My Thoughts On…Glengarry Glen Ross

This film used to mean so much to me when I was starting to write films and plays. I was a young man hot for Mamet’s blistering verbosity and believed that a plethora of words needed to be at the centre of cinematic writing. I’ve since realised I talk too much, verbally and on the page. It’s a habit I’m trying to kick.

Has it diminished my love for the movie? Not a jot. It’s a rollicking tour de force of masculine ego, bursting with amazing performances and brilliant lines. It’s heavy with dread, rage, tension, sadness, failure, desperation and it’s over in a flash but it leaves a scar.

My Thoughts On…Sin City: A Dame To Kill For

Marv looked weird and the whole thing felt forced, flimsy, without point and without flair. Nothing matched the creepiness, squeamishness, imagination of the first.

Having watched the first one recently the contrasts were easily reachable and the disparity in quality is startling. Across the board. This just relied on the visual gimmick. Little else to offer.

The Nancy story sucked. Bruce looked bored and embarrassed. The Gambler story had a lousy, anticlimactic pay off after having to wait so long for it. So many easy contrived conveniences.

The Dwight story was good, Eva was superb. But it all felt like a bloated, belated cash in. Was the book like that?

And it doesn’t help that since SC, Frank Miller has outed himself as a horrible human being. Now it all stinks in Sin City, but it’s a different kind of stench.

Not enough Christopher Lloyd.

And Marv looked weird.

My Thoughts On…Filth

Well that was filthy.

In the best way. 

Raucous and sick and dirty and hilarious and bitter and sour and electric. Dark and sad and McAvoy off the chart good. 

Loved that. Murky, mad and magnificent. Not for the faint hearted and how the hell did he make that character empathetic? What a performance. 

The David Soul singalong was a moment of surreal ecstasy too. 

My Thoughts On…The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

I got a call from my dear friend Justin today who was obviously informed by his fiancée that I had watched this and he was concerned.

But I’m no apologist. I liked the first film. I enjoyed it in spite of its flaws mainly because of its different elements to regular franchise fodder and because it looked great, the action was good and the cast superb.

Those who cried it was a PG13 rip off of Battle Royale need to do their research and realise that BR is just the latest in a long line of stories that mine the primal spectacle of youth at war either under the control of adults or in their absence. 

Anyway, despite its flaws I enjoyed this too. It was bittersweet to see PSH and I don’t know if it’s the knowledge now possessed or not but he didn’t look his normal immersed and transcendent self. 

The film had some interesting, serious ideas for a story told on that scale - patriarchy and the oppression of women in society, the 1%, fear that leads to propaganda and direct oppression to control the masses. It never knows which one to go for and there’s too much of Peeta falling over and passing out and way too much of Katniss crying. Her wobbly lip becomes tiring after a while as the camera makes us question why we fell for her power and resolve and fire in the first place.

But it still reaches for different ground and thanks again to strong casting, some decent action and a clear and powerful aesthetic it entertains and hold the attention greater than most of its ilk.

So I’m still team Katniss, just. 

My Thoughts On…The Bridesmaid

Sublime theatricality and cinematic verve. It’s a film that gets under the skin with its directness, simplicity and smouldering aloofness. 

It’s a fascinating study of obsession and madness and how one can love and project flaws and madness onto another person without an ounce of self awareness of their own plight.

Dark, twisted, unsettling. I think this is my first Chabrol since La Boucher at university and it’s got me hooked, desperate for more. 

My Thoughts On…Throne Of Blood

I’m screening this for my adaptation class this week as we discuss the lure of Shakespeare and the practice of theatrical adaptation in film. 

It’s one of my favourite Kurosawa’s, easily top 3, and not simply because I love Macbeth but because it’s such a beautiful film. It tackles the themes of power and greed, ambition and ego sublimely and manages to blend the original ideas with ancient Japanese culture perfectly so that the changes from the original just make seamless sense.

Toshiro Mifune is crazed in the lead role of Washizu, on a power crazed mission for the throne of Cobweb castle, having his ambition coaxed out by his wife Lady Asaji. The spiritual elements are superbly handled, the visuals bravura and probing and claustrophobic and the use of mist alone captures the doom, foreboding and danger of Shakespeare’s play that should not be uttered.

My Thoughts On…12 Years A Slave

Maybe it was the hype surrounding the brutality but I was expecting a much more uncomfortable experience, particularly from the director of Hunger.

