Short Cuts

To try and regain the amount of entertainment I had when watching Happiness, I stumbled across the stylistically similar 1993 film Short Cuts, by Robert Altman. At three hours long, and featuring an ensemble cast of 22 actors and actresses – including Andie MacDowell, Bruce Davison and a very young Robert Downey, Jr. – this is one of the quirkiest long films I’ve ever sat through.

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Set in Los Angeles, the film gives the viewer a God perspective on the interlocking stories of twenty-two individuals – apparently! I didn’t stop and count them – as they wind through their dark, gritty and sometimes tragic lives. While some elements of this film are humorous, I wouldn’t say that humour is the raison d’être for this film, so it would be difficult to call it a black comedy.

With twenty-two characters, it’s difficult to get a grasp of who’s whom, and how so-and-so knows what’s-her-face, but after about 40 minutes, I had the character list sussed. We rarely see a non-main-character on screen; the extras in each scene are usually the part of the ensemble. Everything is linked!

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The action is rather fast-paced. Scenes are generally rather brief, and in a three-hour film, this can get rather intense. There is a lot to keep on top of. There’s none of the neat tying up of plots that you’d expect from a more mainstream film, but I suspect if you saw the film more times, you could gather more meaning from each of the characters’ tales. I wasn’t quite as tickled as I was with Happiness or American Beauty, probably because the characters here aren’t quite as shocking. A worthwhile view, all the same.

Basil

In these last few months, I’ve noticed that whenever I’ve tried to Google ‘Basil’s films’ or some other variant, I’ll usually end up looking at links to the 1998 Victorian drama film Basil, directed by Radha Bharadwaj. It seemed fitting that I should watch and review this very film for the website.

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The film is based on the book of the same name written in 1852 by the author Wilkie Collins. Basil (Jared Leto) comes from an upper class family, but his father, Frederick (Derek Jacobi) is a real douchebag. In the first section of the movie, we see how Frederick pours scorn on Basil’s actions as a child, disowns his brother as a son for making a pass at a girl of lower social class and cheats on his wife, who dies shortly afterwards.

At the age of twenty, Basil makes a new friend by the name of John Mannion (Christian Slater), who Basil confides in, saying that he’s never had any friends before. We realise that Basil has led a very sheltered life and is rather backward. He quickly becomes obsessed by a girl named Julia (Claire Forlani), and hastily rushes into a marriage with her, despite her obvious misgivings. In a moment of passion he offers her the mansion he will soon inherit. Nevertheless, he discovers John and Julia sleeping together, and the two engage in a street fight.

The damage is done, however. Frederick finds out about the unorthodox marriage, as well as Basil’s plans to give it away and disowns him too. After an unsuccessful go at trying to find employment – maybe we aren’t so different after all! – he goes to visit his long lost brother in Yorkshire. He discovers a letter from John, explaining all of his actions. It turns out that John’s father was turned down by Frederick years ago, which led to his suicide. John has since made it his purpose to exact revenge on Frederick, using Julia and Basil as tools in his scheme. A fantastic twist, I must admit.

Nevertheless, this is hardly what you’d call a quality movie. The acting is rather unconvincing, with actions and words seeming rather overdramatic. Try the above clip to see what I mean. The movie was first released on cable, with 4:3 aspect ratio and very fast scenes. Indeed, I can’t think of many scenes longer than three minutes. Not the most impressive visuals I’ve ever seen, but fairly consistent at least.

The characters aren’t all that likeable either, although I could just about bring myself to empathise with Basil, since his social awkwardness is a product of his father’s bad parenting. As the novel was written in the 19th Century, it is sadly the case that the women in this film are subject to abusive and disrespectful treatment. The two leading females, Clara (Carli Harris) and Julia play Basil’s mild-mannered friend and subversive love interest respectively, but beyond that they have no other personality aspects or deep thought. I like to think that Bharadwaj has invited us to look beyond the awful sexism of the time and try to enjoy the rest of the story. However, the following line is inexcusable: “She was nothing more to me than the boss’s spoiled daughter. Still, I was a man with a man’s appetites.” NineteenthCenturyLAD.

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So, Basil was an average film, but there are far better period pieces out there, with much better film adaptations. I personally felt quite awkward hearing my name – which I don’t hear that often, given to somebody else – roughly once or twice a minute. Onwards and upwards.

“Crocodile” Dundee

I didn’t really set out to review this movie. It was another film on my long list of films that I need to see, so I thought I’d get it out the way. However, my outrage was so great after finishing that I knew I needed to vent on my blog. While I’d rather watch a film about large reptiles invading Scotland, this is my account of “Crocodile” Dundee.

What does that tagline even mean?

What does that tagline even mean?

