Wednesday 31 August 2011

100 days, 100 films; Day 75 - Ocean's Eleven

#26 - Ocean's Eleven

As soon as I mentioned to my brother that this film was on my list he turned his nose up and said I couldn’t have a remake on it. I guess everyone does have a biased attitude towards remakes considering that a lot of the time they are unnecessary and sometimes downright pointless (Psycho, The Fog, King Kong). But not all remakes are awful since you can’t generalise them all like that. I mean if the original film was awful or average then maybe the remake would be a lot better (Freaky Friday, The Parent Trap, Carrie). Now I’m not saying the original version of this was awful since I haven’t seen it (and have no desire to) but I saw this and I enjoyed it, and I’m not going to hate on it just because it’s a remake. Questions? Comments? Nope, let’s roll...

Danny Ocean is just released from prison after four years (according to him, after his wife left him he went on a “self-destructive” streak) and on his first day out he contacts an old friend Rusty Ryan. He has a proposition for him – in two weeks on the night of a much hyped boxing match he plans to rob three Las Vegas casinos at once. This seems like a near-impossible feat to achieve and finding a financier but they strike gold with former casino owner Reuben Tishkoff who happens to have something against the owner of all three casinos Terry Benedict. Reuben helps bring together a team of seven more geniuses, each needed for a special purpose to help in robbing the $8 million stored in the big vault. But, just before they are about to pull off the heist, Rusty spies a familiar woman acting very cosy with Benedict. It of course is none other than Danny’s ex-wife Tess.

Now let me just say that this film is not intended to be anything other than good popcorn fun. There’s nothing wrong with that of course and the film is really just an excuse to get an all-star cast together and have fun, which was the point of the original too – get the Rat Pack together on screen. George Clooney plays Danny and Julia Roberts plays Tess. These two have really shocking chemistry together. In a film that’s just meant to be there to have big movie stars together, you don’t really expect a relationship to seem natural but theirs does, and the two bounce lines of each other so well. Their scenes together are unusually well-written and like I said, the two of them fit together really well to make Danny/Tess a pairing that the audience actually wants to root for. Brad Pitt plays Rusty and has almost equal chemistry with George so that the fun comes from listening to Danny and Rusty’s witty conversations. Plus I like his hairstyle. Matt Damon plays Linus Caldwell, a sort of actor type they bring in to do impersonation jobs. Normally Matt plays guys who are more in-control of their situations but it’s good to see him playing a bit of a bumbler. Friends fans may recognise Elliot “Jack Gellar” Gould as Reuben though he doesn’t have that big of a role. There’s also a nice fun scene near the start where Rusty is teaching TV stars to play poker and we have cameos from Joshua Jackson (Dawson’s Creek), Topher Grace (That 70s Show), Barry Watson (7th Heaven), Shane West (Once & Again) and Holly Marie Combs (Charmed). They are all truly awful at poker.

I want to get the negativity out of the way now so I’m going to completely bash the guy playing Basher, Don Cheadle to be specific. I’ve never liked him as an actor and the only film he’s been bearable in is Hotel Rwanda. He isn’t even credited in this film so I feel that is probably a judging of how annoying he was in the film. It seems he was fresh out of the Dick Van Dyke School for God-Awful English Accents because what comes out of his mouth can only be described as a fail of epic proportions. I seriously can’t believe the director actually made him use this accent and kept it in the final film. Apparently Ewan McGregor was up for the role and sorry Don but he would have been a much better choice. There’s also a weird scene where Linus sees Tess coming down the stairs and says “this is the best part of my day” as though he’s about to have an orgasm. Julia Roberts is alright looking but she is not a sex goddess so having the other characters act as though she’s Venus De Milo personified just comes across as a little self-indulgent. If she had been wearing something sexy then maybe it would be justified but no she descends the staircase in a modest and unflattering business suit, though she does look much nicer at the end of the film. I’m not going to go into detail on the amount of plot holes in here because this film isn’t meant to be taken that seriously and they can’t go having a realistic casino heist on film can they? Why that would give the children bad ideas.
The entire heist sequence is just so much fun to watch as you see it all come together in its entirety. It might be stretching the truth more than a little but I still enjoyed watching it, especially with how they eventually get into the vault. I nearly burst out laughing when Brad Pitt appeared on screen in a pair of glasses and an obvious wig, pretending to be a doctor. The scene where Linus has to fool Benedict is hilarious when he gets into a staged argument with Frank, their inside man in the casino and he pretends to play the angry black man (“they might as well call it white-jack”). 
The dinner scene between Danny, Tess and Benedict is pretty fun to watch especially for that “oh crap” expression Tess has on her face when she sees Danny for the first time. It’s chock full of witty dialogue and great on screen presence, reminding me almost of that James/Vesper scene from Casino Royale that I love heaping praise upon. There’s also a beautiful shot near the end of the film after they’ve pulled off the heist (whoops, spoiled it for you) where the ten (minus Danny) are grouped around the fountains and it goes into a slow-motion shot of each person reacting to what they’ve just pulled off. We get a lot of good shots of the lights and scenery of Las Vegas as well, for those who like that sort of thing.

I think I know why I liked this film so much as a kid (I was only nine when it came out so give me a break) and that’s probably because one of my favourite board games was “Break The Safe” and I remember thinking that Ocean’s Eleven was actually a movie made of that. And what kid has never played at least one heist game with their friends? Anyway, going back to the remake argument that I started in the introduction, this does go to show that not all remakes are bad. Dawn of the Dead was a good remake as well and there are numerous other good ones out there, probably hiding since positivity doesn’t make for entertaining criticism. This has been one of the more successful and widely praised remakes and it shows that, when there’s effort and thought put into a remake then it can do just fine, as it the case with any film really. It does help if you don’t become a film snob and turn your nose up at a remake purely because it’s a remake. I mean every film deserves a chance, right? Well that’s it for my campaign speech in favour of the remakes so follow me on Twitter and join me again tomorrow. Bobby out!

Tuesday 30 August 2011

100 days, 100 films; Day 74 - The Magnificent Seven

#27 - The Magnificent Seven

Anyone who thinks I don’t watch enough of the classics of old Hollywood is hopefully satisfied (or will be by the time this challenge is over). The Westerns were *the* films back in the day, as my father loves to tell me. They were distinctly American with all the struggles the characters go through, epic gun fights, (occasionally) beautiful women, classic conflict between good vs evil (white hats vs black hats to be specific) and heroes earning their happy endings. This film in particular is less of the classic Western (shiny and heroic) and more of a revisionist Western (edgy and gritty) where the message is “civilisation can only be defended from barbarians by men with guns, but the moment you pick up a gun you become a barbarian”. Nonetheless this film is most definitely a classic.

