Sunday, 30 March 2014


Title: Rushmore
Director: Wes Anderson
Released: 1998
Starring: Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Olivia Williams, Seymour Cassel, Brian Cox, Mason Gamble, Sara Tanaka, Stephen McCole, Connie Nielsen, Luke Wilson, Dipak Pallana, Andrew Wilson

Plot: Max Fisher (Schwartzman) a 15 year old student at the exclusive private school Rushmore, were despite being involved in every extracurricular activity going while academically failing every one of his classes. Things only become more complicated when he starts an unusual friendship with steel tycoon Herman Blume (Murray) who also has eyes for Miss Cross (Williams) a teacher at Rushmore who Max has been harbouring a crush for.

Review: Sometimes it only takes one film to completely change your opinion of a director, something none truer than with this film, for it was only after I saw it that I finally got what the fuss about Wes Anderson’s films was. Previously to originally watching it I'd written him off as being overrated based on my previous experiences with his work when I watched “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “The Life Aquatic”, both of which I now rate highly after returning to them with a new appreciation for Andersons work which this film gave me. It was with this film that I finally got it.

Easily the most accessible of Anderson's films to date and while it could be argued the same for “Fantastic Mr Fox”, the fact that Andersons’ version differs so much from the source novel, tends to be more of a distraction than some tend to care for. At the same time it still contains all the elements we now see as being the trademarks of his work making it little surprise that some (myself included) confuse it for being his debt which was instead the often overlooked “Bottle Rocket”. Based largely on the life experiences of Anderson who has admitted to sharing Max’s sense of ambition aswell as his lack of academic ability and a crush on an older women, while his co-writer (and reoccurring cast member) Wilson drawing on his own expulsion from school at fate which ultimately also befalls Max on his journey of redemption.  

Max really is the quintessential Anderson creation, as he speaks and acts with a mindset years beyond his age, while equally acting every bit the social climber, associating Rushmore as part of his identity even though he got in on a scholarship rather than his parents wealth and status like his fellow pupils. Perhaps because of this it would explain his needs to constantly lie about his background, telling people that his father is a brain surgeon rather than admit that he actually works as a barber. Also because of his mindset Max frequently seems more comfortable around adults than anyone his own age, with the exception his right hand man Dirk (Gamble) and perhaps because of this the unusual love triangle actually works better than you would expect, even if the chances of anything actually happening between Max and Miss Cross is solely in his head. Things of course only escalate when Blume becomes involved with Miss Cross leading to a tit for tat game of revenge between the former friends, as brakes are cut, bees crammed into closets and bicycles run over as each tries to top what the other inflicted on them.

It could be argued that if Miss Cross shot down his first advance that this would be a lot shorter film, but instead she tries to encourage a friendship between them perhaps because of how Max reminds her of her deceased husband. The friendship between Max and Blume is surprisingly more believable perhaps due to the curiosity which Blume has about Max, while for Max it could be equally seen as another aspect of his social climbing, especially when Max is seen taking notes when Blume tries to impart words of wisdom upon the Rushmore students at the start of the film, advising those students who don’t come from money to target those that do.

While their friendship and the effects of this love triangle has on it is largely the focus, Anderson is also keen to chart a more personal journey for Max as he is forced to find himself after his expulsion from Rushmore after an ill-advised attempt to build an aquarium on the school baseball field which forces him back into the public school system with Max’s journey climaxing in the production of his latest play. At the same time it is fascinating to see how Anderson manages to make us root for a character who we should really despise with his frequent lies and egotistical drive,  yet somehow we can help but root for him.

Undoubtedly though the strength of the film is in its casting with Schwartzman embodying the role of Max, a role which Anderson felt at one point could never be cast until a chance introduction by Schwartzman’s cousin Sofia Coppola, who would in turn benefit from the career revival which Murray’s casting received. Murray whose career had in many ways stalled in the wake of “Ed Wood” only to revitalise it with this film, which not only marked the beginning of his frequently collaborations with Anderson which has seen him appear in every film which Anderson has made since. Murray’s involvement in many ways would also play a key part in production not only by his agreement to work for scale, but also by writing to Anderson a blank cheque to cover several shots which Disney who produced the movie refused to fund.

While the film is largely carried by Schwartzman and Murray, with Williams appearing occasionally to stir up emotions in the two men vying for her affections, the film also features numerous colourful supporting characters, such as the surprisingly feisty Margaret Yang (Tanaka), a foul mouthed scot (McCole) and the pipe smoking Rushmore dean Dr. Guggenheim (Cox) who is frequently driven to despair by Max’s antics. These characters and the numerous other who we meet throughout all heightening the film and adding to the already slightly surreal world which Anderson creates here and one which he continues to base the films which followed in.

A perfect starting point for newcomers to Anderson's films while containing enough of his quirks and unique style to still appeal to the established fans. This film heralded and still does even now an fiercely unique voice in independent cinema and is the film I always urge the detractors to watch before they make their final decision on Anderson's films, so if your still scratching your head over his appeal why not give this one a go, you might just find yourself re-evaluating your opinion.

For more Wes Anderson related writing this month make sure you show some love to the nice folks over at "French Toast Sunday" aswell as for other fun film related writings.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Spin-Off - Margot Tenenbaum: The Wilderness Years

Recently I discovered the rather hip “Cinematic Corner” which is also currently hosting a “Spin-off blogathon” taking a minor character from one film and giving them a film of their own.

