Friday, 15 February 2019

That's Rogertainment! Rogisode 11:
The Quest

It is with a heavy heart that I must once again draw your attention to another film starring Roger Moore that is, in the words of Charles Dickens, a steaming mountain of cackapoopoo. Why Rog cursed himself with all this guff remains a mystery, although clues can often be found where there's an exotic location, a large paycheque and a minimal amount of effort involved. And so we journey to Thailand under the direction of none other than Jean-Claude Van Damme for The Quest, a martial arts extravaganza in which, sadly, the Muscles From Brussels at no point engages in hand-to-hand combat with the, er, Briton From Britain.
"I must warn you, I'm Roger Moore"

The Quest is the first slice of Rogertainment that isn't, strictly speaking, a Roger Moore film. It is, of course, a Jean-Claude Van Damme film. You can tell because JCVD's name is above the title and Rog's isn't - a state of affairs which our hero recalls in his autobiography My Word Is My Bond as a Judas-level betrayal. Quite right too: like most films we've covered on these pages, Roger Moore is the only thing that makes The Quest worth watching. Aside from his gimlet-eyed turn as a Flashman-esque bounder, the film is an uninspired and laughably feeble excuse for a series of mixed martial arts fights, directed by its meat-slab star with all the panache of an actual slab of meat.

Van Damme opens his film with a truly stupid framing device. He's an old man in a bar (the old man makeup extends to a grey wig and a couple of wrinkles) who beats up a generic gang of punks despite the encumbrance of his age and hairpiece, then drifts off into a misty-eyed reminiscence of that time he met Roger Moore in 1925 and fucked him out of his above-the-title credit. We see young JCVD in New York, in clown makeup for some reason - quite possibly in tribute to Rog's unforgettably dignified depiction of James Bond in Octopussy, where he put on a red nose and some floppy shoes to defuse a nuclear bomb. Van Damme isn't a suave spy though: he's Chris Dubois, a Fagin-like bum who hangs around with a mob of street urchins living hand-to-mouth and stealing to feed themselves. Also he is unbelievably ripped and a highly skilled fighter, but for some reason those qualities do not seem to have helped him find gainful employment as yet.
Consider Yourself... DEAD MEAT

A number of obvious questions arise from having an absurdly buff man hanging around on street corners with a pack of under-age boys who would do anything for food, but The Quest isn't about to address them. Instead, through a convoluted series of unlikely events, Dubois is forced to abandon his pre-pubescent pocket-picking pals and ends up a stowaway on a boat heading for the far east. Despite being shackled in chains by the crew for some time he remains unbelievably ripped, and his fighting skills are put to good use when his boat is boarded by pirates led by Admiral Lord Edgar Dobbs, aka Sir Roger George Moore KBE. Van Damme the director at least has the good grace to give Rog a terrific first shot (literally):

A ruck ensues, and Dobbs notes that Dubois is "the best fighter I've ever seen," even though all Van Damme does in this sequence is kick a guy in the nuts then do a flip. Dobbs rescues Dubois only to sell him into slavery, and six months later their paths cross again in Bangkok while Dobbs is trying to get into the knickers of Carrie Newton, a sexy American journalist half his age. Classic Rog! This unlikely trio, along with Dobbs' bosun Harry and an American boxer called Devine, team up to get Dubois into the Ghang-ghen, a World Cup of mixed martial arts where great fighters from around the world compete for a large and frankly cumbersome gold dragon. Dubois aims to win the dragon to save his under-age Manhattan muppets from the streets, but Dobbs fancies the dragon for himself because he is, at heart, a right twat.

The remainder of this sub-Enter The Dragon / Kickboxer mash-up is a half-hour sequence of fights in which every competitor is a cringing racial stereotype: the Spanish fighter prances about like he's dancing a flamenco; the Brazilian entrant does a lot of fancy capoeira; the Scottish guy wears a kilt; a Japanese sumo wrestler is accompanied by a gurgling sound effect every time his flab wobbles, and a black man wearing assorted tribal gear is there to represent the "country" of Africa. And let's not forget those inscrutable orientals, all of whom are either villains, servants or accomplished martial artists.

Predictably Dubois wins the competition, but not the golden dragon; it turns out that the freedom of his friends and implied intercourse with the film's only female character (who serves literally no other purpose) were the real prizes all along. In his closing old-man waffle speech, Dubois casually tosses off the fact that he got the kids off the streets of New York anyway, rendering the entire story utterly pointless.
Although he does do the splits in mid-air so it's not a total waste of time

Throughout all this Roger Moore achieves the inconsiderable feat of being the best of The Quest's leads, and you have to wonder if one of the reasons he accepted the role was the implicit guarantee that he couldn't possibly be the worst actor on the show. Naturally more charismatic than, well, everyone, Rog twinkles as Dobbs: an absolute cad, an untrustworthy rogue, a liar, a thief, a mercenary and an opportunist. He represents the charming, smug face of the British Empire, smirking and smiling while doing dodgy arms deals, selling slaves and generally fucking everyone over for a few quid. Whether Van Damme intended this biting historical critique when he scrawled down his story in crayon is up for debate, but Rog seems well aware of it. He doesn't get much action beyond that early gunfight and a brief stint in a stolen German zeppelin (he did his knee in on location and spent much of the film in a cast), but he clearly relishes playing against type as an antihero.

