"Two-Lane Blacktop" (1971)

Two-Lane Blacktop
Directed by: Monte Hellman
Running time: 102 minutes

To start this review off, let me apologise for my not reviewing something more current or that you would have even heard of. I’ve been so busy with “The Pillowman” (the theatre production I’m currently involved in, here’s the facebook link if you live in Melbourne and wish to attend! http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=153068628084154 ) that I haven’t had the chance to go to the cinema or watch a movie at home to review, so I decided to instead review the film I watched today is my Alternative Film subject at university. I promise I will be back to my normal self next week once the show’s over, don’t you worry!

Now Showing this week is a film called Two-Lane Blacktop which was directed by Monte Hellman in 1971. Now, before I get into the nitty gritty side of things, let me explain to you the context in which I viewed this film. I saw this film in my Alternative Film subject, which for the past few weeks have been constant screenings of obscure short films from the 1960s which include, but certainly haven’t been limited to, a silent film showing only a man’s face while he is receiving a blow job; a forty-five minute camera zoom from one side of an apartment to another while a constant humming is emitting; a thirty minute film that began simply with a man cleaning his motorcycle and then him going on to a party involving lots of men shoving their dicks in each other’s faces for no reason; and a film comprising entirely of random splatters of paint flashing on the screen, each image only lasting a fraction of a second. All these plot-less, boring, incredibly wanky, just downright insults to cinema and film making are all I’ve been seeing in this subject for the last few weeks so I’m sure you can imagine my relief when I saw that this week’s screening would not be a series of short films, but a feature length one. It must therefore have some kind of story and characters to entertain me right? Right?! Wrong. Well, not entirely wrong, it did have a story I guess but a very boring and flawed one. But lord knows it didn’t have any characters, none that had any depth at least.

The film was about two brothers (I assume they were brothers, given none of the characters have names/personalities it made it hard to tell) who own a 1955 Chevrolet and love to race it in underground drag races around the USA. They drive around desolate highways with a woman (also unnamed) who was introduced into the film by, while the two brothers were in a cafe having coffee, sneaking out of somewhere hidden and then just climbing into the back of their Chevrolet. The brothers then leave the cafe, get in the car and don’t even acknowledge the fact that some random highway dwelling floozy is suddenly in their car and just go about business as usual! They soon meet another man (again un-freakin-named!) who drives a GTO sports car who believes that the brothers have been following him around the country trying to get him into a drag race. This is odd, given the fact that every time we saw him prior to this revelation, he was driving past the brothers and beeping and waving so I dunno what the hell he’s on about. Anyway, I haven’t even gotten to the point (a term in this case that is more loose than the anyone who spends time with Charlie Sheen of late) yet and that’s that the two brothers and this GTO man challenge each other to a race to Washington DC, winner gets the loser’s car.

And that’s about it. That’s all the movie is about. Who knows why the hell any of the characters are doing any of the things they do. Most of the dialogue in this film is one of the brothers saying what kind of parts he likes in a car, whoop-de-freakin-doo. And even in those parts, the sound quality is so bad that you can only partially hear anything unless someone is yelling. This may be due to the film’s age and it may have been fine back in the 1970s when people were used to that sort of thing so I guess that one can slide.

Any purpose behind this film is completely unknown. Who knows why the the brothers are travelling around in their ridiculously ugly 1955 Chevrolet and not have any source of income? Do the races they race in pay them? And, why is the girl with them? Who the hell is she? And why is this GTO guy in a fancy sports car full of booze out in the desolate American highways? Do you know? Cause I damn well don’t! There is no explanation for anything that is taking place. The GTO man does at one point start to tell a story about where he used to work, which I assume would have to led to some sort of explanation as to his character, and therefore add some depth, but he gets to about “I used to work at a-” and the other dude says “I don’t want to hear about it.” Well I want to hear about it you clod! We, the audience, would like to hear some sort of explanation as to the events taking place in this crappy piece of “alternative” cinema.

