The Logic of Falling Down

‘The Logic of Falling Down’ sounds like the title of a collection of short stories.  This is not a collection of short stories but a look into the 1993 film Falling Down.  The title of the film itself is full of deception; is it in reference to the mental break of the main character? Or the collapse of a heavily capitalist society?  Or neither? At one point during the film I was almost certain someone was going to say Falling Down, and when they didn’t I felt sort of lead on.  The film is tricky and far more open than I thought it would be, with a real mix of morality throughout.  To understand it, I have chosen to carefully examine the two main characters of the film.

The Player

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Michael Douglas has a vast filmography and his role of D-Fens in Falling Down stands alone as his most troubled performance.  The character is the focus of the film, being the driving force as a disenfranchised defence engineer, who has recently lost his job and family.  However, apart from that, we don’t know much about him.  Even as the film progresses, his background and current life is shrouded in mystery, which in turn makes his moments of screen very singular.  It also adds a sense of confusion within the film, as both the audience and the rest of the characters struggle to work him out.  What are his motives?  The desire to be reunited with his wife and young child is certainly top of the list but there’s a feeling that he wants more than that.  There’s a dreaminess to him and an idea that he craves something beyond his reach.

His violent outbursts begin simply enough, leaving his car in a traffic jam in search of a phone booth.  From a lack of change, he begins an harassment on a Korean shopkeeper. This is the first point of the film where the morality of D-Fens is questioned, and put under investigation.  Quickly, we are put into a film where our protagonist is no hero, yet no villain.  He becomes an anti-hero with almost no likeability.  This is down to his seamless aggression, and his varying levels of race hatred.  He slides into that category of the frustrated racist, the ‘migrants are stealing American jobs’ kind of guy.  For some portion he becomes a sort of Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver) type character, being upset with the cleanliness and poverty of his city.  Therefore this creates a character study film that is a look at a clearly deranged person.  A deranged person whose anger is amplified as the film goes on.

Recently an LA Weekly article was written about whether or not audiences (particularly white audiences) understood that D-Fens was the baddie in the film.  The film was released in a post Rodney King and LA riots world, which would lead me to the believe that perhaps a 90’s audience had very radical take on the film.  Did a scared 90’s white audience sympathise with D-Fens?  Were they disgusted by him, or rooting for him?  I would suggest that whatever they thought, the film would play very differently in 2017. My easily triggered mind was took back by some of D-Fens attitudes in the film, yet director Joel Schumacher never appears biased in anyway.  As far as I can tell, it is not a racist white revenge film, and is directly pointing at what frustration and abandonment can lead to.

The Reactor

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Robert Duvall is a legendary screen presence and he solidly plays Detective Prendergast in this film.  I can’t tell you how much I love that name.  His role brings a whole new set of issues that are distant from D-Fens.  It’s his last day on the job and he too has mysteries about him.  His daughter died young, his wife appears somewhat hysterical, and for the last years of his career he has been stuck to his desk, due to a shooting incident he was involved in.  The motive behind his reaction to D-Fens’ rampage is a sense of duty, and not leaving things unfinished.  There is a hero like quality to him, and a likeability that is absent from D-Fens.  Consequently his character and scenes become almost separate from the D-Fens plot, adding another layer to the film.

What is interesting is that his character is revolved around ageing and moving on, rather than being lost or not letting go.  He is a complete juxtaposition to D-Fens’ want for everything to go back to the way it was.  Prendergast is accepting in his fate, he understands his wives anguish, and his sudden numbness to the job.  This means that when the two characters finally meet, it is a mighty but calm showdown.  Instantly we are aware of the hero and villain.  Prendergast carefully dissects D-Fens and his plan to murder his family before killing himself.  This sets in stone a good and evil battle, rather than shades of grey.  It means the film has a satisfying climax, whilst also leaving unanswered questions.

