For some reason Ghostbusters (1984) was never a real formative film for me, despite some of my absolute favourites coming from that era. I am sure I had seen the film on TV years ago, but I only had pretty vague recollections of it, making this viewing almost like seeing it for the first time.
It’s weird that whilst the 80s was a pretty dire time for some other art forms (I’m looking at you music), it was a great time for film, especially popular film. Ghostbusters is a definite part of that. This New York set film sees three academic scientists who are kicked off campus go into the ghost hunting business. Lucky for them, that is a field of work that happens to be in high demand at the time. Much of the humour in the early parts of the film comes from the sheer lack of experience or knowledge that our heroes have about what the hell they should do when they happen upon a ghost. This makes their early experiments in ‘ghostbusting’ hilariously fraught. But luckily for the folk of New York, they are also generally successful in these endeavours. Especially as the supernatural goings-on really ramp up, culminating in a Stay Puft Marshmallow Man Godzilla sized beast rampaging through the streets. As will happen. The supernatural happenings are driven by what I assume were some pretty impressive for the time special effects that by and large have aged relatively well. There are some definite exceptions to this rule, but the effects are there to only enhance the other aspects of the film, they are not the focus of the film itself. A lesson there for many a filmmaker I think.
The two major strengths of the film are the sharp comedy of the script and the fantastic cast. Two of the stars of the film, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis were also on writing duties. What they turned in was a wryly comedic gem that will have you chuckling throughout, without feeling like you are being beaten over the head with an endless bombardment of jokes. Another major credit to the script is that it actually gets stronger as the film goes on, with many of the funnier lines coming toward the end of the film. If you really wanted to quibble, there is a plot diversion and character or two that are underdeveloped, but in reality it is highly doubtful you will notice. Plus, as with any high quality film of this ilk, there are a bunch of really quotable lines peppered throughout. Most of them are delivered by Bill Murray, such as the classics “he slimed me” and “cats and dogs living together”. Murray is definitely the star in terms of screen time and his performance is really good too. He is able to comfortably nail both wry, dry humour as well as the odd bit of silliness. He is really well supported by basically everyone else as in the film, with my personal favourites here being Rick Moranis and Sigourney Weaver. Moranis especially creates a really full and fun character in his short time onscreen. Man I love that guy, watching this film brought back plenty of memories of a film that definitely was a formative one for me, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989).
In the end, Ghostbusters is just about as fun as a film can hope to be, managing to mix elements of comedy, horror and fantasy all together to come up with something highly original. I can definitely see why this is an absolute favourite of many and a really formative film for a lot of huge film fans.
Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny
I will be live tweeting a film this weekend, so please head here to have your say on what film it should be.
The documentary The Queen of Versailles (2012) is the kind of film that you start watching assuming it is just going to make you mad as hell. Tis after all a film about a family who are attempting to build the largest house in the USA, not a bunch of people many (or at least me) are likely to warm too or feel too much sympathy for when their dreams go awry. What is delivered however is a little more complex.
Don’t worry, you will feel angry, but you will also feel a bunch of other things as well. The film starts out by recounting the fairytale romance of Jackie and David Siegel. You know that age-old fairytale, the one where the woman is not particularly taken with the man, but eventually falls in love with him simply because he is so infatuated with her. The one where our dashing prince complains that “what she lacks in housekeeping skills, she makes up for in other ways.” I’ll give away how you end up feeling about the characters. He is an absolute, irredeemable jackass. Whilst Jackie is an altogether more sympathetic, complex and ‘real’ person.
The film chronicles their attempts to build their dream home, one that is 90,000 square feet and features amongst other things, a full sized baseball field. In case you had missed it, these are people with a total disconnect from reality. This is a world of inexplicable greed that sheds a light on the so called American Dream. It interrogates the fact that the American Dream is to rise above your ‘status’ and what that means in practice. Although somewhat strangely, or perhaps logically, the kids seem far more normal and world aware than the adults. One particularly insightful teen especially is able to cut through all the bullshit that clouds the world around her. Director Lauren Greenfield does some very clever things elsewhere in the film, showing the death of a pet lizard because no one could be fucked feeding it. This exemplifies the sheer neglect and superficiality that the family has come to impose on its life. As the financial crisis hits the Siegel’s business dealings, David’s true nature comes out, with his bitter tirades become more and more frequent. Jackie though, is able to see behind the surface level of their troubles, recognising the suffering that the situation must be causing others. Furthermore, she is happy that David has been humbled in this way, perhaps hoping that he can learn from it (doubtful). For all the exceedingly interesting subject matter though, The Queen of Versailles is nothing special in its presentation though which perhaps lessens the impact of the overall film.
