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A Great Musical Documentary on a Fascinating Subject
Seperado documents musician Gruff Rhys' (Super Furry Animals) quixotic adventure to track down his distant uncle René Griffiths, aka The Singing Gaucho, who appeared on 1970s Welsh television singing and playing Spanish guitar on horseback before disappearing from the airwaves. Through his own family history (with flashbacks to 1880's featuring some very dodgy fake beards), Gruff traces the fascinating but little-known subject of the Welsh diaspora to Patagonia, the only place outside of Wales where significant numbers of Welsh speakers are to be found.
Rene is something of a mysterious figure - he's just out of reach, always just one step ahead as Gruff gigs across Patagonia playing venues both large and small (at one point he performs to field of goats). Alongside the quest, the film focuses on a number of different aspects and consequences of the move down south, from the dangers the immigrants faced to their relationship and integration with the local populace, along with their struggle to keep welsh traditions and language alive. Gruff makes for a relaxed and convivial host, reacting to the everyone with warmth and humour as along the way he meets a variety of charming characters, from Tony da Gatorra and his home-built electronic instruments to the singing twin brothers continuing the tradition of the Latin Wesh gaucho.
The film is filled with whimsical turns and magical twists, from the musical inserts (it's a shame that the soundtrack was never released), to the magical red Power Ranger helmet (a stage prop which first appeared during Super Furry Animal gigs) Gruff uses to transport himself across continents. But does he find Rene? You'll have to watch the film to find out.
Sigur Rós: Heima (2007)
A stunning introduction to a band and their home-country
Having attended a one-off screening at the Manchester Cornerhouse, I can safely say that this film is visually and sonically stunning. The documentary chronicles Sigur Ros' 2006 free tour of Iceland, with every song introducing you to a different corner and aspect of Iceland. Each filmed performance takes place in a different location, from abandoned villages to massive open air concerts. And what performances they are!
Interceded throughout are interviews with the band, their support string section - Amiina and in one memorable instance, a man who constructs musical instruments from rocks. They all come across as a thoroughly likable group who have a deep love for their home-country. This film serves as both a wonderful introduction to Sigur Ros and their music as well as a great advert for Iceland.
Extreme Prejudice (1987)
"Right way's the hardest, wrong way's the easiest."
One of Walter Hill's many overlooked and undervalued films, Extreme Prejudice is a modern day western, set squarely on the US/Mexican border.
For an action film, it's unusually structured, with two separate strands vying for prominence. On the one hand we have Texas Ranger Jack Benteen (Nick Nolte, looking particularly sharp), versus childhood friend, now drug lord Cash Bailey (Powers Boothe), battling over both the drug trade and Sarita Cisneros (Maria Conchita Alonso), a Mexican singer who loves them both. But what is a supposedly deceased US army unit doing in town? These guys are on a mission, and while they might not like their orders, they'll carry them out to the best of their ability. But what their mission is, they or us are never to sure of.
The film is filled with to the brim with fine character actors, chewing up and spitting out the tough-guy dialogue with relish. Everyone is on fine form though Rip Torn, as Benteen's predecessor and Clancy Brown, as the unit's second-in-command are of particular note.
Well worth a look if you ever get the chance.
Stark Raving Mad (2002)
Fun but forgettable
So I was flicking through the channels late at night and was surprise to see Sean William Scott on screen in a film I didn't recognise (always the best way to watch a film I find - no preconceptions). Anyway, I was intrigued enough to keep watching all the way through to the finish.
Scott is Ben McGewen, a small-time who's having to pay off his murdered brother's debt to gang boss Gregory (Lou Diamond Philips wearing a shockingly white wig and who I only actually recognised just before the end). All he has to do is steal a rare Chinese sculpture for him. Unfortunately the sculpture is locked away in a high-security bank vault. Good thing that Ben has an elaborate plan which involves the putting on a club night in the warehouse next door and a crew of accomplices capable of pulling it off. So long as everything goes to plan of course.
Inevitably, everything that can go wrong, does go wrong, but then if it didn't, there wouldn't be much of a film. Their original choice of DJ doesn't show and his replacement isn't too keen on their choice of music, Ben's ex-girlfriend is hanging around and distracting him, there's undercover FBI agents hanging around the club and Gregory is an impatient man.
I'm sure that if I thought about it, I could poke all kinds of holes in the plot and there were a few scene's that fell flat or just seemed to be filling time but I can say I warmed to the film. The main reason would be Scott, who carried the film and for once, wasn't playing a variation on Stifler. The rest of the cast were all unknown to me apart from Diamond-Philips and Dave Folley, who has little more than a cameo as one of the FBI agents though they all played their roles fine. It also made me laugh (especially a line that I will not repeat here as I don't want to upset more sensitive ears). So overall, it was a fun but nothing special.
