Monday, 29 August 2011

That was the week that was (22 August - 28 August) (Part Two)

Here's part two of my weekly round up - with five more films to review. (Full disclosure: I actually watched Moon this morning, rather than during the week of 22 - 28 August, but I'm going to include it in this week's write up anyway. Because I can.)

The Wackness (2008)

It seems a little strange that there are now films looking back at the '90s with a sense of nostalgia, but I suppose the '90s were over a long time ago now. In any event, this is one such film - set in that distant and long ago time of 1994, it tells the story of depressed pot dealer Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck), who has just graduated from high school in New York and as well as the usual adolescent angst, his family is under serious financial strain, and are faced with eviction from their swanky Upper East Side apartment. Shapiro seeks solace in hip hop music, a budding romance with flakey rich girl Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby) and an unlikely friendship with Stephanie's father, an unhinged, pill popping therapist, played with wild eyed relish by Sir Ben Kingsley. (Or as Christopher Moltisanti would put it, Sir Kingsley). Despite seeming at times to be a tamer version of 'Kids', I liked The Wackness a lot more than I thought I would. It's funny (at times), but also bittersweet. Luke Shapiro is character who is a little hard to relate to, as he appears to be in a near catatonic state throughout the film, but Ben Kingsley is excellent, and seemed to be having a lot of fun in his wild and crazy role. It's worth mentioning that the film has an excellent soundtrack - full of classic early '90s hip hop tracks from the likes of Nas, Notorious BIG and A Tribe Called Quest. It's also worth catching this film for a bizarre scene which may haunt you for years - the sight of Sir Ben Kingsley making out with one of the Olsen twins. *Shudder*.

Rating: 8/10

Dazed and Confused (1993)

I first caught this film when I was about 17 (probably the ideal age to watch it); it showed on BBC2's late Sunday evening movie-of-the-week show, Videodrome. I loved it then, and while it doesn't have quite the same impact for me, now that I'm rather older and mentally and physically decrepit, it's still tremendous fun. I find it's also one of those films whose appeal improves immensely if you're had a few drinks. Anyway, the plot (such as it is) centres on the last day of school in a smalltown in Texas in 1976. Various groups of friends feature in the film - a group of American football players about to enter their senior yera of high school, and relishing their chance to dish out a few vicious paddle beatings to the incoming high school freshmen; the said high school freshmen, desparately trying to avoid being on the receiving end of a thrashing - a group of geeks and cardplayers, mulling over their future and a few stoners, attempting to salvage a party which has been jeopardised by one of the kids' parents unexpectedly staying home for the evening. The high school quarterback, Randy 'Pink' Floyd, is the dividing thread which links many of these groups, though he spends most of the day mulling over whether to sign a promise to his football coach that he will not partake in drugs and alcohol over the course of the summer. The film's pleasures don't really lie in the storyline, however - it's more about just hanging around with the various kids. If the script and the soundtrack weren't so great, this could make for an excrutiating couple of hours, but thankfully, both are excellent. The ensemble cast includes a number of actors who grew up to be household names (including Ben Affleck, Mila Jovovich and Matthew McConaughey), together with other, rather less famous actors such as Adam Goldberg, Michelle Burke, Rory Cochrane and Marissa Ribisi who put in equally impressive work. The aforementioned excellent soundtrack features a number of great tunes from the '70s - Foghat, Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, Deep Purple, The Sweet, Lynryd Skynyrd, Black Sabbath, Ted Nugent and many other classics. Lovely stuff.

Rating: 9/10

Lost in Translation (2003)

Now, here's a movie I watched about four times when it first came out, but haven't seen since about 2005. I absolutely loved this film in the cinema - on the big screen, in the dark, it has a kind of hypnotic quality. Unfortunately, I watched it again with a friend of mine on DVD a year or two later, and he almost persuaded me that it was a load of racist tripe. I suppose I can see where he's coming from - there are a few scenes in the film which seem to exist to poke fun at those 'wacky foreigners' (particularly the scene in which the prostitute comes 'a knockin', and tries to get Bill Murray's character to 'lip her stocking'.) On the other hand, I still stand behind my initial reaction to the film. It's a beautifully shot and directed film which is all about the feeling of dislocation and otherness a solo traveller experiences when exposed to an entirely different culture. Bill Murray is particularly good as world weary actor Bob Harris, who is able to escape his isolation by forging a connection with fellow lost soul Scarlett Johansson. I'm still hoping that Sofia Coppola will be able to match this film, but I wasn't too impressed with Somewhere or Marie Antoinette (from what I saw of it).

Rating: 8/10

Alien (1979)

Ridley Scott's sci-fi horror classic is one of the few films to successfully stage a horror movie in space. Generally, it seems like the last role of the dice from a director desperate to 'spice up' a dying franchise by taking the Leprechaun or Jason Voorhees into the outer reaches of the galaxy. On this occasion, however, both the sci-fi and horror elements of the film work brilliantly; it creates a believably and interesting world of the future, whilst also offering a number of gruesome and scary scenes. One of the best touches is to show the Nostromo space ship as a lived in, grimy hulk rather than the kind of pristine futuristic facility you often see in a sci-fi movie. This helps to ground the film in reality, and enable you to really empathise with the human beings trapped on board the ship with the alien. For me personally, the alien creature isn't the most unpleasant thing in the movie - it's the facehuggers and the eggs. I'd much rather suffer the quick death which say Yaphet Kotto or Tom Skeritt than the drawn out coma and impregnation fate which John Hurt is required to face. A movie which launched a highly iconic villain, and a number of sequels - ranging from brilliant (Aliens) to godawful (the A v P movies).

Rating: 9/10

Moon (2009)

(Potential spoilers ahead). A very well made modern sci-fi film, Moon is even more impressive when you consider that it was made for a budget of only $5 million. Sam Rockwell does most of the heavy lifting in the film - playing multiple cloned versions of the same man, Sam Bell. He has been sent to the moon to harvest some kind of material which is being used to solve the world's energy needs. However, after discovering the truth of his situation, he needs to work together with sympathetic computer GERTY and his other clones to fight back against the morally dubious corporation which has consigned him to his slave like lunar existence. A very impressive debut from director Duncan Jones, who followed it up with another interesting sci-fi movie, Source Code.

Rating: 8/10

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