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Film Notes

Film Notes #13: The Triplets of Belleville (2003)

SPOILER ALERT: Plot details will be revealed!

Sylvain Chomet’s delightful animated film is Number 13 in my Film Notes series.

For those unfamiliar, this series of posts involves me watching a film every day for 30 days, with the following rules:

  • It must be a film I have already seen.
  • I must make notes whilst I’m watching it.
  • Pauses are allowed but the viewing must all be one session.
  • It can’t be a current cinema release.

It will hopefully capture my instant thoughts about a movie provide a snapshot of my film diet for 30 days and curate interesting links to the film in question.

Here are my notes on The Triplets of Belleville (2003) which I watched on DVD on Wednesday 4th April.

N.B. For some reason it was released in the UK as Belleville Rendez-vous but it seems the title has now realigned with the rest of the world.

  • I first saw this at 20th Century Fox in London during July 2003
  • It is still a film I return to and marvel at for it’s incredible surreal charm.
  • This was Chomet’s first feature and an international co-production between companies in France, the United Kingdom, Belgium, and Canada.
  • The ‘period’ opening is very well done, establishing the notion of the Triplets as famous singers (even though they are very much supporting characters)
  • This is a film I often recommend to people if they are bored of mainstream animation and want something a bit different and unusual.
  • It combines the imaginative panache of SPIRITED AWAY (2001) with the wordless charm of THE ARTIST (2011)
  • I actually want to live in Madame Souza’s house with a dog like Bruno.
  • Sound is vital in lending the slightly surreal animation a sense of realism. Especially since there is virtually no dialogue.
  • The emotional distance between the young boy and his grandma is well established.
  • Touching scene when we see the boy’s parents – presumably Souza’s son/daughter?
  • Great touch that Bruno goes crazy at the passing trains – clearly this was written by dog owners.
  • The use of a Hoover, whisk and mower for a cycling warm down is hilarious
  • Interesting circular shot as Souza puts the model wheel on the model Eiffel tower
  • Absence of dialogue makes us focus on the nuances of character
  • Interesting choice of shots when we see Champion from above and when Souza reflects on the photos before turning the lights off
  • Love the way Bruno jumps on the bed the way big dogs actually do.
  • Bruno’s dream sequences are genius.
  • Souza’s whistle is another good example of sound in the film (Foley is actually
  • The gangsters bodies have an interesting geometric shape – note that all characters in this are distinctive but have key differences
  • The kidnap of Champion happens slowly – in a lot of movies they happen in a flash
  • The pedalo sequence is unexpectedly moving
  • Belleville is a cross between Tim Burton’s Gotham in BATMAN (1989) and the environments of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s THE CITY OF LOST CHILDREN (1995)
  • Hamburger restaurant scene seems to be some kind of commentary on American obesity and capitalism
  • In the triplets apartment even the Oscars are overweight (the film was nominated for Best Animated film)
  • The fishing for frogs scene is an instant classic
  • Transitions between scenes are worth keeping an eye on – note how frog spawn becomes the moon
  • Why does one of the Triplets stop Souza from doing the hoovering and reading the paper? (Maybe the latter is a stage prop?)
  • I love the fact that the sisters all watch TV together in bed
  • What exactly is going on with the kidnapped cyclists? Contraband electricity?
  • Residents of the nightclub seem suitably grotesque.
  • I read once that despite eating fattier food, rates of obesity in France are much lower than the US. Why? Healthier ingredients and smaller portions.
  • Like the visual image of gangsters in pairs
  • The betting scene reminds me of THE DEER HUNTER (1978) – it also appears to be some kind of commentary on the film technique of rear-projection
  • The framing, composition and overall visual storytelling are excellent.
  • Almost every scene is punctuated with a surreal, inventive humour.
  • Theatre scene reminds me of INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009)
  • Note the yellow headlights on the gangster’s cars.
  • I like the fact that one of the ‘vehicles’ during the climax is effectively a portable cinema.
  • Nice payoff with Bruno barking at the train on the level crossing
  • It just struck me that the gangsters all look like Neville Thurlbeck
  • What other film ends up with four old women and a dog being chased by gangsters in a car chase?
  • Chomet’s follow up film would be the equally marvellous THE ILLUSIONIST (2010)

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Film Notes

Film Notes #12: Total Recall (1990)

SPOILER ALERT: Plot details will be revealed!

Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fi actioner is Number 12 in my Film Notes series.

For those not familiar with this series of posts, it involves me watching a film every day for 30 days.

The following rules apply:

  • It must be a film I have already seen.
  • I must make notes whilst I’m watching it.
  • Pauses are allowed but the viewing must all be one session.
  • It can’t be a cinema release.

The point is to capture my instant thoughts about a movie and my overall film diet for 30 days, as well as curate interesting links to the film in question.

Here are my notes on Total Recall (1990) which I watched on DVD on Monday 2nd April. Give these people air!

  • Wonderful trailing opening titles that suggest SUPERMAN (1978)
  • Pounding title music by Jerry Goldsmith that recalls another Schwarzenegger film – Basil Pouledoris’s main theme to CONAN THE BARBARIAN (1982)
  • Love the intensity of the opening Mars scene – Verhoeven really knows how to sell visceral violence (e.g. You really feel those eyes are popping out of his head)
  • Slightly disappointed that he chose to go for the ‘it’s only a dream’ edit in which Arnie sits bolt upright. Has anyone ever woken up from a dream like this?!
  • Note that Sharon Stone is actually pissed off and jealous at the dream – a sign of things to come
  • Verhoeven got his Hollywood breakthrough with ROBOCOP (1987), which blended 80s action movie with surprisingly sharp political satire
  • TOTAL RECALL (1990) continues the trend with its social commentary blended within the framework of a sci-fi thriller.
  • Films like THE TRUMAN SHOW (1998), THE MATRIX (1999) and INCEPTION (2010) played around with similar concepts
  • Nice touches: fingernail polish, x-ray machines and video walls
  • The x-ray machines are now standard in US airports!
  • Production design is great – clever blend of sets and Mexican subway system.
  • Love the recall salesman / travel agent – he’s actually selling me on this holiday
  • Arnie’s line “don’t bullshit me” seems ADR’d
  • The scene where Arnie explains what kind of woman he really
  • Like the pacing in this film – no dicking around. 15 minutes in and we’re off.
  • Sharon Stone is at her glamorous best in this film – you can see why Verhoevan cast her in BASIC INSTINCT (1992)
  • The videophones are basically Apple FaceTime (they even have a portrait screen)
  • Fight scenes are brilliantly choreographed by Vic Armstrong – we really feel every punch and crunch.
  • Michael Ironside is a genuinely great villain. Charming, ruthless and we get the vibe he doesn’t mess around.
  • Subway shoot out is brutal fun. Think they had to make cuts for the theatrical release.
  • Notice how this is really a continuation of the previous chase (which hadn’t really ended).
  • The tracking device predicts the current debates about the surveillance society
  • Love the dryness of Arnie’s lines.
  • Verhoeven has been deftly handling action and narrative now for about 20 mins
  • Sound design and Rob Bottin’s make up work are A-grade in the bug removal scene
  • Good miniatures for the spaceships on Mars. Although this was made on the cusp of the ILM revolution ushered in by TERMINATOR 2 (1991) and JURASSIC PARK (1993) it still stands up for the most part.
  • Kuato is freedom fighter who in this film we are expected to sympathise with but I wonder how the remake will play around with this idea in a post-9/11 world.
  • Rob Bottin’s make up is excellent in the airport scene.
  • Note the use of a vertical set to simulate zero gravity (a trick Vic Armstrong
  • Cohaagen is to Mars what NCP was to Detroit in ROBOCOP (1987).
  • Sets are believable because Mars is an indoor world anyway.
  • Cab driver: “I’ve got five kids to feed!”
  • Apparently during filming the crew all thought Rachel Ticotin was going to be the big star, not Sharon Stone
  • The hotel room scene was almost certainly a big influence on INCEPTION (2010).
  • Don’t be fooled by the fact that this is a sci-fi starring Arnie – this is very good genre writing
  • Lot of product placement in this film (Sony, Fuji Film and Miller Lite)
  • Great female fight, expertly arranged by Vic Armstrong who really wanted to stage a memorable scrap
  • The pacing is brilliant during Quaid and Milena’s escape – back when action was cleanly edited and featured smooth camera work
  • Rob Bottin’s make up work is outstanding – especially the cab drivers arm and Kuato
  • The villains have a devilish wit which gives the film a pleasing light touch.
  • Obligatory ‘explanation scene’ is actually an interesting exercise in making the audience uncertain
  • Even by modern torture porn standards, the brainwash scene is brutally violent.
  • Quaid’s line “Give these people air!” was referenced in Judd Apatow’s KNOCKED UP (2007).
  • Even the goldfish die.
  • Quaid: “Screw you!!!”
  • Slightly dated rear projection work with the reactor
  • The pace in the second half of this film is absolutely tremendous
  • Sound design also excellent. You can really hear guns and punches.
  • The fight on the lift is another corker – notice the foley on
  • I’ve always loved Ronny Cox’s line about being “home in time for cornflakes”
  • Climax also features great use of vertical sets
  • Satisfyingly visceral gore of Cohaagen’s eyes popping out. More brilliant work from Rob Bottin.
  • I think the VFX crew used the old milk in tank trick to simulate to clouds on the mountain. Also used in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981) and POLTERGEIST (1982).
  • Nicely ambiguous ending which allows different interpretations (Verhoevan’s is considerably darker than Arnie’s)
  • Cameras by ARRI

