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All the President's Men (1976)
We're Susceptible to being "All The President's Men" too
By Stephen Thanabalan
Adapted from the book by journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein by legendary screenwriter Bill Goldman and director Alan Pakula into a film with intelligible continuity in describing one of the most engrossing events in US history, this film must also be remembered as a representation of truth, and not taken as tacit fact with Wood-Stein celebrated as American heroes of the highest order even if it is tempting to be absorbed into this ostensible triumph with the film, otherwise we might be susceptible to being overreliant on the film's portrayal. And we'd become, "All The President's Men"'s men.
Let's not take anything away from the film as an entity though. This film is one of only a handful to show respect to the craft of journalism at the time and even till now, especially since the only others to do so before it went back possibly to 'Deadline USA' or even 'Citizen Kane'. How does it show this respect? It does right from the opening scene of the teletype firing typo bangs till that very epilogue where it closes with the same impact three years in progress. It shows this respect by tediously charting the very same tedious unglamorous legwork that went in behind the scenes of investigation. Some may feel that this 'meticulous to a fault' element lagged the film but I reckon showing the reporters deal with bureaucratic tape, recalcitrant obstacles (including their editors concerned with national stability) or intrepid calls and conversations with jittery sources highlighted the tenacity that lies in the heart of this true story. In doing so, the makers showcase the emotional rollercoasters and painstaking work required for journalism and tell the story about how Watergate's very story was pieced from puzzle.
As Woodward and Bernstein, Redford and Hoffman are convincing from the start- bantering in industry jargon with striking clarity and gripping Colleague-ethical-friendship dramatics. They carry this well with characters rehearsed down to a pat from image (the smoking, hanging ties, corduroys, sideburns, apartments) all the way to reportage, epitomising their real life counterparts whom they understudied at the Post itself and probably gleaned off their willingness to do anything to get to the truth. They had an air of greenhorn/underdog about them and it probably made the audience love them as much as their sub who cried, "They're hungry...don't you remember what it's like to be hungry".
The film also respects the historical context through usage of archive footage (albeit talking heads) of aides in interviews; President Nixon in congress and so on, aiding us in remembering the significance, magnitude and context of the time. Done this way, even a viewer without political interest is hooked (regardless of Redford's charm or Hoffman's charisma), and considering its a film about an event analysed in retrospect, the manner of how it reveals dynamic information excites, thrills, and surprises even if we know how it ends.
Yet, the film is always struggling between dramatisation and authenticity. The scenes with Holbrook as Deep Throat (Felt the most confidential source in history revealed only in 2005) in the parking garage with Woodward are compelling, yet is evident that drama and reality are in tension. Robarbs as editor Bradlee, plays conflicted tensions with cynical maturity that feels authentic, constantly reminding Wood-Stein to uncover solid evidence, but poignantly keeping faith with the two and sharing their frustrations, yelling, "why won't anyone go on the damn record in this country!" with his new respect for them at the end of the film as uplifting as his move to take a calculated risk with running the story. It is in these moments, the film celebrates this raw triumph of humanity through success against the odds.
Pakula does the job of keeping the movie suspenseful and intriguing. You flow with the characters and care about how they unravel the mystery, feel disappointments and rejection, stare road blocks cold and ultimately, end up celebrating their every accomplishment. Which brings me to this very question- Is it flat out accurate for people to leave this film thinking Woodward and Bernstein, inasmuch as the hyperbole and iconic praise bestowed (including the Pulitzer) they've received in the years since, at the time, really were responsible for bringing down the 37th US President per se? Sure, they pried open a scandal and showed A-G Mitchell was crooked, but film-wise, it cuts them at page 200 of a 336 page book. Furthermore, it does not cover the complex aftermath including the crucial Nixon Tapes imbroglio, possibly the most crucial piece of evidence.