Hot Fuzz (2007)
Caught by the Fuzz
So here we have it, the eagerly awaited follow-up from the same team that brought us Shaun of the Dead. But whereas Shaun (hereafter shortened to SOTD) drew its inspiration primarily from zombie films (more specifically, George Romero's "Dead" films), Hot Fuzz throws its net a bit wider, taking in every buddy-buddy cop action film made in the last 20 odd years and combining it with a very British perspective. Think Midsummer Murder spliced with Bad Boys 2 and you should have the rough idea.
Through a series of quick cuts we are introduced to Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg), an outstanding officer in the London police force, a super cop with an arrest record 400% higher than anyone else. In fact he's so good, he makes everyone else look bad. So Angel is packed off to the picture-perfect village of Sandford, alone save for his beloved Japanese Peace Lilly. On arrival Angel finds it difficult to adjust to village life, constantly on the look out for crime in a place where there hasn't been a murder for over 20 years and the police station is so quiet that the staff spend most of their time eating cake and ice-cream. He also finds himself partnered with over-eager constable Danny Butterman (Nick Frost), the son of amiable Police Chief Frank Butterman (Jim Broadbent). Danny is obsessed with action films and believe's that Angel is his chance to live out his dreams of car chases and gunfights.
With the set-up completed within the first 15 minutes it's on with the plot as people start to die in a series of grisly "accidents". Angel is suspicious but no-one believes him apart from Danny. With the body count rising though, the two need to work together to find out what's going on or could it be that Angel is just wound too tightly for country living? Pegg and Frost have been doing their double act for so long it's become second nature and it's nice to see them playing (slightly) different roles. Just like SOTD, they are ably supported by a cast of familiar faces from British film and TV. It's good to see Timothy Dalton having so much fun, playing the sinister Mr Skinner with a moustache-twirling relish. Other standouts include Paddy Considine and Rafe Spall as the Andy's, two detectives who spend most of their time verbally abusing Angel and Danny.
The film is packed full of references, which I'm sure will take multiple viewings to catch. There's some inventively gory scenes which are sure to make everyone a bit more careful around churches and model villages, though they are a bit too obviously CGI. It's a shame that the action doesn't kick into high gear until the final third but with the plot not going down the most obvious of routes and since I was laughing all the way through I can't really complain. The film is a success in it's attempt to create a "British" action film, combining adrenaline-fuelled action with the mundane and everyday.
"We often confuse what we wish for with what is."
Mirrormask is a film with excellent parentage. The Jim Henson Company, hoping to emulate their now classic Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal, has financed the film, with the screenplay provided by Neil Gaiman and his long-time collaborator Dave McKean directing the film. But the budget here is a 20th of cost of those earlier works and Gaiman and McKean untested in the filmic world. So how does the final result stand up? We first meet Helena (Stephanie Leonidas) working at her parent's (Rob Brydon and Gina McKee) circus. While most children would like nothing better than to run away and join the circus, Helena is fed up to the back teeth, cursing her mother for not allowing her a normal life. During a performance her mother becomes seriously ill and has to undergo life-saving surgery. That night Helena dreams, finding herself in magical land that is reminiscent of her own drawings, off-balance because of its sleeping White Queen (McKee again). Accompanied by Valentine (Jason Barry) she goes on quest to find the key that will wake the Queen and restore balance to the world, whilst avoiding the clutches of the Black Queen (McKee yet again). But there is another malign influence overshadowing this world, one prepared to destroy it all.
The film is something of a crossbreed, equally art-house and children's film. Unlike Henson's earlier films all the visuals here are of the CG rather than puppet variety. The final result is similar to other recent green-screen films such as Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and Immortel. Unlike those efforts however Mirrormask features a believable fantasy world, populated by strange and unusual creatures and where fish fly through the air.
McKean has always had the ability to create striking imagery as his cover for The Sandman books will attest, and it's his visual flair that really shines here, hardly surprising considering the film 18 months of post-production. But all this eye-candy can be overwhelming, with actors possibly being overshadowed the goings-on around them. Rob Brydon gets lumbered with a quite awful mask at one point. And Gina McKee doesn't really register, surprising when considering she has 3 roles to play. But theirs are supporting roles, and lead actress Stephanie Leonidas is more than up to the task of carrying the film, ably assisted by Jason Barry, who manages carry off the side-kick role from behind a blank face-mask.
It a shame the plot could not be as inventive as the visuals, with the bare bones reminiscent of above-mentioned Labyrinth. The story meanders on occasion, with interludes that slow everything down to a snails pace. On the positive, there are moments of great comic invention, a particular highlight being the duck/gorilla creatures that are all called Bob (apart from the one called Malcolm).