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Film Notes

Film Notes #11: Blow Up (1966)

Michaelangelo Antonioni’s classic exploration of the dark side of Swinging Sixties London is Number 11 in my Film Notes series.

For those not familiar with this series of posts, it involves me watching a film every day for 30 days.

The following rules apply:

  • It must be a film I have already seen.
  • I must make notes whilst I’m watching it.
  • Pauses are allowed but the viewing must all be one session.
  • It can’t be a cinema release.

The point is to capture my instant thoughts about a movie and my overall film diet for 30 days, as well as curate interesting links to the film in question.

Here are my notes on Blow-Up (1966) which I watched on DVD on Sunday 1st April.

  • Great opening titles set against the green grass, which will be important later on.
  • The strange performance troupe are charging around The Economist building. Was that deliberate social commentary?
  • Antonioni’s second colour film after RED DESERT (1964) and the first to have a leading man.
  • Verushka can’t really act, but maybe that’s the point.
  • How was the cliche of the 1960s London photographer ever done before this film?
  • Cuts in the photo shoot are like photo rather than film edits.
  • Clever for Antonioni to use a photography studio as a location, as he can play around with the idea of photographer as director. The park (location), studio (soundstage), models (actresses), propellor (props) and darkroom (lab) can all be seen as analogues for the filmmaking process. After all what is cinema but photography at 24 frames per second?
  • As you might expect from Antonioni, the compositions are absolutely tremendous: interesting, playful and formally brilliant.
  • 1960s fashions are a mixture of the cool and grotesque.
  • There’s something dark and unknowable about Hemmings – although dark and strange things happen to him, he remains an ambiguous, unlikeable character.
  • The way he leaves the models waiting in the studio is the sign of an inconsiderate ass. But that’s also why he’s an interesting protagonist.
  • The way he talks to the models shows that he has significant social status within this world
  • Blue house on Woolwich Road shows his eye for interesting buildings.
  • This is definitely one of the great London movies – Antonioni brings an outsiders eye to Swinging London.
  • Why does he go into the antiques shop? Just browsing? Conversation with the Irish guy is very Pinteresque.
  • The famous scene in the park begins around 23m
  • I bet Nikon were glad one of their cameras got featured in one of the most analysed scenes in movie history!
  • Note how calm the editing is as the scene unfolds
  • The sound of the wind is key, although subtle it’s always there. Wonder what equipment they mixed it on.
  • Vanessa Redgrave and her lover are deliberately kept at a distance so see them as though we were looking through Hemmings’ viewfinder.
  • Redgrave: “This is a public place!” (Irony that she expects privacy in a public place)
  • All this outdoor dialogue between Redgrave and Hemmings is post-synced
  • We find out that the action takes place on a Saturday morning, as the girl selling him the propellor says “that’ll teach you to fall in love with things on Saturday morning!”
  • What the hell does he want with a propellor anyway?
  • Love the shots of him driving around London. It is bleaker and more interesting than people might remember.
  • Hemmings: “Already there are queers and poodles in the area”
  • Peter Bowles as his agent is good value. I’m curious as to what publications he is selling those photos to.
  • One thing about watching films of this era is the post-synced sound design. Makes you appreciate the rich mixes of the post-5.1 era.
  • When Hemmings says he’s fed up with London and those “bloody bitches” we suspect he’s disillusioned with the shallow lifestyle he’s leading.
  • His portfolio is clearly that of a social voyeur.
  • Note the clever, elliptical cutting of the stranger at the restaurant window – most directors would have clearly showed his face
  • Is there is a significance in the “Go Away!” sign that he seems happy for the protestor to put in his backseat
  • Redgrave looks great when flustered.
  • How does her character know he is home?
  • Obligatory 60s jazz on the soundtrack.
  • Hemmings plays louche disinterest very well well. Not as easy as it seems.
  • Hemmings: “Sorry love. The bird I’m with won’t talk to you” (People forget how common ‘bird’ was as a slang phrase until the 1990s.
  • Hemmings seems more intrigued by the cryptic game Redgrave is playing than the sex she seems to be offering him
  • Good use of pauses and silence
  • Hair stuck in the film visible at 54.55 as Redgrave leaves – this film needs a frame by frame restoration on Blu-ray
  • Hemmings developing his photos is actually a great procedural scene.
  • It not only gives the movie its title but is perhaps how audiences today and in the future will get to see how photographic film was developed in the pre-digital era
  • We see (and don’t see) what Heemings sees.
  • Even though I’ve seen this film many times, the examination of a still image in a motion picture is a striking idea.
  • Sound design is used to recreate the atmosphere of the park as we relive the scene through the photos
  • The implication seems to be that Redgrave and an accomplice had her lover in the park bumped off.
  • Although it seems tame by today’s standards the scene with the frolicking girls would have provided invaluable publicity and buzz
  • Colours on the girls dresses appear to have been carefully chosen
  • Ansel Adams once had a line: “A true photograph need not be explained, nor can it be contained in words”. That’s also a pretty accurate description of this film.
  • The scene where Hemmings goes back to the park at night reminds me of NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007)
  • Sarah Miles looks curiously pained when she observes Hemmings watching her have sex – it just occurred to me what an interesting scene that really is just typing that last sentence out.
  • It seems Hemmings uses Kodak film (always the best!)
  • Hemmings: “I saw a man killed this morning”
  • This would make an interesting double bill with either THE PARALLAX VIEW (1974) or BLOW OUT (1981). All films play on the notion of sound and vision being unreliable.
  • Sarah Miles has incredible hair in this scene.
  • This is one of those films that you never get bored of watching – perhaps because it is about the act of observation itself.
  • What other 1960s film features The Yardbirds?
  • Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck in an Antonioni movie! This scene was overflowing with talent.
  • Note the recurrence of the colour purple.
  • Love how the party shows the lazy decadence of 60s London. Someone’s been murdered and they don’t give a toss!
  • Closing sequence is one of my all time faves. I’ll leave you to debate in the comments below.

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Film Notes

Film Notes #10: Man on Fire (2004)

Tony Scott’s 2004 revenge drama starring Denzel Washington is Number 10 in my 30 day Film Notes series.

For newcomers, this month-long series of posts involves me watching a film every day for 30 days.

The following rules apply:

  • It must be a film I have already seen.
  • I must make notes whilst I’m watching it.
  • Pauses are allowed but the viewing must all be one session.
  • It can’t be a cinema release.

The point is to capture my instant thoughts about a movie and my overall film diet for 30 days, as well as post interesting links to the film in question.

Here are my notes on Man on Fire (2004) which I watched on BBC1 HD via PVR on Saturday 24th March.

