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30
Jun 04

FT Top 100 Films 73: HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE

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FT Top 100 Films
73: HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE

The worst How To… guide ever. It should rather be called “How To Marry For Love Whilst Actually Professing That All You Really Want Is Money”. Monroe, Bacall and Betty Grable are the stars lined up to save the movie industry – whilst supposedly gold digging. They were gold digging, but for box office. The film invents a the chick flick, making a bid for Hollywood’s most loyal audience to come back from the goggle box. So you get three lovely ladies in a light as fluff screwball comedy in CinemaScope.

Cinemascope was a gamble. It was bloody expensicve to install and worked on the premise that what the big screen had going for it was its bigness. Problem with Cinemascope is that you can only look one place at once. Sure you get surround visuals, sure you are “in the picture” but the action still takes place slap bang in front of you. It is next to impossible to view HTMAM on TV because of this, it being the first CinemaScope film made it spends a lot of time shifting the action around on its huge canvas. TV pans and scans it to death, background trailing like a poorly animated cartoon. But it is best understood as the key armament in films new war with television. Cinema had the STARS, the SPACE and the SENSE OF OCCASION*.

So it is strange that the film is now best understood in terms of television. This is the New York tale of three man and money hungry gold diggers with names out of a Marx Brothers movie: (Loco Dempsey, Pola Debevoise and Schatze Page). Add one more and you have Sex In The City. Especially if you line up Betty Grable, a good ten years older than her co-stars, as Samantha. And it has much the same conclusions as Sex In the City too. So was it any surprise when cinemas enemy television decided to make a TV version of How To Marry A Millionaire as a sitcom five years later starring Barbara Eden. CinemaScope is not around anymore, television is, and the Sex In The City happens generally on the box.

*Sense of occasion in this case meant a five minute orchestral introduction which is universally reviled.

29
Jun 04

FT Top 100 Films 74: Final Destination 2

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FT Top 100 Films
74: Final Destination 2

Magnus Anderson says

You’ve seen this film, even if you think you haven’t. Its every fearful build-up, every sudden jump-out-of-your seat moment there’s ever been, from slasher flicks to public information films. And that’s all. Think The Towering Inferno. Think the first ten minutes of Casualty.

It’s pathetically simple as well. A dozen or so people learn that they are destined to die – not for any particular reason, just because fate thinks it’s a good idea – and then, by any means to hand, they do. Suddenly every rusty blade, every loose wire, every swerving car, is a threat, and more ominous still, every solemn look or ominous symbol is a deadly portent. I told a friend I dragged along that it would be about as frightening as Jurrasic Park, but I was so wrong. We spent two hours cowering behind our hands.

In shedding the horror mechanics that even its predecessor bore – the hand of fate was corporeal in that one, gliding water around to cause electric shocks and so on – it represents a purity in the horror, or rather shock, genre that I’ve not seen bettered. Perhaps there’s room to say something profound – that it’s a post-Omen superstition thesis for the secular generation – but the truth is that it can hardly be said to have captured a zeitgeist. The film knows its job and succeeds through accomplished execution rather than ambition. And it was the most fun I had had in a cinema for months.

Alan Trewartha says:

The modern (ahem) high concept teen slashers we’ve had since Scream (1996) often revolve around a whodunnit twist. Every phoney plot device is thrown at you to distract you from the final reveal. But does it matter? Choose a character. Right they’re the killer – circumstances can always be explained ad hoc to fit such a resolution, and no choice is ever any cleverer or memorable than any other. FD sidesteps such mundane matters brilliantly by not only telling you up front who the killer is, but also that the killer isn’t even a member of the cast. When you watch these films you don’t care whodunnit, but you are stealing yourself to see (and cringe from) how they did do it.

With a sequel of course you don’t even have to spend act one getting the order of things established – the concept is already sky-high, ballistic and waiting to land. So we can just sit back and watch whining teens (well 20-somethings) getting dispatched as imaginatively as possible. But the contrast to Omen 2’s po-faced parade of bizarre and arbitrary deaths couldn’t be more exact. The writers of FD tease us with great comic timing, using every ounce of the Casualty-prologue inevitability they set up, playing us against our expectations (the scene in the dentists is excruciating for all the wrong reasons), then delivering one final outrageous spectacle. Indeed the entire film itself ends on one final gunshot of a punchline.

Funny and scary are hard to pull off at the same time – they undermine one another too well – and the visceral joy of jumping from one to the other in the same breath is rare.

