Friday, 30 October 2009

The Simon and Jo Show Podcast: 31/10/2009

This week, Jo and I look at Saw VI while Richard Bourne (see the graffiti on the right...) joins us on the show to discuss Fantastic Mr. Fox and the range of ticket prices here in the UK.

"This week we discuss, more formally, Wes Anderson's 'Fantastic Mr Fox' with Richard Bourne and Jo and Simon discuss the latest installment of Saw - 'Saw VI'. Finally we discuss the crazy prices of cinemas across the country - from Telford to Birmingham, From Shrewsbury to London!"

We're also now, officially, on itunes and the link is on the side of the blog if you want to use it to subscribe.

I must admit, I feel these podcasts are going incredibly well! But any feedback from yourselves - thinks we could improve upon would be greatly appreciated!

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Fantastic Mr. Fox (Wes Anderson, 2009)

"I'm saying this more as, like, existentialism, you know? Who am I? And how can a fox ever be happy without, you'll forgive the expression, a chicken in its teeth?"


I was initially very excited to see this - I like the indie-Wes-Anderson style and I was keen to see a new adaptation of a Roald Dahl book. The adverts looked impressive - stop-go-motion effects with meerkat-posture foxes and then, suddenly it was given this credible publicity campaign as it was billed for the opening night gala for The London Film Festival. The voices were big guns - George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, Jason Schwartzman - the list goes on. I am keen, I am excited and - following Jo's recommendation, at the Barbican, I managed to watch it ...

What I reckon ...

From the first moment you see the foxes you are chuckling to yourself - they walk with a prim-delicate touch. Pointy feet and, as stated, posture like you see of meerkats. Seeing Mrs. Fox and Mr. Fox run around - their slender bodies zipping up and down, suddenly up-close, suddenly far away and talking with the speed of their movement. Its such a funny sight - and so unique. I have no idea what other director could create such characters - the stop-go-motion adds to the rural unique atmosphere and, therefore adds to the comedy.

Mark Kermode mentioned a 'smug' and 'talkative' attitude and it is very chatty - but that is more a trait of the foxes themselves and the animals. They are plenty of examples of visual comedy - one sequence as the foxes rob a house you see their actions through video-camera feeds only. Reminded me of the start of Snatch actually. Another sequence as Fox and Rat fight and electricity lights up sporadically while they do so. Even some stunning silhouettes of characters - such as a wolf on a hill and as Beansy lighting a cigarette in a doorway - visually engaging. Yes they are chatty but its hardly a bad call on Wes Andersons part - it just happens to go against the target audience that is children.

Children shouldn't really have to work out what the word 'Cuss' replaces (four letters, begins with F...) because that is adult in its content. Comedy about existentialism isnt easy for kids to understand funnily enough. Those jokes when a character talks for long periods and then all the other characters look at the character in awe/shock and its funny - for kids, they would probably assume that they just don't get the joke. Referring to animals by the latin-name ... is this really comedy for kids? I don't think the bugs in A Bugs Life would do such a thing. Having listen to Adam and Matty's Filmspotting podcast on Where the Wild Things Are they discuss how the darkness of Jonzes' movie is missed often with kids movies -and he's right - but one thing most childrens-filmmakers don't forget is the language kids understand - the actual words they hear and whether they understand it. I'm a teacher and I wouldn't use a word like Existentialism without explaining what it means to 16 year olds!

This is a kids film that seems to target educated young adults. We see the 2D rolling pans that I recall in NES and Sega Master System computer games - even Abe's Odyssey and Abe's Exodus had 2D rolling movement as the game progressed - but suddenly showed the 3D layers of the environment much like Fantastic Mr. Fox did. Retro-computer games methinks ... then we have the point-of-view of the dogs running around - as if we control him in some sort of shoot-em-up game. These link not to current children - but the children ten, fifteen years prior. Morricone-style music as a Western as the film finishes ... really what kids like to see? Ultimately the theme of capitalism is something that, as adults we see more of in our life than kids. The idea "I dont want to be poor" " but we are poor" - greed and materialism of the eighties and nineties. Though simple concepts - they are not concepts or issues children have to face. Children get their money from their parents. Maybe the one aspect kids would relate to is Ash and Kristofferson - the idea that, akin to Buzz and Woody, a new kid comes into town who is, ultimately, better than you. Then again, the role of the father is an important aspect - and more importantly how the child looks up to his flawed father so much is also worth mentioning.

It does look fantastic - and that rural tone, as first mentioned, is the biggest plus point and is something that is unique to this. The corduroy jackets and patchwork and textured land reminds me of the textures on Woody's clothing in Toy Story. I always remember stop-go-motion as the effects-that-never-were on Jurassic Park before Stan Winston and ILM stampeded over Phil Tippetts stop-go-motion possibilities. Clearly stop-go-motion and Phil Tippett are still in the job and can make stunning films (not Starship Troopers 3) without having to concede defeat to CGI.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Saw V (David Hackl, 2008)

"Vengeance changes a person"

I watched this with Sarah, Jo and - this time -Elisabeth. She hadn't seen any of the previous installments so it was going to be interesting her take at this point in the franchise. We all watched it at Tottentham Court Road Odeon and was offended by the West End (even though we weren't in the West End) prices. Something like £11 if I recall. Shocking. Watched it again prior to writing this review and it turned out to be better than I recalled. It was the worst in the franchise after the first watch. It remains the worst in the franchise but my opinion is slightly better having rewatched it as there is actually a point to the film. I thought it was unneccessary addition but, in fact, half the twists completely change what the sixth movie is about - it won't just be about Hoffman ... it will be more about Jill Tuck and her associations I assume. Nevertheless, David Hackl holds the fort this time so ...

What I reckon ...

So it is a continuation of franchise - but when we think back to Saw we now have different writers ... different directors ... most of the cast are dead from the first one. If not all the cast. Can it really continue? From the get-go there are problems as the opening credits are not the usual slightly-spooky, white-misty font appearing and disappearing - we are subjected to some very-cheap rusty metal font which simply looks awful. Especially when the 'V' glides down to secure its place on the word 'Saw'. A bad start if there ever was one.

The focus this time is the backstory behind Det. Hoffman -his backstory is explored and the question 'how did he and jigsaw join up?' is answered. Then more exposure as to how they worked as a team. While these plots are explored, we also see a different game involving five people who all have 'some' link. The overarching theme is teamwork - and how, through working as a team, you can succeed. Amanda failed in Saw III because she didn't - she began rebelling and going off her own way to kill people her own way ... Hoffman and Jigsaw's success in the capturing and killing of the third victim (the dude in the barbed wire in Saw) succeeded because they worked as a team. Funnily enough, the five people involved in Saw V's big trap don't succeed as well as they had hoped ... because they don't work together. They work selfishly and for themselves ... funnily enough this is their 'crime'. Something about a house that burned down with 8 people inside and, indirectly, the five people were aware and responsible for those deaths but didn't care because they wanted money. Interesting small role for Carlo Rota (aka, Morris from TV series 24) as a journalist.

As with all the installments, this one has flashbacks to the previous four films. The barbed wire trap in Saw (this seemed really good ... I never felt we revisited these aspects of Saw enough), then we also saw Hoffman assist Jigsaw in setting the house up in Saw II - a brief cameo of Obi as he is placed in position. then there is the finale of Saw III and Saw IV which is a given - as we were left in that room at the end of Saw IV with Special Agent Strahm.