Prendergast serves as foil for D-Fens and a means to an end to his crazed onslaught. However what the film does well is bring in new themes for this character so that he is not sidelined.  It balances the narrative out nicely and allows the film to be entertaining on a visceral level, rather than just a conceptual one.

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This film is a gripping watch on the surface.  It can be boiled down to a cat and mouse feature, with 80’s action sensibilities dripping into it.  The story is bold and interesting, in a world where there are more than two sides to the coin.  Looking deeper, it can viewed as picture about capital dominance.  A film about the risks of a corporate push for globalism, and the forgetting of the little guys.  D-Fens is the little guy in a suit, plagued by the heat and the sadness of losing everything he lived for.  It is a origin story of violence, of hatred and hopefully a lesson that everyone is always at the edge.

Manhunter VS Red Dragon

The relevance of these two films in 2017 may just be about dead.  Hannibal, the TV adaptation of the Thomas Harris novels, is opening them up for re-watches.  The story of Hannibal Lecter is of course now legend, thanks to the classic 1991 film The Silence of the Lambs.  Yet, what is interesting is the differences between the adaptations of the first novel.  Manhunter, released in 1986, was our first look at this world and its characters.  Red Dragon, released in 2002, was the much more mainstream edition of the story.  Together, they sit side by side as very similar but also incredibly different, down to simple stylistic abilities.

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On a basic narrative level is where the films are the most similar, which makes sense considering they are taken from the same novel.  There are several lines of dialogue that are clearly taken from the page as they are in both films.  It’s the timings and character moments when the films move away from each other.  Hannibal Lecter’s usage is one of these character moments.  In Manhunter he is used pretty sparingly, with Will Graham being more at the centre.  He dictates the story much less in this version and is only in the film for three short scenes.  In Red Dragon Lecter is very much a vital part of the plot, and often throughout the film directs Graham in his investigation.  This is due to the film having a closer relationship with The Silence of the Lambs and the success of it.  The producers clearly wanted to lean on the popularity of the Lecter character and utilise Anthony Hopkins in the role.  Manhunter, being released before The Silence of the Lambs was without the Hannibal Lecter legend and cult status, therefore he is used much less in the film.  As well as this, in Manhunter, Lecter is played by Brian Cox in a much more low-key fashion.  For me, Hopkins portrayal has always been overrated, but you cannot doubt the greater impact Hopkins has in his versions of Lecter than Cox does in his.

Lecter is not the only character in which the time spent with him is different in the two films.  Our main protagonist of Will Graham has varying weight between the films.  In Manhunter the camera spends more time on his silence and brooding.  There is more of a mystery and damage behind the character that is only brief in Red Dragon.  This is down to execution of the scenes, but also because of the different actors who play him.  William Peterson stars as Graham in Manhunter, and it’s probably his biggest ever role, which means there’s an unknown to him.  Consequently it creates a much more transfixed and dreamy character, thanks to the singular nature of it.  Whereas in Red Dragon, he is played by Edward Norton just past his peak.  The film came out post Primal Fear, Fight Club and American History X, meaning that is hard to separate the actor from the character.  Norton does a fine job, like he always does, but Peterson plays Graham so closely and with much more angst that he comes across as far more intriguing.  Often in Manhunter the film spends scenes really examining Graham and his thought process, which is where the timing of the narrative comes in.  Both films dwell on different plotlines of the story, creating different effects.  For example, they use the family of Graham to show different themes.  In Manhunter it is about Graham’s relationship with his son, and that battle for masculinity over the woman in their life.  And in Red Dragon it is much more about Graham’s relationship with his wife, and her ability to be strong without him.  These subtle differences allow the films to have different character arcs, and what I would say is that Manhunter focuses on these more.  Red Dragon is more transparent with its delivery and so Manhunter has perhaps some deeper messages hidden within it.

