Tag: film

Film Inquiry: Our Favourite Film Couples

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The Film Inquiry team have been considering cinema’s greatest couples. I was planning on choosing a non-romantic couple for my contribution until I remembered the very special Enough Said. Directed by Nicole Holofcener, the film charts the romance between Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and Albert (James Gandolfini), two divorcees who are introduced to each other at a party. Their remarkably naturalistic performances are key to the film’s success.

To read more about Enough Said and see the other contributions, please visit: filminquiry.com/favorite-film-couples/

Film Inquiry: What Constitutes A Cult Film?

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Cult films are difficult to define, as they vary in scope, themes, genre and in just about every other way. Despite these ambiguities, it is demonstrable that the revered Roger Ebert once got the definition entirely wrong.

In his review of Avatar, Ebert described the film as an “event” that was “predestined to launch a cult.” Avatar was indeed an event, as the film had been the subject of a relentless $150 million promotional campaign that employed methods as commercial and corporate as McDonald’s Happy Meal toys. An otherwise emphatic Ebert acknowledged this caveat, describing it as a “dubious advance buzz,” but I think this manufactured buzz should immediately negate any arguments that it is a cult film. Any highly successful blockbuster film with a profile that’s been pumped up by Rupert Murdoch’s deep moneybags can rarely be called a “cult film,” as its reach and grasp are far too large.

To continue reading, please follow the link to Film Inquiry: filminquiry.com/what-constitutes-cult-film/

The Toxic Avenger (1984)

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Toxie having the obligatory post-intercourse cigarette with his blind girlfriend Sara.

 

The Toxic Avenger is an absurd piece of filmmaking with just enough laughs and quirks to make it bearable.

I have been informed that The Toxic Avenger is one of Troma’s better films, so it was perhaps not the most appropriate introduction to their notorious catalogue that contains titles such as Nazi Surfers Must Die and Class of Nuke ‘Em High.

I was expecting gratuitous nudity and violence, and I was presented with it, but one thing I didn’t expect was the pantomime acting. There’s an array of absurd caricatures, including Bozo (Gary Schneider) a psychotic, gym frequenting idiot who enjoys running children over with his friends Slug (Robert Prichard) and Julie (Cindy Manion). Whilst at the gym, they antagonise the janitor Melvin (Mark Torgl), a ridiculously dorky moron who spends much of his screen presence squirming and baring his comedy-looking teeth. I thought there would be a good old fashioned revenge film to be found in The Toxic Avenger, and there is to a certain extent, but the relentlessly silly acting broke any modicum of investment I may have had in the characters to the point where it became almost unwatchable.

Other characters include Mayor Belgoody (Pat Ryan Jr), the corpulent, corrupt mayor of ‘Tromaville’; the German police chief (David Weiss), who accidentally exposes his closeted Nazism by compulsively performing the Nazi salute and blurting out Fuhrer!, and Sara (Andree Maranda), the Toxic Avenger’s attractive, blind girlfriend whose condition is often the subject of juvenile jokes, the most frequent one being her stick inadvertently making contact with Toxie’s crotch.

I’m sure most are familiar with the premise – during a particularly humiliating session of bullying, Melvin the janitor falls out of a window and into a barrel of toxic waste, transforming him into a super strong and super righteous mutant – The Toxic Avenger.

Performed by Mitchell Cohen, the Toxic Avenger’s, or Toxie’s, screen presence is the film’s chief merit. The prosthetics and makeup applied to Cohen’s body are very good considering the budget and Troma’s reputation. The scene in which Melvin transforms into Toxie is also appropriately painful looking and gruesome, reminding me of the transformation scene in An American Werewolf in London released three years prior.

What I found particularly funny was the Toxic Avenger’s voice. He initially only grunts and roars, I assumed he could no longer speak, however the toxic waste somehow provided him with a silky smooth mid-Atlantic accent (the voice acting provided by Kenneth Kessler). Kessler’s diction is made for radio, it never gets old hearing it emanate from such a grotesque mouth. Amusingly, whenever Toxie speaks in this accent, his back is always facing the camera; this I thought was a reflection of the budget, so I was surprised when in the latter stages of the film you see Toxie speaking directly into the camera with no technical hitches at all – a sudden influx of money, perhaps?

