Thursday 8 September 2011

The Kid In The Front Row Film Questionnaire

If you have a blog, answer these there (doesn't matter whether you blog about movies, your stamp collection, or dragon sightings.... answer the questions!). If you don't have a blog, feel free to use the comments section here.

1. What film has been sitting on your shelf for six months waiting to be watched?

2. What is the one film you know word for word?

3. What screen character breaks your heart?

4. If you could bring an actor back from the dead, and had to pair them on screen with a current actor (who is no older than 40), what would your combo be?

5. How often do you check your phone in the cinema?

6. What film do you love which no-one else quite seems to 'get'?

7. What is your favourite Al Pacino film?

8. Why do they always manage to make us go one size bigger with the popcorn?

9. Share one memory from a cinema visit long ago.

10. Have you ever used a line from a movie, in your life, without anyone knowing you stole it? Give details.

If you answer these on your blog please link back to this article so people can find their way back home. I'll be sharing some of your answers on the Facebook Page!

Care to share?



I'm heading to Cineworld, in West India Quay, which sits in the shadow of Canary Wharf, the business hub of London. My destination is a seat, somewhere in the middle row, in what will hopefully be quite an empty cinema.

This is not a film I planned to see. These summer films come along and they never really interest me. Transformers 3? Conan? I don't really care. My friends often criticise me for not watching enough blockbusters. They're not wrong, I should. I mean, occasionally there's magic. I'm not pretentious about movies, I just hate boredom. Most summer movies seem to be about bits of metal. Metal guns, metal monster-y things, metal buildings collapsing. I prefer people.

But the word of mouth on 'Apes' has been decent. I've heard this phrase a bunch times: "It's actually pretty good." And yesterday I met a guy called Michael, who loved it. He said "You really start to care for the Apes". That interested me.

I like the promise of the big-budget. The possibilities of the Hollywood tentpoles are exciting. I love being swept away in big stories, big visuals. But most directors aren't Spielberg. Most studios don't have the patience to make greatness, adequate will do.

I'm in the right frame of mind for this movie. At my worst, I can write off films before I see them. I sit in an isle seat waiting for an excuse to leave. I love movies, but I'm demanding. I can't tolerate the terrible.

I'm expecting to enjoy this. I'm in that frame of mind. I'm having a clear day. No work problems. No personal issues nagging away at me. I'm in prime movie watching condition.


I enjoyed it. Great summer films capture the what ifs. What if New York was demolished by a big storm? What if a giant meteorite came crashing towards the Earth? What if Apes got so strong and clever, that they could team together and take over our cities?

With 'Apes', They do the groundwork. We get a human story, something we can relate to. We see Caesar (the ape) growing up. We seem him being taken away against his will. And in the end, we see him fully grown -- he finds his true home: out in the wild with the other Apes.

I nearly got lost midway through, when James Franco's boss got power hungry and evil, and also when the dude working in the Ape place was evil and mean to them just for his own amusement. You always get this with the big movies: good and evil spelled out in simplistic, hollow caricatures. It almost ruined it for me, but the film was too good.

For these absurd films to work, I need something I can believe in. That's why we all love Jurassic Park, we relate to the wonderment, the hope, the fear of large dinosaurs. The Transformers series is harder to follow, too much metal flying around -- and the girl' are too hot.

'Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes' is a solid 7 out of 10 for me. Enjoyable. And I like Freida Pinto. Here is a picture of her, for your viewing pleasure.

Care to share?

Wednesday 7 September 2011

Saving Private Ryan - Jarhead - Blackhawk Down - The Counterfeiters

Notes on a few films I've watched this week.

Saving Private Ryan

It seemed different this time. I just felt sad. Whoever is shooting whoever, it's still eighteen year old's dying, y'know?

Everything about World War 2 is poignant to me. It's a constant in my life. If there's a story in the newspaper, or an exhibition in town, or I see an old guy walking down the street who could have been there -- it just deeply impacts me. I measure so much of my life against the weight of World War 2. The impact is a direct one. The privileges I have now have a direct correlation to the sacrifices made by those seventy-odd years ago. 

The opening battle of 'Saving Private Ryan' doesn't need character introductions. It doesn't need backstory. We know it. It's our grandparents, and our friend's grandparents. It's those forgotten people sitting in old people's homes, It's those names that line the graves all around the world, many who didn't get to live out their teens.

