Monthly Archives: June, 2013

The House of Caine Guest Post: Batman Begins

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In the first look at a Michael Caine for the week, Jon Fisher from The Film Brief blog and podcast takes a look at Batman Begins.

It speaks to the deceptively rapid passage of time that it has been nearly a decade since Batman Begins (2005) was released. In the time since this movie, superhero movies have returned in a big way, a way that likely wouldn’t have happened unless this movie or something like it had come along to reinvigorate interest in comic books films as super-profitable ventures. Iron Man (2008), Thor (2011), Captain America (2011), and the other Marvel Avengers all owe Batman Begins, at least in part, for their existence so it’s worthwhile to look back at Nolan’s breakthrough piece and consider what, if anything, it did for the aesthetics of the superhero movie.

First of all, it should be pointed out that superhero stories shouldn’t be discounted as lesser films simply because of the source material. The late Roger Ebert once wrote that a movie isn’t about what it’s about – it’s about how it’s about it. With regards to superhero movies, the poor track record prior to 2005 wasn’t due to the innately vapid source material. Rather, it spoke to the puerile way that most film-makers treated the material handed to them – mining morally complex and visually exciting material for the sake of lowest-common denominator, throw-away bile, before defending it by intimating “They’re only comic books…”

Thus, Nolan deserves some credit for treating the material seriously in the first place. His Batman Begins is an origin story – (briefly) chronicling Bruce Wayne’s (Christian Bale) troubled childhood, his encounter with the League of Shadows, and the trial-and-error process that resulted in him esablishing the structure we identify as the Batman universe. This includes Alfred the Butler (played the ever-so-consummate thespian Michael Caine), Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), and some lesser known characters from the comic book series (the Scarecrow, for instance, played by Cillian Murphy). All of this is presented with choppy, non-linear narrative – a Chrisopher Nolan signature ever since his intriguing first short film Following (1998) and the outstanding Memento (2000).

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The film, overall, is a good and entertaining one, although far from a perfect one. Nolan certainly nails the film’s tone – dark, introspective and murky. He uses fine cinematography, suitably morose performances and a Hans Zimmer score that has become synonymous with the Caped Crusader to achieve this tone. The film’s shortcomings mainly lie in simple storytelling errors – which have plagued the subsequent sequels, The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012). These are mainly minor, but are certainly irritating for rationalist film buffs. One example – during a scene in which the League of Shadows demands that Wayne murder a simple thief to complete his ‘graduation’ from their training, Wayne refuses on moral grounds. He explains in the screenplay’s classically succinct and modestly poetic style: “When I go back to Gotham, I will fight men like this, but I will not become an executioner.”

Wayne goes on to flick a flame stick onto a platform above him stacked with gunpowder (you can imagine Ra’s Al Ghul invoking Homer Simpson and stating “I… keep some gunpowder there), which ignites the entire fragile structure of the building, and after a brief fist-fight, Wayne manages to escape, choosing to save Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson), the man who trained him but just revealed himself to be a morally simplistic, basically nasty and untrustworthy person. Wayne apparently doesn’t mind that he clearly just sealed the fate of the man he initially refused to execute.

Moments like this pop up from time to time throughout the trilogy (there’s a doozy in The Dark Knight when Harvey Dent shoots a driver in the head in order to force the car to crash and kill its passenger – no visual explanation of how Dent escaped the car before it crashed). Usually they are minor irritations, but they prevent the Nolan films from being the super-perfect saga most people so desperately wish them to be. And it’s best not to get started on the way the trilogy (and the Batman mythology generally) uses the cover-all excuse of “he’s a billionaire” to explain away any number of truly unbelievable technological set-ups. This is acceptable as an ‘all in good fun’ approach to a point – but when investing 11 or so hours of one’s life to a trilogy that insists we take it seriously, audiences deserve a little more of a cerebral approach from the film-makers.

I still prefer to focus mainly on the things that Christopher Nolan does right in his Batman films. He re-crafted Bruce Wayne as a morally complex man, truly tortured by his past, unable to express himself emotionally to those closest to him. He transformed Batman from a caricature (i.e. the Joel Schumacher produced and directed films of the 1990s) into a character. Along the way Nolan also created the most iconic (and, as it turned out, tragic) villain of modern times in Batman Begins’ sequel… But that’s a review for another day.

Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny

Jonathan Fisher is the creator and writer of (the  kinda defunct but hopefully coming back) The Film Brief website and podcast. Be sure to check out his site as well as like his page on facebook here and follow along on twitter @thefilmbrief.

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The House of Caine: Intro and Competition Details

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First of all, apologies for the terrible pun. But if you have followed this blog for any length of time, you’ve probably seen a few of them.  This whole week on the blog will be dedicated to one of the most iconic and just all-round awesome actors alive today, the great Michael Caine.

The whole spectrum is going to be covered here – his earlier starring efforts, later supporting work and even a little of his voice work in animation. Also I will be live tweeting Dark Knight Rises on Tuesday arvo/evening my time, so keep an eye out for that.  Luckily for you guys too, I also have three really awesome guest bloggers who will be bringing their thoughts about a few of Caine’s cinematic outings.

If you would ever like to have a guest blog on the site, I would love to have you. Fire me an email to drinkingbeerwatchingmovie@gmail.com if you are keen. I run these theme weeks every month or two and it is great to get as many different voices as possible.

This week there is also a competition running to coincide with House of Caine. Up for grabs is a brand spanking new copy of Len Deighton’s novel The Ipcress File which would be adapted to the screen in 1965 starring Caine himself. You know the drill on how to enter, but just in case, the details are (double entries for the post on The Ipcress File):

  • Like’ the post on Facebook for one entry.
  • Comment on the post on Facebook for two entries.
  • Share the post on Facebook for two entries.
  • Retweet the post on Twitter for two entries.
  • Like the post on this site for one entry.
  • Comment on the post on this site for two entries.

To get things started, share your favourite Caine films or performances in the comments section below.

Like what you read? Then please like Not Now I’m Drinking a Beer and Watching a Movie on facebook here and follow me on twitter @beer_movie.

Trailer for your Weekend: Gravity

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I think this teaser for Alfonso Cuaron’s upcoming sci-fi flick Gravity has been doing the rounds for a while. But I only just caught it and it has absolutely blown me away. The trailer itself does a great job of giving a sense of the plot with very few specifics to spoil the end experience. This high concept flick featuring two astronauts drifting in space sounds pretty incredible to start with. Add in the fact that the two astronauts are played by George Clooney and Sandra Bullock who I have been liking more and more and I think we have a pretty exciting combination.

Are you guys as psyched for this as I am?

Like what you read? Then please like Not Now I’m Drinking a Beer and Watching a Movie on facebook here and follow me on twitter @beer_movie.

Jaws 2

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Jaws 3 (1983), was deadlocked with Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) in the poll I held for a live tweet a few weeks ago. Losing out on the honour via a coin toss, I thought I would go back and revisit that film’s predecessor Jaws 2 (1978).

Jaws (1975) is I think my favourite Spielberg film, which is saying something because I think many of his films (though by no means all of them) are modern masterpieces. Before viewing this first of the sequels, I had not heard too much about it which led me to presume it was a rubbish film. However whilst it is quite a different beast to the first film, it is in its own right, pretty bloody fantastic if you ask me.

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Where Spielberg’s original was creature feature made into ‘A movie’ thriller brilliance, Jaws 2 unashamedly embraces its status as a B movie. As such, it does not take long for the murderous shark’s spree to start. Actually it is only three minutes into the film before we see the killer at work. The film is also not afraid to be delightfully gimmicky. There is some gratuitous use of the fin and a shark chasing down water-skiers which is all B movie stuff at its best. The film also works on at least one level, because sharks are really fucking scary, and as such there is no shortage of the beast in action. As a result, the shark does not have the same ‘psychology’ if you will as the first film does. The killings are more random and arbitrary in this one. Whilst generally the film is done with a light touch, there are plenty of both intense and graphic moments. Like the best thrillers, the filmmakers here have excelled at building ‘moments’, where you know something big is about to happen, but you are still shocked when it does.