This is a reminder to us the audience, to question the numbers of facts vs. fiction in the film, the bias, as well as to remember that cinema is not a substitute for thorough research as it's storytelling's nature to wind up with good guys vs bad guys, that old binary, while the actualities vis a vis Watergate are far more complex than could ever be portrayed on a 135 minute feature. However, in saying that, it certainly is no fault of the film to do so, it is us, that need to remember that we like Wood-Stein need to bear this big picture in mind. In fact it says a lot about the power of perceptible effects that this very film wielded because, as a result of this very film's (in combination with the book's) influence, Wood-Stein changed the nature of public perception in journalism and politics, forging heroes of journalists - and liars of most public figures depicted (derogatorily or not, and more importantly, innocently or not). It is simply not the scope of this review to discuss the wider implications in the fields of journalism and political relationships, public relations, trust issues or agenda setting, but just like the film, let's realise and acknowledge these issues of a bigger picture and depth to actuality really exists and not bury them like, or rather, alongside, all the President's men.
The Apartment (1960)
For anyone who's ever been trapped and lonely
With thematic content that is still relevant today anywhere from NYC to Tokyo, the heart of this very real human dramedy is that quiet, simple love endures and triumphs in the end, and that there is hope for the millions of people feeling trapped and lonely in what seems to be otherwise insignificant lives.
The Apartment is a beautiful and endearing film that shows its audiences the greater meaning behind the vanities of life. How love, modest elegance and principles in character ultimately overrule self centredness, indulgence, and materialistic corporate ladder decadence. In fact, regardless of the corporate settings for the main character, the essential element of the rat race that everyone plays today, as well as the content delving into extramarital adulterous liaisons, considered taboo during its time, is what ensures the film its very timeless quality, and its relevance to the modern world till today. It is these qualities that have caused the film to earn labels like, being 'ahead of its time' or a 'classic'. And what a classic it is.
Billy Wilder, the writing talent behind such brilliant works as "Ninotchka", makes this film his second outing after the highly celebrated "Some Like it Hot". Many felt he might be hard pressed to top that, but in a totally different direction thematically, does so with this film. The story is much more about the dramatic pinpricks of human tragedy and loneliness insofar as it is laced with comedic turns about a man who loans his apartment out to bosses for their extramarital liaisons in order to gain their approval and climb the ladder at work. But complications ensue when he discovers a beautiful woman he desires to court is actually inimically one of the objects exploited beguilingly by his very boss in his very apartment, forcing him into an impugning quagmire. Wilder blends these elements in perfect harmony in this film, with the chemistry between the cast of the wry humoured Jack Lemmon and the cloy beauty of Shirley MacLaine (Wilder would pair them again for Irma Douce) neatly balanced with the pure wit and pacing of the script, whilst always undergirding the whole film with a sense of a genuine sanctity for compassion for the whole plot. Far from considering the film an insult on the many who play sycophantic roles on the way up the rat race or corporate ladder, or the adulterous men, the cynicism can be construed with much verecund indignation as it highlights the sadness of it all without being condescending. In fact, the characters speak of the struggle each City dweller in modern living can identify with.
There is no condescending need to present anyone as perfect, overtly altruistic, overtly feminine nor elegant (MacLaine's character is a lift attendant) nor flawless in their life choices. They make mistakes, sweat over them, and regret. A real rarity for films emerging out of Hollywood on the back of the 1950s with swashbuckling heroines and heroes. Lemmon's character is a simple bachelor with an air of inevitable loneliness in the meanderings of life in a NY apartment. That's why they call them a-part-ments. You live apart. And alone. He is an amalgam of a laid back yet pre-emptively self serving corporate machine, who ostensibly is forced into playing the only role he knows in order to better his predicament of being merely yet another average diploma staffer on Wall St- to climb up the corporate-ladder in his General insurance firm. The real beauty here in Wilder's script is that Lemmon, and also Maclaine (who makes the wrong choices by being mistress to Lemmon's boss), is that both characters harness a true propensity for love and care that is nestled within, waiting to exhale whilst in the midst of them being stuck in their cyclical ruts of despair.
The real satisfaction comes when both these characters reconcile each others pains, heal each other (literally too in the classic doctor scene) and find love amid the hustle bustle of the rat race in the world that goes on around them, championing each other on. They play gin rummy in the final scene, in heart wrenchingly beautiful emotional overtones, kept painfully modest by Wilder, and celebrating the simple love that triumphs over all hurts. The themes are relevant till today, and the quality of what this film achieved stylistically (as the last of the B&W generation) remains extant in full living colour today, because of the sheer timeless message of hope this film carries to anyone who's ever been that insignificant other, or ordinary person to be forgotten in that apartment out there.