By going about the film in some, how-do-I-put-it, Detective-on-the-case with, not-so-watchable character Strahm while we flash back and forth to establish no-way-as-cool-character Hoffman, the whole film feels like it is missing something. Maybe a likeable character is missing, because the people we truly follow and see are nowhere near as likeable as Rigg (Saw IV), Lynn (Saw III), Matthews (Saw II) and the poor saps Dr Gorden and Adam (Saw). Makes the watch so much more of an effort. Even Jill Tuck is uninteresting ... I hope she is better in Saw VI but, at this point, it is too eraly to tell. She has a box ... that's about all we know.

Interesting talking point on message boards is whether Strahm escaping his trap was purposeful ... for those not in the know, he escapes a drowning trap by jabbing a hollow pen in his neck to breathe. It is funny because I think he is lucky - the shock on Hoffman's face and (I assume) it was Hoffman put him into position in the first place. Otherwise there is a fourth accomplice and Jill Tuck dragging and setting-up Strahm seems a bit of a long stretch ... especially considering how 'unrealistic' Amanda's involvement of setting up Kerry in Saw III/IV was. Just a talking point though ...

It does well in showing us squirmy sequences - so lots of pressure to bones before they snap (Strahm holding himself in place before the bones give way, snap, break... and he is crushed) and the final trap for the five ... sawing your hand through the webbed sections of the hand. Could it be more squeamish.

So to close this semi-overview/review, we finish watching this film knowing that Jill Tuck is, in some way involved. We don't know how - or to what extent - but clearly she lied to the cops about Strahm following her, thus helping Hoffman gain his anonymity: Jigsaws gift to him. There is no clear clarity in the timeframe - and whether Saw V takes place prior to the autopsy we see at the beginning (and end) of Saw IV. It is these questions that keep people coming back. Saw VI closes the 'second' trilogy ... so it will be interesting what facet is finish. Hoffman is the focus and it is his goals and motives that will conclude the six-parts. Strahm isn't completely erased - as people might want to think - because I am sure you could find a way to prise open the crushing room and look at the DNA. Surely for Hoffman to get out of his glass coffin it has to be opened ... oh god ... will that be how Saw VI starts, parts of Strahm dropping onto the coffin and Hoffman getting out.

Right, enough second guessing. Saw VI is tonight ... review soon and, remember, spoilers will be all over it.

Saw IV (Darren Lynn Bousman, 2007)

"But with your survival, became your obsession. Obsession to stop those around you for making the wrong choices."


I had very low expectations for this fourth installment. It is one thing thinking of sequels that topped the original ... The Godfather Part II, Aliens, Terminator 2, Toy Story 2 ... to name the very few I can think of. Then, we have Saw IV. Could the fourth installment be any good? Especially considering the lead character is dead. Oh yeah, spoiler alert. Having watched Saw III in Reading Vue Cinema, this one was watched in Finchley Vue Cinema having recently moved to London. Poor Jo had to travel from Brighton and then from Stockwell up to Finchley so we could see the film there. That was a lot to ask but it was a good cinema and, ultimately, a good viewing. I think it is the best sequel since possibly the first film. Maybe, because Amanda - an actress who doesn't rate very highly on my actor-rating - was absent must have helped. Not to mention, the lead actor we followed - Rigg (Lyriq Bent) - was incredible. An actor who was likabale since Saw II - I must admit, knowing he was holding the film this time, did fill me with a little happiness. So, how did in fare ...

What I reckon ...
In a similar way to Saw III the running theme is 'training' and 'how to train' an accomplice. We have already seen Amanda fail at being an apprentice to Jigsaw, but - as we aree told by Strahm - there is another person who has helped out. How else could cancer-stricken Jigsaw and not-very-strong Amanda hoisted Kerry into the harness of her death (seen in Saw III and Saw IV). The 'see what I see' and 'feel what I feel' statements splashed all over the walls for Rigg to understand indicates that if Rigg 'wins' the task he will be an apprentice for Jigsaw but, if he loses - which he does - he may be more human and, thus, more keen to save others (opening unmarked doors) but, ultimately die in the process. His human attitude - his attempts to save everyone is his fatal flaw. Strangely enough, this shows Jigsaws twisted - even hypocritical perspective. It makes his outlook not so glorious - you think about how 'appreciating life' is true and that, clearly, these people don't - it is a shame to see that such a character like Rigg is not appreciating life because he works so hard at saving everyone elses. And dies for that.

This gets us into the whole Capital Punishment territory and, ultimately, the death penalty. Who has the right to judge? Jigsaw who 'despises murderers' but appreciates how, sometimes, it is neccessary to put people into situations that force them to kill themselves. The death penalty argument - amongst many factors - raises the question of judgement. Why would a murderer be killed themselves as a form of justice? If 'the government' kills this person, does that not make them murderers themselves - and thus live by the same rules? No - because the government represents the people. At the end of the day, one person flicks-the-switch and takes a human life when someone is killed by the death penalty - and that person is as human as the drug-dealer in an urban-city who judges the value and decides to take the life of a thieving drug-user. Or, in the context of the Saw franchise - is as human as John Kramer, a victim of the drug-users and selfish people of the world.

Enough of that. The film begins with the autopsy of Jigsaw. Akin to the brain surgery of Saw III , this is a normal procedure of any autopsy unit. But for us normal folk, it is gore. It also goes against the cliche - the killer we fear is definitely dead. His brain is removed - there is no chance that he will suddenly appear. We still see some incredible transitions from Bousman - in one case we see Rigg put on a top and, as he does, the scene changes. I feel special effects were used and it keeps the films consistent and in line with the previous installments from Bousman. Initially, if I recall correctly, Bousman was not going to direct this initially and decided to upon reading the script. It makes sense, because it revisits half the sequences and details from Saw III giving Bousman a clear advantage - he knows those sets and details inside-out, so he will know exactly what would work well and what wouldn't. Saw V does not deal with III and IV as clearly and so bringing on board David Hackl was not a bad idea - but at this point, considering the outcome of Saw IV, it was important to have Bousman back.

Something not so important was the reuse of Eric Matthews. As much as I liked the character and I liked his attitude - using him in Saw IV could of either been better or it could have been replaced - saving the opportunity for a future installment. Don't get me wrong - it fuelled Rigg's purpose and arc but the character of Matthews himself - this, in no way, continued his arc. It could of been Tapp or Sing for all we cared. Maybe Sing's body was never discovered - Tapp saw it (as we saw it in Saw) but the police never found his body - and, akin to Matthews, he was loked after. well, c'est la vie, clearly Sing and Matthews aren't coming back. They are well and truly dead.

The whole story feels more sinister and darker too - more on the line of Seven that Mark Burg wanted it to be. The victims Rigg comes across are rapists (cliche fat, balding, middle-aged bloke) and child-beaters (annoying older man with weak dominated wife) - making us side more with Jigsaws vision. Its not just drug-dealers and paid-for-hire photographers. I wouldn't be suprised if Leigh Whannell always felt that rapists, child molesters and beaters were a bit too far ... because of all the characters in Saw II none of them were the aforementioned criminals. merely drug-pushers, prostitutes and self-harming drug-users. Clearly Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunston were prepared to go deeper and more dangerous in their themes.