We visit a small poor village in the Mexican wilderness. It is a farming village and is often raided by a group of bandits led by the devilish Calvera. They steal food and leave the villagers just enough to survive but promise to return again. Three of the village leaders decide to travel to a small town just inside the American border in hopes of buying guns to defend themselves against Calvera’s next raid. There they meet a veteran gun fighter Chris who suggests that they hire men to fight for them, reasoning that would be cheaper than buying ammunition. After some persuasion, Chris agrees to recruit the men for them and ends up gathering six other men and leading them to the village. Even with seven gun fighters they know it will not be enough to stand against Calvera so their main hope is that his army will move on to another village when he hears he has a fight in store for him. Even still, they set up defences around the village and train the farmers to use weapons just in case...

I have seen a couple of Westerns in my time but I never watched them regularly (I’ve never even seen many John Wayne films, or Clint Eastwood films for that matter) so I’m not too sure about the typical formulas or clich├ęs. I know there’s gun fighting and horse riding, and the traditional cowboy hats but that’s about it. So watching this film was a learning experience for me and I didn’t really know what to expect. I found out after I watched it that it was originally an American remake of an Asian story Seven Samurai so I don’t know if it stands out against the other Westerns when all I’ve got to go on is The Searchers and the first twenty minutes of Unforgiven. But watching it back I can see how these types of films were extremely popular back in the old days. I’m sure if I’d been a kid back then it would have been a proper experience for me to go and see these films regularly or at least they’d be the type of thing I’d get up on a Saturday morning to watch (I know I’m mixing up timelines here but I’m a writer, we’re allowed to do that). It supposedly wasn’t that well received when it was released but what did critics really know back then? I suppose they were hoping for some blatant Oscar Bait or something but we’re getting off track.

Let’s have a good look at the seven themselves; it is nice that they all get a good bit of screen time and some form of characterisation. We know not all of them are going to make it to the end of the film but it isn’t as obvious and there isn’t really any definite lambs for slaughter already marked as they are in so many of these modern action films (I don’t hate everything new but that’s a big problem with a lot of films, not just the action genre). Chris of course is our reluctant leader, played pretty well by Yul Brynner and his Bald of Awesome. I was wondering if we were going to get an actual reason in the film for why Chris was bald (scalped by Indians maybe?) but anyway he is our resident badass and he brings something different to the table that the likes of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood wouldn’t have been able to do in my opinion. He’s a lot more subtle and withdrawn in his performance, giving his character a bit of a mysterious edge. Up alongside him we have Vin, played by Steve McQueen. I liked Vin who was the veteran out of all of them and admits how much he doesn’t really like the lifestyle he’s chosen for himself. My favourite character is the young hothead Chico (Horst Buchholz) who just commands every scene he’s in and makes it enjoyable, except maybe for one random moment where he spies a bull and pretends to be a matador. 
There’s also Charles Bronson playing Bernardo, the heart of the group who becomes popular with the village children (in a cute, non-creepy way). Brad Dexter plays Harry, the one who’s in it for the money and is convinced that there is some form of hidden fortune in the village and that by default makes him the most likely to say “screw this, I’m outta here”. Robert Vaughn plays Lee, someone who’s haunted by all the men he’s killed and has some pretty bad nightmares though is always doing battle wearing his Sunday best for some reason. Finally there’s James Coburn as Britt, the guy who gets the least amount of screen time maybe because in the majority of his scenes, he’s asleep or pretending to be. It is fairly obvious he won’t make it to the end of the film come to think of it.

As technically a Western-virgin I enjoyed my first proper cowboy shoot-out scenes as the final raid on the village is pretty exciting. I can just imagine my six-year-old self being glued to the TV watching this and then recreating it at school with my friends. That particular scene has been described as dripping with so much testosterone that your girlfriend risks getting pregnant just by looking at it. There are also a couple of nice drama scenes for those in it for more than just a reason to chug popcorn. One of them comes when we have most of our guys on screen together and Chico is talking about how much he’s enjoying this kind of lifestyle. Chris and Vin then go into detail about exactly how hard living this life is:

Vin: “After a matter of time you can begin to call bartenders and farrow dealers by their first name, maybe two hundred of them. Rented rooms you live in, five hundred. Meals you’ve eaten hash out of, a thousand. Home, none. Wife and kids, none. Prospects, zero”

Then there’s another great scene where Calvera is driving the seven out of town and Vin and Chris have a small conversation where Chris says he was once told by a friend that “you can’t afford to care” in this kind of lifestyle, and then Vin says that is the same problem he has. It’s traditional Hollywood but man is it done with style.

And so I did find room on my list for a Western and a pretty high spot for it at that. It is a shame the genre died out along with the swashbuckling pirate movies, but I think we could eventually get a comeback one day. We’d need a lot of Genre Reconstruction but I think it could work. I did want to see the remake of True Grit and that film was pretty successful and well received so, who knows, maybe we’ll get a second coming of the Westerns. Cowboys and Aliens might be a good follow-on to it. Anything to finally kill of this dead horse trend of superhero films is welcome to me. Well until next time fellas, we will ride again tomorrow and don’t forget to follow me on Twitter.  

Monday 29 August 2011

100 days, 100 films; Day 73 - The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe

#28 - The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe

Well now you knew that if Prince Caspian made it to my list then of course I was going to include this as well. The Chronicles of Narnia was a pretty big part of my childhood. I actually had an animated film version of the book and that was what I saw first, before I even knew there was a book. I didn’t find that out until it was chosen to be the book used for my school’s “Book Week” which involved different people from each year acting out a part from the story, watching a truly god-awful BBC television production of it and dressing up our library to look like the forest with the lamppost. We even had an actress brought in to dress up like the White Witch, though it was someone I knew so I wasn’t as scared as some of the other people in my class. When I was about fourteen I was almost rolling my eyes at hearing about another adaptation of this book but of course I went to see it anyway. And let’s take a look at how that turned out.

