Your Ad Here

Thursday, 30 September 2010

M.I.L.C. or F.I.L.M.S. ?

I'm in a bit of a dilemma, blogosphere-I'm attempting to start a new regular post (to add to Retroviews/New-Views/ShtsnGggls), but when it comes to the title, I'm stumped.  Fundamentally, what I'd like is an acronym to encapsulate my desire to highlight films that I would like to see in the future.


Like to
C (see)


Like to

Any of you got a preference, or any ideas of your own?

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

New-View: And finally...

As a child growing up in a UK low-income family during the '80s, I was quite limited in my options for entertainment.  Don't get me wrong, my parents provided the best they could; however, I didn't have a console (Super Nintendo) till the early 90s and television only provided four pretty basic channels.  I visited the local library pretty often and read books voraciously, but ultimately it was film that allowed me the greatest escape from a pretty miserable reality.  Most adults can recall the times in their childhood when they achieved in sports; for me, I remember the first time I saw 'Rocky' (age 4), 'The Terminator' (age 7), 'Enter the Dragon' (age 8) and so on.  At that time, films were not as readily accessible, so more often than not I would watch whatever aired on the basic TV channels.  Such was the frugal nature of these stations, that there was a high proportion of grindhouse style movies-both imported and home-made.  Late nights were regularly devoted to the original Japanese Godzilla marathons on Channel 4; terrible no-name action movies from the 70s; the glut of Kung-Fu films that followed Bruce Lee's death but traded on his name and fame; a million and one Christopher Lee as 'Dracula' debacles; and ridiculous mash-ups between genres that truly beggared belief.  

Through the years, my tastes diversified (thank God) and genuine quality became ever the more attainable through television, DVD and the internet.  That being said, I always looked fondly upon that era-never truly having an option about what you could watch and having to find enjoyment in poorly produced fare.

It is partly due to this that I find myself envious of the Tarantino/Rodriguez relationship-they clearly have similar views regarding these old movies and as a result, created the 'Grindhouse' films-Planet Terror and Death Proof.  I can understand why many disliked the combo, as they are effectively tantamount to a film insider's joke.  Even the faux trailers (with celebrity directors, no less) serve to contribute to recreating that Grindhouse experience.  My own personal favourite had to be 'Machete': the Rodriguez directed, Danny Trejo starring, revenge tale of a Mexican Federale double crossed and left for dead.

When news surfaced on the IMDB that Rodriguez intended on actually filming 'Machete', I was a little wary-while I enjoy his films, his renowned excesses can sometimes hamper enjoyment simply because he doesn't seem aware that moderation can, in fact, strengthen his work.  Further to this, dialogue tends to be a bit of a stumbling block for him in the writing process (Sin City doesn't count as it was more or less a straight to screen adaptation).  Even while his work will never be considered on par with legendary film-makers, if you're willing to suspend your disbelief for the duration of his films, they can be relatively entertaining.

Having now seen the film, I walk away somewhat disappointed, but not for the reasons that I've listed above.  The writing is perfunctory (though lacking the bite that a quick Tarantino rewrite could have provided), the excesses are predictable (though not distracting) and the direction is solid.  So what could have ruined a half decent premise for a long-awaited Danny Trejo vehicle?  Let me provide a hint: money.

"So," says you, "what's the problem with that?  More bang for my buck, as far as I'm concerned."  Well, the glory of Grindhouse lies in its ability to glorify violence and exploit sexuality, albeit with exceptionally low production values.  'Machete', on the other hand, positively reeks of money.  Granted, it is believed to have only cost $20 million to make-a paltry sum by Hollywood standards-but when you consider that Paranormal Activity only cost $11,000, the highly polished nature of 'Machete' starts to become incongruous with the subject matter.  At the very outset of the film, there was a glimpse of what could have been.  The scratches and false film-grain combined with no-name actors (with the exception of Seagal rearing his fat-necked face) in a dilapidated Mexican setting successfully recreated some of that charm.  Alas, after the opening credits, Rodriguez firmly rooted the action in a pristinely filmed, modern-day America.  Even the delightful news-network name reference to Pulp Fiction doesn't help to save 'Machete' from being another wasted opportunity.

