What I Watched Last Week – 02/06/2014 – Five Film Mini-Reviews

Summer is here! And by the looks of things it’s going to be one of the best yet – just looking at the rain soaked patio outside fills me full of hope. With exams over (and exam retakes surely right around the corner), Movie Quibble’s output will be back to normal in the coming weeks. Books read: Stephen King’s autobiographical ‘On Writing’ and Philip K. Dick’s ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’, which was the inspiration for Blade Runner. And now for a list of reviews for films that I watched for the first time last week.

 

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) – 4/5

Director: Stephen Spielberg

Cast: Haley Joel Osmont, Frances O’ Connor, Jude Law, Brendan Gleeson

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Like his Holocaust and Napoleon projects, A.I. is yet another heavily researched and frame-by-frame planned Stanley Kubrick film that the movie master never guided onto the silver screen. Luckily his good friend and protégé, Stephen Spielberg, – whose film Schindler’s List was what impeded Kubrick’s own Nazi picture – was =able to pick up the perfectionist pieces of the storyboard and script following his death. In A.I., a near future Earth is inundated with ‘super toys’ and humanoid robots that grease the cogs of everyday society. David (Haley Joel Osmont) the child robot is booted from his home once his parents/buyers’ real son recovers from fatal illness. David bumps into pleasure-bot Gigolo Joe (Jude Law), who also happens to be alone and scared  in this cruel scrapheap of an android-consuming world. Hand in hand, the mismatched pair go in search of answers – about life, about creation, about David’s mother – exploring a sick and seedy world whose every inhabitant lies waiting to chew them up and spit them out (into a recycling bin).

‘Two hours of Kubrick, 20 minutes of Spielberg’; this is the brand A.I was stamped with upon its initial release, a dismissal based upon Spielberg’s addition of a second ending which cleared up the ambiguously melancholic ‘first ending’ by fast forwarding through time and getting aliens to explain the whole thing. This ending, however, is one of the best things about the film; speeding through the architectural dig of a long-frozen New York the certitude of human extinction is profound, while the visiting aliens possess all the mystery and majesty you’d expect from a Kubrickian extra terrestrial race. Besides, when you stop to think about it, the ending is far from happy.

 

Carrie (1976) – 4/5

Director:  Brian De Palma

Cast: Sissy Spacek, John Travolta, Piper Laurie

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Brian De Palma jolts Stephen King’s first foray into novel writing to skin-crawling life. Sissy Spacek plays the title role, her diminutive figure, straggly hair and sunken, timid eyes making her the perfect match for the abused child she portrays. Beaten and suppressed by a fanatically devout Christian mother at home and bullied to within an inch of her sanity at high-school, Carrie’s dignity can take it no longer and her telekinetic powers finally come into their own. By the time of the school prom and the prank to end all pranks, Carrie – bathed in pigs blood – can take it no longer, and she unleashes a blood bath of her very own. Brian De Palma, the auteur behind The Untouchables and Scarface, leaves palpable grace-notes peppered throughout the horror piece, his camera whirling around in a dizzying fever pitch to capture the terror to come and the overwhelming burden carried by the powerful protagonist.

 

Almost Famous (2000) – 3/5

Director:  Cameron Crowe

Cast: Kate Hudson, Patrick Fugit, Frances McDormand, Billy Crudup

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William Miller (Patrick Fugit) aspires to be the biggest name in rock n roll journalism. The problem? As Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s affable hack discloses, ‘rock is dead, man’. Undeterred by such pessimistic notions, Miller blags a job with Rolling Stone via phone interview, and, once escaping the clutches of his understandably concerned mother (a rock steady Frances McDormand) the fifteen-year-old goes on tour with the-verging-on-successful rock band Stillwater. No one could possibly deny the appeal of the of the righteous 70s/80s tracklist, but this atmosphere is impinged by a swathe of self-flattering performers from the likes of Billy Crudup, Jimmy Fallon and (the worst offender) Kate Hudson that make you want to smash up the drum kit before the gig begins. Cameron Crowe brings the period to life; the grimy visuals of moss covered pools, dilapidated roadside motels and bruised and battered tour buses have a certain glimmer to them, but it’s an appeal which, like the bygone musical era it laments, fades as the tour wheels closer to its closing date. A near-death experience on an aeroplane, during which everyone on board voices their regrets and darkest secrets, is the only the time Almost Famous really reaches out beyond its veil of vapidity and throttles you into paying attention.

 

Blood Simple (1984) – 4/5

Directors: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

Cast: John Getz, Frances McDormand, Dan Hedeya

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Film number one from the two-headed director. Blood Simple is a straightforward Texan thriller wound up with the noirish suspense of a Billy Wilder hit which spits the venomous dread of Hitchcock’s darkest works (e.g Rope, Psycho). There are long drives into the night, underhand dealings, hit men, shallow graves, neon-lit bars and apartments with the kind of paper thin walls you can stab people through. The Coen’s provocative, down and dirty shooting style breathes up the tension in the air, driving it forward with the vim and vigour expected from a directorial pair that would go on to make modern classics like Inside Llewyn Davis (yeah, I said it) and The Big Lebowski. Looking at subsequent entries into the Coen canon, Fargo and No Country For Old Men stand out as being similar in themes of violence, greed and sexuality; those masterpieces are decidedly in a genre all of their own, a genre first conceived with the confident yet detectably derivative Blood Simple.

 

Adam & Paul (2004) – 3/5

Director: Lenny Abrahamson

Cast: Tom Murphy, Mark O’Halloran, Gavin Dowdall

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Waiting for Godot (to give them some smack). Lenny Abrahamson, the man who recently brought you off-the –wall Frank Sidebottom lie-opic Frank, directs two Irish addicts (Adam and Paul) in their comically painful search for a hit of heroin. Cut from the same pitch black cloth that makes films like In Bruges and American Psycho hilarious, the needle dependant duo get themselves into all sorts of trouble as they wobble around Dublin shitting in the street and nicking bread from Spar. The low point of the day – though you suspect  it’s not even close to their abyssal trench – has them robbing a Down’s syndrome sufferer in an alleyway, only for him to possess nothing  but crayon-drawings. Abrahamson frames actors Tom Murphy and Mark O’Halloran in such a way that they appear part of the scenery, their vulnerable figures wrapped in grime covered clothes that camouflage them amongst tower blocks and cause pedestrians to swerve around them as they would an overflowing rubbish bin. There are funny moments littered amongst the gritty realism buh, for all tha it’s a bit depressin liek.

 

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