26
Jun 04

FT Top 100 Films 75: Rushmore

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FT Top 100 Films
75: Rushmore

I love Wes Anderson, but his films don’t appeal to everyone. This probably stands or falls for most on whether they find Max, a brilliant but troubled teen played superbly by Jason Schwartzman, tolerable and believable. I did, but some loathed him, and his manipulative, almost psychotic behaviour in the middle of the film, isn’t easy to take comfortably. It’s a fairly lightweight film (that may be all that Wes can do, and that’s okay with me), and if you dislike the film’s centre, even Bill Murray’s best acting performance ever, a finely judged blend of childishness and middle-aged disillusionment, probably can’t save the movie for you.

So why do I love it? There’s the much-discussed bonus of Anderson’s brilliant way with soundtrack choices (I was reminded of the ending of this a couple of hours ago, when I was listening to the Faces’ ‘Ooh La La’), but the main thing is the subtlety and sensitivity of so many scenes, dealing with the turmoils of growing up with brilliant insight, restraint and wit. It is of course a very funny film, especially in the early scenes and in many small, modest moments, but the story complications towards the end do limit the laughs some, and many of its final scenes are less convincing than most of the film. Rushmore will never be remembered as a major movie, but as minor early movies (in what I expect will be a genuinely stellar career) go, it’s a wonderful one.

25
Jun 04

FT Top 100 Films 76: The Philadelphia Story

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FT Top 100 Films
76: The Philadelphia Story

I don’t know if we call this romantic or screwball comedy, and it doesn’t much matter, except that it does seem to have the best qualities of both, and more. It has the sophistication and shine and feeling of a good romantic comedy, and the fun and (sometimes) pace of a screwball comedy. It also has three of Hollywood’s greatest ever movie stars (Katherine Hepburn had been in the successful play, and chose Cary Grant and James Stewart as her co-stars), plus some strong support (as so often, the little sister role and the grumpy older relative are the best. Preston Sturges did these magnificently too – see e.g. Miracle Of Morgan’s Creek) – though as ever in these films, the intended never looks like a realistic contender (see also #97 Bringing Up Baby, plus His Girl Friday and countless others).

It has one of my favourite openings ever, as we watch Grant and Hepburn’s separation, the backstory of the movie: the moment when Grant feels like punching her, but settles for just pushing her in the face, is as fine a gem of wordless performance as cinema can offer since Buster Keaton’s heyday. It’s a preview of the polished brilliance of the film as a whole, packed with perfect and memorable scenes, and dominated by three stronger and more complex performances than some will have you believe these great stars ever gave (Stewart’s oscar for this was the only one either he or Grant won, shockingly). It’s a delight to watch throughout, occasionally making you cringe but mostly making you smile and laugh, one of the most eminently adorable films that’s ever been made.

23
Jun 04

Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter…and Spring.

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Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter…and Spring. Well the title tells you everything. Do you get the hint – this is one of those cyclical, history repeating itself things. So past Autumn, do not look for any surprises. Instead look for a nice piece of nature photography as the film contemplates slowly the nature of existence (when you have a scriptwriter who wants to make a point about the cyclical nature of life). Which, ifaith, does not really tell us an awful lot about the lives of the viewers which tend not to be quite as blatantly cyclical.

The plot contortions to show us how cruel boy monk becomes infatuated with a girl, murders her, goes to prison and then returns as an older monk to teach another abandoned child who turns out gleefully cruel are no more exploitative than the average romantic comedy. Just do not think that with its Buddhists trappings that it has any unique observations on life. What it does have that might make your life better is its simplicity, and two hours watching the seasons change in a particularly beautiful Korean lake valley. Nice when you have been knocking about on Shaftsbury Avenue on a hot sticky night.

FT Top 100 Films 77: THE LOST BOYS

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Corey? Really? That’s not a name.

The Lost Boys is the definitive 80’s vampire movie. That’s not to say it is any good. But it bundles the Reaganomics and brat pack ideologies into a big ball and spews them out with all the usual messy vampire mythology nonsense. The tagline for the film: “Sleep all day. Party all night. Never grow old. Never die. It’s fun to be a vampire“. The problem that many vampire movies have, especially when they vaguely humanise the vamps, is why is so bad to be a vampire? Are vampires themselves any more evil than humans noshing down on a chicken? They are superior (if physiologically confusing) beings and we should be glad that they don’t kill us all off. It is fun to be a vampire.

The Lost Boys digs itself into this hole ridiculously quickly, the mystery of there being vampires in this neck of the woods is dealt with almost perfunctorily. What is left is ho-hum vampires as a metaphor for puberty, highlighted by the ridiculousness of the pre-pubescent vampire (“Holy Shit, its the attack of Eddie Munster”). A dull metaphor the film tries to articulate what might be bad about being a vampire, and fails until we see who the leader is. And when it turns out to be the remarkably bland Edward Herrmann we are supposed to think that Keifer Sutherland is going to grow up into him. No, it does not hang together.