Sue (Linda Kozlowski), a New Yorker in Sydney, is a reporter, chasing up a lead on a story about an Australian daredevil who goes by the name of “Crocodile” Dundee (Paul Hogan). In the first half of the film, we see her travel to the Australian outback, nearly get eaten by a crocodile – *sigh* if only – and inevitably bond with her saviour. Mick Dundee is an interesting bloke, having never been to a city in his life, and unaware of the customs of modern life.

Sue asks Mick to come back to New York with him, and for the sake of the film he agrees. Roughly half an hour is devoted to watching Mick stumble around New York without a clue of what the locals think of his antics. We knew from the beginning of the film that Sue had a boyfriend, Richard (Mark Blum), and she continues to stay with him whilst occasionally flirting with Mick. Richard eventually proposes, to which she apparently accepts. Mick feels like quitting New York, but, in one of the most predictable film endings ever, she runs after him to confess her love, and we have a ‘happy’ ending.

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In my honest opinion, ladies and gents, it’s a pile of shite. I was fairly ambivalent towards the ‘Australian’ half of the movie, as this provides a good introduction to our main character, who is clearly quite an interesting bloke. One of his best scenes is when he explains that he doesn’t care about the Nuclear Crisis, as it simply doesn’t affect him. Though uninformed, he seems quite wise, and that I can respect. On the other hand, a scene where he was stalking her and watching her take a dip in the swamp seemed a bit tasteless. The film tries to redeem this behaviour by allowing him to save her from the only crocodile in the movie, but I’m not convinced.

However, when he reaches U.S. soil, the film turns on its head. There are no moments of wisdom any more, just opportunities to cringe as Mick is baffled by modern culture. You remember Borat? You remember how it’s only funny – some might argue that it isn’t at all – because you’re not supposed to take the character seriously? It’s not even slightly amusing here. Worse still, we have that Sue and Richard are constantly laughing at his expense. Sue is the person who has dropped Mick in at the deep end, and now she’s playing with his emotions too. In Jungle 2 Jungle, Robin Williams had the decency to explain the customs of New York to his new-found tribal son; Sue does none of this. Even worse, whilst Richard does act like a dick to Mick, he still seems like a decent person; nevertheless Sue decides to up and leave him, trampling on his heart. We don’t even see his reaction to the sad news. She’s a fickle bitch who deserved to die when that croc went for her.

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This is a really dumb and wholly unbalanced movie, exploiting the differences between Americans and Australians as a cheap source of entertainment. The lead female is entirely despicable, and the happy ending is entirely unwarranted. The scenes with Dundee in New York are simply awkward, especially when he discovers transvestites, which you apparently bump into everywhere in the Big Apple. If I end up reviewing the sequels, “Crocodile” Dundee II or Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles, then it will surely be because I am feeling in a particularly masochistic mood.

The Godfather Part III

Sixteen years after the first two, Coppola decided to finish the series off with the climactic third film. Despite its bad reputation, I think I may have enjoyed this one more than the others. I am truly a black sheep.

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To account for the age of the actors, this film is set roughly twenty years after the events in The Godfather Part II. Michael is greying, and both his son and daughter are now young adults. In true Godfather style, the first half hour is devoted to an extravagant party where we can meet our new main characters. Joining the fold is Vincent (Andy García), the son of Sonny, who is very fond of the family business. He is also reckless, and has a tendency to lose his temper, channelling his father’s spirit. Michael reluctantly allows the enthusiastic Vincent to tag along.

As you’d expect in a Godfather film, there is a crime element to this film. Specifically, Michael has loads of shares in some real-estate company, and wants to get the Vatican to give him their share. A load of other mafia people want in on this, but Michael offers them an alternate deal. To be honest, the whole church element went largely over my head, as it’s all very complicated. In this respect, I don’t think that The Godfather series is the best at story-telling.  Frequently, we come across characters and subplots that may or may not be important. For example, the horse head in the bed in the original Godfather is just a subplot to show you how ruthless Vito is, but that graphic image might suggest that it’s more important.

"I love my cousin because he's hot!" This essentially the director's daughter's role in the film.

“I love my cousin because he’s hot!” This essentially the director’s daughter’s role in the film.

The characters can be confusing too; there are so many of them, on different ‘sides’ with different connections to the Corleone family. Details of each character are given out subtly, if at all, so the audience really has to work hard to understand what is going on. For example, it is only revealed that Vincent is Sonny’s son sixteen minutes after we’ve met him; where was that information when I needed it? Whilst finding out that particular figure, I also noticed that Kay is remarried at the beginning of the film and introduces her husband in the party. I didn’t notice her the first time round because she looked so different. Why must Coppola try so hard to make things confusing? As you’d expect, a lot of people die at the end of the film, yet I barely knew who any of them were. Fans are going to tell me that I’m too dull or too inobservant to understand the ins and outs of the films, but I’m personally putting the blame on Coppola for making the films too difficult. I’m not saying I want the exposition spoon fed to me, but the number of times I’ve watched these films and wondered ‘What’s going on?’ is outrageous. Worse still, I imagine that it is because of this subtle exposition style that The Godfather series gets so much acclaim. How can it be that I dislike something for the very reason it is loved? Moving on.

