Noise to Signal

Login disabled.

Film Round-up 1

Film coverage on NTS has been a bit occasional of late. I've found myself watching some excellent things at the cinema and on DVD, including a particularly pleasing amount of the kind of well produced genre properties that are of interest to the NTS faithful but also some fairly rotten things that I'd expected better of. So here follows a list of recommendations and warnings, in the form of "capsule reviews". I might review some albums and telly programs too, because I'm fucking mad, me. Woooaaay. In fact, I'll probably break this up into a few entries, so there's not twenty odd things being discussed in one thread.

Children Of Men

Clive Owen has been really growing on me lately. I'd seen him in a few things, and certainly couldn't see what all the fuss was about when everyone was going on about him being the next James Bond. Fuck that, you might as well get Jimmy Nail. Oh, they did. But I recently re-watched Croupier, and rented Closer, and they're a pair of great performances. Sure, King Arthur and some of his other Hollywood efforts were balls, but cast him as a downtrodden alpha male with a mean streak and he's dynamite. The internet rumours that he'll be toplining a Raymond Chandler adaptation actually gives me an erection. I've got an erection right now because that is what I am thinking about. His role in Children Of Men (one thing you'll notice quite quickly during this series of mini-reviews is that I can never remember characters names) suits him to a T, and finds him present in nearly every scene, and managing to be the most compelling thing in a film that's overflowing with visual flair, kinetic energy, a chilling and realistic vision of the future and the most utterly breathtaking series of action set-pieces in cinemas since the first Matrix film.

The vision of the future is mired in the modern day, with simple touches like video adverts on the side of buses linking their crumbling world to our own, and every stress and strain of the process is visible on Owens face. It's grimy, murky, and the must fully realised and detailed cinematic dystopia since Blade Runner. It's intelligent, brutal, thought-provoking, and breathlessly entertaining. It's also about ten times better and more streamlined than the book which inspired it, book-fans. I award it eight future of the human races out of ten future of the human races.

Marie Antoinette

There's a bundle of films here that I was eagerly awaiting on account of their director, and this was one of them. Sofia Coppolas previous two films have been near perfect, so I wasn't expecting a fumble of quite this magnitude. It's not shit, as such. It's just not not shit, either. People have been calling this her most ambitious film, which I suppose it is, technically. It's got a large cast, covers a lengthy time period, recreates the decadence of the Court of Versailles, etc etc etc. It's beautifully set dressed, and some of the choices of music and editing (it's a bold choice to soundtrack a film like this with Siouxsie and the Banshees, Gang Of Four and the like and it really works) give the film much-needed boosts of energy. But the "Marie Antoinette as 80s party girl" comparison isn't really as interesting as Coppola seems to think it is, and there's very little else going on in the film. Jason Schwartzman gives a restrained and interesting performance as her husband, but after setting up an intriguing relationship the film allows him to slip out the narrative while she mucks about with some lunk from the army and has some fucking boring kids. It's not so much an "exploration of the sexual politics of the decade" or a comment on the decadence and debauchery of the nobility as it is predictable and boring, which is disappointing given the sexual energy that pumps out of her first film The Virgin Suicides like a foghorn. In the end it feels like a brave effort, but simply middling. It follows the new Hollywood biopic trend of not attempting to recreate an entire life but focus on some points of it, which worked excellently for Capote, but the period is still too long, and Dunst's airy-fairy head in the clouds style of acting prevents us from really engaging with any changes the character goes through. A fatally flawed but visually sumptuous curio. And the soundtrack's worth getting, too. 57 out of 96.

The Fountain

This film is mind-boggling. I am in love with it. I want to marry it and hump it and make it all my own, and climb inside it and live it every day because it's so beautiful and heartbreaking. It makes me very angry that finding a showing of it has been harder than finding a decent pint of Mild in Scotland. For those not familiar with Darren Aronofskys setbacks in bringing this story to the screen, allow me to summarise.

The film, which is a metaphysical sci-fi epic based largely on Mayan religions, about love and the acceptance of death set simultaneously in the present, 500 years into the past and 500 years into the future (if you're like me, that weird sentence was probably enough to convince you about that film, but if not, please stick with this) was all set up and ready to film a few years ago, with Brad Pitt (you may remember the big beard he grew for the role before deciding to star in Troy instead) and Cate Blanchett starring, but the whole thing fell apart. Aronofsky had the story turned into a stunning graphic novel by Kent Williams, but thankfully a rewrite enabled him to film a budget-friendly version of the film starring Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz a few years later.

