Archive for the 'General Blah' Category

The Pen is Mightier…

‘What are you chewing over?’
‘Dream I had once. I was walking in the woods, I don’t know why. Wind came up and blew me hat off.’
‘And you chased it, right? You ran and ran, finally caught up to it and you picked it up. But it wasn’t a hat anymore and it changed into something else, something wonderful.’
‘Nah, it stayed a hat and no, I didn’t chase it. Nothing more foolish than a man chasing his hat.’

An intriguing thread over at the DVD Times forums is asking members to post their favourite lines from movies. The usual classics - ‘Rosebud,’ ‘Give a damn,’ ‘Force be with you,’ etc - are all present and correct, but as ever your personal tips are probably quite different.

The exchange quoted above is between Tom (Gabriel Byrne) and Verna (Marcia Gay Harden), from the Coen Brothers’ Miller’s Crossing. Just one quickfire snippet from a movie peppered with superb dialogue, it’s belted out rapidly, as though both characters talk like this to each other all the time, sparring verbally as well as scheming around each other and ending up in the sack.

Of course, Joel and Ethan Coen are acknowledged masters of sparkling dialogue, as verbally acrobatic as Morrissey’s lyrics used to be. Though the above homage to film noir is my pick of the bunch, great lines can be found in just about everything they’ve released, at least up until O Brother, Where art Thou? The Man who Wasn’t There is more memorable for its silences, and since then the sure touch seems to have deserted them, just as they have attempted to break into the mainstream.

Elsewhere, here’s a few old favourites I’ve remembered from my own viewing experiencies, beginning with…

‘You thought I loved Rebecca? You thought that? I hated her!’
- Maxim de Winter (Lawrence Olivier), from Rebecca (1940, Alfred Hitchcock)

Great dialogue can alter the course of an entire film. Until this point, the anonymous second Mrs de Winter (Joan Fontaine) has quite clearly been established as lacking all the sophistication and glamour of the first. Worse still, her husband appears to be sullen and withdrawn, for all the world looking depressed with having lost Rebecca for this pale shadow. That is until the above key moment, where Maxim reveals just how wrong-footed she has been, and why there was a need for a second Mrs de Winter at all.

‘You wanted a recording of my voice, well here it is. What you want me to say is “I love you.” Well I don’t. I hate you, you little slut. You make me sick.’
- Pinkie Brown (Richard Attenborough), from Brighton Rock (1947, John Boulting)

Long before he became ‘Dickie’, Attenborough was turning in one of the greatest studies in evil ever committed to celluloid. Whether Pinkie is the blackest hearted screen villain of all time remains one for debate, but there’s no denying the cold, heartlessness of his teenage hood, never better demonstrated than in his treatment of Rose (Carol Marsh). The movie ends with her playing his recording for the first time. It’s her one memory of him after his death. Chillingly, in Graham Greene’s novel, on which this film is based, the record doesn’t stick…

‘No. You’re not a bad person. You’re a terrific person. You’re my favorite person, but every once in a while, you can be a real cunt.’
- Bill (David Carradine), from Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004, Quentin Tarantino)

Though film characters say ‘fuck’ these days with the sort of freedom that would make Gordon Ramsay blush, the ‘C’ word still has an air of taboo about it. Hearing it can have an impact - my first movie experience of the English language’s most taboo four-letter conjunctive came with Glengarry Glen Ross, and even in that foul language fest it was fairly shocking. In Tarantino’s epic, its use comes at the very end of a four-hour running time (if you throw in Volume One), and makes its mark because, up until that point, Bill has done little but pay compliments to the Bride. When he calls her a cunt, he gives a brief impression of why he might have wanted her dead, and thus began the spiral of death and destruction she instigates once she has recovered from her coma. The line also has a nice, natural feel to it. This is in contrast to Bill’s ‘Superman’ speech, which, whilst pointed, comes across as a deliberate example of ‘Quentin’s Clever Monologues’. It’s too stylised, as though QT actually has a folder in his desk, called ‘Quentin’s Clever Monologues’, and in it is all the lengthy, one-person dialogues that he has used in his various films, from the ‘Like a Virgin’ speech used in Reservoir Dogs, to Dennis Hopper’s polemic about Sicilians as witnessed in True Romance. They’re always worth listening to, but people don’t talk like this in real life, and in fact, it’s pointed lines like the one above that lends some realism to the action.

‘Little Tommy Daggett. How I Ioved listening to your sweet prayers every night. And then you’d jump in your bed, so afraid I was under there. And I was.’
- Lucifer (Viggo Mortensen), from The Prophecy (1995, Gregory Widen)

Maybe there have been better portrayals of Satan (for my money, few come more chilling than the performance by Mark Benton in Russell T Davies’s The Second Coming), but Aragorn does a manful job in forgotten mid-nineties thriller, The Prophecy. Little more than a cameo role, Lucifer nevertheless steals the show as a businesslike fallen angel, working to halt the apocalyptic machinations of Gabriel (Christopher Walken, in manic mode) and maintain an earthly status quo. Smooth, silken voiced and never happier than when he gets to deliver epiphets such as the above, Mortensen’s Devil reduces tough cop Daggett (Elias Koteas) to a petrified shell when he tells him how he was able to peer so effortlessly into the human’s soul. Truly, the stuff of nightmares, and just like you’d imagine Lucifer being, sort of seductive at the same time.

