The Cleanse – will leave you feeling empty and unsatisfied… like a real cleanse!

What’s up, Buttercups?

It took me a long time to find my next ‘bad movie’ to review. Maybe I have a high tolerance for pain or else I’m just very good at finding something about almost every film that I think saves it from being abjectly terrible.

The problem I have with Johnny Galecki is that ever since Big Bang became a mainstream hit; you can’t really see him as a different character. He’s had a decent career but thanks to Big Bang he will forever be known as “The Guy Who Plays Leonard From The Big Bang Theory.” It’s hard not to draw parallels too, he mostly plays awkward characters with some form of social problem (there are several characters who all hail from New Jersey). He should be a relatable character… but he’s never really centre stage and when he is, we kind of overlook him.

He plays Paul, an unemployed, heartbroken man looking for something to fix his broken life.

In the opening scenes it’s all too easy to imagine him as Leonard during one of the periods where he and whoever-he-was-dating have broken up.

During a late night on the sofa he sees an add for a free retreat where he can ‘face his demons’ and start a new life. Instead of acting as Leonard would, he jots down the website and attends the local meeting. Here he meets Maggie (Anna Friel) and Eric (Kyle Gallner) who each have their own problems they are looking to escape.

Eleven minutes in and it’s hard not to draw more comparisons between Paul and Leonard. They both obsess over a girl they’ve just met and they both talk way too much, and go off on tangents, when they’re nervous, he’s soft spoken and a bit of a people pleaser. He’s awkward and fidgety. The only major difference seems to be that he isn’t wearing glasses.

This is another film that sports some very prominent names and makes me begin to question if Hollywood has a seedy underbelly where stars bet on how bad a film they can make and right there career afterwards. Oliver Platt (who I love and always have, ever since The Three Musketeers) plays the founder of the retreat, Ken Roberts and he is joined by Lily (Anjelica Huston) who has the weirdest entrance on record. She walks out of the woods and over a small footbridge screaming… followed closely by the strange Fredericks (Kevin J. O’Connor – Beni from The Mummy… the good one with Brendan Fraser).

From the outset the retreat seems to be the usual New Age-y mess of drinking weird stuff and being told the phases and how beautiful and rewarding graduating will be.

Things take a weird turn when Paul discovers a strange creature in the pipes of his cabin which he believes he expelled when the cleanse made him vomit.

It turns out that these little creatures – while cute in an ugly dog kind of way – are the physical manifestations of their inner demons, though never explicitly stated as such. Once you realise what the stages of the programs mean… you kind of begin to worry about them when we get to the stage called “Extermination” you kind of put the pieces together.

Each of the creatures begin to mimic their… hosts? Owners? Parents…? And react to emotional cues. The creatures seem more eager to open up than their… hosts (I’m going with hosts) as both Paul and Maggie are reluctant to share but after a short time the creatures bond.

Through tricks and subterfuge, Ken Roberts, helps Maggie and Paul face hard truths about themselves and then making them face the little creatures that came from them and telling them to kill them. Considering how cute the little creatures are, it’s not hard to see why some of the residents – including Fredericks – have trouble killing them.

This is a theme in the film, I can’t say a big one because there isn’t time to build on anything. This inability to let go of the negatives in life. To hold on because it’s familiar and letting go can be terrifying because it means we have space for something else in our life.

Paul and Maggie try to leave after discovering that one of the other residents died as a result of not following the rules of the retreat. They are confronted by Roberts and Lily who want them to hand over the creatures. It turns out that Ken Robert’s didn’t even managed to finish to cleanse and that – literally – if you don’t kill your inner demon it will kill you.

The creatures grow bigger, losing much of their cuteness and becoming things that might have lurched forward from a nightmare.

This film is on this list because it’s another idea that could have been much more and was never realised. We’re never shown the implications of what happens after a cleanse. There are no other patients show us what a success story looks like.

The film is amazingly short. It’s 80 minutes… including end credits – which I watched in case there was a post credit scene… there wasn’t. The film’s 71 minutes and that leaves everything feeling undercooked.

The ending comes out of nowhere and there isn’t any character growth because we know so little about the characters. We can’t revel in their success because we’re don’t know what they’re putting on the line. We’re never shown what they gain by finishing.

Everything is in a vacuum so nothing has any consequence.

A character dies and I could barely tell you her name (It was Laurie played by Diana Bang, thanks IMDB) because all I know is; she was there with Eric as a couple. That’s it. Maggie’s there for cosmetic reasons – a vaguely hinted at a body image problem that’s never pinned down – addressed five minutes before the end and Paul’s there because his fiancé left him and he lost his job.

It doesn’t even really have a genre. It flirts with being a drama, a fantasy and – at times – a horror film… but it never commits to being anything.

It feels like it should be the pilot episode of a sci-fi TV show.

There isn’t even a climax. Maggie and Paul kill their demons, who have somehow merged, and then they hug and the credits roll. The demon doesn’t even fight back. It just lies there and lets them choke it. There’s an attempt to make it a meaningful scene but considering we’re never shown any of the inciting incidents to why the characters chose to “get pure”, there is no weight to this.

In short… It’s a short film with nothing behind it except a cool idea of a cleanse actually bringing out your inner demons.

RTJ

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In Time – Taking the notion of “Time is Money” to the next level!

What’s up, Buttercups?

I took a week off last week to think of where to go with this blog next. I spent a lot of time last year talking about films that I loved. Now I’m going to do bad films. Not films I necessarily hate just bad. Whether through design or accident bad films.

This film isn’t bad, pre se. It’s an interesting premise, just a little formulaic in execution.

The premise is that everyone is born with a clock in their arms that holds a year and doesn’t begin counting down until you turn twenty-five. Time is currency and you get to live forever if you can earn enough.

I’m torn between labelling this film as straight sci-fi or smart political satire on a class system. It has elements of both and sometimes they gel beautifully and others… not so much. Like the conversion between time and money. It’s not an exact parallel you don’t automatically die the second your bank account hits zero. But the notion of there more than enough money (time) for everyone if the super rich didn’t horde it all does pan out.

We follow the story of Will Salas (Justin Timberlake), a blue collar worker who is accused of murdering a member of the super rich. A man with more then a century on his clock. The man, Henry Hamilton (Matt Bomer), is disillusioned with his eternal life, having been young for close to a hundred years and after Will saves his life from Minute-men (I’ll talk about them later) he transfers all but 5 minutes to will while he sleeps.

Will lives with his mother Rachel (Olivia Wilde) until the hike in prices after paying off a loan leave her forty-five minutes away from her son while only having thirty minutes left on her clock. There is a dramatic race between the both of them as Rachel’s clock counts down but tragedy strikes as she hits zero and falls dead into her son’s arms before he can save her.

This sparks a change in Will. He uses the time he was given to extend the life of his best friend (Johnny Galecki) who has a new born, paying him a year for every one they’ve been friends. Sadly, we find out he only ends up dooming his friend as he gives in to alcoholism.

Will then leaves the slums where he grew up and heads through to the capital. This is where the story really gets interesting. It’s only when Will enters the arena of the super rich that we understand the differences between classes.

Will runs everywhere. As you would if you could see every second of your life ticking down and this marks him as an outsider because… if you always have time to spare, why would you ever need to run? It also brings home the stark reality of the world. The sedate pace of the entitled versus the madcap living day to day of the poor. They are literally working to live.

The metaphors at time can get a little ham-fisted.