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Style is the massive comparison between the two films.  It’s easy to say that Manhunter is more artistic than Red Dragon and can stand alone as its own film; not part of some Thomas Harris – Hannibal Lecter universe.  However it’s the simple things and creative control that highlight this.  Manhunter is directed by Michael Mann, who shortly after went on to direct Heat, which is the definite heist film and a crime classic.  As a filmmaker he has individual look and way of storytelling.  Some of the shots in Manhunter are sparse and lonely, bland but full of depth.  He uses a wide view in most of the scenes, yet isn’t afraid to get extremely personal with the characters.  His use of colours is evident to show emotion, and there are a couple of scenes of strong blue that is prominent throughout all his work.  Mann has put his stamp on this adaptation, and it also helps that he had writing control.  This is a Mann written project and so his screenplay blends together with his directing.  The same cannot be completely said about Red Dragon.  It is not at all a badly directed film, and has moments that are pleasing on the eye, yet there is a lack of style there.  The director Brett Ratner is much less acclaimed than Mann and is certainly a poppy mainstream director.  He relies more on his cast and the story to keep the film going.  There is seldom use of techniques that make it individual and at times it is a culprit of attempting to copy The Silence of the Lambs.  This is something that Red Dragon can’t escape from, as the film has the same writer as The Silence of the Lambs.  Subsequently you quickly get a film trying to desperately replicate the success of The Silence of the Lambs, but also be separate from its director.  Ratner seems to be going scene by scene without really touching on the complexities of the story or characters.  Overall it doesn’t make the film any less entertaining, however it does leave Manhunter the more compelling watch, due to its auteur driven nature.

So far I think I’ve made it clear that my favourite of the two is Manhunter.  Despite this, I like Red Dragon for a multitude of reasons, the main being its remarkable cast.  I’ve already mentioned Ed Norton, but alongside him is Harvey Keitel, who I think is slight miscast because he’s caught between the straight up nature of Jack Crawford from The Silence of the Lambs and the more laid back nature of Crawford from Manhunter.  There is the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman, possibly my most beloved actor, playing the slimy reporter.  And then Ralph Fiennes and Emily Watson in a wonderful pairing.  Fiennes plays the villain with much more vivacity than Tom Noonan in Manhunter and he is the king of many scenes in the film.  The Emily Watson character as the love interest of killer Fiennes is much more fleshed out and her empathy in the film is really beautiful.  She does an excellent job of bringing another element to the film quite late on.  This ensemble cast means that the big moments in the film are exciting, as there is Hollywood finesse to it.

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To conclude all of this rambling, both films are great on different levels.  Manhunter is becoming a film I love more every time I watch it, because of its nuances and its care with the source material.  It is crafted stunningly together by Michael Mann, and sits almost like 70’s independent auteur film, whilst also having some 80’s romp sensibilities.  The darkness and pacing is balanced so well, putting it on a must watch list.  Red Dragon sits well as a follow up, yet prequel, to The Silence of the Lambs, and if you ignore the weird ageing of the recurring characters it can be brutally entertaining.  It loses its shine after a couple of watches, but holds up under inspection thanks to two great performances in Ralph Fiennes and Emily Watson.  Summing up, no one cares about the intricacies of these films like I do; it’s just interesting to look at two films that have the same content but vastly different styles.  It’s a great example of what makes a quality film, rather than just a mainstream attempt of pulling in an audience.  The Silence of the Lambs will always be the classic view of this world, and the TV show is viscerally enjoyable, however you shouldn’t sleep on a great like Manhunter or a convincing tale like Red Dragon.

Results – 12/06/17

These are the words written when I think today.  It is June. The sun is not out, but it is warm.  My feet ache from walking, though I have not walked far.  Tapping and lawnmowers is what I hear.  A droning.  A moaning.  A systematic approach to thinking.  Being displeased with the current situation of sitting, and rising up to attention.  To flow, I allow my fingers to move, not my brain.  My brain moves too slow, or so quick it appears slow.  Like the earth spinning.  Like clouds moving.  Cumulonimbus.  Full of rain and dampness.  An uncomfortable setting of clothes.  It creates an itch, completely scratch-able yet completely avoidable.