‘Well, that’s the real question, isn’t it? Why? The how and the who is just scenery for the public. Oswald, Ruby, Cuba, the Mafia. Keeps them guessing like some kind of parlour game, prevents them from asking the most important question - why? Why was Kennedy killed? Who benefitted? Who has the power to cover it up? Who?’
- X (Donald Sutherland), from JFK (1991, Oliver Stone)

The conspiracy theorist’s favourite movie blows itself wide open when it stops being an investigation of wrong doings in New Orleans, and mushrooms into a murder case that has national consequences. The mysterious X appears roughly two thirds into Stone’s long murder mystery. Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner, in his best role) has been chasing local leads whilst atempting to debunk the ‘Lone Gunman’ theory that underpins the accepted version of the President’s slaying. And then, in a ten-minute scene that contains more power than just about anything else Stone has produced, Black Ops veteran Sutherland gives him the story of 22 November 1963 from the perspective of those who would know how to cover up a planned assassination. In his explanation of why it might have happened, X introduces elements to the film that contain frightening implications for how a modern superpower is run, and what keeps it ticking.

‘I thought it said “liberate me” - “save me.” But it’s not “me.” It’s “liberate tutame” - “save yourself.”‘
- D.J. (Jason Isaacs) from Event Horizon (1997, Paul W.S. Anderson)

And just like that, Event Horizon becomes a whole lot scarier. Admit it, you were spooked.

‘God darnit, Mr. Lamarr, you use your tongue prettier than a twenty dollar whore.’
- Taggart (Slim Pickens) from Blazing Saddles (1974, Mel Brooks)

Listening to Gene Wilder on Five Live earlier, though the conversation revolved mainly around Young Frankenstein, it’s this entry that still reduces me to helpless tears. Wilder’s pissed Waco Kid is only part of the fun, as everyone gets good lines, including Slim Pickens as the villainous Hedley ‘That’s Hedley!’ Lamarr’s henchman. Ver Saddles is eminently quotable. As a fan, I have always looked for ‘I get a kick out of you’ when forced to attend karaoke parties (as well as ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’, and ‘The Camptown Ladies’), and, sad to say, used the above line in polite conversation more than once. It’s a lovely throwaway quip, and just one instance of excellent dialogue in a movie that demands to be paraphrased until the end of time. That said, Mike not know. Mike only pawn, in game of life.

The closing comment in a review of favourite dialogue shouldn’t go to me, but to the Wachowski Brothers, who knew how to peruse the ‘V’ section in their dictionaries when writing V for Vendetta

‘Voilà! In view, a humble vaudevillian veteran, cast vicariously as both victim and villain by the vicissitudes of Fate. This visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is a vestige of the vox populi, now vacant, vanished. However, this valorous visitation of a by-gone vexation, stands vivified and has vowed to vanquish these venal and virulent vermin vanguarding vice and vouchsafing the violently vicious and voracious violation of volition. The only verdict is vengeance; a vendetta, held as a votive, not in vain, for the value and veracity of such shall one day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous. Verily, this vichyssoise of verbiage veers most verbose, so let me simply add that it’s my very good honour to meet you, and you may call me V.’

Posted on 12th May 2007
Under: General Blah | 1 Comment »

Lists of Fury

Flicking through the 1,000 Top Films of all time, as compiled by They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They?, I was dismayed to see how few of the ‘grand’ I’d actually watched. Having downloaded the list, and clearly with an hour or so to kill, I worked out my viewing tally, which turned out to be a meagre 207. That’s just over 20%, if my addled grasp on basic mathematics hasn’t failed me.

Pathetic, as I’m sure you’ll agree. All the same, it did make me think about how worthwhile these lists are. The TSPDT version, for instance, has been put together from ‘1,320 individual critics’ and filmmakers’ top-tens.’ It doesn’t get much more objective than that, you’d think, and sure enough the list contains all the usual gems, including films from across the world to produce a truly global elite. Yet it’s still a countdown based on peoples’ opinions.

How about, instead, looking at the top grossing movies of all time? Surely, the power of numbers is as neutral as anything, and by any estimation the number of feet piling into theatres should have the final say over what rocks, right? Hmm, well according to Movieweb’s biggest moneyspinners in America, Titanic is number one, followed by Star Wars, and then Shrek 2. By anyone’s estimation, these aren’t the best films ever, and in fact highlight the power of marketing, combined with the popular appeal of each title. There’s nothing wrong with any of them, but let’s be fair, stick Far Far Away up against TSPDT’s number three, Vertigo, and there’s little contest over the more virtuous body of work.

The IMDb Top 250 is another potential source for finding the real great and good. Based on the votes of users, it gives a fair representation of what your public thinks when freed from the publicity machine surrounding your latest cinema blockbuster. And sure enough, their poll isn’t a million miles away from that of the critics, if a little more populist, and dominated heavily by American releases (which coincides with IMDb being an American site, serving a majority of visitors from the USA).

I don’t think any list is perfect. As much as I can claim to admire many of the entries, the simple truth is my own Top 1,000 would look very different, which of course is just as it should be. Check out the personal chart belonging to Flick Filosopher’s Mary Ann Johanson. The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai is at number one… er, some mistake surely, until I’m forced to remember that this is Ms Johanson’s list, and she’s entitled to find delight in anything she likes. If only we could all admit that, instead of chin stroking our way through some old Fellini masterpiece, our favourite is The Goonies, Big Trouble in Little China, or some similar mid-eighties fluff.

As a self-confessed movie lover, however, I’m forced to admit that the one thousand entries offered by TSPDT form an enviable body of work. Many I’ve ticked off as having seen are indeed classics, and I’m intrigued to find what the other 793 have in store for me. Here’s the top ten:

1. Citizen Kane (Country: USA, Year: 1941, Director: Orson Welles)
No surprise there. What lingers long after Kane’s technical achievements have been aped and advanced are the superb story, the judicious imagery, and the way it’s all perfectly acted. A monumental slice of celluloid that has stood the test of time 66 years after its initial release.