There is one scene that sums up the missed opportunities of this film. Will is in a casino playing poker – gambling with their lives essentially – he’s playing against the owner of the loan company his mother owed, Philippe Weis (Vincent Kartheiser) when a young woman approaches the table. Philippe nonchalantly throws out the line “This is awkward, is she my mother? My wife? My daughter?”

He’s right. This could be a source of tension. If everyone is never ages beyond being twenty-five how do you tell a daughter from her grandmother? This is never explored. It might have been more interesting to make the woman (Amanda Seyfried) Phillipe’s mother instead of his daughter and Will’s love interest Sylvia. To have Will and Phillipe be mirror images of each other. One so secure in never having to grieve over the loss of his mother and one who lost his mother and is now seemingly doomed to spend eternity without her.

The movie, through Sylvia, does make a few good philosophical points. Because they can live forever they no longer take risks because the only thing that can kill them is illness, attack or accident… so, do they really live or are they simply existing?

Again, another great point that isn’t fully realised.

This is the legacy of this film. Interesting ideas that are never fully explored and given over for the more simple and bludgeoned message that ‘money doesn’t buy happiness.’

Will is arrested for the murder of Henry Hamilton and in a desperate bid to escape he kidnap Sylvia. Somewhere along the way there is a car crash and they are set upon by minute-men.

It’s hard to describe what the minute-men are. They’re like muggers because they steal your money… but when time is currency and they steal your life to extend their own. Does that make them vampires?

Sylvia and Will are left with only a few hours left on their clocks and we’re given another amazing idea that goes no where.

Sylvia begins to freak out. She has never been this close to death before. This might have even been more powerful if the film had pulled the trigger on her being much older than Will or even being Phillipe’s mother. A woman who is privileged enough to have lived for decades never needing to worry about the sting of death suddenly faces impending death.

This is something Will knows well so there could have been this amazing turnaround where Sylvia goes from being confident in her own world to where Will returns to his roots and shows her how to live in his.

What we’re given is a quick freak out and then she is fine.

All the urgency is sucked out of the situation.

That’s the curse of this film. Interesting premise, scenes that should be amazing and tense… then it’s all sucked away. It sometimes struggles with it’s identity. It never really commits to being a fully realised dystopian future sci-fi so that the social commentary can stay relevant.

It’s not a terrible film. The acting is okay, Olivia Wilde is good but there isn’t much for her to do. Cillian Murphy plays a cop and he turns in a good performance, but again there isn’t much for him to do. Justin Timberlake does a good job, there isn’t much to his character. Amanda Seyfried plays a pretty good spoiled brat, but her adaptation to living on a few hours is much too easy as is her conversion to robbing her father.

Its a film that, at it’s heart… longs to be more than it is. You can see the fingerprints of great ideas but somewhere along the way they got left behind and I think the film suffers for it. It was entertaining the first time round and sometimes I get the urge to rewatch it… but it’s one of those films I can’t bring myself to settle long enough to finish a second time.

RTJ

Southland Tales – The Rock Bottom of my Movie List

What’s up, Buttercups?

Well, the day has finally arrived. After more than a year of doing this. Here I am. The WORST film I’ve ever watched. It also proved to be a triumph of hope over experience.

I sat through all of this movie. Every single minute of it, convinced it’d do something amazing and clever and it’d become something mind altering.

This movie catfished me.

It lead me on for more than 2 hours, letting me believe vainly that it’d get good and it didn’t!

So, well done movie! You ruined me for other films that take a little while to get going! For a solid few years after watching this, if a film didn’t grab me right from the beginning… I turned it off. I don’t know if that’s entirely this film’s fault or if part of the blame lies with the vast amount of content available… but this is my blog and I’m blaming the film!

Again, this is another bad film that has star power it shouldn’t. It has The Rock, Seann William Scott, Justin Timberlake and Sarah Michelle Geller. There is also a soulful cameo from a then relatively unknown Lana Del Rey and a slew of actors who are so much better than this film! Kevin Smith, Wallace Shawn, Miranda Richardson, Mandy Moore, Jon Lovtiz, John Larroquette, Christopher Lambert… AMY POEHLER! Amy Goddamned Poehler!

This was back at a time where Scott was still trying to break out of the shadow cast by the American Pie films and The Rock… was still trying to break in to Hollywood and was still called The Rock instead of Dwayne Johnson – I’d have loved for him to have been nominated for an Oscar during that time just so some Hollywood A Lister would have to read out that name when talking about the category… but then, I’m an ass.

Each of the film’s big names plays one of the main characters. Seann William Scott actually plays two – kinda… but I’ll get to that. He’s supposed to be a cop who is doing an undercover TV show and is encouraged to show how racist the police for actually is.

The Rock is easily the best part of this film he plays an action movie star with the most hilarious nervous tic! Looking back at it, I might have just watched the rest of this film to giggle at that nervous tic!

Sarah Michelle Geller plays a pornstar, in an world where pornstars can be talk show hosts, singers and involved in the political scene… and they say movies have no basis in real life!

The entirety of the plot is based around a hole in the desert. There is a hole in the desert caused by the invention of a machine that uses the worlds oceans as a perpetual motion machine. There is also a screenplay being written by the action star amnesia suffering Boxer Santaros (The Rock) and his pornstar girlfriend/mistress Krysta Kapowski (Geller). The screenplay is about… a perpetual motion machine that opens a hole in the middle of the desert because it slows the earth’s rotation by a fraction of a second and only Jericho Cane (played by Boxer) can stop it.

There is also a crazed fan who just wants to give Jericho – not Boxer the actor, Jericho the character – a blow job and to do so she pretends that evil cabal in his screenplay is real and holds herself hostage unless he allows her to blow him.

It’s a strange film. One that is apparently more ingrained on my memory than I would like.

Although the crazed fan section of the movie does have the pay off of Boxer going from being his timid self to striking an action hero pose as Jericho to accept the fan’s request to blow him only to snap back to being scared and nervous when she’s sniped by the local army unit stationed to keep the peace.

It turns out that script Boxer’s writing is actually true.

The cabal exists and the machine they turned on did actually slow the world a fraction of a second and open a hole in the desert. The hole’s actually a wormhole. Which transports whatever goes into it 30 minutes into the past in a different part of the desert.

This is where Roland and Ronald Taverner (Both Seann William Scott) come in. From the beginning we see his ‘good’ actor version and the ‘bad’ racist cop across from each other. The actual cop is tied and it’s the actor who goes out to try and show the racism in the police force.

They are actually the same person. Through logic that doesn’t quite make sense. Because for 2 of them to exist. One had to go through the portal to be transported 30 minutes into the past… but also he would have had to have been stopped from going through because if he went through there would only have been one. It’s a paradox and that comes into play in the climax of the film where the two versions touch each other and all of reality gets a bit wibbly at the edges. An armoured van floats allowing someone to shoot down a megazepplin with a rocket launcher… and then fall to their death… It’s a strange film folks.

This film doesn’t so much as break the forth wall as burn all of reality down.

The plot is confusing at best. It feels like it’s trying to say too much and be subtle with its nods. But the message is garbled and what should be a sly meta nod becomes someone screaming in your face “Did you see what we did there? Did you? Did you see it? Wasn’t that meta? Look at you, covered in all that fourth wall dust!” Not to mention the absolute random insertion of a drug induced music video in the middle of the film – I’m not kidding – to which Justin Timberlake lip syncs the song All These Things I’ve Done by The Killers.