  • There is a weird Harry Potter connection to this film: JK Rowling’s agent Christopher Little also represents the A.J. Quinnell – author of the book on which it is based.
  • It has been filmed once before in 1987, with Scott Glenn in the Creasy role.
  • In that film the action was in Italy but here it has been relocated to Mexico.
  • Chanting music over opening titles, interchanging film stocks and the AVIDs are working overtime!
  • Walken and Washington have an instinctive rapport – we immediately get the vibe that these guys know each other
  • Dialogue establishes that they have been involved in some heavy stuff (ex-special ops)
  • Harry Gregson’s score has been used in a lot of news documentaries
  • Note the sound on the lighting of Mickey Rourke’s match – Scott loves a visceral audio mix.
  • The fleet of cars driving across the landscape recalls REVENGE (1990) another revenge themed film Scott shot in Mexico.
  • Some stylistic similarities between the two films, even though Scott has utilised the advances in digital editing and post-production
  • Neat trick making Dakota Fanning a precocious child – she’s essentially playing a version of herself.
  • Radha Mitchell was coming of the success of PITCH BLACK (2000) – she looks beautiful but her role is rather underwritten
  • First time I’ve seen this in HD and the clarity of image and golden hues are stunning (like his brother Ridley, Tony Scott is a master of light).
  • Nice tension created about a possible kidnapping in the traffic through cutting and camera.
  • Mitchell and Washington’s conversation is unusually constructed – use of zooms into the mirror used as well as conventional edits.
  • The ‘Creasy getting drunk’ scene is a little overcooked.
  • Like the fact that Walken has several phones – well researched detail.
  • Pita at the pool sequence is a good example of Scott’s attention to sound.
  • Pita: “Creasy, what’s a concubine?”
  • Nice chemistry between Fanning and Washington
  • Build up to the kidnapping is nice – interesting blend of camera moves, edits and sounds
  • Note the calm of the classical piano
  • Scott is using digital editing systems almost as a paintbox
  • Old school editors must be turning in their grave at a film like this
  • Like the fact that Spanish is spoken and the way the subtitles are done – slinking along the screen in sync with the words
  • Bursts of Lisa Gerrard’s vocals are used in this film to indicate emotion – her extraordinary voice was first used in THE INSIDER (1999) and then GLADIATOR (2000)
  • The visuals used to denote the kidnappers are insane
  • Ransom demand scene is not quickly edited (although it feels like it) but the flashing and speeded up effects give that vibe.
  • Like the way “La Hermandad” pops up in sync with dialogue.
  • Reverse chopper shot of Mexico skyline used from earlier?
  • Walken’s performance has a nice easy vibe that provides some welcome relief from the heavy drama.
  • Rachel Ticotin previously filmed TOTAL RECALL (1990) in Mexico.
  • Creasy quickly becomes a vengeful badass but that’s logical given his line of work.
  • Finger cutting scene is intense but it’s the kind of sequence that would infuriate the late Pauline Kael and her many acolytes.
  • Car falling off cliff recalls similar scene in THE LAST BOY SCOUT (1991).
  • Creasy looks a bit out of place at the rave with that head scarf.
  • I think Tony Scott should do a whole film set at a rave – really go to town.
  • Split screen, bleach bypass, hand cranked cameras – this is visual overload!
  • One way Scott and his DP Paul Calderon relieve the furious style is to cut to a relatively pristine image.
  • The dancers cheering Creasy’s shotgun blasts is an effective touch – shows the atmosphere of mayhem.
  • Great night time photography in the conversation between Washington and Ticotin
  • Walken line about Creasy’s art is priceless – still not sure if it’s delivered with a metaphorical wink to the audience
  • Would it really be practical to fire a rocket launcher into a busy Mexican high street?!
  • Impressive explosion and flames however, plus this scene gave us the poster image.
  • Great location for the ass bomb scene. Really notice the lighting in HD.
  • It would have been really cool if the on screen stopwatch had synced in real time.
  • Washington’s delivery of his lines in this scene is excellent.
  • I bet someone somewhere has actually used the line “I wish. You had. More time!” just to be a badass.
  • Tony Scott was clearly born to shoot in Mexico.
  • Interior lighting of characters is tremendous.
  • Radha Mitchell doesn’t seem that distressed her husband has just blown his head off in their home.
  • It would be fair to say that this film is not a study of the social conditions that produce violence and kidnapping.
  • Creasy refusing money and blowing the hand off the Voice’s brother shows he really doesn’t care about what drives the ransom business (i.e. money)
  • Nice reverse offer from The Voice (“I will give you her life for your life”).
  • Interesting choice of time and location for the climax (often films end
  • Great shooting and use of music for the end.
  • Film has a slightly different resonance after the Fritzl case and all the subsequent kidnap films which almost became a Euro subgenre.
  • Like the way a mainstream film doesn’t wimp out at the end.
  • Nice symbolic touch of him dropping the St Jude medallion at the end and the credit that gives the date of the final day (Dec 16th 2003)
  • Alternate ending has Creasy going to the house of the Voice and blowing it all up.

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Film Notes

Film Notes #9: The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

* SPOILER WARNING: Details about the film will be revealed *

Lewis Gilbert’s 1977 Bond film is Number 9 in my 30 day Film Notes series.

For newcomers, this month-long series of posts involves me watching a film every day for 30 days.

The following rules apply:

  • It must be a film I have already seen.
  • I must make notes whilst I’m watching it.
  • Pauses are allowed but the viewing must all be one session.
  • It can’t be a cinema release.

The point is to capture my instant thoughts about a movie and my overall film diet for 30 days, as well as post interesting links to the film in question.

Here are my notes on The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) which I watched on ITV4 on Friday 23rd March.

  • Roger Moore’s third and best outing as Bond, even though LIVE AND LET DIE (1973) is more purely enjoyable.
  • The opening scene with the sub sinking is very similar to THE ABYSS (1989), only minus the aliens.
  • The theme on Triple XXX’s music box is Lara’s Theme from DR. ZHIVAGO (1964).
  • The other Lean film theme referenced in the desert sequences is LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1964)
  • Subsequent stunt where Bond skis off a cliff is stunning – one of the best live action jumps ever.
  • Bond films provide an interesting gauge of the Cold War – the Russian characters are usually consistent with Moscow relations
  • The shark death at the beginning was surely a cash in on the success of JAWS (1975)? They even named one of the henchman after it!
  • Stunts are mostly impressive for the time, blending live action, rear projection and miniature work.
  • Marvin Hamlisch’s score is unusually funky for a Bond film.
  • All the stuff with the Pyramids creeped me out as a 6 year old watching this on TV.
  • The sexism of the era is apparent in the cheesy gags but the Bond girl is more integral to the story.
  • Lotus coming out of the sea features the obligatory scene where a drunk man does a double take at his bottle.
  • Some occasionally sloppy shots, such as Bond and Anya being lowered down to the US submarine.
  • Guessing this was shot on anamorphic, but why do ITV persist in cropping widescreen films to 1:85? Will the audience complain?
  • The miniature of the speed boat as Anya and Stromberg leave is woeful even by standards of the day.
  • Stanley Kubrick advised his old colleague Ken Adam – who designed the iconic War Room for DR STRANGELOVE (1964) – on the lighting for the enormous submarine set – at that time one of the largest ever built.
  • They must have needed a lot of orange boiler suits to film the climactic gun battle.
  • The climax of TOMORROW NEVER DIES (1997) references the climax of this film with the big fight on the sub.

Categories
Film Notes

Film Notes #8: Working Girl (1988)

* SPOILER WARNING: Details about the film will be revealed *

Mike Nichols’ romantic comedy about a plucky secretary from Staten Island is Number 8 in my 30 day Film Notes series.

For newcomers, this month-long series of posts involves me watching a film every day for 30 days.

The following rules apply:

  • It must be a film I have already seen.
  • I must make notes whilst I’m watching it.
  • Pauses are allowed but the viewing must all be one session.
  • It can’t be a cinema release.

The point is to capture my instant thoughts about a movie and my overall film diet for 30 days, as well as post interesting links to the film in question.

Here are my notes on Working Girl (1988) which I watched on Film4 via PVR on Wednesday 29th March.