Is Jeremy Corbyn a fashion icon?  Is the culture he presents strong or weak?  My answers to both these questions is no.  My answer to most questions surrounding the labour party leader is no.  The answer to most things in general is no.  Yes is not a complex enough answer.  Yes appears perfect and absolute.  No requires explanation.  Explain yourself, said American serial TV detective to the unassuming suspect.  They never explain themselves.  It was a victory for the left, the 2017 snap general election.  It was victory for the Owen Jones and the indie twitter goons.  I celebrated this victory heartedly and for once felt content with political views.  Frustration had fled away from me, and hope replaced it.  Laughter is the key, and at the centre of it all.  Laughter at Theresa May, and the failings of the uninformed.  The blindness of the ignorant must be mocked, and not shunned.  Mocked to the point of obscenity would be my preference in the future.

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The plan is to continue to be amused by the current political climate.  An amusement at the red versus blue, and the desperate colours in between.  A more pragmatic attitude would be welcome in me.  Where would I find it from?  Coffee or adderall?  Patience is a nice word to use.  Patience for a film to inspire me or a politician to anger me.  My anger stems from those who follow, not those perpetuate.  At this time it seems as though no-one is following Jared Kushner, except for perhaps his father-in-law.  I can’t wait to hear him speak.  His voice must be of an odd nature, or a crude one.  It must whine or croak for it to have been hidden for so long.  I picture a United Kingdom with a strange coalition.  At the top sits Corbyn, alongside Nicola Sturgeon and Tim Farron.  They are on a peculiar mound inside the houses of parliament and Farron is lighting up a joint whilst tweaking a newly fitted reverend band.  Kushner enters, before a state visit from the American president.  He delivers a statement and the coalition laugh at his voice.  An echoing laugh and the speaker calls order.  From then, they begin to tease him on the President’s policies of coal mines, an industry worth about 1% in workforce and effort.  Kushner cries, then goes home, only to realise that James Comey has in fact eaten the whole Trump family.

Edgar Wrights new film Baby Driver is in cinemas soon and it is just making me want to un-follow Wright on twitter.  There must be a limit on the amount of posters created for a singular film, and the amount of times a director can self promote.  At least the film is something to look forward to, away from this sea of current boring cinema.  Wonder Woman as a concept and a film falls right into that, and whatever anyone says, it’s still a superhero movie.  Thankfully, my mind hasn’t been on writing about film and has been fixated on the election.  That is not going to change anytime too, thanks to a literal non-existent government.  A non-existent government that may soon be a Tory slash 1980’s right wing collaboration.  The notion of reverse Northern Irish devolution is both terrifying and hilarious.  Also a possible chance we can fight terror with terror, thanks to a return of an IRA movement.

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Passing judgment or thoughts on the recent terror attacks is hopeless and I have just about given up fighting for any sort of flagship position.  Being passive is the way forward, and muting tweets is my new favourite hobby.  My timeline (without creating my own echo chamber) is slowly being catered to less nonsense and stupidity.  I’m not blocking out varying views, but stuff I can live without, like a tweet a minute about Rhianna.  I’m not even sure I’ve spelled her name right.  Either way, I can’t run away from the horrors of the world, and I’m still very much in the camp that the world’s demise is incoming.  However there is much to be excited about, such as the cricket, a sport in which I’m happy to say England are quite good at.  For now.

 

Going Through a Seinfeld Episode

Looking at comedy artistically ruins it.  It makes it too complex and transparent, which inevitably leads it to lose some of its comedic value.  The best thing to do is to simply say something is funny.  Seinfeld is funny, but there’s something about the technique of it that makes it special, and above the bar of the sitcom standard.  In the next few paragraphs I am hoping to break down in some way what makes it so brilliant, by looking at a single episode: The Jacket.