schneiderWhilst it perhaps lacks some of the Spielbergian sheen of the first film, Jaws 2 still looks great, the underwater photography being especially noteworthy. One thing that it does have in common with the first film though is John Williams weaving his usual magic with the score and he is masterfully pulling the strings of the audience with his work here. And of course, the music to herald the arrival of the shark ready to feed is once again masterfully done. The script is pretty solid, full of teen summer lovin and the like; and happily Roy Schneider returns in a pretty major role. Without overdoing it, the film also reflects and invokes plot points from the first film, the dodgy and greedy mayor for example. Overall you cannot really fault the technical aspects of the film. In that way it is reminiscent of the classic Universal Monsters films that I have been watching recently. They all show that a concept that seems utterly silly and possibly even daft on paper can be elevated by it being really well made.

Jaws 2 is a sharply made and shot B movie which is vast amounts of fun. Yeah it’s not as good as the original, but it is not even really trying. If you are into creature features done really well and effectively, without taking themselves too seriously, then this is well worth checking out.

Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny  

Like what you read? Then please like Not Now I’m Drinking a Beer and Watching a Movie on facebook here and follow me on twitter @beer_movie.

Night of the Living Dead

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Over the weekend, I turned my hand to live tweeting a film from the 1001. After a poll, George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) was the film to get the live tweet treatment. This is how it turned out.

As I mentioned during the review, the film is in the Public Domain, so you can check it out right here:

Like what you read? Then please like Not Now I’m Drinking a Beer and Watching a Movie on facebook here and follow me on twitter @beer_movie.

Trailer for your Weekend: The Lego Movie

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I think I heard mutterings about a looming Lego based film a while ago. I dismissed them as sounding like a recipe for the worst adaptation in history. Sort of like how Battleship turned out.

But the first trailer is utterly inspired. Check it out below. Maintaining the tone over a feature length film and getting the humour down whilst also obviously keeping it suitable for children will definitely be a challenge. All of a sudden though, as absurd as it sounds, this is one of my most anticipated films of next  year. Here’s hoping it is not rubbish.

Like what you read? Then please like Not Now I’m Drinking a Beer and Watching a Movie on facebook here and follow me on twitter @beer_movie.

I will be live tweeting a film this weekend, so please head here to have your say on what film it should be.

Hey Hey It’s Esther Blueburger

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Chucking on the Australian film Hey Hey It’s Esther Blueburger (2008), I was expecting a pretty light film aimed at teens because it was based on a popular series of young adult novels. Or so I thought. I clearly had the film totally mixed up with something else. Because whilst the film is aimed at (older) teens, it is not particularly light, at least not large parts of it. It is a really excellent film that more people should see though.

The film has a creative and brilliant opening that definitely gets you excited for what is to come. It immediately conveys the utter isolation that being a teenager can bring as the entire school does cartwheels, whilst Esther looks on, totally outside of the group. Small groupings or cliques of teens are a recurring image throughout the film. The film sees Esther, sick of being an outsider at her private school, just piss off and start going to another school. In this case a public school where she is befriended by the much more world wise Sunni, played by Keisha Castle-Hughes who came to prominence for her Oscar Award nominated turn in Whale Rider (2002). The film then chronicles this odd couple as they traverse life inside and outside of school. The film nails much of the maddening pretension that plagues many private schools and just the crippling conformity that is inherent in basically all modern schooling. Thematically it explores some really important issues for teens, but achieves this by making the film feel very real. This is no straight, whitewashed story. Bad things happen here and even the titular character does some highly fuckin questionable things. But everything onscreen is geared really well to the thematic and narrative purpose of the film.

esther cast

So many films aimed at this market are shot in such a bland manner that the vim in how Hey Hey It’s Esther Blueburger is brought to life is all kinds of refreshing. There are some great stylistic flourishes from director Cathy Randall, using creative camera angles and some really overt choreography of the characters on screen. The script is wickedly funny but the film is certainly a bit darker than I was expecting. The balance is just about right overall (though a late plot point is misjudged in its bleakness). The characters are also great, each of them feeling different and real. The character of Esther in particular is a great one, a teenager with real sass who is also willing to make mistakes and learn about the world through them. Much of the credit for this must go to the really charming performance of Danielle Catanzariti as Esther. Catanzariti has not been sighted since, but hopefully we can see her onscreen again soon because she is an excellent performer, especially in terms of her comic timing which is incredibly sharp.  She is definitely helped along by the aforementioned Castle-Hughes as well as a supporting cast featuring a bunch of really highly regarded Australian performers, including Toni Collette and Essie Davis.