The sleazebag David is a strange dude, with all the ego you would expect from a man of his wealth (a wealth unsurprisingly built on a foundation of totally unethical business practices). He enjoys gloating about how he personally got George W. Bush elected, whilst simultaneously expressing some remorse that he did so because of America’s involvement in Iraq. The film shows that David Siegel is not just an exceptionally greedy, sexist and smarmy man; he is in fact a sociopathic and abusive one. The power dynamic that he imposes on his wife is no different to that in other abusive relationships. Whilst all David cares about is money, all that Jackie truly cares about is being loved. She is an extremely astute person but the way she has been treated throughout her life has left her a person who is left struggling to interact with the world around her, try as she might.
The Queen of Versailles is exceptionally good at articulating the patriarchal bullshit and hyper-capitalism that plagues much of the world around us. The Siegels are perhaps an extreme example of this, but unfortunately are probably more representative of the world at large than we would like to admit.
Verdict: Stubby of Reschs
I will be live tweeting a film this weekend, so please head here to have your say on what film it should be.
I really enjoyed the first live tweet film review I did of The Creature from the Black Lagoon (you can check out the result here). It also has the added benefit of saving a little time, because you are able to watch and review the film at the same time.
The idea behind live tweeting, in my mind at least, lends itself to B movies and films that you can take a more lighthearted approach to. This time however, I thought I would take a shot at a more critically acclaimed film, from the 1001, to see how that turned out. I will be live tweeting the film next Sunday the 23rd at 2:00pm. Be sure to follow me on twitter to be involved.
I think it’s more fun for you guys to choose though, so which of these 5 acclaimed films should I live tweet? Be sure to leave a comment with your choice.
The Wrestler (2008) dir by Darren Aronofsky
The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) dir by Clint Eastwood
Spartacus (1960) dir by Stanley Kubrick
Badlands (1973), dir by Terrence Malick
Night of the Living Dead (1968), George A. Romero
This week’s trailer is for the latest Woody Allen flick Blue Jasmine. In reality, no matter what you think of the trailer, who knows how this is going to turn out. It could be rocking one of the best scripts of recent memory like Midnight in Paris or it could barely even get a cinematic release it like You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger.
I don’t mind this trailer, but it is all a little Woody Alleny if you get my drift. It does however look like it could be a really fantastic role for Cate Blanchett to sink her teeth into. Here is hoping the end product turns out to be one of Allen’s more original and witty recent efforts.
When Downfall (2004) was released, I recall that there was a fair bit of controversy that surrounded the film. I could be wrong, but I believe much of this was due to the fact that film was unafraid to show the human side of Adolf Hitler. Personally, I don’t see an issue with this approach, because unfortunately Hitler did exist, he was human and he was responsible for evil that is in essence indescribable. And Downfall does an exceptional and necessarily harrowing job of bringing this to life.
The film opens with genuine footage of an elderly women speaking to the camera with regret at her naiveté during the Nazi years. It is not clear initially who this woman is (I thought it may be Leni Riefenstahl), but all will become clear after watching the film. The film then shifts into the main body of proceedings, which depict Hitler’s final days as the Nazi hold on Berlin crumbles all around him. Different people have different expectations when viewing a war film. For me, to consider any war film as great, it has to make plain one thing – war is fucked up. This film achieves that I think. It expertly brings to life the very real and very visceral terror of being involved in war, even if you are ensconced in the inner circle of the Nazi command. And despite its total focus on the Nazi side of things, the film’s messages about war are universal. The imagery is powerful and the war scenes look extremely realistic and immediate, taking advantage of what I suspect is a pretty substantial budget. In additional to all of that, the film is quite educational for those, who like me, are not entirely familiar with how the war unfolded. The disconnect between Hitler and his armed forces in the closing days of the war for example is shown.
