Posts tagged “The Simpsons

Pleasantville (1998)

I was wondering when my first post or even film review of 2019 would be making it’s way to be shared with you all. Along with what would be the first film to be watched off the year, that title goes to an OK film noir, however my attention was consumed by Pleasantville (1998);a film that I was only aware of during the second half of last year. It was a combination of the technical wizardry and the concepts discussed in the film. You can’t quite call it science fiction or even a coming of age film. It a combination of the two with a nice dose of comedy. The lines between reality and fantasy are truly blurred here as two teenagers David and Jennifer (Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon) are transported to a classic TV show from the 1950’s – Pleasantville where everything is just cosy, safe and predictable, the very opposite of life even when it was produced in the realm of the film.

My first thoughts was a segment in The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror IX when Bart and Lisa are transported into the television (courtesy of a piece of uranium in place of the battery in the remote) sees them moving from channel to channel. Spending most of their time in the violent world of Itchy and Scratchy. Before the film even begins we are introduced to a channel dedicated to classic TV series, much like Talking Pictures TV here in the UK where I find a lot of great films to watch. A clip of the fictional show is even played before we enter the colour world of reality. The aesthetic is now a little dated but you get the feel of a different time being only a channel away of taking you back to a simpler time. It’s pure nostalgia really, able to take a look at a different era of TV or film, an escape from the present day or for me a chance to explore an untapped reserve of films that I have yet to watch.

In that respect you could say I’m like David except I did choose to escape to the past with my TV viewing, instead it was more likely an incarnation Star Trek to get me through my adolescent years. He knows the world of Pleasantville like the back of his hand, it’s his own personal world where everything makes sense, allowing him to shut off from the world outside. Unlike his sister Jennifer who is more extrovert shall we say, wanting to explore and take chances. Her increase in popularity has enabled her to get a date with the most popular boy – standard American high school nonsense really and she’s going with it. Unlike her introverted shy brother who can’t even talk to a girl.

They only enter Pleasantville after an argument that results in a broken remote being fixed by an old-timer TV repair guy Don Knotts who supplies with them a 50’s space age remote that transports them into the black and white world of Pleasantville where they assume the characters of the main families children. In order to escape, David believes they must play along and take his lead using his knowledge of the world to survive without effecting things. Like an away team in Star Trek trying not to interfere with the natural order or future of another race – the Prime Directive. However it’s not really that situation, it’s a constructed world by a television production company, with actors delivering lines by writers, completely a product of its time now with two massive changes from the future.

At first the interactions are harmless, we see how perfect this world is, luring David in for a time to stay, here he can shoot a basket ball in the net with little skill, presumable before he couldn’t. He can’t play along forever, we notice him telling his boss Bill Johnson (Jeff Daniels) that he can do more than one thing in Bud (David’s role in Pleasantville). He inadvertently teaches Bill that he has free will, a concept that goes beyond the writing of a family TV serial that didn’t promote such a value. He’s the first of a few characters to slowly change and embrace of world of colour.

Now here’s where things really get interesting. The changing of colour from monotone shades to full blown technicolor. The first people to change are a number of teenagers who are naturally and biologically more prone to change, first undergoing a sexual awakening that liberates them from the constraints of the monotone world. More open to learning and understanding more from both David and Jennifer who share their experiences. They have been beyond the two roads that make up this world, they know of their job prospects, the threat of global warming, unlike the teenagers here who know far less, they are children in comparison to these god-like beings from the future and colour. The only other adult to undergo this change is the mother – Joan (Joan Allen) who at first is ashamed and unsure about exploring what are ultimately very human and universal experience that you shouldn’t be ashamed to have. Placing her almost in the same world of Cathy Whittaker (Julianne Moore) in Far from Heaven (2002) in a world bathed in colour where a private life of of a housewife explodes in front of her in a respectful homage to Douglas Sirk. Where her emotions have to be bottled up and restrained against a backdrop of conformity.

Traditionally when colour and black and white photography are both used in a film, it’s a method of determining a different reality, one of the real and the fantasy. Never have the two really been combined like this. Filmed photochemically, each frame that shared both colour and monotone images had to be retouched by hand, a painstaking task, that today could easily being executed on a computer. The effect here is seamless as the images become more complex as the narrative progresses to a point where we are brought to a point where segregation in a white neighbourhood. Lead by Big Bob (J.T. Walsh) who wants to maintain the norm, escape the rain and have things just as they once were. The idea of change scares him, like a number of the white male neighbourhood who at first are curious but soon turns to fear and uncertainty. Their responses are laughable, a shirt that was burned on the iron due to human error, whilst another came home to have no dinner in the oven or on the table. The expectations of routine and stability are threatened by late 20th century progress that encourages everything they haven’t even thought of. They are a product of a very different time that’s only separated by only 40 years at the time of the film’s release.