So here’s my main beef with this style of cinema: alternative films have been described to me as “opposed to mainstream cinema” and the way that sounds to me is that they want to be, and are extremely proud of the fact that they are, different from the mainstream popular films. But here’s the kicker “alternative film”: just because you’re different from popular movies does not make you good! Being different isn’t an immediate bump up to “good” status. I’m not saying that because something is popular it is therefore good, that’s definitely not true (I mean, look at The Twilight Saga!) but just being the complete opposite of them does not mean your work is all of a sudden a piece of innovative genius. The music industry has been guilty of this for a long time as well, this whole concept that as soon as something is “popular” then it is bad and only things that are “alternative” and “non-conformist” are good. “Popular” can be good and bad, and so can “alternative” stuff. But you still need to be appealing to your audience, and people like to be told a story, with relate-able or empathetical characters with interesting/thought provoking themes. You can make these films with conventional film making techniques, or you can film it “alternatively” upside-down, completely in inverted colours and with all the camera work being done by a man on too much caffeine so it shakes ridiculously; but you still need to appease these tastes in the ordinary human being. Being “alternative” isn’t enough, without the aforesaid appealing elements you will just end up being labelled as a complete wanker.

In the words of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: “here endeth the lesson.” See you next time!


"Battle: Los Angeles" (2011)

Battle: Los Angeles
Directed by: Jonathon Liebesman
Running Time: 116 minutes

Now Showing this week is the new film Battle: Los Angeles which made its Australian debut last Thursday. Now I already had an expectation of what this film would be like when I went to see it. I was hoping it would be a loud, enjoyably trashy action movie that would be a good break from all the serious, high-brow films I’ve been watching over the last few weeks. And I guess you could say that is essentially what I got, but what was so strange is that while watching the film I was spotting so many things that were in favour of it being a downright terrible film yet I was still enjoying it! Despite almost constantly criticizing it in my head, I still liked the film in all its trashy, explosiony glory. Perhaps that’s just because it was crap-loads (yes, that is a technical term) better than the film Skyline from last year, which isn’t hard I know but it was the closest film I could compare this too. Okay, maybe Independence Day too but shut up!

Basic story is that a United States Marine Corps Staff Sergent named Nantz (trust me, you forget most of the names within the first ten minutes and start to rely only on faces), played by Aaron Eckhart, has just put in his resignation from the Corps, effective once he finishes training his current recruits. He did this because he feels bad about getting a bunch of his men killed in the last mission he was sent on and thinks he’d be better off doing other things. Unfortunately, before his resignation takes effect, aliens from outer space crash into the coast of Los Angeles and all Marines have been called up to fight. Yeah, that’s basically it, were you expecting any more?

As I’m sure you no doubt have noticed, this storyline is incredible cliche. Well, just to be clear, this whole film is one giant walking cliche! I mean, there’s a soldier just shy of retirement being called back into action; all the Marines have the same “gun-ho” attitude as they always do; there’s an innocent boy they have to keep telling “to be brave” for them and that “I’m scared to”; there’s even a “leave me here, I’ll hold them off! Tell my wife I love her, that’s an order!” moment. The list goes on. Even the inclusion of Michelle Rodriguez is a cliche in itself given she’s played the “strong, tough female soldier” role so many times that it’s what we expect her to be. But, I’m gonna say something here that might make some people quite shocked (well, not really I’d just like to think it will) but here goes: cliches aren’t bad……..

Hear me out here, the soul reason something becomes a cliche is because when we see it, we like it and we want to see it again. And again, and again and again. So therefore, they are things that we like, or have previously liked, to see in films/books/video games or whatever. So what the hells wrong with them in a trashy, switch off brain movie? I’m not saying everything can just be cliched, not saying that at all, but you need to do at least two things: 1. Do the cliches well, if you just take a cliched idea and be half-arsed about using it then it’s gonna be painful to watch rather than enjoyably trashy. And 2. you do still need to throw some originality into the mix. If every movie was the same because we just rehashed the same cliches then we’re in trouble. But as long as you throw in a couple of new ideas, a cliched film can still be enjoyable. It won’t be a five star masterpiece like The Prestige or WALL-E but I will still enjoy the two hours I spent watching it. And I guess that’s the biggest decider for me when it comes to watching a film: did I enjoy watching it? If I did, that’s an immediate six out of ten, and then if the film is a wonderful, original, well made and acted master piece, the points increase.

Okay, I think I’ve gone a bit off topic here, whoops. So, Battle: Los Angeles. I think it’s biggest mistake was not actually acknowledging to itself that it was a trashy, explosiony switch-off movie. It actually tried to make us connect with/care about the characters, which is alright to do, but it tried a little too hard. It gave us a tiny back story for almost every single meat head soldier in Staff Sergent Nantz’s platoon instead of giving us a really interesting and deep back story into the main two characters. Because, let’s face it, the other characters are really just cannon fodder, they’re in the film so the aliens can demonstrate their killing abilities and invasion plan.

