Pulp Fiction, 1994, Dir. Quentin Tarantino
Pulp Fiction, 1994, Dir. Quentin Tarantino
When Harry Met Sally, 1989, Dir. Rob Reiner
Reservoir Dogs, 1992, Dir. Quentin Tarantino
Bruce Almighty, 2003, Dir. Tom Shadyac
Bonnie and Clyde, 1967, Dir. Arthur Penn
A “Royale with Cheese!” Jules Winnfield tells the petrified Bret in Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, and Royale burgers with cheese is exactly what I have been serving for the last six months in the Diner that I have been working in. As Saturday marked my final shift, I thought I would do a homage to the institution of the Diner in film, with my ‘Top 5 Diner Scenes’. Favoured as locations by directors such as Scorcese and Tarantino, Diners feature heavily in American cinema and seem to lend particularly well to the mob genre. This is perhaps due to their iconic ‘American-ness’ and their ability to offer a location for clandestine meetings in plain sight; their booths allowing hushed and private conversations amongst the buzz of everyday life. Unfortunately nothing quite as exciting as any of this happened in my Diner days, however it did have its perks (the bottomless coffee). Here are my Top 5 Diner Scenes…
The main problem I have with George Clooney’s The Monuments Men is that for a war film, there isn’t a whole lot of war in it. This would be fine if it was just a film portraying the lives of art curators across Europe and America in the dying years of the war; one would expect a mainly indoor affair with very little gunfire on display, if any. This is billed as a ‘heist’ movie, in which a hand selected team is dropped into the front line of one of the most devastating wars this continent has ever seen, in an effort to rescue the greatest artistic works produced by modern civilization from the destructive grasp of Hitler. On paper this is undoubtedly a plot with epic potential, however it constantly fails to follow through.
The set up loosely echoes that of Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan but demonstrates none of its thrill or power. A specialist team of men is assembled to enter France on a specialist mission in the final stages of the war. They are dropped on a beach at Normandy, and go from camp to camp at various bombed out French towns in pursuit of a lead. Substitute private James Ryan for the entire renaissance art stocks of Western Europe and it would seem you have The Monuments Men. Despite the trailer depicting it as almost a mission to steal back paintings from under Hitler’s very nose, there is very little contact with the enemy. We hear Bob Balaban’s character, Pvt. Preston Savitz question: “So we get to shoot some Nazis?” the answer to which is “No”, they don’t. This may be the bloodthirsty ten year old boy inside me speaking, just hoping for a real good shoot em’ up, but the plot offers so much potential for tense skirmishes and Aryan bloodshed, but fails to follow through.
The team is divided into pairs, which are sent off in various directions, much like in John Sturges’ The Great Escape. As it does in Sturges’ classic, this format allows the cinematic eye to jump from group to group, showing a range or situations and thus potentially allowing for more intensity and excitement. However, in The Monuments Men, these moments don’t carry the same bite as Steve McQueen leaping barbed wire on his Triumph. The one moment with real potential in this film is good. The paired John Goodman and Jean Dujardin are travelling in a U.S. jeep when they stop to see a horse in an open field. Dujardin approaches the horse and jokingly offers him a cigarette but the horse flees. Goodman, is still beside the vehicle smoking when he makes eye contact with an allied soldier camouflaged in the trees. It transpires that the pair is pinned between two opposing units, perhaps holding fire because of the horse. Goodman, subtly signals to Dujardin that they need to leave. The Frenchman slowly walks away whistling as he goes, but then panicking, breaks into a run, and the Germans fire upon them. This is undoubtedly the most accomplished scene of the film, however I feel that it still falls short; it is unsure whether it wants to commit to comedy or intensity and thus doesn’t quite achieve the desired effect.
Overall, The Monuments Men is not a bad film, but it isn’t a particularly good one either. It maintains a level of charm throughout from its central cast members and is therefore a fairly easy watch, however Matt Damon is underwhelming at best and Cate Blanchett’s French accent is overdone. It is a film that meanders through its plot, and although the characters achieve this amazing feat, it remains pedestrian at best, and feels like a limp re-make of something from the sixties. Instead I would recommend watching Paul Verhoeven’s Black Book, in which a female Jewish singer infiltrates Gestapo headquarters on behalf of the Dutch resistance, inadvertently falls in love with a Nazi Commander, for some far more entertaining war-time viewing.