Ultimately the town of Pleasantville is an extension of David’s fears in the real world to get stuck in and experience the life that his sister has done. OK not to same extremes but with more willingness to be in touch with your emotions, take chances and see where they take you. The black and white world here offers a security he once had as a child that no longer exists. They become a third parent to him, spending so much time with them that he can recite dialogue, recall facts about the show without knowing what’s going on around him. A final thought to all of those  films and TV shows from the past and attack them or see them as products of their time. They may no longer have the same values be them political or sexual. If we were to go back and correct or censor then we would learn nothing from them. There would be no way to track our progress of how we got to where we are today, how times change from the dawn of these popular forms of culture that reflect out times. Another danger as David discovered is that you can’t take all your values from the past, you have to make your own mind up in the present.


Convoy (1978)

I watched Convoy (1978) purely on the basis it was directed by Sam Peckinpah, not so much it’s based upon the song of the same name. Taking the lyrics and expanding it into feature-length film. My only other experience with the song being played on an episode of The Simpsons, thinking it was a tune written by the writing team. Finding out when this came in the listings that it actually exist as a track in its own right. So I took the plunge to see how Peckinpah could expand what is essentially a novelty song into what is basically an extended music video with the directors own trademark touches. However I could see early on that this was to be his last neo-Western and sadly not Peckinpah’s best. Sitting back I began to take this all in.

So, trucks or as we call them in the UK – Lorries don’t have the same cultural importance as they have in the states. It’s true both vehicles are the life blood of keeping the countries going, distributing and delivering up and down the countries keeping business happy, healthy and running. Without them both would be massively affected, which we can’t avoid, we can’t take them for granted. Now we also have Peckinpah to consider, when he works in the present his view of the world of bleak, the Wild West there a romantic loss for a bygone era, he wants to be part of that somehow. Convoy placed in the present we have to think harder to understand the modern language that constructs the modern West which we are exploring.

The Trucks replacing wagons that traveled the then untamed landscape and frontiers of America, here lead by Martin ‘Rubber Duck’ Penwald (Kris Kristofferson) who along with a fellow truckers Bobby ‘Love Machine’ ‘Pig Pen’ (Burt Young) and Spider Mike (Franklyn Ajaye) who couldn’t shake crooked Sheriff Lyle ‘Cottonmouth’ Wallace (Ernest Borgnine) who will do anything to arrest them or see them out-of-pocket. Drunk on power all that his rank would allow him to get away with. Translated to the West a crooked sherif stopping a wagon train getting through, charging them financially and “legally” when and however he can. abusing the power of the law until it truly backfires when the truckers rebel in a truck stop, beating up three cops including the Sheriff who is out for round two after already taking a nice bribe from them. They’ve had enough, snapping and take out their built up anger and resentment out on them.

The brawl marks the start of the overuse of the slow-motion shot, every fall, punch, action, and reaction’s slowed down, the director of photography had to be really patient on this film, adjusting the speed multiple times for every other shot. The technique looses all meaning from this point, before this film it was a signature of his work, emphasising the act of violence, here it’s just looks silly. He could easily have been making the film just a few minutes longer, not that it really made much of a difference. Last used effectively by the director in Cross of Iron (1977) which really benefited from the overuse, an ultra violent setting and the themes explored were a major part of the films power to convey the message of PDST. I can’t move away from the point without touching on his physical state, by this point he was affected by his alcoholism and drug addiction, you can see how his vices were effecting his work. If he was sober this work could have been so much better for it.

Saying that minus the addictions this could have been a better film, it relies too much on the novelty song to tell the narrative, the narrative and the song are one and the same. The reliance of the lyrics and the track really doesn’t allow it to stand on its own. Peckinpah had become lazy by this point and has just let the lyrics act as narration at points. I wanted to be interested in the ever-growing convoy of trucks that joined the cause that had grown and spread from one state to another as they aim to reach the Mexican border as did the Wild Bunch nearly a decade earlier but for different reasons. This was an escape of the system, the injustices of the unscrupulous law and the working conditions of the working man – the truck driver.

I was preoccupied by its visual connection with Sugarland Express (1974) which is a superior film, again with a convoy that time of police cars following an escaped convict with his girlfriend Goldie Hawn. Complete with old-timer cop – Ben Johnson who never left the rear-view mirror. Borgnine is clearly enjoying the role, his mustache the finishing touch to this corrupt man who will do anything to get ‘Rubber Duck’ behind bars. Whilst Johnson’s tired and wants to go home, but can’t rest until he has his prisoner back. Where they really differ if the energy that convey, both set in the South it’s a working class society that’s being depicted. There’s a youthful energy in the earlier film that really gets you excited. Whereas Convoy wants to be more political, making a statement about working conditions, the sense of fun that is in the comradery of these men over the radio they share, allowing them to swell in numbers.