It is London during the second World War and naturally it’s not a safe place for the four Pevensie children – Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy – so they are evacuated to the countryside to stay with the eccentric Professor Kirke. He lives in quite a big house though the children are warned by the imperious housekeeper Mrs Macready to not make any noise or disturbances. One day while playing hide and seek, Lucy finds an empty room with an antique wardrobe and promptly finds herself in a completely different world called Narnia – a magical land full of all sorts of creatures, but currently under the rule of Jadis the White Witch who has created a winter that lasts forever. When Lucy returns through the wardrobe, the others don’t believe her and the wardrobe seems normal to them. But then one day, when hiding from Mrs Macready, all four of them find themselves in Narnia and are informed that a prophecy was made that four human children would save the people of Narnia from Jadis and end her 100-year winter. Only problem is...Jadis has already lured Edmund into her clutches...

I want to talk straight away about the four young actors. I held back a little when reviewing Prince Caspian so I’d have something more to talk about for this film, so here we go: Georgie Henley is fantastic in this film. When I first saw the previews, I didn’t like her as Lucy. To me, Lucy was always going to be the much taller sweet girl with long blonde pigtails and Georgie looked nothing like her. But when I saw the film, Georgie was Lucy. That’s all that can be said about her – she was Lucy through and through. She had that natural charm that made her own the role. For me, nobody else could ever play Lucy from now on. She does so well with the other actors and the special effects to make you think she’d been doing it her whole life when this was only one of her early films. Skandar Keynes has a bigger role in this than he does in Prince Caspian and I found his Edmund to be a lot more compelling than he was in the books. To me anyway, Edmund was just an asshole who eventually learned his lesson. Here however he had a lot more depth, and was a bit more relatable with all the tensions between him and Peter. William Moseley was equally as impressive as the oldest brother, definitely far better than the guy playing him in the BBC version (nothing against the guy personally, he was just way too young and his voice annoyed me). Anna Popplewell does a fine job as Susan, who equally gets a bit more characterisation than she does in the book. Here she tries to be the voice of logic, always trying to sound smart but she eventually learns to be practical and actually starts helping out. I feel that all four children got plenty of development and screen time.

Now for the older actors because of course they were just as important as the children. Tilda Swinton does a different spin on Jadis than the other two adaptations did with her. This is the only version where Jadis isn’t established as the villain straight away but rather lures Edmund in by being sweet and affectionate. Then when she does transform into the tyrant, it’s all the more shocking. She plays a more subtle and menacing witch than other actresses before her. James McAvoy is wonderful as Mr Tumnus and his Orange Rising Star Award was well deserved. He and Georgie Henley have so much on-screen chemistry I’d have loved to see more scenes between them. Now we have the voice actors – I nearly burst out laughing in the cinema (though I thankfully restrained myself) when Ray Winstone’s voice came out of Mr Beaver’s mouth. He and Dawn French were hilarious and entertaining together and I couldn’t think of a better pairing for the two beavers. I was surprised with the small roles of Michael Madsen and Rupert Everett as the wolf and fox respectively since I didn’t expect I’d recognise their voices but they were good in their small parts. I nearly laughed again when I heard Liam Neeson’s voice coming out of Aslan but by the end of the scene, he had me sold as the heroic lion we all know and love. 

I pretty much love everything about the visuals for this film. Typically they picked New Zealand for the locations though they did manage to shoot in other places as well (the frozen waterfall scene was supposedly shot in five different locations altogether). If Lord of the Rings didn’t convince people that New Zealand is so pretty then this film certainly did. In contrast with how Narnia was in Prince Caspian, here it is a much brighter and more vibrant place to wow us. Even when it is winter there, it’s still a pretty impressive place. A nice technique was done with Lucy’s first scene in the wood – Georgie Henley was brought onto the set blindfolded so her reactions to the wood are genuine. She also hadn’t seen James McAvoy in his costume before either. The set of Aslan’s camp as well as the castle of Cair Paravel are some of my favourite sets in the film. I also love the gothic design of Jadis’s castle. I know I don’t usually mention costumes since I don’t know what to say about clothes other than “nice” or “bad” but I like the way Jadis’s dress was designed. As the filmmakers said, it acts as a sort of mood thermometer to reflect Jadis’s attitude in each scene she’s in. For example we see a lot of grey and tatty furs on her when the winter starts to fade from Narnia. Isis Mussenden (the designer) deserves quite a few pats on the back but I’m sure the award nominations were a fine substitute.

The big battle scene is fantastic and although not as epic as the one in Prince Caspian, it’s still very visually impressive. Just the sight of all these different fantasy creatures duking it out on the battlefield is made of awesome, especially that bit with the phoenix. I really enjoyed the swordfight between Peter and Jadis, especially since this is the first adaptation where the witch actually gets to fight in the battle instead of just using her wand from a distance. Big props go to Skandar Keynes for how he acts when Jadis stabs him. It’s a pretty big job for such a young actor but he pulls it off flawlessly. For a more light-hearted scene, Mr Tumnus and Lucy meeting in the woods is just nice to watch. I especially like all the little dialogue bits added in, expanding on what the book wrote such as neither of them knowing why people shake hands as well as Lucy’s line “I’m not a dwarf, I’m a girl. And actually, I’m tallest in my class”. But my all-time favourite scene in the film has got to be the coronation in Cair Paravel. The design, music, costumes and effects are all stunning and the expression Lucy has on her face when she is pronounced Queen Lucy the Valiant is so cute.

So there you have it. Forget Harry Potter and while I did enjoy that franchise and grew up with it, Narnia came first and it always had a more special place in my heart. After all, when I watched that animated film as a kid I used to recreate the big battle with all my action figures, though I used a bear to sub in for Aslan. While Prince Caspian may have been a great film, this is both a great film and a great adaptation of the children’s classic. I even showed it to my dad and he enjoyed it, which isn’t something I’d have expected. He did say about all the similarities to Lord of the Rings but as I said before, Tolkien and Lewis were best friends weren’t they? Oh and he said Lucy was his favourite character. Well that’s all I have time for today, my fellow Narniacs. Take care and don’t forget to follow me on Twitter.