Julia’s Eyes (Spanish: Los ojos de Julia) is a 2010 Spanish Horror directed by Guillem Morales and produced by Guillermo del Toro. Set in a grey, present day Spain, Julia’s Eyes tells the story of Julia’s (Belén Rueda) fight against her loss of vision and her pursuit of the murderer of her blind twin sister. The film begins with Sara (Rueda also) paranoid in her own home, her blindness is evident and so too is her belief that there is someone else present in the house. She begins to hang herself, but changes her mind attempting to remove the noose. However at this moment the stool is kicked away and a camera flashes. With some kind of psychic twin connection, Julia senses that something is amiss with her sister with whom she has not been in recent contact, and endeavors to investigate.
Accompanied by her partner Isaac (Lluis Homar), she finds her sister dead in a house without power. However when the power is restored the CD player begins to play a song that Julia knows her sister hated, raising her suspicions that he sister was in fact not alone, but rather accompanied by an unseen tormentor. Determined to discover the truth behind her sister’s mysterious death she sets about investigating the surrounding circumstances with some success. With growing discoveries comes a growing sense that an unseen predator too is watching her. Her investigations bring her into contact with a hotel Janitor who warns her of ‘men who live in shadows’, the type of men that even when visible remain unseen.
What this film successfully does is play upon the primal fear of what lies in the dark and the unseen, extending this to a fear of loss of vision; a helpless sensation that our own body is deteriorating and working against us or that somebody else is trying to remove our power of sight. The film uses particularly interesting techniques to enhance this sensation that the killer although perhaps visible, remains unseen. For example, after talking to Julia the janitor is killed in the bath, as the killer flees the audience sees through his eyes, and we witness Julia rush past. This therefore confirms that she has witnessed her tormentor and sister’s killer at first hand and yet remains unaware; it also increases the audience’s suspicion of all the characters that we have hitherto met, allowing us to believe that it could be any of them. Furthermore, later in the film we are introduced to a character whose face is never shown by the camera. The Camera therefore reveals a character’s presences without giving away identity, thus as Julia cannot see at this point and only knows that the character is there with her, nor can the audience see the character’s true identity, affecting our own sense of security.
Another particularly affective moment earlier in the film places Julia in the position of the unseen observer. Determined to discover more information she visits a centre for blind people that her sister has attended. She enters the swimming pool changing room and overhears some women discussing her sister. Eager to learn more, she quietly listens to their conversation, however they sense her presence and she finds herself surrounded by these women who appear vacant behind the eyes. Whilst they are just normal women, they are given an almost predatory quality and are made to appear momentarily fearful. This seemingly taps into some inherent fear of bodily affliction, and through loss of sight their increased sensual perception makes them dangerous: an almost super-human quality.
Whilst this film is at times predictable in setting up a host of potential suspects, inviting the audience to guess whilst eliminating them one at a time, it is extremely effective in using sight or a lack of it to either create or disturb a sense of security. In this way the theme of vision and sight makes Julia’s Eyes more than just a murder mystery and more than just a ‘who’s-in-the-house?’ slasher, instead a film which plays upon the inherent fears of its audience to achieve an unsettling effect.
Having seen this year’s Scorsese release The Wolf of Wall Street: a film dominated by a Leonardo DiCaprio performance, a performance which I struggled to be fond of, I began to try and decide what my favourite Leo films were. I managed to come up with some kind of top four including: Titanic, Shutter Island, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?, and Catch Me If You Can. There are plenty of contenders for a fifth spot, but I found it too hard to think of one that I really liked, so I decided not to run with the list, fearing also that ranking Titanic above films such as The Departed might create some kind of social media shit-storm; I would always be known as the guy that rated Titanic too highly, I would be laughed out of future Editor’s offices… “Publish you boy? Pah! Nobody that ever rated Titanic that highly will ever write for my newspaper!” The words rang in my ears. I knew if I publicly said I liked Titanic better than The Departed or that one about the dreams, it could possibly haunt me forever: damaging a writing career that is yet to even properly start. Deciding not to foolishly dangle my future career over a rocky creek full of hungry alligators, Instead I decided to just write a recommendation for a film in which Leo’s performance dominates in an entirely positive and likeable way: What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? (Dir. Lasse Hallstrom, 1993)
In the small mid-west town of Endora, Iowa (a name that in its self suggests some kind of dead end or entrapment) lives Gilbert Grape (Johnny Depp), a young man who lives with his mother and siblings, and works at the local grocery store. His mother Bonnie (Darlene Cates) has become severely obese since the suicide of his father and is bound to the sofa, where she eats all of her meals, sleeps and watches television. His younger brother Arnie (Leonardo DiCaprio) is mentally handicapped and requires constant care and attention; although eighteen, Arnie has a childlike liveliness and a predilection for climbing trees and the local water tower, to the constant annoyance of the emergency services. Gilbert in essence has taken on the role of both his deceased father and incapacitated mother, becoming a parent as well as a constant companion to Arnie and his sisters. To accompany this burden, Gilbert finds himself stuck between the affections of two women: Becky (Juliette Lewis) a girl Gilbert’s age travelling with her grandmother, who is stuck in Endora until they are able to fix their truck, and Betty Carver (Mary Steenburgen), a local housewife with a desire to let their affair play out at the risk of being caught by her husband.