That this is an intensely personal film for Aronofsky, and quite why he was so determined to get it made, is clear from the outset. It's an unashamedly emotional work, and Jackmans performance as a man coping with his wifes terminal illness and later, death, is fantastic. He stretches himself in a way we've not yet seen him do on film, and his grief and helplessness are affectingly raw. I'm not ashamed to say (well, a bit) that I cried at no less than six different points in The Fountain. Rachel Weisz is luminescent and unforgettable as his wife, and Ellen Burstyn has a small but pivotal role as a colleague of Jackmans attempting to straighten him out before his obsessions destroy him. The films climax, wherein the narratives from three different time periods come together, is a rare, bold and spectacular thing. The psychedelic visuals, Clint Mansell (featuring Mogwai)'s pounding, ethereal score and the poetic conclusion stayed with me for weeks afterwards. I look forward to watching it another hundred million times, which coincidentally is how many stars out of ten I award the fountain. One hundred million stars.

The Departed

Here's a joke I've just written.

What do you get if you cross Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Ray Winstone, Alex Baldwin, Martin Sheen, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Scorcese, the city of Boston, the basic plot of one of the most exciting and inventive thrillers (Infernal Affairs) in recent memory and a script by William Monahan that's far richer than the source material? The answer is, as everyone knows by now, the best film Martin Scorcese has made in years. It's funny because it's true, you see. I was amongst those who thought that The Aviator was badly made, ponderous, TV movie of the week rubbish, and I'm glad that Dicaprio is rounding out his Scorcese trilogy with something much better (I enjoyed Gangs Of New York to bits and think it's a sorely underrated film, but that's another article. One which I am never going to write, probably). Quite simply, everyone in this film is just on form. They're all having a whale of a time, and it'd be hard not to with a script that crackles as much as this. Humour is the films secret weapon, and when it chooses to be it's marvellously funny. With the numbers this film is grossing, I'm a bit worried that Scorcese is going to "pull a Kundun" with the studio freedom afforded him, but hopefully this will be the first of many gleefully mainstream, well written crime thrillers, which are clearly the genre that brings out the best in this iconic director. If Scorcese does get his long awaited Oscar for this, it'll be genuinely deserved. 5/5.

The Illusionist

It's a shame that The Illusionist came out when it did, in the wake of The Prestige. It's another drama about a turn of the century magician and a battle of wits with his enemy, played by "best actor of my generation? really?" Ed Norton, and the incredibly lovable Paul Giamitti respectively. The first half is great fun, with Giamitti's smug, bent copper an enjoyable foil to Ed Nortons usual intensity and Rufus Sewell mucking about as a complete bastard with a huge moustache. It all goes on it's arse in the last act though, where the narrative becomes a bit tedious and it's painfully aware that we're being set up for a big twist or reveal in the final reel. The mystery is both painfully easy to figure out and makes little sense in the context of the film. If I may ruin the ending for you (trust me it's not a big deal), the love interest doesn't really die halfway through. :-O, I know. But the scene in which Paul Giamitti realises this is the stupidest thing. He's standing in a train station going "Oh! Gah! That's it! Gah!" faces while lightbulbs appear above his head and we see flashbacks to what "really" happened. Had any of the "revelations" contained therein pertained to some of the investigations we'd seen Giamatti conduct, this scene might not appear like he was just ASSUMING all of the things we witness. He imagines a Doctor giving the ladies body (which we'd seen floating, blue skinned and dead in the river) a MAGIC POTION TO WAKE HER UP, based on the fact that the Doctor was seen with Ed Norton at the train station a while ago. It's as if he can't be arsed finding out what really happened, knows he's wasted a lot of time on this venture already and will just make up some old bollocks. I imagine the screenwriters felt themselves in a similar position. When the film starts turning to rubble before your eyes it's impossible not to draw comparisons with The Prestige, the main one being that The Prestige would never disrespect it's audience by pulling something like a MAGIC POTION TO CURE DEATH out of it's arse. Everything in that film makes perfect sense within the reality it sets up, and it has the effect of making the real world feel charged with a sense of magical potential. It's bad screenwriting of the first order. At least in Romeo and Juliet they have a scene where someone goes "oh, yeah, there's this potion that can make you look dead for a bit" before Juliet gets it out of her purse, you know? Although that perhaps would make it a little too mind-fuckingly obvious that she's nowhere near dead. I think you *might* see her tits in it, but I can't remember. In The Illusionist, what we've assumed must be "real" magic because, well, it's CG, and they didn't have that in Victorian times, turns out to be made from a complex system of fucking, wires underneath a table or something. Here's a good idea - if you're trying to show a magic trick that could convincingly be performed at the turn of the Century, DON'T MAKE IT EVIDENTLY COMPUTER GENERATED. Then in the third act, it decides that Ed Norton can actually CONJURE GHOSTS OUT OF THIN AIR which may or may not be a magic trick, it's CG aswell anyway and it might appear "edgy" and "ambiguous" (ie. half baked and shit) not to say, and there's magical potions that can cure death or whatever. This makes the real world feel charged with the magical potential to be full of really disappointing films. Still, it's a great cast in a gorgeous period film with high production values, beards, and solid, traditional direction. There's only so annoying it can be. Four top hats out of ten top hats.