Sunday 28 August 2011

100 days, 100 films; Day 72 - Red Eye

#29 - Red Eye

Ah, you didn’t think I was done with Wes Craven just yet did you? I feel almost as though I’m betraying my inner horror film junkie by ranking this above his horror films but I have decided to be impartial and recognise that a non-horror Wes Craven film can be just as awesome. What we have here is a very real story and plot that could happen to anyone at any point in their life. It borrows from Wes’s horror films by inserting the fear element in there but instead using realistic human fears and drama to create tension. Oh and did I mention the whole thing takes place on a plane (nope, no snakes however)?

Lisa Reisert is a prompt and businesslike young woman who works in a hotel and is used to being a people pleaser 24/7. This night in particular she is on her way back to Miami after her grandmother’s funeral and she’s taking the red-eye flight. She meets a nice guy Jackson Ripner at the airport and hits it off with him straight away. Imagine her surprise (and delight) when she finds out he’s in the seat next to her. However the delight soon turns more than a little sour when she finds out he is a terrorist operator who has been investigating her for quite some time. On that day, a prominent senator Charles Keefe will be checking into Lisa’s hotel and she is the only one with the authority to change his room at the last minute, in order to make it easier for Jackson’s people to assassinate him. Jackson blackmails Lisa even further by dumping her father’s wallet in front of her and informing her that he has a hitman stationed outside her house, ready to kill her father should she not co-operate.

This is almost the odd film out from what you’d normally expect from Wes Craven but as I said in the introduction, it does carry over a few themes and techniques from his horror films. The main point is isolation – Lisa is alone in the world where she is, trapped on the plane and right beside the most dangerous person she’s ever met. She knows that she can’t get help from any of the flight crew or the other passengers or else her father will be killed. It is interesting to watch her dilemma present itself and see what she’ll do to try and help herself such as the two times she tries to leave secret messages to other people on the flight. It is almost a game of cat-and-mouse though with the predator and prey sitting next to each other most of the time. One thing I do love about plane movies is that you always get to see a large range of characters and how they interact with the main character. I did like the way the other passengers played small parts in Lisa’s story, especially when they don’t know what’s wrong with her.

Our lead is Rachel McAdams as Lisa and she gives the performance of her career here. It ain’t Oscar Bait or anything like that but it’s a pretty damn impressive notch on her resume. Right away from her first scene I liked Lisa with how she was so efficient and on the ball with everything – a proper woman in power. But of course there wouldn’t be a movie with a main character made of stone. Part of the fun (for lack of a better word) is to watch this strong career woman suffer and be tested. We see her become helpless and forced into a situation where she can’t use her efficiency or her people-pleasing skills to get out of. But then again we know her as a strong woman so we of course get to see her take back control and become that new strong character in a different way. Her co-star Cillian Murphy is fantastic as Jackson. Donning a perfect American accent, he draws a lot from the same places as Ellen Page in Hard Candy, Stanley Tucci in The Lovely Bones and John Jarratt in Wolf Creek. We see him straight away and we like him. I actually went into this film not knowing anything about the plot when I first saw it and it came as quite a jolt to me when he turned around and became the villain. All his eye expressions are so creepy too, making him one of the more sinister Wes Craven villains. I think even Freddy Kruger might be a little unnerved by Jackson. 
Another performance I enjoyed was Jayma Mays as Cynthia. She is the complete opposite of Lisa – nervous, bumbling and practically terrified of everything. She brings some nice comic relief to the table, but does it subtly without spoiling the mood. We also have a small role from Brian Cox as Lisa’s father. The actress playing the little girl Rebecca was also quite good, doing well with her small part in the film.

I think one of the most telling scenes happens when Lisa escapes to the restroom on the plane for a few minutes. Before that, when we see her in front of Jackson, she does try to keep herself together as she doesn’t want to seem weak to him but once she’s alone she completely breaks for a moment before she starts thinking. The scenes in the airport after the plane lands are pretty exciting, with a full on cat and mouse game going on. It’s great how we build up all the suspense on the plane, with the story going at a fairly slow place and then when we get to the airport things just kick straight into gear and you’re off at a fast pace. I can’t really describe these scenes any more without spoiling the movie for you so I’ll just leave it at that for now. You’ll understand once you’ve seen the film. Though I will say Cynthia is positively hilarious with her one line after the big scene “Lux Atlantic Resort, how can I help you?”

So my final Wes Craven film on the list and a step outside of his normal films. I’m aware horror isn’t the only genre he does but that’s really what he’s known best for. He clearly does thriller extremely well if this film is anything to go by. You have a sleek stylised study in characters and environments and all that jazz. One big credit this flick has going for it is that it doesn’t waste a second of its running time. There is no padding, no filler and nothing at all to stretch it out for 90 minutes. It doesn’t feel rushed either and it’s one of the rare films that feels absolutely complete once you’ve finished it. And would you believe that this was one of the in-flight movies when I was going over to America one time? How about that, eh? Oh right, follow me on Twitter and all that.

Saturday 27 August 2011

100 days, 100 films; Day 71 - The Wrestler

#30 - The Wrestler

Come on, if you’ve been paying attention to my other entries about random wrestling garbage then you clearly saw this coming. When this came out I actually wasn’t into wrestling much anymore. I’d watched it when I was a kid but had slowly lost interest in it around the age of fourteen. But back in 2009 was when I got back into it and learned all about the business so in a way I knew a little of what to expect going into this. Brought to you by Darren Aronovsky, the genius behind Black Swan, believe it or not they were originally thought up as one complete movie where a wrestler falls in love with a ballerina. I am trying to imagine how that would have turned out and I’m thinking the end result would be somewhere along the lines of the Italian horror film Suspiria. Well back on topic, let’s get ready to rumble.

The titular wrestler is a man called Randy “The Ram” Robinson, though of course that’s not his real name. He was a big wrestling star back in the 80s, just around the time of the pro-wrestling boom though he wasn’t one of the many who ended up in Vince McMahon’s WWF. These days he’s now in his forties/fifties and still wrestling, while working a side job in a supermarket. One night, after a particularly brutal hardcore rules match that involves barbed wire, a broken mirror and a staple gun of all things, he suffers a heart attack. The doctors tell him that at his age he has to start taking it easy. Now, when you get thrown around for a living that is definitely a problem. He is forced to retire from wrestling and he struggles to get his life back together, trying to get something going with a stripper called Cassidy (real name Pam) and trying to patch up his relationship with his estranged daughter Stephanie. 