Of course even in the eighties it was next to impossible to do anything with the vampire genre, but the Lost Boys does not even try. It marks the end of the brat pack, and the end of the Corey’s too. Corey Haim is okay but I always though that Corey Feldmann never really matched up to the genius of his father Marty. The Lost Boys might be his best film, but its not great claim to fame.

Politics and film. Can a film really effect an election?

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Politics and film. Can a film really effect an election? A question worth asking about Fahrenheit 911 – but a question that perhaps Julio Medem’s film The Basque Ball. A documentary of mainly talking heads about the Basque people, culture and most pertinently its political status. The film – subtitled The Skin Against The Stone – is long, detailed and appears to not have any direct political agenda regarding Basque self determination. It is clearly against violence, from ETA or the Spanish authorities. In teasing out the often contradictory ideals of everyone living together and what the Basque culture is (often boiled down to the unflattering cause of persecution) is not unlike many a hand wringing BBC doco from the late eighties re: Ireland.

The large number of contributors often repeat each other and soon get unmanageable, sociologists against widows, musicians vs philosphers. So much so that it is hard to notice that two groups are not represented. ETA, and their political wing Batasuna, and the banning of both groups by the government is certainly part of the reason for their absence. However there is also no contribution from the Spanish Popular Party, the government which banned Batasuna and has, according to the film, been much more draconian since in power. And here is how the film may have swung an election.

After the Madrid bombings, in the week before the Spanish elections, the Popular Party blamed ETA: a knee jerk reaction which nevertheless was in complete tune with their previous actions. ETA was the Popular Party’s boogeyman, allowing it to impose laws on stop and search and improve its own profile at the expense of the Basque region. This is one of the few theses of The Basque Ball, the demonization of ETA was primarily to improve the ratings of the PP. The question is having been demonstrated this on film (and possibly more in the discussions about the film which the PP wanted to ban) did this push the electorate over the edge. The Popular Party were supposed to win the election safely, but lost. And the loss seems to be put at the door of the wrongful attributing of the blame to ETA. Did the Basque Ball help?

22
Jun 04

FT Top 100 Films 78: GROSSE POINT BLANK

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Let’s look at the joke in the title. We have the idea of sleepy all-American town Grosse Point. We have the idea of John Boorman’s Point Blank. And in between we have a comedy about a hitman going to his high school reunion. Oh and the hitman is called Martin Blank. It isn’t really a joke at all, but it feels like one. And ladies and gentlemen, that is exactly how to describe Grosse Point Blank. It looks and feels like it should be really funny, but actually it isn’t.

This is not a criticism. Sure it is probably harder to make a really funny film, but there are plenty of funny films out there which don’t look or feel funny (sift through Death Becomes Her – it is very, very funny in places but the whole does not gel). And it is not as if the film coasts on just one likeable star performance, though John Cusack does this stuff with magical aplomb. Instead there is a scenario which on paper seems to be funny: a hitman at his high-school reunion. But when you think of all the obvious jokes, only one comes out. He kills people. And that stops being funny pretty quickly. So instead we use a Woody Allen lite persona for Cusack, rope in a jilted ex-girlfriend who is nice but nothing special (ah Minnie Driver, what a strange career she had in the late nineties) and some associated nonsense which involves property destruction.

Grosse Point Blank was part of the High School Reunion/nostalgic eighties film cycle of 1997. It is the indiest of the films compared to the funnier but dumber Romy & Michelle’s High School Reunion and much more formulaic The Wedding Singer. Indie as in indie film ethic, indie as in the music it leans on is much more punk and new wave. It rewrites small town history to be something cooler, just as Cusack is cool so was the music he liked before he became a hit man. But then Grosse Point Blank is all about ignore the uncomfortable – it really is not black enough for a hitman comedy. But then there really aren’t enough jokes for a comedy. That’s not say it isn’t fun. It just isn’t all that funny.

THE TOP 100 FILMS (apologies)

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THE TOP 100 FILMS (apologies)

Apologies as my sure fire system for popping up posts slowed down over the last few days due to me being in Spain. Thios is likely to happen while I am at Glastonbury too.

Bigger apologies go to Martin who wrote a spiffing review of Brazil that I completely forgot. So I have added it to mine and urge you to go and read it.

18
Jun 04

an “experienced reality TV psychologist”

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an “experienced reality TV psychologist??

the one-word version is “scientician”