So it’s the beginning of a new week (hooray for living) and exams/deadlines are fast shitshitshit approaching. Please take a few minutes to peruse this list of films I saw last week, which includes an historic 0/5 rating, Movie Quibble’s first ever. Frank, starring Michael Fassbender, will not appear on this list because it has been reviewed separately. Oh, and there were also several classic Kubrick viewings (Full Metal Jacket, The Shining X 2, Eyes Wide Shut) but they’re repeat viewings so won’t be discussed. The Shining has just bashed in the brains of and subsequently replaced The Empire Strikes Back in Movie Quibble’s Top 5 FIlms, though.
Birdemic: Shock and Terror (2010) – 0/5
Director: James Nguyen
Cast: Alan Bagh, Whitney Moore
Birdemic: Shock and Terror is a film that truly has to be seen to be believed. It is a one-legged, blind, abscess covered pigeon of the cinema world and a stain on filmmakers, artists and the human race as a whole. Birdemic’s production values are so dismally poor that even producers at the The Asylum Studios, infamous creators of such abominations as Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus and Titanic II, simultaneously vomit, pass out and defecate from associative embarrassment at its mere mention. Bad as The Asylum’s films are, they are entirely self-aware and at the very least don’t harm anyone; Birdemic does cause harm, though that’s mainly through the painfully incessant laughter all viewers are stricken with as a defensive mechanism to avoid committing suicide. To get some perspective on how pitiful every aspect of this film really is, consider this: 2-Headed Shark Attack (not seen it? shame) took just two months from inception to release: James Nguyen’s Birdemic took four years.
It takes roughly 45 minutes before the shockingly terrifying eagle/vulture thingyamabobs of Shock and Terror actually show up, and it is not worth the wait. Up until the introduction to the tear jerking CGI – if you can even call it that – you must witness two rotting planks of wood, ‘actors’ Alan Bagh and Whitney Moore, as they go about being ‘successful’ in their ‘careers’ and meeting up for dates in Vietnamese restaurants, the rice-paddy wall murals therein being infinitely more fascinating than these two vapid souls (their possession of souls being a generous assumption) self-consciously stumbling through the worst script ever written. Writer/director James Nguyen has no shame, especially when it comes to the overcooked (as in burnt the entire house down) environmental subtext; one scene sees our lead man Rod intricately plan a solar panel installation on his roof, and at another point a double-date to see Al Gore’s global warming documentary might as well rip out your gullet with its vulturous* lack of subtlety, ‘Oh, what a great movie: An Inconvenient Truth!’ More depressing still, Birdemic now has a sequel.
*vulturous is now a word
Zero Dark Thirty (2012) – 3/5
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton, Jennifer Ehle
In her typicality solemn style, director Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker) recounts the decade long hunt for Osama Bin Laden and the US occupation of the Middle-East in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. There’s a lot to cover in two and a half hours but, rather than going down a tasteless route of pro-Western pandering, Zero Dark Thirty attends to the personal tragedies and decisions that occurred in a small subset of people involved in the conflict. For example, the collapse of the world trade towers is relayed via audio against a black screen as horrified onlookers cry out the awful things they’re seeing. Zero Dark Thirty has a whole lot of people looking shocked and fidgeting while staring at computers screens as they watch news footage of atrocities happening in far away places, but a dependable cast pull it off and remind you that that’s pretty much what everyone does when they hear about something terrible. Were it not for Jessica Chastain’s well-paced performance the film would have felt just a little too cold and calculating; as the lead investigator into the whereabouts of Public Enemy no 1, her character’s gradual decline into obsession is demonstrable of the effects of a lifestyle spent observing – and being a part of – heinous inhumanity. Mark Strong has a powerful mid-film scene in which he blows into the intelligence HQ and busts everyone’s balls with a verbal sledgehammer, a la Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross.
Spartacus (1960) – 4/5
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Cast: Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Peter Ustinov, Tony Curtis
What a spectacle! ‘Are you not entertained?’ doesn’t even come into it – of course you’re entertained, there are giant flaming logs rolling down a big hill, crushing stuntmen dressed as Romans and clearing the path for three hundred extras armed to the teeth and yelling bloody murder as they surge past Stanley Kubrick’s perfectly positioned camera. Many of the set-pieces look like especially tantalising custom battles on Rome: Total War. As the titular gladiator Kirk Douglas is basically just a massive suntan and, though he is of course considered the shining star of this swords and sandals epic, Peter Ustinov turns in the best performance by far. He is a phenomenon as the snarling, sycophantic Roman delegate Batiatus, and his films are now on Movie Quibble’s IMDb watchlist – all of them. Spartacus is a mighty production in all departments, but unconvincing sojourns into sickly sweet romance place a burden on the magnificent action and leave the running time bloated like a Roman paying a visit to the vomitorium in advance of his 9th course. Such sentimental twoddle was thankfully excised from his future work.