Now while I know that most of my regular readers may expect me to choose the cool as ice dropship pilot Corporal Ferro from “Aliens” especially given my obsession with Collette Hiller, however I felt that I pretty much covered the character in my “One I would save” post. I also tossed around the idea of Christopher Lambert’s ice cream man and underground militant Walter Mung from “Southland Tales” but ultimately I decided (and perhaps inspired in part by this month’s ongoing “WesAndermarch”) I decided to choose Margot Tenenbaum.

One of handful of truly interesting roles Gwyneth Paltrow has had, while at the same time also being one of the fewer roles were she truly embodied the character, in a role the likes of which we sadly haven’t seen her play since, as even though her role is largely consistent of hiding out in the bathroom and smoking she is still one of the more memorable members of the Tenenbaum clan.
True Margot could be considered to already be a leading character seeing how she is one of the three Tenenbaum children, yet at the same time she is also the one that we know the least about, outside of the occasional snapshot moments from her life which Wes Anderson chooses to show us, perfectly tying in with her secretive nature while at the same leaving her the character I most wanted to see more of.

So what would a spin of film focus on? Well the original film covers the early years of her life pretty thoroughly, including her success as a playwriting child prodigy and underdeveloped artist, aswell as her detached relationship with her adopted father, who openly reminds her of her adopted status by introducing her at social gatherings as his adopted daughter. Her childhood also includes her running away with her brother (and future boyfriend) Richie, aswell as a second attempt which lead to her loosing part of her finger, which is revealed to be the result of a wood chopping accident when she found her birth family. The rest of her life up to the impromptu family reunion is briefly covered in the private detective report commissioned by her husband Raleigh, which are shown in a series of intriguing snapshots of key moments of her life to the current day. 

Because of Margot’s secretive nature  of course only makes a spin off film covering these moments all the more interesting, especially when she is one of the few characters in the film which we still feel that we don’t feel that we truly know by the end of the film outside of the bare bones of her character.  

So what would a Margot spin-off be like? Well first I would like it to focus on those years we the snapshot moments from, especially as these are the ones which pose the most questions and to continue on from were the film leaves off would only potentially lead into romantic comedy territory which honestly would not suit her character in the slightest, even if the idea of a romantic film centred around a incestuous (of sorts) love affair is an amusing pitch to say the least.

With Margot not being the chattiest of characters, this spin off would have to be voice over driven, especially as I always imagined the internal monologue of Margot to be full of witty comments and observations, even if she may seem sedated on the surface.

Margot equally makes a great candidate for a spin off if only to give us the alternative view point of key moments from the film such as the divorce of her parents as well as more importantly her witnessing the Richie’s in game meltdown following her marriage her to Raleigh. While she seems unmoved during the scene it would be interesting to see if she ever felt anything for him at that moment, much like when she first felt anything for him, especially when she seemingly cares little for anyone person as seem by her frequently switching from one partner to the next even when she is supposedly married it does little to slow her down with such scenes certainly benefiting from the insight that only she could provide, to explain if this her trying to work out the frustration of her stalled career or if she just enjoys living by her own rules.

Needless to say when it comes to listing Wes Anderson's memorable creations, it is impossible not to include Margot and even though he continues to add new and ever more curious characters to the list, Margot forever remains one of my favourites and one more than worthy of her own spin off, which if not for the reasons stated atleast to see Paltrow don the iconic look once more.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

The Purge

Title: The Purge
Director: James DeMonaco
Released: 2013
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder, Adelaide Kane, Edwin Hodge, Tony Oller, Rhys Wakefield, Arija Bareikis, Chris Mulkey

Plot: In the year 2022, America has become a nation reborn under the New Founding Fathers of America and while the country enjoys an all-time low for crime and unemployment rates, this new government has also instituted an annual 12-hour period called “The Purge”. During this period all criminal activity is legal and a period which security salesmen James (Hawke) and his family choose to hide out in their heavily fortified home. However when James son Charlie (Burkholder) lets a bloodied stranger (Hodge) into the house, the family soon find themselves the target of a group of masked killers eager to claim the stranger for Purging.  

Review: Once again I find myself throwing my hands up in despair as I’m faced once again with the conundrum over if it is truly possible to have a horror film which perfectly balances style and substance, especially as I’m now in the same position I was after I watched “The Strangers”. A film much like this one in that both are essentially stylised but ultimately hollow home invasion thrillers, let alone the fact that both featured being killers in memorable masks.

Taking a break from remaking classic horror films this film is one of the rarer original projects to come out of Michael Bay’s “Platinum Dunes” production company let alone one with an intriguing premise, one perfectly outlined in the government broadcast announcing the start of the 12-hour purging period, were crime from murder and theft through to more shockingly rape is all legal. Despite the illusion of a crime free for all this projects, the government brief is equally keen to stress that Government officials cannot be targeted much like the usage of weapons above class 4 which I guess is to ensure that you don’t get some looney with a nuclear device running around. Much like the “Battle Royale Act” which was used to control the out of control youth. The Purge is used by the government as a way for society to resolve its overwhelming issues, which in this case is the need to vent frustrations and deviant behaviours, with the belief being that by providing this release only helps this new society grow stronger, though at the same time it is hinted that it is also a way of weeding out the poor and those who could be seen as causing a burden on the economy and resources, especially when unlike the rich they are not able to hide out this period.