In his memoirs, Rog describes Van Damme and The Quest's producer Moshe Diamant as the only two people in showbusiness he really dislikes (temporarily forgetting all about Grace Jones), meaning his appearance in the film of a man having a good time suggests he's a much better actor than he's usually given credit for. His scenes with Jack McGee as Harry, the Smee to Rog's Captain Hook, are relaxed and warm, possibly because McGee's on-set flatulence was a constant source of irritation to Jean-Claude Van Damme and amusement to Roger Moore. I don't doubt for a moment that a spinoff series of films about Dobbs and Harry's globetrotting twattery (preferably written by George MacDonald Fraser) would have been a colossal lark for Rog and a cinematic treat for the entire world. Alas, it was not to be: the remainder of his acting career would consist of cameos in films that people only watched while under eight years old, or drunk, or both.
"I say old chap, have you recently launched a
stink-rocket from your hidden underground base?"

So it's a workmanlike but welcome Rogerformance, one that just about makes The Quest worth watching but hardly a shining example of our magnificently-eyebrowed hero's finest work. After making this ill-advised disaster headlined by actors of limited talent, Rog would leave crass incompetence behind him by moving on to (*checks filmography*), uh, Spiceworld: The Movie. But that's another story.


Bonus fun: at the very end, it turns out that old JCVD has been reading from a book entitled The Quest by Carrie Newton, who it turns out was good for more than just a congratulatory shag to reinforce the hero's masculinity after all that oiled-up, semi-naked grunting and grappling. With apologies for the low resolution (I wasn't about to buy The Quest on Blu-ray), I encourage you to read the first page of this book, as presented in the film, to the end.

Friday, 8 February 2019

Thunder Road: Forlorn in the USA

To begin at the end: the first of refreshingly offbeat com-dram Thunder Road's end credits reads: "Written, directed and performed by Jim Cummings". Out of context, that "performed" sounds a little ostentatious, maybe even pretentious. But coming after 90 minutes of what is practically a one-man show, it's bang on. Cummings is front and centre in every scene of his first feature, which is based on his 2016 short of the same name, and it's a showcase for a wired and wild performance that will either leave you hungry to see what he does next or send you screaming from the cinema like your legs are on fire.
Thunder Road opens with a twelve-minute unbroken shot of Cummings' anxious, skittish cop Jim Arnaud delivering a babbling eulogy at his mum's funeral. This single scene filled the whole of the short film on which it's based, except that here Arnaud's attempt to sing and dance along to the titular Springsteen song is thwarted by a banjaxed CD player; maybe The Boss wasn't as relaxed with the rights to his music as he was three years ago. It works though: the sight of an officer of the law in full uniform, doing a catastrophically bad dance to a song that's only in his head, in front of his mother's coffin, perfectly sets the tone for what's to come.

"Everything went normal," Arnaud later remarks to a colleague of his bananas funeral performance: neither the first nor last hint that he may have some deep-seated mental health issues. The film sees him constantly teetering on the vertiginous edge of a total breakdown, struggling to connect with his pre-pubescent daughter and barely holding on to his job, friends and reality. Throw in an irresponsible ex-wife and a fractious relationship with his siblings and you've got all the ingredients for a feelbad weepie. But Cummings sees the funny side in emotional trauma, and invests the film with an almost schizophrenic ability to make you spit out your beverage of choice laughing just as you were glugging it to numb the pain. As hilarious as it is heartbreaking, Thunder Road walks this tightrope between melodrama and bad taste for its entire running time.
Cummings' performance is remarkable and unpredictable: barking mad at times and bursting with energy, then calming right down for some genuinely affecting quiet bits. There's a hint of early Jim Carrey in his most manic moments, but without the showboating. Arnaud is a complex ball of resentment, enraged by his own inability to deal with life, and that manifests as explosions of frustration peppered with fleeting glimpses of love and humility. There are other actors in the film, but Kendal Farr as his sassy daughter Crystal is about the only one allowed to make an impact.

