Monday, 28 July 2014

Spin Off - Quint (Jaws)

“Jaws” it’s safe to say is a franchise truly run into the ground by a combination of increasingly outlandish plots and the general opinion that all was required to make the giant rubber shark scary was to recycle the now legendry theme music and find ever unique ways for the human cast to become shark chow.

So with “Jaws: The Revenge” having driven a stake through the series could there be any life left in the franchise? After all once you have your shark seemingly capable of wanting to claim revenge on the Brody’s let alone suddenly gaining the ability to roar your kind of already clutching at straws even if these ideas half as strange as some of the ideas being thrown around in the current development hell with currently surrounds the attempts to adapt Steve Alten’s prehistoric shark on the rampage series “MEG”. Where could a possible spin off go? The answer it would seem is with the character of Quint.
Memorably played by Robert Shaw, who interestingly wasn’t Spielberg’s choice having originally wanted to cast either Lee Marvin (who preferred to fish for real) or Sterling Hayden for the role before he cast Shaw who as we all know now would go on to be one of the most memorable characters in the film let alone steal every scene which he was featured in. Ironically Spielberg would later go on record to state that he would have cast local Craig Kingsbury in the role had he met him sooner and ultimately would cast him to play Ben Gardner and who would also be highly memorable in the film as one of the best scares when his decapitated head plays peek-a-boo.
When we meet Quint in the original film he is a grizzled shark hunter and captain of the “Orca” who is the first to step up to killer the monster shark, only to get shot down by the town authorities who baulk at his demands for $10,000 rather than the $3000 bounty originally on offer. Right from the start he is established as being a man who only cares about himself with a heightened dislike for men in positions of power and authority, with a unique sense of humour as he frequent makes wisecracks and limericks for seemingly his sole amusement.
As we get to know more about Quint during the climatic shark hunt we also learned that he is a survivor of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis in one of the most memorable scenes of the film and one which was used as the basis for the rumoured “Jaws: Dark Waters” which would focus on the story Quint tells about how the survivors of the ships were forced to fight off a pack of sharks with the film being based around this story leading to the crews eventual rescue.

Unquestionably from this simple moment which Shaw made unquestionably so gripping (Richard Dreyfuss admitted that he didn't fake his gripped expression) , we learn so much about his motivation and general demeanour as it was the officer top brass who made the mission of delivering the Hiroshima bomb so secret that no one knew the location of the ship and in turn further delaying their rescue and perhaps goes a way to explaining why he is so driven on hunt as many sharks as he can.
It is of course this period from Quint leaving the navy and coming to the town of Amity that my proposed spin-off would start from as Quint arrives in the sea side town and constructing his shack and starting up his shark fishing business.  Over the course of the film we would see him also putting in place the other sidelines the source novel mentions such as his moonshine and whale oil business he uses during the off season, aswell as his frequent battles with both the mayor and other fisherman which he fought using layman’s legal knowledge gained from legal books in the Amity library.
The book also makes mention of another epic shark hunt which Quint undertook prior to the events of the film, in which he battled another large shark (if not quite the size of the film’s shark) while on one of his charter fishing trips, with the shark equally requiring three barrels to capture it. The hunt ultimately ending in one of Quints trademark blowouts when the tourist wanted to claim that he caught the shark on line and reel rather than with the use of barrels. Despite Quint in a surprising moment actually tries to reason with the tourist who is adamant over which story they wish to use and ultimately ends with Quint dumping the carcass overboard in a scene which would make for the perfect ending and ultimately a lead into the original film.

The perfect opening though for the film can also be found in a scene removed from the original script were Quint is introduced watching “Moby Dick” at the cinema, the scenes of Gregory Peck battling the mechanical whale causing him to laugh so hard that other people in the cinema walk out as his laughter can be heard echoing into the street. Sadly it was a scene cut which Spielberg explained
“Gregory Peck felt it wasn’t his proudest work; he didn’t want it to be made fun of or even be in the film at all”
True this would be an issue which would still stand even now, but with so many giant sea creature movies it wouldn’t be such an issue to find one whose actors aren’t perhaps so sensitive about the footage being used
While the background of Quint is patchy outside of what we are given by both the film and the book, further inspiration could also be taken from the life of sport fisherman Frank Mundus who was a key inspiration for author Peter Benchley when writing the book aswell as while working on the screen play, having first heard of Mundus when his publisher told him about how Mundas caught a 4550 pound great white shark off the shores of Long Island which he caught via harpoon. Mundus also holds the record for the largest fish caught via rod and reel when he caught a 3,427 pound great white, a fibreglass copy of which still hangs on the Lake Montauk waterfront. Unlike Quint though Mundas would towards the end of his career go from shark hunter to conservationist (much like Benchley) through to his death from a heart attack in 2008.

