In honour of the best thing in this week’s sole film, I salute my ten favourite Jack Nicholson performances, in reverse chronological order because I can’t choose between them.
Warren Schmidt (About Schmidt)
Melvin Udall (As Good As It Gets)
Colonel Nathan R. Jessup (A Few Good Men)
Jack Napier aka The Joker (Batman)
Daryl Van Horne (The Witches Of Eastwick)
Garrett Breedlove (Terms Of Endearment)
Jack Torrance (The Shining)
R.P. McMurphy (One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest)
J.J. ‘Jake’ Gittes (Chinatown)
George Hanson (Easy Rider)
This week was so nearly a shame list write-off, until a two-hour window opened up at the 11th hour which was sadly filled by a lacklustre film.
Emma Greenway (Debra Winger) marries embarrassingly named lovable loser Flap Horton (Jeff Daniels) much to the dismay of her mother Aurora (Shirley MacLaine). Emma and Flap live in poverty, have three kids and have lots of problems. Aurora starts a relationship with playboy astronaut next-door neighbour Garrett (Jack Nicholson). It kind of meanders along in a haphazard manner until the depressing ending and if it wasn’t for Jack Nicholson’s wonderfully zesty performance, it would be all but unwatchable. James L. Brooks’ irritating screenplay full of the most unconvincing dialogue ricochets back and forth from knockabout comedy to poignant drama before settling on the latter. For some reason, the film was a big success and was nominated for 11 Academy Awards of which it won five, including, bafflingly, Best Picture.
Shame list total: 1,230
My favourite Oscar winning supporting performances, inspired by George Kennedy’s performance as Dragline, Cool Hand Luke’s alpha male turned overgrown sidekick.
1. Joe Pesci as Tommy DeVito in Goodfellas
2. Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh in No Country For Old Men
3. Kevin Spacey as Roger ‘Verbal’ Kint in The Usual Suspects
4. Christopher Walken as Nick in The Deer Hunter
5. Chris Cooper as John Laroche in Adaptation
6. Whoopi Goldberg as Oda Mae Brown in Ghost
7. Alan Arkin as Grandpa Edwin Hoover in Little Miss Sunshine
8. Cuba Gooding Jr as Rod Tidwell in Jerry Maguire
9. Jack Palance as Curly Washburn in City Slickers
10. Robin Williams as Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting
Sorry for the delay but here are my films from last week.
It seems fitting after Paul Newman’s recent death to catch up on some of his classic films that I’ve never seen. First up, then, is one of his most popular films. Luke ‘Cool Hand’ Jackson (Newman) is arrested for drunkenly but meticulously cutting the heads off parking meters – an opening scene which perfectly announces the character’s couldn’t-care-less attitude. He winds up in a rural prison and soon becomes a hero for the other inmates – a cross between mascot, jester and leader. But Luke has trouble conforming to the rules, and his relentless rebellion starts to take its toll. This inspiring story is full of great scenes from Luke doggedly stuffing his face with 50 eggs in an hour to win a bet to getting beaten to a pulp by the fellow inmate Dragline (a burly, Oscar bagging George Kennedy) and refusing to stay down. It is, however, a bit jumbled tonally – what starts as a light-hearted prison romp ends as a downbeat tale of faith and redemption. Still, Newman gives a stirring performance as Luke, a man who simply will not give up sticking it to The Man. One of the most iconic films of the 1960s, its influence can be seen in the likes of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and The Shawshank Redemption.
This is exactly what the shame list is all about. I used to feel a little intimidated by David Lynch. Having once caught a few snippets of Eraserhead on TV I thought that this was one director whose work I could never understand. Starting my Lynchian education with Blue Velvet was clearly a good move. After finding a human ear in a field near his home, college student Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) turns detective and finds himself getting deeper and deeper in a murky criminal underworld hidden beneath the surface of his idyllic hometown. Blue Velvet is not the incoherent madness I was expecting but instead a gripping thriller full of colour, kitsch nostalgia and just a touch of otherworldly surrealism. The world that Jeffrey enters is full of blood reds and deep blues set against jet blacks. With kidnapped families, violent sex and Dennis Hopper as one of the most terrifying psychos in screen history, Lynch turns the sundrenched American Dream into a dark American Nightmare.