Cummings uses Arnaud's personality disorder to take an affectionate look at male bonding, the abrasive nature of familial relationships, the blind terror of raising a teenage daughter and the permanent threat of repeating the mistakes of the past, but never foregrounds or labels the character's problems to the point where they become the focus of the story. Thunder Road is about real people dealing with real problems, usually quite cack-handedly, and skilfully avoids mawkishness with unexpected lols and an underlying sweetness that's never allowed to get cloying.
So to end at the beginning: for a second or two, the first shot of that first scene shows a hymn sheet on a piano. The words "He who would valiant be" are just about discernible before the camera pans away, and an hour and a half later you realise this could easily have passed as an alternate title for the film. Arnaud is desperate to show the world he's a man who can take everything life throws at him, but bravery isn't just about facing your problems, it's about facing yourself too. He's the hero cinema needs right now, brought to life by one of the most original new voices in independent filmmaking.

Friday, 1 February 2019

Melody Faker:
The albums I only own to make
myself look good

I like music. Who doesn't? Apart from my wife, she likes Take That. Anyway because I am a real and proper music fan who enjoys looking down his nose at people, I own all my music on clunky and cumbersome physical media like vinyl and so-called "compact" discs. This means I have no room in my lounge for seats or people, and moving house last year was a colossal ballache, and I am contributing to the mass production of plastic which will one day cover the earth's surface killing off all life as we know it, but I am definitely still superior to you streaming types somehow.

One of the bonuses of owning physical media is that you can subtly leave stuff lying around that speaks volumes about what kind of person you are or, more accurately, what kind of person you would like people to think you are. An original pressing of Kind Of Blue casually propped up next to the turntable, for example, or a worn-out copy of Blonde On Blonde protruding slightly from the IKEA Kallax shelving, is the perfect catalyst for a conversation in which you can casually toss off an "Oh, that old thing? Haha, I'd forgotten I even owned it! Aren't I a silly old deadly serious muso who cares too much about what people think!"

Of course the secondary benefit of owning albums like Kind Of Blue and Blonde On Blonde is that they contain genuinely great music. However over the years, I have managed to build up a small but robust collection of CDs and LPs that I've played once or twice, frowned at in confusion, and then - rather than doing the sensible thing and giving them to the Cancer Research shop round the corner - deliberately left them on display to make myself look good. What a prick. What follows is a small sample of these items with which I would like to confess my awfulness.

Grace by Jeff Buckley
Many moons ago I became obsessed with Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time list, and one of the entries I hadn't heard was Jeff Buckley's only studio album, Grace. Well, I thought, here's a bloke with a guitar who's well-loved by the music press but largely ignored by the mainstream, I like those. So I bought the CD, probably at some point in the mid-2000s, and played it a couple of times. Eh. Bit whiny. So on the shelf it went, and there it has remained, because owning it makes me look like a sensitive type to anyone familiar with the album, and to anyone unfamiliar with it I just look like I have a more extensive knowledge of music. Also it says out loud "I was familiar with Hallelujah before that X Factor woman sang it, *SNORT*". Obviously I should have bought Leonard Cohen's Various Positions to make this argument truly fly, but oh my god have you heard him? Cheer up mate!!!!

Intro by Pulp
When Pulp became massive after the release of Different Class in 1995, it was the done thing to point out that actually you'd been a fan since His 'n' Hers a whole year earlier, like you'd given birth to them or something. Obviously this amateur snobbery ignored their three previous albums, but literally nobody owned those unless their surname was Cocker. So I took the next best measure and bought Intro, an obscure compilation of songs that was released a whole other year earlier, BEAT THAT. Unfortunately it isn't very good but I can't have people thinking I was a late Pulp adopter because that would be the truth, and that's the last thing I want people to know.

The Classical Collection
In a supremely dick move I bought this 8-CD set of classical music from Woolies when I was a teenager because I liked the stuff I'd heard in films or on aftershave ads. I have never listened to any of it, yet there it is, a fucking massive box set leaning into the room, pushing its glasses up its nose and saying on my behalf: "Actually it's the fourth movement of Beethoven's Ninth, not 'the Die Hard theme', you TOTAL MORON". I am lots of fun at parties.

Pretty much every jazz album I own except Kind Of Blue
I started "getting into" jazz about five years ago, and under the advice of a trusted friend my first purchase was Miles Davis' Kind Of Blue. I do not own this album just to make myself look good because it is legit terrific, a complex bastard of wonder that's perfect listening at any time of any day or night. However, over the next few years I probably bought another ten or fifteen jazz albums because I thought they'd be as good as Kind Of Blue, and right now I would struggle to hum a single tune from any of them. If you put one of them on I would not be able to tell you whether it was Oscar Peterson or Cannonball Adderley or Horace Silver, and I'm fairly sure that's a jazz sin. But hello, I've got over a dozen jazz albums ON VINYL so I think you'll find that not only are my tastes pret-ty eclectic, but I am also an exceptional lover.