Meanwhile on the other end of the scale James and his wife Mary (Headey) might not have to worry about the Purge as they hide away behind the illusion of security provided by the steel covers and security cameras, they are instead left to ponder over the moralistic questions their children pose them over their choice of choosing not to Purge, let alone the wealth which their father has amassed selling security systems to the rich to protect them from being potentially purged. Needless to say these questions being posed by the children are the least of their worries seeing how both of these irritating kids mange to spearhead most of the major issues the family have to face, with the eldest child Zoey (Kane) smuggling her boyfriend into the house before lockdown, while their son Henry (Oller) is easily the most irritating character in the film, while easily to blame for causing most of the families issues, seeing how he is also responsible for letting the stranger into the house.

This terrible twosome are easily the biggest frustration about this film and frequently had me wondering what the law was concerning purging your own family members? So with this never being a possibility, we are left instead with the increasingly moronic decision that their actions frequently lead to, much more when they frequently have a habit of disappearing at the worse possible moments. Needless to say this film would certainly have been greatly improved without these characters or perhaps by getting better child actors.

The main threat the family have to contend with though is the group of masked purger’s whose masks have already become an iconic image of the film, which is especially true of their nominated leader, known solely as Polite Leader (Wakefield). As per his name this leader remains calm and polite throughout, even shooting one of his followers when they suffer an outburst. Needless to say despite his insistence that the family won’t be harmed if they give up the stranger seeking refuge in their house, Wakefiled plays the role with such a sinister edge your never sure how true his promises are, let alone the fact that he manages to come off even more creepy without his mask. One of the stronger parts of the film, Wakefield’s character is sadly underused and left to mainly threaten the family through the shutters and never really gets chance to really do much beyond this.

While the costuming is unquestionably memorable, especially with the Polite Leader’s group with their almost uniform styling, this ultimately is all surface gloss as the film plays out like a less tense version of the far superior “Panic Room” combined with a few scattered moments of home invasion horror throughout, though none played with any kind of tension or horror, even though getting to see Hawke finally going postal on the home invaders is fun if frustratingly cut too short when it just gets going. Despite its setup promising unbridled chaos and anarchy these home invasion moments and the selection of CCTV footage which makes up the opening credits, though honestly this wouldn’t matter much if there was any kind of real suspense to hold your attention, which sadly there really isn’t and what scattered moments you do get are essentially stomped over by the antics of one of the kids.

Despite a great concept it sadly is never used to full potential, but seeing how movie goers are attracted to cool visuals it has meant that a sequel is already heading our way soon, while baring more of a wiff of similarity to the plot of “The Warriors” it would seem. Could this be Bay’s way of secretly pushing through his ideas for his long mooted remake of the cult classic…I guess we will have to wait and see, though hopefully it will learn from the mistakes of this film and give us something alittle more substantial than a fancy shell.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

The Darjeeling Limited

Title: The Darjeeling Limited
Director: Wes Anderson
Released: 2007
Starring: Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Anjelica Huston, Waris Ahluwalia, Bill Murray

Plot: Three brothers Peter (Brody), Francis (Wilson) and Jack (Schwartzman) who having drifted apart since the last time they were together at their fathers funeral. Now reunited by the oldest brother Francis, they travel across India aboard the luxury train “The Darjeeling Limited” so that they can reunite with their equally estranged mother (Anjelica Huston) who is currently running a convent in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Review: Despite originally being a film which I originally had my reserves about seeing initially, after the first time I saw it I found myself as the end credits rolled with an uncontrollable urge to watch it again. Needless to say it has been a returning feeling every time I have watched this film and even now sitting down to write this review it has me already wanting to dig it out again.

Now don't let the exotic locale distract you as this is still very much Anderson's world, with the three brothers being unquestionably classic Anderson creations let alone equally as eccentric as each other, with Francis having survived a recent near fatal motorcycle accident now sporting a new lease on life (aswell as looking like a badly wrapped mummy), which he is determined to force on his brothers wether they want to embrace it or not, as he plots out a detailed itinerary for their trip, while also stealing their passports to prevent them from abandoning the trip early. Peter meanwhile is trying to deal with the fact his wife is pregnant with their first child, while fearing that his marriage is heading for divorce and to distract himself spends most of his time antagonising his brothers with his claims of being their fathers favourite, while furthering their irritation by keeping many of their father’s possessions for himself. Jack meanwhile is a hopeless romantic obsessively listening to the messages on his ex-girlfriends answer machine, while writing short stories which contain striking similarities to people in his own life.

Anderson regulars Wilson and Schwartzman are once again on great form slipping perfectly into their individual roles, with Anderson once again showing that he is one of the few directors who can capture their quirky charm, rather than turning them into more odd-ballish creations.  Brody meanwhile holds his own well with the strong chemistry between the three actors, being used to powerful effect, especially during the scenes shared solely between these three characters. Meanwhile fellow Anderson regular Bill Murray is reduced to a glorified cameo as an American Businessman who we see chasing after train in slow motion, only to be overtaken by Brody’s Peter in one of the numerous standout sequences to feature throughout the film. Still the inclusion of Murray in the cast really did ask the question as to why?

