Friday, 12 December 2014

Peter Jackson's Extended Editions of the Entire Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-03)

Yes, it's a long title for a blog post, but not half as bloody long as I spent watching these films.

A couple of weeks ago, my two-doors-down-and-across-the-corridor neighbour James cracked out the dusty boxset of the Lord of the Rings movies that had been sitting on his desk since the start of university in September, and brought them through to my room. James, amongst other things (rugby and novelty pyjama bottom enthusiast included), is a big fan of Tolkien's seminal fantasy trilogy, having been weaned on the films since they arrived in cinemas in the early noughties. He's been metaphorically gnawing away at the books since arriving in Stirling but has barely made it out of Hobbiton, so to speak. In a compromise my end-of-the-corridor neighbour Chris and I were only too happy to oblige with, he suggested we watch all the movies within a short space of time and appreciate the story while bonding like the exemplary corridor mates we are.

And so it was to be that, on that day in late October, I sat my laptop on top of my printer and stuck the disc in. This was, I should point out, only the first disc. Yes, the extended editions, despite this, are so long that one cannot simply contain them on a single DVD. Halfway through, the film cuts off and a message flashes up on the screen telling you to switch the DVDs. This is the first time I've ever experienced such a thing. Oddest thing is, it didn't completely take me out of the moment like I expected it to. We all had a nice little break, stretched our legs, and then sat down and continued the movie feeling a wee bit more refreshed. Smashing.

Anyhoo, after a bit of a kerfuffle sparked when Chris really insisted I open the Pringles I'd been saving, we started with The Fellowship of the Ring. This was the first film of the three to be released, and the first to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. It lost to a film about Russell Crowe writing equations on a big blackboard, but it set an incredibly lucrative and blockbusting ball rolling. We began, to the sound of Howard Shore's unparalleled score (punctuated by Pringles crunching and me sulking), with Bilbo Baggins getting ready to celebrate his eleventy-first birthday. Admittedly, if I was to read that famous opening line for the first time in a library, I'd think it sounded like a load of pish and stick it back on the shelf. What it does do, however, is introduce the reader, and, in this case, the viewer, to an immensely complicated world with quite a relatable and pleasant idea: a birthday party. Tolkien's stories demonstrate to us the true extent of the human imagination. Look at it all! He's created entire political systems, families whose stories stretch back centuries, multiple cultural histories that overlap and conflict with each other! The scale and detail of it is bewildering, but, at the same time, pretty easy to follow. That's the wonder of The Lord of the Rings.

As much as Tolkien is to credit for creating this world, it was no mean feat for Peter Jackson to put it on the big screen. The total manuscripts for the original books ran to 9,250 pages, and even the slimmer editions run to about 500 pages per volume. A lot of scenes from the book were filmed, but had to be cut out so the cinema audiences didn't contract rickets during their time spent in the auditorium. No such problems with the folk sat at home, though, so Jackson edited his own cut of the movies, which are monstrous in length but much better in terms of detail and depth. Every so often, while we watched the trilogy, James would chime in with a, 'this scene was deleted', or a 'I can't believe they didn't leave this scene in the original version'. Admittedly, some very charming and dramatic sequences were cut for the sake of brevity, and it does seem a shame.

Even without the deleted scenes, the scale of the production is remarkable. There are points in The Two Towers and The Return of the King where you realise there are about five plots going on at once, but you and everyone around you understands what is going on so unfalteringly it's as if it is as complicated as The Tiger Who Came to Tea. It helps that the characters and stories are so iconic. It's difficult not to smirk when Boromir mutters, 'One does not simply walk into Mordor.' Or when Gandalf roars 'You shall not pass!' Or when Legolas sings, 'They're taking the hobbits to Isengard-gard-gard-gard-gard.' It was not unusual to look around and find most of the people in the room mouthing the words to a particular scene, or singing along to one of the songs.

By the time we got to The Return of the King, Lewis and Rori had joined us, and we were watching it on Rori's lovely big 'snooker telly' rather than my crappy wee laptop (out of interest, both Rori and Lewis have great blogs you should have a look at; Rori's is a charming wee thing largely about university life, while Lewis' has just one post at the moment but has the potential to be - and I'm not going to mince my words here - the greatest piece of literature ever written in the English language). One particularly lovely moment came when the three LotR fans in the room - James, Rori and Lewis - sang along to Pippin's song before the Battle of Minas Tirith, and all three were bringing up random bits of trivia as they became relevant. There's something about Lord of the Rings and Middle Earth in general, and it's the same with things like Star Wars and Doctor Who, that just cries out for people to know as much as possible about them. It must be the level of detail and the amount of mythology surrounding these stories. They present themselves as a challenge to viewers and readers, who delight in being able to name the particular battle in which a particular minor character died or the planet where a particular item was collected.