Speaking of which, that’s why Battle: Los Angeles was a good trashy film, the few original ideas came from the aliens. For one, I liked that you never really got a good look at them till towards the end. To begin with, they were kind of scary when you only see a glimpse of one running over a rooftop or a horde killing people recorded on a dodgey digi-cam. And what’s more, the film acknowledged a reason for the creatures to come to Earth and not anywhere else in the galaxy. I won’t spoil why, even though it’s not that awe inspiring, but I appreciated the fact that the filmmakers did that, especially after the terrible Skyline just ignored telling us a reason entirely just to add to the massive list of why that film was awful.

So, to wrap up, Battle: Los Angeles is definitely a film for the Call of Duty* generation. It’s big; it has lots of battles in streets with many phrases such as “frag out!” and “tango down!” being yelled out; it’s all about soldiers being soldiers. I wouldn’t recommend it to my parents, but it was a fun film to watch so if you enjoy the occasional trashy, explonsiony, switch-off movies that I’ve been talking about then its worth a look. I know I enjoy those movies, they’re good for movie nights because they’re the kind of movie you can all talk over and poke fun at without missing pivotal story details. See you next time!

*for those of you haven’t heard of Call of Duty, it is a video game series about playing as soldiers, fighting it suburban streets, yelling the aforementioned phrases and generally kicking-ass. Also, how the hell have you not heard of it?! It’s latest installment just broke the record for highest selling piece of entertainment in history, out selling any Beatles or Elvis album, Harry Potter book and The Dark Knight‘s opening week. Where have you been living?!

"The Prestige" (2006)

The Prestige (2006)
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Running Time: 125 minutes

Wow, Monday already. Gee that week just pissed by didn’t it? That week actually went by so fast I almost forgot to watch a movie this week to review! I’m currently involved in a theatre production of “The Pillowman” by Martin McDonagh that will be opening on March 24th so I have been rather busy. It’s a black comedy involving an arrogant writer, his handicapped brother and two corrupt police officers who are all tangled up in a series of child murders. Yes, it is comedic, trust me. It makes you laugh at things you suddenly realise you shouldn’t laugh at. It’s a great play and for those of you who live (or are willing to come to) Melbourne, Australia, here is the Facebook link that includes all the details:


Ok, so I’ve gotten that out of the way, now we should get on to the review. As I was saying, I almost forgot to see a movie this week but thankfully a mate of mine asked if we could watch The Prestige because he hadn’t seen it yet and I was like “Hell yeah!” so here we are!

Now Showing this week is The Prestige which had a cinematic release back in 2006 and is a film I rank in my list of “Seven Perfect Films”. For those of you who read my last blog post, I love you, you are amazing; and you will have remembered that Christopher Nolan (the director of The Prestige) is my favourite director. But let me just say this, I don’t think The Prestige is amazing just because it was directed by Nolan, it is in fact the other way around: I think Nolan is amazing because he directed The Prestige!

The Prestige tells the story of two magicians in late 1800s England. These two magicians, Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale), began as partners assisting in a magic show but, due to things that I shan’t reveal for spoiler reasons, they become competitors. And once Borden premieres the greatest magic trick Angier has ever seen, the obsession to learn his methods and the need to best him with a new trick slowly begins to consume the two of them, along with everyone they hold dear. I believe the DVD tagline sums it up quite nicely: “The friendship that became a rivalry. The rivalry that turned deadly”.

What is fantastic about this film is just how much time and effort has gone into crafting it so that every piece of the puzzle fits perfectly; that no part of the film is pointless. Every single moment that takes place in this film takes place for a reason and it is not until you learn the twist and watch it a second time (or only the once if you have a fantastic memory) that you truly appreciate that. This week would be about the fifth time I have seen The Prestige and I still found one or two new tiny, minuscule things that I had missed in the prior viewings. All these moments take place out of chronological order (that’s not a spoiler, the film is openly structured that way) but what is beautiful about that is that the film doesn’t just tell you that it isn’t in chronological order with a “2 Years Earlier” title on the screen. The audience must discern it for themselves through observations, such as Angier having a limp in some scenes but not in others so it is clear that the limp scenes are further in the story. Like I said at the beginning of this paragraph, every aspect of this film is there for a reason and if you follow the instruction that is given by the opening line of the film (“Are you watching closely?”) you may just be able to see the truth behind the illusion of The Prestige‘s events.