Shame list total: 1,231
In honour of the shame list’s first half anniversary (according to my records, this week’s entry is the 26th), here is the first of my new weekly top tens: my top ten films I’ve discovered in the last six months.
1. Singin’ in the Rain
2. Rebel Without A Cause
3. The Sound of Music
4. Rosemary’s Baby
5. Pan’s Labyrinth
6. United 93
8. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
9. A Night At The Opera
10. Lawrence of Arabia
Bob Fosse’s ‘modern-day nightmare in song and dance’ (his words) is not the cheery happy-go-lucky picture that musicals are so often derided for being. Set in Berlin in 1931, Cabaret sees English teacher Brian Roberts (Michael York), the perfect repressed English gentleman, fall in love with Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli), a singer and dancer at the Kit Kat Club. Audiences in 1972 will already have seen song-and-dance numbers based around the horrors of the Nazi party in The Sound of Music, but Cabaret is far darker. The music is used sparingly and is used more as social, political and cultural commentary rather than as a storytelling device which is to the film’s benefit. Liza Minnelli is terrifically spunky as Sally, part impulsive sex kitten, part wide-eyed innocent, but Joel Grey’s creepy master of ceremonies is the beating heart of the film. Both actors received Oscars but Grey’s performance is notable for being an almost entirely singing role and beating off stiff competition from three of the cast of The Godfather. The real star of Cabaret, though, is director Bob Fosse whose brilliant use of montage pits the escapism of the Kit Kat club against the brutality of the outside world.
Actor Guy Woodhouse (John Cassavetes) and his wife Rosemary (Mia Farrow) move into a New York apartment and quickly make friends with their elderly neighbours Roman and Minnie Castevet (Sidney Blackmer and Ruth Gordon, who won an Oscar for the role). Rosemary is overjoyed to learn that she is pregnant but things start getting a bit weird and she starts believing that their neighbours are not the sweet couple that they seem. The beauty of Roman Polanski’s slowburning chiller is that you’re never quite sure until the very end whether Rosemary is crazy or not, which makes Mia Farrow’s paranoid performance all the more unsettling. Polanski’s powerful control allows the tension to slowly build with dropped hints and seeming non sequiturs to deliver a truly classic horror. The moral of the story? Beware of old people bearing gifts.
Shame list total: 1,236
The shame list has decreased slightly this week. I have decided to no longer include the constantly changing IMDb top 250.
Also this week, perhaps my favourite film of the year:
For Frank Darabont’s third Stephen King adaptation, he decided to put down the austere drama and pick up the author’s more trademark eerie chills. The plot is fairly basic: a strange thick mist full of horrible beasties traps a group of disparate people in a supermarket in a small town in Maine. Soon enough people start panicking and become irrational, impulsive and dangerous. More than just a series of cheap shocks and gushing blood, The Mist is a deceptively intelligent horror film. What starts out as a typical siege movie becomes a poignant and intense critique of the dangers of religion and the fragility of the human mind. Although you get up close and personal with the nasty creatures, it becomes clear that the real monsters are the people.
Darabont hired crew members from TV show ‘The Shield’ which gives the film a well judged handheld, fly-on-the-wall feel. The cast too is impressive, although some of the characters occasionally slip into horror cliché. Toby Jones is brilliant as a surprisingly heroic store clerk (he’s a crack shot with a revolver but you wouldn’t know it to look at the guy) and Thomas Jane’s normal-guy-in-peril makes for a believable hero, but the film belongs to Marcia Gay Harden as a terrifyingly zealous Christian who believes that their situation is part of God’s plan to weed out those unworthy of survival.
Although marred ever so slightly by some ropey CGI (some of the creatures are a bit cartoony), the film’s trump card is the ending which has divided audiences. Not a twist as such but so tragically upsetting that it’s almost comical, it is a perfect finale to one of the most interesting horror films in years.
