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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
Rear Window (1954)
I'm not much on Rear Window ratings
I'm not much on Rear Window ratings, thus I did not watch this film just because of its acclaim. And, I'm not one for Rear Window ethics so i daren't discuss it. But I do know one thing: I enjoyed the voyeur in me surfacing to play the role Hitch wanted me (us the audience) to fulfill in being curious and as intrigued (sometimes knowing more where he allowed it - they call it suspense) as L.B Jeffries (played with immobile precision by Jimmy Stewart) while he spent his wheelchair bound hiatus staring at the antics of his Greenwich Ville neighborhood.
For me, the film does not 'have it all' as some have claimed, even though it might be very well the quintessentially complete Hitch flick with black comedy/suspense and mystery. Backed by artificial lighting and a stage set underground, I thought the film was meticulously brilliant in terms of cinematography with each 50mm cut and edit and mise en scene set up and in place with purpose. The cocoon world of the set (which we are never allowed to leave- i.e. Jeffries' apartment area) gives us the confined limits and we focus on the actualities of the small world we now have. Never done in film till that point (or at least to be the central subject), our cursory voyeuristic tendencies are tapped from the beginning with the scrutinizing of the various NewYork stereotypes and the alienation of apartment living- ballet blonde who 'juggles wolves' while her man is off in the 48th Parallel; bored mid-aged couple with dog who sleep on the stairs in the NY heatwave; Bagdaranian the songwriting pianist; Miss Lonelyhearts who soliloquizes dating by herself; and Perry Mason & wife. Each window opens a unique little snippet, while alas, Hitch & Herbie deliver a masterful addition of a romantic story with chemistry that has enough vive of its own (in Grace Kelly's character) to drive the whole film (watching Stewart discuss Fish Heads Rice & jungles only to see Kelly climb into adventure later to impress him is genius). In addition, the romance's placement is well supplemented by sublimely timed comedic out-turns from Thelma Ritter to play up the fantastic dialogue and help add humor bound rationality like spreading 'common sense on the bread'.
As a result, there is great pacing in the film, with plenty of visual cues (otherwise they might as well have left it a written work isn't it!) and the usual Hitch thrills and suspense, especially right at the end, where the climatic showdown is one real confrontational flare. I liked the way Hitch did not need to leave the set (or use flashbacks) to tell such a complete story for each character. From the start, and before he contacts his editor, where we see Jeffries' cameras/bulbs/picture frames on the wall, we know his poison. Through his nurse (Ritter), we understand his relationship and learn about Kelly's character. Through mere visual representations of each of the members of the cast (all guided by earpieces including a hilarious mattress scene that resulted because Hitch deliberately gave conflicting instructions), we see through each character's gripes and personas. From arbitrary dance steps to improvisational jazz or 'That's Amore' pieces to a troubled husband (Raymond Burr) eventually clearing his apartment with knives and suitcases at 3am, we are hooked on Hitch's mystery. Only through Kelly's and Stewart's interaction and Club21 meals do we get the rationalization, the discussions and the point of view of it all. The verisimilitude is amazing, and as such may well have been the first concept for 'reality show' that we now see as the most popular form of television half a century later- further reason why some say 'Rear Window' has never been more acclaimed as a film as compared to this current decade.
That's what does it for this film- an honesty, everyman situation that not only audiences identify with, but are also lured into the suspense of. Little wonder then that it is a top film, but then again, I'm really not much on Rear Window ratings.
By Stephen Thanabalan
Tough Guys Don't Dance (1987)
Pointless beach side dansant in the acrid Provincetown cold that could have been saved for a less rainy day!