If you have ever seen Black Swan then you will notice a lot of similarities between these two films in that they both feature a performer who tries very hard to be the best at what they do. In contrast with Nina, Randy is now old and fading fast, trying to hold onto his glory days despite his failing health because he knows nothing else and doesn’t know how to be anything else. We see how he hates being called by his birth name and how embarrassed he gets when he’s recognised working at a deli counter. It does show the hardships of the life of a professional wrestler, such as constant injuries, bad health, low pay and little to no real functioning relationships with family members. The only people we really see Randy interact with are his fellow wrestlers, Cassidy and the kids who live in his trailer park. Of course that’s not saying all wrestlers turn out this way, just like not all ballerinas end up like Nina from Black Swan, but this just shows how one man can go off the deep end and find himself past his prime with no real life left. One scene that’s pretty telling is when he’s playing an old 80s game with a kid and the kid is bored with it, wanting to go and play his new games. This shows how Randy refuses to move on and clings to what he knows, hoping to retain his glory days.

If I had seen this in the cinema, I probably would have stood up and applauded after watching Mickey Rourke’s performance. I don’t care what other films he’s been in because this will always be his best role. When I watch this film I don’t see him as Mickey Rourke, he is Randy and he becomes that character. His performance is so amazing to watch as he goes through all the hardships, trying so hard to make things work and ultimately screwing everything up for himself. He deserved every award he was nominated for and I am pissed he didn’t get the Oscar. But as a certain Cracked article points out, when you’re up against someone doing a gay role then you don’t stand a chance of winning at all. Marisa Tomei was nice to watch though I was surprised she got an Oscar nod. I enjoyed her performance but it didn’t seem to be what the Oscar people would normally look for. I guess her character almost belonged in a different movie, what with being an aging stripper with a kid who isn’t really sure of what to do in life. 
Now the woman I think deserved a Best Supporting Actress nomination is Evan Rachel Wood. I can’t believe she only got one nomination for her role here because she is brilliant in her short amount of screen time. The scenes between her and Randy are among the best acted in the film. She brings so much to the table as a young woman who has always been disappointed by her father. And yes, she was meant to be a lesbian, it was a little obvious. We also have some cameos from various professional wrestlers. I don’t watch the indies that much so there aren’t that many I do know but I did recognise Jay Lethal and R-Truth (this was before all the “Little Jimmy” nonsense of course).

I have to say that I was very impressed with the wrestling scenes. Mickey Rourke was trained for about eight weeks and he held his own there in the ring pretty well. I mean, he does his chain work far better than I do right now as my trainers will tell you. Obviously the matches weren’t as long as they would have been in real life but they were all still very nicely put together. I especially loved the climactic wrestling scene where we got to see the two men calling their spots and all that, sort of showing us what a match is like from the wrestlers’ perspectives. The hardcore rules match is especially graphic to watch, especially for someone who’s now so used to WWE’s PG atmosphere. I mean, you don’t see people getting stuck with staple guns in WWE now do you?
 I said above about the scenes between Randy and Stephanie (interesting choice of names, don’t you think?) and they are truly some of the most tear-jerking moments in the film. The part on the boardwalk where he apologises to her and the bit that comes after it where the two of them dance in the abandoned ballroom will definitely make the manliest of men a little misty-eyed. I also enjoyed the little scene between Randy and Cassidy/Pam in the bar where an old song comes on and he tries to get her to dance with him (no, I do not get misty-eyed at every single dance scene in a film).

So today we saw my two big obsessions – films and wrestling – come together. Even if you’re not a wrestling fan then you probably will find this film worth watching and enjoyable, just like you don’t need to be a ballet watcher to enjoy Black Swan. I can officially say I’m a big fan of Darren Aronovsky and I can’t wait to see where he goes next in the film business. Maybe a film about a filmmaker? If he goes that route I probably will be queuing outside the cinema on opening day. I’m also happy that Mickey Rourke got a lot of recognition for his acting career and although it is a shame that he lost out at the Oscars, he did clean out in the BAFTAs at least. There’s not much else I can say about the film except it’s a great insight into the world of pro-wrestling and a must-watch for any wrestling fan. Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter.

Friday 26 August 2011

Week In Review For Women's Wrestling #10

Well after the eventful week we had last time, this week had a lot to follow up to. We know the feud between Kelly and Beth is still going on but Natalya and Eve both seem to be becoming prominent players in it. We also have our Divas' Champion appearing on Smackdown again this week as well as the final Impact before Mickie and Winter's rematch.

Raw - Eve vs Bella Twin:
I'm honestly not sure which twin Eve was facing. Cole said she'd be facing Brie and the announcer said it was Nikki. I think this is the first time in living memory that one of the twins wore street clothes. Of course we knew Eve would be going over here, but why isn't she using her new theme music? I liked it. Not really that much to say about the match, except it was fine. Not awful and not excellent either. Whichever twin it was did a good spot at the ropes but then quickly slipped back into her typical routine. Broaden your moveset, girls. We have seen Nikki do that in the past as a heel on NXT and they were good last week as well but an arm wringer in a 3 minute match isn't going to cut it all the time. The work was fine and of course Eve wrestling is always a treat for me. It's too bad the Bellas are the only other girls on Raw now or else we could have had Eve vs Melina for something fresh. We got some promo from the DOD but next week we will need to get a big step up. They've teased the tag match for long enough and we need to see these girls get physical to really sell this feud. 5/10

NXT - Maxine vs AJ:
I honestly wasn't expecting to get this match so soon but I was pretty happy with it. Last time she was on NXT Maxine did look a bit shaky with her moves. Her wrestling doesn't seem to have broadened much but what she did, she did well and she looked like she knew what she was doing. She was great at playing off the crowd and dominating, even if she didn't do a whole lot of wrestling. Obviously that kind of stuff gets boring if you do it too often (*cough* Maryse) but of course Maxine won't be a regular wrestler. I'm glad AJ finally got a good length of time to wrestle and she looked good in the ring, loving her crossbody and pretty much everything else. They had a decent match when they were both NXT rookies but this was far better and I enjoyed it. I'm happy that Maxine is on TV now since she has a great character and I'm sure we'll see good things from her. I'm hoping for a mixed tag match next week with Titus & AJ against Derrick and Maxine. 7/10