This film is basically a magic trick in itself. Like any magic trick, it is presenting something too you while trying to conceal something else that is happening. I believe in the magic business it is called “make them look at one hand while the other is doing something”. That can’t be the actual expression, that just sounds ridiculous but you get my point! And saying that is probably too much because now you will be looking for what the film has to hide, but I suppose that is half the fun with a good twist film!

The performances in this film are just top notch, the whole cast are just brilliant. Hugh Jackman gives a wonderful performance as the obsession driven Angier and Christian Bale gives the best performance of his career as Borden, who is so conflicted by the events of his rivalry with Angier and also with troubles in his personal life. I know you’re all thinking: “Nah way man, Christian Bale was the best as Batman in The Dark Knight!” but let’s be honest, no one watches those films for the heroes. We all went to see The Dark Knight to see Heath Ledger as The Joker. Everyone who saw that film said: “Wow, The Joker was amazing! And Aaron Eckhart as Two Face?! Blew me away!”. Batman films aren’t for Batman, they’re for the villains. But I digress. The rest of the cast are fabulous too, but without going into details I’ll just name them: Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson, Andy Serkis, and an awesome cameo from David Bowie! They’re all fantasitc, enough said.

So, let me just bring this to the thing that makes this film fantastic: Christopher Nolan. He directed the film, co-wrote the script with his brother (based off a book, true, but from what I hear the book is quite different so I’m giving them the credit) so everything about what puts this film together goes through him. And everything about this film is perfect, that’s the simplest way I can put it without spoiling the whole thing. The man is a genius, and yet Hollywood still won’t give him any formal recognition! Well, just shows that clearly the Academy is bored with storytelling and just want to see movies about stuff that really happened; in their minds, fiction is dead.

But the up side is, films like The Prestige still exist! So, go check it out, treat yourself, you deserve it cause I reckon you readers work hard! See you next time.

"The King’s Speech" (2010)

The King’s Speech (2010)
Directed by: Tom Hooper
Running time: 118 minutes

Okay, so let me get this out of the way before we get cracking into the review, was anyone else really annoyed at the Academy Awards results last Monday?! I sure was! For one, Inception got bugger all! Sure, it won Best Cinematography, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing and Best Visual Effects; but let’s face it, those awards aren’t really ones that make a movie recognised. In fifty years no one will be like:

2061 Movie Night Goer A: “Hey guys, let’s watch Inception!“,

2061 Movie Night Goer B: “Yeah? What is it?”,

2061 MNG A: “It’s a sci-fi, action thriller.”

2061 MNG B: “Hmm, I dunno-“

2061 MNG A: “It won the Academy Award for Best Sound Mixing.”

2061 MNG B: “Best Sound Mixing?! Sweet! Let’s rock n’ roll!”

That is never going to happen, so who cares about those awards. My main beef with the whole Inception being stooged thing is that director/screenwriter/producer Christopher Nolan himself didn’t receive any recognition. The man has made three amazingly brilliant films (Memento, The Prestige and Inception) and two pretty damn good Batman movies, and he still gets squat. All the while that people like that guy who wrote The King’s Speech and the guy who produced it as well (when it got Best Picture) were speaking, I was screaming in my head “Damn it people, the god of film making is sitting right there! So give him some goddamn recognition! Bow down before your new master!”… But I digress. And don’t even get me started on the Melissa Leo fiasco. The woman who played a character in the terrible film The Fighter who, as far as I can see, didn’t fulfill her role as something the audience should feel slightly attached to (due to her just being so unlikeable that I didn’t care about her), so as to understand Mark Wahlburg’s conflicting  feelings between his career as a boxer and his family, got the Best Supporting Actress Award?! WHAT?! When the amazing Hailee Steinfeld presented (in her first film role!) such a strong, deep and entertaining lead female character in True Grit? This is ridiculous! Almost as ridiculous as the fact that True Grit was awarded nothing. Stone cold nothing. It was, in my opinion, the best film out of the five contenders for taking all the Oscars (True Grit, The Social Network, 127 Hours, Black Swan and The King’s Speech) because it was a film that simply told an enthralling story of revenge and was made with such care and attention to detail with four fantastically strong lead characters. Nothing. Just nothing.

Okay, I’ve rambled on long enough. I’ve just been holding all that for a week, and there is more I could say but I think it’s time I actually got on to some reviewing.

