laundry list of infractions, while Vogel himself is played out with a suitably villainous edge as he ruthlessly bends the rules to suit his obsessional quest for justice, while only becoming more twisted and dangerous as the series goes on, with his action over the course of the first two seasons only being smaller moves in his much larger game plan, with the finale of season 2 setting him up as truly a key player in the events of season 3, which right now cannot come quick enough.

Vogel however is just one of the many interesting characters, who appear over the course of these first two seasons, making it far from surprising that it has drawn comparisons to “The Wire”, with season 2 being given more time to explore the shady dealings of the Parisian underworld in particular the Arifa gangster family, whose matriarch (Annie Mercer) is possibly one of the more ruthless crime family heads to be seen of late, especially with her psychotic sons on hand to carry out her various wims, while engaging in a bloody turf war with the local Armenian gangsters. Still rather than being a second thread story as it would first appear, their story is soon cleverly woven into the main plot line, especially when Madame Arifa gets involved in a gold trade with The Invisibles whose own motives are the slowly revelled over the course of the second season and proving like so many things in the series that nothing is ever as black and white as it would first seem.

“Braquo” is a high end production throughout with series creator Marchal clearly wanting to prove that French drama is equally comparable to the output of the American drama powerhouses like HBO, while certainly not holding back when it comes to the violence, which while frequently explicit never is on the side of gratuitous or shock value. What is equally refreshing about the series is the fact that it is being broadcast subtitled, rather than being given any kind of questionable dub track and with the talented cast assembled here, it only makes it more of a benefit to be able to watch it in it’s native language, while subtitle haters will no doubt be sweep up like the rest of us in the fact paced drama to really care to much about them, especially when this is one of the few dramas to deserve the honor of being classed as unmissable.

Monday, 2 July 2012

The Game

Title: The Game
Director: David Fincher
Released: 1997
Staring: Michael Douglas, Sean Penn, Deborah Kara Unger, James Rebhorn, Peter Donat, Carroll Baker

Plot: Nicholas Van Orton (Douglas) is a wealthy banker, who has chosen to remove himself from any form of human contact were possible outside of his work and his housekeeper. However on his 48th birthday he finds the occasion overshadowed by his father committing suicide at the same age, while he is greeted by a surprise visit from his brother Conrad (Penn) who he hasn’t seen in years, giving him a card for “Consumer Recreation Services (CRS)” who offer to provide that what is missing. Little does Nicholas know that after his initial meeting with them that the game has begun until strange things start to happen around him.

Review: Why is it that there are films which are seemingly destined to be ignored for the rest of eternity? No I’m not talking about the movies which make up the usual fodder of this blog, but rather films which are released in the mainstream and seemingly vanish without a trace soon after. A fate that seems to have become of this film, which followed hot of the heels of director Fincher’s phenomenal thriller “Seven”, the film which revived his career after the problem riddled yet seriously underrated “Alien 3” making it’s only more of a shame that this film still remains largely unseen by most.

I will warn you now before I go any further that this review is likely to contain potential spoilers and as such I would advise those of you who like your surprises left in tact to stop reading now and go and see this film, while for the rest you have been warned.

Okay I should admit I am slightly biased when it comes to Michael Douglas movies, as while he has made his fair share of box office fodder, he has throughout his career pulled out some really surprising performances, such as his postal former defence engineer in “Falling Down” to his pot smoking professor in “Wonder Boys”, let alone his most memorable embodiment of 80’s greed and excess, Gorden Gecko in “Wall Street”, with Douglas having a real knack for playing men of power much like what we are given here with Nicolas, and even now Douglas is continuing to give incredibly engaging performances with this film being yet another master class for his particular acting style, as there is not one scene in this movie were he is not completely convincing as the man of all power suddenly finding himself powerless and being forced to play someone else’s game, after years of growing accustomed to being the one in control, something further emphasised by his self imposed isolation from the rest of humanity, let alone his idea of a perfect birthday dinner is a cheeseburger served on a silver platter, to be eaten while watching CNN in his vast mansion which he inherited from his father and were he now lives alone.

A strange film to say the least, especially as it works by slowly laying layer upon layer of weirdness as the film progresses, so that just when you think you have got it figured out, it throws something new into the mix. It's also a film which certainly works best if entered with an open mind and not questioning the smaller details, as there are numerous points were the film takes real leaps in plausibility especially in terms of the reach of the individuals behind the game, who seemingly are an all seeing and controlling force able to access bank accounts and frequently put participants lives in danger with no form of comeuppance or perhaps there is something in the small print of their contract which allows them to do what the hell they want.

Still what starts with small events such as his briefcase not opening and having a drink being spilled on him by a supposedly clumsy waitress is soon escalated when he finds a creepy clown doll, even more disturbingly dressed to look how Nicolas’s father did when he committed suicide. Soon things are getting even weirder as he finds himself being chased by shadowy men, while frequently finding himself not knowing who can trust, with his bank accounts being emptied and seemingly all records relating to his existence being deleted, as Nicolas continues to try and find out who is behind the game with his sole ally coming in the form of Christine (Unger) a former waitress recruited to play a part in the game, but even though she claims to be helping him, Nicolas is never sure if she is still playing a role or genuinely trying to help him.

While towards the end of the film plausibility is stretched to it’s absolute limit, with Nicolas being dumped in an empty tomb in Mexico and being forced to barter and trade his way back into the city, with a humbling scene of Nicolas entering a diner, looking beyond dishevelled with his clothes stained with dust and looking like he hasn’t slept in days, begging for someone to give him a ride, with his fall from glory only made all the gut wrenching by the believable performance Douglas brings to this character throughout and no doubt the reason we are willing to make such leaps in plausibility with his character and what happens to him.
For myself though the most interesting scene was towards the end of the film, were Nicolas has located the headquarters of CRS and upon entering the cafeteria and sees all the various characters he has encountered on his journey, as he finally see’s what is behind the curtain and it’s the sort of the place I’m sure airports also have to store all their own wacky characters that you only seem to find at airports.

The direction is incredibly focused with Fincher once more showing a keen eye for the smallest of details, while shooting in a number of sumptuous locations all while keeping the sense of ominous intentions always lurking somewhere under the surface, while also taking full advantage of working with a larger budget than he had been given previously, thanks to the success of “Seven” which has originally been scheduled to be shot after this film and was only pushed ahead of “The Game” thanks to Brad Pitt becoming available for filming. Still Fincher always seems to be in control, as he plays the puppet master constantly tormenting Nicolas that bit more, while refusing to include shots of those pulling the strings behind the curtain and no hints to what is actually happening and in doing so forces us to live through this nightmare with him.

A paranoid trip right up until its final macabre twist of the knife, this film will keep you guessing right up until the end, while certainly being one for fans of films such as the equally underrated “The Machinist” or “Oldboy” and is as much about the journey as the final payoff, this is one film which deserved to be more recognised than it was upon it’s original release and is well worth hunting down.
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