I haven’t even touched on the depiction of women in the film, first meeting them at the truck stop, the two we follow throughout have more power of their destiny’s. Widow Woman (Madge Sinclair) a truck driver herself whose in the only truck to come off the road, thinking she would be die early on, instead she is rescued by her male counterparts. She is respected by them. Not so much for Melissa (Ali MacGraw) a photographer who has her own mind, free to express herself but still mainly seen as a sex-object, she even hides in the cabin of the trucks when things get rough up front.

Ultimately it’s a flawed film that might have been better off in the hands of another director. There is a clear vision is that is let down by the reliance of a novelty song that restricts it, making it a forgettable and flimsy film. There’s potential but falls short at times, relying on slow-motion. You can see the actors are having fun driving into things, but why, that’s what I want to know. I don’t think I’ll be returning to this later work by Peckinpah anytime soon, which is sad as I have always enjoyed his work.

The Stepford Wives (1975) Revisited

Taking the time to watch The Stepford Wives (1975) tells me fire sure that it’s far superior to the 2004 comedy remake really pales in comparison, the feminist bite that I found here is watered down substantially. The original even just on the surface is darker and sinister. I’m not going to compare the too, I just don’t see the need really when the original’s packed full of ideas, which I’m going to explore. I will however start by comparing this sci-fi paranoia with Westworld (1973), the amusement park populated with android hosts who are at the beck and call of the human guests whim, be them violent, sexual or anything in between. The idea of the android being used for human pleasure was only scratching the surface of how far it could be explored. Of course in the theme park a malfunction saw the robots take over and that was that until the poorly made sequels (that no-ones ever seen). In the theme park we acknowledge early on that these are not humans, in on the illusion, waiting for it to go horribly wrong. For new visitor Peter (Richard Benjamin) he is all too aware of the possible consequences of his actions, using and abusing these hosts who at least look human. He wont kill any of them, even when the safety features are in place. The illusion is all too real for him.

It’s the illusion that photographer, wife and mother Joanna (Katharine Ross) who moves with her lawyer husband from New York for a new life in the suburban town of Stepford. On the surface you have the idyllic American dream, the big house, the kids and if your lucky the perfect wife. Well most of the other residents do. All with perfect bodies and spotless houses, funny how they all live within a few miles of each other. This gated community living the dream. Joanna however starts to see cracks in the dream, with all the spare time on her hands she finds herself starting to go mad. For me I think part of that illusion and mystery is lost due to the knowledge of the remake which gives away the plot. It was about rediscovering how Joanna came to that which made the revisit worthwhile.

Leading up to that discovery she befriends recently moved in Bobbie Markowe (Paula Prentiss) who shares the same concerns start to look at little closer at the wives of Stepford who would rather live the life of the ideal wife, keeping the house spotless, makes cakes and talk as if they were selling a household product. They are living adverts for the ideal married life… for the male anyway. Perfect in every-way for the husband to enjoy, having less to worry about at home, coming back from work to a clean house and a woman who worships him. Honestly every man does want that but ultimately that’s just a childhood fantasy. The generation depicted in the film, grew up in the 1940/50’s with stay at home mothers who only ventured out to get groceries and pick up the children. An image and ideal woman who according to Freud all men look for, their mothers, someone to compare to what is basically an impossible goal to reach. These boys who become men desire that in the women they meet. Who in-turn want the father in their husband – that’s if we are looking at a heterosexual relationship. In Stepford that ideal becomes a reality for the men who are rarely at home, either at work or the men’s club.

If in Westworld the desires of the guests; male or female are met, then in Stepford only the desires of the men are being catered for. Its a male dominated environment, that reflects reality of the time. The Women’s liberation/feminism was in full swing. Women fighting for an equal voice, to be taken seriously in a male dominated society. Looking back, how much has really changed since that time. I don’t think I am really qualified to give a definitive answer. I can say in short that there is still a way to go. The workplace has made progress, the depiction of women in film and TV has improved if only slightly. Print and digital media is also slowly catching up. Its about keeping the ideas alive and fighting for what is basically equal rights, respect and representation in society as new generations grow up.