Impact - Velvet Sky, ODB & Jacqueline vs Sarita, Rosita & Angelina Love:
I might be nit-picking just a little but I thought Velvet was a little too smiley walking down the ramp with Jackie and ODB behind her. I would have liked her to look a bit wary, like she wasn't sure whether or not to trust them but we did eventually see some of that in the actual match. This was a pretty good one and told a good story between all six Knockouts, with the tension between Rosita and Angelina as well as the deal with Velvet and Jackie. I read someone saying about the Sarita/Velvet action which I agree with - Velvet was moving a bit too slow. These two did well enough in the past but putting Velvet with someone as quick on her feet as Sarita isn't a good idea. She worked fine with Rosita and Angelina though and I was really happy to see the Rosita/ODB interaction. We did get to see a lot of mini-matches in here that we either haven't seen yet or else haven't seen in a long time. I do like this new direction Jackie and ODB are going in anyway and I'm looking forward to seeing what happens next. They seem to be faces now but maybe they'll turn on each other? Maybe they'll get their contracts and go back heel? Who knows? 7/10

Smackdown - Kelly Kelly vs Tamina:
It is good to see a fresh match and it is also good that Kelly is appearing regularly on both shows like LayCool did. Her title reign is being handled relatively well. I do have a lot of criticisms for the match itself though. Firstly one big problem that always seems to happen with Tamina is her timing. She does her moves well but she's too slow. The match felt like it was going in slow motion in places with Kelly having to slow down while Tamina seemed to be deciding what to do next. The headscissors botch was nasty looking and I think it was more Tamina's fault this time around - she looked like maybe she was meant to land normally but changed tack and hit the ropes instead. She did work through it though and I would like to see the girls get some more time to improve on this. Aside from the botch, everything else was fine to me anyway. Obviously Alicia is off TV because she's selling the beatdown she got from Natalya though it wasn't that devastating so hopefully she's back next week. 4/10

So not as good as last week but with Night of Champions approaching us and a definite feud blossoming we do have stuff to look forward to with our divas. Will we finally get the much hyped tag match? What will Alicia do to get revenge on Natalya? We also have a title match to look forward to on Impact.

Bobby Between The Ropes - Entry #1

Well there’s always that one thing everyone has deep down inside them that they would secretly love to do. That small passion we all have that is the plot of so many random day dreams. You know how many people go ahead and give their passion a go? Hardly any. As humans we’re pretty much programmed to fear the unknown so of course most of the time we’re too afraid to give it a chance and see what it’s really like. Is it fear of humiliation? Most likely. Fear that it won’t be as great as you hoped it would be? Sure, why not. But I’ll give you this advice – shoulda, woulda, coulda people have nothing but disappointment. For me, that passion is wrestling. As any of my friends will tell you, I am a man obsessed with it. I have to be up at 9AM sharp on a Tuesday morning but I still watch Raw at 2AM every Monday night and PPVs whenever they roll around. I even watch dozens of matches and segments on Youtube every day. When I got back into wrestling, I started seeing it differently from when I had watched it as a kid. I started to appreciate the moves and the storytelling a whole lot more and picking out different styles and wrestlers that I liked. But for some reason just watching matches and talking about it to all the charming (sense the sarcasm) people you find in forums wasn’t enough. And luckily for me, there happened to be a wrestling school about half an hour away from where I lived.

It pretty much took me forever to actually get to my first day. I tried three weeks in a row to find the place but I had to e-mail them and ask for specifics, and they didn’t even have their name above the door (they had it up by the time I got there for week 2). But I did get there and the first day went as all first days generally do for me – I dread everything and I’m nearly killing myself with mini heart attacks and all my nerves. I was completely terrified when I walked through the door and I felt like a little kid who’s stumbled into a crowd of hardcore teenagers. Thankfully I was able to get out of the spotlight and just sign a form in an empty changing room. A couple of the guys were friendly enough but as I always do, I had my guard up. I mean, these guys did throw each other around for fun. There were two other guys on their first day as well so that felt a little better, and I was older than both of them. I feel a bit guilty for saying this now but it was a relief that one of them was slightly shakier than me. The big warm up was first and I was nervous about screwing up here and after a few unique exercises I was sitting on the toilet trying to keep my breakfast down. It stayed down and I got back up and finished the warm up. As far as I know, none of the guys had any clue.

The green guys got split up while the more experienced guys did in-ring stuff. We got to do stuff like bumping and chain wrestling. I see in a lot of interviews that wrestlers say bumping is always the hardest part of training but that was the easy part for me. It takes the breath right out of you but it was pretty fun since it was on crash mats. The chain stuff you take for granted when you watch it on TV but that was just the hardest part for me. I was pretty pathetic trying to get a hold of the sequences and I’m sure I pissed off the guy I was working with (who was considerably younger than me). I even had trouble locking up and I could really sense the two guys teaching me losing their patience (sorry, Sam). Then we got down to doing actual moves. We just waited in a line and two at a time would go doing a different move. We did clotheslines first and went around twice for them. Mine were alright but of course most of the other guys outdid me. I got to learn how to do a spinebuster, which I never thought would happen what with my lack of any upper body strength. Taking the spinebuster was pretty fun and it actually cleared up my back problems. The arm drag was probably what I was best at and it was a pretty fun move to do. I nailed the flying crossbody if I do say so myself, though the trainers would probably say otherwise...

I got thrown in the deep end again when it was time for a break. I just remember sitting rigidly on the floor in the changing rooms, nodding and glancing around as the other guys talked. I’ll admit I was proper intimidated by some of them but thankfully I was pretty much ignored, except when I actually spoke. The trainer Phil was a pretty interesting person to meet. Usually the different people I talk to about wrestling are kids and people my age but it was so cool to meet an adult who knew the business and had proper experience. He was very approachable and good to talk to. I can’t wait until I’m trained properly and I get to work with him. When they were having the matches at the end of the day, I started picking out the ones I thought were “must see” who had “it”. A couple of weeks later I found out that the two I thought were best had only been there for about three months. I guess there’s hope for me yet.

Thursday 25 August 2011

100 Days, 100 Films; Day 70 - 28 Days Later

#31 - 28 Days Later

Bet you didn't expect another zombie apocalypse film to make my list, let alone come only two days after I reviewed the other one. I'm not saying zombie apocalypse films don't belong on a 100 greatest films list but a lot of the time there isn't a lot of diversity between them. The two I've picked both seem to stick out from all the others that I've seen but in my opinion, 28 Days Later did the fresh spin stuff a bit better than Dawn of the Dead did. Dawn of the Dead went ahead and did something called Reconstruction of the zombie apocalypse, making the traditional formula work in a new modern way. 28 Days Later on the other hand was more of a Deconstruction of the genre, uniquely directed by the dynamic and decorated director Danny Boyle. Let's take a look at how this unfolds...