This film is a prime example of Anderson at his quirky best as the brothers make their way across India, dabbling in local medicines and engaging in unplanned misadventures, while generally arguing, occasionally brawling and even engaging in a spontaneous mace attack as they travel from place to place and occurring the wrath of the train steward (Ahluwalia) who holds little patience for anyone who’d attempt to disrupt the running of the train. What I really love about this film though is that even through the brother go through this journey together, by the end of the film they are none the closer than when they started, with their meeting with their mother being used instead to explain why these characters are like that they are. Equally a much criticised death of a young Indian boy, ensures that the audience is never truly sure of what direction the film is going in, especially with Anderson feeling no reason it would seem to take the most direct routes with his plotting.

Essentially made as a tribute to the films of Satyajit Ray, the film came largely out director Wes Andersons desire to make a film in India, having long held a fascination with the country, while at the same finding inspiration from the Indian documentaries by Louis Malle, as well as Jean Renoir’s “The River” and it’s a love which clearly carries across into the film in much the same way that Sofia Coppola’s (sister to co-writer Roman) love of Japan was evident in “Lost In Translation”. Here nearly every frame of the film is shot to truly capture the flavour of the country, from the panoramic beauty of the landscape to the bustle of the markets, Anderson makes sure that his love for India is truly captured on screen. However Anderson is not using this setting in a touristy way but more a backdrop for his story and seemingly takes every effort to avoid any of the usual clichés and stereotypes which typically dog any film set in such exotic climes and instead aims to surprise the audience, with scenes such as the first time we meet the stewardess Rita who speaks standard English and bares none of the usual cliché stereotypes of the dutiful female, especially when she engages in a spontaneous fling with Jack.

The soundtrack is once again classic Anderson as he combines the retro charms of “The Kinks” and “Peter Sarstedt” as well as using the less well known “Play With Fire” by “The Rolling Stones” to great effect, as he once again gives us a treasure trove of retro tracks, while flavouring with a selection of classical and Indian music tracks from the likes of Satyajit Ray and Ravi Shankar.

While perhaps a little too quirky for the uninitiated, especially with it’s ponderous (but never dull) plotting and especially with Anderson’s refusal to bide by any of the usual road trip movie rules, especially as nothing it ultimately learned by the journeys end and for those finding themselves in this group I would urge them to check out the equally great “Rushmore” for a more gentle introduction to Anderson’s world. However for the established fans, especially for those of you who loved “The Royal Tenenbaums” as he sets out to builds on similar themes which he explored with that film, such as abandonment, sibling relationships and more essentially the non working privileged class. This however is one vision of India your likely to forget anytime soon.

For more Wes Anderson related writing this month make sure you show some love to the nice folks over at "French Toast Sunday" aswell as for other fun film related writings.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Now You See Me

Title: Now You See Me
Director: Louis Leterrier
Released: 2013
Starring: Jessie Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Melanie Laurent, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco, Michael Caine, Michael Kelly, Common, Morgan Freeman

Plot: Four magicians are brought together by a mysterious benefactor to form “The Four Horsemen”, while using their shows to pull of a series of bank heists, while rewarding the audience with the money.

Review: Seeing how it seems like I hadn’t seen a heist movie in awhile I thought that I would give this one a watch, even more so since heist movies are few and far between these days, especially since the last memorable ones in recent memory was the A-list vanity project “Oceans 11” and its questionable sequels. Still this one promised to be something different seeing how its heists being carried out by magicians which honestly something I don’t think I’ve seen before.

Making up their number is hypnotist Merrit McKinney (Harrelson), escape artist Henley Reeves (Fisher), sleight of hand master and occasional pickpocket Jack Wilder (Franco) and rounding them out is Street Magician and illusionist J. Daniel Atlas (Eisenberg) who also serves as the groups’ unofficial leader. While the crew being brought together might not come with the usual heist skills, the setup is essentially the same as the four magicians getting a “Charlie’s Angels” style introduction which highlights their individual skills before each of them receive a mysterious playing card leading them to a seemingly abandoned apartment, which is not quite as empty as first seems as they soon shown a hologram of a series of blueprints which serves as the catalyst for the group coming together.

It is unsurprisingly a unique set of skills which the group brings together and half the fun is seeing how they use them to pull of each heist which are played out like grand illusions. Despite the magicians all coming from very different disciplines they somehow manage to combine their skills to pull off the heists and become the cohesive unit required, while using the secret group of magicians known simply as “The Eye” who used their magic to distract the rich who they were stealing from to give to the poor as the inspiration for their actions. Of course with each heist there is always the question of how they did it and like any good magic trick and like a Penn and Teller or Masked Magician routine director Leterrier is happy to share with you the secrets of how they did it, which he provides via magician turned illusion exposer, Thaddeus Bradley (Freeman) while using the FBI agent Rhodes (Ruffalo) and Interpol agent Dray (Laurent) to essentially represent the audience as they relentlessly pursue the group, only to frequently find themselves a step behind.

When it comes to the illusions it is an intriguing mix of practical magic tricks and illusions combined with a handful of slightly more far-fetched and CGI inhanced tricks like Henley floating over the audience in a giant bubble. It is of course a credit to the cast that they can convincingly pull of the practical tricks, especially considering that Fisher who almost drowned while performing her trademark Piranha tank escape. Needless to say when faced with non-magicians performing magic, the urge is to instantly drawing comparisons to “The Prestige” which seems to be the film which most critics seem keen to compare it to, while critising this film for the use of CGI trickery and no doubt forgetting the whole Tesla coil transportation plotline that “The Prestige” featured so predominately. So yes while not all the tricks might not be genuine magic per say, they still do come with enough wonder and presence to captivate the audience, unlike the CGI heavy “The Illusionist” whose own brand of CGI trickery only left the film feeling hollow.

