Grizzly Man (2005)

Timothy Treadwell

‘Grizzly Man’ is engaging and insightful, but Timothy Treadwell was just a neurotic pursuing a self-serving endeavour.

This well-crafted, insightful documentary reveals a damaged, narcissistic and complacent man who found solace in the wilds of Alaska. Contrary to what I anticipated, ‘Grizzly Man’ is first and foremost a character study; the man is discussed far more than the beasts he surrounded himself with. From the onset, I was surprised by Timothy Treadwell’s eccentric demeanour; I was even more surprised by how quixotic and naive he was. Treadwell had been both an alcoholic and drug user prior to his Alaskan adventures, and it seemed as if he was still hitting the bottle during his rambling, gushing monologues about his love for the animals and the immense passion he had for his mission of ‘protecting the bears’.

The main problem with Treadwell was that his objective was irrelevant and aimless; the bears weren’t really under any threat. Indeed, an interviewee spoke about bear culls, an activity which I admittedly didn’t see any purpose in, but these culls didn’t affect the stability of the population. Overall, Treadwell’s apparent love for bears was a self-serving endeavour; he was never going to improve the bears’ quality of life, but the bears certainly improved his.

The problem with the film is Timothy Treadwell, it’s hard to resonate with the man due to his foolishness and juvenile manner. Treadwell became increasingly conceited throughout his footage. His complacency reached its zenith in an almost comically ironic segment recorded hours before his death where he proudly stated how he had reached a point of untouchability with the bears; it summarises just how detached from reality he was. This is another of Werner Herzog’s accomplished documentaries, however it is Treadwell’s flawed, rather unlikeable personality that makes it one I won’t watch again.

78%

Gangster Squad (2013)

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A dull, rehashed disappointment

I had read many damning reviews of ‘Gangster Squad’, however I was ready to accept it as mere pulp fiction, and during the opening 40 minutes or so, it seemed like I would be able to, but by the closing credits, I discovered it wasn’t even good enough for that.

The film tells the story, which is ‘inspired by real events’, of a covert group of tough police officers who endeavour to stop Mickey Cohen’s criminal activity encroaching on Los Angeles. Strangely, the film boasts a popular cast with the likes of Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling, Josh Brolin and Nick Nolte.

It establishes its characters and premise pleasingly enough, but ultimately it fails to deliver through a lack of humour, narrative baggage, clichés and a slew of boring stock characters. The film draws parallels with the infinitely superior ‘LA Confidential’, however there are more similarities with ‘The Expendables’, only without the laughs and nostalgia.

When it attempts to create even a slight portion of pathos, it’s baggy and dull; the film is bereft of any emotional weight whatsoever. The film operated more like a video game than a film, with its silly elaborate action scenes and Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) feeling like the ‘boss’ villain rather than a human character. Actually, that comparison isn’t fair on the gaming industry; I have played and completed ‘Mafia II’, which has far more in the way of developed characters and narrative.

The film’s sole interest is period style; substance and veracity aren’t its top priorities. What occurs on screen is pure fantasy; the extent of its historical accuracy doesn’t go far beyond the fact that there was once indeed a man named ‘Mickey Cohen’ who wasn’t particularly nice.

The allure of 1940s Hollywood and its strong cast will bring ‘Gangster Squad’ to the attention of many people, however it is a formulaic, mediocre and superficial rehashing of films such as ‘Chinatown’ and ‘L.A. Confidential’.

50%

Easy Rider (1969)

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‘Easy Rider’ is more of an artifact than a film

‘Easy Rider’ is unquestionably important, it’s a seminal film. It was a large contributing factor to the birth of ‘New Hollywood’, an era of burgeoning talent and art that produced many of the greatest films ever made. Easy Rider is a transgressive, political film; few creations have been so lauded for capturing the zeitgeist.

However, to a modern audience, I feel it’s more of an artifact than a film. To be frank, I didn’t particularly enjoy it. I didn’t find it that interesting, it didn’t resonate with me that much. One connection it made with me was how it almost shattered that romanticised idea of riding the highways of America. Well, it didn’t shatter it, but it certainly shows the potential emptiness of the experience. However, I’d still love to drive around America, but I’d gladly ditch the spirituality for clean hotel rooms and nice corpulent plates of Americana. I’d also prefer a muscle car.

So, given its legacy, ‘Easy Rider’ is a hard film to judge. It would be ignorant of me to totally trash it, but I do think it’s overrated, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend it to casual viewers.

60%

The Guard (2012)

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A clichéd, dull and unfunny effort from the elder McDonagh brother.

Like many others would have done, I bought this film after seeing Martin McDonagh’s ‘In Bruges’, meaning that naturally I would be comparing the two throughout. Unfortunately for writer/director John McDonagh, Martin’s elder brother, ‘The Guard’ didn’t fare well. In fact, it lacks everything that made ‘In Bruges’ so excellent; it lacks the pathos, the taut script, the characters and crucially, it completely lacks the humour.