Was Pulitzer Prize winner (twice!!) Norman Mailer wise in not attempting another Director/Writer film role and sticking to non-fiction work like post WWII 'Armies of the Night' or anti-war themes after this flick? Well, considering he has yet to Direct and write filmography since, I'd guess he knew his own answer to that question. For me and Stephen Thanabalan in film class, it's unsurprising given that this film is almost an unintentionally black humored outing with a cloying cast and a satiating fustian plot in a pointless beach side dansant in the acrid Provincetown cold. The film basically confounded itself and failed to capitalize on what was essentially a decent macabre tale that fettered Arthur Penn/ of greed, debauchery and betrayal- ingredients of what might have been a decent film-noir if coherently edited and as such, cannot count itself so. The film's main problem: it lacks class. In all departments- acting; macho-romantic-80s soft focus camera-work; acting (even hiring Isabella Rossellini couldn't save this one); plot twists; acting.Oddly enough, there was something crabby and yet alluring about this awful Norman Mailer outing by the beach as the waves crashed onshore. It dealt pretty much with subject matter Quentin Tarantino might have on an average film day: coke; porn starlets; depressed lead character on a vigilante road; warped sheriff; tattooist bums; gold-diggers; crooked priest; characters taking a crack at the rich; playboys shooting each other in the head (literally too!) and you get the idea. It could have been crazed film-noir but in the end it was just cheesily pretentious melodramatics- only thing is somehow I did not switch it off to see how low a man of Mailer's reputation would let it sink.
It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
This world needs this measly, one-horse film if only to have someplace where people can come without crawling to jaded, cynical hard-heartedness and despair
By Stephen Thanabalan
In a George Bailey-esquire manner of speech, I say: "This world needs this measly, one-horse film if only to have someplace where people can come without crawling to jaded, cynical hard-heartedness and despair." And that's not sentimental hogwash.
Frank Capra's 1946 initial RKO Pictures box office flop really has become a must see film, might well change one's outlook on how valuable a man's life really is, and is a wonderful story about how important our lives can be, with the blend of human tribulations, angels, and God- bringing faith, and an endearingly effervescent message of putting others beyond oneself that still resonates after exactly 60 years.
Polished as a both moving character study of one man's life story (like Citizen Kane), as well an overwhelming combination of emotional reality that will gently tug at your heartstrings, what makes this film stand the test of time and remain uplifting is that it celebrates triumphantly that 'NO MAN is a failure who has friends.' It then wraps this in a most touchingly dramatic story that at times veers into borderline 'noir' about the trials and unrequited dreams of a common man's life, with believable main characters instead of outlandish heroes, dealing with the harsh realities of giving up Anchor chains, plane motors, and train whistles for commitment and love, and exploring the psyche of a human's grasp of the meaning of life.
Yet, the greatest aspect of this plot about George Bailey (played by James Stewart with relish, sincerity and an emotional range of characterization that will enthrall), is that it does not drivel to get to its climax- of Heaven sending a guardian angel, Clarence (it helped that Travers seemed like a Disney fantasy character) to goad him to appreciate on reflection, his wonderful life as a result of being given the chance of looking at an alternate universe if he didn't exist (in a fantastic sci-fi twist). Instead, it takes the viewer on an enchanting journey of the protagonist's life in order to allow one to feel his pains (father's stroke, Building & Loan payouts, Mr Potter's insults); romance (with beautiful wife Donna Reed complete with Charleston dances and a humble dilapidated house); share his disappointments (contrasts with Sam Wainwright and Harry); and understand why eventually having to come to the crossroads in facing the insecurities and issues of having believed he had wasted potential, he was willing to choose oblivion rather than existence. Most effective of all, whilst weaving the tale in lovely cinematography, it crosses the various eras that audiences all identify with (Depression, War), helping it strike chords all over.
Stewart's and Capra's favorite, this film boasts some incredibly emotional scenes that linger in film history, including the best one-take embrace scene by the telephone (Rob Reiner cries watching it every time!). The Casting (even Billy & the Raven) was magnificent: the otherwise unknown Reed has a chemistry with Stewart that conveyed a love of the purest kind that really epitomized that George didn't need to build airfields to have been a hero to the ones who mattered in his life, that he'd, albeit unwontedly, already lassoed the moon.
The main qualms with the show lie mostly with people upset at its moral/religious tones due to unrescinding belief that no such good character exists, exacerbated by the fact that its rerun prior to Christmas engenders a huge misconception that it is a festive movie per se (giving it some innuendoes that are as boring to hear as the perpetrators claiming the very film supposedly is). It is cynical ignorance neither to contextualize this film nor to even bother to understand the purpose, approach and point of this film without even the slightest vestige of educating oneself about what this film stands for. Some critics have not even watched it in its entirety! A cyclical corollary of finding it boring in the first place- disconcertingly hypocritical!