We get to really feel into so many different perspectives with 'Saving Private Ryan'. We see leaders who are scared, we see cowards who are brave, we see pride, anger, resentment, confusion. The same shit we feel every day except what we feel is nothing in comparison. I'm brave if I phone a big scary producer, I'm angry if my email server has problems. It's different now. 

My Grandfather was fighting in Europe. He risked everything for his country. I don't think I've ever risked anything for anyone. 


Iraq, what the hell is that about? Nobody really knows. One minute, the leader of a terrorist organization somewhere inside of Afghanistan is behind the deaths of 3,000 in New York City, and the next, we've killed a million civilians in Iraq. 

And Iraq was the same the first time. Well, I mean the first time out of the recent times. Iraq has been going on for a hundred years. 

"It's the British again. They have been bombing my family for over 80 years now. Four generations have lived and died with these unwanted visitors from Britain who come to pour explosives on us from the skies. It first began in 1920." 
-Quote from 'Postcolonialism', A Very Short Introduction. (book)

Jarhead takes place in Saudi Arabia in 1989, just before the Gulf War. It's about a group of marines, a sniper unit--- who find themselves waiting around for a mission, waiting for the chance to kill. 

Of course, Jarhead came out after the Iraq War (the recent one) - and it resonates. The marines are wondering, why are we really here? And the question of oil looms. But when you're a soldier you're a soldier, you're not a politician. You don't get to weigh up the good and bad, you just have to do your job. You're trained to kill. But that's the thing with modern wars, nobody really knows what's going on or why we're there. We send our soldiers out into the world and we trust they're being sent to the right places. And we hope they'll be okay. 

Blackhawk Down 

Why Iraq? Why not Sudan? Why Libya now and not Libya twenty years ago? These are the types of questions you always come across. We're all ignorant and clueless. Even people who know a lot about the different conflicts of the world, they're pretty clueless too. We can sit around intellectualising the benefits of invading certain countries, or peacekeeping, or whatever it is; but what do any of us know? When you watch 'Saving Private Ryan' you realize, unless you were there, you have no idea what it's like. And unless you're Libyan or Somalian, you have no idea what those regions are like. 

'Blackhawk Down' really brings home the way in which soldiers risk their lives in these horrible, war-torn environments. It's scary. It used to be one crazed dictator leading the masses with a belief system. Now it's militias and poverty and various factions of gangs. 

You see Blackhawk's getting shot down in 'Blackhawk Down', which was set in 1993, and you realise it's no different to being shot down in 1944. You turn on the news and a helicopter goes down in 2011. And this shit continuously cycles. A constant storm of death which is never going to end. 

The battles differ --- fascism, terrorism, genocide, etc. We send people in, they die. We don't send people in, people die anyway. Yet every time it happens, everyone thinks they're an expert. The leaders are so certain they've made the right decisions.

Films are just films, just something we get to watch as our backs rest on comfortable cushions -- but they help keep us awake to the horrors of the world. They keep us alert and give us perspective.

The Counterfeiters 

We think of Nazi's as bad, and the Western Allies as good. Or we think of Nazi's as bad, and the Jews as good. But 'Schindler's List' showed us that to have been in the Nazi Party doesn't mean you're not human. Likewise, The Counterfeiters shows the diversity within the Jews who were held captive. The two main characters in the film -- one is counterfeiting money for the Nazi's so that they won't kill him, whereas his campmate sabotages every attempt because on principle he doesn't want to help the German war effort. Both are right. Both are wrong. What would you do in that situation? Don't even begin to answer unless you've been in a concentration camp, because you don't have a clue.

"What I'm saying to you is this: when you're facing a loaded gun, what's the difference?"
-Frank Costello, 'The Departed'

Why do we watch these films? I'm drawn to them, but not for the reasons I thought. Years ago, I found it heroic. The sacrifices made by greater men than me is something I found very profound. But now, it's something different. It's a window -- a window into a world that is real and prevalent, but not something I'll ever experience.

