Friday, 11 July 2014

11/07/14 - Movies, etc

Familiarity breeds contempt, as the old cliché goes. But it also makes you forget how good things are. When the opening riff of Smells Like Teen Spirit comes on the radio, is your first thought ‘brilliant, I love this track – it’s the archetypal Cobain quiet-loud-quiet sound, manifested as a robust departure from the stripped-back punk of Bleach’, or ‘bloody hell, this again’? Try not to let it be the latter, it’s still a magnificent song.
This behaviour is also true of movies. Some films are so ubiquitous, so obvious, that they become by default a last-resort choice – no-one’s going to applaud your film-buff credentials if you’re espousing the merits of a blockbuster smash from fifteen years ago. But sod what other people think – you don’t have to be all counter-culture all the time, often things are popular because they’re good, right? So, here to brighten up your weekend is the JuicyPips Guide to Eight Films That You’ve Almost Certainly Seen Many Times But Should Really Watch Again. And the reason for selecting these eight films in particular? Because they’re all really rather clever.
(Beware – spoilers approach. If you haven’t seen any of these, just skip over the ‘what happens’ sections, yeah?)

The Matrix (released 1999)

What happens?
A hacker, Neo, suspects that a thing called The Matrix exists, but doesn’t know what it is. He meets a mysterious chap named Morpheus, who tells him that he can show him The Matrix, but once he’s seen it he can never go back. He agrees. He awakens to discover that his entire perception of reality is false, and that he’s actually just one of millions of unconscious people being farmed for their energy in gel-filled pods. He learns that the world is run by intelligent machines, powering themselves from human energy and keeping everyone’s subconscious existing in 1999-era “reality”. All kinds of mad shit goes down once he learns to bend the rules of what isn’t actually reality.

What makes it clever?
Presenting Keanu Reeves as a credible actor, for a start. He does a cracking job. The Matrix also paved the way for all sorts of mind-bending cinematographic reworkings of the physical world – Inception owes a lot to it. There is much subterfuge and who’s-on-who’s-side going on too, which is always fun. Keeps you guessing.

Natural Born Killers (released 1994)

What happens?
Mickey and Mallory Knox are a latter day Bonnie & Clyde. The film starts off with them killing a load of people in a diner because one of them was leching over Mallory. We see a flashback in which they kill her abusive parents, and then we jump back to the present where they go on to kill 52 people in a bloody spree. Detective Scagnetti is after them as he’s a bit obsessed with mass-murderers, but he himself is a bit of a psycho – he kills a hooker, which is kinda naughty for a copper.
The couple are apprehended at a drugstore and jailed, ultimately becoming media heroes as they start a prison riot live on TV. It all gets very messy.

What makes it clever?
It’s very, very intelligently crafted and beautifully shot. It’s psychedelic and trippy, constantly swapping angles and switching between colour and black and white as well as pulling in countless effects, filters, animation segues and what-have-you. The construct of the film is effectively to parody television culture, with much of the plot staged as parodies of TV shows, and relentless clips from adverts and TV programmes are spliced in. The film belies its gory subject matter by being utterly gorgeous to behold.

Pulp Fiction (released 1994)

What happens?
The film has seven parts. Part 1: Pumpkin & Honey Bunny rob a diner. Part 2: Jules & Vincent go to retrieve a briefcase for their boss, Marsellus. Part 3: Marsellus pays Butch, a boxer, to take a dive in a fight. Jules & Vincent deliver the briefcase. Vincent takes Marsellus’ wife out for dinner at his request, and when they get back home she overdoses on heroin. Vincent gives her an adrenaline shot to save her. They agree not to tell Marsellus. Part 4: Flashback to young Butch, being given his dead father’s gold watch. Part 5: Having won the boxing match by killing his opponent rather than throwing it as Marsellus wanted, Butch escapes. He’d bet his payoff on himself.
The next morning, he realises his girlfriend forgot to pack his gold watch before they fled, so he goes back for it. Vincent is in Butch’s flat. Butch kills him. Butch is spotted by Marsellus as he’s escaping by car, so Butch runs him over. A fight ensues, they end up in a pawn shop where, by a stroke of bad luck, the place is run by nutters who tie them up in the basement. Marsellus gets raped, Butch saves Marsellus, they call it quits. Part 6: Vincent and Jules are driving along with Marvin, their informant, in the back of the car. Vincent accidentally shoots Marvin in the face. Jules and Vincent go to Jimmie’s house, who calls The Wolf to sort it all out. Part 7: Jules & Vincent go for breakfast in a diner. It’s the diner we saw at the start of the film, and they’re held up by Pumpkin and Honey Bunny. A brilliant Mexican standoff ensues.
If you haven’t seen it, that’ll all sound like nonsense. But trust me, it’s astonishing.