While the magic might be the main draw here Leterrier is keen to not limit the magic to the staged performances, as shown with a great showdown between Wilder and Rhodes which starts off as a brawl with Wilder pulling out a number of smaller tricks such as flaming playing cards and curtain tricks to maintain the upper hand, before Leterrier kicks things up a gear with a high speed car chase along the Brooklyn bridge, which is only added to when we later discover that what seemed like wits and cunning might have been more staged than first seemed.

With all this entire misdirection taking place, it is something of a shame that some of the casting choices here prove to more of the wrong kind of distraction, with Ruffalo frequently coming off more bored than the driven FBI agent it seem that he was supposed to be. The horsemen on the other hand are a believable unit, even if Eisenberg frequently comes off more smug than cocky as he continues to be a frustrating actor to follow, especially when both “Zombieland” and “The Social Network” both highlighted the kind of performance he is capable of giving with the right direction. Franco on the other hand seems to be overwhelmed by the experience or perhaps its more to do with the writing for his character, which constantly seems to have his character coming off more like a prodigy or rookie rather than an equal to the other members of the group

An intriguing and frequently fun premise, it largely works throughout the runtime even if some of the final twists do seem ultimately forced, while an additional scene from the theatrical version setting up the direction of the sequel has been strangely cut from the DVD release. At the same time with the sequel already in pre-production at the time of writing I would be interested to see were the horsemen would go next, which hopefully will be on a focused caper, especially when the film is at its strongest when focusing on the group and not the hit and miss sub-plots such as those surrounding magician debunker Thaddeus Bradley. Despite this the film still manages to project another flair and style to cover for most of its flaws, while certainly making it one of the more watchable capers of recent years.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Moonrise Kingdom

Title: Moonrise Kingdom
Director: Wes Anderson
Released: 2012
Starring: Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swindon, Jason Schwartzman, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel

Plot: Sam (Gilman) and Suzy (Hayward) after a chance meeting become pen pals before plotting to run away together to the secluded cove from which the film takes its name from, all the while attempting to elude the search / rescue / capture party which has been launched to find them by Suzy’s parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) and Sam’s Khaki Scout troop.

Review: I am truly of the belief that a great film is a lot like a great mix tape in that you enjoy the journey so much that you instantly want to watch it again as soon as it ends. This it is safe to say is once again the case with Wes Anderson’s latest film, who here  again teams up with Roman Coppola (son of Francis Ford, brother of Sofia and cousin of Nicolas Cage) to bring us his tale of star crossed lovers Sam and Suzy

After the shall we say interesting (read: essentially rewritten) take on the classic children’s book “Fantastic Mr. Fox”, a film which was greeted with decidedly mixed opinion, especially by those familiar with Roald Dahl’s original but not Anderson’s quirky film making style let alone willing to accept his reworked version of such a cherished story. Now back on more familiar ground Anderson’s latest film feels is in many ways his most accessible film since “Rushmore”, a film which finally helped myself to finally get what the fuss about Anderson’s work was about. Still while perhaps more accessible than some of this other films like “The Royal Tenenbaums” or “The Darjeeling Limited”, this latest film still bares all of his usual quirky trademarks such as his continual use of title cards, primary colours (this time fresh grass greens and Khaki browns) aswell as a new group of colorful characters to add to his ever expanding universe.

Interestingly this film also  features fewer members of his usual acting troupe whom have followed him from film to film, something especially noticeable this time around with the absence of Owen Wilson, who Anderson has been keen to note was not due to any kind of personal dispute when carrying out the promotion for the film. Still both Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman are on hand to ensure that the familiarity is maintained, while like so many of the adult cast taking more of a backseat to the younger cast, while Bruce Willis and Edward Norton  are clearly relishing the freedom that comes working on an indie film, let alone getting to play slightly different characters than we are used to seeing them play, with Norton once more on amazing form as the bumbling Khaki Scout leader Randy. However it is the surprise sudden appearance by Harvey Keitel as the blustering head of the Khaki scouts while Tilda Swindon, appearing here as the appropriately titled Social Services, sadly despite giving another wonderful performance never makes the same impact of some of the other characters, let alone presenting the kind of threat expected from her character.

The real breakout performances here though are given by the two young leads, both making their debuts here, though you honestly would not believe it considering the amount of confidence, let alone believability they bring to their individual roles, processing real onscreen chemistry despite their two characters being seemingly so mismatched with Sam being a quiet and seemingly emotionally detached watercolours enthusiast, while Suzy’s loves resolve around her binoculars, stolen library books and kitten. Still like Sam she is equally detached from her parents and ultimately the perfect couple for Anderson and his enduring love for misfits. True their dialogue might not often be overly realistic, as is the case for so many of the child characters here, with Sam and Suzy often coming off as being brutally frank with their dialogue, while Anderson sacrifices realism in favour of individualism as especially the case with the Khaki scouts, which considering how amusing their conversations with each other are, such as deciding if they should arm themselves when hunt down Sam after he escapes from camp to meet up with Suzy and due to this I found it hard to fault Anderson’s decision here.