For the full length of the song!

To this day I don’t know why! What did it add?! How much of the film’s budget went on the song rights and the filming of that entire scene?! Why am I yelling?! I don’t know either!

Phew.

There are some clever things in here. There really are. There’s a snide jab at the militarisation of police forces. There is a social commentary on the demonisation of teenage sexuality and sexual activity versus a promotion of safe sex and an informed, sexually aware adolescence (both things fondly championed by the right) there is even the ham-fisted narrative of racism within law enforcement institutions. But these smart, socially aware comments are lost in the shuffle of a plot that is trying so hard to be cool and intellectual it mostly becomes confusing.

There are some good points, but they are only points. I’ve already mentioned The Rock and that hysterical nervous tic.

There’s a scene early on in the movie where we’re introduced to one of the Taverners in front of a mirror. Him and his reflection are out of sync and watching him move and then his reflection is a great visual effect.

The climax feels a tad overblown. There is a nice moment where Boxer is standing face to face with the cabal and spontaneously a tattoo of Jesus appears on his back before the entire ship is shot out of the air. This scene also features the doleful vocals of Lana Del Rey.

Looking back at it now… I’ve found more good in it than I remember at the time. Mostly, I think my brain is filtering out the crap and leaving the solid nuggets of story and character threads for me to work with… But I’m not gonna re-watch it to find out.

RTJ

Super Mario Brothers – Thank God the Dinosaurs Aren’t Alive to See This!

What’s up, Buttercups?

This film has star power in it that it really shouldn’t. There are a couple of stars in this film that must have been on really hard times to even consider doing this movie. That is possibly the biggest coup this film offers. Where else can you find actors like Bob Hoskins and Dennis Hopper in a film that is pretty much badly… well… badly everything. The premise is stupid in the extreme. The writing is preposterous. The effects are… ridiculous and yet they somehow managed to score two top class actors and didn’t hold John Leguizamo back too much.

As a kid I loved the Super Mario Brother’s games on Gameboy. I honestly don’t know many people who don’t but this film… I got it as a treat when I was about nine or ten and I watched it four or five times. At the time I thought it was cool, it didn’t resemble the video games much but there was Mario, Luigi, Toad and King Koopa (Back before his name changed to Bowser. To this day I have no idea why the name changed. Same with Sonic the Hedgehog’s villain being Dr Eggman when I was a kid I knew him as Dr Robotnik.) They tried to do an interesting twist on the origin of the mushroom kingdom – they failed. But it was an interesting twist and at least it was – to my child brain – an interesting take on the extinction of the dinosaurs.

I immediately liked John Leguizamo’s Luigi; he was witty and funny and quirky against Bob Hoskins’ straight man Mario. I sometimes wonder now if that straight, po-faced character wasn’t all Hoskins realising what he’d let himself into.

It’s also the first time I ever remember wondering what Luigi and Mario’s surnames were. Mostly because I couldn’t believe that they were actually Mario. (Turns out that is canon. Luigi and Mario’s surname IS Mario.)

There is a forced romance between Luigi and Daisy (Samantha Matthis) who just so happens to be the lost Princess of the dinosaur realm – where everyone is descended from dinosaurs but they still somehow look exactly like people. Daisy happens to be an archaeology major doing a dig in the middle of New York after finding the skeleton of a dinosaur – it’s never explicitly stated but the location of the skeleton close to where the portal and the film’s opening showing us Daisy’s mother leaving her at an orphanage before being attacked by Koopa and collapsing the ceiling… We’re left to draw our own conclusions but, yeah, I’m 99.9% sure Daisy’s playing with her mother’s bones. Which is morbid.

The entire theme of the film is belief. Luigi is shown to be a character who believes totally in the other world and following hunches and instincts. Mario is the more practical of the two but even by the end he is converted, if only in a throw away line. Luigi is shown to be a head in the clouds type, a slacker and goof ball. He is obviously the comic relief of the film.

After that we’re just left pondering why we’re even watching the film. There are questions asked that are never answered mostly because… there are no answers. For example; the portal only works if the necklace with a fragment of the original dino killing meteorite is present. So Daisy’s mother leaves it with her daughter in this world… So how did Spike and Iggy (two very dumb henchmen, even when they’re forcibly evolved they get things wrong) come through to grab several missing girls.

Oh yeah, that’s a plot line. It’s brought up in an offhand way that women are going missing from the city. Then Mario’s girlfriend is taken – apparently he has a girlfriend and it’s not the princess – by mistake. Even though it’s painfully obvious the girl needed is Daisy.

Once in the Mushroom Kingdom – only called that in a throwaway line from Dennis Hopper… seriously what did they have on him to get him to make this movie? – we’re treated to the creation of Toad. He’s a busker and for some reason that’s illegal in this BDSM, leather clad, industrial nightmare of a town. We meet Yoshi – briefly and we only know who they are because of… you guessed it! A throwaway line! There are goombas, but instead of being the small jumped on canon fodder they are in the games. Here they are 8 feet tall, 3 foot wide and easily convinced to dance.

There is a tongue-in-cheek club scene where we’re treated to Walk The Dinosaur – which is about as witty as this film gets – while Mario dance’s with a large woman in order to steal the pendant from her.

Meanwhile King Koopa is laying out his evil master plan – while bathing in hot mud… because being a germaphobe, bathing in hot mud and being descended from T-rexes are all the character development he needs.

His plan is simple. Use Daisy to put the reconnect the pendant with the rest of the meteorite and merge their world with ours. Turns out that it has to be Daisy because she’s special – isn’t she just – and that something about her means that she can connect the two pieces of meteorite and not come to any harm.

During their adventure Luigi picks a mushroom – pretty sure the writers were doing A LOT of that while they were making this film – because he thinks it’s trying to talk to him. It turns out that it was. The fungus that we see infesting the kingdom is actually the old king – Daisy’s father – who Koopa De-evolved into fungus.

The finale happens where the worlds begin to merge. Mario’s main plumbing rival gets de-evolved into a chimp and a crowd of people laugh at it… because nothing phases a New Yorker apparently.

Then the world’s separate again. A tiny walking bomb goes off. Mario and Luigi shoot Koopa with a De-evolution ray and he turns into mud and dies.

Daisy chooses to stay with her father and new found kingdom while Mario and Luigi go home to Brooklyn.

The film ends on massive scene of sequel bait. Daisy interrupts a family dinner in battle worn clothing and carrying a gun saying she needs their help. I think this is the biggest act of belief in the entire film! Believing this was going to get a sequel. Looking back it was all too easy for me to get behind the notion that these characters were the same ones that I used to play as. So it might have been a case of terrible film blindness because I liked the actor and I loved the characters… but looking back I am more than able to take off the rose tinted specs and wonder… how did I ever think this was good? I mean this film came out the same year as Jurassic Park! How are the effects so laughably bad? How did any studio look at the script and greenlight this? I know Ijoked about the writer’s being on mushrooms earlier… but to be honest. I’d be more impressed if they were.

Now… that being said.

Is there any way I can redeem this film? Probably not. There is the main theme belief. That instinct can trump knowledge. But we also touch on the importance of origins; where we come from and the importance of Families. Daisy doesn’t know hers and it turned out that Mario raised Luigi because their parents were out of the picture – not kidding this is what passes for first date conversation between Luigi and Daisy after that they’re pretty much ‘in love’ with each other for no other reason than the plot demands he chase after her.

