It seems like every major film in the last year or two stars either Oscar Isaac or Domhnall Gleeson. So of course, it was inevitable that they would eventually be cast in a film together. (And then, later in the year, they both starred in Star Wars: The Force Awakens as well, thus furthering their quest for world domination.) Both are good actors, but I have to question Domhnall Gleeson’s casting in this. Why do big budget films continually keep casting either British or Irish actors in American roles? If you want an American, hire a fucking American. There are plenty of them around. I can see very few instances where you’d be better off hiring a British or Irish actor in an American role. Maybe you’re making a film about a famous figure and an Irish guy bears an uncanny resemblance to the person in question. Okay, go and hire them. Or maybe a British actor is such a huge mega star that it just doesn’t fucking matter that he’s not an American. But for god’s sake, this is Domhnall Gleeson we’re talking about. And if you really want to hire Domhnall Gleeson in your film, wouldn’t it just make more sense to make the character Irish? Eventually I forgot about the accent, but it distracted me for the first ten minutes or so; the American accent makes him seem more bland that he really is. Miscasting aside, Ex Machina is a massively successful directorial debut from Alex Garland (writer of The Beach, 28 Days Later and Sunshine). It’s talky and almost devoid of action, but it’s all the better for it. In a weird way, Ex Machina is almost like an old-fashioned film noir. Film noir often involves some schmucky guy getting hired by a mysterious man who isn’t all that he seems before being manipulated and misled by some femme fatale. Ex Machina definitely follows this path. Our hero, Caleb (Gleeson), ‘wins’ a competition to spend a week with billionaire software genius Nathan (Isaac). Nathan then reveals that he has a humanoid robot that he wants Caleb to perform a Turing Test on. He wants Caleb to test whether the robot exhibits artificial intelligence that is indistinguishable from our own. Before you know it, Caleb is hearing sweet nothings from the robot and is ready to drop everything for her (including his pants...probably). She seems sweet and innocent, so he’s horrified to hear that Nathan is mistreating her. Caleb’s conversations are observed by Nathan, but the robot, named Ava, can trigger temporary power cuts so the two can talk privately. The strength of the film is that, much like Caleb, you feel sorry for Ava. She seems like such a sweet, harmless little thing that you too want to break her out of her ‘cell’. Her body looks half finished so she covers herself in wigs and clothes to appear more human. It’s a little sad and pathetic and certainly earns your sympathy. But like a true femme fatale, she’s playing everyone. She tells Caleb that she wants to be with him, but once she’s free, she forgets all about him. She kills Nathan and then, without a master key for this high tech palace, Caleb is trapped in a room. Caleb bangs on the window and Ava can easily free him, but she’s totally oblivious to his plight. She doesn’t seem to be acting in a vindictive way. Instead she acts like a child. She’s completely narcissistic and self-absorbed. She’s so drunk with her newfound freedom that she leaves poor Caleb standing there, screaming like a lunatic. With Nathan dead and with no key, he gets to look forward to eating his own fist to survive. But again, what a schmuck Caleb is. He think he’s going to ride into the sun with this robot and live happily ever after? Yeah, right. I also feel that the film borrows subtly from Blade Runner (which, funnily enough, also borrows heavily from film noir). In Blade Runner, Dr Tyrell creates Replicants with AI. Much like an iPhone, they have a built- in obsolescence. After a few years, they die. They become furious with their creator and kill him. They want 'more life'. In Ex Machina, a similar fate awaits Nathan. His creation, tired of being imprisoned, wants to experience life and turns against him, stabbing him in the chest. It’s actually kind of weird the way that Nathan is killed. He’s stabbed in the chest, but he’s stabbed in such a slow, clean way that it makes it seem like he’s made of butter. It’s a little bit odd. But also in a nod to Blade Runner, Nathan has other ‘toys’. In Blade Runner, genetic designer J. F. Sebastian has a bunch of humanoid toys that keep him company in his apartment. Nathan meanwhile has a personal assistant who doesn’t speak a word of English. She’s very attractive and Nathan is fucking her. It’s then later revealed that she too is a robot. Which kind of figures for someone like Nathan who has a massive god complex. Why get sexually involved with a human being with real feelings and real emotions and who has real imperfections? You can just create a perfect copy who doesn’t speak a lick of your language and who picks up after you and you can then fuck them whenever you feel the need. Of course, seeing as Nathan is a computer nerd, it goes without saying that the fuck-bot is Asian. But the ending of the movie is fantastic because it’s truly chilling. This isn’t a robot that’s running around, killing people with laser eyes. She’s just like a child that has absolutely no moral compass. She might speak like a human and act like one, but it’s all an impersonation. She doesn’t feel bad for people. She can’t empathize. In one scene, she cannibalises Isaac’s other creations for parts. There’s no malice there but there’s also no feeling. It’s cold and logical. Which is why she leaves Caleb alone in that room to die. She can’t put someone else’s needs or feelings before her own. The only thing that matters is her. Over time we’ve evolved so that we care about other people. This helps us to thrive as a species. Anyone who acts selfishly is threatening the group. But a robot hasn’t had that. Which is why it would be so dangerous to do something like this. Intelligence without compassion and morality is a terrifying thing.