  • Mike Nichols directed two films released in 1988, the other was Biloxi Blues.
  • Love the snap of how we go straight from the Fox logo right into the opening chord of Carly Simon’s song.
  • Brilliant opening helicopter shot, as the camera swings around the Statue of Liberty to reveal the Twin Towers.
  • Nice fade on to the Staten Island ferry that maintains the smoothness of shot from the chopper – maybe a Steadicam on a built set?
  • When watching films of this period I find it very hard to accept that the World Trade Centre is not there any more.
  • Opening titles reveal the serious talent that worked on this movie: Mike Nichols, Michael Ballhaus (DP), Sam O’Steen (editor), Ann Roth (costumes) and Carly Simon (song).
  • Interestingly Harrison Ford and Sigourney Weaver get top billing over Melanie Griffith – maybe that proves the theme of the film?
  • It is almost a companion film to WALL STREET (1987) – although a comedy-drama, it is about yuppies and the struggle to get promoted in late 1980s New York, and two hungry outsiders (Tess McGill/Bud Fox) who ultimately betray a mentor figure (Katharine Parker/Gordon Gecko).
  • Good screenwriting in the opening scene  – dialogue reveals early on that Tess is thinking of evening classes on her birthday (shows her determination and desire early on)
  • It is a kaleidoscope of 80s fashions on the office floor.
  • Very good contemporary costume work by Ann Roth – sometimes it is easy to forget how hard it is to create a non-period film.
  • Oscars for Best Costume are so often awarded to the obvious period movies.
  • A pre-X Files David Duchovny can be seen behind Alec Baldwin in the surprise birthday scene
  • Alec Baldwin as the Staten Island boyfriend and Kevin Spacey as the coke snorting, champagne swilling arbitrageur shows the depth of talent in the cast.
  • Nichols and his casting director Juliet Taylor have a great eye for talent
  • Drug taking, porn watching and sexism on Wall Street – this is all too relevant to today’s banks. Only now the taxpayer is paying for it!
  • Tess’ revenge on the office floor is brilliant because it really hits Oliver Platt where it hurts (insulting his manhood)
  • Olympia Dukakis in a small but notable cameo as the personnel director (the year her cousin Michael lost out on the Presidency to Bush Snr.)
  • Tess is 30 years old  and it was clever touch to have Sigourney Weaver’s character a few days younger than Melanie Griffith – it gives their relationship an extra tension and Tess more motivation
  • Weaver’s dialogue is great: I wonder how many people were tempted to use that trick of saying “I’m in a meeting rather on another line”
  • Katharine: “Dress shabbily, they notice the dress. Dress impeccably, they notice the woman – Coco Chanel!”
  • Clothes actually important to the story – not only are they are sign of status but an indicator of Tess’ social mobility.
  • Nora Dunn – another fine casting choice. Look out for her as the Christiane Amanpour type in THREE KINGS (1999).
  • Tess reads a lot because “you never know where the big ideas might come from”. Good advice for anyone.
  • The lighting suggests Weaver’s corner office may be a set (if I was watching it in HD I could probably tell)
  • Sam O’Steen’s editing is impeccably smooth – no wonder he Nichols kept returning to him after his legendary work on THE GRADUATE (1967).
  • Weaver’s red dress in the dumplings scene is absolutely striking.
  • Katherine: “Never burn bridges. Today’s junior prick, tomorrow’s junior partner”
  • Tess has a radio idea! Does this tie in with the numerous mergers in the late 80s? Mel Karmazin, Infinity and all that? Or was that later?
  • The uncomfortable reactions from Baldwin towards the idea that Tess has a female boss are well played.
  • It is so perfect that Weaver’s character has a skiing accident – the yuppie boss brought low by the ultimate yuppie sport.
  • Great production design for Weaver’s apartment – the Warhol painting, exercise bike and personal dictaphone all nice touches.
  • Nice use of sound design to reveal key plot point e.g. Katharine has lied and stolen Tess’ idea
  • Early use of email in a film on a IBM PS/2 70 computer  (this was two years before the world wide web was invented!)
  • When Tess catches her boyfriend having sex notice the clever repeated line of dialogue. Baldwin: “No class?” Griffith: “No class”. The question and statement reveal a lot about their characters.
  • For Tess the Staten Island Ferry seems to be her equivalent of the beach at the end of THE 400 BLOWS (1959) – a place where she finds solace in solitude
  • We get Katherine’s full CV in one shot – a typically status obsessed Who’s Who entry.
  • The whole film is basically a morality play about the power a secretary has over her boss – kind of like WALL STREET (1987) meets MY FAIR LADY (1964), but in reverse.
  • The fact that Tess is wearing Katherine’s dress is nice – functions as revenge for stealing her idea and also highlights their respective gulf in salary (Tess has to drop a Valium on learning the price “$6,000!”)
  • Joan Cusack is terrific in a supporting role as Tess friend
  • Tess on justifying cutting her locks off: “You want to be taken seriously, you need serious hair”
  • Harrison Ford – who had top billing remember – only appears about 30 mins into the movie.
  • It is a convenient movie coincidence that Tess and Jack hook up so quickly, but maybe he was subconsciously attracted to Katherine’s dress (which Tess is wearing).
  • Ford was great in the 1980s – in the Indy series and here he showed comic timing, screen presence and old school charm.
  • Note the contrast between Ford’s old school gentleman and Weaver’s hypocritical boss
  • Nice shot composition as Ford offers Tess a nightcap
  • Mercifully Nichols spares us a jazz-flavoured sex scene (all the rage in the 1980s) by tastefully cutting straight to the morning after
  • Nice zoom shot to indicate Tess twigging that she has just spent the night with one of the guys around the table.
  • Is the stock repurchase Tess suggests the same as the leveraged buyouts Gordon Gecko (and actual Wall Street guys were doing).
  • Joan Cusack plays the “coffee, tea, me?” bit perfectly. I imagine Nichols knew it would get an audience reaction.
  • Tess: “Why didn’t you say you were you last night?” Key line which applies to Tess as much as Jack.
  • Jack’s gift to Tess actually means something (although he doesn’t know it yet).
  • Tess’ costume change (“you look different”) marks the distance between her new career and old life
  • Thankfully Nichols resisted the temptation of not having Tess actually wear a red dress to Chris Deburgh’s Lady in Red.
  • Baldwin proposal scene is splendidly awkward.
  • Ford getting changed in his office (and getting applause from his co-workers) is a great visual gag (again the motif of clothes – so key in the workplace).
  • Tess: “I’m not going to spend the rest of my life working my ass off and getting nowhere just because I followed rules that I had nothing to do with setting up.” Let’s get this engraved somewhere. Seriously.
  • Katherine is deliciously saucy in the hospital bed scene. We just know she has done something filthy off-screen with that doctor.
  • Street scenes in New York are where the ADs really earn their dough – you can easily spot extras staring into the camera
  • It’s nice that Jack has some insecurities about deal making that mirror Tess’.
  • Ann Roth’s costumes in the wedding scene are brilliant – note that Tess is wearing a white dress at the wedding but it blends in anyway.
  • Ricki Lake has a cameo at the wedding.
  • This is a wonderful riff on the conventional movie wedding – it plays like a heist scene crossed with a business deal and the acting from Ford and Griffith is delightful
  • Notice how the short scene when they celebrate the deal is free of dialogue – just a passionate kiss
  • Sex scene reflects the occasional awkwardness of love making (e.g. Men have trouble getting their shirts off as the cuffs stick)
  • Simple but effective compositions in the bedroom scene
  • Katharine returns almost like a spoilt child – is the gorilla toy a King Kong reference?
  • Ford and Weaver’s chemistry is fantastic – you really do get the feeling that they’ve been a couple.
  • Solid visual comedy with Griffith eavesdropping on the unsuspecting couple in the bedroom.
  • Katherine: “Can Little Jack come out to play?” LOL.
  • Filofax provides key plot turning point – Katherine is betrayed by Tess (parallels to the way Gecko finds out about Bud’s betrayal)
  • Ford and Griffith convincingly say “I love you” to each other – not an easy thing for any actor ever to do.
  • Note the Arthurian round table, which might reflect Bosco’s good heart.
  • The analogy Philip Bosco’s character makes about the deal with the vehicle stuck in the tunnel is great and reflects the whole story of the film (i.e. Tess is the 10 year old girl who has the good idea)
  • Weaver is splendidly villainous in the climactic boardroom scene
  • Beautiful shot of Tess and the Statue of Liberty at magic hour as she contemplates what might have been.
  • Tess turquoise dress and Baldwin’s tuxedo are more examples of Ann Roth’s costume work. Shades of EDUCATING RITA (1984) in that scene – possibly an influence on the whole script?
  • Katharine: “Oh my god. She’ll stop at nothing!”
  • When Tess does the elevator pitch to Philip Bosco and refers to the Forbes and Page Six articles the talk show host she mentions (“Bobby Stein”) is clearly referring to Howard Stern.
  • The climactic comeuppance for Katharine is beautifully written and played by all concerned (“get your bony ass out of my sight”).
  • Tess on why she didn’t explain the truth earlier: “No one was going to listen. Not to me. I mean, you can bend the rules plenty once you get upstairs but not when you’re trying to get there. And if you’re someone like me, you can’t get there without bending the rules.”
  • Lunchbox briefcase that Jack gives Tess echoes his earlier briefcase present.
  • Really great closing scene. Plays with our expectations and the characters at the same time – that’s proper filmmaking.
  • Tess is also told to hit SHIFT-ESC for her schedule on her IBM DOS PC. Early days for office computers.
  • A great closing scene to a movie can cover all manner of sins. To a really good one it just gives the audience an extra lift e.g. BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985)
  • Tess: “I expect you to call me Tess. I don’t expect you fetch me coffee unless you’re getting some for yourself. The rest, we’ll just make up as we go along. OK?”
  • Film ends on a nice note of female solidarity to balance out all the feuding with Katharine – it also echoes an earlier scene but you get the feeling that Tess is really going to be the boss Katherine should have been.
  • Old school optical effect for the closing shot of Tess in window?
  • Nice symmetry to the beginning and end of the film – camera move pulls back to reveal Tess as part of the Manhattan skyline. This contrasts with the opening where it swooped in on here going to work.