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The Jacket (Season 2 – Episode 2)

Every Seinfeld episode opens, interludes and finishes with snippets of stand-up routines from co-writer and co-creator of the show Jerry Seinfeld.  Now, the routines are hit and miss but they add a nice pause from the show, and I’ve always viewed them separate to the Seinfeld universe.  I see these bits as the actual Jerry Seinfeld, and not his show portrayal.  They often hint the content of the episode, and in the opening he is talking about his dislike for buying clothes.  And as always the theme song plays in background as the episode starts.

The first scene is set in a clothes store where Elaine makes a joke about how sales assistants never find anything in the back.  This use of observational humour is a constant of the show, where Seinfeld effectively tells the jokes he would say on stage through the characters.  Consequently we are quickly put into a place of humour, and not necessarily plot.  Jerry extends the joke, to excruciatingly funny lengths.

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Next comes a dialogue with a stranger that sets up a later plot; someone telling Elaine how much they admire her father as a writer.  It is established early how difficult it can be to be around him, and allows Jerry to make the joke about how talented people are tougher to socialise with.  Then comes the premise for the majority of the episode: Jerry finding the ‘perfect jacket’.  Despite this the joke behind the premise comes a second later, when he questions the price.  Basically the joke is that the jacket is so expensive, you can’t even guess the price.  This gives the writers chance to play with the worth of material possessions and how much someone is willing to pay for something so trivial. Not only this, but the pink lining is brought up by both Jerry and Elaine, something that will be repeated throughout the show.

It cuts to Jerry sat watching the TV in his Pyjamas, whilst also wearing his newly purchased jacket.  This is single shot comedy that is used seldom in Seinfeld, but is effective as we can all relate in not wanting to take off something we have just bought. It continues with him feeling the jacket and getting up to check himself out in the mirror, again extending the humour.  Kramer comes in randomly as usual, with one of his less flamboyant entrances.  The price instantly becomes the talking point, further pushing it as the major joke of the episode.  Kramer catches the price tag and is awe, but the audience is still unaware of what it costs.  Interestingly its the mystery and speculation that makes it so funny.

The following scene opens with George entering the apartment, presumably the next day, enacting his common popular culture humour.  He is singing a tune from Les Miserables’ that he cannot get out of his head.  Jerry comes through with his new jacket on and George is of course blown away.  The legend of the jacket is set in stone.  They have an interplay about how the jacket has changed Jerry’s life, which again plays with the power of something so menial.  George then says possibly my favourite every Seinfeld quote:  “Can I say one thing to you? And I say this with an unblemished record of staunch heterosexuality…” …”Absolutely”… “It’s fabulous”.  The delivery is perfect and the writing being so eloquent makes it even funnier.  From this, the price comes up and George is guessing higher and higher frantically.  He is getting typically sweaty until he walks out after he learns it was more than a thousand dollars.  This piece of physical humour is beautiful to watch and Jason Alexander’s portrayal of George is masterful in every way.  He returns straight away in absolute hilarity.

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After this we come to scene where Jerry and George are meeting Elaine’s father (Mr Benes), and this is a showcase in the pairs wit.  Lawrence Tierney brilliantly plays Elaine’s miserable father, who is a perfect foil for George and Jerry’s timing.  The comedy comes from Mr Benes not being able to fathom the pairs difference to him.  In comes a look into generation gaps and how separate people can be in their attitudes to life.  Jerry and George are trying to dig themselves out of the stupid things they are saying, line after line.  For example, Mr Benes proclaiming that he doesn’t need a weather guy to tell him when it’s going to rain.  His delivery is so drab that even the simplest of conflicts are funny in this scene.  Another classic quote comes when Mr Benes is wondering which one of the two is the comedian; he says: “We had a funny guy with us in Korea. A tailgunner. They blew his brains out all over the Pacific. … There’s nothing funny about that”.  This quote highlights the writers juxtaposing the pairs lighter tones with Mr Benes’s more morbid one, which creates this wonderful awkward humour.  Due to this, Jerry and George think about just leaving him before Elaine arrives.