One part of me is thoroughly delighted at the success of Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s a completely bonkers movie. It doesn’t fit into the blockbuster norm at all. Plus George Miller has been trying to make another Mad Max for ages. So it’s a nice comeback story - a man who has been lumbered making Happy Feet and Babe sequels scores a massive commercial and critical success. But then there’s another part of me. The unsentimental side, who says, are you fucking kidding me? All of the critics are going bonkers over this? This is the movie that is appearing in critics’ top ten lists? Because this is not a great movie. It has loads of imagination and energy, but it’s also crass, monotonous and it’s lumbered with an incredibly dull central character. Tom Hardy as Mad Max is Tom Hardy on autopilot. He scowls, he mutters and he looks ‘intense’. But he doesn’t look like he’s having any fun. Nor does his character or his performance contain any depth. He’s just a series of tics. It’s a lazy kind of performance. Tom Hardy sort of reminds me of Christian Bale. They burst into life at the beginning of their careers and then they plateau a little and trade off their ‘intensity’. Mumbling and grimacing with wild eyes is nothing if there’s no meat in the script or if there are no internal twists and turns within the character’s journey. Because, yes, Max is constantly being pulled this way and that way, but it’s entirely physical. As a person he just is who he is. Nothing more, nothing less. And he’s not a particularly fun, interesting or engaging character. More effort is invested in the character of Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron. She has the vulnerability, conflict and complexity that Max lacks. As the driver of an armoured truck called the ‘War Rig’, she liberates the wives of the local warlord, Immortan Joe. And so all hell breaks loose. But despite the feminist, eco-warrior pretext of the movie, character development is at the bottom of the agenda. And there’s zero emotional connection to anything that’s happening. So although women are in jeopardy and dastardly individuals are trying to recapture a pregnant girl, the human struggle behind the movie is a secondary consideration to blowing shit up. Don’t get me wrong, though. It’s really good action. It’s always entertaining. But we don’t have a feminist masterpiece in the vein of Aliens. Nor is it a treatise on the Middle East conflict or environmental devastation. It’s a loud action movie that occasionally leans in interesting directions but never settles for long enough to make any interesting points or metaphors. Part of the thing that makes Fury Road entertaining is also the thing that holds it back. Its constant forward momentum. There’s no room to breathe. No room for silence or contemplation. It’s very Australian. What do I mean by that? There’s a tendency for Australian films to be very loud and very brash. Of course there are exceptions to that stereotype, but Fury Road falls into the Baz Luhrmann mould of more is more is more is more. But it’s not. Excess is exhausting. The overacting is also sometimes hard to take. Nicholas Hoult, who played the kid with the bowl haircut in About a Boy, overacts like crazy. And yeah, I get it, he’s supposed to be taking drugs to enter a state of suicidal rapture, but the performance is far too theatrical. The main villain, also, is completely ridiculous. He’s some fragile, crotchety old geezer who wears an oxygen mask in the shape of a skull. The mask looks pretty cool but he looks like he should be getting his nappies changed in an old people’s home. Also, the idea of this hideous little Oompa Loompa mounting all those women is appalling. But then again, I think it’s supposed to be. However, all of these negatives can be countered by the fact that among Immortan Joe’s war party is a guitarist with a double-necked guitar. Like some fucking god, he hangs from a wall of amplifiers and churns out heavy metal riffs while his guitar belches fire. Seriously, it’s the most hilarious, most fucking awesome thing I’ve seen in a film for years. And in a weird way, it makes complete sense. Military drums have been used for centuries to demoralize the enemy (big bastard drums also feature here), so why not have some heavy metal? Of course, you have to consider if this is an appropriate use of your resources. You know, you’re living in a post apocalyptic wasteland, and you’re using your precious gasoline to billow fire from a steampunk guitar. And you’re using electricity for all the amps in the world. But you know what, fuck that. Immortan Joe is obviously some Saddam Hussain, Kim-Jong-il, Nicolae Ceausecu, cult of personality type mentalist who wants to