2. The Rules of the Game (France, 1939, Jean Renoir)
I haven’t seen it.

3. Vertigo (USA, 1958, Alfred Hitchcock)
An excellent adventure into the darkness of man’s soul, Vertigo features dazzling colour images alongside a gripping plot that depicts James Stewart’s unravelling in such a way it’s impossible not to breathelessly admire the director’s intention.

4. 2001: A Space Odyssey (UK, 1968, Stanley Kubrick)
A feast for the eyes, with its elusive message of evolution, spaceships moving at a stately pace (much like the film itself) and a computer singing ‘Daisy’ as its artifical life ebbs away.

5. (Italy, 1963, Federico Fellini)
Not seen it - boo.

6. The Seven Samurai (Japan, 1954, Akira Kurosawa)
I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t seen it. Correction - I’ve watched bits, but I am yet to sit through the three hours and twenty minutes of alleged masterpiece. What makes it worse is that I had it sitting on Sky + for weeks before deleting it to make way for Match of the Day…

7. The Godfather (USA, 1972, Francis Ford Coppola)
The IMDb’s numero uno is obviously bloody brilliant, though I prefer Part II as a slice of entertainment. Perhaps this is because by that stage, we know the story’s set-up and all its characters, and can enjoy the fireworks. The first instalment had it all to do, laying on slices of exposition whilst introducing the Corleone family, its friends and enemies. And yet it holds up so well, producing more memorable scenes and quotes than any number of rivals, and introducing to this writer a love of Italian food. Watching it again recently, I could pinpoint the exact moment when Michael’s moral decay began, a process that reaches its heartbreaking apex in Part II.

8. Tokyo Story (Japan, 1953, Yasujiro Ozu)
Not only haven’t I seen it, I’ve barely heard of the thing. Having read about it now, I have to say I’m intrigued…

9. The Searchers (USA, 1956, John Ford)
It bored me, but I was young at the time and will probably have to give it another chance.

10. Singin’ in the Rain (USA, 1952, Stanley Donen/Gene Kelly)
Another that deserves a proper viewing. I don’t do bloody musicals!

You can download the full TSPDT list as a handy Excel spreadsheet from the link at the top of this page. From there, you can import it into Access and set up a nice database for easy reference, or simply do what I did and colour in the cells when you have seen the movie listed. I’m determined to see more than 207 of the greatest critics’ choices ever, and am already working through the TV schedules to see what can be committed to Sky + (I’ll watch it this time, honest!) and where I might have to make a DVD purchase. Gaslight (770 on the list) is on Turner Classic Movies tomorrow. Film Four are showing The Apartment (77) on Friday…

Posted on 2nd May 2007
Under: Award Fodder, Classics, General Blah | 8 Comments »

Ten Movie Soundtracks to Treasure

Both Empire magazine and the Observer have recently produced their own lists of best film scores, and, never one to leave any bandwagon unjumped, I have half-inched the concept for this here site. As we all know, a great soundtrack can elevate the movie to which it’s attached. Famously, Star Wars was taken far more seriously by those test-viewing it after John Williams had worked his magic over the action. Talking of Williams, is it possible to even think about Jaws without that creepy and ominous signature tune running through your head? Or how about the nightmarish use of strings by Bernard Hermann for Psycho’s shower scene? Vangelis’s score for Chariots of Fire has endured longer than the film, whilst The Sound of Music’s soundtrack album remains one of the all-time bestsellers.

The following is my humble list of ten favourites, soundtracks that have really done their part to lift a movie in a significant and enduring way. Obviously, it’s entirely subjective. Your top ten would no doubt be very different to mine, and incidentally, I’d love to hear about these. Two rules - it must be a score written specifically for the film i.e. no soundtrack made up of individual songs, like Trainspotting, and I can’t choose a composer’s work more than once, otherwise this may turn out to be a list dominated by Morricone…

10. Jean de Florette (Jean-Claude Petit)
Jean de Florette It’s the Stella Artois music, isn’t it? Stella pinched Jean de Florette’s theme for a long-running string of commercials, each featuring scenes from a rural village, and the price punters are willing to pay for a ‘reassuringly expensive’ pint. Claude Berri’s morality tale is itself set in a forgotten corner of France during some unspecified time in the past. Petit’s score follows poor Gerard Depardieu around as he struggles to make a business of his farmland, never knowing that his new friend from the neighbouring plot is screwing him out of a steady water supply. As it becomes clear that Depardieu’s hunchback is doomed to failure, the music takes on an ever greater degree of tragedy, reflecting the dramatic irony afflicting him whilst capturing beautifully the sun and countryside simplicity of the surroundings.

9. The Ipcress File (John Barry)
The Ipcress File Perpetually intertwined with James Bond, Barry has provided excellent and memorable scores for a number of movies. His music for Dances with Wolves, for instance, reflects the rather beautiful sadness of the dying old west. But The Ipcress File perhaps towers over all of them. The film, based on Len Deighton’s fiction, was intended to be a downbeat alternative to Bond. Whilst 007 lives in a swirling world of Bollinger and Aston Martins, Ipcress’s hero - Harry Palmer, played by Michael Caine - is first seen fixing himself a morning coffee in his unremarkable flat. It’s a scene that looks like its era, the 1960s, and in many ways, this score is the sixties, featuring a signature arrangement that is simple enough to mirror the ordinariness of Palmer’s life, yet holds sufficient glamour and mysteriousness to tease out the hidden depths of a spy’s life.