There's definitely an aspect of admiration in it, and although I'm not a Lord of the Rings obsessive, I completely understand it. By the time The Return of the King absolutely swept the board at the Oscars, the films had cemented a place in popular culture to rival the original book trilogy. Fans flocked to the cinemas and made it only the second film in history to make over $1 billion at the box office. It remains a phenomenon - the success of the not-really-as-good Hobbit films demonstrates that - and has lasting popularity that most other franchises wouldn't consider in their most ridiculous LSD-fuelled dreams over a decade on. To many people, it was one of those movie 'events' we hear over-enthusiastic trailer producers talking about, and one that, remarkably, still feels fresh every time the experience is revisited.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Hamlet (1948) vs. Green Street (2005)

That's me settling down into university now. I've learnt how to cook a decent omelette, I've made a perfectly neat room look like shit, and I have the number for the local pizza place in my contacts. The past couple of months have been a swiveling mash of pub quizzes, pubs, public embarrassments and quietly scribbling notes down on a pad. I've not had that much time for films, and when I have, I haven't had that much time for writing anything on this blog; or, there's never been anything worth writing about. I've been told by my friends that the biggest problem with this blog is that I find so many films insufferably good. The writing is, naturally, far more entertaining when I find the film unbearably fecal, and I can go on a massive rant about how painful it is to live in a world where such a film can secure funding from grown men. That's why I never wrote about Interstellar or Nightcrawler, both of which I saw last week, and both of which were very very good. You ought to go to the cinema and pay to see them both. Last night, I watched Apocalypse Now for the first time. It was excellent, as I imagined it would be, but it would be tricky to write a whole post on it because I'd run out of superlatives after a couple of paragraphs.

A couple of nights ago, however, an interesting cinematic situation struck which finally gave me something worth writing about.

I'll give you some context, because I like the sound the keys make when I type on them. I had been struggling to get through Hamlet, one of the set texts for my English course, since I started reading it on a train in Sweden a couple of weeks ago. By Monday of this week, I had only got to The Mousetrap scene, and so I resolved to watch a film version and read along with it. Stupid me went for Laurence Olivier's 1948 best picture-winning version, for which he hacked away at the text like Cambodians hacking away at a sacrificial ox, cutting a four hour play down to a two-and-a-half hour movie. Out when Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, the main comic relief of the play, as well as the entire Fortinbras sub-plot, a sub-plot I only realised existed when it was mentioned at a lecture earlier this week. I was flicking between pages with such intensity, it must have looked like I was reading a Stephen King choose-your-own-adventure book.

It's a difficult watch, even with the Bowlder-like cuts. Olivier directs himself, prancing about in his tightest pair of medieval tights, with a haircut that looks like an albino Paul Simon. Of course he was one of the best actors of the twentieth century, Of course he knew Shakespeare better than almost any other director of his era. That doesn't make it look any less ridiculous. Unbelievably, costume design was one of the five Oscars this film picked up, despite everyone being dressed like they just stepped out of a Shrek film. The acting is terrific, as you should expect from a Shakespearean production as large-scale as this, but this is not the film to win over any Shakespeare skeptics. It is precisely the wrong kind of Shakespeare film - there is nothing new, no curveballs to get the audience sitting up in their seats. It's one of the Bard's biggest fans playing Hamlet for the rest of the Bard's fan club.

I suppose this was what was expected of a Hamlet adaptation back in the 1940s. I suppose back then critics were looking for something that was more revered than it was entertaining. Maybe the Academy's judges felt like they owed Shakespeare something, for some reason. But imagine if someone in Shakespeare's day gave their highest creative award to a particularly good version of something written by Sophocles. That year, Hamlet beat The Treasure of the Sierra Madre to Best Picture. Go figure. They should've just given Willy Shakes the award for Best Original Screenplay and made do with that.