Downfall is for all intents and purposes a character study of Adolf Hitler. He is the central character and all of the film’s events revolve around him. The film does portray Hitler as more human than monster. But to criticise the film for this, is to me, a little strange. By having Hitler human, it gives the film a jolt of realism. At times he is quite polite and dare I say it, a nice guy. He is also a little broken down and hunched throughout. This is the point though, Hitler was exceedingly evil and also a human just like the rest of us. Which makes it all the more important that Downfall is able to show the absolutely unhinged nature of his ideals and plans. Bruno Ganz’s portrayal of Adolf shocks each time he lets out his explosive and rage-filled side. I think this makes him all the more a disturbing character than if he was shown as just another raving cinematic madman. Indeed Hitler’s eventual suicide is portrayed in such a way that you do sense some of his humanity and vulnerability in the face of death. Challenging? Yes, but in my opinion in no way manipulative or questionable. The film also sheds a light on those around Hitler, showing, though perhaps not analysing, the blind devotion that the leader inspires in his followers.
Downfall is confronting, as it definitely should be. The film manages to bring something new to a cinematic exploration of World War II, in particular the way it deals with the character of Hitler. If you have any interest in this shameful chapter of human history, then Downfall is worth making the time for.
Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny
The Australian surf documentary Storm Surfers (2012) took out the Best Feature Doco category at the most recent AACTA Awards. It was also, I believe, the first Aussie doco to be filmed in 3D. Whilst I was unable to see the film in 3D, it was definitely one of the most visually arresting films that I have seen in quite some time.
The film starts off with a massive wipe-out to emphasise the rather dangerous nature of big wave surfing as a pursuit. From there, we meet the two surfers whose big wave odyssey the film follows. Both are Australian and in their younger days surfed on the pro-tour – Tom Carroll was the golden boy of the tour, winning two world titles and garnering big money sponsorship; whilst his mate Ross Clarke-Jones, also an incredible surfer, enjoyed the tour mainly for the partying. Unless you are in the (presumably vast) minority of my readers who are professional big-wave surfers, Storm Surfers will repeatedly boggle your mind. To me, it is insane that you can surf utterly huge waves, 75 kilometres from the coast. The fact that in this day and age, there are still top-secret surf breaks that people inside that world have never heard of. Other questions will arise for you too, like who in the world first thought it would be a good idea to combine jet skis and surfing? In addition to these kinds of facts and questions, the sheer beauty of much of the photography in the water is truly something to behold. Shots from inside barrels and attached to surf boards only add to the exhilaration. The success of these innovations is that they help convey the kinetic intensity and activity of what these people are undertaking. Indeed if the film was just a collection of images with this kind of beauty, it would still be well worth checking out.
Perhaps the area where Storm Surfers succeeds most though is in bringing a ‘human’ side to the incredible power of the images onscreen. Tom and Ross are not young men, 51 and 47 respectively. And the film shows the impact that ageing is having on these two blokes, however young at heart they may be. Tom especially struggles with the physical and mental strains of throwing yourself headlong at waves that strike sheer terror into everyone else. His role as a diligent father only adds to the conflicts that surfing big waves bring to his perspective on life. With their pranks and manner of speaking, Tom and Ross are really just two teenagers that have never grown up. Which sounds terrible and makes them sound like two blokes it would be mind numbing to spend a 90 minute film with. But in reality, it makes these two men endearing, their fun loving pursuit of just doing what they feel like, is in a way strangely inspiring. As is their ability to break down the philosophy behind surfing and convey that to a wide audience. In addition, to dismiss them as just fun-loving guys is to do them a disservice. In addition to Tom’s aforementioned parenthood, in his younger days he jeopardised his chances of winning his third world title in 1985 by refusing to take part in the South African leg of the world tour, as a protest against that country’s apartheid policies. I guess it is this bringing to life of two complex men that separates the film from a traditional surf flick.
I really recommend this film, even if you do not have a particular interest in surfing (I don’t). For starters it looks incredible, but more than that, these two men and the lifestyle they represent are truly interesting. The film is also, in its own way, a look at how ageing affects people and the best way to approach that part of our lives.
Verdict Pint of Kilkenny
May was a crazy month for me and this last week has been the craziest, hence the lack of work on here. Uni commitments and adding a new part time to my ongoing full time gig meant even less time for writing here and commenting on everyone else’s stuff. Somewhat surprisingly I still managed to see a fair few films though. And even more surprisingly, I was in a pretty good mood as this is one of the very few months (only the second ever maybe) that everything I saw was deemed ‘worth watching’. So instead of the usual film for you to totally avoid, you get two to make sure you check out. Share your thoughts on these films below.