It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back and Fear Of A Black Planet by Public Enemy
My interest in hip hop also arrived pretty late in the day (discounting Stutter Rap by Morris Minor & The Majors, which I bought on release in 1988), but when it did I quickly amassed a crushingly obvious collection of albums that could have been issued under a collection entitled "So You've Decided To Get Into Hip Hop". Painfully aware that this made me look like the whitest and lamest music fan in history, I decided to dip my toes further into the rap pool and bought the only two Public Enemy albums I'd heard of. Sorry guys but they're unlistenable. Still, I look 0.4% less lame for owning them so they stay on the shelf.

Every album by The Beatles
My father in law bought every Beatles LP as soon as they were released, and as a dowry for taking his daughter off his hands he gave them all to me, THIS IS A JOKE I LOVE MY WIFE AND AM LUCKY SHE AGREED TO MARRY ME. These touchstones of pop culture, these invaluable blasts of music history captured forever on beautiful jet-black vinyl, sit proudly in my collection where everyone can see them and envy my ownership of such rare and precious artefacts. What's that? Do I actually play them? Oh God no, I barely even like The Beatles. Except for Abbey Road, that one is so completely brilliant I have listened to it at least four times.

David Bowie's difficult period
I genuinely adore Zavid, and have really, really tried with the seven albums he made in the nineties and noughties, but there's no avoiding the fact that these are the ramblings of a man who'd lost his way. Thank God he subsequently squirted out a couple of actually brilliant records before he sensibly left us to rot in our own imbecilic filth, thereby leaving his legacy a little less tarnished. Don't think I'll be selflessly helping to fund a cure for the cancer that killed him by taking those CDs to the charity shop though, don't you realise the cachet that comes with owning every Bowie album? I've got a reputation to uphold you know.

Led Zeppelin II & Led Zeppelin IV
Another couple of albums I bought because I felt like I should, Led Zep's imaginatively-titled II and IV are the only survivors of a brutal cull that saw I and III consigned to the nearest chazza after a couple of plays. There's every chance I might actually enjoy them if I ever get round to putting them on again, but when is it ever appropriate to listen to a Led Zeppelin album? I'll tell you: the 1970s. And at a push, the 1990s, when the world's worst people briefly resurrected the 1970s because even they couldn't stand the 1990s. I like to think that owning them makes me look good but am vaguely aware that in fact it makes me look either 60 years old, or like someone who subscribed to Loaded and never missed an episode of TFI Friday.

Zuma by Neil Young
I can't actually even look at this album, let alone play it, because the cover is so phenomenally crap. So I have to trust in the readers of Rolling Stone who declared it the 7th best Neil Young album, because I'm definitely never going to play it. Still, look at me, I own a Neil Young album other than Harvest, bow down before my wild and unpredictable tastes, mortals!

Some crusty old 78s
The pièce de résistance of my collection of albums I only own to look good is a ragtag bunch of 78s pressed on shellac, which is so laughably fragile that every time I move them the collection gets smaller. I took these from my Grandad's house after he died, along with a gramophone to play them on (because that would make me look unbelievably hip), but sadly the gramophone was about as functional as my Grandad so I gave it to a friend to be repaired. That repair is still ongoing two years down the line, so while the records themselves tell the world that I really am an audiophile of the most superior order, I couldn't even play the fuckers if I wanted to.

Friday, 18 January 2019

Glass: Shyamalan blows it

It's January 2019, and we're staring down the barrel of probably one of the biggest years for superhero movies since 2018. With Marvel about to shatter box office records worldwide, the X-Men due to reboot again for a new generation and DC set to, uh... do whatever it is they do, it would seem the time is ripe for a bold, original voice to bring some fresh commentary to the genre. Step forward M Night Shyamalan, who kind of had a stab at this with 2000's Unbreakable, then retroactively incorporated 2017's Split into the same cinematic universe in a tossed-off mid-credits scene that would have been a great MCU-referencing gag if only he hadn't then decided to turn into a full-length feature.

So does Shyamalan bust open the superhero mythology? Can we ever see caped crusaders in the same way again? Does Glass have anything useful to add to the global conversation whatsoever? Respectively: no, yes, and kind of, eventually.
"Who painted this room, Stevie Wonder?"

An extended prologue reintroduces us to Bruce Willis' indestructible - you might even say unbreakable - David Dunn and James McAvoy's alarmingly ripped multiple schizophrenic Kevin Crumb, whose many personalities are collectively known as The Horde. The former is on the hunt for the latter, and with the help of Dunn's son (played, wonderfully, by the same actor who played him as a kid nineteen years ago) these two super-powered (or ARE they?, etc) weirdos briefly face off before being captured and chucked into a loony bin by Sarah Paulson's psychiatrist Ellie Staple, who appears to have been taking make up tips from a psychotic ventriloquist's dummy.