The main issue with Quint being the focus though is his general demeanour which means that he only cares about himself and generally comes off pretty unlikeable until he warms up to people as we saw in “Jaws”, so it may require an additional crew mate to be written in, just to keep things light or perhaps the film could show Quint perhaps not as bitter with life as when we meet him in “Jaws” either way another shark hunt with Quint is one of the few prospects for the series I would still like to see, even if it isn’t the same monster size as the ones the series has become renown for.

For more Spielberg related fun makes sure you check out French Toast Sunday's "Spielberg In July" for which this article was compiled for.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Top 6 Underated Spielberg Moments

Unquestionably Steven Spielberg is one of a small amount of directors to achieve the status of a master director in his lifetime and to look at his back catalogue it is easy to understand why and over the years his films have featured countless memorable moments. However for every mash potato mountain, surprise shark appearance, boulder dash and bunch of kids managing to elude the FBI on BMX's (geez are they on steroids or something) there have been numerous moments which for one reason of another never seem to get a mention when discussing Spielberg's films.

So as part of French Toast Sunday's "Speilberg In July" I will now try and honour some of these overlooked moments, so please allow me to present you with my top 6 underrated Spielberg moments!

Hook - Captain Hook's Suicide Attempt

A surprising moment sneaked into what is supposed to be a family film, because we all know nothing says family entertainment like a beloved childhood character trying to kill themselves. Still Spielberg rolled the dice with this scene and it works, while unquestionably helped by having two titans like Dustin Hoffman and Bob Hoskins in the scene ensuring that a pretty black humoured joke comes off pitch perfect, while the back and forth banter between Hook and Smeed only further adds to the fun. No doubt because of how well the scene works no one questioned its inclusion unlike the opening of "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" which despite also being a family film memorably opened with a hanging.

Jurassic Park - Flea Circus

Unquestionably this film still holds up even now as here Spielberg gives a film unquestionably dripping in spectacle and wonder as well as one whose set pieces are still as exciting to watch even after repeat viewings. However I personally always loved this scene were John Hammond talks about his flea circus and while it might seem like a throwaway scene, it is one that Richard Attenborough truly sells on its pure simplicity. At the same time it serves to highlight the sheer delusion of Hammond who even at this point in the film with the park currently in chaos (as this scene shows) believes that he can control his creation, only for Ellie (Laura Dern) to give him a swift reality check.

The Lost World: Jurassic Park - Sarah Hits The Glass

True I was going to go with the truly random scene were the raptor is knocked through a window via gymnastics, but instead opted for this scene, just because you genuinely wonder how they will survive this. The key shot here is when the trailer first goes off the cliff and you see the back door fly off leaving a seemingly open void to fall through. Needless to say this shot caught a lot of people out on their original viewing, but on repeat viewing the slowly cracking glass makes it such a great moment and one reminiscent of the glass cracking in "The Abyss".

Jaws - Give Us A Kiss

The film which still today makes me weary about swimming in the sea and host to numerous classic moments, meaning that this scene far too often gets overlooked which is kind of a shame as with the spot on casting of the Brody family, you truly believed that they were a family and none more so during this scene. Honestly though I never appreciated until I had kids of my own and now its easily one of my favourite moments of the film and one which perfectly frames Chief Brody's frame of mind at this point of the film were he is pretty much defeated in his attempts to warn the town of the danger lurking in the waters around Amity.

This is a scene which could have easily been overplayed or drenched in smaltz, but thankfully here it is played straight, allowing the natural playful humour to shine through providing a slight moment of light relief from the bloody carnage the shark is carving through the town.

Schindler's list - Shower Scene

Unquestionably the most powerful of Spielberg's films it unquestionably pulls no punches with it handling of the profile of Oscar Schindler and its portrayal of the holocaust. So powerful and moving is this film that I have only twice managed to sit through it in one sitting, normally requiring a break to calm myself before returning to the second half. At the same time it is a film packed with so many memorable moments including most famously the little girl in the red coat, that it is hardly surprising that this scene is so often forgotten.