- Iron Man 3 (2013), Shane Black – Wow what a cracking return to form for this series after the rubbish that was the second film. Helped along by some stellar performances, Ben Kingsley and Gwyneth Paltrow chief amongst them, this is a shedload of fun. The humour actually works this time and against all odds, a buddy relationship between Stark and a young boy is delightful and quite hilarious. One of the best big mainstream flicks of the year.
- Oblivion (2013), Joseph Kosinski – I have a lot of issues with this film, but it just manages to scrape by, mainly because of the visuals. A fair bit of the narrative direction they take it is pretty naff and the ending is a real head scratcher. It’s also not as mysterious or deep as great sci-fi should be. Much is excellent though. As well as looking fantastic, it has some interesting things to say about memory and plenty of very satisfying action sequences. Imperfect, but worth your time.
- Lockout (2012), James Mather & Stephen St. Leger – Or Space Jail as it’s effectively known to some. Set in 2079, Guy Pearce is a former CIA op who has to venture into the universe’s highest security prison to save the President’s daughter. Yep the plot is daft, but here it is realised with a great sense of humour – James Bond quips, but more adult. It’s all terribly silly, terribly over CGI’d and clunkily scripted, but it is also so just so much fun if you can turn your brain off. Pearce delivers his hilarious lines brilliantly and overall really makes this too much fun to ignore.
- Prophets of Science Fiction (2011), Ridley Scott – Incredibly, delightfully geeky stuff this is. It makes connections, often challenging ones, between classic literary sci-fi and real life science. It’s not perfect – the voiceover occasionally veers into Unsolved Mysteries territory, the connections are sometimes stretched a little too far and Ridley Scott’s contributions are a little egotistical. But overall it is mind bending and always explained clearly. Nice recreations too, that serve to give an insight into the creators behind the works.
- Funeral in Berlin (1966), Guy Hamilton – This sequel to The Ipcress File is just as good as the first. A whole lotta Cold War intrigue, complete with numerous twists & turns as well as too many character names to remember. But the core narrative is a cracker and Michael Caine is simply fantastic.
- Diary of a Wimpy Kid (2010), Thor Freudenthal – Despite the book’s comic style, this manages to parrot the visual style of the source quite well. It also has a quite original, occasionally absurd, sense of humour and the whole thing is entirely charming. It does unfortunately buy into many of the traditional notions of popularity. But as a super stylishly shot kids film with good performances all round (Chloe Moretz!) this is a whole lot of fun.
- The Hangover Part III (2013), Todd Phillips – I was definitely not a fan of the first two, but for some reason I didn’t mind this film. Plenty of Ken Jeong, which is always a good thing for any self respecting Community fan like myself. And at least the storyline is moderately different to the first two. I even found Zack Galifinakis’s character enjoyable, whereas usually he is infuriating. Overall this is funny enough, without being anything too special.
- Snitch (2013), Ric Roman Waugh – Much of this is your typical The Rock action flick, semi-trailer chases and all. But absurdly and utterly awesomely, it also takes a political stance on the truly fucked up nature of American drug laws. Tis great to see an action film, even if it is not the greatest one, trying something different. Ironically though, at one point, The Rock does take advantage of America’s lax gun laws to combat the shitty drug ones.
- Star Trek into Darkness (2013), J.J Abrams – In a month of cracking big budget releases, this one takes the cake. I’ve never seen an episode of Star Trek, but this is one of my favourite films of the year so far. The final third is searingly intense, emotional and exceptional. The JJ bandwagon shows no sign of slowing down and if there is a better actor in the world at the moment than Benedict Cumberbatch, I don’t know about them. The emotional depth and heart on the sleeve, especially well done through the nuance of the relationship between Spock & Kirk, is rare for sci-fi.
- The Art of Fighting: Mark Hunt (2013), Karlton C Akari – UFC fighter Mart Hunt is notorious for his two word answers in post-fight interviews. So it is great to see him speak in detail about his craft. He even quotes Mr Miyagi from The Karate Kid! This made for Australian telly doco looks awesome and is a really well put together film. Sharp as.