Once again Anderson brings us usual creative and visual flair to the film, with long time collaborator Robert D. Yeoman once again providing some truly stunning cinematography, which contains all of Anderson’s usual trademark symbolism and iconography and visual gags, while even managing to top the cutaway ship from “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” as he here gives us a cutaway tour of Suzy’s house which despite being a gimmick he’s used before is none the less effective here and only adds to the already playful camerawork which plays so prominently throughout with the frequent use of single shot sequences and long pans really immersing the viewer into the quirky world which Anderson has once more crafted here.

Sadly were the film fails is with it’s rushed final act, which has the feeling that Anderson had no real idea how to end the film and may go in some way to explaining the lack of develop that Swindon’s Social services, especially when the film seemingly wraps up things suddenly after such a minor chase sequence, that it almost feels like an afterthought. Luckily the journey to this point is so enjoyable that it almost covers for such a carless if ultimately predictable ending.

While perhaps not everyone’s tastes, this is Anderson once more at his most accessible, while the established fan base and indie cinema fans will no doubt lap this up, while the initiated may still struggle to see what the fuss is about.

For more Wes Anderson related writing this month make sure you show some love to the nice folks over at "French Toast Sunday" aswell as for other fun film related writings.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Pacific Rim

Title: Pacific Rim
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Released: 2013
Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Robert Kazinsky, Max Martini, Ron Perlman

Plot: When monstrous creatures known as Kaiju start to rise from the sea, the governments of the world come together to construct gigantic robots called Jaegers to combat the threat.

Review: It is no secret that I’m a big fan of Kaiju movies, so needless to say I was excited as always to hear that there was a new addition to the genre being made, while this excitement was only further cranked up to eleven when I found out it was being made by Guillermo del Toro. A highly visual director, time and time again Del Toro has managed to constantly raise the film making bar, both in terms of storytelling and visual effects even more so with his insistence on using old school effects were possible, something which made me especially curious going into this film to see if he could make a film heavily reliant on CGI without losing the same presence his previous films have had.

Born seemingly out of frustration over his adaption of H.P Lovecraft’s “At The Mountains of Madness” del Toro here falls back on his long term love of monsters, wrapped up in a blockbuster format, while at the same time opting to make a much lighter and breezier style of film, rather than following the current trend of aiming for ultra-realism which ultimately plays in the films favour, but then can you really make a sober movie about robots fighting monsters? Unquestionably though del Toro’s love for Kaiju movies is clear here while at the same time he is keen to not emulate the likes of Gamera or Godzilla, as not only seen in the designs of his Kaiju and Jaeger’s but also with his action scenes which fully embrace the freedom of movement and creativity which CGI allow compared to the man in suit limitations of the films which preceded it.  At the same time though interestingly the Kaiju designs still maintain elements of old school Kaiju designs which del Toro clearly loves so much.

Reportedly over one hundred different Kaiju and Jaeger’s were created and eliminated during pre-production, which no doubt would make for a great coffee table book should del Toro ever choose to release them. The chosen designs though are all suitably memorable especially in the case of the Jaeger’s which showcase an evolution of the design from the lumbering mark 1 Cherno Alpha though to the sleeker and more humanoid newer models like Striker Eureka and Raleigh’s own Jaeger Gipsy Danger.

Like the films it homages the plotting is much along the same simple plot lines, as following a disastrous confrontation with a Kaiju which killed his brother and co-pilot, hotshot Jaeger pilot Raleigh (Hunnam) quits the program only to soon find himself drawn back into the fight when Jaeger commander Stacker Pentecost (Elba) devises plan to finally end the war for good. This return of course means that he has to find a new co-pilot which he soon finds in the inexperienced Mako (Kikuchi).  True it is a tried and tested plot but here it is effectively used to tie together the main draw which is of course the monster sized smackdowns.

Needless to say those scenes are the real highlights of the film, with del Toro being free of the restraints that may have held by the old school Kaiju movies, here he gets to unleash some truly memorable brawls on the screen. These sequences are only further helped by the top notch CGI work which thankfully maintains the personality and charm of the old school film held, especially with the Jaegers really coming across like lumbering titans you’d expect them to be. By shooting in CGI del Toro really unleashes his creativity during these scenes, especially during a Hong Kong set brawl which memorably sees a tanker being used a makeshift bat. On the downside though these smackdowns are unfortunately more sporadic than some fans may like, considering how they form the start and latter end of the film, with a lengthy training section between, as Raleigh and Mako attempt to build the required bond required to pilot Jaeger’s, while also trying to work through Mako’s lack of experience which leaves her open to the mental effects the neural bridge can create, which in Mako’s case is flashbacks to a Kaiju attack she survived as a child, which is essentially just an excuse to cram in some more Kaiju action which I can’t say I had any problem with.

On the human side of things, it is a likeable group of characters which del Toro brings together, while at the same time it is very much a comic book style which he chooses to portray them in, hence we get the hyperactive triplets and the bulldog accompanied Australian father and son team of Herc (Martini) and Chuck (Kazinsky) whose canine companion I assumed to be a nod to the British tank commanders of WW2 who frequently were also accompanied by Bulldogs and whose bravado certainly matches that of some of the Jaeger pilots, many seeing themselves as invincible as she embrace the celebrity status that their Kaiju killing skills brings them. Elba meanwhile despite claiming to have studied various politicians such as Barak Obama for the inspiration for his scenery chewing role as Commander Pentecost, which has more in common with Sgt. Apone from “Aliens” than any of the politicians he cited as his inspiration which honestly is no bad thing. This style of characterisation perfectly suits the tone of the film and makes a refreshing change from the current need to ground every comic book or fantastical movie with a sense of reality. Such breaking of the rules only further continues with del Toro refusing to clumsily tack on a romantic sub-plot between Raleigh and Mako, with the two sharing more of a sibling bond than any kind of romantic collection, with a hug being as steamy as things gets between these two.  