Stepford Wives is full of fear, the fear of unknown if women were allowed to be free thinking, independent people, free to act, work and dress as they please without fear of being objectified, ignore and treated less than their male counterparts in life. The ideal, yet softened feminist for the screen. Both Bobbie and Joanna represent women who can think for themselves, have a laugh and see the town for what it is. They become fixated with the wives who they can’t really hold an intelligent conversation with. We see one wife Carol (Nanette Newman) whose clearly a recovering alcoholic malfunction, or so we are lead to believe, her reaction is more robotic, there’s nothing human about her beyond her form. Her presence is rather sinister, perfect hair and body, she has achieved the ideal that adverts and the media promote, and so have all the other wives. Joanna and Bobbie then encounter Charmaine (Tina Louise) who comes with her own marital problems. Then a few weeks later a trip away and she’s transformed into a new woman, blossoming almost, yet under the facade is another shallow obedient wife.

I’m reminded of The Simpsons episode Lisa Vs. Malibu Stacy the fictional Barbie doll complete with pull-string that allows her to talk. Playing archaic female stereotypes that are being fed to young impressionable girls. Lisa takes it upon herself to design and sell her own doll with her own independent thinking and sayings. The little girl playing the giant toy company at their own game. Only to come back with the same doll, this time wearing a hat. Showing how easy it is to sell to children and how little they really care about the impact they have in their development. The men of Stepford are the same really, taking the women they met, and improving in their desire image, having overall control over their wive. The men are once again in charge. Leaving all the women subservient, quiet and of little hassle to them.

It’s in this fictional American town there’s the illusion of hope for the men, restoring order to things so they can go about their lives not needing to progress socially, science has caught up enough to allow them to turn the clock back on the women who’ve been fighting them since the 1960’s. Feminism has no place here, its fought and won with male ingenuity and science – and because they can. It’s that easy in science fiction to solve a social problem with technology, now just wait until it malfunctions.

On reflections Stepford Wives is a very dark film, drip feeding to you the suggestion that something is wrong, socially critiquing a small town in suburban New York state. We see independent women being stripped of all they have fought for, rewinding the clock to the 1950’s. There’s no hope for any of them here in the cinematic world, filmed like a cheap TV movie the ideas are even sharper because you don’t expect to find them. Even passing the Bechdel test too with flying colours which is even rarer for it’s time. A film that looks dated on the surface with razor sharp contemporary ideas, now when is it being rereleased?

Cape Fear/e (1962/91/93) Revisited

I’m going to try something new in this review – 3 films, well 2 films and a TV episode all titled – Cape Fear. For sometime I’ve been thinking about the relationship between these horror films. Having also read that the Martin Scorsese remake in 1991 was pointless really, I need to see this for myself to understand what is actually going on here. Has Scorsese wasted a cast and crews time and a film companies money, not to mention the audience who went to see etc. I’ll finish on a more comedic note with The Simpsons spoof Cape Feare which combines the best of both films. I’m one film in – the original which I shamefully saw in about 9 parts on YouTube whilst working at a summer camp a few years ago.

The 1962 original released as part of a cycle of horror films that attempted to emulate Psycho (1960) which reshaped the genre forever, what a was expected from the genre and its very form. What followed was a series of cheap knock-offs so to speak that tried to replicate that magic for the next few years. With time for the industry to react one of the first films out using A-list actors with well established careers, such as Deborah Kerr‘s The Innocents (1961), and the cult classic of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). However Cape Fear has more in common with film noir, or the first shoots of neo-noir after it ended a few years earlier with Touch of Evil (1959). Take some of the best bits of The Night of the Hunter (1955) and repackage it into a more audience friendly film that has also become a classic.

Taking the Charles Laughton noir of a preacher who works his way into a community, marrying a Jail birds widow, in order to get his hands on the money which the dead husband has hidden. Memorably played by Robert Mitchum, whose physical presence transformed the role and the film into that of almost folklore horror. Seeing America through the eyes of an English director who gave us his vision of a country deeply rooted in its religion that could be so easily be corrupted. The Mitchum character of Harry Powell becomes Max Cady, again not long released from prison has a one track mind, not money, he has plenty of that. Its more like a destiny that he has to fulfill coming to the home town of successful lawyer and family man Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck) who had to testify against him on an attack charge against an innocent woman. After first meeting Cady we know he’s not a family man, not meant to live around law-abiding people. He’s not a gentlemen who stops to pick up papers for woman on the stairs. He’s to be avoided, even before we learn his back story.

The Cady’s live in reasonable comfort, a small lawyer whose life is about to be turned upside down, about to take him and his wife Peggy (Polly Bergen) and daughter Nancy (Lori Martin). I couldn’t help but start to draw comparisons with this to the remake, what were the new relationship that brings Cady to town. It’s more complex for sure in the remake. Back to this more straightforward film that doesn’t waste time establishing whose the good and bad guys. However it’s the law whose hands are tied, Cady’s being doing more than marking the days in his cell before being released. Reading up on the law and planning his revenge. Starting his war of terror against Bowden and his family, taking aim at the teenage daughter – Nancy whose awareness of the male gaze and sexual power is about to blow wide open.