constantly show off his wealth and abundant resources, so yeah, he’d totally do this. And those guitar riffs fucking rock! And it’s hilarious that he changes his speed of playing to how quickly the war party is going. When they’re going really fast, he shreds like a motherfucker, but when they slow down he methodically hacks some chunky chords. And at one point he even gets involved in a fight. So even if the film as a whole is just too excessive for my taste, this one bit of insanity does a hell of a lot to make the film more enjoyable. It’s also got to be said that the stunts are excellent and that the photography is consistently amazing. I also got a kick of the retrograde fight scenes that were speeded up like this was filmed in the 70s or 80s. It’s just the characters and the script which aren’t up to much. I think the film is also a victim of raised expectations. This is a film that is now nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. I’m all for genre films getting nominated for the big prize...but only if they’re good enough. And this film isn’t. There are some great sequences, but the movie doesn’t really add up to much. Not that it has to make some grand statement or anything, but you’ve got to feel something more than ‘oh, that was cool’ if you’re going to get all these plaudits. Aliens, The Fellowship of the Ring and Raiders of the Lost Ark, as three of the best examples of the action/adventure genre, succeed because of the human heart beating within them. They have really cool sequences, but they also have people you’re invested in. Mad Max: Fury Road is just a bunch of occasionally cool shit that should get nowhere near an awards ceremony.
The build-up is over. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is now a living, breathing reality. It’s already sitting there in movie theaters, making (probably) billions of dollars in box office receipts. But is it any good? I guess it depends on how you’re measuring it. Compared to the disastrous, soul-sucking prequels, it stands up very favourably. But against the originals it falls way short. Way, way short. For every good thing in this movie, there are a couple of bad things to counter it. The biggest problem is that the central villain, Kylo Ren, is emo as shit. Darth Vader was a cool, clinical psychopath who would quietly dispatch his subordinates whenever they did something that wasn’t to his liking. Our Kylo, on the other hand, is a pouting drama queen. When he doesn’t get his own way, he destroys shit like a toddler having a tantrum. It’s not scary and it’s fairly ridiculous to watch. Plus Kylo is played by Adam Driver, whom I last saw in HBO’s Girls. So basically you have a millenial hipster trying to rule the galaxy while not ruffling his floppy hair. How far we’ve fallen as a society. Another problem is the larger villain of the piece, the ‘Supreme Leader’. This is the guy that Kylo Ren answers to, much like Darth Vader answered to The Emperor. But while The Emperor was an amusingly withered old guy, who cackled like some terrifying man-witch as he made a catty remark, the Supreme Leader is a horrible CGI creation. A big deal has been made that these films are going to use more practical effects, but this thing is an abomination. It looks like something you’d expect to see in the upcoming World of Warcraft movie, not Star Wars. And what was with his hologram being about thirty feet tall? Is he that tall in real life? Or does he just have a tiny penis and therefore demanded a fucking huge hologram when the tech guys were installing all the telecommunications? ‘Oooh. Supreme Leader. How terribly big you are.’ And why is this film basically a less satisfactory rehash of the original Star Wars? It’s almost the same plot, just far less engaging. So the The Empire (or the First Order as they’re called here) are searching for a droid which has some secret information inside it. A lonely, idealistic daydreamer then intercepts said droid. However, while in Star Wars this individual had an aunt and an uncle, and there was some character development, in The Force Awakens the daydreamer has no parents or guardians and is very quickly swept up in the galactical drama that ensues. But again, just as in Star Wars, the greenhorn encounters an old, wise hero from a bygone era. In the previous series, it was Obi-Wan Kenobi. Here it’s Han Solo. Then there’s a Death Star rip off that’s actually a planet with a massive weapon in it. Except this new weapon is far worse than the Death Star. While the Death Star was a space station that could go wherever it wanted, this thing is a fucking planet and can go nowhere. Why the downgrade? But then there’s a plan to shut down the weapon and attack it with spacecraft. It’s