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So, the whole church thing I didn’t really understand, but there is another, more wonderful side to The Godfather Part III that kept me watching. Michael is no longer the gloomy enigma that he was in Part II; this film shows him opening up like a flower, letting out all his secrets and feelings. I wouldn’t have suspected it, but he is wracked with guilt for murdering his brother. Better still, he begins to treat Kay and his children with respect, now understanding what he has lost through his abusive ways. Diane Keaton finally comes into her own in this film. No longer is she the tortured individual who cannot escape from her terrifying partner. Both sides are finally ready to be open with each other. This is what makes Part III the better film.

Vincent on the other hand has a devilish side to him. He is a womaniser, and begins an affair with Michael’s daughter Mary (Sofia Coppola), his own cousin. Unfortunately, the director’s daughter isn’t the best actress, and there is almost a Room-style quality in the way she says some of her lines. This makes them an awkward couple on film, when you consider that García was nominated for an Academy Award, whilst Coppola was given the titles Worst Supporting Actress and Worst New Star at the 1990 Golden Raspberry Awards. It turns out Winona Ryder would have been playing her part, but instead did Edward Scissorhands that same year. Damn shame. The incestuous relationship, whilst an interesting aspect of the film, doesn’t really make sense. Mary keeps saying that she loves Vincent, but this love is based on her fancying him at a wedding when she was 8 and he was 15. He’s not sweet or tender with her; their ‘love’ is completely unfounded. Michael doesn’t stand for it, but while I understand him when he says it’s ‘wrong’, I didn’t at first understand why he called it ‘dangerous’. By the end of the film, all is made clear. To people who have seen this film before, those last couple of scenes did make me a little teary.

Michael: finally mellowing in old age.

Michael: finally mellowing in old age.

While it may not seem that way because of the rant in my review, I did actually enjoy this film, if just to see Michael finally come out of his shell. The rant is more to do with the series in general. While all three films are (generally) well-acted, with a hearty storyline, I feel like there is a bit too much hype over the series. These aren’t the best films I’ve ever seen by a long stretch, but I’m glad to have seen them and to have made up my own opinion.

Dredd

OK, so this review will pretty much invalidate my last one; last year’s Dredd makes Judge Dredd look like offal. On nearly every level, this is a superior movie.

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Think Blade Runner meets Die Hard and you’ll be close. Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) is taking the newbie Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) on a practical examination. They reach a gigantic slum-like tower block known as Peach Trees, which is run by the incredibly violent Mama Gang, itself headed by the eponymous Mama (Lena Headey). When she seals the exits to Peach Trees, Dredd and Anderson are the only Judges inside, and they must fight off waves and waves of enemies. Similarities to The Raid also come to mind.

The dialogue in this film seems much closer to the comics than the Stallone version. Not once in the original film did I hear the words ‘isocubes’, ‘meat wagon’ or ‘recyc’. Also, it’s refreshing to see that it isn’t peppered with annoying catchphrases. ‘I am the law‘ only appears once.

The special effects, whilst superior to the original film, are not nearly as garish or in your face. A brilliant plot element is the futuristic drug slo-mo. As the name suggests, this drug gives the user the impression that time has slowed down, and director Pete Travis – who also directed the disappointing Vantage Point – invites us to see the effects. We witness droplets of water flying through the air as well as bullets gracefully rip through flesh. It’s all rather beautiful, if highly gruesome. It’s a brilliant effect to put in the trailer, and actually works well in the film, in a stylish comic-book fashion. While I only watched it in 2D, I can see that the 3D would have worked really well, especially in the slow-motion sequences.

The Judges in Judge Dredd seemed to have rather glamorous costumes, with giant impractical shoulder pads. In this film, their updated costume seems more reasonable. Judge Dredd never takes off his helmet, and never smiles. Much better. Urban makes for a much grittier Dredd than Stallone. Inevitable really.

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It’s still not incredibly clever, but it’s the film that fans were hoping for all those years ago. Violent, adrenaline fuelled and darkly humorous, this is a remake worth seeing.

Judge Dredd

I primarily know about Judge Dredd through my dad, who collected many of the comics and annuals when he was younger. I don’t think I’ve ever sat down and read them, but I know exactly what the series is about: a fearless Judge living in a post-apocalyptic future who can be rather hard on criminals. He also never smiles. Ever. My connection to the series was enhanced by the PlayStation 2 game Judge Dredd: Dredd vs. Death, which seemed like a fitting tribute to the series. It was only a matter of time before I saw the films too, so this afternoon I decided to try out the 1995 Stallone version, which has been oft-ridiculed since its release. I was surprised to find that I actually enjoyed myself.