So will the film achieve the same level of cult as its predecessors? Only time and DVD sales will tell.
"Who do you think you're talking too?"
I actually watched this film based on the recommendations of those who've commented here. It was just starting on BBC1 and, as I happened to be online at the time, I thought I'd check out what had been written here on IMDb. I'm glad I did as they convinced me to watch the film.
Whilst it's plot reads like your typical, cop-looking-for-revenge-B-movie that normally gets shown in the early hours of the morning to fill time, this plot is made watchable by tour-de-force performance from Anthony LaPaglia. He plays a undercover cop searching for revenge who's so good at being other people that he's losing his grip on who he is. LaPaglia slips effortlessly from character to character, sometimes within scenes you can see him taking on the characteristic of others. His English accent is well done, and I believe if you were to just see the scenes where he's seducing Jill Hallman, you'd simply assume you were watching a Hugh Grant style romance, except LaPaglia is infinitely more charming in my opinion.
Another performance of note is Kevin Pollack's. He gives a solid performance and makes a good foil to LaPaglia. Against these two, everyone else just seems to fade into the background.
Of course, there are problems with the film. If you analyse the plot for 5 minutes, it would probably all fall apart. Also, the film feels dated before its time, looking a few years older than it's 1995 release date would suggest. But these are by-the-by things for me personally as I enjoyed the performances so much.
Finally, for anyone interested in similar subject matter, I would highly recommend the 'Human Target' comic books written by Peter Milligan for DC comics.
Ant Muzak (2002)
One-joke but at least it's a good one
I watched this short a couple of nights ago on channel 4 as part of their 'Outside Zone' section of programmes. It's a fairly simple idea - Adam and the Ants make an eventful late-night trip to their local 24-hour supermarket - but it's played well with plenty of humour and respect.
Can't say I recognised Nick Moran as Adam Ant and had to rely on the end credit's for identification. He does look the spitting image of Mr. Ant and is quite amusing, especially when trying to control the 'kids' (the 2 drummers who I haven't got a clue what their names are). Mackensie Crook is fairly recognisable and comes across as a motherly figure (it's probably just the curly blonde wig and clothes he's wearing). Apparently a couple of the original Ants were involved in the film, contributing music and making cameo appearances.
One thing I didn't get was the other group of shoppers who were wandering around. Not being a child of the early eighties, I failed to get the joke but I imagine it would be fairly obvious to someone else.
After a quick google I see that it's possible to see and download from various places. I recommend you give it a go. There's also follow-on of sorts called 'Blake Junction 7' with a few of the same faces appearing. This also looks interesting from the trailer that's online.
Spine Chillers (2003)
"They worship evil, menace, darkness, death, then travel home on the top deck of the 73 bus."
'Spine-Chillers' was a short-lived horror/comedy anthology show that was screened initially on BBC 3 before being shown on late night BBC 1. I remember watching one of the episodes of this series last year. 'Goths' starred Mackenzie Crook (with a truly awful black wig) and somebody I can't recall as a couple of the above mentioned sub-section of society looking for somewhere to live. After numerous rejections they find a place with a full-on Goth landlord Balfus, played with bug-eyed intensity by Mark Heap. He's a bit of a head case, insistent on getting his rent on time and who also has a thing against 'weekenders', those that only dabble in the Goth life-style. After altering the place to their liking (a very funny sequence where the Crook and the other guy paint their new place completely black and then relax with a cup of tea with the milk dyed black) and hold a house-warming they begin to notice weird stuff happening around the house and the landlord is getting particularly insistent on getting his rent.
I've no idea whether this episode was typical of the series though I did enjoy what I watched. Hopefully there will be a another series sometime in the future.
I'm assuming this is the same film that I watched in the Rotterdam film festival based on the names of the title and director. The first plot description here though couldn't be more different than the one that I had read before watching the film. Rather than a documentary, 'War' seemed to be a chronicle of the after-effects of a war that we never see on a slowly disappearing country life. The minister mentions the rapture early on and from what see for most of the film there doesn't appear to be anyone left apart from our four protagonists. Actually, 'protagonists' is probably the wrong word as they don't actually do all that much and we see very little interaction between them. When the minister calls his 'sweetie-pie' turns away from the camera so we don't actually see him speaking on the phone, suggesting she might not be on the other end of the phone.The characters are simply going through their routines, unable or unwilling to do anything else. Radio's buzz with the voices of preachers, proclaiming and preaching for all their worth. Towards the end there is a suggestion of hope for the future when the boy drops the radio from the bridge, silencing the past. Personally, I thought the film might have worked before as four separate pieces, each one focusing on a different character and lasting 10 minutes. But that's just me.