Anyway, when I was twenty minutes from the end of Hamlet, I was called down the corridor to watch a movie called Green Street (released outside the UK as Green Street Hooligans). I'd never heard of it before, but it seems like the other folk in my corridor can quote any scene at the drop of a hat. It concerns an American student who ends up in a violent football firm when he visits England, and it has more in common with Hamlet than you might think. It's about a young man who has recently dropped out of university, and is pressured into violence by a relative who is dead by the end (admittedly, Hamlet's father is dead before the start of the play, but I'm clutching at straws here). Both end with a climactic fight in which a main character dies (all the main characters die at the end of Hamlet, but once again, cut me some slack, I'm trying to compare the two most dissimilar things on the planet). Both stories largely take place indoors, but not exclusively. See?

I get the feeling Green Street was written for quite a particular audience, one that I really don't put myself in. It's for folk who love football, for one, and folk who are entertained by a massive group fistfight for another. While it does attempt to slip in an interesting anti-violence message ("Steve didn't kill your son! You did!"), it's difficult to shake the feeling that this is a film about football hooligans to be enjoyed by football hooligans*. That message is just stuck in so it can claim the moral high ground. Matt (the American student, played distractingly by Frodo Baggins) is undoubtedly shown to have come out of the experience a better man. Nevertheless, it is good fun, because who wouldn't enjoy watching a load of Cockneys knocking each other out?

So who wins in the battle of Hamlet vs Green Street? Well, I'm going to plump for Green Street in this round, simply because I like imagining how the critics and snooty cinemagoers who championed Hamlet back in the 40s would react to it. Hamlet fails because it would bore the tits off anyone who enjoyed Green Street. Green Street, on the other had, would shock the tits off the 1948 Hamlet fans. In this battle of moronic populism versus patronising elitism, the former floors the latter. Probably with a headbutt to the chest.

*DISCLAIMER: The people in my corridor are as far from football hooligans as you could care to get. They are friendly, smart people who cook fantastic meals. I imagine they enjoy the film for the reason outlined at the end of that paragraph.

Follow me on Twitter: @crunro

Monday, 1 September 2014

Finsterworld. Ah, Finsterworld.

When the Edinburgh International Film Festival closed for another year a couple of months ago, I thought my experiences there would make a fairly decent new post for this blog (god knows I needed something). I volunteered for the festival in the role of Young Programmer, one of a bunch of young people who chose a bunch of films to be shown as part of the youth-oriented 'Teen Spirit' strand of the festival. It was a fantastic few weeks, choosing great films that deserve a wider audience, and then watching them being shown on the big screen at Cineworld or the Filmhouse. I got access to the opening and closing premieres and parties, as well as a small place round the back of the Filmhouse called the 'videotheque', where the press and people associated with the festival could watch any film that was screening as part of the festival on a personal computer. It was great.

My problem was, I didn't actually go and see many films. All this opportunity, and I was at home doing other things most of the time. In retrospect, it was a bit of a waste. I went to see one dreadful Finnish arthouse film, which I couldn't walk out of because I had just done the introduction for it; a bunch of short films, including a terrific German one called Moritz and the Woodwose; and a German comedy-tragedy called Finsterworld. When I was thinking about writing this post about the EIFF, I soon realised that all I really wanted to write about was Finsterworld. So, I have abandoned the rest of the post in order for it to take centre stage.

Part of the job of the Young Programmers was getting together on a Monday afternoon to watch some films, then deciding whether they deserved a place in the festival. It was towards the end of this cycle, when we were beginning to run out of places, that we sat down in a tiny cinema to watch Finsterworld. Once the credits were over and I was standing up again, I couldn't stop talking about it to everyone else. I volunteered to write a short paragraph about it for the festival brochure because that meant I could take home a DVD. I did, and I watched it again. Once again, I was blown away. I started talking about it with friends at school who didn't know what it was. Eventually, when the festival came round, I gathered up a group of friends to come with me to the cinema and see it. I've never been in such an excited flurry over a film.

Its style is the first thing that noticeably sets it apart. Finsterworld seems to take place, as the title perhaps suggests, in a universe slightly removed from our own. It is inhabited by quirky characters, all as fascinating and allegorical as each other, and the colour palette is bright, with blue skies and pastel tints even as the film corkscrews into darker and darker territory. The film itself follows five loosely connected storylines, each with its own message about the modern world and the general state of humanity. It tackles such awkward subjects as German guilt over the Holocaust with intelligence and humour, which makes it surprisingly easy to follow and enjoy.