Now, critiques of its kitsch over the top 'Capra-Corn' Americana or even its 'subversive' political agendas bearing the peasant class and their feudal overlords may find their cases warranted to some degree. Even so, in the end, these critics are actually forgetting the deal. Who cares if Stewart's character reeks of being a democrat? That's missing the dish!! Why? Well, to find out you've got to discover the film's purpose.
Capra wanted to blaze positivity when he released this right after traumatic WWII (using his new soul-searching company aptly called 'Liberty Films') in an upheaval climate of fear and anxiety to discuss life and meaning out of hardship. Themes of commitment, hope, ambition, depression, loneliness, loyalty, sacrifice, love, pain, despair, insecurities, hurts, and forgiveness and ultimately, redemption are the under girding basis for its purpose. The very point was to prove that life was not about mercenary gain, worldly status achievements or success by anyone's standards- it was and is about the true joys of life if we open our hearts and minds to realize what we have: contentment, and simple childlike love. It's about the greater purposes beyond our own. As for the film being depressing, only those who fail to believe in its very message will find it as such. Plus, it was not meant to be a quintessential 'feel good' Christmas movie, it was only as such because years later a network aired it seasonally- cruelly ironic in that that very gesture was a complete and injudicious affront and lack of appraisal for the film. However, again, the film doesn't need anyone's approval, ratings, or Oscars to prove its value. Anyone who can breach the cynical ignorance and enjoy its message can enjoy it because the film, albeit non-esoteric or 'film school technically gifted', was nonetheless intended for that very lot of people who got it, who understood its magic- people who could appreciate its true meaning of being a crescendo of an affirmation of life, for auld lang syne.
The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)
Fantasy & Reality blur to charming delight!
My film lecturer said Woody Allen had inspired him with this 1985 film to believe in the magic and complex tapestry of the art of fantasy film-making by interweaving it with false realities, and I must say, I agree. This film blurs those two elements to charming delight by playing not only on imaginative fictional dream material but also acting as a commentary satire on how how audiences (not just in America) react to film and the relationships and escapades they share as a result of its influence and their chimera or more derogatorily, the ignis fatuus effect on their very subsistence. Never done in film till that point, the plot is as original as it was and still is today, a sheer whimsical reverie to say the least, and is thus very entertaining, much the way you'd assume Allen Konigsborg wanted his films to function- as an imaginative escape from the hum drum banality of this world. That fiction drives the film and the very plot of having a leading actor (a dashing Jeff Daniels pre-Dumb & Dumber- we can understand how Michael Keaton got the boot from Woody, seriously) walk off the screen literally and romanticize an ordinary down-trodden, abused waitress in depression era New Jersey (played elegantly by Mia Farrow pre documentary expose- we can't understand how Soon Yi got the loot from Woody, seriously) is simply spell-binding as a plot line. Moreover, one starts to realize that the technical splendor that emanated out of editing this film to ensure the figments came out all jazz and tangible also stand as an attestation to its quality even upon current viewing. The pacing is rhythmic, almost keeping time with the lilting and jazzy soundtrack of 'Charleston-esque' swing, which for me, really kept the filming dancing 'Cheek to Cheek', with a highlight peaking at the scene where Farrow enters the phantom world of 'the movie within a movie' in a montage of apparition proportions.
The biggest flaw with this film probably is that many try to characterize it or compare it against "Woody Allen's" scale chart: constantly ranking it amongst other Allen films;weighing it against 'Annie Hall' or 'Crimes and Misdemeanours'. The reality is that it was a film that served its own purpose, like each film by Allen would and does. In this case, I personally feel it was to function as a subliminal parody cum satire of film audiences and a unique look into the relationships between them and films- the latter taking on a symbolic 'life' of its own with characters that felt and 'lived' according to their fictional world, and explores the incubus of what would happen if existing coevally with Farrow's world (representing us, the real audiences)becomes possible. It feeds and thrives on a fantasy moment that many audiences actually have dreamed of at some stage of their lives watching films, providing them with that escape from reality. In the film, Farrow's character does just that, and it is a story about how as a movie about a movie (as Time Magazine called it in 1985), it told us how empty fantasies were, how fleeting they were and how perhaps, cocooned we are to escape our realities only through film as our source of hope. Moreover, in my view, several scenes in the film actually point to the satire existing deliberately and purportedly for the purpose of suggesting that industry of film and its captive audiences were being parodied. Perhaps Allen was taking a jibe at cynical, double standard wielding critics or audiences who needed to wizen up? We will never know I suppose. Nonetheless, there are some clear references, with the main pastiche being that all the RKO producers, agents and executives actually went along with the preposterous story of their actor jumping off screen and thus they had to get him back! There are tons of other references including Daniels' Baxter character comparing the Producers and Writers of his film to the divine; an heiress complaining about her role; a member of the audience marching out claiming 'the film's not the way it was last week and I want it that way' (delusion); etc.