Like everything else in the film, the violence is amateurish. At times it reminded me of my friend and I’s home movies. Using the ‘DigitalBlue’ camera, we created whole horror film franchises including the terrifying ‘Oven Glove Man’ series and homages to the infamous Jason Voorhees of Friday the 13th. Inevitably, the two characters eventually clashed in a Freddy vs. Jason fashion, my friend was the ‘Oven Glove Man’ and I, wearing a fancy dress hockey mask, was Jason Voorhees.

If my memory is correct, the majority of the films followed the same format of a murder scene followed by a still shot of the victim covered in terrible blood and gore effects that I had applied with relish using the software’s paintbrush function. Now and again the film felt like this, there would be lengthy fight scenes with little in the way of tangible choreography and violence. The viewers’ bloodlust is only given slight satiation when Toxie deals a finishing blow and the incapacitated victim’s wounds are shown in often motionless close-up shots, some of which being very gory, particularly the scene in which Bozo runs over a teenager’s head.

With gore, scantily clad women and ridiculous campy humour, The Toxic Avenger has many earmarks of a Troma film. However, unlike most comparable films, there are enough laughs to make its 87 minutes bearable and at times somewhat entertaining.

60%

Fury (2014)

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Its climactic scene descends into Rambo territory, however outside of this David Ayer’s Fury contains some impressively loud and brutal scenes of warfare. 

I had been eagerly anticipating Fury, I had faith in it as director David Ayer proved his skill in creating searingly intense action sequences in End of Watch (2012), a film that had a palpable sense of danger. Despite Fury following a tank crew during WW2, I don’t think it matched End of Watch’s pervasive sense of looming peril, as the latter had a hyperrealism and an urban environment more familiar to me than a battleground, thank goodness.

The film opens with several lines of text explaining the situation, it’s simple but rather chilling, informing the viewers that it’s April 1945 and that the German defence is the most ‘fanatical’ the Allies have encountered in the European theatre.

Fury follows a tank crew comprising Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier (Brad Pitt), a battle hardened veteran of North Africa and Europe; Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman) a timid rookie with only 8 weeks’ training as a typist; Boyd ‘Bible’ Swan (Shia LaBeouf), the cliched zealously religious southerner; Trini ‘Gordo’ Garcia (Michael Pena) and Grady ‘Coon-Ass’ Travis (Jon Bernthal), a genuinely hateful, obnoxious, rancid Neanderthal who regularly boiled my blood.

Fury’s chief merit is its war scenes. The film features some excellent sound engineering, which was delivered to me by Vue’s thunderingly loud sound system. Be prepared for the frenzied chatter of MG42s, the sudden, reverberating boom of artillery fire and the piercing shriek of tank shells ricocheting. The instantaneous, ceaseless death is executed well, men’s lives end forever left, right and centre in the most brutal fashion, whether it’s death by headshot, fire, explosives or tank tracks – it’s anonymous slaughter on a massive scale. Like any combat-intensive war film should do, Fury leaves you feeling battered, however its power is unfortunately hindered by its stupid concluding battle.

With publicity photos of Brad Pitt posturing meanly with his cool hair, I had worried that Fury would be a Brad Pitt vehicle, a film in which Pitt is a gunslinging B-movie war hero instead of a real soldier. I felt my fears were being confirmed when in the first minute or so Pitt jumps off a tank and launches himself at a man on horseback, knocking him down and vehemently stabbing him in the eyes; however his Rambo emulation was generally kept at bay until the film’s final battle, where his character and indeed the whole film goes awry.

War films and the moralising that comes with some can so easily become hackneyed, and there are times where the dialogue veered very closely to the trite ‘war is hell’ territory with lines such as ‘You’ll soon know… what a man can do to another man.’ delivered portentously and too early in the film by Gordo.

Characterisation also suffered from tired conventions at times; although LaBeouf went method actor for his character (he cut his face and pulled one of his teeth out), he rather wasted his commitment, as Boyd ‘Bible’ Swan is the tiringly familiar southern drawling preacher that, according to cinema, was present in every platoon. Saving Private Ryan was also guilty of this with Private Jackson (Barry Pepper), the stylishly ultra-accurate, cross-kissing sniper. Indeed, the areas that these characters hail from constitute the most religious region of the United States, their presence I suppose is entirely plausible, however I think they stink of stock character.

The worst instance of engagement breaking clichéd tosh happens at the beginning of the film’s final scene, in which the heroic Wardaddy decides to fight a much, much larger SS division that possess both vehicles and a comprehensive arsenal of weapons. Initially, the men protest it, but of course one by one they declare that ‘I’m stayin’!’ I did much head shaking during this moment. Despite these brushes with cliché however, I felt that Fury didn’t become a serious offender.

