Monthly Archives: June 2013

Beyond The Mouse.

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When people talk about Disney movies, they’re usually referring to a pretty clearly defined golden age that ran between the release of Snow White in 1937 and Sleeping Beauty in ’59. The era of feature-length animated classics. There was the odd one produced here and there in the next three decdes – The Jungle Book, Robin Hood, my personal favourite The Fox and The Hound – but, generally, the period spanning the 60s right through to the 90s, when the studio underwent a renaissance kicking off with Beauty and The Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King, is considered a fairly barren one for the studio.

Barren of enduring animated classics, perhaps, but the studio was never less than prodigious in its output. Although they continued to produce animated films, they seemed to opt to turn a faster buck in live action. Bizarrely, for such an iconic studio, very few of this vast catalogue of releases are considered anything even close to resembling a classic. The reason for this is, simply, that the quality threshold on these films was generally pretty low. Stories have emerged from filmmakers that there was a heavy executive hand at play in the post-production of these films and generally they emerged not representing anyone’s vision or best hope for what the finished product might have been. There are some interesting artifacts from this era – both Jodie Foster and Kurt Russell owe their film acting breaks to the studio at this time. Creepily, the last thing Walt Disney did before he dropped dead was write ‘KURT RUSSELL’ on a piece of paper. Nobody knows why he did that. There are even some oddly wonderful films – The Black Hole, a strangely boring yet fascinating sci-fi flick that seemed keen to cash in on the success but not the charm of Star Wars. Condorman, which managed to throw away both a great superhero concept and the undeniable appeal of Michael Crawford. There are some legitimately brilliant films – Tron was a Disney film, as was the fantastic, yet seldom remembered, The Rocketeer. Mainly, however, this era is characterised by saccharine sunshiney films of innocent youths in polyester getting up to hijinks in their summer holidays. Most of these films were pretty disposable and bear little regard (I’ve always been far more enchanted by the grittier, far less polished UK versions of such fare which were produced by the Children’s Film Foundation and are currently being archived on DVD by the BFI). There’s a few that are worth a look, though…

THE WATCHER IN THE WOODS (1980)

The Watcher in The Woods has a very special place in my heart as it was the very first horror film I ever saw. Yes, it’s a Disney horror film and, impressively, it manages to be creepy, haunting and even has a couple of great jumps, all under the auspices of a PG rating. Of course, horror was a different affair back then and this has all of those wonderful tropes you don’t see so much of now – creepy kids writing words backwards and being a bit possessed, big scary imposing buildings, suggestions of significant past events that nobody wants to talk about, windows breaking, visions of young blindfolded girls in mirrors, point-of-view shots from unseen entities gliding through the creepy forest. It still retains a pretty effective atmosphere. It stars Bette Davis as the creepy old woman who owns the house, deep in the British countryside that a predictably annoying American family have decided to rent for a summer. Quickly, the arrival of the daughters seems to whip up a flurry of unexplainable creepy occurrences. It transpires that, 30 years previously, during a strange initiation ceremony with her group of friends, Davis’ young daughter died in a fire in the chapel. No body was ever found. Oldest daughter Jen takes it upon herself to not only work out what actually happened that night but to see if things might be put right. The tension builds nicely and the young cast are supported by a fantastic bevy of seasoned older actors. The ending is anything but predictable and, bizarrely, it turns out that three completely different endings were actually shot for this film. The most conservative one is the one which made the cut but the alternatives are worth a squizz on sheer weirdness alone. I guess what most impresses me, to this day, is the notion that you can make an effective horror film with a PG rating. That real fear and menace doesn’t necessarily come from gore or images of torture or depravity.

The film was directed by John Hough, an established director from the Hammer stable who spent a career genre-hopping, notably he also directed the pulpy Dirty Mary Crazy Larry and the should-have-been-good lost 80s big screen Biggles misfire.

THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY (1963):

The Incredible Journey is a strange little film. There’s a fine tradition of animals being front and centre of kids films but it’s a rarity that they be real animals and there not be a human counterpart hogging their screentime. It does what it says on the tin insofar as telling a story of three housepets – a bull terrier, a labrador and a siamese cat – who, being looked after by a kindly bachelor, whilst their family are away (visiting Oxford, no less!), decide to set out for home. Home is 250 miles away across the wilderness of Northern Canada. The film is narrated, in that deep yet chipper Orson Welles kind of a way, throughout and the furry trio certainly cross paths with the occasional human being but this is very much their film. Despite being a scripted, narrative piece (based on a novel) it has the feel of those fantastic old nature documentaries that cropped up on TV as filler in the summer holidays. I have a minor obsession with a Canadian filmmaker called Bill Mason who produced a slew of them, most beautifully a narrative piece called Paddle To The Sea (you can watch that here: http://www.nfb.ca/film/paddle_to_the_sea/) – and this fits right into that genre. Part narrative but also, somehow, part documentary in that it documents a landscape, a time and animals doing what animals will do. I try not to dwell on how they achieved certain performances from their animal cast. The dogs, for the most part, seem to be having a riot, dancing through the wilderness. The cat, however, does seem to have drawn the short straw, spending a lot of the film in various scrapes including getting chased by a lynx (it’s ok, the lynx gets shot in the face by a heavily armed 7 year old boy), spending a long time in a dangerously fast flowing river (even the labrador looks traumatised by his time in there), having a fight with a massive brown bear and generally being asked to endure rainy and snowy conditions.

It’s a great film, it’s by no means a classic but it’s a lovely time capsule of a landscape and culture presumably erased and an era in kids films which was more about letting the kids explore the wonder of nature than having animated animals talking like surfer dudes. Disney did, in fact, remake the film in the early 90s and, of course, felt the need to give the animals voices this time round. As much as I love Michael J. Fox, Sally Field and the late great Don Ameche, I can’t see their voices bringing any more charm to the film than the original had in spades already.

POPEYE (1980):

There are some films that it amazes me people don’t discuss regularly. Popeye is one of them. On paper, it is perhaps the strangest cinematic venture ever to have emerged. As a character, I think Popeye has now been lost to the past. He is one of the classic cartoons which just hasn’t transferred to the current generation. He was still a big icon when I was a kid and they were still trying to modernise him up to the 90s when there was some terrible Popeye & Son cartoon on TV. This film was probably the last nail in the coffin, but what a way to go! It should be immediately established that this is not a good film, but it is a fascinating film and, I’d say, for several reasons, still very much worth seeing.

It was directed by Robert Altman. Altman, who died fairly recently, was generally considered an auteur and a guiding light in American cinema. MASH, Nashville, Pret-A-Porter, Short Cuts, The Player, Gosford Park, his films were ensemble pieces that seemed to examine the American condition. I would love to know what drew him to Popeye. Popeye was a bold big-budget comic book adaptation. It’s hard to target exactly why the film doesn’t work but my feeling is something to do with the central performances. It was well cast with Robin Williams in his first big-screen role, supported by Shelly Duvall, clearly grateful to be freshly released from the Overlook Hotel and a bunch of seasoned character actors. Yet, there’s something strange about the dialogue and delivery. Our hero mutters. He only mutters. Even when he takes centre stage and sings – for this is a musical – he kind of half-sings at half-volume. Because he only mutters and that muttering feels improvised, he never really feels like a main character. The same goes for Olive Oyl, she doesn’t mutter so much as fuss and coo but, again, it feels like she improvises this fussing and cooing rather than has any real dialogue. Every other part is the same. The dialogue actually all feels like it was dubbed on later, as if it were a foreign film but… muttered. The effect this all has is that it feels like you’re always watching what’s going on with the extras in the background and that the camera has somehow missed the actual main cast who are presumably having a wonderful romp somewhere just off-screen.