I really don't want to say too much about it, because I believe one of the reasons I was so excited by it was because I didn't expect it to be that great. We'd watched pretty good films together before, but none I would count among my favourite films. If you ever get the chance to watch it, I don't want to be the one who spoiled any of the surprises for you. Hopefully you will soon be more likely to get a chance to see Finsterworld, as it was recently announced on the official Facebook page that the film is on the shortlist for Germany's Best Foreign Film Oscar nomination. I had the pleasure of conducting a Skype interview with the director, Frauke Finsterwalder, after the screening. She came across as very smart, patient and eloquent, answering the audience's questions, as well as my own, with much enthusiasm. The movie deserves all the attention and awards it's getting. Find Finsterworld and watch it, any which way you can.

Friday, 4 April 2014

NOAH (2014)

With biopics, there is a tendency to use a title with a single, evocative word, usually the name of the protagonist.* If you're famous, it'll be your surname. If you're really famous, it'll be your first name. If you're really, really famous, you'll only have had one name to choose from in the first place. Such is the case with Darren Aronofsky's new movie Noah, about a man whose story is one of the most famous in the best-selling book of all time. So yes, really really famous. But it would be a mistake to call this a biopic. Even if you're one of the folks who believe in the biblical tale of Noah and the Ark, the liberties Aronofsky has taken with what it says in the Bible is similar to if Richard Attenborough had made Gandhi fight off a wormhole invasion of intergalactic velociraptors with a rusty machete.

I'd like to establish that I was never planning to go and see Noah. I didn't really see myself as the target audience, seeing as I don't particularly believe most of the stories in the Old or the New Testaments, and I wouldn't be particularly shocked if one day it turned out God isn't real. That doesn't mean I don't find the whole idea fascinating, and I was interested in how Aronofsky would put his trademark dark twist on a story that ends with the invention of the rainbow, but it never quite intrigued me enough to make me get off the seat in my living room to sit down in one with a popcorn holder to the side. What happened was I got the opportunity to attend the Scottish premiere of the film at the Filmhouse in Edinburgh. Russell Crowe was going to be there, as was Douglas Booth, and they would both be strutting about outside in front of the peanut-crunching crowd, all straining to have a look at their well-known facial layouts and have them scribble on a sheet of paper. I'd never experienced a premiere before, and I was curious enough to let that persuade me.

So I met up in town with my filmy friend Bronwyn who had got a hold of the tickets, and we waited outside in a queue for the arrival of the Kiwi Beard. After a while, he turned up with an entourage of kilted Scots with facial hair to rival his, and we all sighed gratefully and went inside to the cinema, where it was warmer. Russell stepped up on stage and delivered a short introduction to the film before running out to catch a plane to Cardiff for the Welsh premiere, happening the same day. The place went dark and we got comfortable.

We start with a quick recounting of the story of creation from Genesis, and how mankind came to be such a bunch of total arseholes through their ancestry, leading all the way back through the centuries to the very first arsehole, Adam's. I spent a lot of the film imagining how mind-blowing all this would be if Aronofsky had come up with the original idea himself. However, in retrospect, it probably seems as though he relied heavily on the fact that most people know the story of Noah. If most of the folk watching didn't already have the preconception that Noah was altogether a decent guy, they would have gone off him pretty quick. Aronofsky's Noah just doesn't quite work as a protagonist people can like, especially at the point where he is lurching around the ark with a knife, searching for his newborn twin granddaughters so he can kill them both, like an Iron Age Jack Torrance. This is amplified for folk who don't believe in a God, who will see his homocidal rampage as the result of his own choice rather than a challenge of faith from the creator. This isn't a guy we want kids to draw and stick on the walls in Sunday School.

So Noah isn't that great a guy, and the rest of the characters are either the intended villains of the movie (the folk who don't interpret the word of God correctly) or the folk who are constantly yelling at Noah to stop ruining everyone's lives over his (apparently correct) interpretation of the word of God. I don't know where I should be. And using Anthony Hopkins' Methuselah as the comic relief of the film is just bad. I suppose I've learnt my lesson now: biblical epics are not my sort of film. And don't go for biopics of folk without a bio.

*See: Alexander, Ali, Amadeus, Bugsy, Capote, Casanova, Chaplin, Cleopatra, Diana, Elizabeth, Evita, Frida, Gandhi, Hamlet, Hitchcock, Iris, Jobs, Lincoln, Macbeth, Milk, Nixon, Patton, Pocahontas, Ray, Spartacus, Sylvia and Wilde

Post script - Need someone to build an ark? I Noah guy. Haha.