Cady is not just a deranged criminal out for revenge he’s a sexual predator too, making Nancy his next victim. This could be where Scorsese got a bit of tunnel vision, along with changing taste and the loosening of censorship which allowed for a more adult version of the film. Nonetheless the original filmed in cheap/standard black and white adds another layer to this dark film that gets more intense scene by scene. Tying Sam in knots with nowhere to turn but to lead him into a trap on the houseboat along the Cape Fear river. The sexuality is all coming from Mitchum, even middle-aged has a decent body that added to his domineering on-screen presence. If anything I found the ending lackluster, instead of what the audience wants – and Scorsese gives us. We have the law winning out, the courts of justice putting Cady back behind bars before a swift and happy ending. It feels after all of that struggle the good and civilised in Bowden wins out, his primal desire and wishes earlier on in the film to shoot him are repressed to allow him to drag him to a prison cell before a having another trial. Hopefully leading to reform, something I really can’t see happening to Cady, whoever plays this disturbed character.

Onto the remake now, which after hearing it was pointless, I’m starting to see why after just finishing it. I first watched it at University, thinking it was a great thriller, I even used it as part of my research for thrillers and suspense. What the hell was I thinking, more to the point what was Martin Scorsese thinking. It wasn’t even a film he wanted to do, it was an assignment given to him by the Universal, for reasons I just don’t understand, I don’t think he does either. Probably hoping to get his next project The Age of Innocence (1993).

Lets take a look at the film on the face of it, a remake of the 1960’s classic thriller which saw the Bowden family being tormented by the deranged Max Cady that still remains at the core of this film. However 30 years have passed and the script admittedly needed altering in some respects. There’s far more sex on-screen, along with the usual depiction of Scorsese penchant for violence. Making it a good match, but then the same can be said of lots of directors. He’s a director for hire here. The main difference is Cady played by a hammy Robert De Niro whose clearly having a ball, glad to be working with his old pal Marty one more time. The crime committed now is, aggravated assault, essentially rape when you get to know the character. He’s come back to get revenge on his old lawyer Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte) who we learn buried evidence that could have allowed Cady to go free. That facts are made clear early on away from Cady who is beginning his campaign of fear.

Originally Bowden was a witness to an assault committed by Cady, now we see that the lawyer has used his professional power to alter the course of Cady’s life. I couldn’t have seen that working in 1962, only a few years from playing Atticus Finch (Peck) couldn’t betray that upstanding heroic image. Whilst Mitchum could’ve easily played that role to the extreme without getting as hammy as De Niro. We spend more time with the daughter now named Danielle (Juliette Lewis) who is more sexually aware. Whilst the wife is pretty much unchanged, reacting instead to the plot as it unfolds. If anything she is more traumatised by the films events. So the father and daughter get the thick of it.

A memorable addition or “nod” of approval to the remake, is the inclusion of three of the original cast Peck, Mitchum and Martin Balsam each having a few scenes. Was this more a ploy to bring in the older audience to see three older actors once more, or to say that the film is not being made without their blessing. I think its more the former with a bit of promotional casting. Mitchum first appears as the detective who wants to help but is forced to not suggest to seek alternatives. Whilst Peck is clearly having more fun in his cameo as Lee Heller who is Cady’s defence lawyer. Whilst a clearly bored Martin Balsam the original detective plays the judge who rules a restraining order in Cady’s favor. The aging actor clearly underused and wondering what the hell he is doing on set.

The law is clearly not in Bowden’s side throughout, doing all he can to protect his family, being screwed at every turn by a criminal who has read his books, including the Bible and Sexus (just for added smut). There are times when you are on the Bowden’s side, then you think, haven’t we been here before, only in black and white and not for as long. Drawing out the scenes and adding new ones that only drag out this practically scene for scene remake. The religious overtones are very heavy and clearly a directorial stroke, which makes the work his – overtly.

Ultimately it’s a hammy overreacted, waste of film that sees an accomplished director scraping the barrel with sacred material that shouldn’t have been touched. He should have looked back to Dead Calm (1989) which had the boat thriller in the bag in every way. We have actors who are doing their best, whilst some are just glad for the bigger paycheck and a few days work. Lastly Scorsese only makes you think about the original more overtly with the lazy use of the original score by Bernard Herrmann, conducted by Elmer Bernstein who simply conducted it for the “new” soundtrack. There’s no attempt to be really a unique film that is about the same basic premise, its the just the same just sexed up.