If you only have time to watch one Star Trek into Darkness
If you only have time to watch two The Prophets of Science Fiction
You know I’ve had an arse of a week when I don’t manage to post anything between trailers. This week has been brutal, but I pressed submit on my last uni assignment for the semester last night, so hopefully normal(ish) service can now resume.
This week’s trailer is for Disney’s Planes, which I actually think looks ok despite the craptastic nature of this trailer, and I have been a bigger supporter of most of the House of Mouse’s recent output than many others out there. The issue here is what this film represents. Disney is taking over a Pixar property (in this case Cars) and milking it for all its worth. I don’t like this precedent at all. We have already seen a vast increase of Pixar sequels recently, but at least they were handled in house. I really do not want to see too many spin-offs of beloved Pixar works, being pumped out by Disney.
I missed the V/H/S, but I have been intending on catching up on it as I heard some really interesting (if varied) things about it. I better get cracking, because the sequel V/H/S/2 is coming our way soon. They seem to have some pretty impressive directors responsible for the short films that make up this anthology. Even though I am not generally a fan of found footage films (I mean who is really) I am pretty intrigued to see this I have to say. What about you guys? And what did you all think of the first one?
Even though I have seen Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) a bunch of times before, it is always exciting to be popping the film back in the DVD player. One of my favourite Hitchcock films, it is also without a doubt one of the greatest and most influential films ever made.
The first half or so of the film is probably cinema’s most famous macguffin. In an attempt to “buy off unhappiness” Marion Crane, played by Janet Leigh, steals a large sum of money from her employer so that she can start a new life with her lover Sam. It’s the sort of snap decision we all make, but Hitch takes it to a really extreme example. After a couple of days on the run, Marion spends a rainy night at the Bates Motel. Anyone familiar with the film will know what starts to take place here, as the socially awkward Norman Bates, played by Anthony Perkins, begins to interact with his lone guest. I will veer into spoiler territory and say that this is in many ways where the narrative of the film really begins, as Sam and Marion’s sister Lila begin a frantic search for her. As much as the character arc of Marion is often dismissed or looked over when discussing Psycho, it is actually a really fully formed and interesting one. Her decision to return to Phoenix just before she is killed is a really good example.
Psycho is a rare film that I think actually improves with each viewing. Part of that is that a first viewing is dominated by some of the iconic high points – the ‘shower scene’ and the final reveal. But after you have seen it once, everything takes on a different weight and many elements of it are actually all the more chilling. In a funny sort of way, despite near universal acclaim, I feel like the film is a little underrated. People tend to focus on the aforementioned iconic moments, but there is also so much more. Both acts of the stark two act narrative work really well. The second half turns into a wonderful detective story, full of sharp P.I. chatter and patter. The extended scene of Norman’s interrogation at the hands of the P.I. engaged by Marion’s boss is one of the film’s best moments. As for the end sequence, it could so easily have come across as laughable and on paper it really should. But somehow, Hitchcock manages to ram it home awesomely, with the closing stages being both chilling and totally satisfying.
There is barely a thriller made since 1960 that has not taken a whole lot of inspiration from Psycho and the most influential aspect of the film is the soundtrack. Obviously the sound in the shower scene is unforgettable, but literally from the opening credits, the music is playing a massive role. The perfect way in which the soundtrack is used to create tension is the main aspect that has clearly been taken onboard by numerous filmmakers. The whip smart script is brought to life by the great actors involved. Janet Leigh nails it as Marion Crane’s woman on the edge. Her desperation to be with her lover and her guilt at the theft she has done, totally inform every move she makes onscreen and every line she utters. Whilst the performances are all really good, it is Anthony Perkins who truly startles. On first viewing, it is clear that there is something a little amiss with this momma’s boy. But re-watching the film, knowing where the story ends up, and you see just how masterful Perkins’ portrayal really is. Even when his character is acting totally over the top with mental illness, the final scene for example, Perkins is reserved, knowing he does not need to go similarly over the top in his presentation to achieve maximum effect.
There is possibly no film in history which manages to combine bombastic mainstream enjoyment with artistic merit quite like Psycho. A vast majority of you have probably seen Psycho, but if you haven’t, then I highly recommend it. The best thriller in history and also a perfect introduction to the world of classic cinema, even (actually especially) if you are someone who is not really into that realm of cinema.
Verdict: Longneck of Melbourne Bitter