This means the notion of story evaporates fast and we’re left with a kind of exercise in tone, which is actually quite compelling. The set design on this film is magnificent. The whole port town of Sweethaven was constructed by the sea in Malta and it’s a sight to behold. It retains a heavy comic book aesthetic whilst resisting the urge to push into a garish palate. The stuntwork is exceptional, there’s an air of the Jackie Chan to this film where stuntmen have been given the chance to prove what they can do comically for once and offer some truly impressive physical schtick. And, again, it’s a musical. Bizarrely, the songs were written by heavy drinking ‘Everybody’s Talkin” legend Harry Nilsson. The music bears no resemblance to anything else in his entire body of work and… it’s not really all that good… but… it’s a live action Nilsson musical of Popeye directed by Robert Altman. Produced by Robert Evans, too! How is that not worth seeing?

Altman integrates many cartoony elements – especially in the action and dancing scenes, the characters are not bound by usual live action laws of physics. This element is interesting and almost works but has recently been eclipsed by the rather spiffing live action Asterix films coming out of France, which have used CGI in a very clever and sparing way to enhance the cartoony science of that world. Ultimately, this is not a great film, but like most of Disney’s live action offerings… it’s interesting. It’s worth a look.

SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES (1983):

I guess in 1983, we were too tied up in Return of The Jedi, Octopussy and Superman 3 to notice what Disney had to offer us. Of all the live action Disney output, this is perhaps the most curious and almost certainly the most worthy of reappraisal. Adapted by Ray Bradbury from his own novel, this film tells a story of unrelenting darkness. Even though the main protagonists are two young boys, I struggle to see how this film could ever claim to be for kids. When I talk about unrelenting darkness, I mean darkness in all of it’s forms; evil, intensity, fear, crushing melancholy. From the uneasy opening through to the resolution, this film is almost oppresively bleak. It’s also beautiful. Truly beautiful. Lyrical, poetic and thoughtful.

Set in America’s Midwest right around the time of the depression, this is a Norman Rockwell world at Halloween. Autumn, pumpkin fields, lightening rod salesmen, amputee barmen, big bearded barbers, down at heel cigar store owners. A small town filled with people hiding behind their own smiles. Perhaps the only people with their eyes truly open in the town are young best friends Will & Jim. Excited by the midnight arrival of Mr Dark’s Panemonium Carnival, the boys stumble across something sinister in the fairground and watch helplessly as the town is subjected to a reign of supernatural brutality at the hands of Mr Dark.

If anything, this film evokes the brooding creepiness of Night of The Hunter, where a charismatic central antagonist pursues the young heroes relentlessly through the American heartland. It’s a strange, upsetting film with moments of genuine pathos and something strong to say on the subjects of fatherhood, regret and the power of libraries. It features outstanding performances from the bottom to the top. Jonathan Pryce is wide-eyed and menacing as the tattooed Mr Dark. Jason Robards proves his screen acting mettle. Pam Grier makes an impressive genre leap to portray the powerful and seductive witch. The character actor supporting class each get their moments to shine. James Horner’s score is worth the price alone. I can’t help wondering if this one soundtrack hasn’t provided Danny Elfman with a career’s worth of inspiration. I’m somewhat dumbstruck that Tim Burton has yet to remake it with Johnny Depp as Mr Dark.

It defies genre. This has all of the intensity of a horror film but no gore. All the adventure of a kids film but no optimism. The quality of this film is exceptional. It is smart, atmospheric, utterly beguiling.

Here’s the thing; so none of the films I’ve talked about here could be considered classic films but every single one of them is interesting. Every single one of them is, even on paper, a difficult proposition. They all, to some degree, defy genre, none of the could be considered formulaic or even tried-and-tested. None of them have big stars at the centre of them. They’re all from a major studio, though, and they’re all made for children. How long has it been since anything this interesting has been made for kids? Now, kids cinema is completely – completely – formulaic. Not just that, there is very very little made for them which not only steps outside the standard aesthetics but also which treats them with intelligence and respect and as capable of processing quirkier material. Wisdom dictates that it’s better to have tried and failed then never to try at all and Walt Disney Studios did just that for decades. Their live action commissioning may not have weathered the decades but it was bold, progressive, artistic and idiosyncratic and, as a body of work deserves higher regard than it has historically received.