More interesting though is the expansion of the Saw universe. If we want decent, intermixing narratives in the sequels, we need more characters and more of a world to explore. For one, how can we get further from the local homicide unit? Get the FBI. Enter Special Agent Strahm and Agent Perez. They know of a third accomplice and thinks they know who it is ... Rigg? Art Blank? But it obviously isn't Hoffman because he is part of the latest trap of Jigsaws... Strahm is not the focus of this film but is the focus of Saw V so I shall go into more depth in the next review. Suffice to say, these characters begin to look at different angles of the same killings and give us the opportunity to see sections anew - while also focussing on a different approach: Jill Tuck, Jigsaws engineering roots, Art Blank, the lawyer and his links to Jill Tuck. So many stories can get you a little lost - you see Hoffman and Matthews in their trap, Perez and Strahm on the case while finally you have Rigg's games. Then, to make it more complex, in each story we also have flashbacks - Matthews survival over six months, the crimes comitted by the child-beaters and Perez and Strahm visually understanding Jill Tuck's history with Jigsaw. I'll bet, at one point over twenty minutes, you see six different strands of story. Its a testement to Bousmans direction because it is clear and concise and you know what is going on ... most of the time.

The origins of Jigsaw is further explored - so using the allegory of a death-penalty-government in Jigsaw we see how he has cancer himself - the country has a deep-rooted disease that will eventually destroy itself, but the backstory of Cecil shows that it is others who force this death-penalty into existence. The way other peoples selfish reasons affect his life - and his wifes' life - through the loss of their baby shows, perhaps, the criminals existence needs to stop with the solution of the death penalty. But, by believing such a thing, maybe it is his incurable disease - his personal attitude (that he could have prevented the death of his child when, in reality it was a mistake) - that is part of the problem, not the solution. His disease being his attitude that people are not worth saving and that is shown more clearly in how he feels that Rigg's life is not worth saving. His hypocrisy is unmasked.

So we finish where we began, Hoffman standing over Jigsaw's corpse post-autopsy holding the cassette player in his hand listening to his last message. Hoffman is the true apprentice. Why? we find out in Saw V. Though we may understand Jigsaw moreso - this revelation raises more questions about Hoffman who believes in Jigsaw but has no clear motive ... or does he ...

Saw III (Darren Lynn Bousman, 2006)

"I took you in. I selected you for the honor of carrying on my life's work."


Shall I say 'spoiler alert'? If you want an overview of the franchise, listen to the podcast. This will be a bit of text about every facet of Saw III and what not so, yes, it will give stuff away. You have been warned. I watched this at the cinema, day of release, with Sarah, Jo and Alistair. Funnily enough, Alistair had only seen the first one so we were all well aware that he might not 'get' it. I think he was okay but, interestingly, when we left the cinema I was thoroughly pleased and as I turned, girnning to everyone - pleased with the finale of the 'trilogy' - they all looked back and then began, all in agreement, discussing how bad it was. The worst one yet. Boring. Unneccessary flashbacks. All the things I liked, they all seemed to dislike. In the hope of understanding their position, I began to appreciate their concerns and, consequently, lost my positive-attitude towards it. Its a bit strange though because clearly other peoples opinions affect your judgment and secondly, I shall never forget that initial reaction which was happiness. Happiness into how it finished. How was I to know that 'the games were just about to begin' and whatever the tagline was for Saw IV.

What I reckon ...

Incredibly, it begins where we left off in Saw II with Det. Matthews (Wahlberg) left in 'the room' from Saw and Saw II to try and escape having lost Jigsaw's game in Saw II. We know the drill - he has to saw off his foot and we are getting ready to see the same gore from Saw as the hack-saw digs into his ankle. Funnily enough, Matthews can't do it and, instead, uses the clay top of the toilet to smash his foot into a bloody pulp. Then simply slipping the mashed-up foot out of the lock he was under. This is the most disgusting part of all the Saw franchise. I have never seen anything worse before or since. The eye in Hostel. Nowhere near as grim as this short sequence that starts off this third chapter. I hate this and love it in equal measure. Could they top the gore from the earlier installments? Could they make me feel as repulsed as I felt on that first viewing of Saw in The Commodore in Aberystwyth? Turns out that the answer is Yes.

We don't see Jigsaw (Bell) or Amanda (Smith) for twenty minutes into the film - in fact, the lead character we follow, Lynn (Soomekh) is not seen for 17 mins in - after we see the opening of Matthews foot-smashing sequence, Troy's chains-in-the-body trap and then, we follow Kerry (Meyer) mourning the loss of Matthews and seeing him in mirrors in her house. I assume technically speaking, we initially think we are following Kerry's character and then find out - when she is literally ripped apart - that we are not following her at all. Enter Lynn.

So Jigsaw - other than in flashbacks - is only in a bed. Yet, his prescence is powerful. He completely controls everyone around him when - at any point - they could easily think, fu** it. "I've had enough... if I walk away now, only you take the fall". No one does of course because Jigsaw is scary. Even bed-ridden and incapable of moving, he remains as someone you don't want to annoy or anger.

As always, we are filled in on back story and how much Amanda has been a part of Jigsaw's plan. She assisted him when setting up the room in Saw which, as a fan, is incredible to watch. Jigsaw putting himself into the position that we only knew was important at the end of the film. Jigsaw, effectively, setting up the 'twist' at the end of the incredible first part of the series. Problem is, all the new traps have a problem which is explored in this film and, ultimately, is problematic. Amanda starts killing people - and not giving them a chance to escape. We know Troy could never have survived, we know Kerry had no chance of survival - and so the moral question as to 'live or die' is not raised. We merely see impressive, artistic traps - that have no feasible escape route. This may be a neccessary aspect to the story ... but the whole moral conundrum that Jigsaw sets up is not adhered to. We have to wait until part IV until the traps become more ... [im]morally accurate to Jigsaw's vision. But then this is a part of the themes of this film - the training of an apprentice and, what if, they were trained wrong or the potential 'legacy' of Jigsaw was going to be ruined. Amanda is a weak character by nature - she has problems with drugs and self-harm - and even after being accepted by Jigsaw, we see her retreat back to these problems. So, we see how this is dealt with and - more importantly - how Jigsaw was aware of these problems. And acted.

The filmmakers go further into doing something which, personally, I didn't think was entirely grim but - apparently - most people find incredibly difficult to watch. At one point, Jigsaw (Bell) on a bed, is put into surgery and we see some brain surgery as Doc' Lynn (Soomekh) takes out a brain tumour. On the one side, seeing the cutting-away of the skull and the gooey mess taken out and what-not is quite disgusting. On the other side of things, I can imagine a doctor probably sees it as work. Might just bore you if you were a doctor. A similar thing happens in Saw IV whereby you see, on one hand, a disgusting gory sequence but also a normal procedure on the other hand.