Resting on the suggestion that we are watching this group of ladies being prepared for their death in the gas chambers disguised as a shower block, there is an unquestionably sense of dread which runs throughout the scene as Spielberg slowly cranks up the tension to the point that it is the same relief these ladies feel when water comes from the showers that the audience also feel. Here we clearly see a master working at the height of his powers.

War of The Worlds - Ferry Attack

For years the Spielberg rumour mill was a buzz with talk of his adaption being a true to the source novel including the turn of the century setting, so it was kind of a disappointment when he finally gave us his adaptation that it was like the previous film adaptation set in modern times. Still atleast he did finally give us the tripods (even though the flying ships were equally cool) and managed to hit many of the main plot points missing from the previous version including this scene which originally I thought would see the appearance of the battleship HMS Thunder Child in one of my favourite moments of the book, though sadly it was not to be.

What we do get instead is one of the most surprisingly tense and realistic moments of the film and one Spielberg helped generate fear in his actors by playing the "Jaws" theme underwater and I think its safe to say it worked pretty darn well even if the rest of the film was pretty forgettable.

So there you have my top 6, but what would make your list? Let me know in the comments section below.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Video Games: The Movie

Title: Video Games: The Movie
Director: Jeremy Snead
Released: 2014

Plot: Documentary on the video game industry looking back at the history of the video games and the consoles from the early days of “Space Wars” and “Pong” through to the current domination by Playstation, Nintendo and Xbox.

Review: If I wasn’t writing about cult, foreign and obscure cinema it’s pretty safe to say that I would be writing about video games instead, as alongside books and food they have constantly been a one of the few things to rival my love of films. Needless to say I’ve been looking forward to the release of this documentary since it was first announced as a kickstarter campaign, were it smashed its original target of $60,000 with video game fans ultimately raising $107,235 for the production.

This documentary really comes at an exciting time for video games, seeing how gamers no longer face the stigma that came previously with admitting to being a fan of video games. A fear it now seems is but a distant memory especially with more people than ever getting into video games than before from console and PC gamers through to WII owners and smart game addicts, it seems that everyone is playing games these days. Needless to say this all provides a rich subject to explore yet somehow the end result ends up being a somewhat tedious affair.

Opening with a rushed history of video games it is certainly a unique approach to the material with director Snead chooses to take, as having outlined the history he then proceeds to explore a variety of subjects such as the first video games and the rise of Atari which brought video games truly in people homes as it seemingly starts this trek through video game history for a second time only this time making stop offs at key moments of video game history, such as the video game crash and the legendry ET landfill which seemingly sparked it. Elsewhere we also get the usual arguments around video games being responsible for violent behaviour, but like so many of the more interesting aspects of the film it is covered is far too brief detail to really make much of an impact.

While the film promises a nostalgic look at video games of yesteryear, this ultimately fails to materialise as the documentary seems to be more focused on the advancements in the gaming systems rather than the games themselves. Yes there is plenty of game footage included throughout, but the footage of people discussing the games is few and far between and the most I depth discussion on gaming seems to be about online gamers and the friendships they have made through video games, while there is the nostalgic story about setting up multiplayer games of “Doom” via a home made LAN setup, something I’ve also fond memories of doing. Sadly though if your looking for stories of dodgy game carts and memories of playing various games, you will be seriously disappointed as these are noticeably absent.

Despite being the debut feature from director Snead, it is an impressive list of interviews he has assembled here as heads of every major studio and company weigh in with their thoughts on the evolution of video games alongside critics and celebrity gamers like Wil Wheaton. The downside of having so many interviews though is that at times it can feel like abit of a mixed bag as Snead trades complete coverage of the subject matter over quality, while equally some of his choices like including Max Landis are simply baffling, especially when they add zero to the film, more so in the case of Landis who proved to be the source of much frustration throughout, especially when he seems to be simply requoting the hip theory of the moment such as “Facebook is a game”. Unsurprisingly Wil Wheaton frequently proves himself to be the source of much of the best interview footage, which considering how much commentary he’s proved on both geek / nerd culture over the years and here once more he proves himself ever the engaging subject as he speaks not only as a fanboy but also a student of the subject. 

Narrated by Sean Astin who in a strange twist of fate went from being another interviewee to becoming the narrator after he found out how much of an indie production the film was and really guides the film with genuine passion even if it is a narration that tends at times to get far too bogged down in figures and flashy diagrams as it feels like an expensive looking sales pitch than a documentary. This frustration is only further added to by the fact that the film never seems to be clear on who its target audience is, especially when it throws around figures resolving around the amount of people who found the parental controls useful.