REEVEisitation.

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I’m not excited by the prospect of Man of Steel. I wasn’t excited by the prospect or finished product of Superman Returns. To me, Superman is a character stuck in the past or in comic books. The character would require radical reinterpretation to make it relevant. Superman represents the ideals and aspirations of an America long gone. It’s as laughable and dated as a Norman Rockwell painting. We don’t live in innocent times now. People are cynical and greedy. The current crop of Marvel films have dealt with this concept excellently – a couple of decades back, Iron Man wouldn’t have worked as a film but right now he’s the most credible superhero for our age. A millionaire arms industrialist with questionable motives. Captain America was cleverly reinvented and Thor’s costume is for special occasions. Even Wolverine, a Fox property, has never come close to the banana yellow suit of his comic incarnation on the cinema screen. Yet, Zak Snyder’s modern interpretation of Superman is, surprise surprise, a man in lycra with a big logo on his chest wearing a cape. A fucking cape.  If there’s one thing Zak Snyder is incapable of it is reinterpretation. The man’s body of work barely stretches beyond using established graphic novels as storyboards and reaping the kudos. I’m not going to pay good money to see it. And if you are, you should check your stupid head and read David Mamet’s book Bambi vs Godzilla or Mark Kermode’s The Good, The Bad and The Mulitplex.

All that said, I adore the original Superman movies. The first one is an amazing, thoughtful and artistic piece of mainstream cinema. It’s a tour-de-force from director Richard Donner who has the curious position in Hollywood of having directed some of the great genre-defining movies (The Omen, Lethal Weapon, The Goonies) without ever being singled out as the brilliant filmmaker-of-the-people he so clearly is. Superman 2 was taken away from Donner midway and completed by Richard Lester (director of Robin and Marian – one of my favourite films of all time – and A Hard Day’s Night) – it’s still a great film, owned by Terence Stamp – but differs slightly. Maybe a little too much humour. Superman 3 embraced the humour fully and presented a wonderfully tongue-in-cheek hamfest with Robert Vaughan centre stage and Richard Pryor providing the comedic spine. The less said about Superman 4 the best but it at least deserves kudos for being a contributing factor to the failure of Cannon, a film studio of glorious ill-repute.

The lynchpin of the franchise was, of course, Christopher Reeve’s central performance. I often wonder if people realise just how precise a performance the role demanded and really just how good Reeve was. Superman, as a character, is ludicrous – a garish po-faced do-gooder in pants and tights with a kiss curl. The movie was sold on the tag line ‘You’ll believe a man can fly’ – a claim they delivered on. But I can’t help think it might have just as well been ‘You’ll believe Superman is not just a massive, massive twat’. Reeve imbued the role with gravitas where a knowing wink would seem the only credible option. Athletic without looking like a ‘roided up eyeball roller and intelligent whilst still fostering an other-worldly enthusiasm and slight confusion. His real achievement, however is the multi-levelled personification of Clark Kent. He effortlessly channels Harold Lloyd with a clumsy yet graceful air showing Kent’s deep-rooted decency and stuttering deference but continually lifts the curtain to show the true intelligence, isolation and frustration of the character.

So while everyone is yukking on about this new beardy Supertwat, I think it’s about time we looked at the tragically short body of work that Reeve left us…. out of tights.