Essentially, Allen is taking a burlesque view of the whole thing in my opinion. If a viewer of the film can't see the aforementioned points, its then that the film might end up being looked upon as a one off fluffy piece. Having said that, it is still generally more sweet content than deep and complicated satire- in fact it's just like the popcorn that Daniels' character Tom Baxter first tastes- brittle, the stuff is sweet, and like Baxter says, 'gets annoying when you keep chewing on it'. Similarly, Allen's Purple Rose is good for a one off viewing but one would be hard pressed to chew again unless you really were fond of the the original fantasy, or in this case, the satire of audiences and film.
By Stephen Thanabalan
Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
Travelogue - the first in the world!?
Well, this film simply is a world wind balloon ride, nothing like your modern day whilrwind baloney rides and that's what I enjoyed most about it: it's simplicity and quiet elegant charm. It's more like a travelogue that treks the globe highlighting the wonders of the world and the stereotypical elements and characters. But then, right there you have to check yourself when you critique it like that, because if you're going to fail to place it in context and in its time, one could even fault Jules Verne's original work for being banal.
So, let's just say that the film through no fault of its own, but rather because of the whole conceptualisation of stereotypes and expected ideas pertaining to the world we live in (e.g. no surprises regarding bisons in America, circus troupes in japan, bullfights in Spain, etc.) that we have now kind of inevitably render a sense of dated backwardness to the film. Yet, let's contextualise it, for technical aspects of the film were superb, the use of set design was phenomenal for one. To recreate on an epic scale the junks of China, the bullrings of Spain and to pat down even the costumes of the 19th Century Colonial era took great effort.
Sure the film was considered big budget material with a $6 million budget but hey, they had to pay for Frank Sinatra, Buster Keaton, a made-up Shirley Maclaine (spray tans didn't even exist then...) and all the celebrity cameos didn't they! Also, even though I was watching a poor quality transfer version (not quite the 1992 Disney re-transfer so hyped about), I found myself gripped by the way in which the script stayed relatively true to the concept of Phileas Fogg (the pedantic timekeeper in true colonial gentleman form), Passpertout (of whom Cantinflas the actor really stole the scenes in this film) and really brought some engaging scenes and panoramic views (not literally for me of course) unseen in film at the time.
The film also serves as quite the time machine-like portal for me now that I've watched it in 2005, where just analysing how films were made and structured (the naievete of it all, etc) in 1956 is as intriguing as watching the content itself. Truly, its main flaw is that it watches as much like a modern day travelogue, simply glossing over the intrinsic sense of adventure and threat or thrills even in the most parts, that really glued the Verne original. There was the sense that the storyline could have better been adapted to screenplay such as in the scene where they rescued the Indian Princess. It could have been filmed to be more exciting, as was the part where Fogg too easily uses deduction to merely relink with Passpertout when it could have been done much more accurately and with twists.
Nonetheless, the best part of this film is that inasmuch as it may not be the perfect adaptation or as entertaining, or even worthy of being compared flawlessly with the original book, it still retains the fundamental touch. What is that? Well, as a fan of the classic, I've always felt Around the World in 80 Days was the definitive guide to being a traveller, whether a universal one, a comfortable one, a backpacker or a thrill-seeker. No matter how one strayed away or lacked story elements, or over dramatised it (i.e. the Pierce Brosnan Mini-Series version), it could never be badly done because it is a story that is based on the universal fact of travel and adventure.