Categories
Film Notes

Film Notes #7: Etre et Avoir (2002)

* SPOILER WARNING: Details about the film will be revealed *

Nicolas Philibert‘s documentary about a small rural school in France is Number 7 in my 30 day Film Notes series.

For newcomers, the deal is that I must watch a film every day and make notes about it, with the following rules:

  1. It must be a film I have already seen.
  2. I must make notes whilst I’m watching it.
  3. Pauses are allowed but the viewing must all be one session.
  4. It can’t be a cinema release.

The point is to capture my instant thoughts about a movie and my overall film diet for 30 days, as well as post interesting links to the film in question.

Here are my notes on Etre et Avoir (2002) (English translation: “To Be and to Have”) I watched on watched on a DVD on Wednesday 28th March.

  • Acclaimed French documentary about a primary school in the Auvergne region.
  • Very sparse and simple opening titles reflect the style of what is to come.
  • Shot of the turtles waddling about the classroom unexpectedly funny because it is real.
  • Opens in winter – was this shot over a six month period?
  • I’d forgotten that French van headlights are yellow
  • The school is in Saint-Étienne-sur-Usson in the Auvergne region of France
  • Camera movements very still and editing very considered, presumably not to freak out the kids
  • Mr Lopez looks remarkably like Steve Jobs
  • Opening lesson of drawing and discussion is quite soothing to watch
  • Bit where kid says he’s seen a ghost and scares the girl opposite him is charming
  • One can’t watch this without thinking of Antoine in THE 400 BLOWS (1959) even though the teacher in Truffaut’s film is a dictator
  • Philibert captures a lot of the human drama of a primary school classroom
  • Natural lighting had to be used to keep the pupils reactions real, but one wonders how the film differed from the unfilmed lessons
  • The way Lopez talks to Jojo about the fish and the purpose of school is remarkable – patient, considered and wise
  • English schools can learn a lot from the cooking scenes – notice how Lopez doesn’t mind mistakes and injects genuine fun into them.
  • Lopez mediating the fight between Julien and Olivier is visually interesting – notice how the camera stays on the two boys and we only hear the teacher.
  • The shot is held for an unusually long time – was this out of necessity (e.g. conditions of filming in a school) or a stylistic choice?
  • Hard to watch the kid on the verge of tears – shows what a tough time childhood can be
  • Do five year olds drive tractors in France?!
  • Kid at kitchen table learning pointless maths exercises brings back flashbacks!
  • Maybe every generation of parent has to cope with hopeless arithmetic set for their children?
  • Mr Lopez seems genuinely interested in the fact that one of his pupils wants to be a vet – why can’t all careers advice be like this?!
  • Getting pupils to draw and think about numbers is a very good idea
  • This was presumably shot in the winter of 2001-02 as it premiered at Cannes in May 2002
  • The problems the parent discusses of her child being distant are handled by Lopez with a tactful wisdom (also highlight the long term dilemma of teaching maths!)
  • Lopez says he’s been teaching dictations for 35 years and at this particular school for 20.
  • The discussion of Tahiti and Brittany is classic
  • “Middle school” seems such a long way off – funny how life divides up into different periods
  • Child washing paint off his hands and a wasp provided the poster
  • Lopez handles the Jojo pushing incident like King Solomon
  • Kid of five preparing pasta! No wonder the French have the best chefs in the world
  • Lopez talking to camera about 60 mins in is almost a monologue scene, breaking with the verite style
  • He clearly is a natural born teacher – loves the job and finds it genuinely rewarding.
  • Lopez’s father was a Spanish immigrant from Andalucia – maybe he left because of the Civil War?
  • This part of the film should actually be used in teacher recruitment.
  • Kids using photocopier unexpectedly hilarious – even adults still get things upside down.
  • Despite Lopez’s explanation I still don’t understand the whole masculine/feminine thing in the French language.
  • I realise language evolved this way but does it really make sense to apply gender differences to objects like windows or pens?
  • Nice cut to the photocopier repair man, hinting that the two pupils broke it earlier.
  • College sequence brings memories of making the leap from primary to secondary school.
  • Film accurately reflects how massive that seems at the time.
  • Discussion of counting billions between Lopez and Jojo is actually philosophically interesting.
  • Love the way Lopez handles Julien in the garden – his father presumably has throat cancer? – but he handles the situation with his customary wisdom and sensitivity
  • Natalie’s birthday is a nice small snapshot (one of many)
  • The shot of rainbow suggests the filmmakers were either a) unbearably patient b) lucky or c) it was a stolen shot
  • Jojo on the train: “What does derail mean?”
  • Idyllic picnic in the French countryside.
  • New pupils arriving (so small!) show the cycle
  • Two Valentins reflects the fact that classrooms often contain more than one name
  • The way Lopez handles the infant boy crying for his mum is very cool indeed
  • Scene where Lopez deals with Natalie’s shyness contains more drama than many features.
  • The leaving scene makes French kissing on the cheeks seem normal (even to an Englishman).
  • Shot on film rather than digital
  • Used natural light because spot lights would have freaked out the kids
  • There are brief moments when you can catch the kids glancing into the camera
  • Philibert wanted to make a film out of the drama of “life’s little nothings”
  • Childhood is a very big deal whilst you are actually living through it – the film reflects this
  • He never does films “about” but rather “with” – desires to tell a story without heavy handed narration or didactic voiceover
  • This makes it very different from the instructional form of documentary that we often see on TV
  • The film is a experiential reconstruction of events rather than
  • Filmmaking choices were often made on the hoof
  • Sensitive film stock used along with wide angle lenses (and presumably quiet Arriflex cameras)
  • It was never intended to be an inspiration to teachers, but it may have that effect on viewers
  • Patience, ability to listen and sense of calm are key to Lopez’s success as a teacher
  • His words
  • Note how pupils are encouraged to help one another – helps build confidence and solidarity
  • Philibert thinks the documentary form can have a poetic and metaphoric quality rather than just showing facts
  • The film is a wonderful counterblast to the notion of teachers as lazy or useless (the standard right wing line about the profession)
  • Ultimately it is about how the transmission of knowledge and experience can be a wonderful thing.
  • The real life postscript to the film is incredibly sad.
  • I prefer to remember his words as he trims his hedge: “Everything that you put in, the children always return it.”

 

Categories
Film Notes

Film Notes #6: The Omen (1976)

* SPOILER WARNING: Plot details will be revealed *

Richard Donner’s horror film about a biblical prophecy forms the sixth film in my 30 day film watching experiment.

For newcomers, the deal is that I must watch a film every day and make notes about it, with the following rules:

  1. It must be a film I’ve already seen.
  2. I must make notes whilst I’m watching it.
  3. Pauses are allowed but the viewing must all be one session.
  4. It can’t be a cinema release.

The point is to capture my instant thoughts about a movie and my overall film diet for 30 days, as well as post interesting links to the film in question.

Here are my notes on The Omen (1976) which I watched on watched on a PVR on Monday 12th March.