For that alone, it deserves an 8/10.
By Stephen Thanabalan
Toujours Le Vent, le Tourbillon
L Appartement sways me like the wind. In fact, it sweeps me off my feet like le tourbillon; a passionate whirlwind. Since I first watched this film in 2000, I had always treasured it. It is the first French film I've envisioned as having genuinely captured my full adoration. Perhaps I can't speak of this film objectively nor want to review it as i would other films, as it holds a certain nostalgic bearing for me- scenes which stir up many memories in me. The film is not perfect, but it holds a special meaning for me. I had always claimed to admire French films but this one whilst being clever and intelligent with the fragmented plot and device twists, was the film that made me really concede that only the French could paint beauty, even in film, so propitiously. To anyone else the film might be opulently pretentious in its vanity, lauding a surfeit of winsome stylistics, and perhaps bound by the malady of having too many plot complications. But for me, the lure of that excessive indulgence and obsession was what moved me. I was captivated by the film's raw beauty- cinematography, Parisian splendour, the mise en scene, and of course the gorgeous cast of Vince Cassel and Monica Bellucci- the epitome of elegant perfection. I am moved by the film's beauty and am not ashamed to admit my infatuation with it, and even in its pretentious obsession with this superficial vanity, I still feel that it is done in too immaculate a manner. c'est doux un vent d'amour, it sweeps me off my feet every time.
Mei man ren sheng (2006)
The 5Cs - Cogent, Cognizant film with Class and done in Chastening Cerise
Singapore Dreaming has all the 5Cs (its original title), and more. The 5Cs, in no particular order, that emanate from this gem of a social commentary on the island state and its average family in its heartland (the electorate majority in the concrete jungle), are that it is cogent, cognizant of all it portrays- even though it boasted of a foreign film crew from New York, and is both classy in its cynical presentation of the palpable realities of its characters, as well as ostensibly complete in fulfilling this very portrayal. However, more than anything, the film is destined if not designed, to chasten the audiences in an intensely cerise and garish rendition of the challenges and harsh realities of life in the island nation.
That's 5 stars of approval for a film about the land of the 5 stars and crescent moon and its cultural obsession with materialism, albeit tragically so, and these very 5Cs. For those outside of Singapore, the 5Cs pertain to possessions labelled 'Cash, Credit Cards, Condominiums, Cars, etc', all litmus tests of status and wealth that are tremendously valued in the nation. It is apt that some in the nation mention a sixth C, vis a vis its new found quest for vanity in the 2000s, 'Cosmetic Surgery', and hence it is ironic that the film is financed and produced by arguably Singapore's finest cosmetic surgeon, Dr Woffles Wu. In fact, if one were to take an honest retrospect, when Singaporean web author (TalkingCock.com) and former lawyer turned film maker Colin Goh and wife Yen Yen took on this project with a mind towards putting forth a genuine social commentary, few would have taken the cadre of the pair and their team seriously given the latter's last film outing was tacitly Singapore's worst film export in its short film history, the awry aberration, "Talking Cock the movie".
But, Singapore Dreaming, lock stock and barrel, is an amazing breakaway from the banality of Goh's previous film. In fact, he may well and truly be finally able to shed the fiasco of that piece of work now that this film has emerged, and since this work will most certainly etch itself into Singapore's mainstay as a classic in the months and years ahead. A tale about an average family dealing with the mores of their cultural identities, as well as their racial (and hence religious) allegiances, amid the cutthroat world of Singapore's rat race, the film has presumably every Singaporean stereotype, even if it does focus on the lives of the majority race, the Chinese Singaporeans. The elderly 'Ah Beng' (larrikin to us Aussies) is a central character played by Richard Low, a cynic who is a recipient of the disparate wealth status divide in the nation, where his disappointments from failed ambition send him into depression and envy. It takes a local to understand the humour in the film, but essentially its when themes arise of Low's character's interaction as he wins the lottery, and goes about a new life that add a tinge of black humour to proceedings. Goh takes the chance to toss in inside jokes about language barriers even amongst the local Chinese and their more western compatriots, and discusses what seems to be many Singaporean nuances and idiosyncrasies. Yet, you don't have to be Singaporean to realize that the core of the themes that underscore this poignant plot here essentially ring of moving tragedy about up-keeping the status quo, chasing vanity and empty dreams, hollow fulfillment in materialistic goals, as well as issues of loss, love and redemption.