Leading the cast are Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle as two very clichéd stock characters. Gleeson is the foul-mouthed, maverick guard whilst Cheadle is the officious, straight-laced F.B.I agent – yes I know, how very boring. However, not only is this construct completely trite, it’s also very poorly executed. It follows the usual buddy cop formula unconvincingly, the lack of developments means you don’t believe in their relationship at all. The rest of the characters are also hollow, unremarkable and never even slightly funny.

I chuckled briefly only a few times, however they were contrived chuckles of desperation rather than genuine outbursts of laughter. I like dark, politically incorrect humour; however it’s all rather unsophisticated and adolescent here. This is in stark contrast with ‘In Bruges’, which continues to make me laugh on every viewing.

The script is messy, dull and consequently rather labourious to follow. The film sets up its premise, then a bunch of stuff happens, and then there is a bloody, almost slapstick denouement full of bad sound effects and comedic injuries which are just silly rather than funny.

Not only is this film massively inferior to ‘In Bruges’, it’s also a sorry instalment in the buddy-cop genre which, along with a slew of other turds, is rapidly stripping ’48-Hrs.’ and ‘Lethal Weapon’ of their originality.

45%

Django Unchained (2012)

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Tarantino delivers another provocative and hugely entertaining film.

I love the sense of occasion a Tarantino film has, he’s in the lucky position of being one of the most popular and controversial directors of the past twenty years. Some may find him self-indulgent, but the merits of his energetic, funny and flamboyant films are undeniable; it’s fantastic that he is able to make such edgy blockbusters.

‘Django’, which is effectively a ‘buddy film’, charts the relationship between German bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) and Django (Jamie Foxx), a slave Schultz rescues. Together they endeavour to save Django’s wife from the notorious ‘Candie Land’, a vast plantation owned by the ruthless Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).

The film has a great ensemble cast. Jamie Foxx makes the most of his character, who for the most part is a ‘man-with-no-name’ figure. He accomplishes Tarantino’s goal of ‘giving Black American males a Western hero’. DiCaprio successfully depicts Candie as a pompous pseudo-intellectual and at times a nasty piece of work, however the extent to which he brushes off barbed comments from Django surprised me, there were moments where I wondered if  he was menacing or authoritative enough.  Based on the great ‘Killer Joe’ (2012), I wondered how Matthew McConaughey would have performed the role, he could have steeped it in menace, but I doubt he could have achieved the risible ignorance of DiCaprio.

Christoph Waltz again showcases his talent here, but his character in ‘Inglorious Basterds’ gave him more scope to perform his ‘charming but deadly’ persona. Samuel L. Jackson completely transforms into the character of Stephen, who is Candie’s geriatric butler and the ultimate uncle tom. Jackson’s performance is my favourite, he’s both a tragic and very nasty figure. Tarantino himself appears in the later stages of the film with an Australian accent that ranges from being incoherent to not very Australian at all – thankfully it’s strictly a cameo.

There are laughs all the way through ‘Django’, a notable example being when slave owner ‘Big Daddy'(Don Johnson) attempts to explain to a slave how she should treat the newly liberated and somewhat respected Django – it completely ridicules the nonsensical, pernicious madness of racism.

I also found myself disregarding any form of moral compass and laughing heartily at the more cartoonish displays of violence. There is one particular scene that is a veritable bloodbath, seldom in the annals of celluloid has there been a moment more deserving of the term!

Some have criticised the film’s length, however I had little trouble with its 165 minute running time. There were indeed sections of the film, chiefly before and during the ‘Candie Land’ period, which could have been trimmed perhaps, however I was perfectly content.

The majority won’t be disappointed, the film has all the earmarks of a Tarantino film – he is the ultimate fan boy auteur. I can’t wait to see it again.

89%

Pulp Fiction (1994)

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Pulp Fiction is a film with few flaws particularly worth mentioning. Since its release in 1994, the film has become a modern classic. The film’s non-linear narrative leaps backwards and forwards in the characters’ shared experience, engaging you in such a way that you begin to run through your head the chronology of the characters’ stories, making sense of Tarantino and Avary’s complex script. This complexity makes Pulp Fiction easily re-watchable. I have seen it many times, and recently I was lucky enough to catch a screening at the Duke of York’s Picturehouse in Brighton, which was an experience that reminded me of how special this film is.

‘Pulp Fiction’ explores the following principal characters: Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield, a pair of loquacious hit men who appear to exist in a style vacuum; Butch Coolidge, an ageing but courageous prize fighter; Marsellus Wallace, a seemingly omnipotent mobster and Mia Wallace, the flirtatious wife of Mr. Wallace whom Vincent Vega is assigned to take out to dinner. The characters’ stories famously clash with each other, regularly to chaotic and hilarious effect. Tarantino is yet to return to this kind of form.