What makes it clever?
The jumping-around through time is a signature Tarantino move that keeps you on your toes – it’s the kind of film that makes you feel clever as the plot threads pull together and you work out who’s associated with who. And there are a number of deliberately unanswered questions that have spawned all manner of theories, particularly relating to what’s in the briefcase: is it Marsellus’ soul? Is it the diamonds from the heist in Reservoir Dogs? The Holy Grail perhaps, a nuclear device, the gold lamé Elvis suit from True Romance, an Oscar…?

Fight Club (released 1999)

What happens?
Unnamed narrator suffers from severe insomnia. His doctor advises that he go to a support group to witness people with more severe suffering; he goes to a group for testicular cancer sufferers, pretends he’s one of them, and finds emotional release that relieves his insomnia. He becomes addicted to support groups, and is irked when he finds that another imposter, Marla, is attending many of the same groups.
Flying home from a business trip, he befriends Tyler Durden. He comes home to find his apartment has exploded, and calls Tyler – although isn’t really sure why. He goes to stay with Tyler, and ends up moving in permanently. They go out to a bar one night, and Tyler asks him to hit him. He does. He finds that fighting is just as good a release as the support groups were; their fighting draws in other disenchanted young men, and a fight club grows.
Tyler starts shagging Marla, and also spearheads an initiative called ‘Project Mayhem’ in which Fight Club members (upstanding citizens in their day-to-day lives) carry out anti-materialist and anti-corporate attacks.
After a member of Project Mayhem dies, the narrator is keen to shut the whole thing down, and travels to another city to find Tyler. A Project Mayhem member addresses the narrator as Tyler. He calls Marla from his hotel room, and discovers that she also thinks he’s Tyler. It transpires that he has actually been Tyler all along. The internal struggle externalises itself as he fights with Tyler (fighting, that is, with himself [or at least a separate aspect of his personality]), and ultimately finds that the only way to stop himself projecting Tyler is to shoot himself in the face.

What makes it clever?
Everything. It’s not just a film about people punching each other, it’s arguably one of the cleverest scripts ever to come out of Hollywood. It’s packed full of sublime detail too, that you have to watch it over and over again to spot – the brief, shimmering appearances of Tyler early on in the film, the fact that Marla’s phone number is also Teddy’s number in Memento (see below), the director’s insistence on pushing the anti-materialist theme by featuring a Starbucks cup in every scene of the movie, the single pornographic frame spliced into the final scene, just as Tyler would have done when he was working as a projectionist… it’s a phenomenally detailed film.

The Royal Tenenbaums (released 2001)

What happens?
Royal Tenenbaum and his wife, Etheline, have separated. Their three grown-up children, Chas, Margot and Richie, all achieved success at a young age: Chas as a mathematics and business genius, Margot (adopted) for writing a critically acclaimed play at the age of 9, and Richie as a tennis prodigy. Richie is in love with Margot; his best friend is neighbour Eli Cash.
Royal is kicked out of the hotel he’s living in, and fakes stomach cancer to convince Etheline to let him move back in to convalesce. All of the children are in a post-success slump – Richie is travelling the world on a cruise ship after having a breakdown, Chas is obsessively overprotective of his two sons following the death of his wife, and Margot is something of a recluse.
Etheline calls the children home to be with Royal. Margot, who’s been having an affair with Eli, learns that Richie is in love with her. Henry, Etheline’s fiancé, discovers that Royal isn’t actually ill, and Royal leaves the family home again. Much emotional grimness follows, including Richie slitting his wrists, and Eli crashing his car into the house while high on mescaline. Then they all try to sort themselves out.

What makes it clever?
Wes Anderson is a directorial genius, and it’s a stunning film to behold. Every actor in every role is perfectly cast, and the wonderful scriptwriting perfectly deconstructs the fragile nature of the human psyche – you can relate to every character on some level, even the ones you really don’t want to. It’s just an astonishingly human movie.