Wasted opportunity wields a machete.
Also, the cast line up reads like a day at the local cineplex: Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba, Steven Seagal, Michelle Rodriguez, Jeff Fahey, Cheech Marin, Don Johnson, Lindsay Lohan and Shea Whigham.  With the exception of Fahey (who, for the record, steals the show) every one of those actors/actresses are high profile and command considerable media attention.  De Niro-my God, that legend; Jessica Alba-my God, that body; Steven Seagal-my God, that pony tail; Lindsay Lohan-my God, that train wreck; Michelle Rodriguez-my God, that lack of discernible acting talent.  Even the name that you may be less familiar with-Shea Whigham-has a relatively successful acting career (recently starring as Buscemi's corrupt sheriff brother in the new series I've been raving about).   

Having a cast that are so instantly recognisable detracts from the film itself: not once do you ever catch De Niro mid-sentence and think, "he's genuinely trying to nail this character."  Instead, you know that he's not taking the role seriously.  And this goes for every member of the cast.  Why should this matter?  The fundamental difference with films from the Grindhouse genre is that the actors are actually acting.  Poor acting, yes, but it's taken seriously and this is what contributes to the film's essential charm.  An example I would use to illustrate this: Planet Terror was amusing for the most part, but fell into the same trap, whereas Death Proof did not.  The difference?  The cast of Death Proof treated it as a real film and while they still seem to be having fantastic fun ("he's Stuntman-Mike!), it never gets in the way of the narrative.  

In retrospect, I think that my expectations were probably too high-that my deep and sincere love for the trailer would never easily transfer to a longer big-screen adaptation (fir if the trailer was perfect, how could they better it?); however, one can't help but think that if Tarantino had been in the writer/director's chair, this probably wouldn't have happened.

Catch this only if you're a devout Rodriguez fan.

Check back soon for a Retroview on another David Lean masterpiece: "The Bridge on the River Kwai."

*Also just want to say-thank you for everyone's continued support-if anyone has a specific film review they would like to request, just ask in the comments and I'll see what I can do.*

Tuesday, 28 September 2010


Life intrudes and I've yet to watch 'Machete'.  In an attempt to redress the situation, I've decided to start a separate column called 'ShtsnGggls' that I intend to contribute regularly to, which will predominantly feature Photoshops that I've created.  The majority of these are at least a few years old, so I can be forgiven for shoddy work on them.

I make no claims that these will be of a high-brow nature (as evidenced by the first posting).

Monday, 27 September 2010

New-View: Still no 'Machete'!

It’s not often that I’m excited by television-yes, now and again you can be treated to some fantastically well-produced gritty dramas or some excellent cartoon humour, but I generally tend to regard the idiot-box as serving those with a penchant for reality television.  Now, if 'The Running Man' has taught us anything (and it has), it's that reality TV is fundamentally a good idea; it's just that in the execution of it, we're treated to freaks of the Big Brother/Strictly Come Dancing/X-Factor variety.  

I digress.  

The last time I was genuinely excited by a television show was 'The Sopranos' (granted, I love 'Californication'-and not just for the women-but it is really only popcorn compared to 'The Sopranos' steak).  From 'The Sopranos' writing stable emerges Terence Winter with a new show based on prohibition-era America-a time little covered by recent* cinema and television.  With a stellar cast on board, Martin Scorsese at the helm for the pilot episode (fun game: try to pick out how many shots serve as direct allusions to other gangster films-including some of his own) and a budget to rival a mainstream Hollywood film, I'm starting to get very excited by what Boardwalk Empire will be capable of in the coming season.  I just sincerely hope that it doesn't fall into self-parody and that it maintains strong story-arcs for all the characters introduced in the first episode.  There is much potential for the show to surpass even 'The Sopranos', if only everyone involved doesn't fritter away that opportunity.

HBO: Great television.  With the exception of 'Sex and the City'.

And I promise 'Machete' will be up in due course.

*Of course, The Untouchables (Brian de Palma's last good movie), Once Upon a Time in America and Miller's Crossing exist from recent history, but there are countless 30s and 40s films that should not be neglected starring James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart amongst others-Angels with Dirty Faces probably being my personal favourite.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Retroview: A Slight Deviation from the Plan


I never actually got round to watching 'Machete', but, I've decided nevertheless to post a review of another film I happened to catch recently: 'Lawrence of Arabia'.

Since there is a (remote) possibility that I will be working in the Middle East in a few months, I thought that getting some background on the Arab Revolt (1916-18) and a sense of the British imperial attitude towards the peoples of the region would be interesting.

