Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Films, Films, Films

So enough about the unemployment you’re all saying. Tell us about all the films this free time has enabled you to watch. Okay folks, I will.

In addition to going to the cinema more often I’ve been renting some films on DVD. So here’s a weekly round up.

Shattered Glass. Based on the true story of New Republic journalist Stephen Glass this is quite a compelling watch. A simple story well told. Hayden Christensen plays Glass, a young journalist desperate to impress his peers and his bosses with his fantastic pieces. So desperate that he begins to make things up.

Peter Sarsgaard is excellent as Chuck Lane, his editor, and there’s good support from Chole Sevigny, Melanie Lynskey, Hank Azaria and Steve Zahn.

Conversations With Other Women. Shot in split-screen, this features Aaron Eckhart and Helena Bonham-Carter sharing an evening at a wedding. It feels a lot more like a play than a film.

The split-screen aspect seems to lend weight to the film that it doesn’t really have and it’s only the strong performances of the two leads that carry it through.

The Queen. I never got round to seeing this in the cinema, but seeing as it’s a Stephen Frears film I always knew that it was going to be solid. Helen Mirren is never less than believable as the Monarch, but for me Michael Sheen is the stand-out as Tony Blair. He’s played him before of course in The Deal the drama Frears and The Queen’s scriptwriter Peter Morgan made for TV.

It’s another simple story made compelling in the telling, with The Queen reluctant to make much of a fuss about the death of Princess Diana. While Blair’s popularity among the British public grows in comparison. “You will experience this as well,” she later tells the Prime Minister.

Outfoxed. This is a documentary that looks at Rupert Murdoch and his Fox News company. ‘Fair and Balanced’ goes their slogan, but this documentary shows that they are anything but.

It focuses a lot on Bill O’Reilly, a man so contemptible, the more you look at him, the sicker you physically feel. He’s one of those talk shows hosts who is happy to listen to their guests so long as they agree 100% with him and his politics. Unlike radio talk show hosts who can cut their callers off, O’Reilly frequently resorts to shouting “Shut up!” and asking his technical people to “Cut his mic.”

One notable encounter features Jeremy M. Glick, the son of a man who died at the World Trade Center. O’Reilly had him on his show as he couldn’t believe that he would have the audacity to sign an anti-war petition despite being the son of a man murdered by terrorists.

Glick gives as good as he gets from O’Reilly, who grows increasingly irritated by Glick’s refusal to back down.

Outfoxed had a number of volunteers who watched Fox News round the clock and noted down various anomalies and curiosities about their coverage. Pro-Bush stories masquerading as news items, so called left-wing liberal correspondents backing down in debates with much tougher right wing presenters. However all the volunteers on Outfoxed were already politically aware and all of them had either strong-left wing sensibilities or were already aware of how much Fox skewers the news it presents. I would have found it more interesting had the people taking part been unaware of how Fox spins its news coverage.

Spiderman 3. I really didn’t like this. I was always a big Spiderman fan as a kid and although the films can’t play to all the strengths that made Spiderman popular as a comic book hero it didn’t hit enough of them to make this a success in my eyes.

For instance I don’t remember the comics having lengthy portions where Peter Parker greets over his girlfriend. I think he may have done it once or twice, but usually The Vulture or The Sandman or someone got in the way. In the film his mask routinely keeps coming off. I know you don’t want to keep the star of the film hidden under a mask all the time, but it’s Spiderman for chrissakes. And how come practically everyone knows his identity?

I also had problems with the black suit. Not because it turns Spidey into a darker character, but because it just seems to turn him into an obnoxious dick. The sub-Saturday Night Fever section I found excruciating.

As for the villains. Too many of them and none of them really given enough room to manoeuvre. There were some good bits in the film, mainly with the Sandman, but on the whole this was such a disappointment that it had me looking forward to the new Fantastic Four film.

The Pixies Live at the Paradise in Boston. This is a concert film of The Pixies playing a 200 capacity venue in their hometown last year. The band seems quite relaxed and chatty with the audience as they play through faves like Nimrod’s Son, Monkey Gone to Heaven, Debaser and Gigantic. The DVD also features a 12-song set from a Boston show in October 1986, filmed on a shaky camcorder and transferred from a bad quality video tape.

9/11 Press for Truth. This is a documentary that centres on the Jersey Girls, a group of women who all lost husbands or sons in the World Trade Center. They fight to have established what the Bush administration really knew about terrorists threats before 9/11 and what they did and did not do on the day to prevent them happening.

The film also features Paul Thompson, author of The Complete 9/11 Timeline, who discovered that a lot of articles containing some stunning facts about the terrorist threats to the US were being buried away inside newspapers and online.

It’s an interesting film, that leaves you in no doubt that at the very least those at the top in the US don’t really give a fuck what the general public thinks.

A Scanner Darkly. Another one I missed at the cinema. Phillip K. Dick’s novel, filmed then animated by Richard Linklater. Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder, Woody Harrelson and Robert Downey Jr. all put in first rate performances. Yes, even Keanu, I think the animation format enhances his turn. Although obviously a drug fuelled story it flows very well and the pieces all fit together nicely. And what’s more it made me remember how much I love Winona Ryder.

Mutual Appreciation. I really can’t emphasise enough how much this film is about nothing. I’m a fan of the Brooklyn band Bishop Allen and when I discovered that the two guys in the band are also both actors and read a bit about the films they were in I thought, ‘I’ll look out for them if they’re ever released here.’

Well, Mutual Appreciation was one of those films. On limited release here it features Justin Rice as Alan, a singer who comes to New York, looking to put a band together to play his songs. His band’s songs are actually Bishop Allen’s songs and probably the best bit in the film for me was a nervy live performance of ‘Quarter to Three’.

I really enjoyed this film, but it’s not something I would recommend to people, because very little happens in it. It’s very naturalistic and in one scene where Alan arrives late and drunk at a party that’s wound down I couldn’t help feeling I’d been to exactly the same party.

There’s a little love triangle forming with Alan, his best friend and his best friend’s girl, but it’s so understated it barely gets going, doing to the blushing and fumbling of its participants.

If you imagine Woody Allen as a 25 year old singer/songwriter playing in a band called The Bumblebees you’re not far off Mutual Appreciation.

Special. Michael Rapaport is in pretty much every single scene as a man who discovers that medical tests have given him super-powers and as such he sets out to fight crime. But have they really given him super-powers and is that man really his doctor and are there really ‘suits’ on his trail? To be honest even by the end I’m not quite sure. Was the whole thing a metaphor for something else? Again I’m not really sure.

It’s quite an enjoyable film however. Even if it did seem a little bit baffling and it becomes much darker than it initially appears to be. Rapaport is always good in just the right role and he’s excellent here as a man whose desire to fight crime and have superpowers far outweighs his need to cling on to his sanity.


Graeme said...

Only vaguely on topic, but I got into The Wire. Holy fuck is that show good.

Tom said...

You're damn right there G.