What is so appealing about this film are the performances of, and the dynamic between, its two leading characters of Arnie and Gilbert. Endora, a sleepy American town, surrounded by beautiful, but unimpressive agricultural landscapes, is a location in which it seems that nothing is likely to happen and yet Gilbert constantly finds himself in re-occurring situations. He is a troubled character, visibly eaten up by the burden of caring for Arnie, when all he really wants to do is pursue Becky. Leonardo’s portrayal of Arnie however is what dominates the film; the energy of his character contrasts perfectly with Gilbert’s placidity, creating a riveting screen dynamic, which is difficult to believe isn’t completely real. Leo adopts a set of mannerisms which transform him in to a completely different person; in the majority of his films, however good his performance, as a viewer you are constantly aware that you are watching Leonardo DiCaprio, however as he is so young in this film he is uninhibited by himself and so is able to create this endearing portrait of a mentally ill young man, which is both funny and deeply moving in equal measure. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? is undoubtedly a must-see if only for Leo’s performance alone, however for a film in which nothing too dramatic happens, it has a lot more than that to offer.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (Dir. Kenneth Branagh) is one of those films best suited for when taking a younger brother to the cinema: which is how I came to watch this film. Having recently seen a billboard advertisement for the film at a bus stop, I scoffed to myself and thought: ‘that looks shit, no way will I be going to see that!’ However when the situation arose that I had to take my thirteen-year-old brother for a day out, I was confronted with a lack of cinematic options suitable. With most of the films out at the moment bearing a ‘15’ certificate I only had two options: I, Frankenstein (Dir. Stuart Beattie) or Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. As an admirer of Mary Shelley’s novel I questioned whether I, Frankenstein would live up to its namesake and suspected that it might fall into the trap of calling the monster itself ‘Frankenstein’. Deterred, I opted in favour of Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, which in its defense looked a bit like a Bourne film.
As I scanned the scattered audience of Ipswich cinema’s IMAX screen 6 I observed that I was not the only adult accompanying a younger child or teenager, which enlightened me to this film’s target audience: dad’s with a nostalgia for the previous film depictions or novels starring Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan taking their sons, in the hope that they too will share the same love.
With a star-studded cast under the direction of Kenneth Branagh, Jack Ryan is a film about a U.S Marine severely injured in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. During his time at a military rehabilitation centre, he falls in love with Dr. Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley) and is recruited into the C.I.A by Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) as an analyst, working undercover at a Wall Street stock brokerage. Ryan discovers mass financial foul play on behalf of the Russians and is sent over to Moscow (pronounced Moss-Cow) to investigate on behalf of both his employers. He is to investigate the dealings of dangerous Russian Oligarch Viktor Cheverin (Branagh). Unfortunately, his suspicious girlfriend Cathy follows him out to Moscow unaware of his true profession and in hope of a romantic weekend. Inevitably she is dragged into what turns out to be a potential Russian terror attack on the American stock market, aiming to sink the dollar and send the U.S into depression. Only Jack Ryan can stop it.
Firstly, this film is nothing special, it doesn’t stand up against the original Jason Bourne trilogy and is in no way on the same level as the 2011 film adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Dir. Tomas Alfredson). On many occasions the dialogue is laughable, particularly the interchanges between Jack and Cathy. Moreover, Keira Knightley, an actress I find mildly irritating at best, displays a wholly unnecessary American accent; Ryan could easily have met her whilst studying at London School of Economics prior to his military career, allowing her to retain her actual voice. Nevertheless this film is undoubtedly thrilling and well assembled. It is fast paced, and literally keeps you on the edge of your seat for the entire duration. Endearingly, it still possesses the classic clandestine meets in deserted cinemas and on park benches that we hope for in an espionage thriller, rendering it true to its genre. Furthermore, it has a number of well thought out action sequences throughout; one of the most alarming scenes is the initial helicopter crash, which when seen in IMAX leaves you feeling physically shaken up, whilst a scrap with a foreign assassin in a Moscow Hotel room strives after the gritty violence at play in the Bourne Trilogy and post-Bourne Bond films, and is at one point difficult to watch.
On the whole, this film is too glossy and hi-tech to truly stand up against The Bourne Identity (Dir. Doug Liman), yet it will give you your money’s worth at the cinema. It is exciting, fast-paced and fails to out-stay its welcome, but perhaps one to wait for on DVD next time you baby-sit.