And so we're off into a whirlwind of adventure, as these two freaks of nature are pitted against each other in a tense battle of strength and wits that will - oh no wait sorry hang on, silly me, I was thinking of something fun. What I meant to say is that Dunn and Crumb spend the best part of an hour locked in their cells having long, boring chats with Dr Staple about whether or not their powers are genuinely "super" or just exaggerated everyday skills. Dunn's original nemesis, Mr Glass, is conveniently locked up in the same hospital, but in a typically Shyamalanesque twist the director has hired the effervescent Samuel L Jackson and then told him to sit motionless and silent for an eternity.
"You mean I don't even get to say 'muthafucka', muthafucka?"

All of this seems deliberately anti-superhero-movie, and fair enough, but goodness me is it patience-testing. It's unclear what any character wants from any of this or why we should care, it goes nowhere for a really long time and it revolves entirely around the "are they superpowered?" question, which frankly just boils down to semantics. Batman and Iron Man aren't superpowered but you don't see Robin or Pepper Potts sitting down and yakking about it for days on end.

At one point Shyamalan seems to realise that as he's spent millions of dollars and several years getting these three actors in the same film, maybe he should get them in the same scene, so sets another tedious blah-fest in a large, inexplicably pink room where they sit next to each other but don't interact at all. It's all so dull that you start to pick holes in the film, like how Dr Staple was able to whisk two dangerous individuals off to a psychiatric hospital just like that, or why that hospital only employs one nurse at a time and a handful of guards who are the dictionary definition of useless, or why - with all this talk of superheroes being fictional - nobody ever says how much they're looking forward to Avengers: Endgame. In fairness, some of this is arguably explained in the film's climax. Explained, perhaps, but not excused: if you're going to have a big reveal, it helps if the audience have been invested in the mystery all along (cf The Sixth Sense), rather than alienated to the point of contemplating how long it is till Captain Marvel comes out.
"Seven weeks? SEVEN WEEKS?!"

The plot does thicken a little, there is, perhaps, a vaguely new and interesting take on the old "can vigilantism be justified?" chestnut and Shyamalan offers a neat idea surrounding that question in the dying moments of his film, but it's not enough. After hinting towards the kind of big-budget climax we've been itching for, he delivers a tussle in a car park; James McAvoy's jaw-dropping performance in Split is repeated here to considerably lesser effect, and Samuel L Jackson's genuine superpowers as an actor are completely wasted. But most crippling of all is that Dunn and Crumb's stories barely connect, and when they do it feels like Shyamalan's desperately trying to justify the idea of bringing them together and never truly succeeding.

Kudos to Shyamalan for pushing the real-worldliness of his superhero trilogy, but it's unlikely to find its place as a key text in the annals of the genre. Unbreakable took a hundred minutes to get going and then promptly ended, Split boasted a magnificent central performance and little else, and Glass is a weak and ultimately misguided attempt to tie the two together. It's still better than anything DC have curled out in the last five years, but you'll have a better, cheaper time if you just stay at home and stick the Spider-Man: Far From Home trailer on again.

Friday, 11 January 2019

The Steadfast And The Furious:
Ranking the 12 Angry Men
in order of angriness

As the global celebrations to mark 61 years, ten months and some days since the release of Sidney Lumet's unspeakably sweaty kind-of courtroom drama 12 Angry Men continue, I thought I'd do my bit for freedom and justice by investigating just how angry those twelve men really are in relation to each other. Frankly I'm surprised nobody's done it before; you might think that's because it would be an utterly pointless waste of everybody's time and effort. But like Henry Fonda's inspirational Juror 8, I shall attempt to convince you that you are in fact a massive wrong idiot. So sit down, take the oath and prepare... for JURY FURY!


#12: Juror 8 (Henry Fonda)
Mild-mannered architect Juror 8 is the only one in the room with an ounce of dignity and common sense, turning a jury full of boiling blowhards round to his way of thinking by being the coolest cucumber at the table. The kind of liberal snowflake that would make Donald Trump spit fire, he's the hero the world needs in 2018, if only he wasn't dead and also fictional.
Angriness: Total Zen

#11: Juror 12 (Robert Webber)
More interested in repeatedly removing and replacing his glasses than in the fate of an accused teenager on death row, slick ad exec Juror 12 is too dumb to be angry about anything. He is, however, by far the most egregiously indecisive man on the jury, changing his verdict no fewer than three times. Come on dude, this isn't 12 Vacillating Men, is it?
Angriness: Don Draper cool

#10: Juror 2 (John Fiedler)
Timid milquetoast Juror 2 is the one most likely to become a serial killer in the future, but here he keeps his rage in check by just generally shutting up and offering throat lozenges around the table. Only when driven to the furthest extremes of his patience does he truly let rip by refusing a cough sweet to Juror 10. Terrifying.
Angriness: Barely irked