the exact same fucking film! It’s just more sloppily written and directed. Don’t get me wrong, though, there are good things about the movie. Rey, the surrogate Luke Skywalker character, is excellent. She’s not the wet blanket that Luke Skywalker was in the first film and she has plenty of charm and strength. It’s also good to see that the male hero in this film is black. It’s sad that even in this day and age it feels brave that a blockbuster has a woman and a black man as the heroes of their movie, but it does. It’s also great to see Han Solo back. It’s quite amazing how much the film improved when he finally turned up. Maybe it’s partly nostalgia, but nostalgia only lasts so long. The film genuinely became much better once he made he finally made his appearance. It’s a pity that they decided to kill him off and that that emo bastard was the one to do him in, but it was a pretty good scene. The action scenes were also pretty decent, but even these were riddled with problems. So we eventually find out that Rey is strong with The Force. There’s a fantastic scene where Rey resists Kylo’s attempts to interrogate her. She shows her strength of will and it’s wonderful. But then at the end she’s having a very involved lightsaber duel with Kylo. Here it just becomes silly. Rey has never picked up a lightsaber before but here she is, holding her own with a guy who’s probably been in training for years. Just because you’re strong with The Force, doesn’t mean that you know how to fight yet - that takes training. So even though you have this pretty decent action scene taking place, it’s ruined by the fact that the logic behind it is totally fucked. Compare this with the original trilogy. Luke doesn’t get to use his lightsaber until the second film and then he loses his hand in a fight to Darth Vader. So yeah, The Force is strong with Luke, but he needs training and experience. He can’t just go into a fight with someone and hold his own. I also feel that the film left far too many things unexplained. Why does Finn suddenly decide that he doesn’t want to fight anymore? He begins the movie as a Stormtrooper but then he has a crisis of conscience and flees. This is a great idea for a beginning but the reasons and the emotions aren’t really explored, which makes Finn’s journey half-baked and unsatisfying. And even though Han’s appearance is extremely welcome, he seems to appear out of nowhere and then instigates a fun action scene with some space monsters. The machinations behind it are explained so quickly and so poorly that I couldn’t help but ask myself what the fuck was going on, so even though I’m enjoying the action, I don’t really know for sure why it’s happening. And what the fuck happened with Poe? How did he survive that crash? I’m sure it got explained, but I’m also sure that the explanation lasted 0.7 seconds and was probably mumbled under all the Dolby Surround sound. But then the whole script is muddy. You get the feeling that JJ Abrams just couldn’t give a shit about telling a decent story. He just wants to move onto the next thing. And I have to say, I never thought that JJ was a good choice for this. He’s never convinced me as a filmmaker. And again he’s produced another superficial movie. It looks pretty good and everything feels like it should work, but it doesn’t. The ending with Luke promises that there will be something to look forward to in the future, but I’m not going to get my hopes up. I haven’t seen enough to warrant getting excited. And I haven’t even mentioned a couple of really little things that bugged the hell out of me. Number one - why is a TIE Fighter on a tether? So you have all this enhanced technology and someone steals your spacecraft but the way you’re going to get around that is with a chain? What the fuck? The sight of Finn and Poe trying to escape in a TIE Fighter that’s tied to the wall is one of the saddest sights in recent cinema. Number two - did you only hire the most weasly of British actors? The first trilogy had loads of English actors, but the weasel factor was nowhere near this high. The sight of Domhnall Gleeson (yes, yes, I know, he’s actually Irish) trying to give a rousing speech while squinting and grimacing like Vole was a little embarrassing. Oh, and Captain Phasma is a fucking terrible villain. She’s not quite General Grievous terrible (multiple lightsaber attack!), but she’s about as tough as a sponge. A couple of kids hold a blaster to her head and she does everything they say. Fuck. Me. Despite this, I feel that The Force Awakens is going to get an easy ride because it’s not The Phantom Menace, or Attack of the Clones or Revenge of the Sith. But I do have to wonder whether this is going to prove a worthwhile endeavour after all.