After ‘Jackie Brown’ in 1998, he spent time making the entertaining but comparably meagre ‘Kill Bill’ films, which were well orchestrated viscera, but ultimately below him. He then made ‘Death Proof’, which was an offensively bad, juvenile piece of work with a script of unprecedented annoyance. However, Tarantino made a comeback with ‘Inglourious Basterds’, which had a rather appealing premise and many memorable scenes. 2013 sees the launch of ‘Django Unchained’, which, with its ensemble cast and inevitable flair, is one of the most exciting films of the year.

‘Pulp Fiction’ has all the components of a classic, it has the scope and the quality. It is the favourite film of many people, achieving a popularity similar to other classic crime films like The Godfather and Goodfellas, films that are firmly considered as ‘required viewing’.

94%

Hard Candy (2005)

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The film’s tightly-wound tension is spoilt by another of Ellen Page’s irritating, arrogant performances and a variety of narrative issues and implausibilities

In every Ellen Page film I have seen, her character is an infuriatingly smug, precocious, androgynous pain in the arse, and ‘Hard Candy’ is no different. In fact, it’s worse, her painfully irritating screen presence is accentuated by her total dominance in the film, she’s even more unbearable than she was in the ironically titled ‘Super’. When I realised her performance was going in this familiar loathsome direction, I almost stopped watching it, but I found the strength to continue.

It started strongly, the first 20 minutes of ‘Hard Candy’ are genuinely creepy and unsettling, mostly because of the ambiguity of the situation. It’s also here that Ellen Page is actually very good, she’s natural and only adds to the tension, she can give likable performances after all. However, it swiftly descends into a stressful, frustrating ordeal of a film. My main problem with it was that throughout Hayley’s antagonisation of Jeff, he isn’t a confirmed paedophile or threat. Jeff is actually a character one can empathise with. He’s clearly morally dubious, he has crossed the line in his contact with Hayley, but he seems to realise this – ‘Look. I’ve been lonely, okay? And that makes me stupid, but I am not a paedophile.’ Is Jeff saying that as a way out? What were his intentions before things turned against him? I didn’t know, but his innocence seemed credible, which made the majority of the film seem to be unjustified, sadistic torture committed by an irrational, evil and maddeningly arrogant psychopath.

Another of the film’s problems is straightforward implausibility. 5ft 1 Ellen Page, who looks like she must weigh under 100lbs, somehow gets Patrick Wilson in all sorts of predicaments which are simply impossible. The film can just about convince us of her dexterity with rope, but not that she can support Wilson’s bodyweight to such a laughable extent. Though ‘Hard Candy’ is undeniably powerful and gripping, it is unfortunately spoilt by Ellen Page and narrative issues.

65%

Funny Games (1997)

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It’s condescending in its ill-judged commentary, but ‘Funny Games’ is an undeniably gripping and powerful film

‘Funny Games’ is one of the most provocative films I have ever seen, if not the most. Michael Haneke revisits themes of the media and desensitisation like he did in ‘Benny’s Video’, however this time Haneke is directly confronting his audience about the violence they supposedly watch with relish.

The antagonist of the film actually addresses the audience, asking ‘Don’t you want some plot development?’, ‘You’re on their side, aren’t you?’ He needlessly injects this nasty film with condescension and pretension, and none of it really works, Haneke only succeeds in appearing smug and self-righteous. Haneke has said that he makes the viewer an ‘accomplice’ of the murderers. No he doesn’t, not at all. Not once did I even begin to want to be an ‘accomplice’, the antagonists are some of the most wretched I’ve ever seen, it’s nonsense. During the evil mind games that the killers inflict on the family, I felt like them, a victim, not an ‘accomplice’. I, like any other viewer, was desperately hoping that the family could somehow escape their captors.

The ill-judged provocation climaxes in a scene where Haneke ‘manipulates’ the audience, making them ‘applaud’ violence; but applauding is a completely justified response to the scene, which, without giving anything away, concerns the maiming of a truly reprehensible character. If Haneke himself was in Anna and Georg’s situation, he’d be utterly liberated by what occurs; it is the film’s most self-righteous, hypocritical scene. It is obvious that violence can be used accordingly, it is sometimes a necessity, and this particular scene is the most appropriate use of violence imaginable.

The majority of the violence one witnesses in film and TV is far removed from reality, people are aware and afraid of the ugly, messy truth of violence, the films that ‘Funny Games’ tries to chastise serve only as harmless escapism. Haneke seems very pleased with this creation, but he shouldn’t be, this rather ambitious film falls flat, achieving in merely riling its audience, not holding a mirror to their faces.