American Psycho (released 2000)

What happens?
Patrick Bateman is a wealthy investment banker, living in Manhattan. It’s the 1980s, and his world is all about appearances and displays of success. His narration describes in detail the labels on his clothes, the restaurants he goes to, the things owned by his circle of ‘friends’ who he largely despises. Bateman and his co-workers compare business cards and, crushed by the superiority of Paul Allen’s card, he goes out and kills a homeless man.
At a party, Paul mistakes him for another banker, so Patrick lures him back to his flat and gleefully hacks him to pieces. He then goes to Paul’s apartment and makes it look like he’s gone on a trip to London.
Bateman kills quite a few other people, becoming more frenzied and less controlled the higher the body count rises, culminating in him leaving a voicemail for his lawyer confessing to all of the killings.
He sees the lawyer the next day, who tells him that Paul Allen isn’t dead, and he’d recently had lunch with him in London. We’re left to wonder whether Bateman actually killed anyone at all, or is in fact just really frustrated with the anonymity of his existence and desperate for some kind of release.

What makes it clever?
It’s very cerebral – there’s so much ambiguity over mistaken identities that there’s no way of knowing whether any of it happened or not. The details of the plot will keep coming back to you, changing your mind back and forth over what you think happened.

Memento (released 2000)

What happens?
The film runs as two concurrent plot sequences – black and white shots running chronologically, colour scenes running in reverse order.
Leonard, the protagonist, suffers from anterograde amnesia – he’s unable to make new memories, so he awakens every day not knowing where he is. This is a result of having been attacked by two men – Leonard killed one of the men, who had raped and strangled his wife, but the other man hit him on the head and escaped. The police believe there was no second attacker, so Leonard is on a mission to find the missing man. This is tricky, as he can’t remember anything, so he has to rely on copious note-making, Polaroid photos, and having vital information tattooed onto himself.
Leonard is helped in his quest by a man named Teddy (the one referenced in Fight Club), although he has a Polaroid of Teddy saying not to trust him. Pulling together various bits of evidence, he ultimately deduces that Teddy is the second attacker that he’s after and plans to kill him. After many serpentine plot twists too complex to explain here, Teddy confesses to Leonard that they’d tracked down and killed the attacker over a year ago, but Leonard’s lack of catharsis owing to his inability to remember it has led him to create an unsolvable riddle, leaving himself false clues to follow in order to give his befuddling existence some sort of purpose.

What makes it clever?
It’s a total headfuck. Who’s telling the truth? Who is who? Who killed who, and when? As the backwards/forwards storylines converge at the end, you feel a tremendous swell of relief as the whole film suddenly makes sense to you. But then for days afterwards you’ll keep remembering other things and saying ‘hang on a minute, what if…?’

Skyfall (released 2012)

What happens?
James Bond and Eve Moneypenny are trying to recover a stolen hard drive containing the identities of a number of undercover MI6 agents. Eve accidentally shoots Bond, everyone assumes he’s dead, and he disappears.
After the incident, M comes under pressure from above and is encouraged to retire. Then her office blows up and several agents die. Bond learns of the attack and returns to London – he’s out of shape and fails the physical & mental aptitude tests, but M sweeps it under the rug and reinstates his 00 status.
He follows the hard drive thief to Shanghai and kills him, finding a gambling chip among his possessions that leads him to a casino in Macau. The trail then leads to an abandoned island where he’s captured by ex-MI6 agent Raoul Silva, who’s become a cyber-terrorist. Bond brings him in, but it turns out that this was Silva’s plan all along, and he escapes into the Underground tunnels beneath London, eager to carry out his plan to kill M.
Bond whisks M away to Skyfall, his childhood home in Scotland, telling Q to leave an electronic trail to lead Silva up there. Bond and M meet up with Kincade, Skyfall’s gamekeeper, and together they booby-trap the house and wait. Silva turns up with hordes of gun-toting bastards and a big fuck-off helicopter, all kinds of explosions happen, Silva corners M and implores her to kill them both by putting a bullet through both their heads; Bond kills Silva and – massive spoiler here – M dies, succumbing to an earlier gunshot wound.

What makes it clever?
It’s just so beautifully put together – it follows the classic Bond film format to a degree, but takes it to a much darker place; it’s far more cerebral than the other Daniel Craig 007 movies and, like all of the other films in this round-up, the details will keep coming back to you. This is not your average Bond film – this really is something else.

So, that’s your weekend sorted. Extra JuicyPips points to anyone who watches them all before Monday…

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