A real homage to Kaiju movies for fans of the genre there is plenty to love here, while no doubt leaving you with an urge to revisit some of your favourites once the credits have rolled. I only hope that the rumours surrounding a sequel are true as I certainly wouldn't mind seeing were del Toro chooses to take the story next, even though this film works perfectly as a solo entry, it is one of those rare occasions were a confirmed sequel would be warmly welcomed.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold

Title: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold
Director: Morgan Spurlock
Released: 2011
Starring: Morgan Spurlock, Ralph Nader, Noam Chomsky, Donald Trump, J.J Abrams, Brett Ratner, Big Boi, OK Go

Plot: A Morgan Spurlock documentary looking at product placement, branding and advertising and the effect it has on our daily lives, while at the same time attempting to fund the film from these sources of income alone.

Review: Overlooked by most folks on its release who were no doubt handing over their hard earned cash to go and see “Rock em’ Sock em’ Robots: The Movie” (also known in some parts as “Real Steel”) it has as a result ended up lurking under the radar for most movie goers, which is something of a surprise considering the status of director Spurlock who is no doubt still best remembered for taking on McDonalds with his award winning documentary “Super Size Me” and showing us all just why it’s not advisable to eat nothing but McDonalds for thirty days. A film its also worth noting for killing off “Super Sized” meals as well as causing a knee jerk reaction from Congress, which lead to the passing “The Hamburger Bill” which meant that people couldn’t sue McDonalds and fast food franchises for making them fat. Sadly his output since then has been more hit and miss with his around the world goose chase “Where In The World is Osama Bin Laden”  dividing opinion, especially seeing how the point Spurlock seemed to be wanting to make was “Hey they are just like us”, while his attempt to transfer his “Super Size Me” format into TV with “30 Days” were members of the public were challenged to live another persons life for 30 days, would end up being axed after three seasons, no thanks to largely hit and miss episodes due to their subject content.

Still realizing there are evils in the world still worth fighting, Spurlock once again launches himself into the fray, as this time he sets his sites on product placement, branding and advertising, looking at how it has seemingly worked its way into every aspect of our daily lives. To help examine the points in question he sets out to fund the movie completely through the use of product placement.
Unsurprisingly the big brands who are usually so keen to use movies and TV shows to help shift more of their product with shamless product placement, are not willing to have any form of involvement with the film, with Spurlock’s plan looking like it might not be going anywhere as he receives rejection after rejection, before finally getting his first big sponsor from “Pom Wonderful” who put up the majority of the films budget after putting in one million dollars for the Above-the-title willing which officially makes the film title the lengthy

“Pom Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold”

With “Pom Wonderful” on-board as the films main sponsor, they are soon joined by several other big brands such as “Mini” and “Old Navy”, as well as numerous smaller brands who unlike their big brand counterparts are able to see the point of the movie. Each sponsor however brings their own list of terms and conditions for them sponsoring the film, from the usual product placement, to the more impactfull such as the fact that Spurlock can only drive a Mini Journeyman and only fill it up at American petrol chain “Stripes” while more bizarrely one sponsor insists that at least one interview is conducted at their new airport terminal.

Approaching the subject matter with his usual brand of humor, which makes him so reminiscentof Michael Moore’s earlier work such as “TV Nation” before he became more focused on harassing the Bush Administration, while keeping a more serious focus on the subjects of his documentaries, so it’s nice to see Spurlock still having fun, as he attempts to pitch the film to prospective sponsors through the use of storyboards and unbridled enthusiasm, which would not make him seem out of place on “Mad Men” and no doubt played a large part in the film actually making it out of these early stages. Still once he has his sponsors he is soon creating adverts for some these brands including “Mane N’ Tail” for whom Spurlock takes an early shine to, with this advert in particular seeing Spurlock with his son taking a bath with a pony for which the product is intended.

Having found his sponsors who are clearly unaware that they are actually part of the film, Spurlock is soon out on the road examining how advertising has seemingly ingrained itself in every aspect of our daily lives, visiting a South American town which has banned any form of advertising while on the opposite side of things, Spurlock visits a school in Florida which counter-balances crippling cuts in their budget with shameless use of advertising throughout the school. He also sets out to get a deeper understanding of how advertising by undergoing a “Clockwork Orange” style bombardment of advertising while in a CAT scan to examine the effects of advertising on the brain.