Now Showing this week is The King’s Speech, which wiped the floor at the Academy Awards last week. It was nominated for twelve awards and it left with four of them and those four were big ones (being Best Actor, Director, Original Screenplay and Film). Now I always have a tradition that I make sure I go see the film that is awarded Best Picture, regardless of whether or not it comes across as my kind of film, unless of course I have seen it already. Oddly enough, I had seen all the other four high contenders for Best Picture except for The King’s Speech so off I went the other day to go see it. Let me begin by saying, putting aside my bitterness that it took so many awards from True Grit, I was quite impressed with it.

The King’s Speech tells the true story (of course Best Picture is a true story) of British King George VI (played by Colin Firth) and his activities in the lead up to the Second World War. At the beginning of the film, King George is only the Duke of York and he has a speech impediment, which makes his public speaking duties rather difficult. He has seen numerous physicians who have failed to cure him and he has given up hope. His wife however (played by Helena Bonham Carter) has one more person try to help him: a man named Lionel Logue (played by Geoffrey Rush), an unorthodox but very determined and wise speech therapist. What follows is a very heart warming story of how, through one man helping another overcome adversity, a member of the royal family became friends with a common man. Nawwwwwwwww.

Let me just say, this is a great film. Colin Firth did an excellent job portraying the disabled Duke/King and it was very easy to be swept up in his plight. Helena Bonham Carter showed to me that her only acting ability isn’t just a mad lunatic in some Tim Burton movie, but a kind, gentle but at the same time strong willed wife to the Duke/King. But the performance that really stands out in this film is that of Geoffrey Rush as the witty, brilliant and lovable Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue. Rush is fantastic in this role, and very much steals the show. I found myself sitting in the cinema thinking “say more Geoffrey, say anything, I’m sure it’ll be amazing!”. When he was on screen, you were having the time of your life; and when he wasn’t, you were wishing he was on the screen cause he’s brilliant! So, of all the things in this movie that deserves an Oscar, Rush for Best Supporting Actor was definitely one of them. That award went to Christian Bale though for his role in The Fighter (it was the only good thing about The Fighter, but wasn’t enough to save the movie), which I thought was deserved initially but now that I’ve seen this film, I eat my words.

So The King’s Speech is good, and definitely deserves recognition, but it would not have been my choice for Best Picture. For one, it didn’t feel like a Best Picture film. Do you know that feeling? The feeling that the film you are watching has been crafted by the very best in their field? I didn’t get that with The King’s Speech. Some of the editing was a bit awful, such as shot cuts between actors or even scenes feeling very sloppy occasionally. And there were some cinematography choices that were very strange, such as Colin Firth being on the far left of a shot when talking and the ugly wall paper taking up most of the frame. Or a character being too low in a shot so we saw them from the chin up and a lot of empty space above their heads. Now I’m sure some film student somewhere could write an average, wanky essay on what that blunder says to the audience but I just think it was a weird shooting choice that was there for no apparent reason. But that’s just me.

I guess my overall point is that while I really enjoyed The King’s Speech and would recommend it to all of you readers, I can’t help but feel it was such a landslide winner at the Academy Awards due to politics. A friend of mine said this week: “the Oscars are fifty percent skill and fifty percent politics”. And I reckon he is right. Whilst The King’s Speech was really good, I can’t help but think that it won all those awards because it was such an Oscars film. By Oscars film, I mean that is was based on a true story, about class difference, about someone over coming a disability, set around World War II; you know, the kind of movie that always wins all the Oscars? Yeah, that kind of movie. One of those strictly dramatic (it is also comedic, but it is not a comedy), no action, no horror/suspense, nothing that would draw any teenagers to see it, kind of movies. There is nothing wrong with those kinds of movies, I rather enjoy those kinds of movies, but my point is that that kind of movie always seems to have the edge at the Oscars.

And further more on the politics side, Colin Firth winning Best Actor I believe was down to him and Jeff Bridges (of all the nominees, I felt his role in True Grit was the most stunning) and the Academy thought: “Well, they both did amazing jobs in their respective films. But Colin Firth lost to Jeff Bridges last year so isn’t it his turn now? Let’s give it to him”. Now, both actors did amazing jobs in their films, they’re right, but this idea that the awards are handed out because an actor is “due for one” and all that crap just makes me pissed. It should be down to which performance by which actor in that particular year (and no other year) was the best, and if that’s a close call then they just have more work to do in deciding rather than just giving to the guy who didn’t get it last year.

I know this only my second review so I guess I have no business attacking the American Academy of Motion  Picture Arts and Sciences, but it just made me angry this week and I feel it needs to be said. Well, I hope you all enjoyed this week’s review, stay tuned for what’s Now Showing next week! See you next time!