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When I say I enjoyed it, I do mean in the sense that one might enjoy a Keane album or a Carry On movie; a guilty pleasure that is. Towards the end, the whole thing got rather goofy, but on the whole the movie stayed rather true to the comics, as far as I can make it out. For Stallone, Dredd was an easy character to act, with no emotions to play up and simple bold dialogue. As a result, he makes a pretty decent Dredd. However, I don’t very much care for his catchphrase ‘I knew you were going to say that.‘  It’s hardly ‘I’ll be back,‘ or ‘Yippee ki-yay, motherfucker.

An awesome detail, James Earl Jones, the voice of Darth Vader, reads out the introduction segment, which makes clear the post-apocalyptic future for the uninitiated. However, I question the idea to run with ‘In the third millennium…‘ Aren’t we in the third millennium now? I had to grimace when I saw Rob Schneider would be appearing in this film. Fortunately, he plays the annoying sidekick, and he does annoying very well. The special effects are very decent and enhance the action, although the metropolis they live in does seem rather borrowed from Blade Runner.

Judge Dredd gets framed for a murder, which he clearly didn’t commit – after all ‘I didn’t break the law! I AM THE LAW‘ – and then works his way back into the city to fight the bad guys. It’s hardly the most intricate or clever plot, but not as dreadful as some make it out to be. As I mentioned, it can get pretty goofy at times, especially during the hoverbike chase scene. Whenever the word ‘law’ is mentioned, it usually gets a disproportionate amount of emphasis: LAAAAWWWWW.

Classic Sly

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While not the pinnacle of sci-fi cinema, I wasn’t as unimpressed as the majority of critics. Perhaps going in with low expectations is the key. This would have been great had it been a Paul Verhoeven film, as dystopian action films seem to be his specialty. Despite its shortcomings, I thought it was a worthwhile viewing, especially as a passing fan of the comics. A guilty pleasure indeed.

The Godfather Part II

Yawn. Lame sequel.

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It’s just a bit long. At 192 minutes, I’m just not feeling the sequel to Coppola’s classic film The Godfather. Made two years after the first, this film acts as both a prequel and a sequel to the original, with about one hour of the film devoted to Robert De Niro as a young Vito Corleone making his way in the U.S., the other two hours following Michael (Al Pacino), now the Don of the Corleone family. I should mention that those parts are intertwined, and not separated like oil and water.

However, I find those latter two hours to just be a bit… dull. For all I care, this is simply Michael being a don and having to put up with ‘donly’ things, whether that be going to Cuba to exact revenge on a family friend who tried to have you killed (I think that’s what happened), beating your wife when she tells you she had an abortion because she doesn’t want your farce of a marriage to continue, or just killing your brother because he betrayed you to the afore-mentioned family friend. I’ll admit, that actually makes it sound rather interesting, but that’s only because they aren’t spaced out over THREE HOURS. We mainly see Michael sitting in an armchair and looking grumpy. In the first film, he was a character I could relate to (almost). He isn’t any more, and watching him sit around in armchairs having sombre meetings and occasionally killing the odd bloke doesn’t really engage me at all. He’s only in a threatened position once: he and his wife are shot at through the window by assassins. After that, everything bounces off the man, including accusations in a courtroom. He’s in no danger whatsoever, and I find it boring.

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What isn’t boring is Vito’s rise to power. At the beginning of the film, we witness nine-year-old Vito Andolini (for that was once his name) running from Don Ciccio as his mother is brutally murdered, in 1901. He flees Sicily, and makes his way to the U.S. where he is accidentally registered as Vito Corleone, after the town he has fled from. Sixteen years later, the boy has grown into a rather handsome De Niro, complete with the husky accent, and we witness him slowly becoming the ruthless man we know him to be. While still as nasty as the rest of the film, these scenes seem brighter and more polished than the rest of the film, almost as if seen through rose-coloured glasses. A romantic look on dark killings. That’s an offer I can’t refuse!

The final flashback in the film is one of the best scenes, where Michael explains how he’s joined the marines. His brother Sonny is angry at him, but Tom Hagen calmly explains why he’s not impressed, saying that he and Vito had plans for him. Michael expresses that he has his own plans, but when we flash forward to the Michael sitting by Lake Tahoe, we see that those plans never came to fruition. This is an excellent aspect of the film, and one that was introduced roughly three hours too late.

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The interesting bits are interesting, but there’s far too few of them. While this film is less difficult to follow than its predecessor, I simply don’t find it as gripping. I feel like Part II doesn’t really further the development of Michael in any way, only propagate his image as a ruthless killer. I wasn’t even surprised when Fredo had to die, it’s not like family blood would get in his way. Great acting all round, but it was the plot that needed some improvement.