This film was such a pleasant surprise. It was not particularly well received out here. I’m not sure if like me, people were expecting something a little lighter. But this is a firecracker of a film, really original and well worth your time if you can track a copy down.

Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny

Like what you read? Then please like Not Now I’m Drinking a Beer and Watching a Movie on facebook here and follow me on twitter @beer_movie.

I will be live tweeting a film this weekend, so please head here to have your say on what film it should be.

Ghost Busters

For some reason Ghost Busters (1984) was never a real formative film for me, despite some of my absolute favourites coming from that era. I am sure I had seen the film on TV years ago, but I only had pretty vague recollections of it, making this viewing almost like seeing it for the first time.

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It’s weird that whilst the 80s was a pretty dire time for some other art forms (I’m looking at you music), it was a great time for film, especially popular film. Ghost Busters is a definite part of that. This New York set film sees three academic scientists who are kicked off campus go into the ghost hunting business. Lucky for them, that is a field of work that happens to be in high demand at the time. Much of the humour in the early parts of the film comes from the sheer lack of experience or knowledge that our heroes have about what the hell they should do when they happen upon a ghost. This makes their early experiments in ‘ghostbusting’ hilariously fraught. But luckily for the folk of New York, they are also generally successful in these endeavours. Especially as the supernatural goings-on really ramp up, culminating in a Stay Puft Marshmallow Man Godzilla sized beast rampaging through the streets. As will happen. The supernatural happenings are driven by what I assume were some pretty impressive for the time special effects that by and large have aged relatively well. There are some definite exceptions to this rule, but the effects are there to only enhance the other aspects of the film, they are not the focus of the film itself. A lesson there for many a filmmaker I think.

ghostbusters cast

The two major strengths of the film are the sharp comedy of the script and the fantastic cast. Two of the stars of the film, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis were also on writing duties. What they turned in was a wryly comedic gem that will have you chuckling throughout, without feeling like you are being beaten over the head with an endless bombardment of jokes. Another major credit to the script is that it actually gets stronger as the film goes on, with many of the funnier lines coming toward the end of the film. If you really wanted to quibble, there is a plot diversion and character or two that are underdeveloped, but in reality it is highly doubtful you will notice. Plus, as with any high quality film of this ilk, there are a bunch of really quotable lines peppered throughout. Most of them are delivered by Bill Murray, such as the classics “he slimed me” and “cats and dogs living together”. Murray is definitely the star in terms of screen time and his performance is really good too. He is able to comfortably nail both wry, dry humour as well as the odd bit of silliness. He is really well supported by basically everyone else as in the film, with my personal favourites here being Rick Moranis and Sigourney Weaver. Moranis especially creates a really full and fun character in his short time onscreen. Man I love that guy, watching this film brought back plenty of memories of a film that definitely was a formative one for me, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989).

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In the end, Ghost Busters is just about as fun as a film can hope to be, managing to mix elements of comedy, horror and fantasy all together to come up with something highly original. I can definitely see why this is an absolute favourite of many and a really formative film for a lot of huge film fans.

Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny

Progress: 84/1001

Like what you read? Then please like Not Now I’m Drinking a Beer and Watching a Movie on facebook here and follow me on twitter @beer_movie.

I will be live tweeting a film this weekend, so please head here to have your say on what film it should be.

The Queen of Versailles

Queen-Versailles_Poster-MovieThe documentary The Queen of Versailles (2012) is the kind of film that you start watching assuming it is just going to make you mad as hell. Tis after all a film about a family who are attempting to build the largest house in the USA, not a bunch of people many (or at least me) are likely to warm too or feel too much sympathy for when their dreams go awry. What is delivered however is a little more complex.