As films go… Oh, it’s a hot mess! But you should watch it at least once. Just to be able to wear the badge of honour that comes from seeing how badly a filom can be. It’s honest from the get go that you’re not going to get something especially deep or thought provoking. It is one of the first proof that video games don’t make good movies, if not the first. It’s a lesson we haven’t yet learned. The reason we love video games and the reason we love movies are different and the sooner writers and production companies get their heads around that the better off we’ll be.

RTJ

Jurassic Park – Never Work with Children or Dinosaurs!

What’s up, Buttercups?

With the second Jurassic World movie coming out let this year, I thought it might be a good thing to go back and look at where it all started… that and this movie has eggs in it and it is Easter after all.

It was a smash hit when it was released – I remember watching it in the cinema when I was 5-ish. My little sister fell asleep and I tried to wake her up so she could see the Three-horn on the screen. We watched A LOT of the Land Before Time. I always liked Little Foot and Spike.

Any way… There are a few similarities between this film and Jaws.

We have the monster – T-rex and raptors instead of a massive shark.

We have the official who wants to make money – Hammond (The lovely Richard Attenborough) instead of the mayor.

We have the experts – Dr Alan Grant (Sam Neill) Dr Ellie Stattler (Laura Dern) and Ian Malcolm (the man they call Jeff ‘God-damn’ Goldblum – I don’t know if they actually call him that… but they should)

We even get one of our intrepid heroes injured by the T-rex much like Quint got munched on by the shark.

We also have the expert use of tension built up in a different way. Last time it was with the ominous music and clever camera angle making us be the shark. This time its with the often aped and now iconic scene. We hear a thud and watch the water in the cup on the dashboard ripple. Then there is the creaking of the electrified wires and the realisation that nothing is working. Followed by the missing goat. Then we get the goat’s leg thrown at us.

Then we see the T-rex! And she is beautiful! This is the best part of the film and hands down some of the best use of practical and computed generated effects. The way the pupil in the eyes contracts when the kids shine the torch right into it! These effects still hold up after 20+ years. How many films can also say that?

Yes, there are a few moments where, if you look very closely and know exactly what you’re looking for, you can get a quick peak behind the curtain, but to me that makes it all the better when you can’t! You get a quick peak because these were real puppets. They were there for the actors to work off of and that, I think, makes all the difference in their reactions. You don’t have the two kids Lex (Arianna Richards) and Tim (Joseph Mazzello) acting against thin air or a tennis ball stuck to someone’s head for an eye level. You have them opposite real world animatronic puppets.

And when we do go to compute generated images. You can barely tell!

This is what I love about practical effects. Sometimes they are a pain in the arse. Look at films like Inception where they built an entire floating set for the zero gravity fight. That must have taken months to design and build. But then look at the scene!

Whereas how many films have been ruined purely by their reliance on compute generated images? The Justice League – Henry Cavill’s moustache tripped them up. How can you make a man fly convincingly but you can’t remove a moustache?

Spielberg is a master of mixing practical and CG effects. This film proves that and in a way that is also another thing this film has in common with Jaws. The CG is so limited that it looks perfect. If there were more of it we would all start noticing the cracks. Much like the Bruce the shark from Jaws, the more we saw of it the less afraid of it we would have been. I daresay thatif Bruce had been a fully functional puppet and everyone had gotten a good look at how lifelike it wasn’t… Jaws might have been relegated to nothing more than a B-Movie.

Same with Jurassic Park. If they’d over done the CGI we could have ended up with the first film in the franchise looking more like the third!

This film is more theme heavy than Jaws was. Jaws was a simple tale all about survival. While that does show up again here, it’s not the main theme.

The main theme isn’t even ‘life finds a way’ which is possibly the most well known quote in all movie history. The main theme is something that is almost entirely skipped over. It’s another of Ian Malcolm’s lines (can anyone remember why there was a mathematician on the island of dinosaurs?) and it was ‘once you figured out that you could, you never once stopped to think if you should’ I’m paraphrasing. But that is the heart of this film. Everything that happens in this movie happens because no one took a moment’s pause and thought ‘should we be doing this?’

That’s a little heavy handed, I grant you. It’s more a notion that even the best ideas have unforeseen consequences. It’s almost a reversal of how scientific discovery works. Massive advances happen during times of war. We got jet engines and mobile phones all from the necessity for being able to go faster than the enemy and talk to our troops quicker. Even medicine benefited from war. Skin grafts and facial reconstruction surgeries were mostly pioneered on burned and injured soldiers.

Whereas here we go from a peacetime invention that unleashes horrors on the world.

Mostly though the theme is that of change.

Grant is against kids, even going so far to scare one who scoffs at the idea that raptor is ‘essentially’ just a big turkey. In fact, they were actually turkey sized and didn’t use their claws from ripping and slashing but more for puncturing and gouging… but try telling that to the kids you go to school with. Apparently Hollywood beats out the History Channel, Animal Planet and the internet. By the end of the film though he is an accepted guardian to Hammond’s grandchildren.

Hammond’s point of view changes drastically too. Through out the film he is adamant that the dinosaurs not be harmed… until his grandchildren are in danger. He’s reluctant then but makes the right decision for his family and ultimately his soul.

Ian is the only one who doesn’t change. He is a naysayer from beginning to end. If anything he gets more smug as the movie goes on, proving him right. He’s the only one who comes to the island ready to look critically at the entire experience. Where as Grant and Stattler are both swept up in the beauty and majesty of what they are seeing.

Speaking of beauty and majesty… The score! No prizes for who composed the score. John Williams is one of the industries legends and his work will outlive us all! I have yet to not get a reaction from hearing the iconic theme for the park. The slowly building music increasing until you see the first dinosaur and then it washes over you. Even talking about it and thinking about it are enough to give me some shivers and make the hairs on the back of my arm stand up.

That is what great music does to you and John Williams crafts great music! He knows how to create music that makes you notice it as well as music that just sits in the background smirking while playing on your nerves. If you think of three amazing movies themes chances are you’ve picked at least one of John Williams’ compositions.

The biggest thing I love about this movie is how much it still stands up. We don’t need to make excuses for it ‘the budget was cut’ or ‘someone grew a moustache’ (Yep, throwing lots of shade DC’s way this week!) the effects work even twenty years later and there is a chance that in twenty more they will still look good. Maybe even better than if they actually had dinosaurs on set. I’m assuming that’s because working with animals is one of those film making rules. I assume it goes twice for animals that think you’re food.

RTJ

Jaws – Just when you thought it was safe to go see a summer blockbuster!

What’s up, Buttercups?

I am on a roll of missing my Monday posting! Again real life and – more concerning for me – a curse stopped me from posting this week. It started on Sunday. First my coffee maker stopped working – it created a vacuum seal within itself so no water would come out and I couldn’t open it – then my phone went a bit haywire – it wouldn’t load Pokemon Go properly… luckily it was after Bulbasaur day so I didn’t miss it – then at dinner the large knife I was using to cut my home made pizza (it was delicious) snapped in my hand! Literally the blade snapped clean off the knife. One of those things is strange, two is a coincidence, three is a curse!

So today (I’m writing this at twenty to midnight) I spent most of my time making my coffee maker work – that was the big concern! It was a birthday gift and Dammit I NEED hot coffee in the morning! – Then I spent an hour or so shopping to buy new knives and uninstalled and reinstalled Pokemon on my phone. Basically I spent all day undoing everything that yesterday had done.