One thing to praise the filmmakers for is the multicultural nature of the cast. We have this new docotr Lynn played by an Indian actress, while Rigg - star of Saw IV is African-American. There are many more examples of multi-cultural roles and, upon reflection, it works incredibly well to make it more realistic. In this film, the revenge-obsessed Neil (Macfadyen) is blaming everyone else for the death of his child in a road accident and when he comes face to face with the driver of the car, this driver is African-American. We see in flashback how upset and destroyed this man was following the accident. It is Neil who is in the wrong - purposefully going out of his way to stay angry and mentally acting out fanstasies of murder, while the 'actual' murderer is no murderer at all - he is a man who made a mistake. The first film had Danny Glover and Ken Leung amongst it's cast - African-American and Asian actors respectively (though both born in the US), so clearly this is an important part of the casting process of these movies.

Influences, according to Whannel, are - amongst others - Dario Argento. A little typing of the words 'maggot soup' and 'argento' on Google bring up a blog (not too dissimilar from this one) that notes Argento's Phenomena as a Freudian soup. The picture also shows Jennifer Connolly in a disgusting swamp. Anyway, getting off the point a little. Leigh Whannell explained how a sequence in Saw III whereby a Judge is drowned in pig-guts was taken from an Argento film whereby a character swam in maggot soup (possibly Phenomena... should watch it). So it is interesting to think that Whannell has aspirations of credibililty on a par with Dario Argento ... co-writer of Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West. It's one thing to want your movies to be up there with Jonathan Demme and David Fincher. Another when we are looking at Sergio Leone and David Lynch.

Osadné (Marko Skop, 2009)

Bigger projects are a utopia for smaller towns

First off, I want to note how I feel that the coverage I gave of this on the latest podcast could have been alot better. "Farthest point of Slovakia" - east? west? north? south?. Rusyn people - who and what are Rusyn people? I would like to think that this is my opportunity to correct that. I saw this film alongside Juraj and Jana, Slovakians themselves who managed to inform me that in some places, the representation by Marko Skop of Osadné is 'so like Slovakia'. Jana apparently came from a similar town. Right lets get it right this time ...

What I reckon ...

To clarify, yes, Osadné is on the farthest point east of Slovakia and what is important about this, is that it is the fartest point of the European Union. Though very lonely, the effects of Slovakia joining the EU will hit Osadné last. It is a very lonely town in the middle of nowhere and, obviously amongst many aspects of the EU, one of them joins all these European countries together - and, in the process, places like these get very little representation. The folk of Osadné are of Rusyn origin. There are only 55,000 people who 'associate themselves as having' Rusyn ethnicity (see wikipedia for that possibly inaccurate fact) - mainly based in Romania and Slovakia. Osadné has a population of 210 according to Wikipedia - and in the last five years the priest has buried 50 people and christened 2. This Greek Orthodox priest and the Mayor - a man who has been Mayor of Osadné for 36 years - have decided to use this link to the EU to fight for the survival of the village. Both hope to make Osadné a tourist destination - a monastery and a chapel of grief is what these towns people hope to build but they need funding ... from the EU.

It is an incredibly funny film as there is a drinking culture in Osadné - so every time epople celebrate or make a decision they clink and drink shots. The amount of times I saw clinking and drinking in this movie is in double figures -and each time it happened everyone in the audience chuckled as it was so regular and clearly an important part of the culture in Osadné. Maybe why so many people died. At one point, the Mayor is taken to hospital but there is no exploration as to why ... but apparently he must give-up something and have a fresh start. Maybe this was alcohol...

We also meet Fedor Vico - vice-chairman of rhe Rusyn Revival movement. He joins the Mayor and Priest on their trip to the EU parliament in Brussels is equally strange and comedic as the Priest and Mayor are. In Brussels we see funny shots of the three staring up at obscure abstract art pieces - in some cases discussing how the pieces would look fantastic in a field outside of Osadné. It is these sections that reminded me of The Big Lebowski. I felt that a Hollywood producer would watch this film and, pretty much, remake it but with famous actors. Akin to the mockumentaries by Larry Charles and Sacha Baron Cohen. Fact is, this is reality and these are actual people. In Brussels, they offer the ambassadors invites to Osadné whereby they can go hunting ... the liberal ambassador politely declines.

We regularly see public gatherings - two funerals, one christening and the revealing of the Rusyn notice board (a bear ... that was originally considered to be a large owl) and, at these points, we are shown fantastic shots of the older folk of Osadné. I feel that this recalls Bergman who often showed faces of people that were rarely seen - incredible faces with detail. Upon resigning themselves to the notice board - upset about the reality of monasteries and Chapels of Grief being only a dream - the Priest and Mayor explain how 'bigger projects are a Utopia for smaller towns' and maybe this is true of the film. The potential for a comedy based upon the same factors would be successful and yet, it will remain as an unknown documentary on the international festival circuit. Unless some Hollywood mogul finds it and see's what I see ...

I would recommend it, but be prepared for a strange, awkward-laughter viewing - a similar feeling to when people first viewed the unknown offerings in TV series The Office and feature-film Borat.

Un Prophète (Jacques Audiard, 2009)

"Lock-up time"

This film was billed by many as the speciality at Cannes – where it got its worldwide premiere and won the Grand Prize of the Jur. The ‘introducer’ on the the viewing I saw explained how, he felt, it was the best prison drama ever and the LFF programme explained how it superseded Mesrine and Public Enemies in depth, realism and quality. No doubt then, that this screening was sponsored by Sight and Sound. I had few expectations – only read the info in magazines and publications and yet, it turned out to be the best film I have seen at the festival – possibly the best film of the year itself!

What I reckon ...

The Prophet the film refers to is Mohammad, peace be with you, of Islam. The central character we are introduced to is Malik El Djebena, an Arab who, as established in the first five minutes, has no religious connections really. Either way, it is not long in that we realise that his quiet demeanor and calmness is inevitably abused by prisoners around him and, he is singled out and abused as gangs do not initially accept him – he does not attend services with the Muslims and is not accepted by them, and the Corsicans see him as a ‘dirty Arab’ and is excluded as he should be with the Muslims. But, due to an advance by a different prisoner - Ryad - Djebena is approached by the Corsican gang – led by César – and is told he must make friends with this prisoner – in fact, he must accept his advances and then kill him. This all happens quite quick and Djebena's is fearful of completing the crime – in fact, the first thing he does (what I was thinking he should do) is tell the warden and guards. Obviously, the guards are on César's payroll and we see an exceptionally difficult-to-watch scene as he is suffocated by a bag. I had my hand to my mouth in horror – he was in such a difficult position and thus is forced to train himself to kill this prisoner. He learns to hold a razor blade in his mouth so he can sneak it into the cell with him to kill him (the sequences as he fails to quickly produce the blade from his mouth make incredibly difficulty viewing). I won’t go on much more with the plot, suffice to say, we see his six years in prison and how, through the prison system, he becomes an intelligent and impressive criminal – much moreso than how he was upon his initial entrance.

We are constantly reminded on the racism and abuse suffered by prisoners in French prisons. Specifically how Djebena has difficulty being fully accepted by every group in the prison - whether it be Muslim, Arab, Corsican or Italian. The whole film is rooted in realism and has a documentary feel to it - something that the scriptwriter Abdel Raouf Dafri who was at the screening mentioned at the start. Though documentarian in style, the film tries a broad range of camerawork expressing a range of facets that push it away from being exclusively documetary in influence. We often see sections in a fish-eye pespective ... as if a torch is barely lighting up what Djebena can see. We also see the murderered Ryed appear throughout the film at different points- haunting Djebena. In some striking scenes Ryed spins around chanting 'Allah', while in another we see him smoking and the smoke exhaling from the neck wound Djebena made to kill him. These slightly surreal qualities give this film a more deep quality - as it jars with the realism outside of these sequences. They are not explicit dreams - but clearly are just that. Imagination and dreams reflected on screen.