Now I want to watch the far superior Simpsons parody which focuses in the best elements. The second episode of season 5 – (yes it’s that old), a longtime favorite of mine. I remember getting it on video – the murder mysteries tape. Makes me feel old just thinking about it. It’s been a while since I last saw the episode until last night. It was still as fresh and spot on with the jokes that came thick and fast. Midway through the golden age of the now long running animated sitcom, which has now become the longest running of its kind too. Cape Feare was also the third time that Sideshow Bob (Kelsey Grammer) appears in this now iconic role. Assuming the Max Cady role directly from the Scorsese’s film gave us a year before. It’s a cheeky spoof that is more entertaining that the thriller which is 6 times as long.

I think the focus was on the more recent film still fresh in the public consciousness, which is understandable, leaving the original alone. Taking the best bits of a pointless film and making fun of the rest in 20 minutes of animation. We already know that Bob has it in for Bart (Nancy Cartwright) who has twice already found him out, once for robbery, and for attempted murder. Now it’s time for revenge. There’s no need to build up that history between the two except in a few short scenes. The blood written letters and the parole hearing before Bob’s released, using his charm to gain his freedom.

Already the Simpson family are on edge, the letters and now the cinema scene which is ensures we are in for a scene for scene spoof. Of course there’s more common sense at play, the harassments taken seriously by the police instead of going down the private detective route – which leads to the fishing wire and teddy bear set-up which isn’t taken seriously. Ultimately they’re referred to the FBI who put them into the Witness Relocation Program giving them a new identity and opening titles. It’s all played fast a loose. Yet the law is on the families side, moving the spoof quickly on, there’s no time to discuss the need to use a gun or to kill Bob, it’s about hiding.

The finale is more family friendly with a Gilbert and Sullivan homage, making the most of an earlier scene in the car journey. The houseboat is loose on the water, just not out of control as Bart uses the performance to buy him time. He’s too clever to result to deadly violence to see his enemy (not Moe Szyslak (Hank Azaria) and his panda’s). The episode delivers some of the finest moments not just of the season but a collection of jokes that are better than the expensive thriller that tries to outdo the original.

So ends my first 3 (2 and a spoof) film review, attempting to find a relationship and history. I’ve chosen an easier trilogy (of sorts) to begin with a film, a remake and a spoof. I can see how it a classic (before it was more common) to remake a film. Seeing that it was sexed up, add some violence and some cheeky cameos to draw in the audiences. Whilst a controversial cartoon plays fast and loose, appropriate the events of a recent film and make fun of it, so is the nature of a spoof which in the case of this film is more entertaining, than the remake.


Westworld (1973)

westworld-1973Admittedly this review of Westworld (1973) is timed before the UK premiere of the new spin-off TV series completed with 21st century update, I must say its one series I will be watching for sure. Now that I have seen the original film I can come into the series with a stronger context and points of reference. Much the same to Fargo (1996) and the respective series, having that richer understanding of the directors and film itself you have potentially a richer experience. Anyway enough of the hype building for the TV series, onto the original Sci-fi horror which had until recently become an obscure cult film that I had only heard snippets about. I have in-fact got a clip of the film in Cue the Lights (2014)  without knowing what the film was about short of being robotic cowboys.

That was until more recently, checking out the trailer that gives more away yet not as big a plot-spoiler if it were released today. Westworld is one third of a theme-park for the rich to spend a week of escapism. Think Disney World but far more immersive, you’d be getting much closer with Itchy and Scratchy Land, visited by The Simpsons with similar consequences. So already I am finding that America wanted to escape from its own realities to it’s past, the mythical frontier space, populated by androids, operated by the Delos Amusement park.  To get location that can only be reached by hovercraft, complete with advertisement to further entice the new batch of tourist who are ready and waiting for adult escapism. The focus on the Westworld, completely disregarding Roman world and Medieval world shows how much attentions put into revitalising the genre that is seriously lagging. Returning to an ideal history of that as portrayed on-screen is something I’m sure I might even consider.

As two men, John Blane (James Brolin) on his second visit and eager friend Peter Martin (Richard Benjamin) who wants to know and try out everything at Westworld. He’s like a big kid going to Disney world wanting to try out all the rides. Wanting to really play the cowboy even down to the details on his gun belt, it’s all about the authenticity of the experience for him. For John he’s more than happy to show him around. On the surface we have fun place for big kids to go and have some unadulterated fun. Even a few killings without the consequences of going to jail. When they meet the Yul Brynner‘s Gunslinger they discover how much fun then realy=ly can have. Guns that will only shoot at androids’ its like being on the holodeck with the safety mechanisms still in places.

I’m reminded of The Stepford Wives (1975) which takes the android to another level of replacing a mans wife with his ideal, pacified wife who will obey his every command. That was Women’s liberation movement in Hollywood, if you want the ideal technology can replace your wife with a better body and one that doesn’t talk back or has her own mind. I think a few of them are in Westworld when they two friends visit a hotel, however for Peter he takes a while to warm to the idea that he can have sex with a robot having no consequences, no one gets hurt at all, its all harmless escapism for the male visitor. Of course women can enjoy the same pleasures with male counterparts.

