The Truman Show

The central concept of the Truman Show, that a man (Jim Carrey, in one of his first reined in roles) is being unwittingly filmed every minute of his life for a reality TV show/, is genius, and on the surface appears well thought out. Round the clock feed is funded by blatant in-show product placement, the town of Seahaven where Truman lives is encased in a giant dome, complete with ocean, and almost everything in the show is set up to keep Truman satisfied with living there, from regular news bulletins and reminders from friends that they live in officially the greatest town in the world, to travel agents displaying posters of planes being struck by lightning, proclaiming “It could happen to you!” The shows creators have even created a fear of water in Truman, by having his father drown and making it Truman’s fault, but if you look closer there are some fairly major faults with the show. Firstly, it makes sense to give Truman’s best friend a menial job, as it requires little skill, but why make his wife a nurse? Surely it’s possible that she may need to see to someone in the presence of Truman, as shown when he goes to see her at work. This is also true of the coach-driving extra, unable to drive a coach, but the main issue here is why there is a coach station at all, when it’s never going to be used, and there not present in every town, even in the US.
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Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Within the Indiana Jones saga, each of the films has a specific role. Raiders is the leader, the well rounded, talented, good looking jock that everyone likes, admires and wants to be friends with. Crusade is the jokester, a tad immature, but loyal and loveable nonetheless. Skull is the one no-one wants to admit is in the gang, the sci-fi nerd with the stupid theories that tags along despite being the butt of all the jokes. And Temple takes life a bit more seriously, is a bit more intense, or so I’ve always remembered. When I’ve thought of it, I tend to remember the dark, mythological plot, involving sacred stones, voodoo, mass child kidnapping and slavery, yet upon rewatching I picked up on the lighter notes, the offsetting of this darkness with two of the series’ more comic (and irritating) supporting characters, various light-hearted moments (generally involving elephants) and a physics/logic defying rollercoaster minecart ride.
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The Blair Witch Project

I needed a short film today as I was a little pushed for time, so the 74-minute Blair Witch Project was perfect, until I realised I was watching a horror film alone in an empty flat immediately before going to bed, not always a wise decision. You’ll be able to tell when I’m really busy when I post about watching La Voyage Dans la Lune (14 mins) or the Cat Concerto (8 mins).
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Superbad

It’s never a good sign when the first joke from a so-called comedy film is a throwaway gag stolen from Clueless, two friends talking on the phone, the conversation ending seconds before one collects the other on the way to school. This kind of base level unoriginal humour, along with a very immature, puerile level of swearing and obsession with alcohol, girls and sex may well be indicative of teenage boys, but doesn’t make for entertaining viewing to those of us older than 15. Apparently Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen wrote the script whilst still in school, and it shows.

Choose life 4/10

Alien

One of my favourite movie subgenres is the limited cast, limited locations films, where, for whatever reason, only a handful of characters are involved, and are confined to a small number, preferably one or two, of areas. This is best seen in 12 Angry Men, as previously discussed, where the principle cast are the 12 jurors on a case, and the principle sets are the jury room and its adjacent restroom. Similarly, Alien sees the seven crew members of the mining spaceship Nostromo largely confined to the ship and a planet it docks at in response to a distress signal. Things take a turn for the worse when, upon docking, the ship picks up an alien lifeform (later known as a Xenomorph), whose main ambition in life seems to be removing it from other creatures.
The film shows an interesting depiction of the future far removed from the more utopian worlds of more classic science fiction. Here, men seem to have retained dominance (shown by the exclusion of women from any decision making), and where class separation is still rife (the two engineers, Parker and Brett, are paid half as much as everyone else on board). The ship’s design is a far cry from the gleaming visuals of, say, 2001: A Space Odyssey. The Nostromo is, after all, a mining craft, so the ship’s functional, mechanical nature is only to be expected, although the overly futuristic sleeping pods do jar with the rest of the ship.
Aside from the infamous ‘chestburster’ scene (of which you can now by lifesize plush toys!), I couldn’t remember most of the film, although in my memory it does tend to blend with the other films from the franchise, as my only previous viewing was in marathon format. That said, there is much that sticks in the mind now, from Hurt’s descent into the alien nest, littered with giant eggs covered in a mysterious fog, or Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) seeing off an 8 ft alien with molecular acid for blood and far too many sets of teeth dressed only in vest and knickers (Ripley’s wearing the knickers, not the alien).
Having seen many survival films, where the cast is slowly whittled down one by one until the final confrontation, I noticed that with Alien it is not immediately obvious who the main character, and therefore the final survivor, is. Most of the characters are given fairly equal screen time, characterisation and dialogue, so it is not until the numbers start to dwindle that it is clear Ripley is the heroine, as earlier in the film she seemed to be the more heartless, professional crewmember, condemning Hurt’s Kane to death by refusing him entry onto the ship without a proper scan. That being said, she does become stupid later on, stopping to put two suffering crewmembers out of their misery minutes before the entire ship, them included, will be blown up (I’ve never understood this, why do ships have self-destruct mechanisms? Were they expecting an alien lifeform to come aboard, and the only way to kill it would be to blow the whole ship up? If so, surely some other defence mechanisms could be implemented instead?), and then she goes back for the cat, kept on board purely to jump out at random moments to scare the bejesus out of anyone in the vicinity.
Choose film 9/10

The Prestige

Fittingly, The Prestige is a trick of a movie, a plaything, director Chris Nolan toying with the audience like a cat with a ball of string. Everything, from character motivation to the narrative timeline is entangled for the audience to figure out, as the tale of two rival magicians, Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale, unfolds. Jackman’s Robert Angier is a showman, but lacks the skill of Bale’s Alfred Borden, himself too concerned with the technicalities of the illusions to be entertaining. Hell, even the film’s genre, seemingly a period drama, reveals itself to be more science fiction who-dunnit (not to mention what-dun-and-how). Nothing is as it seems, but on a repeat viewing you pick up the clues, noticing that Nolan did indeed signpost the way, but the plot, characters, setting and acting was too mesmerising, too engrossing for us to notice.

Choose film 8/10

The Shawshank Redemption

This is one of the films I’ve seen more times than any other, up there with Armageddon and Die Hard with a Vengeance (criminally, neither of which appear on the list). Shawshank tells the story of Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), wrongly convicted of the murder of his wife and her lover. Really though, the film is about friendship, with Dufresne meeting Morgan Freeman’s Red, a man known to locate certain items from time to time, and the two form a firm bond. The film also shows how to make the best of a bad situation, as before imprisonment Andy was in a relationship with an unfaithful women, a successful but passion-less job as a banker and had few, if any, friends (none seem to visit him throughout his sentence), yet in prison he thrives, providing sound financial advice to the guards, making friends and finding peace within himself with the aid of a newfound routine and meaning. Andy never knew that all he wanted was freedom, until what little he had was taken away from him.

Choose film 9/10