An incedible parrallel to this film is, stranegly enough, Goodfellas as it charts a character who cannot be fully accepted into the gangs (Hill was half-Irish and could never join Cicero's Italian Mafia) but, instead, learns from his leaders - eventually becoming more powerful than the leader who trained them. César constantly reminds Djebena of how it is Djebena who needs César, opposed to the other way around. Cicero (Sorvino) in Goodfella's never explicitly stated his authority over Hill (Liotta) in the same way - but towards the end of both films both Hill/Djebena double cross their leader - in both cases dealing and taking drugs and then dealing them behind their leaders back. I do remember a specific point in Un Prophète whereby I was sure of a specific shot that evoked Goodfellas but, alas, I cannot remember it.

To close, Un Prophète shows us a version of life in prison that is real and shows how criminals - and the choice to become a criminal, is a reality. Djebena gets to a position whereby he can watch TV, pay for prostitutes in his cell, have a DVD player and even set up his own business from the inside of a jail. He gets his one-day leave but uses these opportunities to gain contacts. Obviously the prisons are not exclusively at fault, but it is clear that the corrupt guards on the lower ranks destroy any hope of rehabilitiation prisoners have - and, in fact, change priosners to become more dangerous and become deeper into the underworld. It is a film about education primarily, but not the positive life-affirming education we might expect. An incredible film that is worth hunting down at the earliest opportunity.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

The Simon and Jo Show Podcast: 25/10/2009

Lots of 'Saw' movies and Horror chat this week ...

"This week we wrap up our musings on the LFF with a look at Kinatay and Osadne. Then a Halloween special focus on the first five Saw films in preparation for the sixth installment which will be seen on Wednesday!"

Enjoy if you dare! Mwah-ha-ha!

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Kinatay (Brilliante Mendoza, 2009)

"Jesus is the way, the truth, the life" - [On a sign]


Since watching this film I have become more and more positive about the experience. J. Hoberman in Sight and Sound said that this was the most hated film at Cannes - not Antichrist or Gaspar Noes Enter the Void. Roger Ebert said it is now the worst film ever shown at Cannes. Variety said the director is a fraud. Truth be told, I was exceptionally scared about watching it ... especially since I watch Antichrist and then questioned the necessity of such a film ... I wondered whether this film was the same.

The pictures didn't help - the awkward lighting and silhouettes of some gagged woman. Incredibly unnerving. The director even felt that this film would not be released theatrically (hmm... we'll see if the studios are content with that...) and felt it should go straight to schools (what???) and Universities (phew... educational institutions would sound better). For obvious reasons, Sarah wasn't watching it with me and Jo tagged along knowing very little about the story. Seconds before it started I did mention to him that, apparently, there was 45 mins in real time of a victim being beaten, tortured, raped, sodomised, murdered and dismembered ... this didn't help his expectations. Turns out it wasn't as bad as expected ... and though I would never show this to my Mum, the links and parrallels to Catholicism and Gibson's Passion are something that tempts me ...

What I reckon ...

It starts off showing our lead character, Peping (Coco Martin) with his girlfriend and young child. We see the hustle and the bustle in the Philippines - Chickens sliced and diced and food being cooked. Peping is a happy guy who is the funny-guy in the police work force. The mood is upbeat. Second act begins and Peping tags along with fellow police trainee Abyong as they conduct a night shift. They meet a prostitute who owes them money and the film literally and emotionally gets darker - she is beaten in the van. We sit, alongside Peping, for the long journey as they 'Sarge' and 'Chief' talk to each other: "put your foot on her head" etc. The whole film is shown in hand held - and the camera shuffles and moves throughout. This van experience is clouded over with the lights from outside the car and shadows - we don't know exactly whats going on. We have a pretty good idea - but its not clear and, as Peping does, we stay silent. This direction is so personal and rough it sets the audience expectations and so, when it dos get more violent it isn't that explicit because the film isn't made in that style - as Hoberman points out: "No money-shots here". Opposed to the very deliberate shots in Antichrist.

What is incredible is that - even though we are cultures apart - we are with Peping on this journey. He is an accessory to this murder but he does not kill her himself. He looks on - and like us - is unsure what to do. call the police? It is a group of police who are doing this! We are 'along with him for the ride' and, if I'm honest, I have no idea what I would do if I was in his position. He is helpless.

The music is percussion-led and makes us feel that much more uneasy. The clanker and slow,high-pitch noises give it an almost animalistic feel. The police are animals - treating this Madonna like the chickens cut up at the start. There are also two songs played at very specific moments - one track when Peping is on his way to marry his girl in the opening act and another when they are in the van on their way to murder this prostitute. In both cases, Peping is a part of a life changing situation and yet, in both cases, he will continue his life with these memories in his mind.

An interesting finale as Peping and the police eat, Peping vomits in the toilet and leaves early. To the police it is just a days work. To Peping, though horrified he can only go home. He is in a taxi and the tire bursts. He waits to try and get another taxi on a main road. Nothing stops - he is ignored. His crimes are ignored and people move on with their lives. We find out that these murders are regular and it is the way of life. Truly shocking.

We have to do the obvious and think about Antichrist. I state here and now that I feel that Kinatay is a stronger film. The violence is the only comparison really, but my feelings upon leaving the cinema was more positive after Kinatay. Antichrist, as I left the cinema - and wrote on my blog - frustrated me. Is there a purpose for such a film. Yes, Von Trier doesn't care much for what the audience think of it so I think to myself, maybe he doesn't deserve an audience. Its all fair and well calling it art - but if a work of art has no audience it has little necessary future. Can we take anything away from Antichrist? Can we use Antichrist as a starting point to explore a deeper artistic meaning? I don't think we really can. maybe discussing its 'right' to be in cinema - but anything can be can't it? In 1963, Warhol had a man sleep for a fair few hours and that was his film - and, yes, it is art. So maybe Antichrist is art - but is it any good? When I think about how Kinatay was so careful in its execution that, by the time the violence became exceptionally strong, you were involved enough with the character to appreciate the position he - and us - are in, is a testament to the director and writer. With Antichrist you knew it was graphic and, akin to cheap bursts of horror, you are suitably shocked and turn away, you have to question why. Could the issue of mourning be dealt with more ... non-graphically? More subtle? More aware of the different aspects other than horror? I preferred Kinatay because I left the cinema thinking about about Peping ... and the position he was in, whilst amazed that we were party to it. All aspects to the film itself. Whilst I left Antichrist disturbed by sequences and shots that felt too much - and made me question my film criticism as to what, indeed, makes a film. Something that does not involve narrative, tone and character. It is an external feature that the BBFC consider - not a film critic.

If you have watched this, I am really interested in your views on the film and the comparison with Antichrist.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

The Simon and Jo Show Podcast: 18/10/2009

The latest podcast from Jo and I:

"Live from the Southbank for The Times London Film Festival. We discuss the top 6 films in the UK including Halloween 2. Also in-depth chat on Film festival releases Double Take, I Fought the Law (Shorts), Fantastic Mr Fox and Kinatay."