Everything starts with some scientists experimenting on chimps (illegally of course) and infecting them with rage. A group of activists who unwisely don't look before they leap break into the facility intending to free the poor creatures....needless to say things take a turn for the really quite bad. We fast forward twenty eight days to a young man Jim waking up in an abandoned hospital. He finds the streets of London completely deserted and some kind of crisis has happened. It turns out the rage virus spread and turned the nice normal people of the country into raving bloodthirsty zombies (they don't use the Z-word and they're not actually undead but they are zombies for all intents and purposes). Lucky for Jim he meets up with hardened survivor Selena and they soon meet up with the kindly man Frank and his daughter Hannah who have heard a radio broadcast from a group of soldiers in Manchester, claiming to have "the answer to infection". They take off in a taxi-cab hoping to salvage something from the situation, braving the infected along the way.

I mentioned earlier about the Deconstruction so now I'll explain exactly what it does. A deconstruction is meant to play the formula straight but showing why it wouldn't work and putting it in a realistic light. First of all the infection is a virus, making the outbreak similar to a normal epidemic - giving us a realistic explanation for the apocalypse. The infected aren't actually dead of course which makes them the closest thing to real life zombies. Really, if we think about it, the infected don't pose that much of a threat. They are dangerous if there's more of them and you can't defend yourself but if you're behind a metal gate, in a high rise apartment block or in a mansion surrounded by land mines, of course they can't get you. It's great to me that the infected turn out to not be the real antagonists of the story and the second half of the film is dealing with how our survivors can escape from the despairing soldiers. It also helps having Selena seemingly know exactly what kind of film she's in ("do you want to find a cure and save the world or just fall in love and fuck(!)") which is all about post-modernism.

I know I don't usually go into detail about themes and that but I will show you my inner film psychiatrist and talk about a pretty big one I noticed when watching this film back this time. The characters are in an "after the end" or "during the end" scenario  and they struggle to deal with it. One way in which they try to deal with it is by giving themselves goals. Creating goals for themselves gives them something to work towards and keeps them from facing complete hopelessness in the future. Jim, Hannah, Frank and Selena decide to go and find the soldiers after hearing the broadcast because it gives them a journey and a destination. We see that the four of them are at their happiest when they're travelling because they have a goal in sight and something to accomplish. We then see how they react when they actually reach their goal because they don't know what to do. Similarly the soldiers have no goals and veer into despair which is why Major West sets the broadcast, to give them a sense that they're working towards some kind of future. I won't spoil exactly how dark this turns out but I will warn you to be prepared...

In our cast list we have fine Irish actor Cillian Murphy as Jim, in one of the few roles where he's been able to use his natural Irish accent. He does seem to play villains an awful lot (and I personally didn't like him much in The Wind That Shakes The Barley) so it's a nice change to see him playing someone so helpless. Jim is pretty much the baby of the group at the start since he wakes up right in the middle of the crisis, and he has to grow up pretty fast or else he won't survive. He's definitely a twist from the typical He-Man action hero we usually get in a zombie apocalypse film, especially when the Alpha-Male figure gets killed off about ten minutes in. Naomie Harris is similarly without the Jamaican accent that people might know her better for and is equally compelling as Selena. According to her and Danny Boyle, the two of them came up with a backstory for Selena where she apparently had to kill her whole family in one afternoon in order to explain her character's cynical attitude. She's so good at it that it is a bit of a shock when the character smiles for the first time. Brendan Gleeson who seems to be in everything plays Frank and adopts a funny cockney accent, doing quite well as the Team Dad of the group. I liked the daughter Hannah but the actress's voice was a bit annoying. You could definitely tell she was trying to do an accent. And finally we have Christopher Eccleston once again as Major Henry West. I enjoyed him in this and his character was written quite interesting as well, despite the circumstances. The guy playing Jones and his frilly pink apron was entertaining as well.

I know I often split up the different sets of scenes so of course that's what I'm gonna do and start with the horror scenes. The one that made it to the 100 Greatest Scary Moments had good reason and it comes when the group gets a flat tyre in a tunnel and have to change it. Unfortunately a large group of rats hurry across as they're running from the infected. It's an incredibly tense scene and I feel incredibly sorry for the young actress who had to have rats crawling all over her face. Jim's final rampage on the mansion is pretty gripping and tense as well and the soldiers do get some of the more brutal death scenes. Finally on that end of the spectrum we have Jim and Selena's chase up the stairs of the apartment block to get into Frank and Hannah's house, while running from the infected of course. The softer scenes give us a nice little bonding moment right after the rats scene where they stop at an abandoned supermarket and stock up on supplies. It's the first time we Selena actually happy, laughing and joking with Hannah and it creates a nice family dynamic between the four. There's also a nice bit where the four of them see a group of horses running through the countryside, survivors waiting for life to begin again similar to the eagle from Final Fantasy. And of course "that was longer than a heartbeat", can't leave that out.

Believe it or not, there were actually about six different endings made for this film. I've seen and read about all of them and I do feel that the one we got in the final cut was the best choice. I'm not one for putting dark and angsty endings in there just to be cool and edgy and the ending we got did fit in with the film's tone. Danny Boyle remains one of my favourite directors and I like how he put his own spin on a zombie film and helped make it so much more than that, much like Zack Snyder did with Dawn of the Dead. It has a nice indie feel to it, helped by the great cinematography and sticks out as one of the better modern horror films though of course only the best make my list. I don't know what else there is to say about it but you're free to steal my thoughts and find more to say about it. And I'm only just realising I could have put this down as number 28 on my list. While I'm kicking myself in the head for missing that, you lot can follow me on Twitter.

Wednesday 24 August 2011

100 Days, 100 Films; Day 69 - V For Vendetta

#32 - V For Vendetta

Remember, remember the 5th of November, the gunpowder treason and plot. I know of no reason why the gunpowder treason should ever be forgot...
People should not be afraid of their governments, governments should be afraid of their people...
Yes I'm aware I broke some unspoken rule and opened today's entry with two quotes but they were both from this film. It seems as though I'm getting into a bit of a habit of watching and reviewing films made from comic books/graphic novels that I've never even read but then again I've never read the books of Jaws, Psycho or even all of Lord of the Rings so do with that what you will. Today's film is once again close to my British roots and in some cases it's kind of an anti British-film, going against the normal traditions you usually see with them. Shall we begin then?