If nothing else, the technical work for this film alone is quite simply one of the more outstanding end products I've seen for a film out of the country, even with works that have featured in Cannes or Berlinale over the years by their directors like Eric Khoo. Singapore Dreaming is the first local film to have a production crew that boasts an international claim to fame, and I'm not writing this because my good friend Kao Wen Sheng was a photographer on the set. Its DoP, Martina Radwan, had previously shot "Ferry Tales (2003)" which was nominated for an Oscar in 2004, while film editor Rachel Kittner's work was nominated for an Academy award this year. It is well worth its place as curtain opener for the 19th Singapore International Film Festival.
The Big Lebowski (1998)
El DUDErino, Where's my Kahlua? or my rug, man...in the parlance of our times
I first stumbled onto this movie in 1999 and happened to catch it again recently, and it just still makes me want to grab a glass, pour that Kahlua and add milk and vodka to join Jeff Bridges for oat soda and a slacking good time of a convolutely escapist and trashy experience with the odd character 'heroes' of LA. But this film is not as great a film as it is rated as it lacks truly redemptive qualities of reconciliation, or say, tying together a greater purpose behind it, let alone a great plot like say its parallels with Raymond Chandler's 1939 novel, The Big Sleep, of which it does no justice to in being loosely related. However, in another sense, it's greater purpose can be looked at differently: that since its the ultimate slacker film, it has no need for a greater purpose in the first place. But, that's just like, my opinion, man. Let's say, just like the rug that 'held the room together', Bridges, the Dude, in an oddly engaging way, was the only thing that held the film together for me. And save also for an unbelievably spaced out and unconventionally witty and nihilistic (which is ironic considering the brilliant Coen brothers seemed to be mocking nihilists) script, not the plot, the film is one of the most anti-establishment in terms of relativism.
Of course, there is a certain sad genius to it all, owing in some sense to the elements that lie in the film's references to double crossing and pseudo complications, of course, with updated time-lines (1991- Sad'm and I-raq) and anti-yuppie achievement ethos coupled with unconventional 'heroes', that is complete with the standard issue oddball fest of characters in Coen Bros parlance (they seem to be competing with Fellini for numbers of colorful characters). This film's best bits are in fact not the parallels with the Big Sleep but its unpredictably predictable plot directions which may be part underbelly psychological black comedy and part pseudo film noir laced with double entendres. The plot is not the main steal, rather its almost a straw man, as it is just a vehicle for the hilariously zany dialog between characters' to platform itself. Want to know just how insane the dialog was? Read the memorable quotes from the film on the Internet. There are even parallels in this film that might lead some to speak of a religion in 'Dudism' and its enlightenment of non-ideals, and I bet there are some crazed converts out there right now, lost in its futility. Nonetheless, because of these slacker ideals and the Dude's apathy or value system (relativism) toward life, and however I feel about the futility of it all, obviously, the 'Dude' character must have been classic enough to warrant such attention.
In the story, The Dude obviously steals the plot, for without him there is no impetus, after all, the plot is that he is forced out of slack jawed Bohemia as a result of his rug getting micturated on by a pornographer's thugs whose boss wants cash owed by the young trophy wife of a rich tycoon who is his namesake. Hilarity ensues under series after series of incredulous circumstances when the Dude asks the Bigger Lebowski for compensation and in turn gets the Big L offering a 'cash' job for him. The dude loses the 'cash' only to find he the had been duped in a 'ringer for a ringer' when the paraquat tycoon wanted his porn acting wife dead and handed him an empty briefcase. The Dude assumed the wife kidnapped herself, and then later discovers that nihilists want a share of the money and are out to kill him. Big L's daughter gets acquainted with the Dude as she opposes the plan, and a PI trails the Dude looking for the wife, who in the end, had just gone away for the weekend, in a shock Hitchcock-esquire secondary macguffin on top of the basic macguffin of the 'rug'.