  • This was green lit on the back of the enormous success of The Exorcist (1973)
  • Nice font on the credits – big blocky and elegant – and the creepy image of a Damien’s shadow forming an inverted cross.
  • The film starts straight off with a movie taboo – the death of a child – and the pacing is very good. No dicking around, straight into the story.
  • In a way, Ambassador Thorn (Gregory Peck) reasons for adopting the baby and lying to his wife are understandable.
  • There’s a lot going on in the shot of Peck, the baby, the nun and the priest – interesting composition that fills the screen and reflected .
  • What was exactly going on with the hospital in Rome? Didn’t anyone notice a Jackal giving birth? 😉
  • Donner a very underrated director, his background in television gave him a solid grounding in storytelling.
  • Like so many films of the 1970s that I first saw on TV in the 1980s, it is interesting to see it in proper aspect ratio (2:35).
  • Widescreen lensing and compositions are more interesting than many modern horrors.
  • Richard Donner is actually a visually interesting director who just happens to work in mainstream cinema.
  • Gregory Peck and Lee Remick make a nice couple – Peck is actually looks like a US ambassador
  • “You know, you could be too sexy for the White House” – Peck’s character is not wrong when he says this to Remick.
  • Good use of fades to denote scene changes and strange – but very efficient – photo montage to take us up to the birthday party scene.
  • When you stop to think about it, the scene where the babysitter hangs herself in front of a party of schoolchildren is seriously messed up (talk about a party pooper).
  • The sound effect with the satanic dog is unnecessary.
  • US embassy in the 1970s very different to the fortress it now resembles post 9/11. Peck’s office is a convincing location – would probably be some crappy green screen work now.
  • Patrick Troughton is perfectly cast – he looks like the definition of a haunted man.
  • The ambassadorial country house is the old Guinness estate near Woking.
  • Billie Whitelaw is effectively creepy as the nanny. Shrewd to cast one of Samuel Beckett’s favourite actors in a supporting role.
  • Damien’s freakout is at Guildford Cathedral. Effective scenes that shows that a horror set-piece doesn’t have to involve a death.
  • Good build up in the Windsor Safari Park sequence – first the giraffes and then the baboons! Reminds me of the animal freakouts in the US version of THE RING (2002) and its sequel THE RING 2 (2005).
  • Jerry Goldsmith’s score – in particular the piece ‘Ave Satani’ – is frequently mistaken for Carl Orff’s ‘Carmina Burana’.
  • The film cleverly plays on post-natal fears – there is a lot of focus on Lee Remick’s doubting herself as a mother.
  • Widescreen compositions of Troughton’s face in the Putney Bridge meeting are ace – DP Gilbert Taylor also shot REPULSION (1965) and STAR WARS (1977).
  • The biblical rhyme is pretty creepy.
  • Note the outside lighting changes for the satanic storm that immediately whips up after Peck leaves and features some old school practical effects.
  • The move Peck plays with Damien by holding his hands is rather funky.
  • Was that sequence where Cathy falls an influence on THE SHINING (1980)? E.g. kid on bike
  • The fact that Damien lets his (adopted) mother fall and subsequent bit where Cathy says to Robert “don’t let him kill me” is kind of chilling.
  • Empty spaces of the manison are depicted well.
  • Editing style is a reminder that you can maintain pace and tension without the need of quick cutting on an Avid.
  • Script by David Seltzer is very tight and well paced – events click into place and there are several memorable moments e.g. David Warner showing Peck the ‘marked’ photograph
  • The biblical hokum could be ridiculous but the way Donner handles all the elements really sells it.
  • Burnt priest and subsequent graveyard scene very effective. Another creepy image – this time of a infants skeleton, which reminds us of the child murder that began the whole plot.
  • Graveyeard scene is almost certainly a studio soundstage but is good work from the production design team.
  • Cathy’s death reminds me of the opening of Donner’s LETHAL WEAPON (1987) – also featuring a woman slamming into a vehicle from a great height.
  • Peck delivers some fine acting on hearing of his wife’s death – nice shot of his head as he recites the poem and the anounces he wants Damien to die.
  • More great location work in the Israel sequence.
  • Did the bit where the photographer’s head gets cut off through by ‘accident’ influenced the entire FINAL DESTINATION franchise? It really is spectacular and shows what can be down with a fake head and editing.
  • Peck’s doubts about kiiling a child are eminently reasonable.
  • Interesting (almost) wordless sequence where Gregory Peck goes back to murder Damien – only dialogue spoken is when Billie Whitelaw says “Run, Damien, Run!”
  • The church at the end is in Staines.
  • Bit where Damien says “please Daddy, no!” is very clever as it puts you right in Robert Thorn’s shoes and plays on his doubts about killing a child.
  • The graveyard at the end is Brookwood Cemetery, one of the largest in Europe.
  • Apparently Donner struggled to get the kid playing Damien to smile at the end.
  • The idea that Damien is heir to the US presidency is a highly effective pay off.

Categories
Film Notes

Film Notes #5: Wall Street (1987)

* SPOILER WARNING: Plot details will be revealed *

Oliver Stone’s 1987 drama about corruption in American finance forms the fifth part of my Film Notes series.

For newcomers, the deal is that I must watch a film every day and make notes about it, with the following rules:

  • It must be a film I’ve already seen.
  • I must make notes whilst I’m watching it.
  • Pauses are allowed but the viewing must all be one session.
  • It can’t be a cinema release.

The point is to capture my instant thoughts about a movie and my overall film diet for 30 days, as well as post interesting links to the film in question.

Here are my notes on Wall Street (1987) which I watched on a Blu-ray on Monday 26th March (today).

  • Opening sequence is tinged with a post 9/11 sadness as it features prominent shots of the Twin Towers (I last saw this film in October 2000)
  • Big, old style Hollywood fonts on the titles
  • Hal Holbrook’s character is based on Oliver Stone’s father who was a stockbroker
  • The green text and lack of GUIs on the computer screens is noticeable
  • But the film reflects how technology even then was changing the nature of finance
  • Before the subprime crisis of the late 2000s, there was the crazy period in the 1980s
  • No-one had done a mainstream business film in years partly because of ROLLOVER (1981) and also because the genre is not deemed sexy enough
  • Richard Gere turned down the role of Gecko and later regretted it – possibly why he played a similar character in PRETTY WOMAN (1990)
  • Jeff Beck (not the guitarist) was the adviser on the Gecko character but Stone and Douglas later found out he had lied about being in Vietnam.
  • Confidence is the key to Gecko’s appeal and the fact that he knows how to aggressively play the system.
  • Ellen Mirojnick did the costumes, which are actually a key part of the film.
  • Douglas was not ‘on text’ for the first few days of filming, meaning that Oliver Stone had to pull him aside and get him to stick to the script.
  • His final performance is really precise and on point – clearly the pep talk from Stone worked (like Gecko’s to Bud!)
  • Lighting change at the end of the squash club sequence goes to dark (shadows form around Gecko’s head), possibly reflect Bud’s crossing over to the dark side.
  • British business tycoon played by Terence Stamp is apparently based on Sir James Goldsmith
  • Gecko’s line about British arrogance might have been influenced by certain people he had worked with
  • Music is interesting: Sinatra, Eno/Byrne and score by Stuart Copeland.
  • Bud becomes Gecko’s corporate spy because of the allure of the closed world of Wall Street.
  • Stone filmed actual sessions on the trading floor.
  • The Anacott Steel deal is loosely based the dispute between Jimmy Goldsmith and Carl Ichann over TWA
  • Stone cameo in the square block 60s montage
  • Sean Young pissed off Stone by saying she was Dariane in front of Daryl Hannah (who eventually won the role). Ironically Hannah ended up not liking the role.
  • Julian Schnabel provided most of the paintings in Gecko’s house.
  • Ernest Lehmann’s punchy dialogue for THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (1957) was an influence on Stone and Stanley Weiser’s screenplay
  • Stone cast Terence Stamp after seeing him in THE HIT (1984)
  • Robert Richardson’s visuals are interesting – lots of real locations mixed with beautiful shots of the Manhattan skyline
  • Yuppie lifestyle now looks tame and understated compared to the boom of the 2000s
  • Hard to state how influential this film was on the real Wall Street: dialogue, red braces and juicy dialogue all were a big inspiration on a generation of traders.
  • Gecko’s famous speech works because it contains elements of truth about corporate bureaucracy.
  • Stone intended it for to be ambivalent – equating evolution with greed.
  • The phrase “greed is good” has become synonymous with that era of late 80s greed – one of the most resonant lines in film history.
  • People even write about Gecko as though he’s a real person.
  • Ivan Boesky once said “greed is right” and Stone modified it to “greed is good”Boesky once said “greed is right” and Stone modified it to “greed is good”
  • A paper company is a brilliant metaphor for stodgy, indulgent business as practiced by old, complacent men.
  • Scene on Gecko’s jet very well lit – notice how the light moves up and down Charlie Sheen’s face (apparently Robert Richardson’s first plane sequence).
  • Douglas is brilliant in the dinner party sequence – he really sells the deal with the unions and the look of pride on his face is noticeable
  • The argument between the Sheens has added juice because the actors are actually father and son.
  • Nice swinging camera movements in the elevator scene and in Spader’s law firm
  • Jeff Beck of Drexel Burnham plays someone in the scene where Bud finds out Gecko has betrayed him – he was a leading light of Wall Street who knew Douglas socially and was an influence on the Gecko character
  • Stone claims that Kirk Kerkorian asset stripped MGM in the same way Gecko strips Bluestar Airlines
  • David Byrne’s wife plays the woman who tells Bud his father has had a heart attack
  • Moving scene between the Sheens provides the emotional motivation for Bud’s rescue plan.
  • Gecko’s meltdown after Bud tells him not to “get emotional about stock” is shot intriguingly wide and then Richardson goes for the same lighting trick that he did in the squash club scene (i.e. Gecko’s head fades to black)
  • Unusually long tracking shot as Bud is led out by Stock Watch
  • Confrontation scene in Central Park was shot in the July, 1987 on a wet summer day.
  • Final music cue is great as the camera pulls back on the Manhattan skyline – this scene was shot on July 3rd 1987.
  • Stone feels that BROADCAST NEWS (1987) was favoured by Barry Diller (who ran Fox then).
  • Scott Rudin – then a Fox executive – had left before the theatrical release and Stone felt they had lost an ally of the movie.
  • Stone felt that they shouldn’t have opened wide immediately on 2,000 screens and instead gone for a buzz-building platform release, like they did with BROADCAST NEWS which earned several Oscar nominations
  • Although WALL STREET was only nominated for one Oscar (Best Actor) it ended up winning – one more than BROADCAST NEWS – that year was dominated by THE LAST EMPEROR (1987).
  • It ended up making about the same money as BROADCAST NEWS but has had a much longer legacy, even though.

