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29
Dec 04

FT TOP 100 FILMS 1: SPY KIDS

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Finally, and apologies for lateness which was caused by a fire at my workplace. (I did not start the fire. It was always burning since the world was turning.)


FT TOP 100 FILMS
1: SPY KIDS

Martin Skidmore says:

This list was put together in the last pub of a pub crawl exactly one year ago, between Christmas and New Year. We started at #100, someone nominating a film they wanted in the list. It required a second, and was in unless vetoed by a majority of the eight or ten participants. By the time we got to the top, people were vetoing nearly anything. Traditionally canonical films got particularly negative reactions (my favourite film, Seven Samurai, is a rare art film anywhere near the top). The #1 slot intensified all these reactions, and we were all struggling to find something that might make it.

I’d had a rotten Christmas. I had a week and a half off, but had been ill with a particularly virulent flu starting before then. This was my first day out, the first time I’d seen anyone I knew, in I think eleven days. I’d also had Sky installed, complete with the movie package (there are 13 channels), a couple of weeks before. I spent a lot of time sitting miserably in front of the TV. I watched loads of films for the first time. I wasn’t sure whether I cared to watch Spy Kids, but the director, whose earliest work I’d loved, made it seem worth a shot. It was the best film I saw in that holiday period.

It’s not my favourite film ever, but with the prevailing critical tendency to favour things that wear their art on their sleeves, and the inclination to only accept popular entertainments as art well after their widespread cultural moment has passed, as well as the difficulty in convincing many people that things produced for children can be as great art as those produced for adults (it took books as astonishingly, undeniably great as Pullman’s to make the breakthrough in the literary world), I am pleased that we ended up with a modern film aimed at a young audience with no overt artistic aspirations as our number one (also I admit that it felt like some sort of trivial game-win to have my nomination at the top). Entertainment this good, this kinetic and jolly and funny and exciting, is very hard to make, and is horribly underappreciated.

I think I’ll leave it to someone else to address the film more directly and specifically – the Greatest Film Ever As Proven By Science* deserves more than one voice extolling it.

*science here = a bunch of drunks, obv

Pete Baran says:

Perhaps you might expect Spy Kids to top this list if it was being done with a bunch of twelve year olds. (Thirteen year olds really start liking films rated 15 by the BBFC). But no-one under twenty was sitting around that table in the Head Of Steam on the 30th December last year. It is a pub after all. So why was Spy Kids chosen as the best film of all time.

Oddly most of its challengers which were being flung thick and fast at the crowd got vetoed because people had not seen them. Spy Kids managed to survive this trial of fire, which when you consider the age of the film and the age of the participants is probably significant. Spy Kids is, for all the valorisation, a kids film. Yet a kids film which most of us had seen, and enjoyed. Certainly when I saw it I wished I was a kid again. We cannot regain our lost youth, but we can imagine how a younger version of ourselves would enjoy something. And we can enjoy it that way ourselves.

Robert Rodriguez, in crafting a kids film he (and his kids) would want to see hit the jackpot. Don’t talk down, but equally do not try and make the kids too adult. Consider that the end of the world is as serious to a ten year old as being bullied at school. In getting the family dynamic right to start off with, we then feel for the kids when they first fight to survive, and then get to rescue their parents. Think upon this years biggest hit: The Incredibles. Seen that plot before? For retired superheroes read retired super-spies: Spy Kids did this storyline four years ago. In gloriously day-glo live action and with the kids firmly up from and centre.

And about that day-glo. It is odd that in this list of misfit films and populist favourites that the number one film stands out as being by the director who has best claim to being a auteur these days. I doubt he would claim it of course (a good sign that) but if we are looking at someone with control, Robert Rodriguez has that in spades. Pretty much everything you see or hear in Spy Kids has come out of Rodriguez’s head. He directs, produces, writes, does the special effects, writes the music, probably makes the sandwiches. And it shows. There is no focus group blandness here. The family are Hispanic (get that from a major studio?), Juni suffers from serious night-time incontinence: all little touches that would not play in a Disney film. That he turned out three of these films in three years (Spy Kids 2 is as good: only 3 is weak) is both testament to his work ethic and creativity. And you know he is only going to get better.