I put this online just before watching Kinatay. I am scared. Wish me luck.

Double Take (Johan Grimonprez, 2009)

"If you meet your double, you should kill him"


In the last few years I have made a concentrated effort to watch a lot of Hitchcock movies and managed to see the vast majority of American films (Vertigo, Rear Window, North by Northwest, Topaz, Torn Curtain, and the many, many more) he made and the 'big ones' he made in Britain (The 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes) and then I have [still not watched] all the early silent films that are available (The Farmers Wife, The Ring and the others...). So, when I was reading the options for The 53rd London Film Festival this looked interesting... now there is only so much to say so i shall move on swiftly...

What I reckon ...

First off, it is an art piece first and foremost. Would I call it 'entertainment' or, better still, a 'yarn' as Hitchcock himself would say? No. The majority of footage seems to have been prised from the archive of material from the Alfred Hitchcock Presents ... series. A fair bit also from the fantastic trailer for Psycho as Hitchcock walks around the set, teasing us about what the film includes without showing us the footage itself.

For me, I haven't seen much of Alfred Hitchcock Presents ... but it does interest me as you do see a fair few of Hitchcock's regular actors turns up - such as Joseph Cotton amongst others. In terms of Hitchcock, this film merely seemed to use his thriller style to set the scene for the real focus of the Cold War. By using a vast majority of footage from The Birds there is an indication of impending doom that shadows the film - and makes an interesting contrast to the possible doom that Nixon was entertaining with Khrushchev. Throughout the film, it often stopped and white text on black would pop up to inform us on the history of the cold war: "1969, Nixon signs ... " etc. The film shows all this historical footage alongside a carefully shot film explaining a situation whereby Hitchcock met himself on the set of The Birds. The parrallel again between these doubles - and Nixon and Khrushchev as doubles themselves - was made that much more sinister as we were constantly told that "If you meet your double, you should kill him" - a plan that Nixon and Khrushchev were attempting to do. Destroying the world in the process.

The film then moves on and, as Kennedy becomes president in the historical story, the film focuses on Topaz - a film set within the Cold War. The producer spoke in a Q&A after the screening and explained that the majority of footage used was taken from free-footage that is in the public domain - so the trailers for Hitchcock's movies are in the public domain and we are then subjected to alot of trailer footage: "Shock, horror, beware of The Birds".

It is simply a non-stop barrage of information. News footage, advertising footage, trailers - bam bam bam - and to top it off, there is a strong use of Herrman's strings from Psycho which constantly forces you to be on edge. It happens so much, you eventually climbatize and the tension wears off. We also have these interspersed advertisements for coffee which adds a little relief before going straight back into footage of Nuclear bombs going off and Nixon and Khrushchev mocking each other and then Hitchcock: "Good Evening ..." and then theres more - we meet Ron Burrage a Hitchcock lookalike whose birthday is the same as Hitchcock's! Not to mention the story about Hitchcock meeting his double. The film is juggling all these different threads and, in the end, its just too much.

As discussed with Jo on the podcast, this would not be out of place in an Art Gallery whereby you can appreciate the mixture of media used - and people who love Cold War stuff and Hitchcock movies can stay for the duration. Hitchcock was an entertainer first I felt - and thats not to say there was no depth (as Vertigo shows) but he ultimately wanted people to enjoy and be entertained. Thing is, as much as Double Take might capture Hitchcock's 'tone' of conversation and ethos towards life and how humour and horror go hand-in-hand, it is hardly a good contrast to his films themselves. I would rather watch a Hitchcock movie any day to this strange analysis on Hitchcock.

I Fought the Law (Various, 2009)

"Every Hero Has His Day." - Tagline for The One Last Time


This is the beginning of a filmmaker - Weintrob might be the mext Spielberg, Ammo might be the next McG. The tagline above suits these filmmakers appropriately as this is where they start off - they have made it into the film world, but can they continue? I have had a few ideas for shorts myself lately and I thought that The Times Film Festival would give me an opportunity to watch some shorts that have 'made it'. A book I am reading has given me the impression that film-shorts merely showcase your talent for a feature film and, in the case of Fetch you can see that these filmmakers are aware of this facet. The cinema we watched it in introduced the directors to a few and they were obviously very pleased with themselves with the odd friend-of-the-film acting a little too arrogant for my liking. Then again, if I was there, I may just act the same. There are a few to get through, so I shall keep this short. There is an epilogue to this post to summarise the films watched

What I reckon ...

All the films were to some extent to do with law-breakers and criminals in a different context: hence the title given, but they all 'went about it' in a different way. from the Blue Gordini's surrealism through to Fetch's hyper-realism. So, in [pretty much] the order we watched the films in:

X Returns (Ammo, 2009)

Set in Sydney, this is some Matrix-inspired action piece that, is ultimately awful. The only film that didn’t warrant clapping post-credits. Then again, it was the first film shown so maybe noone knew whether to clap or not. Strangely enough, Holly Valance (Kiss Kiss single, Flick-from-Neighbours … vivid teenage memories of her…) was in the film as some double-crossing … person. It was all unclear. It was non-linear – showing ‘X’ with a gun to Valance’s head before falling off the building at the start and then showing a conversation between Valance and some good guy? Bad guy? It’s never explored. ‘X’ has been imprisoned for 40 years because he contracted some Alien DNA … is he bad? Is he good? How did he survive the fall? Nothing is answered. Even the conversations seemed to be shot badly - from Over-the-shoulder shots to direct face shots ... no purpose, just uncomfortable. Awkward silence when the credits came up and the text was blurry.

The Man in the Blue Gordini (Jean-Christophe Le, 2009)

Stunning animation from Jean-Christophe Lie. Surrealist story as a world soaked in different shades of orange, cream and brown are attempting to deal with a criminal who sports a blue top. Has a real European flavour and, I think the animation reeks of Quentin Blake’s drawings – thin Giacometti-like legs, heavy-topped characters. None of the characters wear clothes on their bottom half so we are lucky enough to see penis’ waggling throughout. Until the blue people rebel and wear trousers. Its funny and a lot of fun with an interesting subtext about what people see on the outside opposed to what is inside – people being arrested and caught, etc for ‘looking different’. Racial issues? Police discrimination? These issues are raised in a fun trouser-less world.

Harvest (Alex Winckler, 2009)

Two thieves are trying to rob an old pig-farmers house. The one thief is a late thirties, early-forties man and has a family – but is ultimately trying to support his family through theft, while the other lad is a younger chap who is FUBAR. He craps in the old peoples house, he tries to nick everything that could get him money (something he could get a couple of quid for he, off-the-cuff, states ‘a beer’ … complete tramp) and ultimately tries to rape the old woman who lives there. Without going further then that in the plot, this film seems to look incredible – great tones and clearly sets the tone in such a rural landscape, but falls flat on the more technical aspects of film-making. Lots of obvious fade-to-blacks and sudden sounds to jolt us back into the film. The whole rape section is a bit unnecessary – especially because there was no need to show a specific ‘revealing’ shot. Its not explicit but the idea that ‘some things are better left in the imagination than shown’ is something director Alex Winckler didn’t feel appropriate. If the film was about rape then fine, but it wasn’t about rape – it was about petty thieves and the tables being turned on them.