Jackass: Number Two & Dirty Sanchez The Movie

I've lumped these two together despite one being much better than the other, because whenever I mention Dirty Sanchez someone says "Oh, I hate all that 'Jackass' stuff" and whenever I mention Jackass in conversation someone says "Oh, I hate all that 'Dirty Sanchez' stuff". Let me explain.

Jackass is brilliant. Dirty Sanchez is repugnant.

In my review of Borat for this here website, I speculated that in the ongoing quest to find new ways to thrill audiences, seeing handheld filming of people doing barmy things was cheaper and more effective than hurling CG monkeys out of the screen all the time. Borat interspersed his "skits" with quick verbal wit, an undercurrent of social satire and a "proper narrative". Jackass: Number Two is, predictably, people doing very stupid things, but like all Jackass, it does so with a great deal of charm. The level of planning behind some of the skits has escalated to a Beadle's About level, one particularly excellent scene involving a card pinned to the wall with a message, supposedly written by female teenage fans in increasingly small handwriting and featuring lewd sexual content, on it. As people lean in to read the small bit, Johnny Knoxville fires a boxing glove through the wall at them, in one case knocking Jason "Wee Man" Acuna off a chair. But then there's plenty of hilarilous quick jokes, like Wee Man (he's either a dwarf or a midget, whichever one isn't offensive) and Preston Lacy (a dead dead fat man) jumping off a bridge tied together with bungee rope. Despite them getting into some pretty dangerous scrapes, it's all imbued with a really palpable and infectious sense of people having a big daft laugh. It gets four and a half out of five. I've deducted half a point because it wasn't ten hours long, and I wish it had been.

Dirty Sanchez, on the other hand, is one of the most halfwitted pieces of shit I've ever seen with my actual eyes. Their hilarious stunts involve someone getting really painful looking liposuction, someone else drinking the fat sucked out from the liposuction, someone having a homophobic hissy fit about a scene involving transexuals, and someone deliberately slicing off the end of their own finger. It's just shit and horrible. Fuck off, Dirty Sanchez. You're shit. I give you no stars at all, incase you staple them to your dick and make another fucking film about it.

Still to come: Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer, Hot Fuzz, A Scanner Darkly, Pans Labyrinth, Stranger Than Fiction, Heroes, Hot Club de Paris, Little Miss Sunshine, Casino Royale, The Science Of Sleep, Art School Confidential. And some other things.

About this entry


(I enjoyed Gangs Of New York to bits and think it's a sorely underrated film,


By Austin Ross
February 17, 2007 @ 12:12 am

reply / #

> a card pinned to the wall with a message, supposedly written by female teenage fans in increasingly small handwriting and featuring lewd sexual content, on it. As people lean in to read the small bit, Johnny Knoxville fires a boxing glove through the wall at them

You see, even though I haven't seen that I just know it wouldn't make me laugh.

> The level of planning behind some of the skits has escalated to a Beadle's About level

So it's taken them 'till the second movie to reach the heady heights of Beadle. Great.

By performingmonkey
February 17, 2007 @ 3:34 am

reply / #

A boxing glove firing out of a wall knocking a midget off a chair and you wouldn't laugh?

What must it be like inside your mind?

Also, as any idiot knows, Beadle's About was marvellous for a while.

By Michael Lacey
February 17, 2007 @ 3:46 am

reply / #

Jeremy Beadle's got a small cock. But on the other hand, it's quite big.

By Seb Patrick
February 17, 2007 @ 1:49 pm

reply / #

Beadle's About used to be great. I'd watch it every week, and it stood up when I saw the repeats on Challenge.

Not as much as MY COCK STOOD UP during the Gladiators repeats, mind.

By John Hoare
February 17, 2007 @ 3:10 pm

reply / #

>either a dwarf or a midget

What's the difference?

By Philip J Reed, VSc
February 17, 2007 @ 5:28 pm

reply / #

It's something to do with the proportional size of their head and arms, I think.

By Michael Lacey
February 17, 2007 @ 8:47 pm

reply / #

What's a goblin?

By Austin Ross
February 17, 2007 @ 9:39 pm

reply / #

Hmm, are you the Michael Lacey I used to know? He might be in Scotland now.

By Laura
April 24, 2007 @ 10:27 pm

reply / #

Jesus christ what did he do to warrant such torture.

By Karl
April 24, 2007 @ 11:16 pm

reply / #

That's probably me - I went to Glasgow. Who are you?

By Michael Lacey
April 25, 2007 @ 2:04 am

reply / #

If that's his pizza I'm Michael Whatever.

By Philip J Reed, VSc
April 25, 2007 @ 3:16 am

reply / #

The Michael Lacey I knew was in Oregon in 1979, studying Russian. I was there also, not studying Russian.

By Laura
April 25, 2007 @ 3:22 am

reply / #

Oh right, that isn't me. I was minus 6 years old in 79. Sorry!

By Michael Lacey
April 25, 2007 @ 5:12 pm

reply / #

If you run into him, say hi from me - thanks! ;)

By Laura
April 25, 2007 @ 6:37 pm

reply / #