It was always going to be tough to follow the much needed reboot of Casino Royale. However, that’s no excuse for poor quality. After all, this year’s The Dark Knight proved that that difficult second film in a recharged franchise needn’t suffer from the curse of the sequel.
Quantum of Solace begins where Casino Royale left off, although it’s not clear exactly how much time has elapsed since Bond captured Mr White. Still understandably livid at the death of his girlfriend, Bond now makes it his mission to track down and destroy the organisation he holds responsible, which is apparently called Quantum although if there were any references to this name in the film, they were well hidden. Bond teams up with Camille (Olga Kurylenko), who has her own vengeful motives, to take down the villainous Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric) who wants to hold the precious water supply in Bolivia to ransom.
The first Bond film to actually be a sequel rather than a stand alone film, it’s inevitable that Quantum of Solace will be compared to its superior predecessor. Whereas Casino Royale worked as a rebirth of a familiar character, this is woefully formulaic. In the hands of such a talented and unique director as Marc Forster (Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland, Stranger Than Fiction), this could have been so much more.
It starts off exciting enough – the standard intro sequence is a blistering car chase through traffic-choked Italian mountain roads. Following a striking sandy credit sequence and a Bond theme that’s much better than everyone says, comes an interrogation and then we’re off again on a rooftop chase sequence that’s so breakneck and yet so derivative that the film might as well be called The Bond Ultimatum.
So you get a chase, then a bit of talking, then another chase followed by more talking; it carries on like this for a while. After about the third chase, you realise that no amount of exotic locations and kinetic fight sequences is going to alleviate your boredom. Although the shortest of all the Bond films, it feels longer than its 106 minutes.
Daniel Craig continues to be the best Bond since Connery, but this material is thin. All he gets to do is smoulder, run around and fight. There are few scenes in which he shows real depth, but that is a failing of the flabby script and not the actor. Amalric convinces as a cartoonishly reptilian Euro-baddie and Kurylenko is a feisty yet fragile Bond girl, but neither character is truly memorable.
Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Quantum of Solace hasn’t delivered in the same way that Casino Royale did. Remember how disappointing Tomorrow Never Dies looked after GoldenEye? Not as brutal, tight or varied as Casino Royale, this still remains a fairly decent film if not a great entry into the 007 canon.
Only one film ticked off this list this week:
How did that box of moving pictures that we all sit in front of every night become so powerful and dangerous? It’s the story of veteran news anchor Howard Beale (Peter Finch). After being fired, he announces on live television that he will blow his brains out on the show in a week’s time. The network bosses are unsure what to do about Beale, and flit between keeping him on a tight leash and letting him run wild as ‘the mad prophet of the airwaves.’ Satires on the television industry are almost a genre in their own right, and this is one of the most serious and worthy. There’s lots of shouting and big long speeches which do get a bit tiresome after almost two hours. However, Beale’s breakdown is compelling to watch, especially when he riles up the masses into shouting his mantra of ‘I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore’ from their windows. Together director Sidney Lumet and writer Paddy Chayefsky create a formidable drama, but Network is all about the performances – the film is only the second in screen history to win three acting Oscars after A Streetcar Named Desire. While the impressive cast features solid turns from Ned Beatty, Robert Duvall and William Holden, it’s Faye Dunaway who really shines as cynical vice president of programming Diana Christensen, a role which won her her only Academy Award. Peter Finch also richly deserved to become the first and so far only recipient of a posthumous Oscar.
Shame list total: 1,247
Also this week:
Or Casualty: The Movie Part 3. More gory suspense as the now familiar format does another round. The set up this time is a rollercoaster but that, of course, leads into a series of coincidences based in environments so dangerous that these people should know better than to go. If you suspected that you were going to die in an unbelievably horrific manner, what better place to be than in the DIY warehouse surrounded by sharp objects? How about a gym with all those heavy weights? Or maybe even a fireworks display. So it’s the same again, but different. The tension is all there but there’s little else and the bloody pay-offs seem somewhat lacklustre.