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Its not the greatest film of all time- it is what it is: merely pulp fiction
Quentin Tarantino's noir-ish and unconventional (contextualising it at its time) postmodern masterpiece did launch the Independent Film industry and put Miramax on the map (spanning a slew of ensuing films in 'Trainspotting' and 'Lock Stock' and circular time-line film structure duplicates in 'The Usual Suspects' and 'Memento') and I agree on all counts that this film is movie-making genius in most ways- from its sheer originality, stylized offbeat nature, slick camera-work, catchy soundtrack (who can forget the Miserlou track) and considering it fathered a genre and was way ahead of its time in 1994 all the way to the fact that it contains a celebration of nuances shared in terms of countless film references ranging Francois Truffaut (Jules et Jim- Samuel L.Jackson's character), Robert Wise (Boxing as the sport of choice for film noir), Robert Aldrich or Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (the hilariously dark 'action' scene between Bruce Willis' character and Ving Rhames' character). I agree that it shaped culture from the 1990s and beyond because it shed light on film-making's ability to function as an underground Americana social commentary, dealing with taboo themes and gritty content but twisting it with a dose of black humor in its eclectic dialogue of rough poetry that plays on ironic wit and borders on poker faced matter-of-fact cynically irreverent pretentiousness. Now, my qualm essentially is that with such a quality film, we can raise critique of it to the level of thematic analyses and subsequently, the broader sense mass pop culture influence that the film through no fault of its own, but given its impact and critical acclaim, invariably glosses over. Whilst 'Redemption' and intervention may be the themes central to the film as evidenced by th story where each character has to make an error, face judgement and then redeems themselves, inasmuch as that helps Pulp Fiction get dubbed as one of the greatest films of all time, and the quintessential nouveaux independent film industry's kick-starter, what I disagree with is that the film's cult status takes it to the point where the film is seen as redemptive in itself as an entity. True the film may deal with all issues from the oddball and in a very rambunctious way make dark humor acceptable, but it does not change the fact that there is an issue not so much with social responsibility (screw that) but more so with a question I have about: purpose. I personally cannot (not that anyone cares about my opinion anyway) in my view give this film top billing because on top of the fact that it deliberately misquotes biblical scripture to prove Samuel Jackson's character was basically a pseudo philosophical inanity designed to flatter to deceive, I actually start to wonder whether that element was a synonymous microcosm of what the film was doing in general- flattering to deceive? And more so because I concomitantly wonder, just what is the point of Pulp Fiction anyway? It carries no greater lacing, no greater meaning, and other than being new and refreshing as compared to the commercial fare grinded out at its time and in the wake of its immediate predecessors, by those tokens could only possibly be a revolutionary film, and not a great film, certainly not as lofty as its accolades thus far have deemed it. Then again, perhaps that too is a rhetorical question given that the quote at the start goes, to deal with "lurid subject matter" characteristically put on rough, unfinished paper. Maybe we can substitute paper for film? The problem with this is that I find it serves itself more as an anti-mainstream film (speculating that until 1994 all or most films including the cult classics that it references) proud to linger over its ostensibly 'classic' small stories. It pompously celebrates itself with every element of itself (that I've listed at the start of this review) carrying a touch of over-rated pretentiousness to the film such that it assumes just assembling references to great film styles (now we know Tarantino paid lots of homage to all the great films he watched whilst still a video store clerk) makes it capable of being a top film. In my opinion, this is no fault of the film per se but more so the expectations raised by such an over-rated film. For me, it lacks the heart or element of tragedy that comes with the nature of the content it displays- some say that its very strength- because it has no clear heroes/villains/right/wrongs, but for me that is its weakness - an emotionless diatribe that masks itself very well. Black Masks itself, and that is it- Pulp Fiction- pulp content that fictionally sells more and I accept its critical acclaimed role in modern indie cinema, but it must not be overrated and esteemed more than that.
I give it: 8/10
A Cinderella Story (2004)
Does something meaningful for Teens the world over...