Some unique film techniques are also used in this film, including blending soundtracks from previous scenes by way of songs being played on radios, or having dialog repeated, such as when the Dude constantly rehashes phrases he heard in the previous scenes (from Julianne Moore's character, Bush's speech, etc). One of the most quirky bits of the film can be described by a phrase from the Dude yet again- occasional 'acid flashbacks'- spaced out hallucination scenes where the cannabis smoking Dude flies through the bowling lane, or over LA. Making the bricolage plot even more colorful is the character of Walter, played brilliantly by John Goodman, who is a highlight of the film- representing a Vietnam scarred war veteran who associates events in the world with the horrors he has experienced. Yet, what is interesting about Walter is that it seemed he is modeled as a possible cross between the Jewish German Walter Kaufmann (the irony again) and an anarchistic gun crazy war machine- a rambunctious combination that results in lines like 'at least the Nazis had ethos' and so on. Coen fave Steve Buscemi's character adds the fragile dimension by asking the obvious questions and being constantly told to shut up in a reference to their previous hit, Fargo, before dying off unceremoniously. Likewise, many of the other characters are borderline offensive to the mainstream yet one can't help but crack up in wake of their absolutely crazy antics- the visual gag that saw the Dude trace pornographer Jackie Treehorn sketching a giant erection was an absolute nut-job and case in point. The stranger has a memorable cowboy cameo just for 'style' while Da Farino's scenes were a study in comedic nothingness. And that's what this film is- nothingness that served no purpose- I mean, as I said, it's the dude, man. El duderino for those who think brevity is...but most important now, don't forget to sip that white Russian while you slack off watching this.
By Stephen Thanabalan
Scores and celebrates an impossibly new beginning for Football/Soccer Films
Until recently in history, whenever the world of film and the world of football combined, the results had often been negligible. With the GOAL! trilogy, a new precedent has been set for not only the genre, but also for the global sport itself, in terms of its plausibility in film towards its millions of demanding fans worldwide.
What this film does on the base level is to authentically present the game in high quality realism on the silver screen. However, that alone does not lend the film its credo. What makes it stand as the definitive standard bearer for films of football (given how every other sport especially American ones have managed to succeed filmwise- Bull Durham, Space Jam, Mighty Ducks, Remembering the Titans, etc) is that it carries many thematic layers on its back, pushes the frontiers of the genre with depth in the storyline, and finally aces in delivering a film that merges drama with sport, hype and overall verisimilitude in all content elements.
Obviously, every critic knows that the methodology of such a delivery is that it requires realism, and in cinematography especially- exactly what the film provides, and as a result gives it that definitive edge. Soccer films have never been entirely authentic, due to factors as diverse as action mapping, as well as dramatic scope. Furthermore, fans of the sport knew that nothing in cinema could ever approximate the sheer unscriptable drama of the actual game. Until GOAL! came along. When FIFA commissioned and granted the rights for the film to Danny Cannon, the air of realism was set in motion already, because albeit being fictional, it carries the authority of the universal game as fans know it because of its simulated parallels- real clubs, real superstars like Zidane, Raul, Shearer, etc, and realities of the game's actual hierarchies and bureaucracies have been surmised- reserves, leagues, scouts, agents and pressures.
AG Salomon/Adidas may have pumped advertising dollar into this film for placement of their teams (Newcastle United, Real Madrid) and sponsored players for marketing, but in a sense, when the result is this authentic, can you blame the corporations for input? In fact, fans might even have to thank them for producing what can be the first high profile and quality football film on record. Just recall the maudlin world of football film until the recent revival of films of the genre, which incidentally mirror the revolution of football and its branding that began in the 1990s and the likes of superstars like Beckham. In recent years, this revival has seen film entries usher in on the commercial success of football, from 1996's 'Fever Pitch' to 2002's Bend it like Beckham, but never has a film about the game itself been done the way it has been done here, in such centrality.