I’m babbling and you want me to get on with the review.

Right.

Jaws. Actually, the theme of being cursed fits in well with this movie. Not that it was cursed but the reason the shark doesn’t make its appearance until the very end of the film – lending the movie its much lauded status as a tension building masterclass – is because the mechanical dummy shark they had would often stop working. So instead of having the shark on screen for much of the movie we are treated to clever editing shots and ambiguity.

So may take this to mean that the film is only good because they couldn’t get the shark to work but I on the other hand think this is down to clever directing. Whereas a lesser director might have struggled on and overrun their production time in order to get all the shots they needed, Spielberg went with what he had and made the best out of it. Using the camera tracking the victims from under the surface and thus making the audience a stand in from the shark. Or at least making us feel complicit for what was about to happen.

This is where the heart of the tension comes from in the film. You see a small boy on an inflatable. He’s playing happily. Then we see him from underneath and that iconic score cuts in. The first two slow notes being pulled from the strings over our nerves. More shots from above. The boy surrounded by other frolickers and even though we know that any one of them could be next we all know it’s the boy. Underneath and the shark is closer, the score running faster over increasingly jagged nerves as we all stare at the screen; transfixed.

We know what is coming. We don’t want to watch but we can’t quite turn away. There is a scream and people are running except for the little boy who is dragged under in an eruption of bubbles and then engulfed in a burst of red. All that is left is the ragged, bitten remains of his little inflatable that should have kept him safe.

That is the power of this movie. Much like Psycho did before it. It took somewhere we thought we should be safe and turned it against us. Unlike Psycho, Jaws doesn’t give us a reason why. There is no crazy man wearing a wig and his mother’s clothes. There is only nature; vicious cruel and ravenous. Though the sequels tried to copy this none of them got it as right as this film – the least said about the last film the better, shark with a grudge against one family… what were you smoking that day Hollywood?

This film is also remembered for having some of the most iconic pieces of cinema history. The dolly zoom onto Chief Brody’s (Roy Scheider) face as he sees the shark attack at the beach. Will anyone ever forget that? The line “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” also iconic – as is the toast given by the old caption Quint (Robert Shaw) “Here’s to swimming with bow legged women!” – right down to the climax. Sure the ending was hated by Peter Benchley who wrote the original novel… but it became iconic all the same. Benchley is, by no means, the only writer to hate some part or all of an adaption of their work. Stephen King hated what Stanley Kubrick did in The Shining – although I heard rumours he really hated The Lawnmower Man and I can’t say that I blame him for that.

Personally, I hope that one day I am fortunate enough to hate an adaption of my work.

Speaking of hate. It has been well reported that Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss loathed each other. Much like their characters did. The arc of their film relationship and of their off screen relationship were likewise mirrored. Both sets of men were disdainful of the other. Quint scoffed at Matt Hooper (Dreyfuss) for being a college educated man and Hooper bristled at having his knowledge belittled.

Things were similar between the two off camera. Shaw spent a colossal amount of time drunk and would – reportedly – tease Dreyfuss.

The similarities carried over where Quint and Hooper found an odd mutual respect for one another after a night of drinking and swapping stories. So too did Dreyfuss and Shaw find an awkward kind of respect between them.

They say desperation makes for odd bed fellows and I think being stuck on a boat in the middle of the sea would definitely breed a type of desperation.

It’s something that nowadays would possible tarnish the publicity of a film… but this adds to the mythos of it. Men who don’t particularly like each other coming together to make art that will outlast all of them. There is a kind of beauty in that.

Obviously, we have to talk about the score. There is no way in hell we can’t. Just the mention of the name Jaws and I bet half of you were already humming that theme to yourself. Of course it was done by John Williams. Was there ever any doubt. The man is brilliant beyond any doubt and this score is perfect for the film.

The slow, relentless score that builds and builds, dragging you along with it until your breathing is shallow and your hearts races. To end on such a flourish as the attack finally happens. Master stroke!

It’s hard to pick a theme out of this film. It is the origin of the modern blockbuster and the root for many people’s irrational fear and hatred of sharks despite more people being killed per year by pretty much everything else on the face of the planet. This film had a big impact on the way we see sharks. Every other predator is just doing what it has to do to survive and yet we still see the black eyes of a shark as soulless, calculating pits. They’re still the reason we’re a little hesitant to head out into deep water, they’re the reason we’re a bit jumpy of shadows in the sea.

If anything that is the biggest theme of the film.

Fear.

From Quint’s story about the men around him being eaten alive by sharks in the water. The fear of the Mayor that a shark will hurt tourism – I’m not even touching on the myriad of conspiracy theories that he has been covering it up with help of the old Sheriff – to the fear we feel seeing the shark target someone and knowing that all we can do is watch as we get closer. Powerless to change what is about to happen. Powerless to look away even though that’s all we want in the world.

Fear is a powerful thing. Deep and instinctual and this film knows that. It uses it superbly and even made the best out of a malfunctioning shark puppet named Bruce.

RTJ

Stand By Me – A body and his friends

What’s up, Buttercups?

Again I’m late but this time I have a really good excuse… Yesterday was my birthday and if you think I’m working on my birthday… bless your little cotton socks! It has been an amazing few days. I passed the 200km mark on my last run – turned out to be my last run as a 30 year old – it was also anew personal best (I’m now a stone’s throw from breaking a 30 minute 5km) then there was Comic Con on Saturday which was insane!

So… now I’m done explaining why I’m so lazy I should probably get on with what I do here; review something that better people than me have reviewed long before I decided to splurge my ego and insight all over the internet.

My next problem is… how do you top the Shawshank Redemption? It turns out the only way to top King is with King. I’m not going far, I’m sticking with Stephen. Hell, I’m not even changing books. Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption and The Body were two short stories in a foursome called Different Seasons. Both titles were changed for cinematic release. One was shortened and the other was retitled Stand By Me.

It is easily one of the best adaptations of a Stephen King story out there.

There are a lot of them out there. Some are good like this, Shawshank, the new IT and Misery… Some are not, like The Lawnmower Man (Good LORD! The Lawnmower Man!), The Dark Tower (I have beef with that film!) and Dreamcatcher, to a lesser extent.

This is definitely one of the good ones.

It’s a simple story of childhood friendship and adventure. Sure, it’s a macabre adventure of four friends trying to see a dead body for the first time. We have the four friends; Gordie – the imaginative writer everyone knows is going places, Chris – the tough one who comes from a bad family, Vern – the not too bright one AKA the comic relief and Teddy – the crazy one.

They all have their little parts to play in the story. Vern (Jerry O’Connell) overhears the conversation from his older brother about seeing the body of a missing boy who’s disappearance has been reported on.

That sparks the group to come up with a plan to find the body and become local heroes.

The trip is something amazing. It’s a bonding experience that a lot of adults couldn’t make. It’s something pure. They aren’t trying to get away from anything; this would be something that their adult counterparts would be incapable of. Every time we see a reunion film about old friends they’re all trying to escape something and through out the film and the adventure they have they over come the issues we’re shown them having at the start of the movie. This film is different because we’re introduced to them as kids.

We see the entire film through their eyes but told by Gordie’s older self (Richard Dreyfuss).

As a child my favourite part of this film was the short story of Gordie’s (Wil Wheaton) in the middle. What I didn’t understand at the time was how it was a perfect little story. It has a basic setup and is perfectly self contained.