I can just imagine the masses watching this film. Wah! Wah! Why doesn’t he talk? Why isn’t there any dialogue? Why isn’t he shouting and screaming every five seconds? And who the hell is this old gentleman? I’ve never seen him in anything else before. All is Lost is kind of like Life of Pi if you removed the tiger, the hyena, the zebra and the orangutan and replaced them with an old gentleman who doesn’t say much. Okay, so it’s nothing like Life of Pi, except for the fact that both main characters are stuck in a boat. I’m kind of a sucker for these films. Films where the characters are pitted against the elements. Touching the Void, 127 Hours, Gravity etc. All films where stoic individuals are thrust into impossible circumstances and have to perform incredible feats in order to survive. I don’t know why, but I find all of these stories fascinating. The strength of the human will is truly a marvel. For a while I didn’t think that All is Lost would live up to those aforementioned films. It seemed a little straightforward, perhaps moribund - it lacked a magical moment to spark it off. But then there’s a scene where our hero, having abandoned his boat and now surviving in a rubber raft, is thrust into a second storm. He survived the first one, at the expense of his boat, but now he’s just in an inflatable piece of plastic. From under the water we see the raft approaching the storm like a lily in the sea. How can something so fragile survive something so brutal as this? Juxtaposed with this marvellous visual is an amazing piece of music. It elevates the scene into something transcendent. This is man finally facing his mortality. It might just be one man and one little life raft, but this is an epic battle. At first the man hangs gamely on, grimacing at every wave, but then the raft capsizes and he has to unzip the top of the dinghy in order to escape drowning. Outside he then manages to pull the raft back over. He then cowers in his raft, hands over his ears as he tries to block everything out. Whatever the folly of sailing alone in the ocean, you can’t help but feel tremendously for the man. What more does he have to do? What more does he have to go through? If he’s paying for his sins, this is some hell of a test. This is perhaps the first time, though, that we see cracks in the man’s armour. Previous to this, he faces every test with an impassive face. Oh, there’s a hole in the side of my boat? Let me whip something up and fill the hole. Oh, there’s a problem with the radio? Let me climb up the mast and try and fix it. Oh, there’s a storm coming? Let me have a shave and freshen up. But would you want anything else? Do you want someone continually talking to themselves and explaining everything to the audience and crying in frustration when something bad happens? No, I wouldn’t. This is Robert Redford. The character he’s playing is obviously a highly experienced sailor. Nothing much is going to faze him. Plus he’s not a young kid. He’s not going to be a hot head. So I’m completely at ease with the fact that the man here doesn’t talk. It also helps the story. The fact that he doesn’t talk helps you figure things out yourself. What’s he doing here, you find yourself asking. And then a few minutes a later you figure it out. There’s one moment where, in the middle of a heavy storm, he gets out of the boat and begins steering and then fucking around with the sail. Is it because he has the biggest balls in the world and wants to feel the wind in his hair? Well, yes, he does have bigger balls than you, but he’s setting the sail so that he doesn’t have to steer the boat. The idea is that he can hide below deck and the boat will steer itself. This is a great plan in theory, but the man gets swept over the side of the boat and he struggles to clamber back on board. I swear, each time the man ends up in the water, the film suddenly becomes one of the most stressful viewing experiences out there. I can think of fewer things scarier than being thrown into the open sea during a storm. Even being in the open ocean on a calm day is thoroughly appalling. As the film progresses, the imagery becomes more and more threatening. We see several shots from below the life raft. At the beginning, there’s only water. But then fish begin to gather and pretty quickly they’re joined by sharks. Death is getting closer and closer. The man manages to navigate into some shipping lanes by teaching himself how to use a sextant. He spots a couple of ships and manages to fire flares, but nobody sees him. Later on, when he spots another ship, he starts a small fire in his raft. The fire quickly gets out of control and he jumps over the side. With all hope gone, the man decides to drown himself. But then as he sinks down into the water, he sees a boat on the surface and flashlights searching for him. It’s a miracle and he floats back to the surface. An outstretched hand is waiting for him and the film cuts to white. The relief, after such a stressful film, is palpable. But then you begin to wonder whether this actually happens. Is this the fantasy of a dying man? Is this him, having given his earthly life, ascending to heaven? The whiteout at the end leaves the film with a lot of ambiguity. Which, for me, is a perfect way to end this movie. As the film progresses, it kind of feels like the man is paying for his sins. He goes through so much. At the end does he achieve salvation or was this all for nothing? Your guess is as good as mine. But what I can say for certain is that this is a wonderful movie. It builds and it builds and it builds. It’s a powerhouse of a film.