8. Spirited Away (Joe Hisaishi)
Spirited Away Music isn’t the first thing one thinks about when watching Ghibli Studio’s marvellous animations, but in Spirited Away - its most famous export - the score and film combine to sublime effect. What elevates Hisaishi’s work is its essential ‘Japaneseness,’ the mixing of ethnic styles and instruments with a full orchestra to give it a distinctive Eastern feel. This is witnessed best in the scene where Chihiro watches a queue of masked spirits depart a steamer on their way to the bath house. The music finest moment, however, takes place on the train journey. As Sen and her friends travel to Swampy Bottom, they share the carriage with numerous spirits, all silhouetted human forms, who get off at various stops along the way. Sen glances outside at the blackened outline of a little girl, waiting on the platform for someone who doesn’t come, and perhaps never will. It’s a lovely piece filled with melancholy for the quiet sadness of everyone on that train.

7. Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship of the Ring (Howard Shore)
The Fellowship of the Ring By the third and final part of Peter Jackson’s trilogy, Shores’s score covered virtually every second of the footage in what became a fairly bloated climax. In the first, the one where they had to impress us with this new world, his music is used intelligently and to best effect. Shore begins by providing a theme tune for the Shire that fits the hobbits so well, it’s almost impossible to read the early chapters of Tolkein’s book without whistling the Celtic-inspired refrains to yourself. But there’s more. Shore captures the otherworldly home of Galadriel, the heroic intentions of the Fellowship, and at its finest, the flight from Moria, as a chorus of voices is added to the orchestra to usher in the ancient evil of the mountain’s Balrog.

6. Superman: the Movie (John Williams)
Superman Williams is synonymous with big name movies from the last thirty years. Lucas and Spielberg’s continuing requests for his services ensures that his music is attached to some of the biggest names around, and it’s impossible to deny the contribution he has made to the likes of E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, Harry Potter, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and countless others. But what to choose as the best? Where have those fanfares been used to their most optimal effect? I’ve gone for Superman, having watched it over Christmas for the first time since I was a child, and unlike many that have undergone a similar ritual, it still shines as a classic movie that beautifully combines comedy, high emotion and a sense of mythology. Williams gets the superhero element of the film’s eponymous character exactly right in his theme tune, one so adored that it was allowed to play over some of the longest opening credits in celluloid history. Added to that are the mysterious strains that accompany Clark Kent’s discoveries of his own power, the feisty yet adorable tune attached to Lois Lane, and wholly suitable wonder and majesty that meets the scenes set on dying Krypton.

5. Blade Runner (Vangelis)
Blade Runner The darling of Film Studies classes is fortunate enough to hold hands with Vangelis’s finest work. His synthesisers have been used to excellent effect elsewhere. Both the scores for Chariots of Fire and Alexander are instantly identifiable, and either has its high points. But it’s here, where he, Ridley Scott and Harrison Ford all combined to produce their best stuff that you get the real pay-off. Blade Runner is set in a near future, and it’s entirely appropriate for the elegant, space age Vangelis soundtrack to go with those shots of beautiful, dark cityscapes, Rutger Hauer talking about the things he’s seen, and the heartbreakingly delicate music that is used when Sean Young appears as the lovely android, Rachel. Quite simply, a piece of majesty, and it’s criminal that we could only buy the soundtrack so recently.

4. North by Northwest (Bernard Hermann)
North by Northwest Hermann’s talents were called on to provide scores for three of Hitchcock’s best films - Vertigo, Psycho, and this - and in each case, he had to produce something individual for completely different features. The ’shower scene’ strings from Psycho represent the most famous of these, though personally I prefer the music box madness of Vertigo, complete with Spirograph images filling the screen. Even more, I think the soundtrack for North by Northwest ticks every box. One of the Master’s most accessible and relentlessly exciting films, Hermann’s title track provides a suitable sense of urgency, as lines cut across the screen, only to dissolve into the window frames of a glass-fronted tower block. There’s a real undercurrent of menace in the music, a sense that nobody is who they appear to be, whilst at the fore the frantic pace covers Cary Grant’s flight in a way that’s thrillingly sublime.

3. The Fearless Vampire Killers (Christopher Komeda)
The Fearless Vampire Killers What do you prefer? Those old Hammer soundtracks, where the composers simply filled the score with the wrong notes to provide music that was off-kilter and disorientating? Or this, with its authentic Eastern European sound and sense of being actually quite scary? Roman Polanski’s vampire comedy might not be to everybody’s taste, especially those raised on a diet of Christopher Lee and Francis Ford Coppola’s terrible take on Dracula, but it plays exactly like a tale set in some remote Balkan hinterland. The film has a genuine sense of place, and so does the soundtrack, which is all howling choruses and local instruments. Polish-born Komeda transports us to the serf village that’s in constant terror of its nearby vampire castle with a score that is gothic in nature, and fulfils the environment that Polanski was aiming for with a suitable ethnic air.

2. The Third Man (Anton Karas)
The Third Man In a moviemaking story that has become the stuff of legend, The Third Man’s director, Carol Reed, spotted Karas on a visit to Vienna before production began and instantly fell in love with his zither playing. Signed up to provide the score almost instantly, Karas earned worldwide fame for his unique and unusual work that fits the film like a glove. Roaming the bombed out streets and night time alleys of post-war Vienna, Karas’s zither provides a distinctive soundtrack, which is both beautiful and filled with an unnamed menace. It carries a sinister air, as Holly Martins becomes more embroiled in the Viennese underworld, a shady racket of black market goods, fake passports and the mysterious death of his best friend, who turns out to be not all he seems. The music was so effective that the film’s credits appear over the shot of a zither’s strings being plucked to the classic signature tune.

1. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Ennio Morricone)
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly A predictable choice, I fear, as regular readers of the site already know what I think of the movie, and its unbeatable score. I covered this in a separate blog about Sergio Leone’s masterpiece, and can find nothing better to say than to quote my own words from that link:

“It’s perhaps the most perfect accompaniment to what’s happening on the screen. Apart from the celebrated title track and the cemetery scene, you could pick any of his incidental pieces as a favourite. I have three. The first happens early, as Stevens’ young son watches Angel Eyes approaching. The music is both light and foreboding. Trouble’s clearly on the horizon. Tarantino pinched this brief piece to mark the first appearance of Bill in Kill Bill Volume 2, and he wasn’t wrong to do so. The second is more dolesome, and plays as Angel Eyes comes across a ruined fort of dead or dying soldiers. As the music begins to fade, we hear battle trumpets dying quietly in the background. And finally, the torture scene. Tuco is being punched to pieces by Angel Eyes’ henchman whilst in a prisoner-of-war camp. Outside, to mask the commotion, a loose band of captured Confederates are made to play a sad tune that is filled with regret, whilst Blondie is informed this happens every time someone is being tortured.”

Posted on 21st March 2007
Under: General Blah | 3 Comments »

A storm in 300’s teacup

My ticket’s already booked. Next Thursday, I’ll be at the IMAX in Manchester to catch Zack Snyder’s 300, surely the best possible way to see this explosion of a movie. I confess I’m desperate to find out what it’s like. Always a fan of big-scale pictures, there are various reasons why I’m getting excited about this one - I love Greek mythology, have nothing but time for tales about ancient Sparta, and considered Sin City to be an excellent and indulgent piece of work. On the latter point, 300 is of course based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel, and if it’s anything like Robert Rodriguez’s adaptation, I’ll be in for a rich visual treat.

Ancient Persians really looked like this ladOn the downside, I think it would be wrong to go in there expecting anything close to a historical document. By all accounts, Miller took the events of the Battle of Thermopylae - based mainly on Herodotus’s account, which was no doubt subject to various instances of literary license and exaggeration - and twisted them into a macho, highly stylized yarn about extreme heroism. What he depicted bears almost no resemblance to what really happened. Though it sounds as though his version of the Spartan way of life - a horror show of gruelling training regimes and sadistic ritual passages, and that was just for the good ones! - is a little more accurate, the events at Thermopylae are nothing more than comic book fluff.

And that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with taking liberties with things that happened nearly 2,500 years ago. The Spartan performance at Thermopylae is the stuff of legend, the sort of thing to be tossed over by the likes of Bettany Hughes in a tight-fitting t-shirt, strolling around the alleged site and declaring that everything she says is subject to the dubious testimony of the time. Ancient politics, the reasons for King Xerxes driving a vast army through Greece, have little meaning for today’s audiences, and there would appear to be no point for concern over the extreme license that makers of the film have taken with the story.

Or so I thought. It turns out that 300 is nothing less than a devious piece of propaganda, designed to turn western audiences psychologically against Iran (the modern day centre of the Persian empire) at a time when relations with America are at their most tense.

‘Such a fabrication of culture and insult to people is not acceptable by any nation or government,” a spokesman for the Iranian government said. ‘[Iran] considers it as hostile behaviour which is the result of cultural and psychological warfare.’

Added to this are the comments of Iranian newspaper, Ayandehno, who had it that ‘In the film Iranians are considered to be monsters devoid of any culture, humanity and wisdom who know nothing except attacking other lands, threatening peace and killing human beings. There is no option other than to confront, fight and destroy this wicked tribe so that the world can be saved from this axis of evil.’

All this is news to me. Granted, I haven’t even seen the film yet, but I didn’t have to scrape my knuckles off the ground too long to realise that it would be very difficult to make any viewers watch a ‘recreation’ of events from 480BC and spot an obvious allegory to current politics. Even before looking at any possible correlation between ancient Persia and modern Iran, there’s the sure fact that though those Spartan warriors might look buff, no one in their right mind would wish to undergo a life verging on masochistic, which is exactly how the city state treated its citizens.

But this is paying the movie too much respect. Its connection with history is loose indeed, and I’m sure the makers had little more planned for their audiences than a collective dropping of jaws at the visuals, which from the trailers look absolutely magnificent. Sin City was cack in terms of its exploration of the human condition. It was all style, with no emotional substance to speak of, and that’s exactly what I’m expecting from 300. Seeing it as any more than this is to do both it, and the people who’ll pay to see it, a great disservice. I imagine that even the most headbanging hardline conservative won’t be persuaded that Iran is evil after a showing of 300. The connection simply isn’t there to be made, and claiming anything to the contrary sounds a bit like a well known cliche that relates mountains and molehills.

Apparently, this isn’t the first time that Hollywood has got itself in hot water with the Muslim world. A fair hoo-ha was sparked by Oliver Stone’s Alexander, in which ‘the Great’ has the temerity to conquer ancient Parthia, just to annoy modern Middle Eastern audiences. And then there was the stink threatened over Kingdom of Heaven, before people watched the thing and realised the bad guys were the Knights Templar, and not Saracen leader, Saladin, who was portrayed as wise and just.

Don’t get me wrong here. It isn’t my intention to belittle anyone for their views, but please, let’s get some perspective. There are better causes than a slice of cinematic hokum, which by all accounts takes its source material from the realm of fantasy long before it pays any attention to the events of antiquity.