The Odds (Paloma Baeza, 2009)

An incredible short that utilises every aspect of a ‘short film’. Set in one room. Two actors (Mark Strong and Ian McDiarmid) and a very simple start: Strong is a casino manager while McDiarmid is a gambler who has won a freakish amount of games. It was rooted in drama and the tension flips from one character – we start unsure about who is ‘playing’ who and then it switches and switches again always putting you on edge – while an incredible finale finishes the short. I hope to see this film again and even Sarah is keen to hunt down a script to use with her pupils in Drama lesson. The picture I found above reminds me of McQueen's Hunger and the inrecible discussion between the priest and Bobby Sands. Truly flawless.

Le Petit Dragon (Bruno Collet, 2009)

It looks like stop-go-motion or incredibly sharp computer animation. The smoke of a dragon ‘awakes’ a Bruce Lee toy figure. To some extent it reeks of a Toy Story off-shoot, while Lee tackles different figures and bit-by-bit destroys himself. His ‘features’ remind me of Buzz's’ push-button selections. Though it explores a little bit more nostalgia than Toy Story as Lee comes face-to-face with not only the plastic toys (which he is not – he appears to be made out of those stress-relief materials) but, eventually a computer game which has, to some extent, taken over the role toys play in our family homes. Incredibly shot and clearly a work of art – I hope it is stop-go-motion because if it is incredible SFX then … actors are redundant.

Fetch (Jyri Koski, 2009)

A short that appears to be taken from feature length movie. Small-role actors from Martin Scorsese and Guy Ritchie's movies indicate that this hardly short of budget or contacts. Like a combination between Snatch and The Sopranos, we see an Afro-American gangster named Caesar (the actor Ade who plays Tryone in Snatch) come across OG’s – Original Gangster – Italians Vinni (Looks a lot like Uncle Jun’ from Sopranos) and henchman Tony to complete a job for them. A post-credits voice-message reveals what Vinni and Tony should have known … they don’t know much it turns out and we see quite the finale to a mistake at the end. Incredible acting and incredible roles that showcase the talent Jyri Koski has … I only hope that Koski creates a feature-film with the punch of this short. It would be difficult to pull-off though.

Trunk (Chrostopher D'Elia, 2008)

Very simple story as two Uni Students set off on a road journey that escalates into chaos. It stars Zachary Ty Bryan from – recently watched Held for Ransom - taking a potential frat-pack on a journey. It has you initially eager to see where it will go ... but then descends into a comedy. It is very funny but, at some points, the second actor Kyle Gallner, seems a bit too passionate for such a funny situation. I wouldn't be averse to watching it again, but there was something that lacked ... maybe credibility. No second layer - just fun and games.

The One Last Time (Scott Weintrob, 2009)

An incredible short that, even though the last one shown, I would be prepared to say is the 'best'. IMDB seems to state that director Weintrob is now on a feature called Bleed opposed to Ammo whose X Returns put him in a position to do ... well ... nothing currently in production. This film seems inspired by Nolan's beginning to The Dark Knight whereby the Joker and co - masked as clowns - raid a bank. The characters in this short raid a bank, masked in a similar way, but as the Wizard of Oz characters ... only to find halfway through that another group are raiding the bank themselves. It looks so sharp and incredible showing this classical building raided by gun-toting bank robbers ... it could be the start of an incredible comedy-action movie but, as it progresses it utilises the nature of a short to finish exquisitely.


When I watched Dead Mans Shoes and Saw I realised that you can see how some directors, writers, actors, etc have planned creatively to make a film that gives them an opportunity to showcase their talent within a realistic set/schedule, etc. The best shorts used a small cast and/or one set which would require very little shooting. Yes, some films clearly had money behind them but not all of them. Fetch had money - yet we only saw one room, 5 actors during the same 10 mins. The animation ones are more difficult to navigate as they ahve alot more work involved but can be worked on consistently by the filmmakers. The Odds - one set, one very simple set (a basement!) for that matter and two actors. Nothing more. X-Returns and Harvest were trying to be feature-length films condensed into 10 and 22 mins respectively. A great experience and i fully recommend hunting down my top 3 from the selection: The Odds, The One Last Time and Fetch.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Rumble Fish (Francis Ford Coppola, 1983)

"You ain't got your brother's brains. It's nothing personal, Rusty James, but nobody would follow you into a fight because you'd get people killed - and nobody wants to be killed."


I watched The Godfather trilogy at 15. I watched Apocalypse Now at Uni when it was very late and it was the redux' and I fell asleep and had to watch it again the following day. I had not seen this, but remember a conversation (ooo, a pun considering...) with friends Chris and Wes whereby the two followed a discussion about The Godfather by saying that Rumble Fish was brilliant. Embarressed, I never even knew such a film I kept my eyes peeled for it - always finding it in obscure shops like Music and Movies costing £10 plus ... a ridiculous ... until, as I was making my way for a till in HMV I found it for £3. I could now watch this 'brilliant' film and, in the future, take part in such conversations about Francis Ford Coppola. Then again, I haven't seen Jack so maybe I have a long way to go yet ...

What I reckon ...

It does look stunning - thats for sure. Its shot in inspired-by-Fellini-and-Bergman black and white. Then again, looks like and arty-version of West Side Story with a man-on-man fight to begin also. The obvious link is also Bogdanovichs' The Last Picture Show - a teenage story, shot in black and white. Made in 1971. This whole style reeks of influences moreso - a film-noir look enhanced with Lawrence Fishburne as this friend who dresses like a detective, thin-tie included, furthering this film-noir style as he walks along with his friends in alleys and leaving smokey silhouettes in the backdrop.

The story follows Rusty James (Matt Dillon) a not-so-clever, but popular character. In the same way I watched Toy Story and profiled Sid, Rusty James is influenced easily and is not the quickest of cats - maybe indicating SEN (Special Educational Needs). He looks up to his brother - the Motorcycle Boy (Mickey Rourke who looks alot like a young Bruce Willis) - a menace to society, we are led to believe. Thing is, we only see the policeman who despises him and the difficult upbringing the boys have had under their father, played by Dennis Hopper, a single parent who is an alcoholic. Wea re told of the 'stories' The Motocycle Boy knows of, but are now entirely shown his menace. Until we see him at the end as a character who is not just a menace - but mentally unstable.
The Motorcycle Boy is quite a tragic character. He is colourblind and is, bit-by-bit, destroying himself and ultimately does - but luckily does not destroy his brother.

I'm glad I have seen this and this is surely one of those films which too often gets unnoticed - Coppola makes some great films and this is ambitious enough to give a watch but, then again, it does at points drag. Looks too good to be seen as realism when the story itself has a connection to the audience that realism could have captured so well. Its based on the book by S.E. Hinton - an author I have read nothing of, but Coppola is a big fan of. To close, I think if films like Rumble Fish were more prevalent in cinema than the likes of the latest teen-rom-com than maybe cinema would be a better place.

Some great factors include a character Smokey, played by Nicholas Cage. This character is smart and provides a clear contrast to Dillons Rusty-James - you see how careless, clumsy and immature Rusty really is, while Smokey has more intelligence and is clearly mores street-smart than Rusty too.