The over-riding thing for me is a sadness. War to me is insane. I feel like Yossarian in' Catch 22'. Baffled. I have friends in the forces, I have friends whose friends have died in the recent conflicts. I'm sure it's the same for you. I don't know why we have so much conflict, and I don't know why we make the films or why we're compelled to watch them. One thing I know, which we've already begun to see, is that films shouldn't just be made by the victors. They shouldn't just be products of Hollywood. That's why 'The Counterfeiters' and 'Das Boot' and 'Downfall' are so interesting. They're Germany digging into their own history. Films can help drive society forward, they can help deep, traumatic tales be told, and they can bring marginalized voices to the fore.

In 'Blackhawk Down', the story of the American forces is only one part of the story. What is the story of the Somalian Militia? What is the story of the eight year old Somalian boy who joins the conflict? What is the story of the Mother whose children are killed by the battles? Every film will be selective. Just like every individual. We see conflict from the position that suits us the most, with the certainty that we're in the right.

The world is complicated.

Care to share?

Saturday 27 August 2011


I write from feeling. For me, it's about capturing a little intangible, a tiny little something that I feel.

Labels like happy, sad, lost, alone, confused, angry; they're useful descriptive terms, but they're not the real deal.

There's a little exuberance I feel when I watch Chaplin, it makes me want to run out in the streets and jump up and down like an excited kid.

Cameron Crowe's films capture the essence of aliveness, what it is to feel possibility.

And I listen to Ryan Adams because he communicates and consoles for those lonely sorrowful pangs that I feel on those sad Sundays when they come along.

That's what I love about art, and it's what drives me to create. My difficulties in writing are never about plot or story, when it flows those things get driven and informed by the intangibles. I'm nothing without the intangibles.

That's why I gotta be vulnerable. Gotta love, gotta get lost, gotta trespass, gotta stand up for things--- because that's where the juice is. The joys of new people, the complexity of human relations, the risks -- whenever it's tricky or traumatic or exuberant, those times I find a pot of gold.

I think everyone has this. When you're coming home from a party, or driving away from the person you loved and left; you feel something different to what is expected -- and it's a feeling, an essence, that has been with you all your life.

That's where the art is at. Its great to have a clever concept or a complex plot, but they're nothing without the juice, the little diamonds you find after years on barren land.

Care to share?

Saturday 20 August 2011

JACK LEMMON and WALTER MATTHAU - Grumpy, Odd, and Loved.

They were a gift. A present from the Gods; the likes of which we'll never see again. If they made a new film together now I would literally sprint to the cinema to see it. In fact, I'd find out where they're shooting the movie and I'd demand a job. Sure, I'd love to direct them, but I'd be happy to get the coffee, shine their shoes, whatever it takes.

Just to be near them. They make my heart and soul fly and soar --- I just wish I could be there, just for a moment. Don't you think that would be magnificent?

I watched 'Out To Sea' tonight -- it's a film that, with any other actors, would be average at best. But with Jack and Walter, every moment is golden. On their own, they're riveting. Together, they transcend. Watching them together is pure joy -- every single frame.

We are lucky that they did so much work together. Especially in the final years of their careers and lives --- 'Out To Sea', 'Grumpy Old Men', 'Grumpier Old Men', 'The Odd Couple 2' - these films weren't masterpieces in any cinematic sense. The plots aren't groundbreaking. Each film is about two men at war with each other-- usually because of personality clashes, and women.

It never seems right that people die, does it? That they just vanish. With film stars, we're lucky. Because they don't have to be alive to make us laugh, cry and smile. That's the thing when you watch these guys -- they're so real and present, but at the same time you feel that sad pang because you know we don't have them anymore.

By the end, the Lemmon/Matthau thing could easily have been a predictable shtick, but somehow they kept the heart. How? Because that's all they had: HEART. Two beautiful souls that fate decided should get into the the business of acting, and somehow they found their way to each other. The fortune cookie that we were dealt was a fabulous one, and this odd couple went on to entertain us for many years.

I crave videos like this. They're aging and they're going deaf and they're forgetting their lines -- but they're amazing. Hilariously funny and more alive than I think I've ever been.

Their definitive collaboration is seen as 'The Odd Couple' - and I totally respect that, it's one of the all-time great comedies. But for me, I can't get enough of them in the comedies they did together towards the end. They were carefree and fun. They brought a warmth, wisdom and ease to what they did which is rare to see in film. The film's glide along effortlessly because you are in the presence of two truly fantastic people.

Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau are, without question, my favourite on screen duo.

Care to share?