#9: Juror 4 (EG Marshall)
One of the last jurors to succumb to Henry Fonda's charms, Juror 4 simmers gently in his suit while all around him exaggeratedly loosen their ties to reinforce the point than man alive is it hot in here. He looks like he might pop at any point (maybe he's just constipated), but only when Fonda pushes him to remember a movie he watched a few days ago in order to prove a point does Juror 4 produce a single bead of sweat on his bone-dry pate.
Angriness: Mildly perturbed

#8: Juror 1 (Martin Balsam)
The foreman's job on a jury is to maintain order, so you'd hope that he wouldn't fly off the handle in the face of even the most heinous annoyance, like someone standing on the left of a tube escalator like they DON'T HAVE A FUCKING CARE IN THE WORLD. Juror 1 is a calming influence on the rest of the jury, but he does get his knickers in a minor twist when someone suggests he's doing a shit job. The argument is over before it's begun though. Textbook foremanship.
Angriness: Whatever mate, not bothered, just stay out of my grill

#7: Juror 9 (Joseph Sweeney)
At last the hackles start to rise. Juror 9 is 208 years old and a reasonable man, but Juror 10's blind prejudice is enough to push even this sleepy old coot to raise his voice and get a bit shaky. Fortunately Juror 8 calms him down before he goes into cardiac arrest, but you wouldn't have wanted to go up against this guy in the war. (the Napoleonic wars lol) (because he's old you see)
Angriness: Fetch me my pills, Mildred

#6: Juror 6 (Edward Binns)
Juror 6, aka John Q Everyman, is a blue collar guy who just wants to do the right thing and get back to bricklaying or tiling or whatever it is he does, nobody can remember because he's the least significant character. But he does threaten to pop his cork once or twice, or at least I imagine he does. Like I say, I can't really remember anything about him. Seems like the type though. Would probably have voted Leave "to teach the establishment a lesson".
Angriness: Some, I guess

#5: Juror 5 (Jack Klugman)
Ah, young Quincy, M.E. Born in the slums and handy with a switchblade, Juror 5 is a lean, mean, killing machine, only he's learned that politeness gets him further with The Man. But if you start dissing the streets he grew up in, like Juror 10 does, you're gonna get a flick knife between the ribs, buddy, and then you're gonna need a real Medical Examiner to find your small intestines for you. So zip it!
Angriness: Keeping it in, but only just

#4: Juror 11 (George Voskovec)
A vaguely-European-born, naturalised American in a room half full of dimwitted racists, Juror 11 takes quite enough shit from Jurors 3 and 10 about outsiders all being the same. He's at his best when hilariously correcting his neighbour's grammar, but later on you just know he's permanently on the verge of busting out some obscure Eastern European swears.
Angriness: Kecáš kraviny!

#3: Juror 7 (Jack Warden)
Oh, dis guy. Fuggedabahdit! He's got tickets to the game tonight and ain't nuthin comin' between him and a session of glorified rounders, least of all some punk kid who 86'd his old man. Juror 7 spins on a dime from being your best pal to your worst nightmare, but he's most angry about his receding hairline, hence that hat that he keeps on in a freakin' sauna.
Angriness: Why I oughta -

#2: Juror 10 (Ed Begley)
Barking mad from the word go, Juror 10 is incensed that he even has to contemplate the possibility that this little bastard might not be guilty. They're all the same, y'hear! Ya can't teach 'em anything, y'see! After an hour and a bit of frequently exploding with intolerant bullshit, he eventually pipes down when he finally realises that he's a big jerk and nobody likes him. You dream that dickheads like this would have this kind of epiphany.
Angriness: Racist volcano

#1: Juror 3 (Lee J Cobb)
Finally, the most enraged, irate sack of shitty wind in the room is Juror 3, a man so roiling with incandescent fury that the animators of Inside Out based the character of Anger on him. He's pissed off with everyone and everything, particularly kids, because his own son hates him for some unfathomable reason. Finally Juror 8's irritating unflappability shows Juror 3 that the person he's angriest at is himself, and quite rightly too because he is a ginormous cunt.
Angriness: Apo-fucking-plectic

Friday, 4 January 2019

We don't talk enough about Will Young's Coriolanus documentary

Because I am extremely intelligent, intellectual and (*checks thesaurus*) erudite and stuff, I recently watched Ralph Fiennes' 2011 film Coriolanus, which is based on a play by William Shakespeare that, according to every single review, is one of his lesser known works. But I had heard of it, because I am highbrow, bookish and perspicacious. In fairness I had only heard of it because Ralph Fiennes made a film of it, but that - as I think you'll find Emilia remarked to Desdemona in Othello - is neither here nor there.