Another Halloween, another Saw film and, yes, they’re getting worse. Once again rewriting the events of the previous four films, it’s as if each film’s writer thinks they can do a better job than their predecessor. They can’t.
As in previous outings, flashbacks merge with present day scenes to create a story so headache-inducingly complex that you quickly decide to ignore the plot and focus on the blood. So although John Kramer died two films ago, here he is again, talking with that low gravelly voice in dark grotty rooms about what it means to be alive. As if he’d know. Anyway, you get to join characters new and old in a magical trip through intricately boobie trapped rooms and hear them discuss what horrible things they’ve done to get there.
Saw V lacks what made the first film so good – focus. You get so bored trying to keep up with the various scenarios and time frames that you no longer care that everyone’s expendable. Goodie, baddie, it doesn’t matter; just so long as they get it in a particularly grisly fashion. In fact, you wait so anxiously for the next blood-splattered money shot that you ignore the apparent ‘moral’ behind their demise. The cautionary tale of the first outing has developed into little more than a series of horrific sketches – it’s like You’ve Been Framed for gore lovers.
The torture is no longer about teaching sinners the value of life. The only lesson to be learned here is how to act. If there’s some kind of class for the portrayal of unimaginable agony, none of the cast attended. The traps are particularly gruesome, as you’d expect, but many of the victims appear to be receiving little more than paper cuts. What’s more, the rules of many of these ‘games’ are so deliberately misleading that escape is rarely down to a relentless desire to live, but to being good with puzzles.
‘You won’t believe how it ends,’ reads the tagline. Are we really supposed to believe that this series is ever going to end? Not only does the film ask more questions than it answers (it’s much more open to sequels than previous films), but with each film running in parallel with previous films, adding more and more overlapping layers, this franchise can only get bigger, longer and more mind-bogglingly confusing. Saw VI is apparently mooted for next Halloween, but I shan’t be watching. I seem to remember saying that a year ago though. Maybe this pointless agony is addictive.
With an unassuming and forgettable title, Ghost Town is a film that could quite easily pass you by. The fact that the ‘town’ of the title is one of the biggest cities in the world just goes to show how humble the film is. It seems to thrive on understatement.
Ricky Gervais plays misanthropist dentist Bertram Pincus (the joke being that a dentist in America, the land of the gleaming smile, has teeth that are a bit funny looking). After he dies on the operating table for seven minutes (the film is very specific about this length of time for some reason) during a routine surgical procedure, he finds that he is able to see the dead. Before he knows it, half of the ghosts in New York want him to sort out their unfinished business for them so that they can move on to the next life. But none of them are more persistent than Frank Herlihy (the ever-brilliant Greg Kinnear) who wants Pincus to stop his widow Gwen (Tea Leoni) from marrying her new boyfriend.
Ricky Gervais was sent hundreds of scripts and, although it was probably not the best script, he says this was the best for him. It’s hard to believe that none of his major roles before this have been extreme cynics – David Brent was a blissfully unaware loser while Extras’ Andy Millman was a money grabbing wannabe – because he’s so good at it. And hats off to Gervais for not choosing a massive ego-boosting, awards-grabbing movie to kick-start his leading man career. Instead, he’s wisely easing himself in, although he may be in danger of being typecast.
Although New York must be teeming with frustrated ghosts, only a handful are on Pincus’ case, but that just adds to the low-key appeal of the film. It’s a fairly middle-of-the-road romantic fantasy comedy, playing out like a Richard Curtis remake of Ghost. Prolific and hugely successful screenwriter David Koepp probably bashed this out in a weekend, but it plods along nicely. It’s moderately funny, occasionally hilarious and good natured but ultimately quite forgettable.
Still, Mark Kermode, a critic who is notoriously hard to please, laughed all the way through it and said it’s a better film than Quantum of Solace – high praise indeed. He’s got a point, though.