The triumph of Spy Kids on this poll can be seen as a triumph for the little guy, albeit a little guy with big ideas. But most importantly this film is not here because it is by an independent auteur. Biskind’s Low Down And Dirty Pictures barely mentions Spy Kids, yet the films are probably the most profitable bankrolled by Miramax. You have to take kids films seriously, especially when they are this good. But kids films do not mean Disney, do not necessarily mean anodyne and can be great films in their own right. Spy Kids is.

27
Dec 04

Being back home means being back in front of the telly again for the first time in a little while.

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Being back home means being back in front of the telly again for the first time in a little while. Also, because it’s Christmas it also means looking at the listings in the Radio Times, which throws up a few depressing tidbits, such as the fact that someone at Channel Four wants a battering for giving us an ENTIRE SODDING EVENING FOR FUCK’S SAKES of Avid Merrion-related programming, as well as an entire week whereby at least one programme a night is hosted byJimmy Carr. The real value, evidently, is tomorrow morning on Channel 5:

11:30 – How To Be A Property Developer

Heather & Jayne fall out with their builder.

23
Dec 04

Miike again

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Miike again - surprisingly, Izo doesn’t seem to have made much of an impact since its UK premiere a few months ago. Unsurprisingly, it made quite the impact on me. Difficult, though not for the reasons one would have expected. The almost pathologically disgusting set-pieces of Miike films past are relatively sparse, with the fractured time-travelling anti-narrative and the relentless but far from flamboyant swordplay providing the bones of the viewer’s endurance. With Izo, Miike proves himself a deft collagist both literally (stock footage) and metaphysicaly. It seems almost misguided to talk of Miike’s best or worst films, intent as he seems on showing us his improvement as a filmaker in increments. His rapidly multiplying body of work is an exhilariting alternative to the cinematic equivalent of the perfectly planned and crafted ten track album; daring me to tentatively suggest his films as moving away from – or moving toward being able to be read as moving away from – the 2 hour-odd motion picture as a finished piece of work, as definitive. The finished film as unfinished, reflexive, a beginning rather than an end? Eager to get his or her ideas on celluloid, a filmaker uses the film primarily as vessel and means to explore and project tangents and possibilities, viewing the festival circuit premieres not as measuress of success or failure, but unpredictable and productive group critiques? Isn’t this romantic but exciting notion pretty selfish? It seems a nigh impossible balancing act, perhaps managed by Miike in a partly illusory fashion – I’d be interested to see how I’d analyse any sudden dips in quality, though if Gozu or Izo are anything to go by, the concern is purely academic.

20
Dec 04

Who is Jonathan Creek

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Who is Jonathan Creek
During the recent FT server move, a massive and improbable system error generated this oddity on our new “essays” blog. Somehow it also managed to be published BACK IN TIME.

16
Dec 04

FT TOP 100 FILMS

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FT TOP 100 FILMS

So with one to go, to be posted tomorrow, here have a quick overview of the FreakyTrigger Top 100 films: 100-2:

100. Citizen Kane
99. Star Wars: A New Hope
98. Raiders Of The Lost Ark
97. Bringing Up Baby
96. Godfather II
95. Some Like It Hot
94. Night Of THe Living Dead
93. Zoolander
92. One Of Our Dinosaurs Has Gone Missing
91. Afterlife
90. Mars Attacks
89. Gohatto
88. Time Regained
87. Lord Of The Rings: Return OF The King
86. Metropolis
85. Galaxy Quest
84. Aliens
83. Die Hard
82. Theatre Of Blood
81. Brazil
80. Pretty In Pink
79. But I’m A Cheerleader
78. Grosse Point Blank
77. Lost Boys
76. The Philadelphia Story
75. Rushmore
74. Final Destination II
73. How To Marry A Millionaire
72. Flight Of The Navigator
71. Dumb And Dumber
70. The Fifth Element
69. Joan Of Arc: The Messenger
68. Curse Of The Cat People
67. Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead
66. Carry On Nurse
65. Three Men And A Baby
64. My Fair Lady
63. The Royal Tenenbaums
62. Ghostbusters
61. The Dark Crystal
60. The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari
59. Debbie Does Dallas
58. Black Cat White Cat
57. The Incredible Journey
56. A Muppet Christmas Carol
55. Police Academy
54. 24 Hour Party People
53. Breakin’
52. Easter Parade
51. The Purple Rose Of Cairo
50. Annie Hall
49. Crouch End Tiger Hornsey Dragon
48. Time Bandits
47. Goldfinger
46. The Towering Inferno
45. Monty Python’s Life Of Brian
44. Cool Runnings
43. Xu: Warriors Of The Magic Mountain
42. X-Men
41. Black Narcissus
40. Ginger Snaps
39. The Breakfast Club
38. The Life And Death Of Colonel Blimp
37. Intastella: The 5earch For The 5ecret 5tar 5ystem
36. Duel
35. Dune
34. Tron
33. The Big Lebowski
32. It’s A Wonderful Life
31. Infernal Affairs
30. Bananas
29. Casablanca
28. Leon
27. Jaws
26. Jamon Jamon
25. A Matter Of Life And Death
24. Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers (Abel Ferrara vers.)
23. Gremlins II
22. This Is Spinal Tap
21. Babe
20. Election
19. South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut
18. The Seven Samurai
17. Trading Places
16. The Cassandra Crossing
15. Queen Of The Damned
14. Ten Things I Hate About You
13. Lord Of The Rings: Fellowship Of The Ring
12. Escape From New York
11. Clueless
10. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
9. Back To The Future
8. Rear Window
7. Wargames
6. Crocodile Dundee
5. Waynes World
4. Pirates Of The Carribean
3. Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure
2. Bill And Ted’s Bogus Journey

15
Dec 04

Phantom of the Opera

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Phantom of the Opera
Corsets in, breasts out, masks on and mouths open wide; the phantom is back. I’ve heard complaints that to enjoy a film like Phantom, you have to like musicals. Well if you don’t like the idea of sweeping orchestrals, well-worn rhyming couplets (love/above) and people spontaneously breaking into (synchronised and choreographed) song and dance then for pete’s sake don’t watch it. But I for one like having my heart strings plucked, even sentimentally and sometimes even predictably.
Emily Rossum plays a suitably dewy Christine, with a constantly bewildered expression on her innocent face. This does become slightly annoying, as she doesn’t seem to mature enough throughout the film. There is however, one point in particular towards the end when her voice takes on a wonderfully mature turn and complexity which it didn’t have before and which we should have heard much more of. She just manages not to overdo the act, becoming genuinely sympathetic by the end.
The remainder of the cast sing brilliantly, Christine and Raoul’s voices complementing each other perfectly. Gerard Butler doesn’t quite match up to the other two in voice terms but acting-wise gives a great performance as the phantom. Even Minnie Driver who, having heard her hideous excuse for an album, I feared hearing in a musical. But she’s actually very funny as the prima donna in poly-filla make-up. And as a bonus, she doesn’t sing her own lines.
This has always been a brilliant musical, with a powerful score and a genuinely interesting and complex plot (never mind 6th form coursework, you could get a dissertation out of the ‘masquerade/duplicity/appearance theme’ – Shakespeare eat your heart out). I do think the film version does justice to the stage musical, but precisely because the original is so good. It didn’t add anything special of its own which it really needed to have done to be a classic. The movie Grease, for instance, now epitomises that story in a way the musical no longer does. I don’t believe that Phantom will manage this, but it was still powerful stuff, beautifully imagined. That damn music won’t leave my head either, much like the phantom. . .

In the offending

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In the offending Torygraph article, Charles Moore, in describing a Channel 4 advertorial for a Christmas comedy show, makes the following point:

The tableau is presented (sub-Bunuel) as a parody of the Last Supper… The first page shows a line of yobs — mimicking the Apostles — beginning their meal in reasonably good order. The second depicts them towards its end, violent and drunk. The ‘Jesus’ figure is lurching forward, halo awry, beer can in one hand and cigarette in the other.
The natural inclination of Christians in the face of such affronts is anger. But would it really be a better society in which silly, urinating Mr Abbott could go to prison for such a thing, and perhaps the bosses of Channel 4 with him? Before lots of respectable readers shriek ‘Yes!’, think what it means.

And thinking about what it means, the prospect of a banned Bunuel is exciting. As an experiment. As Mark S pointed out t’other day, much avant-garde work is designed to bite the hand that feeds — but, as is well known, it takes more than a Christ smeared in shit to shock people these days. Wouldn’t these once-outrageous endlessly available artified artefacts grow in savagery if our own Chiappes in power followed the logic of their thought to its illiberal conclusions?