Thankfully for them, Elaine shows up soon later, explaining that she’s late because of something she had to do with Kramer.  This is was set up in a small moment earlier and shows how these characters are written so well, because they are still affecting the humour and plot away from the main action.  They are leaving for the restaurant, it’s snowing and Jerry has his new jacket on.  Mr Benes tells him they are not taking a cab, so Jerry turns the jacket inside out to protect the suede, revealing the pink lining.  There is a laugh at the new look, and then a bigger one as Mr Benes is disgusted by it; refusing to walk with him if he has it on.  Jerry’s face drops as he realises his new jacket will be destroyed by the wet snow.  This is a punchline that has been set-up since the opening scene and lands remarkably well.  The legend of the jacket has been firing all the way through the episode and now it has been killed.  It is incredibly funny.  And to make things worse for Jerry, the final scene is Kramer and Elaine poking fun at him.

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This is certainly in my top 5 Seinfeld episodes because every scene is full of laughter. The pacing of the episode is perfect and each moment in the plot allows for simple, yet genius writing.  Seinfeld is the best sitcom ever made for many reasons, hopefully made a little clearer by what I’ve written.  The situations are golden, the characters individually compelling with their humour and the simplicity of it all allows the comedy to come forward.  I recommend the show to anyone.

 

Frustration Leading into the General Election

Passing opinion is incredibly dangerous.  You could be ill-informed, inexperienced and ignorant.  I’m all of those things, and so giving my opinion is like stabbing myself in the eye.  Or the brain.  Political opinion is even tougher, because it requires context and history, something that is hard to gauge at a first glance.   When the snap General Election was announced, I wrote this short story thing.  The point of it was basically an attempt to stay away from caring about the vote, and to refrain from passing comment on it.  Yet here I am, with that post deleted, writing about how I am already frustrated by it all.  I think I get more on edge about these things than most people, and scrolling through twitter for most of my day doesn’t help.  Every tweet about the upcoming election makes me want to run head first at a wall.

Politics as a trend is something that you see all over twitter. It is cool to be on the left and have somewhat socialist values.  This is because on the surface, those values seem the most genuine and caring.  It also has something to do with virtue signalling, as coming across as compassionate certainly leads to slightly more popularity.  Twitter is a game of circles and to be a part of your desired circles, you have to lean to the right (not right) side politically.  This is all very boring, and seriously annoying.  I see countless tweets every day that are immensely pro-labour and anti Tory.  Hating tories as a joke is funny and it’s a joke I make fifty times a day, but some of the outlandish things written about them via ‘cool’ or dare I say it ‘indie’ twitter is sickening.  How can anything be achieved, how can any of the corrupt political system be broken down when a whole side of people blankets the Conservatives as ‘poor people haters’.

The Fox hunting debate could be the most bizarre argument of it all.  It is literally a conflict between an elite group who want to barbarically hunt an animal, and everyone else who for some strange reason don’t like it.  The tories sit in-between desperate for funding from those elites and to be able to keep whispering in their ears.  It’s strange that people are so adamantly against it (I mean the general public, not actual animal rights campaigners), because it’s such blatant fake morality.  Fox hunting is no more evil than buying a Coca Cola product or using an Apple phone, yet where’s the tweets about them. The left sits in this position of being as hopelessly dumb as the right, because of whining about a minority hobby that comparatively is just as evil as everything else in the world. Ignorance is a given in all of culture and politically I’m pretty sure it has always been a trend amongst my demographic.  I just don’t want people going into a blind vote, whoever they are voting for.  The cynical side of me wants those clueless votes going into Labour, and in time I hope that the party don’t let us down.  At this point, I can’t see them winning, they’re being far too nice for that.  All the party needs a little but of ruthlessness to get into power, and then mould the socialist values around them once they’re in.