SOMEWHERE IN TIME (1980)

Somewhere In Time is a curious offering. It doesn’t so much fit into a cinematic genre as that of a 1970’s Mills & Boon paperback found at the back of the bottom rack of a charity shop display spinner. It has that weird soft-focus lavender and lace chaste passion that doubtless set many a repressed spinster heart a flutter 40-odd years ago. The story tells of a modern-day playwright who finds himself on a course of action which dictates he use self-hypnosis to travel back in time to fulfill his own destiny and experience the love of his life. It sounds a bit Christopher Nolan put like that but it’s worth remembering that the director’s most significant credits have been Jaws 2 and Santa Claus The Movie, so this is not highbrow stuff. It is rather compulsive viewing, though. The time travel angle is somewhat underplayed, although when it features is far more interestingly presented than the standard ‘time machine’ angle. Instead, the focus is on the building of an old-timey 1912 romance with the painfully lovely Jane Seymour. It’s a little clunky and the film, rather than being timeless, hasn’t aged well but it retains a striking intensity and lack of humour which sets it apart from other old romance flicks. Fans of cheese will not be disappointed – this is a big, stinky stilton of a film but Reeve gives it his all. His performance, the first in a line of WASPy, slightly naive guys guided by an arrogant self-belief that would define his non-lycra career, is well-pitched. Rather than playing it as Mr Darcy, it is entirely Reeve’s skittish weirdness that renders him heroic. The film rests on his shoulders and he supports it admirably.

DEATHTRAP (1982)

Deathtrap is almost impossible to talk about without revealing spoilers that would genuinely mar your enjoyment of the film, which is intensely worth seeing. The leaking of one key plot point, a very controversial one for mainstream cinema in 1982, was generally held responsible for the film’s poor box office and subsequent undeserved obscurity. The film is, essentially a two-hander between Reeve as a talented aspiring playwright and Michael Caine as his washed-up tutor who, desperately in need of a hit lures Reeve out to his rural home with ill-intent. Genre-wise, it’s a hard film to place. It’s incredibly dark and unsettling but is in some ways played for laughs. It’s based on a stage play, so I suppose the broader moments touch upon farce but the intensity of film shades it darker. It’s one of Caine’s better performances, cold and harsh, but Reeve steals the show. His character changes dramatically according to certain situations and revelations, to the degree that he almost seems to be playing two completely separate roles (could it be Superman that got him this gig?). The film offers both actors scope to be the hunter and the hunted, to swing from terrified to terrifying and Reeve’s performance in particular is just perfectly honed. Moment to moment, beat to beat, he’s doing something interesting and is always on the money. What’s particularly odd about this film’s obscurity is that, not only is it based on a successful Broadway play, but it’s directed by Sidney Lumet. You’d think it would be better remembered. It doesn’t seem to have ever had a UK DVD release and it’s currently out of print in the US. I was sure I had the US DVD but it doesn’t seem to be on my shelves, which is somehow apt for a film which flummoxes you at every turn.

SWITCHING CHANNELS (1988)

This is a gem of a comedy and I’m disappointed it’s not more fondly remembered. Fast-paced, intelligent, witty and warm, it feels like a bridge between those old 50s screwball movies and the quick and smart action that Aaron Sorkin ended up doing on TV. The story mainly concerns a hectic day in a TV news room. Burt Reynolds rules the roost as head honcho Sully who, with great swagger attempts to manipulate ace-reporter and ex-wife Kathleen Turner away from her new beau and dreams of an easier life to cover the news story of the year. Reeve relishes the role of Turner’s romance, a thinly veiled yuppy narcissist of the highest order with highlights in his hair who goes by the name of Blaine Bingham. Reynolds wonderfully dismisses him as a ‘dildo’ and that about sums him up. Reeve surfs the tone of the film, which impressively goes from the very broadest of comedy (Reeve’s stand-out moment being his glass-lift vertigo induced panic attack which sees him lying on the floor calling for his mummy) to a touching sub-story involving the always reliable Henry Gibson as a good man on Death Row who only Reynolds and Turner can save. This is Reynolds’ film. A shade above his usual sexy Southern man schtick, this film truly allows him to show the range and sheer quality of his comedic talents. Turner brings gusto and sweetness to the mix but it is, surprisingly, Reeve who puts aside ego to play the perfect foil. This is supportive acting of the highest order and his final meltdown, in which he expresses his anger by stating that he owns an apartment opposite the UN building, is priceless.