Follow me on Twitter - @crunro

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Crap Film Night

The other night, me and my friends Chris and Lewis, who joined me for Inside Llewyn Davis on Monday, came together at Chris' house for a wee film night. Our intentions were to watch the very worst films we could find, for the laugh factor more than anything. Terrible films reach a section of the funny bone intentional comedy films often miss, and I often watch them for the sheer joy of picking apart every individual calamity of continuity, plot, accuracy and production (see Plan 9 From Outer Space).

The movies we had chosen concerned two of the most dangerous organisations in recent history: al-Qaeda and the Nazis. When a studio or director doesn't want precious running time to be taken up by crafting a back story for their villain rather than action, they'll often resort to using an established baddie who people already hate for reasons that don't need to be explained in the film, so they can get around to shooting their limbs off as quickly as possible. These two films actually do this doubly, the first by having a zombie al-Qaeda and the second by having Nazi alien invaders from the dark side of the moon. Scary stuff. Our night started with Chris' DVD of John Lyde's 2012 horror Osombie.

Osombie (2012)

This gritty documentary recounts the events following the US Navy Seals' killing of Osama bin Laden in May 2011. The world knows all too well the story of bin Laden's zombie insurgent army who rose to avenge him in the years following his death, and the story of the crack team of NATO special forces (here played by lookalikes of Colin Farrell, Amanda Seyfried, Jamie Hyneman from Mythbusters and Keanu Reeves in 47 Ronin) who were sent to Afghanistan-on-Sea to fight back. The director and funders clearly, correctly, thought that there was no better way to honour the memory of the hundreds of thousands of people who have died in 9/11 and the subsequent, ongoing War on Terror than to tell this tale. Good on them, that's what I say.

Osombie follows what happened when this crack team, given as much ammo as they could ever need, the most ridiculously unsuitable weapons they could think of, and orders to show off as much as they possibly can when killing their targets, stumbled across Hilary Swank in the desert (here played by a lookalike, of course) and joined her on her search for her conspiracy theorist brother Derek (here played by Crocodile Dundee with a beard), who holds the apparently outlandish belief that bin Laden has returned from the dead, and who wishes to kill him himself. I found myself close to tears when, completely unexpectedly, Derek turns out to be the one to kill Osama at the end, finally realising his dream (I decided it wasn't even worth putting a spoiler warning in there).

And if you, like myself, are a massive fan of cliches, Osombie is your dream movie. Colin Farrell rips his shirt off if he ever gets the opportunity; Amanda Seyfried is a supposed tomboy nicknamed 'Tomboy' who actually has a crush on, over the course of the film, just about every other member of the group; and 47 Ronin is a joker nicknamed 'Joker', who poignantly tells a final shite joke in his dying moments. Who would have thought that a film with such a ridiculous premise could be so outstandingly predictable?

So well done, Osombie, for actually managing to insult the memory of one of the most hated human beings who has ever lived.

Iron Sky (2012)

Lewis had been mentioning this movie all evening, as he had a DVD of it at home. After searching Netflix and finding no genuinely bad movies (as in fun bad, not just bad bad; see Queer Duck below), we decided it was worth walking round the corner to his house in order to grab it and have a watch. The premise is simple enough. In 1945, the defeated Nazis fled to the moon and have spent their time educating Aryan children in all their nasty Nazi ways. Their careful hiding place is discovered by a pair of American astronauts, and *havoc ensues* when they decide to revisit Earth to spread their Nazi message.

What sets Iron Sky apart from a film like Osombie is its implicit self-awareness. It knows exactly how preposterous it is, and actually employs that preposterousness to its own advantage, using it to emphasise a surprisingly potent political subtext. Obviously, there are some parts to it that are plain stupid, such as the black astronaut who the Nazis turn Aryan using an 'albinism serum' in order to make him palatable. But then you've got the US president (a clear parody of Sarah Palin) listening intently to a Nazi ambassador's description of their one-world ideology, before reeling it off to her cheering, adoring nation... ouch. By the end, it's clear that the film is even more anti-USA than it is anti-Nazi Germany, which is interesting. Does raise a few valid points, and there's a fantastic shot-by-shot throwback to 'that' scene in Downfall.

Nevertheless, nobody has ever bought Iron Sky on DVD for its political message. On the cover, it's a Nazi bashing science fiction movie riddled with explosions, ironic humour and careless offensiveness. On those points, it could be argued that it's not the film most people set out to watch. What it is is one of the more surreal viewing experiences in my life.