Disney clichés, predictable plot tales, cutesy stylistics surrounding prince charmings and closet babe sweetie pies aside, this movie works because it does do something meaningful for teens the world over. Though laced with all the candy-stand gimmicks and necessarily inevitable teenybopper trappings (it needed it in order to keep its target audience satisfied), the film did carry some actual weight behind it in terms of a message. No doubt the underdog and silently suffering element was intrinsic to it being a fairytale called quite literally- A 'Cinderella' Story, but, it could have easily been taken on and scripted/directed in a much more shallow way. The part where Hilary Duff's character does not get rescued per se (e.g. if they had gotten the leading male to run after her in the Pep Rally humiliation scene), and where she runs away emotionally attacked, was a crucially good move. That the plot delved into a period of emotional anguish that any teenager (un-gender biased too in a way) can relate to even if it was not at the level of pain that the character was going through enhanced the credibility in the film and upped its anti-cheesiness factor by a quotient. It got better too as the point where Duff's character fights back and then realizes she needs to believe in herself (especially after reading a great nostalgic slogan placed by ex-Top Gun fly-boy Whip Hubley's character) was also edited and backed by a good teenage angst filled soundtrack to a level of uplifting emotion. The best part though was when the character showed women's strength (even Germaine Greer would have liked this one) and that she could instead be bigger than the sphere of her emotional anguish and despair filled hole, and believe in herself for one, but more importantly, in turn, 'rescue' the male lead with a gripping truth be told face to face reality speech in the (ironically) male testosterone charged hellhole of a locker room (as compared to her shy/demure character) was a gem of a move script-wise for first time writer Leigh (forgot her surname).
Furthermore, this movie, as compared to a lot of its genre counterparts and contemporaries, will do loads more positives in terms of affirmation, identity awareness, eradication of stereotypical behavior as well as superficiality than a lot of lonely, self-discovering teens who might otherwise write this genre and hence, entire movie off, realize. In fact, without going so far as to suggest that this is the very epitome of all the movie seeks to upend - superficiality, I would say that it does surprise in this respect of depth with its themes of enhancing the importance of true elements of friendship (e.g Duff and Byrd's relationship), appreciation of one's parents and the motivation that love can bring, as well as the main theme of stardust romantic love being more than just physical attraction but a real emotional connection. The fact that this movie (on top of being aided with a well cast main pairing that share a strong on screen chemistry in Duff and C.Michael Murray-put aside the teen queen business minded Olsen-twins like innuendoes associated with Hilary Duff for the moment- she really is quite talented given she did the soundtrack too) and one will notice the movie's pacing is also strong (it gets straight into the characters and the elusive Cinderella 'ball') and this in turn ensures the plot moves over any irrationalities and plot gaps and the possibility of 100% predictability, all this whilst the message of challenging someone to look out of the box of their set expectations; despair; loneliness and to keep their dreams alive and to be bold still remains, holding strong focus. It's not often, in fact, very rarely, that you get to say a movie labeled as 'romantic comedy teen chick flick' gets to tie all these elements. I believe it does challenge teenagers to think, and to remember it's not over until they're struck out. Cinderella already is a beautiful story, add that element of fighting for what you believe and yourself in, and it really is powerfully moving too, and can be made very relevant and real to each teen out there; and ironically, far from a fairytale dream they can't achieve.
I give it: 6/10
Get Over It (2001)
Some good chords
Struck some good chords aesthetics wise with the use of 1970s fashion and musical vibes which proved telling for the next few years of trends from 2001. Starred quite a number of soon to be famous stars like Shane West, Kirsten Dunst and Melissa Sagemiller too, not bad considering they did the Earth Wind and Fire number on 'September'. In fact the soundtrack was another good chord struck. The teenage feel of this one had no unique touch in terms of predictability and structure. In fact, it played all the typical lines that are and were lame, and touted all the same popularity issues. I liked that Kirsten Dunst was not playing the role of the most beautiful girl in town, being slightly unfavoured and that was nice because she really is NOT A-List material looks wise or whatever. Now Sagemiller is really a class above, but to be honest, other than the literature bits (ruined by pretentiously lame dialogue in between again) and the great soundtrack, this one is only good for the 70s touch for the decade ahead.
Sex (& eye Candy) on the Beach
That's what'Cocktail is all about- a fluffily pseudo romanticized yet harmlessly flirtatious fling, that carries little other value but because its intention is not to flatter to deceive, works as sex & candy as its beautifully scenic settings and photogenic cast (Tom Cruise and Eli Shue at their candy-stand prime aged best). It sells color and tropical paradise in as much as it delivers it on a platter with some great rhythmically Cancun Samba styled scenes in Jamaica, or back in the halcyon New York clubs where Cruise shakes and stirs his bourbons and bon bons. Yet, it also has a story that writes in the possibility of being lovelorn as well as to face up to loneliness and rejection (epitomised very nicely by Bryan's character) in terms of balancing that age old lifelong conundrum - love and ambition.