In the meantime, my plan is to watch it (my first IMAX experience - how exciting is that!) and then share my thoughts here. Watch out for the review next Thursday!

Posted on 15th March 2007
Under: General Blah | No Comments »

The best song in a movie ever!

These days, they’re nothing out of the ordinary, but filling your movie’s soundtrack with tunes rather than an orchestral score is a relatively recent thing. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think it was the series of teen flicks written by John Hughes in the 1980s that popularised the form, following the arrival of MTV and music videos that started adding a visual narrative to chart hits. Let’s face it, when Molly Ringwald is making her prom dress in Pretty in Pink, what would you rather be listening to? New Order’s ‘Thieves like us’, or violins fiddling in tune with each scissor cut? Or how about the way ‘Don’t you (forget about me)’ by Simple Minds is synonymous with The Breakfast Club?

Pretty soon, soundtracks made up individual songs were the order of the day. The Top Gun record, which to my shame I bought, offered precious little of Howard Faltemeyer’s score, instead stuffing the LP with Giorgio Moroder, Kenny Loggins and bloody Berlin. Talking of Faltemeyer, he even had a shot at chart stardom himself, when his ‘Axel F’ theme from Beverley Hills Cop became a hit in its own right, a case of the song being actually better than the movie, if I may be so bold. For the girls, there was Dirty Dancing, with its album dominated by 1960s fare, before the whole thing descends into the awful bobbins of Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes. Ver Gun aside, lads could opt for the rock-tinged soundtracks for Rockys III and IV, the latter of which was little more than a series of wordless action scenes set to Survivor and their axe-kissing mates.

Even movies that had little business featuring pop songs managed to churn out some spin-off hit. Bloody, bloody, bloody Bryan Adams couldn’t have overlorded the charts during an entire summer away from University with his interminable ‘Everything I do’ if not for its affiliation with Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. It’s not a bad film, but in my eyes it’s forever tainted by the sheer invincibilty of Adams’s MOR opera. The same’s true of Titanic, which should never have crapped out a Celine Dion megahit, and now a movie that was perfectly enjoyable has been ruined by the caterwauling, incongruous Canadian and her endless note holding. My own version of Hell would find me sat at one of her Las Vegas revues for all time, with Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston appearing as special guests.

Similarly there are some very fine examples of song placement, and the occasional instance when they’re used to perfection. Consider Goodfellas, where Henry Hill’s paranoid day leading to his arrest takes place against a quickfire succession of the Stones, the Who, etc, the tunes getting ever more truncated as Hill becomes fuelled with the knowledge he’s about to be caught for possession. Then there’s Trainspotting, with its almost faultless placement of Lou Reed’s ‘Perfect Day.’ As songs go, it’s not one of my favourites, yet when played through the eyes of Mark Renton, smacked up to the hilt and staring blissfully out from the depths of the carpet he’s sank into, there’s no other song to fill that space.

In judging the top five, I’m looking for both tunes that I like and how appropriately they’re used in films. As such, it’s a personal choice, and I imagine your own selection would be quite different. There are even instances of classic tunes in movies I’m not especially fond of e.g. the towering ‘Blue Monday’ ranks as perhaps my all time favourite track, one to play at my funeral (obviously, I’d ask for the 12″ version to keep those fuckers standing around for as long as possible), yet it appears in the saccharine The Wedding Singer, therefore it doesn’t make the list. So here’s what does…

5. ‘Twist and Shout’ The Beatles, from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Possibly the high point of Hughes’s teen comedy ouevre, Ferris goes for laughs over navel gazing nearly every time, and in Ed Rooney (Jeffrey Jones), creates a classic comic villain. FBDO is about the eponymous hero taking his best pal and girlfriend for a day in the city whilst throwing a sickie from school, resulting in Rooney going on a relentless and increasingly desperate pursuit. Ferris’s attitude is that if he has to go to such lengths to take a day off, then he may as well live it to the full, resulting in what amounts to the ultimate use of stolen free time. At one point, our hero hijacks a float that’s parading through the city’s streets, and proceeds to regale the crowd with an energetic mime of Twist and Shout. As an affirmation of life’s values, it doesn’t get any better than this, Ferris gurning suitably as the crowds lap it up. Priceless.

Love will tear us apart4. ‘Love will Tear us Apart’ by Joy Division, from Donnie Darko
The track everyone remembers is Gary Jules’s take on Tears for Fears’ ‘Mad World’, and with ‘The Killing Moon’ by Echo and the Bunnymen providing such a strong opening number, it’s clear this is a film stuffed with the best of the eighties. Tears for Fears pop up again, performing ‘Head over Heels’ whilst the camera prowls around Donnie’s fascist school, and there are strong numbers from Duran Duran and The Dead Green Mummies to enjoy along the way. But nothing quite fits this film better than Joy Division’s finest hour, their one bona fide hit, which reigns supreme over the Darko residence party. As Donnie finds some happiness at last in the arms of Gretchen, Ian Curtis’s doleful lyrics make it quite clear that he might as well enjoy it while he can, because it isn’t going to last…

3.’ABC’ by The Jackson Five, from Clerks II
Possibly Kevin Smith’s most accomplished work contains this scene that comes right out of nowhere. Becky and Dante fancy the pants off each other. Unfortunately, he’s off to Florida the following day to get married to someone else, and then work within his new bride’s family business. Never one to let a drama mushroom into less than a crisis, Dante worries about his inability to dance at the wedding, so Becky takes him up to the roof, gets Jay and Silent Bob to play the above track, and gives him an impromptu lesson. It doesn’t take long before the infectious song invades everyone, from feet-tapping customers, through to people passing who begin a choreographed dance routine of their own. In the meantime, Dante stares at the adorable Becky with an expression of perfect love, a daft grin on his face as the music works its magic.