(As a sidenote, it turns out that the original idea of Nazis from the moon isn't as original as you'd hope, too. Read this.)

Queer Duck: The Movie (2006)

This was one we came across during our search through Netflix to find the worst films we could. Chris typed in the letter Q into 'Search', and this is what popped up. We all glanced at each other and immediately put it on. The title sequence was hysterical. It was the hardest any of us had laughed for ages, out of sheer disbelief and wonder. Then, when that ended, we lasted for about a minute before turning it off. The basic premise is, there's this gay duck, and he has gay friends. Jokes are squeezed out of this premise like a puppy going through a mangle, and the results are just as funny. It's the epitome of a one-joke idea, and yet they run with it for the full feature-length. Nae gid.

Crimson Tide (1995)

Well, okay. By midnight we had got tired of bad movies, and decided to try out one of the many incredibly brilliant films on Netflix. When we scrolled past Crimson Tide, I piped up, since I saw wee clips of it a couple of years ago and I'd been wanting to see the full thing ever since. It has Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman in it, and it's a Cold War thriller about the battle for leadership aboard (within?) a nuclear submarine.

We found ourselves sitting on the edges of our seats for half the film. It's sweaty, cramped and fantastically intense, with the responsibility for a nuclear war between the USA and Russia as the stake. When a broken message comes through to the sub that could either be ordering the immediate launch of nuclear missiles or the retraction of them. The sharply logical and cautionary Hunter (Denzel) presumes the latter, and refuses to allow his impulsive superior Captain Ramsey's orders to fire. As the crew decide who to trust, things get more claustrophobic, more intense and even sweatier. It's concerning, suggesting that the fate of millions of people could rest on whether one person blindly makes the right decision, or blindly makes the wrong one. And it's hardly far from possible. As the opening title card chillingly reminds us:

"The three most powerful men in the world:
The President of the United States of America
The President of the Russian Republic
And the captain of a United States ballistic missile submarine."

Luckily, all the uncertainty and fear of the Cold War is over now. Well, is it? As Tony Scott shows us here, as long as there are short-sighted warmongers, the possibility for disaster is always on the doorstep, and god knows we don't have a shortage of them in the world. Just thank your lucky stars that bin Laden's finally been taken out for good.

Follow me on Twitter: @crunro

Sunday, 2 February 2014

A Week of Coen

As those who know me well know well, I have quite a large soft spot for the Minnesotan film makers the Coen brothers. The dark, idiosyncratic humour the brothers share just appeals to me, and in their more serious turns their sharp focus on deeply complex characters is compelling. Anyway, a week or so I decided to watch my DVD of Raising Arizona, their second feature, for no other reason than I'd never watched it before and I suddenly had time. As it turned out, this was the first of three Coen films I'd end up watching that week, with The Big Lebowski and Inside Llewyn Davis, their newest, following not long after.

Raising Arizona (1987)

As the brothers' second feature, the fast-paced comedy Raising Arizona is a fun opportunity to try and catch the beginnings of the many hallmarks that appear in their films. The Coens are more devoted to a certain number of hallmarks than your average directors, as if they have a few lucky charms they can rely on to make the film a success. These include the actors John Goodman, John Turturro and Frances MacDormand (Joel Coen's wife), as well as their use of quirky characters, southern accents, recorded music and long speeches (such as the one that opens The Big Lebowski, or the ones that end No Country For Old Men and Fargo). Raising Arizona ticks five of these boxes.

Nicolas Cage, the man who does mental like nobody else, stars as Hi McDunnough, a small-time criminal who, after being caught and released many times, falls in love with Ed, the police photographer who takes his mugshot after every arrest. They end up getting married and, after discovering Ed is unable to have kids and being turned down at every adoption agency in town, Hi manages to steal a baby from a local unpainted furniture magnate. It's never going to end well, and it doesn't. As wacko after wacko enters their lives, Hi and Ed struggle to keep the child in their undeserved possession. It's a yarn with such ridiculous imagination it's difficult to not get swept away with it. When it comes round to one of the strangest chases in cinema history, it's clear that the Coens must have had a whale of a time creating it.