What is both here and there is that after watching Coriolanus on DVD (which is an archaic form of physical media, used for storing audio and visual data on, that we used to have in the olden days), I ventured to the Special Features section. This is something DVDs - and their high definition successors, "Blu-rays" - included to enhance your enjoyment and understanding of a film. In one of many tragedies of the 21st century, streaming has more or less done away with the joy of the Special Features, thus denying the average viewer the chance to witness what I - a proud user of physical media - stumbled across next.

For there, listed casually among the numerous extras (two is a number) as if it was a perfectly normal thing to have on a DVD of a Shakespeare film, was something calling itself Behind The Scenes Of Coriolanus With Will Young. Here's proof, for anyone who quite understandably thinks I'm making this up:
Yes, that's right:
Well now. This was unexpected. I had just sat through two hours of some pret-ty cerebral stuff, let me tell you, and I was not prepared for a deep dive into its creation by the winner of series one of Pop Idol. But, as Shakespeare said in his bestseller The Bible, judge not lest ye be judged. I decided to give Will the benefit of the doubt and see what he had to bring to the party.
Frost / Nixon. Paxman / Howard. Young / Fiennes.

The half-hour documentary begins with sombre music over establishing shots of Belgrade, where Coriolanus was partly shot, followed by images of soldiers sneaking through streets and shooting at an unseen enemy. Don't panic though, we haven't been plunged into the Yugoslav Wars of 1991-99; these are merely actors, acting in a film. A film called Coriolanus. Having set the tone as one of gloom and dread and with the very real prospect of Slobodan Milošević doing something unspeakable just round the corner, with no warning at all the film suddenly cuts to chirpy pop-moppet Will Young standing in the street and looking confused, like he fears he may have accidentally wandered into an actual war.

A few more behind-the-scenes shots follow, before Will properly introduces the documentary, and himself, informing us that "it's my first time being involved in the production of a film". Now I have nothing against Will - in fact a few years ago I was gifted a coaster bearing his cherubic face as a birthday present, and to this day I still place piping hot mugs of tea on the Young countenance - but I had to admit to total bafflement regarding his suitability for the role of presenter of a Making Of documentary about a film based on a lesser-known Shakespeare play, directed by and starring one of our leading thespians. I mean, was nobody with a little more appropriate gravitas available? Was Derek Jacobi on holiday? Was Nigel Havers too expensive? Had Pam St Clement taken the phone off the hook?

What Will hadn't mentioned, and never does in the twenty-five minutes his documentary lasts, is that he was an executive producer on Coriolanus. That's all he needed to say to ease my troubled mind, but presumably out of modesty he withheld that vital scrap of information which would have made everything clearer. I had to find it out myself later, and while that was a pity, I did unearth the fact that he decided to invest in the film because he basically had buckets of cash lying around and no idea what to do with it. How he arrived at the decision to spunk it on a Shakespeare adaptation and not, say, Anything Is Possible: The Will Young Movie, I have no idea. If you're reading this Will, do get in touch and let me know.

The documentary proceeds in the way most of these things do, with each Head Of Department explaining what they do to an incredulous Will Young. His delight at being on a film set is infectious, and his puppy-dog innocence is charming and endearing, which is lovely but only increases the sense that someone like Patrick Stewart should be asking the questions instead. But then Will literally asks the film's military advisor if the actors shooting at each other ARE USING BLANKS, and you realise that that ferocious line of questioning would simply never have occurred to Sir Pat. Nor would that venerable officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire have dared to tell Coriolanus' make-up artist that "you have the best voice EVER, I think you should do the voiceover for the movie in the cinemas!" It is unclear what Will means by this but by God he is excited about it.
Later in the documentary, Fiennes' co-star Gerard Butler - whose association with a Shakespeare adaptation is almost as unlikely as Will Young's - tries to steal the Leave Right Now singer's thunder by recounting an unbelievably shit practical joke that he got someone else to play on a fellow actor, but we're not fooled. This isn't your party Butler, this is Will Young's party. Perhaps inspired by the bearded Scottish man's tomfoolery, Will later tries to get each interviewee to say something nasty about Ralph Fiennes, but to no avail. Eventually Production Designer Ricky Eyres ("aka Rick", Will says, doing finger-quotes around 'Rick' as if it's the maddest variant of 'Ricky' he's ever come across) capitulates, unconvincingly describing Fiennes as "murder", and Will's pleasure at pulling off this mischief is palpable.

Another trivia nugget that goes unmentioned is that Will had a cameo in the film which was cut for reasons which may or may not be quite obvious. Referring to himself in the third person in another interview I had to find myself, Will says: "There were all these acting greats, and then Will Young pops up to say a few lines. It just didn't work." Is he being too hard on himself? Difficult to say, but bear Will Young's assessment of Will Young in mind as you watch the clip below, which is my absolute favourite moment in the documentary: an utterly astonishing vignette, which is neither introduced nor explained. It is simply allowed to exist in the middle of a documentary about Ralph Fiennes' brutal, brooding adaptation of William Shakespeare's politically-charged play Coriolanus.