However (maybe I am desensitised) but I didn’t find it too hard to watch. I mean it’s horrific, but then the story is horrific, the truth is horrific, so my expectations were in line with that understanding beforehand.

What I did experience surprised me.

It felt like a piece of classic cinema. A beautiful, incredible story impeccably told. Exceptional screenplay, perfectly cast exceptional performances, sublime editing. 

The photographic collaboration between Steve McQueen and Sean Bobbitt is yielding the most jaw-dropping series of films aesthetically and again here the composition is off the chain, just wow.

Another film where the power of music to comfort, support, heal and hide is front and centre. The burial song sequence is heartbreaking. 

Like Gravity, it felt like there was a concession to the masses in order to get it made at this level. Here the concession felt like Hans Zimmer’s score which was unnecessary and felt slightly disconnected from the brutal realism and not in a good way. I kept wondering what Jonny Greenwood would have done with it, as the sound design underneath it was superb.

All in all it felt like a really strong piece of classic cinema and made me remember why I love cinema so much, the ability to meld story and image to such effect. I love McQueen as a filmmaker and while this didn’t have the same impact as his earlier works it is still an incredibly profound and beautiful piece of work, and a brilliant addition to his diverse, expanding and increasingly wondrous filmography.

And that end scene. Oh my word.

My Thoughts On…Kelly + Victor

@kierboyo

Finally saw this film and it was worth the wait. A beautiful, tragic tale of life lived on the margins. A delicately told tale of how one or two steps from the norm, from mainstream culture, either by choice or force, can leave people in a limbo existence.

The two performances from Antonia Campbell-Hughes and Julian Morris are perfectly pitched. The chemistry as they become enraptured in desire and experimentation is electric. Victor finds excitement, confusion and trepidation from the sexual journey he undertakes and his warmth and devotion is problematic for Kelly who is not used to nice, love. 

Beautifully shot with an exceptional soundtrack. The film uses the wonderful Bill Ryder-Jones who also scored my last short film. 

I’ll leave it there, even though I have more to say, because I’ll be talking to the director Kieran Evans when he visits my Uni to talk to my screenwriting and adaptation students.

However, it must be said that it was a tough experience but a vital portrayal of modern British youth and a generation on the fringes, in the hinterland, slowly being forgotten, left to rot. It feels part of an exciting time in British filmmaking that is making the everyday cinematic again and resonating profoundly. It’s exciting to witness and I just wish more people could see this wonderful, raw, powerful work.

My Thoughts On…A Cock And Bull Story

I love this film. It’s so funny. So, so funny. And a brilliant adaptation. Why you say?

Well I won’t go into it too much here, because it’s the first film on my adaptation module next semester, so you will have to tune back in for my short lecture on it, the audio of which I shall post.

But, things I won’t talk about.

It’s a brilliant satire on celebrity and actors, really tapping into notions of privilege, fame, ego, competition and insecurity. 

As a screenwriter I love the scene where Gillian Anderson is cast over the phone in split screen, and the writer sits silently by in his shot, munching his dinner alone. Brilliant.

I loved how the film plays on pseudo-real versions of Coogan and Brydon and how this spilled over into the promotion of the film. I saw it at the London Film Festival and the pair did a Q&A afterwards, pretty much as the versions they play on screen here. It’s clear where the idea for The Trip came from. As funny, natural, improvisational, sharp and connected on the spot there, as they are on screen here.

What a cast! Great energy, great sense of a film set and as nuanced a film about adapting literature for the screen as the Kaufman/Jonze masterwork Adaptation.

My Thoughts On…Jackie Brown

I think this is a beautiful piece of work. It’s a collection of top level performances and moments that flow together and through each other. You can tell everyone is in awe of the storytelling, the characters, the dialogue. It’s the combination of Tarantino and Leonard, and Tarantino is in awe of Leonard too, and he’s incredibly respectful.

He’s restrained, delivering delicious flourishes every now and again that are less grandiose than normal, but they are there. 

It’s always been one of my favourite QT movies, and still is. It’s a film that has got better with age and still an all too rare glimpse of him stretching his wings.

My Thoughts On…Great Expectations (1946)

I’m teaching this for adaptation next semester so I thought I should revisit it. It’s still a wonderful film and a beautiful version of one of my favourite stories.

I love the story, it’s both a powerful love story and also a deft examination of privilege and the restrictions to change placed on us societally through fate of birth. This is one of the areas of the book that the film really addresses.