On the 8th of June, I will be voting Labour for mostly logistical reasons.  Logistical in a sense that right now a majority Conservative government means no leeway with policy. Even if Labour don’t win, we need more seats in there so that we can balance the delegation of power.  With Labour, we will hopefully have more security with Europe, and a possible super soft Brexit.  It also means a change in leadership, and a massive one.  For the first time, possibly ever, we will have someone in charge who actually cares.  Jeremy Corbyn, a man there for all the right reasons.  I can never get my head around the dislike towards him because sure he’s a plonker, but a plonker who is naturally geared towards helping people.  You can’t say the same about Theresa May, who is the epitome of the walking-talking panderer.

To explore this deeper, there must be a look at the rise of this weird Marxist regime from American university campus’.  The idea of communism and far left rituals being useful is certainly in the zeitgeist.  What I obtain from it, is the impending doom of mankind, and a definite feeling that civilisation won’t last another century.  I mean this is a big step from being frustrated by UK election twitter, but it always sidelines my thoughts on anything. It gives me this ‘whats the point’ overview.  It’s why I get angry at people getting angry, or agitated by those passing judgement whilst being intolerant themselves, because it all doesn’t matter.

Side-note: This is partly inspired by twitter and partly inspired by the Joe Rogan Experience.  I think I’m probably going to delete this post soon because I can’tquite articulate what I’m trying to say.  Perhaps I should go back to being mute and focus on more important things, like watching Alien 3 in the middle of the day.

Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2 & A Sitcom Set-up

I haven’t written anything on here in over a month and haven’t been particularly inspired by any films lately.  The first Guardians of the Galaxy was pretty dull post cinema.  There is something about a big-budget blockbuster that makes it lose its shine on the re-watch on a smaller screen.  In the cinema (I saw it in iMAX 3D) it was entertaining and the visuals were actually quite mesmerising, but watching it again felt like a chore.  I got about half way and thought ‘I’ve seen this, so whats the point’.  There is a limit to most of the Marvel films, even ones as edgy as the first Guardians.  Now, coming out of the sequel, I felt like the film may have more longevity.

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For a start, it is far more character driven than it is plot driven.  The plot is thin and loose and writer/director James Gunn is focusing more on the interplay between the characters.  A lot of this, like many major films, appears like added fat, however there are certain arcs that are interesting.  For example Yondu played by Michael Rooker is a conflicted criminal with far more baggage than first seems.  He is equally compassionate as he is evil, and the criminal underbelly he is a member of is probably the most intriguing part about this world.  This character driven plot allows the film to have more compelling set pieces, because they basically mean nothing.  If there is no plot behind an action scene, then the director can play with it more due to it not really needing a place to end up.

One way that Gunn does this, is through a comedic set-up, and in a way a sitcom one. There is a scene in this film where Rocket (Brad Coops) and Yondu are held captive by the hilarious space pirate Tazer-face.  To escape, they need the help of Baby Groot (Vin Diesel), who is free because he is ‘too adorable to be killed’.  What follows is Rocket and Yondu trying to explain to Groot what they need to escape (Yondu’s head thing) and he keeps coming back with the wrong thing.  Okay, so firstly, why is this scene here?  It is here because it leads to another set piece (a mass murder one), but mostly so that Gunn can present something to the audience.  He can present something that is both funny and incongruous to the rest of the film.  The whole scene plays out like a sitcom-misunderstanding premise.  It is like watching a scene from Seinfeld or Porridge, and it had the whole screening in fits of laughter.  James Gunn is presenting a piece of art here, a moment to strike a particular emotion from the audience, rather than piece in a puzzle that reaches a ‘satisfying end’.