It’s a hedonistic theme park that knows no boundaries until the unknown starts to have an effect. There have already been a series of malfunctions at the park, which are overlooked by some of the scientist running it. More concern for profit than for guests safety as a series of faults become more alarming. Beginning as just a few malfunctioning robots, it’s seen across the three worlds before spreading like a virus. Something that could easily have been prevented, ignored in the name of profit. Of course we all know that it wont stop there.

With the reappearance of the gunslinger fresh from being patched up (and some clever upgrades) he is ready for a rematch with more deadly results. The safety’s are off, throwing the visitors back into reality which had escape hits them and hard. As if they are living in a film and they are allowed to be killed off. Brynner has only a few lines in this film, which makes his presence all the more felt. An aging gunslinger who can still stand his ground is not about to be messed around (for the last time). His is danger in android, he can’t be stopped, a super gunslinger complete with a sensory upgrade so he can’t miss his target. Its becomes a game of cat and mouse as technology has broken free and malfunctioned, man left powerless to their own creations. Brynner is definitely silent and deadly making for a hard nose bad guy who is the ultimate, no safety over-rides can stop him.

From Michael Crichton who I’m know mainly from Jurassic Park (1993) this plays on the same theme of complacency of technology before humanity losing control. Our reliance on it for our own amusement must be monitored. We are slowly getting to the point that Crichton has depicted, yet these are still pleasures for the rich, not the general public. In Westworld the sense of wonder is soon replaced with pure dread – 70’s style which HBO looks to have successfully updated, looking on sentience of the androids, its no longer about human pleasure. I’m looking forward to the blend of modern Western and Science fiction, how the film has been since updated and ultimately expanded.

The Lego Movie (2014)

The Lego Movie (2014)There was once a time when I had all but one pack to complete the Indiana Jones-esque Egyptian series of Lego, the large temple to go with the sphinx that opens to reveal a skeleton. I was so close. Then came the Rock-Raiders which I had only one part of, then the game too, that was just when Lego was starting to commercialize, not that I really noticed it. Today we have everything from Lego The Simpsons to The AvengersIt feels to me that the idea of children and now adults using their imagination to construct their own worlds is being restricted by the ever-growing series of cash-in sets. Then came along The Lego Movie (2014) which seems like the biggest cash-in/sell-out of it all, with another one in the works, a Batman spin-off too. What happened to the good old fashioned Danish toy company that has been making Lego for over 50 years.

Putting my thoughts to onside about the current state of Lego which for me was so more about building house-boats and caravans as a kid (not the most imaginative for an artist I must admit, they were the best ever though) that came out of a yellow bucket with a square four block lid on top. That was were the real fun lay for me, pouring out the bricks onto the carpet and seeing what I could build. And that is the essence of this film. It pulls away all the cash-in series to go back to the roots of the company, the play-well, the imagine and create, once you’ve followed the instruction book which can be read by anyone in any country you can dissemble to create whatever came into your head.

The Lego Movie is a celebration of all that I’ve just said really, and most of the world who has seen this film will agree, anyone who has played with the toy and got a real buzz from it, playing for hours on end. As we follow what could the most generic of the City series figures, a builder Emmet Brickowoski (Chris Pratt) who has for years followed the rules, well the instructions as long as he has been assembled. Lets talk in Lego terms for this review, it just makes sense to. Not thinking beyond the page, unlike others around him who like either sausages or fries, they all have a particular passion, not one passion for everything. He’s a sheep follow the herd blindly not seeing past the end of the booklet to see what else is possible for himself. Well except for a double-decker sofa so friends can come over and watch a film with you. You’d need a super massive TV for that to work or even a projector maybe.

Emmet the bland builder accidentally gets himself involved in what could be the end of life for him and Lego-kind as we know it on meeting Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) who is on the hunt for the special one as prophesied by the great Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) as laid out in the prologue to the film. When Emmet discovers he is the chosen special one a lot of pressure is put on him to perform, to do good on his new title in front of the master builders (an array of figures from the heaps of series of Lego from Batman to Milhouse Van-Houten to the 80’s spaceman. Everyone and everyone is there, all having a moment in the lime-light. Which is part of the wider commercial universe they have created. All these can build using their imaginations, something that Emmet is seriously lacking after years of following the instructions, conforming to the society he is a part of.