In fact, the very dearth of such films is an understatement and may well be the fuel for the GOAL! trilogy's impending success. Even football legend PELE alluded to the paucity of football films- or at least those of the simple concept explaining structures of wealth, class and the disparities of rich and poor in congruence with football. The plot by Butchart and Jeffries in this film stands out because of this - featuring the barrios of S.America; the institution of organized football religion in England, and a rag to riches drama, where Becker's character combines innocence and disappointments with success and 'aspiracion' in true underdog fantasy. The script is far from genius but it has depth- genuine troughs (poverty, death, rejection) and hurdles- competition, adaption and temptation (the clubbing scenes were almost a revealingly accurate précis given footballers' reputations in Europe). In fact, perhaps the only inaccurate part was about how Becker signed without a work permit and contract given he had to have been playing in at least 70% of all matches with his International side. Nonetheless, the film manages at the same time to convey the global scale of this billion dollar world obsession with the fantasy without compromising the sheer magnitude, and challenges of it all. Throw in all the other elements ranging from romance with Anna Friel's pragmatic nurse character to the gamut of football archetypes (Nivola as the playboy with conscience, Iures as the stoic gaffer, Dillane as the gentlemanly scout, the mercenary agents, an even a Souness-like hardman), on top of the fact that footage of actual matches in England has been seamlessly edited in, and you can see why the film accounts for a thorough representation of the sport. Perhaps even most exciting of all, the film shows behind the scenes footage of the teams and stars- training, grounds, gyms, dressing rooms, city streets, pubs, Toon Geordies.
How many people remember a football film that was done this way? More often than not football films have been towed by comedy or played side appendage to broader issues. From Thorold Dickinson's Arsenal Stadium Mystery (1939) about crime, to biopics like Yesterday's Hero (1979), or Gregory's Girl (1981) about gender, or even Eran Riklis's Cup Final (1991) about the PLO in war, most films have broader issues. The rest survive on humour, Mike Bassett (2001), being the typical example. GOAL! scores and sets the precedent for the genre from now on. In fact, there has been a rush of football films since, well accounted for at Cannes or the Berlinale festival, and probably well into World Cup 2006.
Films at Cannes included 'The Longest Penalty in the World' and "Romeo and Juliet Get Married" - a strained marriage between a Barcelona fan and a Real Madrid fan while Berlinale had 'Offside' an Iranian film. The market for soccer films has always been there, its just a case of whether filmmakers could break the deadlock with quality and authenticity, and GOAL! could well be the catalyst for the floodgates to open.
By Stephen Thanabalan
28 Days (2000)
Tipsily overindulges its themes
There is a a very important message at the heart of this Betty Thomas film: Self Control from Indulgent excesses. The problem: the film itself tipsily overindulges its themes by balancing good drama with over-acting and imbalanced doses of comedy.
In a sense, the film knew it was dealing with touchy subject matter when it highlighted the realities of rehab in NY, but why did it need to purposefully throw in the stereotypical comedic archetypes - the viking accented Alan Tursdysk, or O'Malley's strapdown one liners, or for that matter, the debonair English accented intelligent metro lover in Dom West? Perhaps it was in 2000, and you needed to sell films that way to appeal to their target audience of teenagers who did weed and drank too much, but the fact is, when you have Steve Buscemi, Sandra Bullock and Viggo Mortensen in a film you can afford to push the drama-reality envelope and go in that direction.
In fact, the film's best moments are when Thomas does this- in a series of flashbacks to let the audience get in sync and depth with Bullock's character. And, there are scenes where the comedy can be done appropriately and in concordance with the film's thematic content- such as the skit at the end for Azura Skye's character. Sadly, these good moves are coupled with some really tipsy flaws, including the ending where Mortensen's character meets the soap star. Bullock's character also undergoes way too quick a character change (for 28 days) if one was to really nitpick.
However, the themes in this film make this a film i would still recommend to youth and young people. Azura Skye's character's loneliness, depression and suicide are genuinely depicted, and the fragile and important message of hope and redemption amid the perfunctory nature of life in the rehab centre that are celebrated in the plot really help this film regain its footing. When Bullock's character realises that this (the pills and drugs) was not a way to live, and Mortensen addresses her insecurities of not being able to do a single thing right, the film touches significant depths and strikes the chords of viewers. My personal favourite was the scene were Lizzy Perkins' character acknowledges the flaws of hers and her sister's lives and establishes love and hope in reconciliation. You see, it is the film's ability to reach such levels that I know this film suffered from tipsily overindulging its themes-trying to tie in too much to everyone- from being a comedy to a drama.