The other major issue here is that the whole documentary is essentially a one sided argument, as the only counter argument to video games comes in the form of several tabloid newspaper cuttings. As a result you end up with a film were everyone just raves on about how good video games are and how wrong their detractors are for thinking that these games could possibly cause any kind of violent impulse in the people who play them compared to movies.

Ultimately ending on a positive note (no surprise there considering the tone of the rest of the documentary) aswell as the video game version of the kiss montage from "Cinema Paradiso" as it looks to the future and new gimmicks such as the immersive "Occulus" as it seems that even video game makers aren't afraid to rehash an old fad, especially if the movie industry can rehash 3D and hence we are subjected to supposed experts telling us that once again virtual reality is going to be the future of games.

Far from the film that no doubt most of us were hoping for when we saw the title and unquestionably there are more exciting documentaries on the subject that this such as Charlie Brooker's "How Video Games Changed the World" and this really at best is worth giving little more than a curious and highly cautious watch, especially when it hardly brings anything new to the table that you won't have seen in previous films and despite a spattering of interesting moments, its far too much of a trudge to bother watching more than once.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

For A Good Time, Call...

Title: For A Good Time, Call…
Director: Jamie Travis
Released: 2012
Starring: Ari Graynor, Lauren Miller, Justin Long, Sugar Lyn Beard, Mimi Rogers, Nia Vardalos, Mark Webber, James Wolk

Plot: Lauren (Miller) and Katie (Graynor), college frenemies now suddenly forced to live together after Lauren is dumped by her boyfriend and Katie is being forced out of her apartment due to not being able to afford the rent on her own. However the pair soon form an unlikely bond, after Lauren uses her business smarts to help kickstart Kate’s phone sex business.

Review: One of the recent spate of female scripted and fronted comedies to follow in the wake of “Bridesmaids” which honestly is no bad thing especially as this film proves. Say that I think I have to say that this is the first female sex comedy I’ve seen, especially when the usual fodder for these kind of movies tends to be overly horny high schoolers trying to get laid, so needless to say it was kind of refreshing to see a pair of attractive 20-somthings even if it might be lurking a little too close to “Sex and The City” territory. Thankfully though it never fully crosses over that line especially when a fancy apartment and garish pink phone are really as close as they get to that vacuous world. Instead it ends up falling somewhere outside of the mumblecore relm of “Girls” and “Tiny Furniture”.

Written by Miller and her former college roommate Katie Anne Naylon based on their experiences living together, though there is no mention of if they were also running a phone sex line as in the film. Miller here also gets her perfect co-star in Graynor for whom she wrote the part of Katie with her in mind after seeing her in “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist”, Graynor would be cast for the film after receiving a letter from Miller stating why she would be perfect for the part. Unquestionably this would turn out to be a masterstroke as both girls truly embody their roles that you can truly believe them to be best friends.

The film plays like strange combination of “2 Broke Girls” and “The Odd Couple” Lauren and Kate are quickly established even before they have met as pretty much the polar opposite of each other. Lauren fresh from being dumped by her jackass of a boyfriend for being too boring is the business minded and straight edged family girl with dreams of being a writer, while Lauren is the filthy mouthed wild child whose relationship was strained even without their clashing personalities thanks to their original meeting in college which ended in a mishap with a slushie cup of pee.

It is of course far from the most traditional bonding opportunities that the girls finally find their common ground and once on their sex phone venture it could easily have dissolved into an onslaught of innuendo and slutty jokes, but surprisingly it never does. True there is much talk of various naughty acts and an even more questionable reunion scene which really needs to be seen, but instead you frequently find that you are more focused on the growing friendship than the general naughtiness.

Okay since we are on the subject yes you do get to see the girls working the phones as it flicks back and forth between the girls and their various clients, which include a sleazy cabby played by Kevin Smith who seems to think nothing of phoning sex lines and jacking off while he has a fare in the backseat. We also get to find out a possible reason for planes being so frequently delayed when the girls are called to double team as pilot played by Miller’s real life husband Seth Rogen. For both this is familiar territory, especially in the case of Smith who these days seems to take any opportunity to talk about his masturbation activities (when not arguing with airlines and dissing critics) both for such an indie film their cameos are both fun and only add to the film without taking anything away from the leads.