It is about ten or so years into the future, around 2022 but I'm not sure. The world is very different as apparently the United States is now the world's biggest leper colony and England is under rule from a savage dictator called Chancellor Adam Sutler (John Hurt). He rules with an iron fist, enforcing curfews, censoring free speech and offing anyone deemed "undesirable" including political activists, homosexuals, Jews, Muslims and that sort of crowd. On the night the film begins we follow a young lady Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman) who runs afoul of the secret police but is saved by a mysterious man in a Guy Fawkes mask, calling himself V (Hugo Weaving). He promptly blows up the Old Bailey (while playing Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture) and announces to the country that in one year's time on the 5th of November he plans to blow up the Houses of Parliament in an attempt to reform society. Because Evey is seen publicly with him, she is now a fugitive by default and V takes her to his underground sanctuary, telling her she must stay there for an entire year until he blows up Parliament. Evey of course is none too happy about this but meanwhile outside V's message is having quite the effect on the British public.

What we have here is a pretty dramatic and exciting thriller that has similarities to the likes of "1984" and "Fahrenheit 451" (except it doesn't have a number in the title) in that it deals with government oppression and the public reacting to it. Strangely when watching it back, I had no idea it was so long until I checked the running time and found it was over two hours. When watching it back I didn't pay attention to the time at all which is quite a feat considering with a lot of films I tend to lose interest whenever my food runs out. This film definitely keeps you on the edge of your seat in a good way and has a very interesting plot that draws you in and keeps you guessing. I'll admit I didn't quite get it all when I first watched it but after watching it a few more times (and getting a lot of help from the FAQ section of its IMDb page) I understand it easily now. Obviously the film does take a lot from real-life historical dictators like Hitler and Mussolini, particularly with the Larkhill Detention Centre where all the "undesirables" were sent to be experimented on as well as all the propaganda the media uses such as covering up V blowing up the Old Bailey as an "emergency demolition" (though even the public aren't silly enough to swallow that). Then there's a lot of more modern stuff relating to fears of this kind of government today, like the black bagging and fear mongering. 

I felt guilty not saying something good about Hugo Weaving in The Matrix but thankfully I can say nothing but good things about him in this. He never appears properly on screen without some kind of mask on but he is brilliantly dynamic as V, the literal human form of an idea. He gives himself a unique and fascinating voice that's almost theatrical but fitting with the character. V is a fan of Shakespeare and has a thing for classic films so it makes sense for him to be a little dramatic and over-the-top in his mannerisms. I never thought of Hugo Weaving as that much of a badass but here he plays one and steals the show doing it. I do read a lot of criticisms about Natalie Portman and her English accent in this but, speaking as someone who's very critical of accents (*cough* James Marsters) I didn't find anything wrong with it. It would be a bit too posh for someone modern but there are of course still some proper toffs among us today (I used to be one in fact but got rid of it through sheer will power and a handful of cockney friends). In fact I prefer her with that voice and I wish she could be English all the time. As for her performance, she works well with Hugo Weaving and they have some nice chemistry together. Evey is definitely one of Nattie's more complex roles and I have to give the girl props for still looking sexy with a bald head. Stephen Rea does a great Northern English accent as Detective Finch and is on form as always, being actually a bit witty in some scenes. John Hurt is fantastic as Chancellor Sutler and is a little unnerving as a modern combination of Hitler, Mussolini and Big Brother so that you want to see him stopped. Stephen Fry is brilliant as always and his big scene is pretty lol-worthy. The likes of Sinead Cusack, Natasha Wightman, Tim Piggot-Smith and Rupert Graves have smaller roles but are pretty memorable and make for a pleasing ensemble cast.

There are a good few memorable scenes in this and one of the coolest things I have ever seen is the massive domino display of the V logo that gets knocked over to make for a visually impressive shot. Apparently it was all done with real dominoes, and no CGI at all (not that I don't like CGI, it's just nice to see real things like that used in filmmaking). The blowing up of the Old Bailey is a great display as well, especially with the music and the fireworks. I like how it draws in a few minor characters that appear later on in the film, it ties in with Finch's whole "everything is connected" speech later on. The final scene is probably the film's way of saying the first scene set a standard but now we're going to double that and wow you even more. And that they did, especially with that epic shot of the thousands of people unmasking. 
For dramatic scenes, Valerie's letter is one of the most heartening and saddening scenes I've ever watched. Evey finds a letter written by a lesbian woman who recalls her whole life and how she became a successful actress and had a lovely relationship but how it all changed when Sutler came to power and she was captured. That shot of Valerie sitting motionless on her couch as the secret police burst into her house and surround her is pretty harrowing. The music doesn't help. The scenes with Evey in prison are all quite powerful as we see her character evolve from a naiive everyday girl into a woman who's not afraid anymore. There is a big scene that I hate watching and I wish I could edit the film so it isn't in there but it sadly has a very big impact on the plot and you really have to watch it. It involves slow-motion shots of V slicing up a group of the secret police and large red splotches of blood flying up into the air. It looks hokey and tacky and it just doesn't belong. I know we're all sick of ramping where the footage slows down and then speeds up but here I think it would have actually helped. Nonetheless even that one scene isn't enough to bring the film down with me. Just take it in a stride and enjoy the rest of the film.

Naturally there are obviously a lot of political anarchists who are fans of this film but I am neither political nor an anarchist (I guarantee you I wouldn't be able to tell you who's in the government right now) so that should show you that you don't have to be one to enjoy this film, if you're afraid of "crossing the line" so to speak. Obviously it wasn't that well received but neither was Fight Club and that has now gotten a whole lot of recognition as the years rolled by. This film wasn't actually as controversial as that but I do see it getting a lot more recognition and it does have some note as a cult film right now. As one reviewer put it, the film "works as a political thriller, adventure and social commentary and it deserves to be seen by audiences who would otherwise avoid any combination of the three". I guess I wouldn't see any of the three so that statement has some merit. Remember remember the works of Bobby, I know of no reason why they should ever be...well you get the rest. Oh and the whole following me on Twitter thing, there's that as well. Take care folks.