To further investigate all side of the argument Spurlock takes in variety of interviews with the likes of consumer advocate Ralph Nader, Noam Chomsky and even Donald Trump weighing in with his own thoughts, which was another big surprise especially with so many of the big brands wanting to distance themselves far as possible from the film, it was interesting to see such an industry titan openly putting across his view points without cutting the interview short and walking off as those kinds of interviews usually end. One of the most interesting parts of the film however was the interviews which Spurlock conducts with an assortment of movie directors including J.J Abrams (Creator of “Lost” aswell as the mighty “Alias”) and Brett Ratner (Rush Hour) who both agree that they can’t see the trend for gratuitous product placement in the movies, with both sharing stories of how “the suits” had interfered in their films because products weren’t being shown how they wanted, while on the other side of things Quentin Tarantino makes another his surprise appearances to share his own thoughts on the subject as well as highlighting the fact that both the opening of “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction” were to take place in a “Dennys” and only became unnamed diners after they “Dennys” refused to provide sponsorship, which really makes me wondering how much they are kicking themselves over that decision. I was however surprised to see Spurlock not pick up on Tarantino’s own satire of product placement, which has continued throughout his films with the continual reappearances of his fake brands such as “Red Apple Cigarettes”. Meanwhile musicians like OutKast’s Big Boi and “OK Go” are on hand to give their side of the advertising story and the allure of the big bucks for the right to use their songs, meanwhile “Moby” remains surprisingly absent especially having sold the rights to the majority of his songs off his album “Play” to be used in advertising, so that he could get his music out there, which only makes his absence from the documentary all the more confusing.

While ultimately Spurlock is not destined to make the same kind of impact he made with his debut, especially with the recent introduction of the Product Placement P, which not only warns viewers that product placement is present through the program, but also allowing brands to advertise even more shamelessly than before, so it’s doubtfully that we going to see the brands toning things down anytime soon, but what he has done instead is given us all a slighter better insight of the extent of advertising in modern media.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Dear God No

Title: Dear God No
Director: James Bickert
Released: 2011

Starring: Jett Bryant, Madeline Brumby, Paul McComiskey, Olivia La Croix, Shane Morton, Johnny Collins, Nick Morgan, James Bickert, Rachelle Lynn, Heath Street, Billy Ratliff, Tim McGahren, Jim Sligh, Johnny McGowan

Plot: The impalers a psychotic group of bikers, lead by the bloodthirsty Jett (Bryant) on the run from their latest run in with rival bikers Satan’s Own stumble across the mountain cabin of Dr. Marco (McComisky).

Review: Ever since Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez unintentionally launched the Neo-Grindhouse genre with their double feature homage “Grindhouse” (it could be argued that any of their films were equally responsible for spawning this sub-genre) there has been a slew of titles which followed in its wake, all attempting to capture the grindhouse spirit with arguably varied levels from the raw grime of “The Devils Rejects” to the sheer randomness of “Hobo With A Shotgun”. However there are those films which miss the mark completely which is a category which its safe to say this film belongs in.

A truly grating viewing experience to say the least, I don’t think since watching “Deaden” or “The Zombie Diaries” have I found a film as frustrating a this film turned out to be which is really saying something when this feeling hits you a mere five minutes into the film, when you are treated to the members of the impalers riding their bikes alongside the camera and giving the audience the finger, which it seems director Bickert is frequently doing throughout this film as it becomes a black hole of depravity and sheer randomness….and not in a good way before those of you who look for those sorts of things start getting too excited.

One the main issues here though outside of the paper thin plotting is the bombardment of plot devices which Bickert throws into the mix, as not content to make just a biker or home invasion movie, Bickert instead tosses in plot devices left right and centre including a psycho nympho mother (and possible zombie) locked in the basement, Nazi experiments and even a killer sasquatch. The end result unsurprisingly is confused mess as each new element competes for time with the other, while Bickert seemingly assumes that stringing it all together with copious gore and nudity is all that is required to tie it all together, which it soon becomes painfully obvious is not the case.

The cast are forgettable with most seemingly coming from the “The Asylum” school of over acting, while only further hindered by how unlikable or interchangeable their characters are, which is especially the case with the members of the Impalers with whom their leader Jett is the only memorable one and that could be more to do with the striking resemblance to Zak Wilde than anything performance wise. Acting ability it would seem though is on the lower end of the Bickert’s concerns as like Eli Roth his concerns seem to be more with how willing the actresses were to get naked than any kind of acting ability. A theory which is only reinforced by the sheer amount of exposed skin on show here, which no doubt makes this film a favourite of teenage boys. Yes there is a lot of creativity when it comes to the nudity even if it seems to frequently be soley for the reason that Bickert can get away with it, be it via hostages, drug trips or even more bizarrely Nixon mask wearing strippers!?!

The flip side of Bickert’s attention here is clearly on ensuring that he included a healthy gore quota, as he rarely misses the opportunity to include some splatter, providing several of the more memorable moments, such as a shootout with the aforementioned masked strippers while his sasquatch gets the majority of the creative kills including a perhaps unintentionally funny decapitation. The effects unsurprisingly show ambition yet are held back by the budget, while the insistence on showing every gory detail only further plays against the film.

Bickert clearly aiming to recreate the grime and sleaze of the glory days of grindhouse cinema, ultimately misses the mark as while he might pack the film with enough nudity and violence to match the films he is drawing inspiration from, the half-baked plotting and general soulless feel of the film only overwhelm any potential the film has. Needless to say the plotting could equally be helped by Bickert not trying to work so many elements into the film, let alone so frequently shift the genre the film, a trick I have only previously seen work once before in the far superior “Pig Hunt” which memorably frequently shifted genres throughout its runtime, though unlike this film didn’t lose its audience in the process. A sleazy and generally mean spirited film, this is one best avoided, especially when the title no doubt will sum up your feelings about watching it again if you do.
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