For a genre that’s renowned for being cool and free-spirited, these jazz bastards aren’t half uptight. The best way to describe Whiplash would be Full Metal Jacket with drums. The film is basically a loud, rude, abusive teacher (JK Simmons, in the R Lee Ermey mould) bullying a wee little lamb who turns into something of a wolf (Miles Teller, mirroring a young Matthew Modine). This is a gross simplification of the film but it’s still an appropriate comparison. Now for those of you who want a more contemporary parallel, think of it as a kind of Hell’s Kitchen deal. The Gordon Ramsay figure hurls a torrent of foul-mouthed abuse and the petrified student has to either sink or swim. Meanwhile, we sit there grinning with glee, because it’s not us getting abused. I’m not quite sure why we, as a society, get such a kick out of these relationships. If this kind of stuff happened between spouses, we’d be horrified. But because it’s between a student and teacher, we’re more likely to allow it. There’s a part of us that feels that this kind of stuff is character building. That to be upset by it is to be weak or wet. The sick and brilliantly perceptive part of the film is that Neiman (Teller) thoroughly rejects his own father over this bully of a teacher. His dad is a little insipid and isn’t fully understanding of his son’s desire to be a great drummer, but he’s essentially a good man. He certainly provides him with plenty of emotional support. But he doesn’t push his son. Perhaps because of this, Neiman feels like his father is leading him to a life of mediocrity. And mediocrity is one thing that Neiman doesn’t want. Like many ambitious young men, he has an insane drive to make his mark on the world - to be remembered. He becomes thoroughly obsessed with his drumming and dedicates all of his energy towards it. In one scene, he breaks off with his girlfriend because he knows that he can’t give her the time that she needs and that if he does give her time, he’ll only resent her. It’s a cruel scene, because he’s admitting to her that she’s less important to him than his drum kit, but it rings completely true. Especially the way that he thinks he’s being nice about it. He speaks completely rationally, explaining everything honestly and thoroughly, but the lack of passion for her is slightly chilling. She means nothing to him. He’s also young enough to have the delusion that he’s going to change the world. Only when you’re in your early 20s are you arrogant enough to think that you’re bringing something fresh to your art and that you’re going to change things. And then a few years later you realise what an insufferable twat you are. But maybe, in the end, after his final performance, his arrogance is justified... But it might not just be the arrogance of youth that’s at work with Neiman. There’s a hint or two that he might have Asperger’s or some other behavioral disorder. His girlfriend, at one point, notes that he doesn’t look the actors in the face when he goes to the movies. He’s also incredibly compulsive and trains so much that he rips his hands apart. And then in another scene, where he forgets his drumsticks, he gets into a car crash but still drags himself to his band’s competition. This is obviously not normal behaviour. But still, it might be a little lazy to say that Neiman has some kind of disorder. This behaviour might just be indicative of him being an obsessive young man. The meat of the film revolves around Neiman and his relationship with Terence Fletcher (J. K. Simmons). Fletcher is firmly in the Sergeant Hartman mould. He intimidates his students, he curses at them and sometimes he even physically assaults them. He’s a horrible, wretched human being, but I can still understand the relationship Neiman has with him. He basically becomes a surrogate father. Neiman constantly wants approval from him. That approval is almost impossible to obtain. Fletcher’s standards are scarily high and nothing short of being the next Charlie Parker will please him. But for an obsessive young man, this makes his approval far more meaningful. He’s like a kid with an abusive parent. The abused kid might get yelled at for any little thing, but any show of affection is more meaningful for it. It’s a completely wrong way of thinking, but I understand where it comes from. If approval is harder to come by, it somehow has a higher value. If you finally do get a ‘well done’ or a pat on the head or a nod of approval, you feel like a million bucks - you had to work really hard for it. For example, for Neiman, the love he gets from his father is easy and therefore, to him, cheap and meaningless. But Fletcher is giving nothing away. He even admits that there is nothing more harmful than saying ‘good job’. To a certain degree, he might have a point. Praise should be hard earned but it shouldn’t be this hard earned. Fletcher is borderline psychopathic. In Neiman’s first class he bullies and bamboozles a kid into quitting his band just because he’s fat. A nice guy Fletcher is not. It’s no wonder that there aren’t any women in Fletcher’s band. They wouldn’t put up with this kind of shabby treatment. But the guys eat it up and ask for more. One of the most amazing aspects of the film is the musical chairs that Fletcher plays for the seat on the drums. At one point Fletcher has three different guys vying for the place and spends hours torturing them in order to find his number one. How anyone can put up with that kind of abuse, I don’t know, but young guys can be stupid and easily manipulated. What endpoint Fletcher has in mind, I’m not sure, but at one point he admits that