After that comes the emotional centre of the film. Chris Chambers (River Phoenix playing his heart out) breaks down about an event at school. He admits to taking the school milk money but then reveals that he gave it back and yet he still got suspended for three days. Then goes on to point out that the teacher then turned up wearing a new dress.

He breaks down because he realises then that, no matter what he does, he will always been judged by his family’s reputation and that the only way to escape is to get away from the town where he was born and has lived his entire life.

It’s amazingly deep moment and one that defines his friendship with Gordie, defines their friendships with Verne and Teddy (Corey Feldman). It is the first major crack you see between the friends. it’s never really acknowledged by them until the very end of the adventure and it is one of those moments that leaves us feeling a sad and brings to mind the people in out own lives who we’ve been friends with who have disappeared.

It’s a little rose-tinted in places but then again, aren’t a lot of our younger years? It has its deeper moments. Some cut right to the bone. The worst of those cuts is the death of Chris. It doesn’t happen on screen or even in the timeline of the movie – which actually makes it worse. He dies after doing everything he can to escape his past and his family’s reputation. It’s a heartbreaking revelation that all that work was for nothing; he became a better person for it to end up being his downfall.

While the only thing that really changes in the film from the book is the location. It goes from being set in Maine to being set in Oregon… aside from that change the rest of the story is recreated beat for beat.

For a film about four children its strangely adult. While the narration is rose-tinted at times it too can be bleak; the children make the very adult decision to eschew the fame they think they will get for finding the body of this boy. They all are forced to grow up over one long weekend and by the end of it none of them are really the same.

That’s the main theme of this film; everything changes. Ray Browers – the poor dead kid – changes. Not just from being dead to being alive or from being lost to being found but he changes from being a trophy to being a catalyst, the boys change, their lives change but mostly their friendship changes.

I don’t know why I love this film but I do. Maybe it is the rose tinted look at childhood that slips into being bleak and melancholic. Maybe because it’s a beautiful and tells a wonderful story. Maybe because it reminds me of the friends I had when I was that age.

Probably it was the mix of characters I could see as myself and my friends, a quest that felt like anyone could go on and an indescribable longing for life to go back to being that simple again. Where I didn’t have to worry about bills and the only money worries I had were how much chocolate I could buy with my pocket money.

The word nostalgia comes from the old words for past and pain. Being honest, its a sweet pain, isn’t it? Looking back and wishing we had that time all to do again. Maybe we’d change a few things here and there. Resolve a few regrets we have. Maybe we’d go back knowing what we know now and buy stock in the rising companies or invent something that belonged to someone else… but I honestly think that a lot of us would go back and relive the same moments over again. Just as they are. Only this time we’d pay attention to them properly because they are moments we can’t get back.

That’s really what this film is about. The pain of wishing. Of seeing the good old days and realising much too late just how good they were. Realising that adventures aren’t much fun until you can make them into stories.

It’s sad and beautiful and sounds profound… but what do I know? I’m and idiot with a laptop on the internet talking about films I love and getting misty-eyed over old films.

RTJ

*NB I don’t know what in the blue hell happened… but Shawshank Redeption apparently didn’t post on the day I posted it. so now my entire schedule is out of whack!

Shawshank Redemption – Holy S**T! What A Film!

What’s up, Buttercups?

Apparently the party I’m late to can even be my own. This week has been a very busy one. I’ve been getting ready for my Birthday next Monday and this weekend I have the great joy of going to Comic Con. So there has been a lot of prep going into that and as a result I’ve been a bit lax with my reviewing… but sometimes things line up and I get to review one of the greatest films of all time so… swings and roundabouts.

Does this film even need an introduction? One of the best loved films in the world and one of the best adapted Stephen King short stories (Honestly, I only think Stand By Me is better done).

The story is simple. Andy Dufresne (That’s spelt right, I Googled it) is accused of killing his wife and sentenced to life within the walls of the titular prison. He spends many years digging through his cell wall, helped along the way by his friendship with ‘Red’ (Morgan Freeman) and a brief span as librarian and chief book keeper for the crooked administration of the prison – a position that comes with a lot of perks – until he finally escapes.

This was my first film as an adult that I truly loved and it’s easy to love. Tim Robbins is a great casting choice for Andy. He lends himself well to the bookish, quiet nature of the man and plays his broken and regretful scenes beautifully. Morgan Freeman is another great casting choice (not in line with the white Irishman he is supposed to be portraying but… it’s Morgan Freeman, who’s complaining?) he plays the man who has been known to acquire certain items, from time to time.

It does fall into the well worn tropes of prison; abusive guards, crooked warden (Bob Gunton) and even prison rape… but nothing is really lingered on. We’re never made to watch Andy suffer through the ordeals, mostly because this story isn’t really Andy’s. It’s told by Red – which follows along with the short story – and that is the heart of the magic in the film. We see everything that Andy does through the eyes of his best friend. As far as the viewer knows – or doesn’t – we never meet the real Andy Dufresne. We only meet the Andy who lives in Red’s memories and Red isn’t exactly the most of reliable storytellers. This is compounded in the short story by the knowledge that Red has changed the name of the Mexican village in case the papers were found during a search.

Our first sight of Red is him desperately acting as though he has been reformed – thinking that this is what the parole committee want to hear – in order to be released. The second he’s rejected the facade drops around his friends and he begins taking bets on which on the new inmates will break during the first night.

So right from the get go we’re shown Red being manipulative. Not the best of introductions but it helps us to empathise with him later when we see him back before the review board. This time he’s not desperately trying to convince them that he has changed. He is a more weary character, down trodden and dour. He doesn’t mask his feelings and says what is on his mind. He is a man made thin by the grinding of the world in which he lives.

He is also a man who is comfortable in that world. In there he is a big shot. He is a person people come to for things. He has automatic respect from the other cons simply for being who he is. That is one of the big themes of this film. They talk a lot about institutionalisation but they could easily be talking about routine. You get so used to doing something that once you can no longer do it, you get lost.

Brooks (James Whitmore) has an iconic scene where he commits suicide because he’s been in prison for so long that he doesn’t know how to cope with the outside world any more. He feels like an outsider and in the end it drives him over the edge. We later see a similar scene with Red and a similar set of emotions but this time with a different pay off.

Transformation is a big theme within the film. You have the long, slow, grinding of the passage of time. Which takes away your youth and replaces it with grey hairs and wrinkles and aching joints… and you have Andy achieving his freedom. In the rainstorm and the lightning he looks like a younger man, he stands tall with a smile on his face. Considering what he had to crawl through to get out of the prison… how many of us would have a smile on our face and not be trying to scrub every inch of our bodies with bleach until we felt clean?

I couldn’t talk about this film and not mention hope, could I? Hope is the single biggest theme of the entire movie. Whether it is the “Shitty pipe dream” – nice bit of foreshadowing there Red – of using a tiny rock hammer to dig through a prison wall (in the story it takes several rock hammers and badly mixed concrete) or the hope that your friend will be waiting for you in a small Mexican village that you once talked about.

That’s the difference between Brooks and Red, hope. Red who starts off being very scornful of Andy’s hope eventually succumbs to it. They are reflections of each other. Andy was a big shot banker on the outside and coming into prison he had nothing and so clung to hope. Red, on the other hand, was a big shot contraband man in prison and it was coming out that left him with nothing and that was when he clung to hope.

Hope was what they had when they had nothing else left. It was what kept them going.