Categories
Film Notes

Film Notes #4: The Offence (1972)

Sidney Lumet’s’ dark 1972 feature about a police interrogation forms the fourth instalment of my 30-day film program.

For newcomers, the deal is that I must watch a film every day and make notes about it, with the following rules:

  • It must be a film I’ve already seen.
  • I must make notes whilst I’m watching it.
  • Pauses are allowed but the viewing must all be one session.
  • It can’t be a cinema release.

The point is to capture my instant thoughts about a movie and my overall film diet for 30 days, as well as post interesting links to the film in question.

Here are my notes on The Offence (1972) which I watched on a DVD on Saturday 18th March.

  • Connery was allowed make this film as part of the MGM deal for DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1972)
  • Lumet keeps the visuals impressively dark – no obvious day-for-night stuff
  • Great visual motif of the circles of light at the beginning, only becomes clear once you’ve seen the film.
  • Drabness of suburban England is expertly evoked but it is never made clear where the action takes place.
  • The town remains nameless although exteriors were shot in Bracknell and interiors were filmed in Twickenham Studios.
  • Connery is very good indeed – it was a brave film for him to star in at this point in his career.
  • Scene at school near the beginning was shot at Wildridings, Bracknell.
  • Brilliantly effective visuals as the girl goes under the bridge.
  • Connery’s flat is at Point Royal, which is the same place that Jenny Agutter’s character lives in I START COUNTING (1969).
  • Audience are forced to work to see the details in certain scenes.
  • Trevor Howard is also a powerful presence as a senior police officer brought into to investigate Connery.
  • Ian Bannen is brilliant in what must have been a very difficult role to play.
  • Vivienne Merchant also gives a heartbreaking performance as Connery’s long suffering wife.
  • There is dialogue and physical action which even modern writers and directors would shy away from.
  • It is a rare film that deals with the emotional cost of policing, which is still a taboo subject in a world obsessed with the police procedural.
  • Clever flashback structure keeps us guessing but the reveal is disturbing because it doesn’t offer a conventional twist.

Categories
Film Notes

Film Notes #3: THX 1138 (1971)

George Lucas’ debut feature about a dystopian future society forms the third part of my 30-day film program.

For newcomers, the deal is that I must watch a film every day and make notes about it, with the following rules:

  1. I’ve already seen it
  2. I must make notes whilst I’m watching it.
  3. Pauses are allowed but the viewing must all be one session.
  4. It can’t be a cinema release.

The point is to capture my instant thoughts about a movie and my overall film diet for 30 days, as well as post interesting links to the film in question.

Here are my notes on THX 1138 (1971) which I watched on a Blu-ray on Saturday 24th March.

[Warning! Spoilers ahead]

  • Begins with an old episode of Buck Rogers (!)
  • Titles going from top to bottom reflects the underground nature of the society in film – I can’t think of another film outside Gaspar Noe’s IRREVERSIBLE (2002) that uses this device and that film used it for the end credits
  • Widescreen lensing is impressive – it was shot using Techniscope, a cheaper alternative to 35mm anamorphic which Leone used on his Spaghetti Westerns
  • Sound design immediately apparent as a key part of the film
  • Phrase “consumption is being standardised” repeated over and over
  • Appropriate because the shopping mall
  • Walter Murch co-wrote the screenplay and was obviously closely involved in the sound design
  • What the hell is going with the lizard in the wires?!
  • Sense of despair reflective of the cultural malaise of the late 60s and early 70s
  • The idea of a controlling futuristic society was possibly a big influence on THE MATRIX (1999)
  • Did the hologram sex channel influence MINORITY REPORT (2002)?
  • When Duvall confesses about his room mate, it is almost like a Catholic confession or a session with a psychiatrist
  • The slogan “buy more” has a certain irony when it comes to the issue of Star Wars merchandising
  • Imaginative use of low budget sets
  • Futuristic officers seem to be influenced by the police who cracked skulls on campuses during the Vietnam
  • There is even a TV channel which shows officers beating someone – predicting the Rodney King incident by 20 years! That case also played a key role in TERMINATOR 2 (1991).
  • Issue of sedation prefigures the issue of antidepressants
  • The idea of workers trapped inside white anti-septic clothing is an effective idea
  • Widescreen compositions must have made this a nightmare to pan and scan
  • Pre-digital era effects are deeply impressive
  • The robot that Duvall is working on just before the mind block looks C-3PO from STAR WARS (1977)
  • A computerised industrial society where people are drones has chilling resonances with today’s inter generational struggle, which is also a theme of THE HUNGER GAMES (2012)
  • Ironic that Donald Pleasance is in a film where everyone is bald.
  • Lucas was frustrated at how Duvall would get a scene in take one and Pleasance would take several. In a pre-digital world this was probably a nightmare for the chemistry of a particular scene and maybe led Lucas to pursue digital solutions
  • Nice touch that Duvall’s character is actually building the robotic officers who oppress him
  • The evils of bureaucracy is a persistent theme and the questioning of authority is essentially the whole point of the film.
  • Ironic that the McCarthy era America was paranoid about Communism and it became an oppressive state itself.
  • The ‘white prison’ is a very striking idea, later explored in Lecter’s jail cell in Michael Mann’s MANHUNTER (1986) and then reversed in Jonathan Demme’s THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991).
  • It is also a highly effective ‘visual effect’ as it creates an illusion of depth – an optical trick that predates the use of green screen by 25 years
  • The voices possible influenced by 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)
  • Couple’s love making being interrupted is symbolic of the sexual Puritanism and hypocrisy of the 1950s era which Lucas grew up in.
  • Approach to the issue of drugs is interesting. It goes for an Brave New World approach where drug taking is an oppressive and enforced act rather than a rebellious act. Philip K Dick also explored similar territory in A SCANNER DARKLY (2006).
  • Excellent use of locations and sets, augmented by Murch’s great sound design.
  • Lalo Schifrin’s score is very effective and moodier than his ones for DIRTY HARRY (1971) and the Mission Impossible.
  • In particular the car chase at the end is a masterful use of sound which makes the sequence feel bigger and more realistic
  • Cars are also important in AMERICAN GRAFFITI (1973) albeit in a wildly different context
  • The voices throughout are ‘comfortingly sinister’ which makes it an effective metaphor for communist regimes.
  • But it could also be seen as an indictment of 1950/60s capitalism which encouraged conformity
  • It could also be seen as obliquely referencing the Holocaust e.g. people as numbers and the enforced shaven heads
  • The closing sequence is actually very similar to THE TRUMAN SHOW (1998).
  • Final shot is hopeful for what some interpret as a bleak film.

Categories
Film Notes

Film Notes #2: Stagecoach (1939)

The 30-day film watching experiment continues with John Ford’s classic 1939 western.