he’s looking for the next Charlie Parker. So that suggests that he’s going to keep pushing and pushing and pushing until he eventually finds someone worthy. The power struggle that drives the film culminates, like a sports movie, with a final performance. Neiman has been responsible for getting Fletcher fired from his teaching position, but still, like a moth to the flame, Neiman is drawn back to his old mentor. Fletcher recruits him for his new band. When Neiman gets there he has to perform a piece he’s never played before - he’s been set-up and flounders horribly before exiting the stage with his tail between his legs, much to Fletcher’s amusement. Backstage, he gets hugs from his father, but this embrace doesn’t console him. He charges back onto stage and begins playing. With Fletcher fuming, he begins a new song and shows what he can do. But this is just an appetizer. After this he begins a frantic drum solo which eventually leads into the next song. Fletcher’s anger turns to interest. Neiman is finally ascending into that far off realm - Fletcher is impressed by his playing and the film ends with the two of them in harmony. I’m not quite sure what to think of the ending. On the one hand, Neiman’s hard work and dedication is finally paying off. But at the same time, is this an endorsement of these teaching methods? The only way to become great is to be treated like absolute crap? I don’t think it’s quite that simple, but it’s certainly open for debate. I personally think that you don’t have to frighten and intimidate to get the best out of people, but at the same time, sometimes it works. Look at someone like Alex Ferguson (former manager of Manchester United). He would bully and intimidate his players. He would famously give them the ‘hair dryer’ treatment - shouting in their faces with such ferocity that it was like turning on a hair dryer. And he got amazing results from his players. He dragged some sub-standard squads to glory - teams that would flounder under different management. So there’s something to be said for this kind of teaching, but it’s certainly not the only way. Regardless, the film is a powerhouse. The performances are amazing, the writing and direction are excellent and the music is superb. Well, superb for jazz. We all know that jazz is the lowest form of art. But here it’s actually tolerable. But I have to point this out again. Fuck me, these jazz bastards are uptight. Like, really, really, really uptight.
I can picture it like it was yesterday. I’d gone round a friend’s house and they’d rented a video. It was an 18 certificate (R for you fucking Yanks - even NC-17 in some instances). I’d never seen an 18 before. I was worried that my parents would find out. I was worried that the film would traumatise me forever. If it’s an 18, it must be some heavy shit. I wasn’t quite sure I could handle it. Ten minutes in and numerous people had been killed. But it wasn’t so bad. I hadn’t been scarred forever. I hadn’t spontaneously shit myself and my parents hadn’t disowned me. All was right in the world. The film that day happened to be Commando. Looking back at the movie, I have to question the logic of those first few minutes. Firstly, the initial killing. So some guy is sleeping in bed and then hears the dustmen/garbage men approaching. He’s forgotten that it’s garbage day and staggers outside to take out the garbage in time. The dustmen then rip him open with Uzis. And then rather hilariously, while he’s dead on the floor, they shoot him some more. Really, is there any need for that? Look at him, he’s fucking dead! You’re just wasting ammo now. But this has to be the most presumptuous assassination ever. Okay, so you’re tricking him into thinking it’s garbage day and you’re luring him out of his house. How do you know that the sound of the approaching truck is going to wake him? How do you know that he’ll fall for your deception and come out? It seems like a bit of a long shot to me. And what are you going to do if he doesn’t come out? Just drive on by? ‘Oh well, I guess he didn’t fall for it. Time for Plan B.’ Or would you just kick his door in and shoot him in his house? In which case, why do you need the fucking garbage truck?!? Then in the next scene, Cooke, one of the guys who committed the garbage truck hit, walks into a car dealership. As we find out later, Cooke is working for a well funded South American military dictatorship, which makes his actions in this scene a little bizarre. He decides to steal a car and propel the salesman through the window to his possible death. Now I know that we all hate car salesmen, but isn’t this a little stupid? I’m sure the South Americans would buy you a car or at least allow you to expense one. They’re a corrupt military regime. I’m sure they’ll take care of you. But is Cooke a kleptomaniac or merely a psychopath who likes a good bargain? ‘You know what I like best?’ he asks, just before he drives the guy through the window. ‘The price.’
Cooke then goes on to blow up a boat with a remote control. I swear it has the longest antenna in the history of the world. The thing just keeps on coming. You’re the most conspicuous man performing an assassination I’ve ever seen. ‘Who blew up that boat?’ [Five seconds of searching] ‘That guy over there with the massive remote control and antenna! Get him!’ Can I reiterate that this is just the first couple of minutes!! Just when you thought that things couldn’t get any better, we cut to Arnie. Now how does he make his appearance? By carrying a chainsaw and huge fucking log. Yes, you’re right, he does have a giant dick, thank you very much.