There’s a protracted scene in which Wardaddy and Norman seek refuge in the apartment of a German mother and daughter. To begin with, the scene is wrought with tension as you don’t know the battle-hardened Wardaddy’s intentions; rape of German women was commonplace, particularly by Soviet troops during and after the Battle of Berlin. However the scene eventually becomes overlong and rather misguided, the ambiguous tension being lost long before the expected payoff or denouement, a variety of which never arriving.

And now to the aforementioned final battle scene. I have read numerous arguments defending the scene’s credibility, however the reasoning is invariably flimsy – demonstrably, the scene is very flawed indeed. I have heard some remarkable stories of bravery from WW2, the most recent one being Robert Cain (Jeremy Clarkson’s father-in-law). Major Cain had been driven to a frenzy during Operation Market Garden, resigning himself to death and managing to disable or destroy six tanks using his deft skill with a 6-pounder anti-tank gun and, believe it or not, a two-inch mortar fired from his hip. Cain somehow survived the ordeal, winning a Victoria Cross for his gallantry. Despite such stories, there are just too many holes in Fury’s last standoff; it’s a lazily written stain on the film that breaks the momentum of the electrifying collection of war scenes that preceded it.

71%

Baraka (1992)

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I can’t see how someone couldn’t like this film.

A bold statement certainly, however Baraka has an immense beauty that is surely universal in appeal. It is a documentary that’s without  narrative or narration, it captures a veritable plethora of imagery that reminds us that Earth is indeed a baraka, which is Arabic and Hebrew for ‘blessing’.

Any attempt to derive meaning or identify connection becomes merely incidental as you’re presented with the hypnotic scenery that Ron Fricke and his team have captured; it must have been difficult for them to cut their glorious footage down to 97 minutes. The film traverses verdant jungles, epic mountain ranges, sweeping temple complexes, arid deserts,  imposing cityscapes and haunting landmarks of evil such as Auschwitz and the Cambodian S-21 prison. Its human subjects are of all colours and creeds, with much of the film focusing on those who are less fortunate and sometimes utterly destitute. It is a sensational and occasionally disturbing cross-section of the planet’s landscapes, cultures and history.

The stunning wide shots and time lapses are scored with heady ambient music by Michael Stearns. His music is a cacophony of tribal chants, chimes and drums that’s vital in creating Baraka’s truly sensory immersion. My favourite piece is Baraka Theme, its broad, sonorous notes create a vast scope that perfectly accompanies the boundless panoramas.

There are so many moments I could talk about, I could throw effusive adjectives at almost every frame, however I feel mere words can’t do it justice. Baraka is a purely cinematic experience that’s somewhat futile to describe.

However, one memorable sequence I will mention is the factory processing of chicks that’s interspersed with the frenetic pace of Tokyo railway commuters; it is fascinating and ultimately quite unpleasant as the birds’ destiny in battery cages is revealed after having their beaks burnt. The camera offers insights into an array of factories, showcasing their subjects’ perfectly rehearsed skills in computer hardware assembly, textiles and poultry.

It is a film that demands to be shown on good equipment, a film that serves as a benchmark for one’s TV or projector. Apparently, it was the first film to receive an 8K transfer, what an awesome experience that must be, most likely better than real life!

When Baraka sadly finishes, you eventually move your eyes away from the screen for the first time in 97 minutes and realise that you’ve been dead still the whole time as you check your watch, surprised to see that many hours haven’t passed. It is a triumph that the moving image alone can achieve such engrossment.

86%

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013)

1387300833-anchorman_2Just not funny.

After ‘Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy’ became a cult film following its release in 2004, a sequel to the largely unfunny film was bound to come to fruition. Some 9 years later, Burgundy and his much loved team are back, bringing their loud, hackneyed humour with them.

What I liked most was its satirical edge at the beginning of the film. The Australian boss of GNN, which produces the new 24-hour news programme that Burgundy works for, is a clear reference to Rupert Murdoch. This allusion to the controversial figure is part of the film’s indictment of the triviality, sensationalism and bias that permeates so many of the world’s news sources, which for GNN is fluffy stories on cute dogs (excuse the pun), sensationalist coverage of car chases full of sheer speculation and jingoistic patriotism that creates the best line of the film – ‘Don’t have a great night, have an American night’

This is an interesting satirical core, a condemnation of what gets the highest ratings, however it is soon lost amidst the noisy absurdity and tired race jokes that are flat almost to the point of exhaustion. Absurdity can be great, I actually find the ridiculous rather funny, however there’s a fine line between humour that’s ridiculous and humour that’s just plain silly and annoying.