14
Dec 04

FT TOP 100 FILMS 2: BILL AND TED’S BOGUS JOURNEY

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FT TOP 100 FILMS
2: BILL AND TED’S BOGUS JOURNEY

Originally known as Bill And Ted Go To Hell, a nicely literal title. Though hell is one of the shortest visits of the grand tour of more metaphysical realms than the previous excellent adventure.

This film is number two in the list; I suppose I should be demonstrating how Bogus Journey is superior to Excellent Adventure (which I think it is). And indeed The Seven Samurai. But considering Crocodile Dundee came in at number six, this list has never been about quality. Which is a pity as I think the Bill & Ted films are mini masterpieces. The lions share of the credit in Bogus Journey goes to Peter Hewitt, British director who seems awfully good at this kind of thing (this kind of thing including The Borrowers and Thunderpants: kid friendly filmography). He has a knack with inventive designs, very good at pacing his material for sci-fi jokes and action. The designs for heaven and hell are his: by no means hugely original but no-one near as hackneyed as other cinematic visions. Sending the ultimate blank canvases of Bill & Ted through these vistas is a great trip for the viewer: Reeves and Winter appear to have learnt nothing from their previous journey, which is the point.

Viewed as big budget science fiction, the plot of Bogus Journey pretty much trashes all that is wrong with many popular takes on sci-fi. Clones, robot duplicates, time travel are all used up and spat out with gay abandon. In particular the time-travel ending which takes the logical conclusion to illogical states of farce. (Joss Ackland will spend much of the next ten years playing baddies like this, but never in such a good film).

In the end though, for all the design, and script jokes, this is a film that makes something of Bergman’s Death. I often wondered if Ingmar had seen it, or at least the battleships/twister sequence. Wrapped up in the one character we have arthouse parody, Death Takes A Holiday, Arnie lampoons and a remarkably sympathetic character: Death. In the end the beauty of both Bill & Ted films is they take whatever comes their way culturally and sees what works. Bogus Journey is better due to net for its influences being so much bigger.

Saw Bridget Jones: EOR yesterday. Mediocre.

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Saw Bridget Jones: EOR yesterday. Mediocre. Did job I suppose. Bit like a 1970′s comedy. Falls over less than in BJD. Most jokes repeated. Globe-trotting sign of TV sit-com to movie syndrome. Bridge now too much of a comic character to be everywoman in film. Still, waddling comic turn winning.

It is not a film however that is going to remove accusations of racism from Richard Curtis (or Working Title since they produce all his rom-coms). This is a step back from Love Actually’s single token (if unlucky in love) black character. Bridget’s work, life and even most of her travels are completely white. The only place where a non-white face is apparent is either as a prostitute in Thailand or in prison! Right on!

(Hey some of his best mates are Lenny Henry, how can he be racist?)

From the front line:

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From the front line: you probably won’t notice the cuts in the Arts Council budget, and the furore over them masks the fact that ‘the arts’ are, not to put too fine a point on it, fucked, whatever the measly sum given them by New Labour. The Guardian‘s idea that ‘A series of above-inflation funding settlements since Labour came to power has released a flowering of fertile talent in arts organisations around the country’ is miserable cant: ‘the arts’ are kept going by volunteers and the government has maintained a veritable Speenhamland system of non-funding, just about keeping ‘them’ going but certainly not permitting any kind of ‘break-out’.
Why all the quote-marks? Mainly because I don’t know what ‘the arts’ are, but I do know about minority film culture, and this gets by on will, dedication, self-negation, and lots of other values ilx-popism hasn’t quite eradicated from my book of Good Things. Three of the key film organizations reside all in one location, the third floor of a warehouse in Dalston: the magazine Vertigo, the Wallflower Press, and probably most importantly the quondam Other Cinema’s film library. The department imposing these pointless and divisive cuts is the same that’s going to be bringing big tax gains for the Treasury by ‘liberalizing’ gambling. It’ll probably make a profit.
The de Gaulle government’s vandalization of cinema culture in France led to the Langlois affair of February 1968 — widely seen as a contributory factor to the events of May. Just saying.