This however now leads me to one main criticism for this film and that is that all their callers are so nice and generally normal. Where are all the sleazy guys? Honestly the sleaziest caller they have is a prison lesbian and most of that is her taking about how she is going to work off her frustrations. The ultimate highlight though has to be Sean (Webber) who Katie has frequently been talking to with their conversations slowly becoming less about sex and more about getting to know each other and leading up to them finally meeting. Needless to say Sean soon turns out also not to be a secret sleaze and instead perfect boyfriend material especially with his adorable nerdish qualities. True its nice to see more Geek Chic guys rather than the guys who typical play the romantic interest, but seriously would it have hurt to have atleast one of two truly sleazy callers.

One of the interesting aspects of female headed comedy (surely there has to be a better name for this genre) is getting to see what women actually find funny and thankfully it seems that it’s not just men are all dicks as the assumption would have lead me to believe and while this is a film about sex phone workers it also a surprisingly sweet film while managing to not sacrifice laughs for Smoltz.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Titan A.E.

Title: Titan A.E.
Director: Don Bluth, Gary Goldman
Released: 2000
Starring: Matt Damon, Drew Barrymore, Bill Pullman, John Leguizamo, Nathan Lane, Janeane Garofalo, Ron Pearlman

Plot: In the year 3028 A.D. Earth is destroyed by the Drej leaving humanity scattered across the universe. Now fifteen years later Cale is recruited by the space captain Korso and his crew to help them find the Titan which might just hold the key to saving humanity.

Review: Western traditional animated films it could be argued (and please feel free to correct me in the comments section) fall into three distinct styles belonging to

* Disney
* Don Bluth
* Ralph Bakashi

While Bluth and Disney’s styles could be mistakenly seen as being the same seeing how both produced films for a younger audience, unlike Bakashi whose productions were certainly much more adult in scope. Bluth’s films also contained a much darker edge to Disney, especially when he favoured snarling drooling, cigar chomping villains while equally happy to have characters killed off with no hope of a final act surprise return which Disney tend to favour.

While his work might not be as wildly recognised as Disney’s especially with no one rushing to build Don Bluth land, it is not to say that it should be dismissed especially as throughout his career he proved especially with his earlier films that he was able to go toe to toe with the Disney output. Sadly his later films would not reflect this quality as they became a sucession of diminishing returns with this being Bluth’s final feature film (to date) before he retired from film making to pursue a career in teaching and video games, something which may have been spurned on by this film being a box office bomb on its release thanks to some lousy promotion work which not only failed to tell anyone what the film was about but left audiences unsure of who the film was intended for, after all animation was yet to be viewed as a valid style for adult films, especially with western audiences.

Since then the film has continued to gain a cult following, no doubt thanks in part to Joss Whedon working on the script and who at this point in his career was still best known for “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”, while looking at this film now it is clear to see so many elements which he would carry over to “Firefly” as seen in so many scenes in this film especially those aboard Korso’s ship the Valkyrie even if this film takes a much more traditional sci-fi approach than Whedon’s western in space. Whedon’s mark on this film though is especially clear in the dialogue which zings with great one liners while never feeling that it has to dumb things down for the audience or resort to slap stick antics to keep their attention.

While it might not be a Disney production it is still a top cast who are assembled here, even if their star power might be more now than it was back on the films release, especially in the case of Barrymore who makes for a feisty Akima and Matt Damon here is still a fun actor rather than his constantly serious form that his work now seems to constantly take since “Team America: World Police” burned him as memorable as they did. Equally on great form is Pullman who still leaves me wondering why he’s so underused especially when he has put in so many great performances, especially with his indie films like “Surveillance” while also representing the indie scene Leguizamo is ever the human chameleon and almost unrecognisable as the fast talking scientist Gune. The real scene stealer here though is Lane who dials back his usual camp tone to a sideshow bob style snobbish and frequently sarcastic tone as Preed, who not only gets most of the best lines, but frequently keeps you guessing as to where his true allegiance lies.

Unquestionably though one of the most noteworthy things about this film is the animation and that is because even now it still looks absolutely stunning and even though Bluth is an old school traditional style animator, here he clearly shows how open he is to embracing new techniques as he combines both traditional hand drawn animation with computer animation to powerful effect as he takes the strengths of both styles to make something truly special here. This is no better highlighted during the ice rings sequence, which only becomes all the more complex as it goes on. Throughout the film though there are numerous great sequences like this including an exciting chase sequence on the swamp planet Sesharrim, featuring multiple switches as it takes place both on the water and in the air. It is during these set pieces that the film really comes into its own.