Ron Burgundy is almost like an Alan Partridge figure, with his dodgy style, intolerance and social ineptitude. The problem is that Burgundy’s a caricature and then some, one cannot believe in his character as there’s no subtlety or credibility whatsoever. Partridge is also a caricature, particularly in the second series and the recent film ‘Alpha Papa’, however there is enough restraint and superb writing to make him a hilarious and cringe worthy character in equal measure.

Of course, comedy is probably the most subjective genre of them all; some people love ‘Anchorman’, but it just leaves me cold. ‘Freddy Got Fingered’ is an example of where the ridiculous tickles me, however it’s understandably a very polarising film (with one pole having a far greater population than the other!)

To watch Freddy Got Fingered’s full 90 minutes is overwhelming, perhaps even quite terrible, but the insane gross out humour, such as Tom Green’s misinterpretation leading to him cutting open a deer carcass and wearing its skin or Green completely bowled over by the sight of a horse’s penis and numerous other scenes are so extreme and surprising that it makes me laugh like a drain. Also, Tom Green is funnier than Ron Burgundy, he’s genuinely weird.

‘Anchorman’ unfortunately doesn’t have this extremity, instead it has characters that are dull caricatures in the extreme and gags that are witless and crude yet neutered compared to the truly gross out humour of ‘American Pie’ or ‘Freddy Got Fingered’. I don’t claim these two to be benchmarks of the genre, particularly not the latter. I make the comparison as they’re roughly in the same realm as the Anchorman series.

‘Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues’ has satire; however it’s clogged up with tired comedy and an absurdity that’s seldom funny.

47%

Only God Forgives (2013)

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While the cinematography and lighting regularly highlights Gosling’s beautiful blue eyes, it isn’t enough to engage you on any truly meaningful level.

This is a film that concentrates far too heavily on insubstantial metaphor rather than characters, narrative and things of true resonance.

In contrast with ‘Drive’, Refn and Gosling’s last collaboration, ‘Only God Forgives’ is very much an art film, a film that’s sheer metaphor. They’re completely different.

The film focuses on Julian (Ryan Gosling), an American drug dealer operating in Thailand who is laconic in the extreme (he speaks just 22 lines according to the IMDb trivia section.) When his sordid brother Billy (Tom Burke) is killed by the father of the girl Billy has murdered, Julian’s mother Crystal (Kristen Scott Thomas) arrives in Bangkok seeking revenge. Her wrath brings her, Julian and their associates into the path of Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm), an ex-cop who displays God-like abilities.

The characters are incredibly bland, as are their relationships and indeed the film itself. Its attempts at depth comprise blatant Oedipal elements that are both unoriginal and uninteresting. However seeing Kristin Scott Thomson remark about heartthrob Gosling’s inferior penis size at the dinner table is quite amusing.

The behaviour of the characters made me cringe; watching Julian and particularly Chang robotically saunter along while sporting their best moody poses became plain embarrassing after a while. Whenever a character strung a few sentences together I breathed a sigh of relief; although no line in Refn’s script is of any value, it was a welcomed development every time the suffocatingly absurd lack of dialogue was broken.

What’s even duller are its themes of religion and redemption. The irritating Chang is apparently the omnipotent moral arbiter of Bangkok, apparently he is ‘God’, whatever that means. I just thought he was a portentous prat.

Then there is the problem of the film’s violence. The violence in ‘Drive’ was explosive and shocking, it gave the film energy; it informed you of both the sheer danger of the situation and The Driver’s disconcerting readiness for extreme retaliation. In ‘Only God Forgives’ however, Refn’s violence is protracted, gratuitous and, like other areas of the film, ultimately embarrassing. Refn has admitted that he is a ‘pornographer’, and the film’s main moment of violence, a lengthy and vicious torture scene, is certainly testament to that.

‘Only God Forgives’ tries to be profound, however it doesn’t really mean anything. There is nothing real about it, it simply doesn’t resonate; the only modicum of empathy I began to experience during the film was for Julian and his complicated, broken relationships with women.

Apart from making you feel uncomfortable for all the wrong reasons, the film just does not affect. This is because the film is sheer metaphor. Symbolism and ambiguity can be very interesting and powerful, but this is usually when it is combined with good acting, strong narrative and credible, interesting characters. Unfortunately, ‘Only God Forgives’ lacks all of this.

40%