Revenge of the Nerds (1984)
Sing: "Revenge of the Nerds Revenge of the Nerds uh uh yeah...."
Get out your robotic electronic dance moves and synthesizers before delving into this one. What a memorable film, I still hum the ROTN tune from the show...Say what you want, but the misfits fight back and kick arse is a format that will never lose vogue for as long as popularity and marginalization exists amongst youth culture. This one is part of the motley crew of films of this genre emerging in the early 80s, not unlike the early 2000s where we have teenage party films like American Pie, Road Trip, etc. Back then it was, ROTN, Stripes, Police Academy...the list goes on. I'm just enjoying the underdog victory as I always have!
The Accused (1988)
Foster and McGilis send a strong message out
I'm very glad that Jodie Foster and Kelly McGilis really put this film out and thereby sending out a strong message to the world regarding the horrors and resulting complications (legal and otherwise) surrounding the tragedy and trauma of rape. Dealing with the material in a very direct and brutally honest way, McGillis (a victim of an assault before - part of the reason why she took up this film) and Foster (who showcases her unbelievably powerful acting skills) shine some light on an otherwise unchartered and undiscussed area of not just women's rights, but human rights and the issues and possibilities behind some of the human race's ugliest sides. A great film that can both act as a beacon for the subject, albeit arguably brutally direct, or as merely if nothing else as a platform to take the many more and multi-polar complexities regarding rape as an issue to the public domain of debate at least.
Top Gun (1986)
Best Pilot and Jets Movie ever!
Top Gun is a, correction, WAS a trend setting action flick not just because it launched the at the time 'nouveaux' "action flick" formula (e.g. yada yada rookie-training-sex interest-emotional drop-loss-fanfare ending) as well as the Scott and Bruckheimer coalition, but purely because of the fact that since 1960s' war movie, Mayday, it has etched itself in as the best fighter jet and pilots movie ever. It still holds this accolade as far as my boyfriend is concerned, and we were only six or seven when we watched it.
Even though I can't pretend to be one of those millions of testosterone driven males who idolized Tom Cruise (whose career as leading man/heartthrob/icon/sex symbol in Hollywood was cemented after this film) and wanted to be fly-boy pilots of F14s that wore slick ray-bans and donned black naval patched leather jackets on a race bike (complete with chisel jawed chew down expressions), before signing up to the concept of US military glamor (the oxymoron...).
Even though I can't deny this film plied no holds barred propaganda to breed interest in US Defence (aka the recruitment campaigns and the role Hollywood played in stirring up such patriotic pro-Military sentiment - such that Cruise had to cancel this role with his performance in a certain Oliver Stone film 4 years later...), nonetheless, in my opinion, even after watching it nearly 20 years on, the film still oozes X-factor sharp crispness.
This kind of factor only comes from a well edited, well oiled, and well directed and generally superbly well assembled film which till today always has to have either a), a charismatically attractive cast (check- look at all the future big names like Meg Ryan, Val Kilmer and Tim Robbins who had a cameo through this film albeit the Kelly McGillis tragedy), b) powerhouse effects ahead of its time (check), or most importantly, c), that something unique. In this movie's case, that something unique that could stand as its competitive advantage (thereby also spinning a million 1980s to early 90s copycats from 'Iron Eagle' to TV Series' like 'Super Carrier') came from the Cinematography of flight sequences. R.A Rondell's stunts are amazing while the input by the actual real life pilots (all attributed accordingly in the credits) is invaluably reflected in the film somehow, and this lends it an air of class above its ensuing counterfeits. Furthermore, the film, albeit not infallible with plot holes and factual errors (e.g. non literal 'turning in of wings' by John Stockwell's Cougar character; F5 jets being touted off as MIGs), is nonetheless a great milestone in action cinematography and one of the pioneering formulaic action films that defined the genre (or perhaps even engendered one) for the 1980s onwards and set some real stylistics for the ensuing decades.