And it is the Coens' film. In a well-known anecdote, Cage said he would constantly suggest new ideas for the character of Hi or for the movie, only for them to be smashed down by Joel or Ethan. They have a very clear idea of what the movie's going to look like, and you can't blame them for not wanting interference when the story's this complicated and winding. It's the sort of thing I wish I could write, the cinematic equivalent of taking a line for a walk. You just come up with the original premise, then run with any ideas that come into your head, no matter how ridiculous they get, until you reach a satisfying conclusion. It's something they do incredibly well, and it's just as much fun to watch as it would be to write.

The Big Lebowski (1998)

I know, I have written a full post about this one before, but the fact remains that every time I come back to it, which is not as often as I'd like, I'll stumble across something new or notice something I hadn't before which reveals a little more about the supremely unique plot of The Big Lebowski. I came back to it this week for the saddest of reasons: the shocking and untimely death of the great Philip Seymour Hoffman, who plays The Big Jeffrey Lebowski's assistant Brandt in the movie. The best tribute to the man's huge talent I could think of was to watch and enjoy his performance in this, one of my very favourite movies.

Like Raising Arizona but better, The Big Lebowski takes an even more trivial thing, namely an intruder relieving himself over the rug of a man called The Dude, and uses it as a catalyst to set in motion a Rube Goldberg machine of unconventional madness. There is a spark that lights in the opening scenes and continues until the closing credits roll. The imagination of it is startling, and I'd be hard pressed to think of a film I've ever enjoyed more. Anyway, if you want to read more about what I think of The Big Lebowski, check out the post I wrote a few months back. There, that's saved some time.

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

This was the third time I tried to see this film. The first Saturday, my friend Michael couldn't find the time to come with me. A week later, my friend Chris came along as well. We first checked the Vue, but the times were too late. We then checked the Filmhouse, but the ideal times I found turned out to be for two week's time. We visited the Cameo, but they had sold out, and the Odeon weren't showing it at all. So, we ran across Edinburgh to the Dominion cinema at Morningside, where they told us that the film reel of Llewyn Davis hadn't arrived on time, so they had to push back the showing of it another week. At this point, we had run out of cinemas, so we retired to a pizza place and tried again on Monday, when two more friends, Lewis and Connor, came along to see the film at the Cameo again, where they let us in because we'd ordered the tickets. I was glad I did, because the Cameo has incredibly comfortable seating.

And, of course, Inside Llewyn Davis did not disappoint. The film opens with Oscar Isaac's pitch-perfect Davis performing to a packed bar in Greenwich Village, New York. As with every other song in the movie, the Coens just let it run for the entire length, allowing the cinema audience to become the crowd listening. The soundtrack is the movie, the movie is the soundtrack. Every tune is given the directors', and the audience's, full attention, and there is no other music that isn't performed in front of the camera. It may just prove to be one of my favourite soundtracks of all, in fact. Michael went home and bought the album immediately.

As vital as the music is to the story of folk musicians and the fickle world of the music industry, the tale of Llewyn Davis remains compelling independently. It's a melancholy picture, emphasised by the dark-green, brown and wet cinematography of Bruno Delbonnin, following the singer's journey around the Eastern United States over the course of a week. As the people around him win recording contracts and fame, Davis refuses to comply to the advice of others when they suggest he finds someone to perform with. He sleeps on the couches of people he is barely friends with, he is temperamental and blunt, and yet your heart breaks when a record producer responds to his soulful and pained performance with, 'I don't see any money here'.

Success is a reward which is seldom earned without compromise. As Davis walks around the wintry city, guitar case in one hand and symbolic cat in the other, he sees compromise as an insult to his former singing partner, who jumped off the George Washington Bridge. He doesn't enjoy the folk singing life, he sees it as the only career choice he can make that stops him from the horror of merely 'existing'. His problem is, the music world doesn't like him either, and so he is destined to keep moving between friends' apartments forever. Like a rolling stone. He will only ever achieve if he lets go of his old life, but perhaps he's missing all these opportunities on purpose, punishing himself and constantly reminding himself of how useless he is alone now his only partner is gone forever.

It really is an incredible and beautiful film. Make a point of going to see it if you haven't yet. It serves as another reminder of the genius and skill of the Coen brothers, and I can't wait to see what comes next from the two filmmakers who never seem to come down from the top of their game.

Please, Mr Kennedy, follow me on Twitter: @crunro

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

American Hustle (2013)

Hello again, tiny but loyal readership. It's been a good few months since I last put anything on Rewatchableness, and this is my written apology to all four of you. When I started this little blog o'mine back in December 2012, I said I'd make an effort to write about every single film I saw from then on. Bollocks. I'm surprised I kept that promise for the ten months I did, to be honest, but eventually I just found myself in the pitiable state of just not being arsed. It could have been permanent, had a couple of people not brought up the blog and made me feel guilty about abandoning the poor thing.