City Slickers (1991)
Needed more of a slick out of mid-life crises...
Mid life crises bring out the worst in people and they certainly bring out some of the worst plots in story telling. Sure, the idiosyncrasies and character depth and development can make for compelling psychological analyses (of which Billy Crystal not only excels at analyzing, but probably churns out as his chief repertoire for comedy), but the plot lacks punch and drive. It has wit, it has pacing and comic relief but considering there are 4 Jewish or Italian actors of the finest comic calibre slicking out in a Western with names like Curly and with animal rights pretty much on the back hooves, the film shockingly fails to excite me. It's in a sense, too middle-agedly, if there's such a word- too slow moving. Sure, Daniel Stern's character and Bruno Kirby's character all suffer from the insecurities and hard knock disappointments of life and end up sharing great male bonding with Crystal in the wild west, but the general feel is that the filmmaker and scriptwriters could have done better. And how in the calico desert's eye Jack Palance could have won an Oscar for his role here is beyond me- he was just being...himself...Jack Palance for all the quirky advice and bonfire cowboy antics I saw! Perhaps the Academy was giving him one in a comedy as a mercy mock to make up for not giving him one in an earlier western. Nonetheless, I think if Part II 'The Legend of Curly's Gold' could have been combined and interwoven into this one it would have given it that edge, to bring it the much needed contrast in terms of really slicking out of their mid-life crises and into some real adventure.
Not even God himself needed to sink the 'Titanic'
In 1912, humanity cried that "Not even God himself could sink the Titanic", the 'ship of dreams'; the indestructible symbol of mankind's modern achievements in maritime and industrialization. In 1998, celebrity cried that "Not even God himself could sink the Academy awards and hyperbole of fame and recognition that was the film about the events 80 years earlier".
Well, look at it this way: Not even the divine and mighty God himself needed to sink the ship nor the film. Both the ship and its eponymous film representation sank after strong initial hype due to their paying comeuppance for pride and folly and getting found out of their own excesses in the long run. To begin with, the true story remains tragic because of the very fact that mankind overlooked, arrogantly so, the realities- failing to prepare (lifeboats a waste of deck space, class struggles, racism, rich & poor divides). In the end, mankind (regardless of whether the rich or poor caused the problems) paid the price of collective folly.
The film, likewise, pays the price regardless of whether the executives who force-sold the distribution and caused the film to gain such unprecedented hype and reviews at first seemed so successful, really cared about more the bottom line. The film may have succeeded financially, but to me it still sank in the longer run. It made for a great emotional journey at first, but really, as we have to critique it at the level given its accolades, is nothing spectacular compared to something Capra-corn -'It's a Wonderful Life', which is emotionally powerful yet never gets cheesy.
And, just like the real ship on her maiden voyage, it started off to controversy, followed by fanfare, and then tragedy. The reel version, nearly collapsed in budget controversy and then was bolstered by the biggest PR campaign complete with critics-wooing parties in the hopes of buying it around, thrusting the film as the most overpriced and embellished multi-million Hollywood machine- which turned off many and caused many more around the world to realize it for what it was- commercialism. Granted, that it's also a movie that because of its fame pervasive invasion on pop culture caused and still causes many to have an opinion about it (i.e. herd mentality discrediting/accrediting of the film along the lines of majority sentiment), I'll suggest that these ramifications of the film do not determine the film's genuine buoyancy. By buoyancy, I'm talking about the film's long term standing in the realms of other all time accredited films- the test if it really is a masterpiece.
Of course, my entire dialogue here is based on the premise that because it swept awards, it has been rated a 'great film', of which I disagree with. I think the movie is found out upon repeat viewing, and I think even the majority of its fans (again remember to strip away the hype and the Leo Mania) don't really rate it as a great film per se. Plus, even here in the IMDb, why is the movie not recognized as a great film years after the initial awards fever? Because it has been found out over time for what it is- a decent film that stood out for its historical recreation (not facts in its entirety), and weaved alongside a trite love story on board the ship of fools, albeit being panoramic-ally beautiful. There are strong positives of course- special effects as well as sound and editing. But as you can see, they are all technical aspects, not in terms of classical film art.