For newcomers, the deal is that I must watch a film every day and make notes about it, with the following rules:

  1. I’ve already seen it
  2. I must make notes whilst I’m watching it.
  3. Pauses are allowed but the viewing must all be one session.
  4. It can’t be a cinema release.

The point is to capture my instant thoughts about a movie and my overall film diet for 30 days, as well as post interesting links to the film in question.

Here are my notes on Stagecoach (1939) which I watched on a DVD on Tuesday 13th March.

  • John Ford’s first sound western.
  • Apparently Orson Welles watched this 40 times whilst making CITIZEN KANE (1941).
  • Nominated for Best Picture in 1939.
  • Motley crew of people get on a stagecoach and journey across Apache territory.
  • Typical Ford use of real locations, especially Monument Valley.
  • Costumes are fantastic.
  • Acting a little (ahem) “of its time”.
  • John Wayne looks so young – our popular image of him is as an older man.
  • Banking commentary at 33 mins! (Occupy Wall Street by way of Monument Valley… )
  • The pompous banker is played by Henry Gatewood and the screenplay has the foresight to include the detail that he’s just embezzled some some assets.
  • Interesting camera positioning within a confined space – compare to THE SUGARLAND EXPRESS (1974) and CHILDREN OF MEN (2006).
  • Ford must have planned out his shots carefully.
  • According to Steven Spielberg, Ford never shot coverage, so the studio couldn’t edit in their preferred takes.
  • At one point (47 mins) a character actually says the words: “well I’ll be dog gone”.
  • Cast actually blend well together, newcomers to the film might be surprised it’s not an all Wayne affair.
  • Claire Trevor, John Carradine and Thomas Mitchell all excellent.
  • Claire Trevor’s character is a prostitute so notorious that local women have conspired to oust her from the town.
  • Quite a bit of smoking goes on e.g. Curley lighting his cigarette from the lamp and the Doc smoking his cigar.
  • Racial attitudes are more interesting than expected.
  • Although the Apaches are hostile, there is one scene in the Mexican fort which suggests racial tolerance where they talk of the wife’s Apache people.
  • The idea of an anti-hero prisoner on board may have influenced ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976) and other films.
  • Climactic chase is actually exciting!
  • Replace the horses with helicopters and the chase is reminiscent of the helicopter attack on the village in APOCALYPSE NOW (1979)
  • Did RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981) reference the Apache sliding under the coach in the scene where Indy slides beneath the truck?
  • The climax of MAD MAX 2 (1981) was also possibly influenced by this chase.
  • Blending of rear projection and location shooting is actually pretty good.
  • Foley of water splashing in the Doc’s face is one of the more notable sound effects.
  • The cavalry charge is signified by the bugle, an important sound effect that is blended in with the score.
  • Interesting that the Wayne character is a prisoner – somewhat against type.
  • Denouement sequence interesting as we see a criminal propose marriage to a prostitute. So much for 1930s morality!
  • Misleading ‘switch’ in who got shot in the final scene reminiscent of the climax of MINORITY REPORT (2002).
  • Closing dialogue (“Doc, I’ll buy you a drink”) is a bit like CASABLANCA (1942).
  • Claire Trevor is billed above John Wayne in the end credits.
  • Holds up very well as a classic Western.
  • I definitely need to get the Criterion Blu-ray of this – it has a load of interesting extras.

Categories
Film Notes

Film Notes #1: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been conducting an experiment in film watching.

The deal is that I must watch a film every day and make notes about it, with the following rules:

  1. I’ve already seen it
  2. I must make notes whilst I’m watching it.
  3. Pauses are allowed but the viewing must all be one session.
  4. It can’t be a cinema release.

The point is to capture my instant thoughts about a movie and my overall film diet for 30 days, as well as post interesting links to the film in question.

I’m going to use Storify to curate interesting links about the film under discussion and embed them in the post.

Even though the first one is an 1980s John Hughes comedy, I think in the long run you’ll find the choices eclectic.

So, this is the inaugural Film Notes post about Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), which I watched on a PVR on Tuesday 20th March, after recording it on Film4 on January 1st 2012.

What follows are my notes from that viewing session (there are spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the film you’ll have to buy the DVD):

  • Good to watch an 80s comedy in 2:35 aspect ratio
  • Interesting use of sound to introduce the world of the film (e.g. Ferris’ mother saying his name before the opening shot)
  • One of the major themes of the film is the taboo subject that parents do actually prefer a sibling
  • Energetic use of music contrasts with the quiet of the opening scene
  • The original Buffy (Kristy Swanson) is the girl in the class who informs Ben Stein that Ferris is absent
  • Surreal device of talking to the camera with text on screen
  • What other teen movies include references to the ‘Laffer Curve’?
  • Ferris uses an IBM PC XT to hack into the school systems and later also uses it to draw.
  • Movie references to ALIEN (1979) and DIRTY HARRY (1971)
  • Ferris seems to be using the red bat phone from the Adam West TV series
  • Batman connection in that Nolan’s films use Chicago for Gotham and the Windy City is also the setting for Ferris’ day off
  • The idea of a lie about a dead parent an excuse for skipping school is also used in THE 400 BLOWS (1959)
  • Tension between Cameron and Ferris in the kitchen is very well written and played
  • Matthew Broderick has seemingly not aged since 1986
  • Nice touch that we never actually see Cameron’s parents, which makes the Ferrari sub-plot feel more important
  • Ferris is sort of a Bond figure: expert liar, computer expert, glamourous girlfriend, master of disguise,
  • Incest gag outside the school when Sloane kisses Ferris – maybe influenced by BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985)?
  • Real location shooting, rather than green screen, which is actually used (or misused) in teen comedies
  • Guy at the garage looks suspicious and the reveal of his character is interesting.
  • Tension of Ferris’ mother coming home to check on him is very well done with inventive staging, sound design and music
  • What the hell is going on with the guys in the weird hats at the beginning of the Sears Tower sequence?
  • Unusually for a teen movie Ferris actually proposes to the female lead
  • The snooty (‘snotty’) waiter at the restaurant has gets his comeuppance in a very economical comedy scene
  • If there’s a moral lesson in the film it’s that a computer is better birthday present than a car
  • Scene where Ferris’ dad narrowly misses him in the restaurant is heavily stylised – almost as if Bunel did an 80s teen movie
  • Wrigley Field makes another appearance in the movies e.g. THE BLUES BROTHERS (1980) and THE NATURAL (1984)
  • Note the gag that Principal Rooney knows nothing about sport, as the cook deliberately says the Bears (football) are playing instead of the Cubs (baseball)
  • Slow motion Ferrari sequence doesn’t appear to be using the London Symphony Orchestra version of the STAR WARS (1977) theme.
  • Museum sequence has a definite Sofia Coppola vibe – you can see why it was used for a YouTube mash up
  • Scene where Ferris notices his Dad in the car is a good example of a ‘Texas Switch’ – an old Western trick of switching actors which is also used at the end of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981)
  • Did the float sequence get good production value out of a real parade?
  • John Hughes movies are filled with doubt about the future, reflecting the very real anxieties of teenage years. But he finds reassuring comedy in this.
  • Rooney’s middle fingered salute to the florist is comedy gold.
  • Notice how Jeannie’s emergency phone calls don’t have any reply audio
  • Cameron’s shock at the mileage on his Ferrari is depicted as a cut to black which is actually the inside of his mouth
  • Cameron flipping out in the pool is similar to a scene in THE DESCENDANTS (2011)
  • Charlie Sheen cameo (“are you in for drugs!”) actually prophetic about his later problems.
  • Great close up of Jeannie’s fist and the sound of the knuckles cracking is a good pay off to the gag that Sheen knows Ferris
  • Good tension as Cameron kicks the car – cutting, sound and dialogue all create the idea that the car is almost a living, breathing thing.
  • Cheesy 80s music used for Cameron and Mia Sara’s final scene
  • Her final line is “he’s going to marry me!” – maybe partly why it so popular with boys and girls
  • Ferris is celebrated for being a liar and Jeannie is punished for telling the truth
  • Interesting use of Steadicam and slow motion in the final chase sequence
  • Climax well handled – the love of a teenage sister trumps her jealousy
  • Good script pay-off with the baseball he caught at Wrigley Field to turn off the stereo
  • Final freeze frame of Ferris was used on some posters (I think)
  • Post-credits screen is a role reversal for the teacher – he has to endure the humiliation of a school bus ride (“Rooney eats it!”)
  • Playful final scene is Ferris telling the audience to stop watching – perfect for the VHS era where multiple viewings would reveal this.