2. ‘Little Green Bag’ by George Baker Selection, from Reservoir Dogs
I could fill my entire top five with songs from Tarantino movies. QT himself claims that he purposely fits scenes around his chosen tracks, which gives them an appropriateness, a rhythm, that is rarely matched elsewhere. My personal choice is from his first - and for me, his best - film, which notably announced itself with KBILLY, a fake radio station that played nothing but forgotten tunes from the seventies. The one most punters will pick out instantly is ‘Stuck in the middle with you,’ which provides the background for one of Hollywood’s most notorious torture scenes. It’s excellent, and seems effortlessly so, but I think the above is more or less unbeatable, a three-minute slice of bubblegum that accompanies the sight of some very dangerous, identically-dressed men walking down the street. Let’s go to work.

1. ‘Canned Heat’ by Jamiroquai, from Napoleon Dynamite
It’s been argued by certain quarters that Napoleon’s dance triumph is one of this film’s few jarring scenes, a fish out of water within a piece that’s generally downbeat and devoid of the usual cinematic thrills. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a sublime logical conclusion, a nice way of showing how any loser can buck the odds, even briefly. The set up, that Napoleon performs in support of his friend, Pedro’s candidacy for the post of school president, is totally preposterous, yet somehow it fits. Add to that a killer tune, by someone who has generally provided great songs for films as varied as The Devil Wears Prada, and Godzilla. In this instance, it’s simply a superb, uplifting moment, almost the ideal pairing of music and action.

Posted on 8th March 2007
Under: General Blah | 5 Comments »

Sorry, but multiplexes are better

It’s the debate that has raged in many cinemagoer’s head - fleapits, or multiplexes? The purist in me argues that I grew up on the former, and there’s something slightly magical about them that today’s 2,000-screen monstrosities just doesn’t have, whether that’s backrow seats built for two, some architectural/design wonder, or simply being the only places to still sell Kia Ora. Multiplexes can retort in almost deafening fashion, thanks to their top of the range surround sound systems, not to mention their more comfortable seats, bewildering range of drinks and confectionary, and the sheer choice they offer to any visitor.

The Regent, in all its 'glory'Either choice is fraught with good and bad points, but like many people in their thirties, I grew up with small, one-screen fleapits, and my natural inclination is to look back at those early moviegoing days kindly. As a child, my ‘local’ was the Regent in Redcar, a dilapidated theatre on the sea front that, for a time, was never certain to be open or closed. Its catacombs were the stuff of youthful legend as they were rumoured to be the haunt of glue sniffers and a place to which you could take the ‘looser’ local girls. The cinema itself never showed films as they were released. You either had to wait several weeks for it to obtain a copy, or go to Middlesbrough’s ABC on Linthorpe Road instead, which seemed to be a temple of celluloid, thanks to its three (three!) screens and thus a choice of entertainment.

The Regent cost a pound per ticket during the mid-eighties, so lord knows what it charged beforehand. By today’s standards, it was ridiculously cheap, and so was the grub, served from a single kiosk next to the box office, and from where you could procure your Kia Ora, maltesers and wine gums. Upon admittance, you could choose to sit in the stalls (the seats to either side of the walkway were smoking areas), or pay a bit extra to watch your movie from the ‘circle.’ The curtains pulled apart - no idea what this obsession with curtains was all about, but I sort of miss them - and your programme started with a ’second’ film, which was usually some fifteen-minute montage of clips showing people bulfighting, or arsing around on motorbikes. If you were really lucky, you got an animated short instead, though this was normally some surreallist bobbins that might have provoked critical jizz from older viewers, but meant nothing to us kids. Afterwards came a series of Pearl and Dean fronted adverts, generally for local places, and produced as cheaply as possible. The one I remember best was for the only curry house within fifty miles of the cinema, which showed an Asian waiter smiling on benignly as a Ferrero Rocher couple tucked into what can only be described as a large turd resting on a bed of rice.

Once the trailers had been and gone, the lights came up and the curtains closed again with a waft of dust for those unlucky enough to be sat in the front row. You then had to hang around for ten minutes for patrons to make use of the conveniences, whilst some poor staff members waited at the end of each aisle selling choc ices and glamorous beyond belief Cornettoes to a steady queue of punters. Why people simply didn’t buy these things when they entered the cinema is a mystery to me, and presumably part of a ritual that had lingered on in cinemaland since time immemorial. In any case, once all that was over with, the lights would slowly dim, meaning the main feature was about to start. There were no requests to leave mobile phones switched off, no ‘illegal copies’ warnings, both practices remaining firmly in the future. All we got was the card from the BBFC, and then it was straight on to the flick, a mere forty minutes after you had taken your seat.