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All of the best films in history have been about the journey and not the destination. Guardians of the Galaxy is an anomaly in a bloated Marvel Universe, where the writer/director has creative control over the project.  And in this sequel, he plays around a lot more with it.  He is able to craft a film of his choosing, and mould together scenes that are expertly put together and humorous in content.  The greater themes of loss and mortality never really land, but I think it’s remarkable the scope of film-making that is achieved in this cluster of a space adventure.

Free Fire: Film Review

There is a two problems that come when you are excited to see a film.  The first being that it will never live up to your expectations, and the second being that it can make you ignorant to the films faults.  Ben Wheatley’s new film Free Fire is my most anticipated film so far this year, and so these problems do arise.  This review is an attempt to move past those problems and mark the film on its own merit.

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The set up is simple, it’s Boston in 1978 and the IRA are in town to buy some guns.  They meet, via a couple of middlemen, a dealer and his goons in an abandoned warehouse. Through some coincidences and ambiguous antics the nights before, tensions arise and quickly a 60 minute shootout begins.

Now Wheatley is directly playing with genre conventions here.  He is taking a small piece of action movies and stretching it out to cover almost all of the run time.  There is an element of picking and choosing genre devices to use as plot points.  For example, it’s a period piece, yet set in the middle of nowhere.  This means he can use 1978 by having the IRA at the centre, and abandon any use of mobile phones.  Consequently the plot becomes isolated and grounded around one premise.  The premise – build up doesn’t last that long either, and the opening has enough time to establish all of the players.  Without much time passing, we are familiar with traits of each character.  Then, as the film plays out, these traits are fleshed out in correlation with the characters actions.  What I’m trying to say is that the premise and genre selections allowed the shootout to make sense on a narrative level.  The writing of the plot allows the deus ex machina’s to be sidelined by a coherent purpose.  This is all minor stuff if you put it against the film as a whole, but I think it’s brilliantly done, because without it there would be no weight to all the shooting.

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When the shooting comes, it is cartoonish, yet it was more visceral than I was expecting. The film definitely has moments of Kill List (Wheatley’s first feature), as the violence is graphic and at times quite sadistic.  This worked for me and sat side by side in the grounded nature of the plot and characters.  Bullets are flying everywhere and it’s shot in a style where it is not completely clear who is shooting who.  There are quick cuts and shaky footage as concrete blocks ricochet, which at times makes the film quite disorientating.  I think perhaps this might unsettle some viewers, though I feel there is enough gravity to each bullet fired to make it an entertaining performance.  There was a real impact every time someone got hit or injured, often by their own failings.  A lot of this comes down to technical design, and the team behind the sound and the set deserve the credit for this.  Every character is crawling in pain for at least half of the film and the moments of quietness are what make the louder moments so enthralling.

The films shines as just a piece of sheer enjoyment.  Sharlto Copley is fantastic as arms dealer Vernon, who manages to be hilarious with every line of dialogue, and Armie Hammer is unbelievably charming and nuanced as the main middle man Ord.  These two characters alone are why the film is such a pleasure to watch.  However there is also a feeling of heroism in the film, with Cillian Murphys IRA buyer Chris taking on a role that you can root for.  He even has a budding romance with Brie Larson’s Justine, who is in some of the trickiest scenes of the film. All of these personalities jell together and the art of dialogue flow is incredibly well done between them.  Wheatley has crafted a room full of psychopaths trying to kill each other, whilst also inviting them to be likeable and cared about.  The film certainly has a lighthearted tone because of this, but does dip into somewhere dark every now and then.

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It is safe to say I have gushed about this film too much, though like Green Room last year, it is a film almost made directly for me.  A film with interesting characters, that never dwells on the drama nor looks past it.  A film with a limited amount of ways to breathe, that keeps a focus throughout.  The tone of the film leads it to be desperately fun from the opening credits, and the execution is just as remarkable as the idea of a feature long shootout.  Must watch.