Also, Alec Guinness as an Arab Prince.
Director David Lean's opus clocks in at around 3h 48 minutes: a marathon of a film compared to most standard Hollywood blockbuster fare nowadays.  This doesn't, believe it or not, detract from the film as Lawrence (played superlatively by a fresh-faced Peter O'Toole) is by and far one of the most compelling characters in cinematic history.  His story resonates so powerfully as not only does he believe that he's destined for glory (and a hero's epitaph in the history books), but it's fundamentally because Lawrence is, in fact, a tragic figure.  The viewer manages to relate to Lawrence inasmuch as he plays the role of an outsider; however, contrary to film-cliché, instead of facing adversity in a new setting, he is actually an outsider amongst his own people.  This is due, in part to his birth out of wedlock (considered a heresy during the Victorian era), but one feels that there may be more to it than just that.  Despite his quintessential 'Englishness', he has no real love for his country and says as much to an Arab chaperone early in the film:

Tafas: [talking of Britain] Is that a desert country?
T.E. Lawrence: No: a fat country. Fat people.
Tafas: You are not fat?
T.E. Lawrence: No. I'm different.

This puts Lawrence at odds with his origins, and while he yearns for the desert-way of life, he also feels he can never truly be adopted by the Arab race, due to the colour of his skin.  Sherif Ali (played by Franco-Arabic actor Omar Sharrif) rephrases Lawrence's own words: "Truly, for some men nothing is written unless they write it."  This affirmation continually rears its head throughout the film; Lawrence's ability to persuade the Arab tribes to coalesce and fight for their own freedom is ample evidence that he is capable of shaping his own destiny which results in his acceptance by the Arab peoples.

And yet, despite the Arabs' acceptance of Lawrence, he still remains a tragic figure.  His innate desire to help the downtrodden of the Middle East is tempered by an almost sado-masochistic tendency that runs powerfully through him.  Earlier in the film, he notes to his superior, General Allenby, that he enjoyed killing a man he had previously risked his own life to save; however, at the same time he recognised that he disliked it vehemently. Many people would agree, I'm sure, that the struggle in each and every one of us between our base, animalistic instincts and our civilised persona rages almost daily-why treat a customer with respect when you can rip them off; why get out of bed at a reasonable time when you can sleep most of the day; why say 'no' to an extra drink when you can get even more drunk and enjoy yourself?  It seems, to some degree, that Lawrence is losing this struggle and this is exhibited in the penultimate climactic battle where, in a blood-frenzy, he kills indiscriminately, appalling even his Arab cohort.

By the end of the film, greater powers than he have resolved to split the former Turkish territory into protectorates of the British crown, leaving Lawrence without purpose and destined to be shipped back to the U.K.  For me, therein lies the greatest tragedy of all-not his role as an outsider or his losing battle with his inner demons, but the way in which even great men are used as pawns in the chess-game of life and then casually disregarded once they've served their purpose.

I will not go into the specifics of the cinematography which captures spectacularly the vastness of the Arabian deserts, or the hauntingly beautiful score, and instead urge you to see this film.

Watch a condensed trailer here.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

New-View: Casino Jack and the United States of Money

Well, this is my first posting and it's going to be concerning the film I just watched today: "Casino Jack and the United States of Money".

It's one of those movies that appealed to me when I first saw the trailer.  Considering the immense problems that the world has had with the financial sector and the way that governments have almost been complicit in the way that they had deregulated everything, the film showed a lot of potential.  I felt that perhaps it may have been as enlightening as Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room or other documentaries of that ilk.

Your money hard at work.
Unfortunately, I wasn't too impressed; I believe that the real reason for this is not that the film is that bad (though it is a bit dull in places and drags far longer than the two hours that it's on for), it's more because I'm not a U.S. citizen and have never really understood the Republican/Democrat divide.  That may be in part due to my living in a country where the boundaries between Far right/left politics blurred when I was still a child.  Furthermore, while the "character" of Jack Abramoff definitely seemed documentary material, I think that his notoriety is probably far more pronounced in the States than here in the U.K.

To those who have an intense interest in American politics and follow the minor players as well as the major, this film may be of some interest; however, if you, like me, have a basic understanding of the system, this film is best avoided.

Tonight I will be watching "Machete" with Danny Trejo.  Yes, not necessarily intellectual fare, but check back tomorrow for a review on it.