I urge you to watch that as many times as possible to truly appreciate it to its fullest.

There's plenty more to enjoy in Behind The Scenes Of Coriolanus With Will Young, but I've given enough away for free as it is. As far as I can tell you can't stream it, so you're just going to have to invest in an actual hard copy of the film if you want to bask in its oddness. It might be a complete and total mismatch of presenter and subject matter, but I have nothing but respect for Will Young for financing a perfectly good movie, making a short film about it and - perhaps above all - resisting the urge to lean into camera and, with a cheeky grin, chuckle about the film's title containing the word "anus".

Thursday, 27 December 2018

Welcome To Marwen: The figure picture

Like many children of the '80s, my life was nudged in a specific direction by Bob Zemeckis and his little film about the boy whose mum tried to fuck him in the past. Zemeckis channelled 1.21 gigawatts of power into my interest in cinema, and I repaid him by watching everything else he made, up to and including Beowulf. But his forays into motion capture left me as cold as CG Tom Hanks' dead doll's eyes, and forgive me father, for I have forsaken Bob this past decade; not one of his post-2007 films have passed mine eyes.

But then along came Welcome To Marwen, with its intriguing blend of motion capture and live action, and its bizarre claim to be based on a true story despite having a trailer full of scenes that appeared to be from a spectacularly violent, war-movie version of Toy Story, and like Doc Brown I figured: what the hell.
Steve Carell engages Serious Steve Mode for his role as Mark Hogancamp, a lonely and apparently eccentric man who takes photos of dolls posed in WWII costumes and situations, and who has a thing for women's shoes. Hogancamp's true story was told - reasonably well, by all accounts (I haven't seen it) - in Marwencol, a 2010 documentary that provided the inspiration for Zemeckis' film. The reasons for Hogancamp's model behaviour are undeniably fascinating and tragic, but the first problem with Welcome To Marwen is that it takes two hours to explain them when they could have been dealt with in a ten-minute prologue. This has two immediate effects: firstly, to summarise the premise here would count as a spoiler for the whole film; secondly, Zemeckis needs to pad out the running time somehow. And if there's one thing Hogancamp's story doesn't have that Bob Zemeckis can add, it's a metric fucktonne of motion capture action sequences.

And so about half of Welcome To Marwen consists of those war-movie Toy Story scenes, in which 'Hogie', a heroic GI action figure in 1940s Belgium (who looks suspiciously like Steve Carell) is repeatedly captured by Nazi action figures, then rescued by a collection of sexy female action figures who kill the Nazis in increasingly violent fashion. Hogancamp merely photographed these imagined stories; Zemeckis splashes them on the screen in stunningly-realised fantasy sequences that are undeniably fun to watch, but which add little to the film's emotional core that the photographs don't. In fact these sequences unbalance the story, creating a weird tonal mixture of effects-driven action comedy and weighty drama that is going to be a nightmare to sell to audiences. Here's a film that wants to cover transvestism, Neo-Nazism, hate crime, violence as a solution, substance abuse, PTSD and other assorted mental health issues, but at the same time foregrounds cutting-edge CG action and visual gags. It's certainly not boring, but it is a little uncomfortable.
Carell is fine as Hogancamp (although clearly has an absolute ball as his 1/6th scale alter-ego), and Leslie Mann is wonderful as his near-mythically non-judgemental neighbour Nicol, but every other character is a cliché of some kind or other - Gwendoline Christie's Russian carer, for example, is teeth-itchingly ill-advised. Zemeckis' script, co-written with Caroline Thompson, is clunky and obvious at times: a barman drops a lead weight of exposition on a character who is only there to receive that exposition on our behalf, for example, and unnecessary narrative devices are crowbarred in to ramp up dramatic tension. Good Characters 100% accept Mark for who he is while Bad Characters 100% reject him for being a weirdo, as if the script is terrified of offending anyone with nuance. And Zemeckis can't resist a distractingly meta, extended Back To The Future-referencing gag which made me wonder if he'd lobbed it in after watching Ready Player One.

There's a truly original and inspiring film in here somewhere, but you can't help thinking it's the one that somebody else made eight years ago. Hogancamp deserves to be acknowledged for his art and the events that led him to create it, but he probably didn't deserve to have those events diminished by embellishing them with button-pushing melodrama and a side order of mega-budget kids' holiday filler. Welcome To Marwen isn't a total failure while you're watching it, and if more people look up Mark Hogancamp as a result then all well and good. But I'm fairly sure Bob Zemeckis can do better than this, and I hope it's not another ten years before I can be arsed to find out.