Don’t worry, you will feel angry, but you will also feel a bunch of other things as well. The film starts out by recounting the fairytale romance of Jackie and David Siegel. You know that age-old fairytale, the one where the woman is not particularly taken with the man, but eventually falls in love with him simply because he is so infatuated with her. The one where our dashing prince complains that “what she lacks in housekeeping skills, she makes up for in other ways.” I’ll give away how you end up feeling about the characters. He is an absolute, irredeemable jackass. Whilst Jackie is an altogether more sympathetic, complex and ‘real’ person.

The film chronicles their attempts to build their dream home, one that is 90,000 square feet and features amongst other things, a full sized baseball field. In case you had missed it, these are people with a total disconnect from reality. This is a world of inexplicable greed that sheds a light on the so called American Dream. It interrogates the fact that the American Dream is to rise above your ‘status’ and what that means in practice. Although somewhat strangely, or perhaps logically, the kids seem far more normal and world aware than the adults. One particularly insightful teen especially is able to cut through all the bullshit that clouds the world around her. Director Lauren Greenfield does some very clever things elsewhere in the film, showing the death of a pet lizard because no one could be fucked feeding it. This exemplifies the sheer neglect and superficiality that the family has come to impose on its life. As the financial crisis hits the Siegel’s business dealings, David’s true nature comes out, with his bitter tirades become more and more frequent. Jackie though, is able to see behind the surface level of their troubles, recognising the suffering that the situation must be causing others. Furthermore, she is happy that David has been humbled in this way, perhaps hoping that he can learn from it (doubtful).  For all the exceedingly interesting subject matter though, The Queen of Versailles is nothing special in its presentation though which perhaps lessens the impact of the overall film.

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The sleazebag David is a strange dude, with all the ego you would expect from a man of his wealth (a wealth unsurprisingly built on a foundation of totally unethical business practices). He enjoys gloating about how he personally got George W. Bush elected, whilst simultaneously expressing some remorse that he did so because of America’s involvement in Iraq. The film shows that David Siegel is not just an exceptionally greedy, sexist and smarmy man; he is in fact a sociopathic and abusive one. The power dynamic that he imposes on his wife is no different to that in other abusive relationships. Whilst all David cares about is money, all that Jackie truly cares about is being loved. She is an extremely astute person but the way she has been treated throughout her life has left her a person who is left struggling to interact with the world around her, try as she might.

The Queen of Versailles is exceptionally good at articulating the patriarchal bullshit and hyper-capitalism that plagues much of the world around us. The Siegels are perhaps an extreme example of this, but unfortunately are probably more representative of the world at large than we would like to admit.

Verdict: Stubby of Reschs

Like what you read? Then please like Not Now I’m Drinking a Beer and Watching a Movie on facebook here and follow me on twitter @beer_movie.

I will be live tweeting a film this weekend, so please head here to have your say on what film it should be.

Live Tweet Poll: A Classy One

I really enjoyed the first live tweet film review I did of The Creature from the Black Lagoon (you can check out the result here). It also has the added benefit of saving a little time, because you are able to watch and review the film at the same time.

The idea behind live tweeting, in my mind at least, lends itself to B movies and films that you can take a more lighthearted approach to. This time however, I thought I would take a shot at a more critically acclaimed film, from the 1001, to see how that turned out.  I will be live tweeting the film next Sunday the 23rd at 2:00pm. Be sure to follow me on twitter to be involved.

I think it’s more fun for you guys to choose though, so which of these 5 acclaimed films should I live tweet? Be sure to leave a comment with your choice.

The Wrestler (2008) dir by Darren Aronofsky

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The Outlaw Josey Wales 
(1976) dir by Clint Eastwood

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Spartacus 
(1960) dir by Stanley Kubrick

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Badlands 
(1973), dir by Terrence Malick

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Night of the Living Dead 
(1968), George A. Romero

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Like what you read? Then please like Not Now I’m Drinking a Beer and Watching a Movie on facebook here and follow me on twitter @beer_movie.