The film is a meticulous recreation and that is why I gave it 7/10, but it is not a GREAT film as say an intellectually challenging Fellini satirical commentary like 'And the Ship sails On'. It was panoramic-ally beautiful and had great costume design but it did not have, say, brilliant mise en scene that gives it nuance. In that sense, it is certainly not deserving of all of its accolades and accreditation.
Nonetheless, I do not dispute its garnering gargantuan box office revenue worldwide as that was FOX's ultimate goal (even if Cameron had a personal crusade of sub-marine discovery). Essentially, when you wash away the DiCaprio mania (not to be discounted because it tied in substantial box office receipts), the hullabaloo of Oscar accreditation & aggressive marketing/advertising campaigns (successful from Bangkok to Rio DeJaneiro or HongKong might I add), you're left with a film that got found out as a victim of its own showy hype.
Thus, film critics could never call it anymore than it was: popcorn fodder, and once teenagers outgrew their crushes, and people had witnessed the beautiful recreation of the ill-fated voyage that declared its pomp 80 years earlier, there was nothing left of this ship. It lies at the bottom of the sea save for nostalgic divers who yearn to return to their old sentiments, have issues to deal with or are disillusioned by the hype of past tragedy.
Not even God himself needed to sink the ship or the film, there wasn't anything in it, unless people take the real message of what we can learn from Titanic: Respect God, be prepared, love and treat your fellow humans as equals, fight oppression, class segregation, battle the rich poor divide, celebrate freedom, and above all, to not get caught up in the excesses and hype of initial success. What we can learn from Titanic is that as pirated copies of the film are sold in Afghanistan or Cambodia by child slaves, the real tragedy in the world today is that we should focus not on the 1700 people who died, but turn our attention to the millions dying annually of inequalities. Marx or Kafka could probably tell us that you don't need God himself to remind us of that by sinking ships, and or, mass marketed popcorn billion dollar films.
By Stephen Thanabalan
A Life Less Ordinary (1997)
Brit & Butter whimsy comedy that has its quirks...and moments
I could always see why Boyle, Hodge & MacDonald would decide to make their first film post-Trainspotting by way of something dark humourist and fantasy-whimsical. In fact, if I was to give them more credit than they probably deserved, perhaps I can say that maybe when they made this one they were emulating cheeky directors a la Luc Besson in creating a nonsensical and quirky parody of all candy floss American rom-comedies till then (1997). However, as I said, that's more credit than they deserve, because this film just reeks of a bunch of film makers still trippy over their recent success, and just daftly putting out a film that they probably just enjoyed and had fun all round in creating in the process.
The plot, albeit pure reverie, was played out really quirkily by both McGregor and Diaz, especially the former, for without whom the preposterous nature of the plot would otherwise have slipped utterly like a cold salmon. That said, the plot lines really could have been tighter, less wacky, and definitely even more coherent and sharp at the end. With this film, other than the fact that Boyle & Co just went fantasmagoric on the at times witty script, laced it with Britpop, chucked it with a dance number given the fact they had Hollywood backing for a film for once (and Holly Hunter at that!!!), there was still the feeling that if they were going to create it in such light, there were boundaries they could have pushed; crazier antics and twists they could have thrown in. For example, when Diaz knows more about kidnapping than McGregor at the Bank, or when they have a showdown with 'rich Dad' there were many more hilarious avenues they could have explored, aka raising it to the level of the film's best moments- zany dance numbers. Instead, the Scot boys have made a film that is about 'what could have been', topped it with Wallace & Gromit style animation, garnished it with 'divine interventionist' incredulousness, and pretty much based its premise on sheer tongue in cheek bonhomie.
The only thing I liked about this film other than Ewan McGregor's Gucci shirt and 1970s retro glam rock mullet was the fact that it did further the decent inroads for the cross Atlantic film exchange between Britain and the States (I mean who else would have Bobby Darin's Beyond the Sea alongside Oasis' Round Are Way on a soundtrack!)
By Stephen Thanabalan