I am convinced that I have tracked down the best cinema in the world. It's located in Manchester, costs less than a fiver for students, is 2for1 on a Wednesday, and has unlimited drinks and popcorn. It's also fairly lax on security, which is why, last Wednesday, me and my friend Ed decided to throw caution to the wind and see two films in a row - for the price of half a ticket. Doubtless karma is going to come round and bite us in the ass, but it was probably worth the adolescent thrill we got out of it. Plus it's freezing at the moment, and the cinema is warm (I do realise this comment puts us in the same category as tramps who ride the tube all day long. Don't hate the player, hate the game.). As it was my birthday treat, I chose to see Gangster Squad, as I had already watched Django Unchained (and what better birthday present is there than a topless Ryan Gosling), followed by The Impossible (chosen out of necessity - it was the only film on after Gangster Squad). As the one rule of Film Fest Fridays (apart from "do not talk about Film Fest Fridays") is to watch one film I haven't seen from IMDB's Top 100 (see how I'm going on that here), I plumped for The Silence of the Lambs...
Gangster Squad (2013)
IMDB Rating: 7.2/10
My Rating: 7/10
Just to say before we start, I got a lot of unnecessary stick for wanting to see this film. Granted, the reviews it has received haven't been across-the-board glowing (Rotten Tomatoes have panned it at 33%), but with a cast that includes Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone and Sean Penn, you know it's definitely going to be watchable. And watchable it certainly was. The general plot line is as follows: Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), a former bare-knuckle boxer who has punched his way up from the slums of pre-War Chicago to the leader of the LA mob, runs everything from casinos to drug cartels. Cohen's battered fingers seem to be in every pie; he's bribed judges, paid off customs officers, and 'bought' most of the dishonest cops - in essence, he pretty much is the law. But fear not, for there assembles a team of five heroes, who, for their own respective reasons, wish to see the back of Mickey Cohen...and yes, Ryan Gosling is one of them. Slowly but surely, using a mixture of double agents, recording devices and good old-fashioned undercover work, they begin to make significant dents in Cohen's illegal Empire. There's no denying it: the film LOOKS great. It's slick, sexy, saturated...but it's soulless. It is to LA Confidential what a market-stall fake is to Louis Vuitton; a bright, gaudy imitation. It's also very violent. Now, while I don't necessarily condone violence, I will generally overlook it if the script of the movie is up to scratch (like in Django) - but the script is as cheesy as The Expendables, and lacks any conviction. However, that's not to say the acting isn't good. Sean Penn as Mickey Cohen is formidable - and actually quite believable. Ryan Gosling as a rather damaged cop also gives a good performance. Emma Stone is essentially there for decoration and an injection of tits, for what would otherwise be a bit of a sausage fest. Personally, I think Gangster Squad has been given a bit of a hard time. It's not trying to do anything new, it's simply there to give you a couple of hours of glossy entertainment - which it does very well. In a nutshell, Gangster Squad is a saturated shoot-em-up, which while not necessarily a classic, sure packs one hell of an enjoyable punch.
The Impossible (2012)
IMDB Rating: 7.7/10
My Rating: 6.3/10
So it's a film about a tsunami. It was never going to be a barrel of laughs. But 30 minutes in, my hands were already plastered over my mouth as I muffled my moans of 'Ohmygod Ohmygod Ohmygod' at the car crash (or more appropriately, WAVE crash) unfolding before me. Essentially, for those who haven't seen the trailer, the film documents the experience of a family who go on holiday in South East Asia for Christmas in 2004, and get caught up in the devastating tsunami. Warning: this is not the 'highlights' version you saw on the news. This is more like a terrifying theme park simulation, where you are left gasping for air along with the characters. While I admire a film that manages to make me feel like I'm in an actual tsunami, it's not fucking enjoyable - I'll tell you that for free. One of the main aims of the film is to emotionally connect the audience with the on-screen family. It fails. The family is just too perfect - they're not in any way believable, or sympathetic. Two young, good-looking parents (Ewan McGregor & Naomi Watts), with three equally good-looking sons, who manage, in the face of danger and death, to stay calm, polite, and selfless. No one gets cross, stressed, or - spoiler - dies. Secondly, it's totally Western-centred. There is hardly any thought given to the plight of the local inhabitants - instead, all we see is a long line of gory Caucasian amputees, being thanklessly wheeled around by silent natives. In the end, the family is jetted off in the Zurich insurance private jet (thanks to Dad who works for them), and one can't help but think of those who didn't have access to a company-owned aircraft. What happened to them? My problem with the film is that it sugar-coats the real disaster. It's overloaded with blood and guts, but very little is made of the social, ecological, or financial impacts of the tsunami. Perhaps if they'd juxtaposed the privileged white family against a poor Thai one, who's home and entire livelihood was swept away, they could have injected some honest perspective. All in all, it's a disaster-movie masquerading as some kind of socio-documentary about the 'nobility of man', with a very misleading title. Ed and I agreed that 'Highly Unlikely' would have been far more appropriate (although slightly less marketable).
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
IMDB Rating: 8.7/10
My Rating: 9/10
A particular episode in Silence of the Lambs was mentioned in an article I had to read as revision for an exam I had on Wednesday. The module was entitled 'Broken Flesh - Pain, Wounds, and Belief, 1300-1650', and yes, it was as interesting as it sounds. Basically, because I'm what we call a 'visual learner' (aka too lazy to read), I decided I'd watch it under the pretence of it being revision. Boy oh boy, did I get more than I bargained for. The film opens with a sweaty Jodie Foster running some kind of obstacle course in a deserted and misty forest. Ominous. After the opening credits have rolled, we pan over a sign that reads: 'Hurt. Agony. Pain. Love it.', which acts as both a reminder of my module's lecturer and a portend of what is to come. Soon enough, we learn that Foster is a prominent student at the FBI Academy, with a natural gift for psycho-analysis. She is entrusted with a mission to go and speak to Hannibal 'The Cannibal' Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), a former psychiatrist-turned-killer, with the guise of getting his cooperation on a study of his psychological profile. In actuality, they want his help on a series of murders being committed by an equally depraved serial killer, known as 'Buffalo Bill', who leaves his victims partly skinned. Hopkins is brilliantly unnerving as the psychopath Hannibal Lecter, who is rather like an evil Sherlock Holmes - picking up clues to a person's past through what he sees, hears and smells. He's totally insane in the most terrifying of ways; he's highly intellectual and articulate, yet sadistically violent and perverted, and hypnotically commands your attention at all times. The script is very powerful, and the plot is full of twists, turns and original idea after original idea. It's gruesome, twisted, and totally unforgettable. On IMDB's list, the movie Se7en comes above The Silence of the Lambs. I think someone is missing the point. Se7en, while being a very good film, is pretty much entirely based on TSOTL. Kevin Spacey is totally channeling Hannibal Lecter. You can't put a copy in front of the original. It's just not cricket. Another reference I picked up was when we are shown one of 'Buffalo Bill's' captives, who is being held in a well in his underground torture chamber. The girl, who pleads to the killer from the bottom of this well, looks up the side to see bloody claw marks where previous prisoners have tried to scale the walls - complete with fingernails. RING any bells? In case you didn't get that pun, I am referring to The Ring, where in Samara's well we see the grizzly fingernails she discarded trying to escape. Just thought it was a weird coincidence. The Silence of the Lambs is the godfather of psychological horror/graphic thriller films, and will always do best what its successors try to better. It doesn't make for light watching, but it is totally absorbing and an all-round classic.
Any suggestions for next week?