The performances are superb, although I’ve always thought John Mills was too old to play Pip. He doesn’t seem like a young man coming of age, he seems like a man who has been of age for quite sometime.

The opening is majestic, Magwitch in the graveyard, and the ‘ring that bell’ scene is still breathtakingly delivered. Great score and beautifully shot, deservedly regarded as one of the great Dickens adaptations and one of the greatest British films of all time. 

My Thoughts On…The Great Gatsby (2013)

The moment when Gatsby and Daisy see each other for the first time in 5 years is so perfect, so full of yearning and unbearable love. It’s proof that no filmmaker captures the space between lovers as powerfully as Baz Luhrmann. It’s a moment that echoes Romeo & Juliet and Christian & Satine. 

Alas, the film as a whole never scales the heights of those works. It hits its stride when Carraway finally meets Gatsby, before that it’s Luhrmann by numbers and the style feels very derivative of Moulin Rouge! in particular. 

The filmmaker feels pulled in the direction of his signatures when it seems his heart is in the human drama and close relationships. The stuff between Carraway, Gatsby, Daisy is the best stuff and some of the style here is mesmerising. It’s the big stuff that gets in the way.

Ultimately, it’s an irresistible force and an immovable object. The scale - The American Dream, the symbolism of the money and the hollowness of it all is all in the love between Gatsby and Daisy and Carraway’s wide eyed outside observer naiveté. It’s all in Fitzgerald’s characters. The casting of that trio is superb, they are all perfectly cast. The rest of the cast is good but their roles are given short shrift by the screenplay. 

It’s all in the performances of those indelible characters and at its peak the film is beautifully concerned with them. The bombast feels forced upon the drama which results in something very disjointed and uneven. The strength of the story comes through, just, but overall it left me yearning for something visually more low-key so that the dramatic impact could have been the central, star attraction. 

My Thoughts On…World War Z

Meh. Sadly, that’s pretty much all I can muster and I watched it last night. I’ve been trying to get something more in mind to write about, but there’s nothing.

Not angry, even though a film that cost this much to make should have at least polarised me, love or hate.

It was just lazy and boring, dull. Most of the characters are functional, there to deliver information and move the story forward towards an overly-scored effects-heavy action scene or just more information. I struggled to see what, in this form, Pitt was so attracted to in the project. I know the graphic novel is revered but I don’t think there’s much correlation with what ended up on screen.

I struggled to get through it in all honesty.

My Thoughts On…The Rules Of Attraction

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Oh God it’s just awful. The filth. The despair. The angst and privileged youth getting wasted and wasting. 

Because of that It perfectly captures the Ellis essence and presents a visually stunning tour de force of nihilism and disconnection. 

It’s an awful story but the performances are relentlessly committed (not just Dawson off the Creek) that it has an air of truth that stinks as much as the obnoxious odour of these awful people’s lives.

And the film student is probably the worst ‘film student’ ever committed to celluloid. 

My Thoughts On…Get Shorty

I love this movie. So much. It’s probably in my most watched list. It’s endlessly entertaining with its slick dialogue, cool performances and deep cinematic references. 

It’s sad watching it now in the wake of the loss of three principle players. Elmore Leonard who wrote the source novel died this week, the oldest and perhaps least unexpected of those who have recently passed.

Also gone now are James Gandolfini who plays Bear, an ex-stunt man turned reluctant informer. Pre Sopranos and he delivers a softness and a weariness, and a diligence to performance most actors wouldn’t reach for. 

Finally there’s Dennis Farina, an actor born to read Leonard dialogue. Here and in Out of Sight he is miraculous. Slimy, pitch perfect, sad and dangerous. 

It also makes me miss Gene Hackman, his retirement is keenly felt.

All are great, great losses to cinema and the film feels like the kind of film that has passed away. It stars adults, it’s for adults. It is about adults. Rene Russo has never been sexier (except for The Thomas Crown Affair).

There’s a weariness and a resoluteness from all involved. 

There’s also some delicious dialogue and a supreme John Lurie score. It’s funny, and smart, and doesn’t care if people don’t get the cine-references, because it’s in love with movies, and wants the audience to be in love with movies. The scene where Russo’s Karen watches Travolta’s Palmer watch Touch Of Evil is wondrous. He is so in love with movies, and she falls for his passion, his child like wonder. 

I miss the three involved who were so good in getting this movie into my heart, and I miss movies like this from Hollywood, about Hollywood, for those of us who love Hollywood.