Vice Versa (1988)
Judge Reinhold by his acting for the part- even if typecast
Judge Reinhold may be one of the typecast 'geek wins back' sensitive and caring characters of the 1980s, and whilst in the last two decades that kind of character may have become unfashionably clichéd, we still have to look at his quality of acting in these kind of roles and see how well he did.
In Vice Versa, he's at his ostensible peak here, and like child actor Fred Savage (who's also been similarly typecast as the 'smarter than his age' child prodigy both in films and probably his real life), they really act well in concordance with the script that's been written for them. They have great on screen antics, not to mention the humorous exchanges that ride on playful charm and naivete, as well as delightfully realistic banter. In many ways other than the above-mentioned, Reinhold and Savage are so alike too. They both play off each other well, are convincing in their roles insofar as they are both pretty much able to let us enjoy the fact that yes, Reinhold can act as an tenth grader and Savage can speak like an adult! The saddest thing is that the parallels between these two actors don't stop just in the film, but perhaps now in retrospect, were the stories of their acting careers: both failed to break the mould of such role typecasting!
Daddy Day Care (2003)
The Cast (even the kids) are tremendous fun!
Casting for this film was brilliant. In fact, it could not have been anything less, given that the final edited product - which boasts of great interplay and chemistry between the crew, cast and the kids- was a great family film (decent, entertaining, and heartfelt). What is particularly nifty is that in this film, like some others including Judge Reinhold's Vice Versa (1988), we get to see a children's movie for adults with both the kids and the adults sharing equal stage presence, which really is splendid.
Eddie Murphy (now into his family man image phase) and fellow co-stars like Steve Zahn (playing yet another geeky role with slick comic timing) really capture the screen with their ability to play such innocently playful and tender roles and when you watch them engage in conversations with the child actors (who must have been a handful to manage), one can tell instantly there was chemistry on and off screen there (even child actors are kids and kids know who to trust) that went on to boost the production set.
The credits even run a series of bloopers which showed the whole cast and crew crying out in laughter after the some of the cherubic kids deliver hilarious comments in between takes. The fun and interaction they must have all shared as a crew unit must have been dewy cheeked wonderful! This boost spills over into the film as one can definitely sense the fun filed atmosphere, and even if someone disagrees they'd definitely agree that there was loads of confetti colour and delightful rainbow filled moments throughout the film, which kind of also is a credit to the originality of this film's screenplay.
Romeo + Juliet (1996)
Set the Trends for the late 1990s and early 2000s
William Shakespeare's masterpiece definitive romantic tale already had love, passion, tragedy and unbeatable literary genius. What Baz Luhrmann did was to turn up its volume, slap on the sunscreen and yell out (captured essentially through the way Leonardo DiCaprio cried in the murder scene) to the world in the midst of a 1996 drag party at the beach.
And what a scream it let out too. Whilst not initially blockbuster fare, it hit the underground and worked itself into the mainstream due to its raw energy- what later became the hallmark of Baz Lurhmann's film signatures when he completed 2001's now celebrated, Moulin Rouge. The film was yelling out to the world way ahead of its time. From the fashion in the film, the stylings of the film all the way to the flair and even hairstyle of the lead characters, this film oozed trend-setter. That it went on to launch Leonardo DiCaprio and his floppy fringe, furrowed brow and a cigarette dressed in a suit without a tie (spanning millions of teenage admirers and copycats the world over), was just the one element of the show's powerful placement as one of the defining pieces of cinema in the 1990s.
Till that time, teenage fare (if people even still consider this film to be as such) was considered fluffy - one must remember that the film was launched in 1996 - with only shows like 'My Own Private Idaho', 'Reality Bites' or even 'Clueless' before it, whilst it way ahead of the teenage movie formulaic explosion that took place after 1998/99, and even the better of those never could touch this film's raw energy, angst, stylistics nor emotion. That was how powerfully strong the undertones and reverberations surrounding this teenage culture defining movie of the 1990s was.
And yet again, it was not just a teen flick- it had the essence of literary prose still entrenched in within, it had a flair for style unseen in any movie at the time (thereby establishing Baz Lurhmann as a revolutionary), and combined with the editing, musical layout & soundtrack (The Wannadies, etc) and sparklingly romantic scenes like the 'fish tank' wooing sequence, it was pure Shakespeare with a twist, and a delectable shout at the beach to stop the world to take notice.