STREET SMART (1987):

There are many reasons why it blows my mind that this film is as obscure as it is. The first is, of course, Reeve. I think this represents his greatest screen performance and best exemplifies that defining quality he has as a screen actor to show several distinctly contradictory, yet coherent, sides to a single character. In this film he plays print journalist Jonathan Fisher, a WASPY, preppy, hubristic oaf who, frustrated at his inability to write a sensational, hard-hitting piece, decides to just fabricate one. It works. His story in which he spends a day on the streets of New York with a pimp as his guide becomes the toast of the town. The problem is, it’s too on-the-money. Although the pimp is a complete work of fiction, the police quickly recognise him as the dangerous criminal they’re trying to nail for murder. They start pushing Jonathan for his notes and he quickly finds himself in a position where he could either end his career or end up in jail. things go up a notch when the suspect himself realises what Jonathan has done and that Jonathan is now in a position to provide him the perfect alibi. Reeve’s character is loathsome and arrogant, yet he plays it deftly enough that the audience is always on his side. The suspect, the pimp, is played by a young Morgan Freeman. Freeman got an Oscar nomination for this role, yet the film remains forgotten. Freeman is incredible. At first, likeable and charismatic but quickly he reveals himself to be dangerous and unpredictable. Every bit as commanding a performance as Joe Pesci in Goodfellas. All of the performances in this film are top-notch and the story plays out like a spider’s web in which all of the characters are caught and the more they struggle, the worse it gets for them. It’s a gritty, sleazy, 1980s Times Square kind of film. The film was directed by Jerry Schatzberg, who has the dubious honour of having directed probably the most inexplicably obscure classic of the 1970s – the Hackman/Pacino vehicle Scarecrow which has NEVER been available in the UK on any format! Street Smart probably suffered by being a Golan-Globus production, the bizarre genius-idiots behind Cannon Films. The film was a pet project of Reeve’s and it was funded as bait to get him to sign on to Superman 4 for that company. There’s a great piece of footage in a documentary the BBC made about Cannon in which producer Menahem Golan, fresh off the phone discussing this very film, explains that Reeve just doesn’t understand that if he’s not dressed as Superman, he’s not worth shit. Sadly, this seems to have been a pervasive view in Hollywood and the riding accident that rendered him paralysed denied him the chance to ever conclusively shake this assumption off.

Cracked Screen

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A few weeks ago, I almost died. I don’t think I’m being needlessly dramatic when I say that. I’d been in Edinburgh with my crew filming an interview for the new documentary (which I can’t tell you about for a while) Having completed a great interview with a chap of no small pop-culture significance, Hank and I set off home. As we reached the Lake District, the road suddenly turned white and a freak sleet storm threw the entire motorway into chaos. We skidded, then got clipped by another skidding car and started spiralling across the middle and fast lanes of the motorway, we did three complete spins and then crashed into the central reservation, facing the oncoming traffic in the fast lane. We were lucky at every point. We weren’t hurt, nothing else hit us, the car – although written off – didn’t blow up like it seemed to be threatening to do as we staggered out of it. We were also lucky that all of the film equipment was undamaged and the hard drives containing the footage were intact too.

A few days before the crash, we heard that one of the interviewees we had been chatting to and had agreed to be filmed had suddenly died. Slightly less dramatically, one of the interviewees we’d been trying to track down also showed up dead, but not quite as recently. Having grown up hearing of cursed film productions – notably Poltergeist which was legendarily shadowed by the young deaths of several of its cast – it got me a little antsy. But we’re fine, as was everyone else. I heard 14 cars came off the road in that storm and nobody was hurt at all.