One of the aspects of the film which does come off kind of dated is in the soundtrack which features  late 90’s bands like Lit, The Fun Lovin’ Criminals and Powerman 5000 and lets of course not forget that the trailer music for this film was supplied by Creed who are noticeably absent from the official soundtrack. Personally though I liked the general nu-metal soundtrack and made a refreshing change from the usual overblown orchestral score which tends to overpower most sci-fi pictures as if they feel the spectacle on screen needs supporting.  However in choosing to go with a modern soundtrack the film does loose its timeless quality as its soundtrack selections now leave it tethered to its year of release.
The other downside to the film is that outside of a recording left by Cale’s father, the film can feel like its lacking in an emotional core, especially when the focus seems to be primarily on the journey these characters are on to find the titan, that the emotional connections do seem to be put on the back burner in favour of another action scene or a fun character interaction. As a result of this it is unlikely that you will care too much about this until after the film has finished and no doubt by then you will be wanting to see more from these characters, maybe not as another movie but certainly as a tv series were the characters could be developed further and the universe of Titan further expanded, something which it seems is as likely as "Firefly" getting a second season at this point but even as a one off adventure this is a blast from start to finish.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Life Itself

Title: Life Itself
Director: Steve James
Released: 2014

Plot: Documentary charting the life and death of legendry film critic Roger Ebert

Review: On April 4, 2013 a dark shadow was cast over the film critic community as Roger Ebert lost his 11-year battle with cancer. Ebert was seen by many of us as a titan of the critic community and while I might have written off his relevance at during the early years of this blog it would be after I saw how he championed smaller and lesser seen movies like “Welcome tothe Dollhouse” that I finally got the importance of his work and realised that he was not another mainstream critic simply reviewing movies, but rather a man who truly loved films and saw his critical work as a way to share this love with others and perhaps encourage people to view films in ways they might not have otherwise seen them.

Director James who previously gave us the basketball documentary “Hoop Dreams” here crafts a touching tribute to the life and ultimately death of the legendry critic as he was still filming right up until Ebert’s death. Ebert and his wife seemingly give him here seemingly unlimited access to their lives as well as home movies and photographs to craft a truly full picture of his life, starting from his early writing assignments with his university paper the “Daily Illini” were he also served as the editor before starting his role as a film critic for the “Chicago Sun-Times” which in turn would lead to his now legendry partnership with Gene Siskel.

Narrated by a spot on impersonation by voice artist Stephen Stanton reading passages from Ebert’s autobiography from which the film takes its name, the film is guided by these passages while being added onto by interviews with his friends, family and more surprisingly only a handful of director interviews with Martin Scorsese being the biggest named of these directors to appear and this might be more down to the fact that he is one of the executive producers, but as always makes a warm and welcome contribution to film, aswell as highlighting the contribution Ebert made to his career revival with his contributions to the promotion of “Raging Bull”. On the other end of the scale we also have directors Ava DuVernay (I Will Follow) who shares memories of meeting Ebert as a child and meeting him years later when she made her directorial debut. Ramin Bahrani (Man Push Cart) equally shares a number of happy memories, while seemingly also appears to have had a mentor and apprentice relationship, with Ebert clearly having held out hopes of big things for Bahrani’s career from some of the stories he shares, while scenes of him visiting Ebert in the hospital show a friendship much deeper than critic and film maker.

Needless to say the most interesting parts of the documentary revolve around his professional rivalry and unique friendship he had with Siskel. While the question as to how much of their rivalry was for show still hangs in the air, it is clear from the interviews with those closest to them that they held a level of respect for each other, with Marlene Siskel really nailing it when she quotes her late husband as saying

“He was an arsehole, but he was my arsehole”

Ebert’s quotes from his memoir do also outline much like the well-publicised footage of them finally finding in religion something they can finally agree on that while they might have had their disagreements on screen that off screen they shared many moments he held dear. What is clear though here though as it was then is that both clearly relished the fact that both could give as good as the other.