I look at this film through very misty eyes, behind some very rose tinted glasses. The first few times around I misread a few things. For example; one of the most brutal scene involves the prison guard Hadley (Clancy Brown) beating an inmate to death. Obviously this is character setup to show us that he is hardened and not someone to be messed with. Later on – after Andy finds a way of helping him keep $60,000 for the IRS – Hadley moves Andy from the laundry to the library and begins sending other guards to see him for financial advice. And after Andy is put in the hospital thanks to an assault Hadley takes it upon himself to take revenge; beating the offending inmate to within an inch of his life so that he can never walk again or at solid food.

At the time I thought this was a show of solidarity for a man who had done him a favour. It’s only now that I look back that I wonder if money wasn’t the real factor. It’s never stated explicitly when the assault occurs but if it happened around tax season… then Hadley might have had to pay more because Andy wasn’t able to help him.

I still choose to think of it as a man doing protecting someone who once did him a favour.

I’m probably wrong but I’m more than okay being that naive.

Ultimately this is a film about friendship. In fact – aside from the murder that Andy is accused of – everything in the film happens because of his friendship with Red. If he isn’t friends with Red he doesn’t get his name on the list to work on outside, which means he doesn’t help Hadley, which means he doesn’t get moved to the library and his financial skills never catch the warden’s attention… none of the plot can happen without this friendship. It is the linchpin of the entire movie and as a moral; friendship helps us escape…I’ve definitely heard worse.

RTJ

10 Items or Less – Friendship in Aisle Three

What up, Buttercups?

This film is a recent discovery of mine. I bought it for one reason and one reason alone. It had Morgan Freeman in it and I’d never heard of it. Honestly, I wish this was a cooler reason but when it comes to Morgan Freeman… do reasons get any cooler?

It’s an amazingly small film. The named cast in the credits is maybe about ten people and most of the roles are reduced down to cameos – including this weeks connectors Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman who pop up right at the very end of the film playing them selves.

Aside from that, there are actually a lot of well known faces in this movie. None of them are really at the height of their careers but they’re doing well enough that you recognise them and it almost becomes a game of spotting faces and placing where you’ve seen them before.

The film follows out of an work actor, who’s never given a name so I guess he’s actually Morgan Freeman as he begins to research a possible role for a new film. He’s driven to the set by our first semi-cameo Jonah Hill – playing a starstruck driver on the project. He’s the right amount of starstruck, taking the opportunity to ask a request of his famous passenger for a request.

He we get the first of what I like to think of as the ‘technical break downs’. Packy (Hill) asks him to copy a section of the Titanic audio book. There is a little discussion where Morgan admits he never read the book, pointing out where the reader makes wrong choices and gives his alternate reading.

The role he is researching – although he’s happy to point out that he hasn’t committed – is as a manager for a convenience store. So the requires him to go and spend a few hours hanging around the store and that is where the plot really begins to kick in.

While waiting in the store he meets Scarlet (Paz Vega) who works the 10 Items or less aisle and is amazing at her job. In the few minutes we watch her we see that she doesn’t take any shit – calculates faster than her register does and isn’t afraid to take an item from a customer who decides that 11 items is the same as 10. She also isn’t fazed in the slightest by being watched by Morgan Freeman. Who delights in watching her work and finding out about the ins and outs of the store.

Scarlet is the only one of the tellers who is working. Lorraine (Anne Dudek) who is stationed on the full service aisle is content to sit and file her nails safe in the knowledge that because she is banging the manager Bobby (Bobby Canavale) her job is safe. Who happens to be Scarlet’s ex-husband.

At the end of the shift; Packy is nowhere to be seen and through a few twists and turns, Morgan has no one to rely on but Scarlet. This is the flimsiest section of the film. Some of it is believable; the part where he doesn’t know his phone number… considering he is using a payphone and doesn’t have access to his contacts list. That is believable. The part where is agent is unreachable due to a Jewish holiday… that could be believable but considering there is a lot of talk about them just being Jewish today… actually feels a little anti-Semitic or at the very least a very lazy stereotype.

Scarlet takes pity on Morgan and offers to drive him home as long as he is willing to make a few stops along the way. One of which turns out to be an interview for a new job as Scarlet is sick and tired of working in the 10 items or less line, which is where “checkers go to die.”

Hi-jinks ensue. Mostly in the form of Morgan giving her advice about life and auditioning for the parts. There is a nice little back and forth where they each discuss there 10 items or less that they’d keep in their lives and the 10 items or less they hate about their lives.

It’s a touching moment that brings the two together and although it is a grown man and woman spending a lot of time alone in a car together. You never get the feeling that the film is trying to push them together in a romantic context. It is just one of those beautiful scenarios where two people who don’t know anything about each other connect.

After a scuffle with Bobby, Scarlet’s interview top is ripped and her an Morgan go shopping. He is like a kid in a candy store and for a while you kind of see behind the mask of fame. People stare at him and there are a few people who recognise him and while he revels in this he never seems as happy as he is when he’s talking to sale’s assistants about products. Basically when he gets to be a normal person. He talks to everyone he meets and while he plays it off as curiosity you could also put it down to him being isolated from others because of his status as an actor. When he’s talking to other people he is always talking about them. He gives compliments and advice and – in a few scenes in the credits – tries on their lives.

This film offers us a different take on an actor interacting with the real world, where as some films try to offer us a behind the curtain look at the life of an actor this film tries to offer us the idea of an actor sticking his head out from behind the curtain to look at us.

After shopping they stop at car wash and grab some food before Scarlet has to go to her interview. The timeline seems a little off. Personally, I’m okay with that but I can see others putting a sin on the fact that Scarlet is worried about being late for her interview and then taking time to go shopping, go to a car wash and having a meal and heart-to-heart with an actor.

But it’s a beautiful moment and I’m more than willing to give them the slack they need to do it.

While her car is being washed, Scarlet in is the bathroom changing her clothes and getting made up. Morgan browses the very out of date cassette selection (don’t ever tell Star Lord I said that) and even joins the attendants in waxing some cars in a bizarre game of following the leader.

Then it’s time for the interview. Morgan gives a few last minute pieces of advice about posture and attitude and Scarlet head’s into the interview.

Jim Parsons makes a lovely little cameo as an office worker who is surprised by Morgan’s presence. It’s a cute little scene and reinforces the idea that Morgan pays attention to the world around him, especially the little things that people do – another technical break down – because that is where character lies. It’s not just in what a person says, it’s how they say it and what they do.

It’s as though this film was made for an art class as a teaching tool.

The interview ends and… we don’t find out whether Scarlet got the job or not but that was never the point. The point was that she was so ground down by her day-to-day and her ex-husband that she didn’t think there was a point in even trying to get a better job.

There are a few funny moments where Morgan encourages her to ask for directions (something she hates doing) and Scarlet encourages him to commit to the movie (something he has been very hesitant in doing, even though at the beginning of the film he refers to it as a cinematic blow job. If it flies, great. If not, it doesn’t even count.)

And so we come to the end of the film and they part ways. Both grown from the experience and both knowing that no matter how much they owe the other for the change. They will never see each other again. Morgan does make a paltry attempt at convincing her that they will remain friends… but both of them know in their heart of hearts that once he gets out of her car and closes the door. They’re done.

We don’t see that. The film ends with the friends sitting next to each other and Morgan reaching out to cup Scarlet’s cheek. You can feel the hesitancy between the two of them even though they know it is going to happen and it is a touching, thoughtful moment before a poignant ending.