Accompanied by the most awesome steel drum instrumental in the history of the world (makes total sense for a film about a Commando who has to go to South America), we get to see John Matrix (best name for a hero...ever!) live his idyllic life with his daughter. They tickle, they chop wood, they rub ice cream in each others faces, they practice martial arts and they feed baby deer by hand. Yeah, that’s right, they feed baby deer by hand! Check your jealousy at the door you fucking pissant. Geez, look at them. They’re just so perfect! Maybe a little bit too Aryan for my taste, but then again, I’m just a humble muggle, so I shouldn’t hate on them. However, there’s definitely something a little weird here. The way that they express their love for each other is way too intense. This kid is going to have some serious daddy issues in the future. But even though John does all this touchy-feely sensitive shit with his daughter, he quickly dispels any notions that he might be a fucking homo. As he reads a magazine with his daughter, he’s quick to pour scorn on Boy George. ‘Why don’t they just call him Girl George?’ Feel the fucking burn, George O’Dowd, you wee, poofy bastard. This is a real man here! A log-carrying, deer-feeding, badass motherfucker who reads Tiger Beat. Now where is the mother you might be wondering? Yeah, she’s dead. How or why we don’t know. It’s not important. She was just a vessel anyway. Once she birthed the kid she was surplus to requirements. She probably had a fatal laundry accident or succumbed to the sheer power of John Matrix’s sex. And the daughter isn’t even important either. She’s just a damsel in distress - a conduit for Matrix’s pent up fury. Fucking women, man. Or course, this idyllic life lasts for about ten seconds before the daughter is kidnapped. One guy tries to reason with Matrix, saying that now that they have his kid, he has to cooperate, right? ‘Wrong’ is Matrix’s response and he shoots the man in the head. Negotiations are for pussies, you foreign twat. The child is kidnapped by a team of mercenaries, led by Bennett, a Freddie Mercury lookalike and a raging homosexualist. He says that Matrix ran him out of his unit. I think by unit, he means ass, but the message is plain as day regardless. With his Village People moustache and string vest, he’s clearly queer for Matrix and wants revenge. But even though Bennett is one of the most hilarious villains in movie history, he’s still not as good as Sully. Played by David Patrick Kelly (‘Warriors, come out to plaayayy!’), he’s possibly the sleaziest man in movie history...and definitely the most awesome. Sully, along with some other heavies, is trying to deliver John Matrix to a dethroned South American dictator (played by Dan Hedaya, who seems to be brown facing in his attempt to look Latin). But Sully is more interested in perving out on random women than the task in hand. There’s one hilarious moment where the heroine of the film is talking on a public phone and Sully is just standing there, cigarette in mouth, grinning like a lunatic as she’s having a personal conversation. It’s incredibly inappropriate but Sully just doesn’t give a shit. He’s the Michael Jordan, Roger Federer and Luis Suarez of sleazeballs. Sully then follows the woman to a car park. Part of Sully’s charm is that he doesn’t do this in a secretive fashion. He’s quite brazen about his stalking. He swaggers like Vincent Kennedy McMahon. And his attire is beyond reproach. He’s got a black suit with what looks like chalk marks all over it, a grey-blue shirt with horizontal stripes and a skinny grey tie with widely spaced thin black stripes. In short, he looks like a million bucks. Any woman would be lucky to hop on his eager little penis. Unfortunately, the object of his affection, Cindy (played by Rae Dawn Chong), has no fucking taste and rebuffs him. To be fair, though, his chat up technique is a little...blunt. As she’s trying to unlock her car, he walks up to her and says, ‘You know, there’s something I’d really like to give you.’ Oooh! Oooh! Let me guess! It’s your knob you’re talking about, right? I think he’s talking about his knob. Am I right, you’re talking about your knob? Cindy then calls him a nightmare, to which Sully has the ultimate retort. And this is possibly the best line in the history of cinema. ‘You fucking whore.’ Whoah, that’s a bit harsh, Sully! But still, total genius. What better way to piss on someone’s day than just to call them a fucking whore? It’s going to make anyone feel like crap for ages. And here I was thinking that Sully was just going to rape her. I didn’t know he could be this brutal. But I beg you to try this in your everyday lives. If someone gives you bad service or does something that isn’t to your liking, just call them a fucking whore. You’ll make them feel like crap for days while you strut off like a champion. (The man-logic of this scene is actually scarily perceptive. How many times do pestering men get rebuffed by women and then dismiss them as whores or sluts because they wouldn’t fuck them?)
Now that I have a wee little sprog of my own, bouncing around my apartment like a hyperactive midget that talks faster than Quentin Tarantino, I’ve been revisiting characters from my childhood. One of which is Paddington Bear. Now before he became a whore for Marmite, I remember him from the cute little stop motion animation in the 70s and 80s. Fucking adorable he was, with little hint that he was going to betray his love of all things marmalade and sell his soul to the salty yeast god for some easy cash.