Equally interesting here though are the sections surrounding Siskel and Ebert constantly promoting the smaller and frequently less seen films, something that Ebert continued to do through his website which would become the home of his critic work for the latter end of his career. The example of this kind of promotion given here though is the Errol Morris documentary “Gates of Heaven” which they managed to sneak onto their show three times. Sadly though this is really the only example given, with the likes of “Dark City” for which he contributed a commentary strangely not even being mentioned which I found to be one of the more frustrating aspects of the documentary much like how his work on Russ Meyer’s “Beyond the Valley of Dolls” is only really glanced with no mention of the adopted father figure he found in Meyer’s thanks to a shared love of large breasted ladies, as highlighted in the Meyer’s biography “Big Bosoms and Square Jaws”. At the same time these things are more of a minor concern if you knew they existed in the first place….so sorry for giving you that irritation I guess.

Ultimately this is both a touching and moving tribute to the life and work of the great man and one which fans will not be left disappointed by, especially as it trades a star studded interview list to craft a truly intimate portrait, especially when the gaps are filled by his wife Chaz whose extensive interview footage ensuring that that this really as complete a profile of the man as possible and an ultimate tribute to the staggering body of work he left us.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Roujin Z

Title: Roujin Z
Director: Hiroyuki Kitakubo
Released: 1991
Starring:  Toni Barry, Allan Wenger, Barbara Barnes, Adam Henderson, Ian Thompson, John Fizgerald Jay, Nicolette McKenzie, Sean Barrett, Blair Fairman, Nigel Anthony

Plot: A bed ridden old man is recruited by the Department of Health under the so-called “Project Z” in which he is given a special nursing bed with a built in computer to handle his every need. However when he brings projecting his pain and loneliness to his ex-private nurse Haruko (Barry) she sets out to rescue him, as the bed soon starts to take on the personality of the old man’s  dead wife.

Review: One of the seemingly long forgotten old school anime, it was around the time that I was first getting into the genre that I first saw the trailer for this film and typically it has taken me until now to actually get around to watching it and while the animation might look slightly dated by today’s standards there is still a lot of charm in the frequently amusing writing

Of course its hard to tell the humorous tone from the opening which sees the old man who soon will find himself at the centre of this bizarre tale, shouting out that he has wet himself while an overweight cat sleeps on his chest. True this might be a pretty dark opening to what is actually a very light hearted and fun film and while it might have you reaching for the eject button I can only urge you to stick with it past this rather uncomfortable opening, which is not so much about shock tactics and seems to have been included by director Kitakubo as something of a wakeup call to the audience about the treatment of the older generation, a theme which certainly runs through this film even if it might be under the disguise of another giant mecha anime.

Centred around a new prototype bed the Z-001, which provides the ultimate in around the clock care for its elderly user, as any number of hidden screens and arms appear when needed to take care of any needs the user might have and in the process eliminating the need for home nurses or family members to burden themselves with caring for elderly relatives. While it might seem like the perfect solution it would seem that the users don’t exactly feel the same way and what initially starts out as a straightforward film about Haruko trying to rescue her former charge, soon become awhole lot more surreal when the bed, seemingly develops a mind of its own with things only getting stranger still when it takes on the personality of the old man’s deceased wife complete with seemingly an endless list of pet names for her husband.

While the opening might be uncomfortable viewing the film surprisingly actually gets lighter and more humorous the longer it goes on, especially as the bed starts to evolve from its original form as it begins to adapt and absorb other machines into its framework as it makes its way through the busy streets on a single minded mission to get to the sea. A plan which the project heads are soon quick to launch into action to stop happening, while ensuring in the process that the action quota for the film is handled as the film soon changes from a comment on the health care system to a chase movie, before finally ending with some come frenzied mecha on mecha action, as another robot is unleashed to stop the Z-001.

Despite coming being written by Katsuhiro Otomo, who most memorable gave the world the legendry “Akira” this is a much smaller and lighter film, even though it was released in the wake of that film and ultimately it wouldn’t be until 1995 with the release of “Ghost in the Shell” that any film would come close to beating it, while director Kitakubo would much later equally come close with his own “Blood: The Last Vampire”. Still despite the lack of scale the film still manages to make its own impact with some beautifully detailed setting aswell as Haruko being joined on her mission numerous colourful characters which this film certainly doesn’t have a shortage including a group of elderly hackers while even the bed takes on a playful personality even if it’s essentially just a synthesised voice.