Mine parents have told me about a misty-eyed era when you could visit the cinema whenever you liked. Halfway through the movie? No problem - you simply sat and waited for the next show to start. It’s at this point that my mum would wink and say ‘We didn’t see much of it anyway,’ a comment I didn’t really want to have anything to do with. In any case, many of the above traditions have since been eroded away, much like the fleapits themselves. Multiplexes don’t bother with curtains. They wouldn’t consider stopping the film for the purchase of choc ices, and the shorts have mercifully been done away with, unless you go to see a Pixar film, in which case they’re often as good as the main feature. I remember when the Regent reopened after optimistic new owners plugged money back into it. The first feature was E.T., which was being shown just a year after its release. On Saturday mornings, the cinema put on a special matinee for kids, which was a hopeless succession of dull Children’s Film Foundation fodder about kids on bikes foiling jewel thieves in Amsterdam, though the Regent knew what it was doing, saving CFF serial, Chico the Rainmaker, until last. A cult favourite for all the wrong reasons, and hopelessly politically incorrect, the story concerned Chicopacobacowana, a shrunken head from a long forgotten Amazon tribe that came to life and possessed the amazing power to ‘make-a da rain.’ The head’s owners were some plucky kids who, you guessed it, were chased by thieves who wanted Chico’s talents for themselves. And yes, that is a young Leslie Ash in the photo, together with the lifeless head, and, er, Chico.

Chico the RainmakerThe longest queue I ever saw at the Regent was for Ghostbusters, and I first broke the law by going to see Gremlins, which scandalously had been given a 15 certificate. I was 12. A few years later, I’d break it again, this time to take in the 18-rated sexfest, Scandal. On one occasion, some mates and I found a way to break into the cinema through a back entrance and catch a movie for free. I did it once, having spent the film’s running time consumed with guilt, convinced that at some point that the lights would go on followed by a nervous manager taking to the stage and explaining to his audience that the police were waiting in the foyer.

But was the Regent really any good? My memories are all about the rites of passage that involved it, or the films that I saw there, the best of which was surely Back to the Future. Apparently, it’s still on the go, now run by a lad I went to school with, who’s enough of a Star Wars enthusiast that at night time, an image of C3-P0 appears on one of the walls. But it’s a labour of love, the sort of personal commitment that few fleapits can afford to offer. When I moved to Manchester, the choices were Cine City in Withington, or the Tatton in Gatley, which was the slightly nicer choice, though harder to access. Neither is open anymore, though in both cases little had been done with the buildings when I last had an opportunity to check. It’s as though both are waiting for a kindly new owner, one with an unbridled love of cinema over common sense. Cine City was admittedly awful, though it did have seats on the back row that were double-sized, which I think was a lovely touch. Amorous patrons might have been put off by the fact the men’s toilets were right behind them, however, little more than an open sewer that smelled as if materials like bleach were inventions of the future.

The alternative to these were the multiplexes that had spring up at Belle Vue and Salford Quays, and the Odeon on Oxford Road. It was easy to get to the latter. A quick bus into town did the job. As for the others, the journey was difficult without a car, and sadly, these were the shape of things to come, as the massive cinema complexes that have sprung up since then all tend to be built on out of town retail estates that aren’t, in all truth, located with public transport dependents in mind. Since moving to Rochdale, I had to get taxis to and from the Odeon in Sandbrook Park if I was desperate enough to catch a movie. A car has changed all that, of course, but I remember wondering if it was really worth going to see something like Troy, if the trip’s cost was doubled thanks to £6 taxi fares each way.

For all that, I find multiplexes something of a guilty pleasure. True, there’s something vulgar about the way they mark all their exits clearly enough to declare ‘After you’ve seen the film, please fuck off as quickly as possible to let the next herd in.’ Neither do I like the fact that the adverts no longer seem to support local businesses, instead showing the usual guff for cars, perfume and various big name brands that you can see during the commercial breaks on your telly. I appreciate there are legitimate reasons for both the above, but find it a pity that I could go to a multiplex in Aberdeen or Truro, and they’ll look the same, play identical adverts and offer the same confectionary. Any localised character these places might have has been sucked out, instead offering an anodyone experience that’s centred around shipping punters in and out of the building as briskly and neatly as possible.

But that’s the downside. It’s easy to forget, as I wax lyrical about my fond childhood memories, that the Regent was very cold, in no way compensating for the fact it basically faced the North Sea. Air conditioning was non-existent, and in response to complaints the cinema installed a range of fan heaters that meant you could occasionally take your coat off, but you might not hear the movie all that well. The seats were dilapidated and uncomfortable, the management no doubt reckoning that punters wouldn’t be too concerned about the exposed chair stuffing, vermin problems and the accumulated dirt of a thousand spilled Kia Ora containers because, hey, it was dark in there, right? In terms of sound quality, the Regent simply couldn’t hope to match the systems offered by multiplexes. Add to that the background chorus of pops and other damage, and it was a little like comparing a much-played vinyl record to a brand new CD. The picture wasn’t all that good either, often showing signs of colour fade, and serious contrast problems.

Multiplexes generally don’t have these problems, offering perfect comfort to the viewer and crystal clear images featuring top drawer surround sound. Their features are as the filmmaker intended them to be, and it’s virtually impossible, as I sat back in my reclining chair to watch Hot Fuzz at the Odeon last Saturday, to imagine going back to the fleapit experiences of yore. We had coke and popcorn, which meant more to the cinema in cold profit than our tickets did, and if we didn’t like the movie we might even have gone straight back to the box office and paid to see something on one of the other eleven screens.

I’m sorry. I know that fleapits meant a lot more in the general scheme of things, that they had a degree of character and warmth (not literally, mind) that your AMCs, IMAXs, Warner Villages and Showcases will never - and are not even trying to - possess. Multiplexes are all about money, and I agree it’s terrible that they charge £2.50 for a bag of Dorito’s when you could get them from Asda for under a quid. I accept all that, and I admit I am weak. But in terms of quality, there’s no comparison, though by all accounts the Regent now boasts Dolby Surround Sound. Hmm, maybe when I go back to Redcar…

Posted on 7th March 2007
Under: General Blah | No Comments »

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