[Rec] (2007) – 4/5
Directors: Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza
Cast: Manuela Velasco, Ferran Terraza
The shaky hand-held dissertation to The Blair Witch’s ‘project’ (a word that has always sounded like something ‘third graders’ in an ‘elementary school’ might undertake), [Rec] is by far the strongest submission to the found footage genre. Taking place in a Catalan apartment block, a duo of investigative documentary makers find themselves trapped and surrounded by residents that appear to be dead, but who are not quite as far along on the deceased spectrum as would be hoped. When the armed police and bio-hazard boys refuse to let anyone out, the infected begin to turn. [Rec]’s final fifteen minutes are horrifying: three (almost) adults were left whimpering wrecks in Movie Quibble’s house, and the shielding of eyes and shouting of the words ‘f*** sh** f*** what sh** no f***!’ did nothing to alleviate the pitch black terror.
The Brothers Grimm (2005) – 1/5
Director: Terry Gilliam
Cast: Matt Damon, Heath Ledger, Lena Headey, Peter Stormare
Jack and the Giant Bull-Stalk is a good name for this, Terry. Bit late now though. Jake Grimm (Heath Ledger) and Will Grimm (Matt Damon) are the brothers Grimm, grimy-faced con artists that relieve superstitious peasants of their hard earned stash by posing as monster killers. If Gilliam had gone all Guillermo and wandered down the dark path hewn by Pan’s Labyrinth he could have made something sinister; he is capable of doing scary, but The Brothers Grimm is a farce and disservice to his storytelling ability. Like directorial compadre John Landis’ Burke and Hare, Gilliam’s The Brothers Grimm discards plot development and scripting for disparate sketch-like encounters reliant on slapstick in the hope of laughter which doesn’t come, and each whimsical diversion from the main fairytale story is slightly less bearable than the one that preceded it. Damon doesn’t bother with the accent 40% of the time (scientifically measured fact) and we’re supposed to accept Heath Ledger as a bumbling, socially inept retard who fumbles his words faster that his tongue can keep up with them. Jonathan Pryce trots about as an acidulous French general, but even he can’t sprinkle any charm into this lukewarm porridge of a motion picture. For 2005, the ‘special effects’ are a disgrace. So, so, so bad! Being wary of mentioning the maker of Brazil in the same sentence as Birdemic, the computerised visuals in this film are not all that far off it. Having watched – and for the most part thoroughly enjoyed – all of his movies but Tideland, one can say with practical certainty that this is Terry Gilliam’s worst film.
Making ‘The Shining’ (1980) – 5/5
Director: Vivian Kubrick
Cast: Vivian Kubrick, Jack Nicholson, Stanley Kubrick, Shelley Duvall, Scatman Crothers
Perfectly capturing the spooky hysteria that propelled the filming of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, the daughter of said auteur, Vivian Kubrick, runs around set with a handi-cam asking questions for 33 minutes. There is some mischievous gold from a manic Jack Nicholson, whose frustration with the outfit he had to wear every day for a full year had reached tipping point; cabin fever? More like flannel fever! There are also some surprisingly candid interviews with the cast: Scatman Crothers cries and Shelley Duvall admits she hates Stanley Kubrick. This mini-doc on the making of The Shining was so excellent that it demanded a second viewing, this time with commentary from the director herself, no longer a sparky seventeen year-old filmmaker but a wizened forty year-old that talks about how good the films her dad made were. Listed below are the most precious morsels of movie trivia that Vivian Kubrick tosses your way in her retrospective voice over:
-The snowy exterior of the Overlook Hotel was actually made up of salt.
– Jack Nicholson once received training as a reserve fireman, skills he put to devastating use in the ‘Here’s Johnny’ scene. He chopped through the custom-built prop doors with such ease that the carpentry team had to build reinforced ones to withstand his ‘powerful technique’.
– Margaret Adam, secretary to Stanley Kubrick and future production manager on Eyes Wide Shut (1999), was elected to type up the ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’ manuscript. It took several months to produce the several hundred pages, and each one is uniquely spaced and arranged.
– Shelley Duvall frequently ran out of tears to cry while filming the (even more) distressing scenes of the film , so make up resorted to daubing her face with glycerine.
– ‘20,000 gazillion tonnes of polythene chips’ were used to emulate snow blizzards on set. This seems to be a not inconsiderable overestimation, and it calls into question the validity of the information provided by Vivian Kubrick hitherto.
American Graffiti (1973) – 4/5
Director: George Lucas
Cast: Richard Dreyfuss, Harrison Ford, Mackenzie Phillips, Wolfman Jack
You’ve studied; you’ve passed; you’ve graduated; you’re off to college! But then again, are you? Curt (Richard Dreyfuss) and Steve (Ron Howard) are best buddies and future freshmen, but while cruising around town on the eve of their respective journeys to university they realise that they haven’t got a clue what they’re doing. The 60s rock n roll vibes of American Graffiti are transporting and, rather than describing the intricacies, here is a list of similarly toned films that American Graffiti has either (successfully) borrowed from or been borrowed in: Grease, Back to the Future, Fast Times and Ridgemont Hight, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, This Boy’s Life, The Graduate, The Breakfast Club, Rebel Without a Cause, Animal House, various other films about high school/college/small towns/the 1960s. American Graffiti rolls up all this youthful spirit into one massive, grainy, charming joint of nostalgia. Some dude called George Luke (or something) does pretty good in the director’s chair, and loveable turns from Richard Dreyfuss and a not yet ‘made-it’ Harrison Ford make American Graffiti an intriguing watch.