Them main theme is friendship. It’s not overblown and it’s not shoved in your face every thirty seconds but it is there. Very subtle and very sweet. It isn’t one of those friendships that is made to last. It’s one of those special friendships that only come around once or twice of two people who inexplicably need each other for a short time, learn something, grow and then part ways.

Through out the film we are shown Morgan’s curiosity about everyone around him and that too is a theme. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t let the daily grind of life squash the curiosity and wonder out of your life.

Don’t be afraid to trying something that makes you afraid. Morgan is afraid to sign on to the film. Scarlet is afraid of trying to better her life. They let fear hold them back and it’s through discussion between the two of them that they grow. Scarlet is a bit of a cynic and Morgan is upbeat, very child-like in a lot of his mannerisms and his open curiosity to the world.

Success is sometimes little steps. In the grand scheme of things interviewing for a new job or committing to an indie movie are not massive. Not by any means. But they are first steps to something bigger. Maybe Morgan goes on to have a career resurgence. Maybe Scarlet goes on to get the job and climb the ladder. These would be the big steps but you can’t get there until you have made that first little step.

As you can tell. I really love this film. It’s has a sweaty, intimate feel. It’s not all polished and shiny like a big budget Hollywood movie. That’s why I come back to films like this. Some time’s it’s these little films that feel the most genuine because there’s isn’t anything big on the line. With all the headlines and controversy about studios messing with films and forcing changes or slashing budgets, these little simple indie films get left mostly alone because no one expects them to make vast sums of money by pandering to the lowest common denominator.

Blockbusters are where the big bucks are but a lot of the time, indies are where the art happens.

RTJ

Matilda – Carrie: The Early Years

What’s up, Buttercups?

Matilda. This film is such a nineties movie and so very much darker than I remember it being as a kid… which is the last time I watched it. It has Danny DeVito – whose roll is much bigger than I remembered it being an actor, narrator and director. Mara Wilson – who is now the subject of terrible clickbait articles.

The is no attempt at Making the Wormwood’s (Matilda’s family) likeable. Her father (DeVito) is a brash, arrogant car salesman and crook. Her mother (Rhea Perlman) is ditzy and neglectful and her bother (Brian Levinson) is mean and stupid.

Matilda (Mara Wilson) is the smart intelligent heart of a family that is more than happy living the American dream of making easy money and watching dreadful TV.

All the typical Hollywood stereotypes for neglectful family are hit. Parents are abusive, often absent and favour her dumber older brother over her. It’s through one attempt to belittle his daughter and her burgeoning gift for mathematics that Mr Wormwood gives Matilda an idea which changes the film.

Bad people get punished.

It’s a simple premise but it is one of the big theme of the films. This balancing of accounts.

The retributions are simple enough to begin with and almost as harmless as pranks. She puts blonde hair day in her Father’s hair oil and super glues his hat to his head after she finds out he cheats people at his job as a used car salesman.

Things change when she goes to school. This is another theme of the film and one that is the catalyst for everything that happens all the way up to the climax.

At the school we meet the two polar opposites that every school in my childhood used to have. Miss Trunchbull (Pam Ferris) – a horrible Neanderthal of a woman; loud, overbearing, physically dominating and without a single redeeming quality – and Miss Honey (Embeth Davidtz) who is loving and caring, sweet and obviously going to be the crush and possible first fantasy of every boy in her class.

Matilda and Miss Honey become fast friends and we’re shown a brief glimpse into the young life of our favourite teacher. It’s a truncated story that doesn’t go into as much detail as the book – which is a much more romanticised little mini-story within the novel that includes a small cottage, cold water baths and dinners made up of thick slices of bread and butter – but it proceeds to the big centre piece of the film and Matilda’s crowning achievement in terms of punishment of bad adults.

This is the biggest theme of the film. Rebellion against authority.

Her parents – arguably bad authority figures – her first authority figures. She dyes her father’s hair and sticks his hat to his head and after she develops her psychic powers (we’ll get to that) she fires a carrot at her antagonist brother and blows up the family television.

Then against Miss Trunchbull – again a corrupt authority figure and one we are happy to see taken down – First by throwing a newt at her (not on purpose, this was the first development of her powers) then by cheering on the boy who ate her personal chocolate cake (if memory serves the actor who had to eat the cake hated chocolate. Let’s hear it for suffering for our art!) Then she uses her developed powers to haunt the abusive teacher’s house and finally having a massive confrontation at school where she pretends to be the ghost of Miss Honey’s father.

This is one of the main themes of the film; standing up to those abusing their position and I think that it is a valuable lesson. Something that is very much in the public consciousness right now and something we take for granted a lot of the time. We are somehow convinced that because someone is older than us they know more and increasingly that isn’t true. When I was a child I thought adults knew what they were doing and not to question them. Now that I find myself as an adult, I’m increasingly convinced that none of us know what we’re doing. Not really.

So there is also the notion of challenging the accepted status quo. Kids can be smart, adults can be dumb and those in power are not always suited to it.

While, yes, Miss Trunchbull is made to be as over the top as possible – she uses a girls pigtails to hammer throw her over a fence, carries a riding crop, yell, screams, belittles, berates the children, and trots out her favourite threat of punishment. The Chokey, a tiny cupboard that is dark, dank and lined with broken glass and nails so that you have to stand stock still and bolt upright. While this is only ever mentioned in the novel the film goes the extra mile in not only making it, but placing Matilda in there for a short period of time. All this combines to make a villain that everyone wants to see overthrown.

This is actually a common thread in many of Roald Dahl’s stories. If you look at books like The Magic Finger, Fantastic Mr Fox, George’s Marvellous Medicine and James and the Giant Peach to name a few, you will see that there is always a nasty authority figure that needs to be undermined.

The next biggest theme in this film is that knowledge is powerful. It’s not so much implied in the film, but in Roald Dahl’s story Matilda’s powers are linked to the fact that her head is full of learning and that she isn’t being challenged enough by school or her family. The learning is what gives you the tools to change the world and I think that is a powerful message to be contained in a children’s book or film.

That learning is the key to taking control of your life.

The film has a happy ending of Miss Honey adopting Matilda and though it feels a little rushed. Her parents are being chased by the FBI for buying stolen car parts and selling dodgy cars and when they come to pick up Matilda from Miss Honey’s house she just happens to already have the papers in her bag. Apparently having them ready since she was “old enough to Xerox them at the library” which is worrying when you consider she started going to the library at age four. She’s had them for how long!?

There is a slight moment of tenderness between Matilda and her mother in the form of a regret that “You were my only daughter and I never really understood you.” But aside from that casual attempt at humanisation right at the very end. There is no real redemption for her family. Maybe that they know enough to give her a happy ending? But it is all played off as though they are giving away some thing they have only ever seen as a burden.

I do like this idea that family isn’t necessarily the people who you’re related to but those you’re connected to.

As quintessential to my childhood as this film was… I don’t I shall watch it again. Not because I don’t like the film. It’s a lovely film and I’ll always smile whenever I think about the scene where Matilda is mastering her powers by dancing in the living room while all these small objects spin around her… It’s just that maybe it’s a little uncomfortable to realise that in the eyes of the film I might be considered one of the bad guys considering that out of the four adults we see in the film three of them are bad.

But I do think that we should hold on to the messages of the film:

Stand up for what’s right.

Knowledge is power.

Learning is the key to changing the world.

Little girls with psychic powers are always a little sinister and creepy… even if they use their powers for good.

RTJ