I could go on about the plot, which for me spends time in the Old West for a time before darting all over the place, animated perfectly, if there was ever going to be a Lego film it would have to have this level of detail, the lightness of touch. Nothing is left to chance, even the water is made up of Lego single circles (again Lego lingo). From the same studio that gave us Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009). It’s heaps of fun with the sensibility of Lego central to the film. With the threat of the world being frozen with super-glue close at hand, to live the live of a theme-park, which would stop creativity dead in it’s tracks. We must remember the power of imagination, how it allows us to get carried away, to create and build whole worlds, even with a few bricks.

When we pull away to the real-world, which was a brave yet natural progression, to see the toy as it actually is the argument between father and son is played out, to play with the bricks, or to glue them frozen which defeats the object of toys. The danger of reaching adult-hood where we can lose that creativity, to move away from ‘childish’ things. Something I have seen before when action figures are collected in hope they stay in the packaging in the hopes that it will increase in value, we forget what toys are for, to play with.

I started off talking about how I view the current state of Lego which I feel has lost it heart with sets for every film franchise under the sun which restricts to a point imagination of the player. Yet on the other side of the argument with those figures in your hands the story continues  so it’s not all bad, The Lego Movie is living proof they are thriving, even in the hands of a major film company. I just can’t see where a sequel can go, except as the ending suggests an invasion from Duplo, the film is perfect as a stand-alone for me.

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Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)This has been sitting on my shelf for sometime now, having a massive backlog of films to get through I finally made my way to Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) which for it’s running time is surprising pack full. A cast that is brimming over too. From legendary Jack Lemmon to Alec Baldwin who makes a cameo of sorts that really stirs things up for four sales men, made to really push themselves during the midst of the last economic crash.

From the get-go we have a fast-paced talker of a film, with two men in separate phone booths, having many varied conversations in the space of a few minutes, setting up deals, calling home etc, these are men of work who know what they are doing. Driven and very tired. On returning to the office their’s and their colleagues lives are turned upside down by a successful young salesmen who could eat any of them for breakfast, coming from head-office to tell them to sell, sell, sell or be fired. Rightly sending these men four men into a state of anger and frustration. For the veteran Levene (Lemmon) who hasn’t “closed” a deal in a while is pushed to the brink. Whilst two others Aaronow (Alan Arkin) and Moss (Ed Harris) take a different route, instead of selling, have intense conversations about the situation, trying to understand why it’s happening. All being given “leads” (which takes a while to understand, turning out to be customers who have unwittingly ticked a box on a form to be harassed by salesmen for products they don’t really want) which are dead, but having to close to get the new leads on red card, gift tied, ready to be handed out to the closers (customers who sign checks and sealing the deal).

Whilst almost unaware of all of this going on back at the office, a slick salesmen is at work Roma (Al Pacinois talking to a guy at the bar, luring him in with his soft sell on anything but what he wants to sell, once in he will pounce and lay his cards on the table to James Lingk (Jonathan Pryce). He’s the real pro of the four sales men who are otherwise finding their own ways to deal with their ultimatum.

Who you really have to look out for is Williamson (Kevin Spacey) the office manager who appears to not give a damn, just doing his job by the book, not caring to really help the men he’s paid to support. A man of bureaucracy who just files payments for the men. There’s more than meets the eye with this one who you really have to keep an eye, like most of Spacey’s roles always changing at the last minute.

I can really see where The Simpsons character of Gil comes from now the suffering salesmen who is never able to get a deal to close, always so close yet so far. An old pro who has lost his edge, in denial that his glory days are long behind him. He still has all the sales patter but something is missing, that air of confidence has been replaced with desperation. Something the others haven’t yet reached. For a time I didn’t feel comfortable hearing Lemmon effing and blinding every other word in office, until I just gave up thinking about it. They all do it so well, like The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) just without the drugs, the women and the money. It’s all in the language foul or not, this is a competitive dog eat dog world they are in. They know that potential customers don’t want cold callers, its how they have to get around it that makes them stand out from the crowd.

A robbery is planned on the night of the ultimatum, we believe we know who is going to commit, spoken about between two of the men. This is the real twist that makes this a great film as the conclusion draws near. We believe we know who’s done it, acting all defensive towards everyone. But in the end it doesn’t really matter, they are all screwed in one way or another, the robbery, deals falling through, some leaving the company all together. Leaving us with a look into the sales mens world, not even 24 hours really as they have to get up and become one of the arrogant hard sellers who are wearing gold watches and driving the latest cars. The language may not be as intelligent as some film, but it’s made up for in its delivery, in a mens world where sometimes all they have are words to attack with, they are their tools to sell, sell, sell.

I can imagine this plot is still going on around the world, driving people to sell products people don’t really want, by people they don’t want to be bothered by. Everyone has answered cold calls this month or last. It’s fiercely competitive working on OTE (on target earnings) doing what they can to make some money. Glengarry Glen Ross is a glimpse into that murky world where we find the human story that for 90 odd minutes incredibly engaging.