Anyway, a bunch of things have happened since I did abandon it. The night before I published my last post before the hiatus (which was about The Raid), my friend Connor, who has been mentioned a few times on here, put a link to this website on Reddit. In the 24 hours that followed, I went from roughly 6 or 7 views a day to over 2000. The people working the blogger server must done a double take. Inevitably, though, not many people looked at anything other than the first post they were confronted with, and the next day the viewer count plummeted back down to 20. It might have been that gentle nudge to the face reminding me of how mediocre the blog was that discouraged me from writing on it for a while, but I'm not sure. I'm happy with the casualness of it.

It certainly wasn't that I just didn't see any films. Quite the opposite. For example, I've seen both Filth and Sunshine On Leith, and I probably could have enjoyed writing something comparing their very different views of my home town of Edinburgh (the closeness of the setting meant that in one sweeping shot at the start of Sunshine On Leith, I could clearly see the cinema that I was sitting in at the time, quite an odd sensation). I saw Hitchcock's seminal 1960s horror The Birds for the first time on Halloween night. I saw Gravity twice, with one of those times being in IMAX, and massively enjoyed it both times. I saw the Danish drama The Hunt, which is outstanding and everyone should see, and the touching, shocking and desperately needed Palestinian documentary Five Broken Cameras, both over Netflix. And while I was over in Sweden seeing Swedish Charlotta for New Year, I went to see Steve McQueen's jaw-dropping slavery film 12 Years A Slave and Peter Jackson's passable Middle Earth 3D romp The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

I can't say I didn't appreciate the freedom of watching these films without having to make the effort to write about them afterwards, but I've come to realise that I actually enjoy writing just as much as I love watching movies, and I wasn't such an idiot 14 months ago when I decided to merge these two passions to produce a hideous, mutated and confused baby blog. So that's why I've grabbed the iPad with both hands and thrown myself back into it.

But the top of the post says American Hustle. That's the last film I saw, last Saturday, and that's the film I'm going to use to defibrillate this thing. My good friend Paul had texted me earlier on in the week, asking if I wanted to go and see Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street that weekend with him and Michael, another friend. However, this plan went to mush after we realised it was an 18, and while I could possibly have got in using Paul's passport (as I did with Filth), baby-faced Michael wasn't going to find a way in in a hurry. So we plumped for American Hustle which, it was announced last week, has tied with Gravity for the most 2014 Oscar nominations. Sounded like a fair swap, I thought, and I went in the cinema knowing next to nothing about the story or anything else.

The first thing that slaps you in the face about American Hustle is Christian Bale. Director David O'Russell has clearly heard the old Hollywood adage that if you want to hook your audience from the very start, get your main star to put on 43 pounds in weight, shave his head for a hideous combover, slouch until he gets a herniated disc in his back, then open with him topless. It works. With an image more than reminiscent of Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder, Bale's repugnant Irving Rosenfeld walks into a scene right from the middle of the storyline, that shows us exactly what we're dealing with: we have three people: Bale, Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper. Wee bit of a love triangle going on between them. They're attempting to capture a politician (Jeremy Renner with a quiff) taking a bribe on film, but the politician takes it badly and walks out.

Naturally, once Irving takes us back to the start and shows us how he got to that point, things prove to be a bit more complicated. The whole story of conmen conning and conning some more, then being conned themselves and being offered retribution through helping to stage another massive con is entertaining, and the great script makes it power along. It's enjoyable to see such a terrific cast loving every line they're reciting.

It's just a shame that as the cons get more and more numerous and intricate, it's incredibly easy to slip away for a second and end up not having a clue what's going on. Both Michael and the aforementioned Connor said that they thought the acting was brilliant, but they didn't like the movie because everything had just become gibberish by the end. And when I tried to explain it to Michael during the credits, I realised I hardly had a grip on what was happening either.

American Hustle is a film that begs for a second viewing for all the wrong reasons: you're so confused at the end that you feel you have to go back and find out where you lost it. That isn't to say I didn't just like the feeling of it. Even if I was lost, the performances, the soundtrack and the intentionally tacky, kitsch style of it made it good fun to watch, and I wouldn't be sad if I ended up revisiting it. It's certainly never boring to watch.

There, I'm done.

Follow me on Twitter: @crunro