True it might lack the grandeur of some other anime’s, especially in these times were fans are literally spoiled for choice with the range or titles which are available and even more so by the standard for anime which Studio Ghibli have established, this remains still a fun dose of nostalgia for older anime fans, while the more open minded fans able to get past the older style of animation here will still find this an enjoyable film, which doesn’t outstay its welcome.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Mr and Mrs Player

Title: Mr and Mrs Player
Director: Wong Jing
Released: 2013
Starring:  Chrissie Chow, Matt Chow, Pang Ho-Cheung, Chapman To

Plot: Feng Shui master, occasional con-man and general ladies’ man Carson (To) has never been in a stable relationship, until he meets his match in the veterinarian and fellow player Chi-Ling (Chow). Now challenged with going 100 days without any sexual contact to win her affection, the games are truly on as Carson is determined to in win her affection.

Review: Certainly one of the more random films I've watched as of late, while unbeknown to me upon entering into it that it would would go some way to filling that Stephen Chow shaped void in my life….seriously has it really been 10 years since his last film??
Playing like the Hong Kong version of “40 Days and 40 Nights” the film best remembered for the scene in which Josh Hartnett’s character was raped by his ex-girlfriend! Thankfully there is nothing so morally questionable here, while the differences in censorship do mean that this was a sex comedy very different than any of its western counterparts, as while Eastern censors frown on nudity, but seem pretty much willing to let anything outside of that slide which is something director Jing certainly runs with here to create a truly filthy comedy without a single moment of nudity.

This film however is very much a showcase for the talents of To, who essentially steals the whole movie with a frenzied and energetic performance that dominates the whole film and despite my reservations about a portly actor convincingly playing this kind of role were quickly evaporated within the first ten minutes of this film as somehow he makes it work. At the same time it could be down to how relentless his style of comedy is, as he combines frequent costume changes (and boy are there some questionable costumes here) slapstick and sheer hyper activeness to sell the role of Carson, who easily could have come off as a truly despicable and unlikeable character in the hands of another actor, especially with his severe lack of moral compass which sees him more than happy to con, lie and swindle anyone to get his own way.

On the flip side of things Cheung really mixes things up as Carson’s female counterpart, even if it is a performance that relies on her generally looking pretty and doing pretty much nothing else. Refreshingly though her character is not chastised her dating habits and instead viewed as on a level playing field as Carson, even if the naughtiest of her antics is being on a date with two men at the same time, but at least she’s never seen as being slutty for such antics, a view which Hollywood much like the rest of society is to get behind. Having set Carson the herculean task of surviving 100 days without sex, she certainly doesn’t make it easy on him as she installs a glass divider in her bed (complete with kissing hatch) to ensure that he cannot try anything. To add to Carson’s pain Chi-Ling also recruits the assistance of her equally stunning flatmates to further torment him as she dress provocatively, eat suggestive food and generally find ever more inventive ways to torture him to the point where he even has to get a chastity belt fitted.
The tone of the film is surreal to say the least, especially when so many scenes don’t make the blind bit of sense yet as the viewer you still find yourself happy to except, such as a flashback to Carson’s school days which sees Carson and his friends still being played by the same actors with no attempt being made to make them look any younger. At the same time the randomness is only further cranked up when Carson and Chi-Ling watch a film showing highlights from their relationship only to use clips from the film itself!?! Perhaps its because these scenes are so funny that you find yourself able to look past things such as logic, which is something this film really is lacking much like any grasp of reality. Could there be any other reason to explain why its so easy to accept a scene were male cast members dress themselves up as various sexual organs.

Alas if only the randomness ended here. For some reason Director Jing feeling that perhaps things are already not crazy enough also throws in sub-plots involving Ghosts and demonic possession, with the latter somehow being part of his job as a Feng Shui master which if your excuse my ignorance I personally thought was more to do with positioning your furniture than anything involving being an exorcist. However it is hard to fault these scenes like so much of the aforementioned randomness as like those scenes they are played with such fun and energy by Chow that you won’t even question what they are doing in a romantic comedy.

While the first half of the film is a frenzied blast, the second half suffers as it becomes increasingly bogged down in the romantic aspects of Carson’s relationship with Chi-Ling and in particular their perhaps slightly unbelievably fast move to get engaged thankfully due to the short running time this doesn’t ultimately detract too much from the film, even if it does cause it to drag noticeably towards the end.

Overall while this might be a romantic comedy unlike any other you have seen it is still a fun if disposable experience, while providing yet another reminder of why Asian cinema is still frequently the source of truly inventive cinema.
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