Last point - Stuart Copeland provides the music and, funnily enough, I have got into The Police. Stuart Copeland is the drummer and, when you listen to a fair bit of The Police you realise how impressive that is. Copeland has also created the music for the stage adaptation of Ben-Hur (A show recently on in London's O2) and, I assume this was in the early days of soundtracks he created. So much percussion and business adds to the atmosphere and provides an incredible backdrop for The Motorcycle Boy and his brother Rusty.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

The Simon and Jo Show Podcast: 11/10/2009

So, the 3D special! Begun at the Barbican and finished in 'the kitchen: Check it out!

"This week Jo and Simon talk about 3D films and the latest releases - with a specific focus on Pixar and Disney. Films discussed are Toy Story and Up in 3D and Zombieland amongst brief discourse on the back-catalogue of Pixar studios."

That's the description ... enjoy!

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Toy Story 3D (John Lasseter, 1995/2009)

"Say there, Lizard and Stretchy Dog, let me show you something."


14 years ago. You're kidding me. Year 9 pupils who are taking their GCSE in Art & Design who - may I add - are doing very well - were not even born when it was released! Madness. I remember watching it with my younger brother purely through luck. It was that £1-to-go-to-the-cinema Day in England in 1995 and everyone was going. My family of eight were all going and, obviously like every other 11 year old, we wanted to see Toy Story. We got to the cinema and it was completely sold out. All day. We were gutted. But, seconds later, two grown men came up to us and decided to change which film they were going to see and sold on their tickets for us - so Graham and I managed to go! It was rammed full and we felt so lucky. Funnily enough, a siilar thing happened the following year but, alas, we didn't see the film we wanted to see (can't remember what it was...) and we had to settle for ... The Chamber. Eugh.

Big-time on DVD when Toy Story 2 was released they had this sweet 'Toybox' boxset and, excited now at the age of 17, I took the boxset home, keen to see all the special features - having spent £40 on, effectively, two films and my Matsui DVD player wouldn't play it. It was one of those discs whereby the DVD player was too old to play it. Same thing happened with the second disc of Gladiator and Scream whereby you could watch the film, but you couldn't select the menu.

So, as you can see, I am big into the Story of the Toys and this 3D release made me regress back to childhood and enjoy the movie anew. It truly was a memorable experience - but not-so-much because Buzz could reach out of the screen and touch me.

What I reckon ...

There is definitely something interesting about watching this film as an adult - and, more importantly as a cine-literate teacher with a certain appreciation of social-situations that affect children. Watching Fishtank (not the best comparison...) recently about, effectively, a destroyed 14 year old girl and then watching Toy Story whereby the suburban child has friends, family and happiness strikes a chord to some extent. It is what it is, and clearly Toy Story is not commenting on the sadness of children - but celebrating their creativity. Then again, I always remember a presentation my good friend Tom made in Year 10 in a theology lesson about ratings and how Toy Story and Jurassic Park are both rated PG. Maybe that's because their are darker issues at hand - Sid, for one, is a problem child. He makes you think of the whole 'if you torture animals as a kid, you're destined to be a violent person'. Okay, that's not a 'saying' but you see the connection. When Woody and Buzz arrive back to Sid's house and Sid shouts at his sister, rather than snatching her doll (a mean act in and of itself), I felt it would not have been out of place for him to hit her. The idea of abuse to toys must stem from somewhere ... and I think if you were to profile 'Sid' you would have an abusive, violent child who has and abusive background and an unstable homelife - and clearly has an awful diet (Are Poptarts the best way to feed your children?). I'm starting this review off on a very dark note, but this was something which I was interested in: what are the issues in this film? is there any realism in this film? Rather than answer 'Yes - Sid hits his sister', the answer might simply be 'No'. End of. Food for thought though.

Another interesting thing about the characters, I noticed, is that they are not exactly 'good' characters. We have Woody - this jealous cowboy who attempts to knock Buzz down the side of a chest of drawers. Potato-head this spiteful fella' with a real envy for Woody's position and, when given the opportunity, a desire to exclude Woody from the group (I don't think the punishment fitted the crime myself... and, to be fair, it is Potato-head who RC annihilates in the final act). Slinky Dog clings onto Woody's every word - eventually forced to give up on him due to peer pressure (it is he who pulls the blinds on Woody as Woody is, effectively, going to be murdered in Sid's room). Buzz is the only one who is a genuinely nice guy - but he's a little arrogant and is completely delusional and naive. Nevertheless, it is a testament to the writers, the voices and the story that we are still gripped to this story. It also shows this role reversal in how Bo is clearly more dominant than Woody - it is she who asks Woody to watch the flock, and it is she who grabs him by the neck. Woody - the character we stick with from start to finish - is a weak character with envy and jealousy issues to boot. Hardly characters you want your kids to impersonate. As Andy (without realising their true character) actually does!
It might be the adult-attitudes of the characters that make this cross the boundary from kids-only to family-friendly. We know these types of people - the top-dog usurped by a new arrival (think David Brent in Series 2 of The Office when Neil arrives), the realisation of times changing - and having difficulty accepting change, etc. I was laughing so hard while I watched it too - laughed alot more than when I watched The Invention of Lying - little bits like Woody's "Tuesday night's plastic corrosion awareness meeting, was I think, a big success. We'd like to thank Mr. Spell for putting that on for us, thank you Mr. Spell..." and Buzz's alternative names for the toys (see above). A huge laugh with those aliens - "Nirvana is coming. The mystic portal awaits." before being mauled by that dog. Amazing.

But, to finish: the 3D stuff. Yeah, it looked great - but I'm not 'sold'. I wasn't reaching out for the screen or anything. I felt, as soon as I was into the film, I didn't really care. I'm sure its great for younger kids and a boy in Year 8 was telling me that he watched it with his Dad over the weekend too and it was 'sick' (thats good it pupils-speak) but I was just glad to see the film at the cinema. I did feel that when the toys were all lined up you felt a real prescence as they leant out of the screen -and when Woody and Buzz fly over the cars it is great, but I felt like because there was a foreground and a background, I focussed on the foreground moreso. So, I didn't appreciate the detail and scope of the background. I'm also sure that the neon colours in Sid's room were alot more impressive than I recall. But I am not going to run out and buy a new copy in 3D - as my current 'Toybox' version is good enough. I think Up will sell 3D moreso -the trailer that preceded Toy Story did look incredible. Nevertheless, I am excited about revisiting Toy Story 2 and then, in due course Toy Story 3 ... Good times.

Interesting facts I never knew. Don Davis assisted with Randy Newmans score - as in Don-composed-the-score-for-The-Matrix-Davis. Interesting though I see no link between the two soundtracks. Secondly, Joss Whedon assisted in the writing - alongside the Pixar team. This is prior to Buffy and two years prior to Alien Resurrection. Any link ... you decide ...

Sunday, 4 October 2009

The Simon and Jo Show Podcast: 04/10/2009

So, round two - another overview on the weeks films with Jo and myself!

"The latest films discussed by your London-based film reviewers. Specifically focussing on Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson's 'The Invention of Lying' and Lars von Trier's 'Antichrist'."

That's the description ... enjoy!