Haneke seems to think he has the viewer in a vice-like grip, and he does, but certainly not in the way he thinks he does, which is ‘manipulating’ and exposing sick little voyeurs. Instead, he keeps the stranglehold on his audience through his skill of building excruciating tension to the point where the eventual violence, which is never gratuitous, is wholly more devastating.

It’s undeniably powerful, and the acting is unsettlingly excellent; it’s a thoroughly unpleasant, tortuous film. However, if you need reminding of the ugly reality of violence, there are many films out there that will deliver without the pretense.

65%

The Most Painful Scenes in Cinema History

Personally, I find the stubbing of a toe or stepping on Lego infinitely more wince inducing than a big, bloody shootout.  There were numerous other clips I considered, however I felt they were more appropriately placed on a ‘most violent’ list. So instead of the cinema’s most violent, I name cinema’s most painful. Defining what’s cringe worthy is quite a subjective matter, so see if you agree. (Warning: Contains spoilers)

#10  Pet Sematary (1989)

The familiarity of this scene is what makes it so toe curling. Bedrooms may be a place of rest, but unforgiving bed posts and bedside tables can wreak havoc on your knees, elbows, ankles and in this case, entire face. This brief yet utterly visceral moment is the only thing I can remember about ‘Pet Sematary’, and it’s actually much funnier than I remember.

#9 Midnight Express (1978)

This scene demonstrates that when the nape of the neck and a large metal coat hook collide, the coat hook wins. The thought of that tender area of your body being penetrated so violently sends an unpleasant sensation down my spine. This scene is especially shocking when seen in context, it completely catches you off guard.  The pain begins at 1:28.

#8 ‘Thanksgiving’ Grindhouse Trailer (2007)

I know, this isn’t a film, but this little homage achieved the hard task of making me absolutely gasp. Although the scene is of a blade colliding with genitalia, it is spared of violence and successfully relies on your imagination to contemplate the ghastly damage. The pain begins at 4:50.

#7 The Shining (1980)

Jack Nicholson’s ad-libbed ‘Here’s Johnny!’ is one of the most famous lines in the annals of cinema history, it’s also followed by one of cinema’s cringiest injuries.  The pain begins at 1:54.

#6 The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

The sight of Leatherface having a wrench thrown at his head by a fat man in a mustard coloured t-shirt is undeniably funny, but the viewer immediately recoils when he falls over and cuts a few inches of flesh out of his thigh. Having a whirring chainsaw lacerate your leg makes for a very risky shot, but given the tight budget and notoriously intense filming conditions, something tells me that director Tobe Hooper slipped Gunnar Hansen a few dollar bills to injure himself in the name of exploitation cinema. The infamous meat hook scene is also bitingly painful. The pain shortly after 1:25.

#5 Goodfellas (1990)

This is a scene so painful, so completely agonising, that it bypasses your intellect and actually physically hurts you more and more with each blow of the pistol butt. The opening scene to ‘Goodfellas’ is also very vicious, but I think this just about edges in front of it on the pain-o-meter.

#4 Un Chien Andalou (1929)

You wouldn’t have thought that a French film from 1929 would make it into the top 10, let alone come in at number 4. This looks so horribly, wince inducingly real because it is, only it was the eye of a dead horse. I remember showing this to my father and he reacted with total dismay – “Why have you shown me this?! Why do you watch things like this?! Why do they make things like this?!”

#3 American History X (1998)

Here is another scene that is blood free yet jarringly visceral. ‘Curb stomping’ really is an evil, barbaric thing to do to someone, I don’t think even Hitler deserved this.

#2 127 Hours (2010)

Everyone knows the story before they watch ‘127 Hours’, but that does nothing to soften the blow of the amputation scene that the audience has been anxiously awaiting for the past 80 minutes. It certainly didn’t soften the blow for one viewer at the screening I was in. Shortly after the amputation scene, I heard ‘Can someone phone an ambulance?’ emanate from the back of the auditorium, for a split second I attributed it to the surround sound, but knowing that clearly wasn’t the case, I quickly realised that someone had fainted. Once they had been taken out of the screening, the distinct smell of vomit began to pervade the room. I pitied them, but they certainly gave the film a sense of occasion!

#1 Misery (1990)

This scene is infamous and for good reason. Seldom have I empathised with a character as much as I did with the defenceless Paul Sheldon (James Caan), what a sorry, sorry predicament to find oneself in.  I’d love to see an audience’s reaction to this one.

Challenging film quizzes

If you fancy a challenge, try these two quizzes I made on Triviala.com. You don’t have to sign up to do it, but you do if you want to be on the scoreboard. To play, click either of the images.

Quiz #1 

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Quiz #2 

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