It did make me think about how what happens when a film is being made is often every bit as interesting as what happens in front of the camera. We’ve not been documenting the documentary (it’s just too meta a thing to do) but it did put me in a place where I felt like I needed to watch some documentaries about behind-the-scenes strife in films more notable than ours to put myself straight again.

Just a few to look at today – and I’ve focused on actual standalone documentaries, not DVD special features of which, obviously, there are legion (the Alien box set being the best!). Also not covered is the most prominent of the genre Hearts of Darkness, which chronicles the making of Apocalypse Now… I’ve apparently lent my copy to somebody so wasn’t able to rewatch it. It’s worth hunting out, though.

http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4200467/overnight_movie_trailer/

OVERNIGHT (2004)

Overnight is a tough film to watch on many levels. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great film but it’s a pummeling experience. Remember that golden period in the 90s when Miramax was just ruling the roost in Hollywood? Finding incredible untapped talented filmmakers and launching them into the stratosphere? Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez and Kevin Smith were the most famous beneficiaries of the Miramax magic wand but the shake-up was industry-wide. Overnight is the story of the almost-ran at the Miramax stable. Life seems good when we meet Troy Duffy, a barman who wrote his first ever script and sold it to the studio for $300k in a deal that promised him a further $150k to direct and a budget of $15,000,000. He has hired his friends to document his meteoric rise and is enjoying the media attention and all of the Hollywood stars who suddenly want to be his friend. Swayze, Wahlberg and a bunch of others all want to be part of the new big thing but drift away as the story quickly sours. Although undoubtedly a victim of selective editing, there is no way of denying that Duffy is a blowhard asshole. Ego barely covers his condition and there are many excruciating scenes of horrible, horrible self-importance. The filmmaking brilliance is not just in how the makers capture this but more how they capture it through the subtle expressions of everyone else in Duffy’s life. The unspoken awareness in the eyes of his friends and family that he has become a total monster.

Quickly, he moves his focus away from his friends and subordinates and on to his employers, superiors and betters. He needlessly creates a power struggle and is forced to confront the reality of a Miramax blacklisting. It’s compulsive viewing, Duffy is a larger than life character, a caricature, but you’re also aware that such behaviour is born out of serious, damaged insecurity and it’s hard to turn a blind eye to the fact that the man is clearly a long-term alcoholic. This makes it less fun that the trailer might suggest and the very definition of ‘car crash’ entertainment.

LOST IN LA MANCHA (2002)

Anyone who has ever made a film will feel the pain of this film with the intense empathic familiarity that every man on the face of the planet experiences when he sees another man get hit in the balls. You feel it welling in your soul. Lost in La Mancha is, essentially, the making-of Terry Gilliam’s epic Don Quixote film. “But.. I didn’t know Gilliam made a Don Quixote film!” I hear you mutter as you scramble for IMDB. You won’t find it there. And Lost in La Mancha tells you why. Never has a film been more beset by curse and never has a documentary crew been so lucky and sharp as to capture it in such devastating detail. On paper, it all looked great: a decent budget, Johnny Depp, Vanessa Paradis, esteemed French actor Jean Rochefort as Quixote… but as soon as Gilliam arrives in Spain to commence production, the cracks start to appear. Contracts aren’t really nailed down. Scheduling is looking a little tight with contingency fast evaporating. The studio that has been hired is useless for sound. None of the actors are even in the country. Gilliam’s nervousness is clearly on the rise but they muddle forward regardless and busy themselves. In time, things start to fall into place, Rochefort arrives and is clearly the man for the part, Depp arrives in a motivating blaze of creativity and filming begins with gusto.

Then it gets horrible. It’s not so much the cracks getting worse as completely unexpected forces suddenly decimate the production – the desert they’re filming in experiences a storm which destroys the sets and washes away all of the film equipment. Rochefort develops a prostate infection rendering him in agony and unable to sit on a horse, which is really the bare minimum of what his part demands. Insurance issues arise and the production quickly goes to shit.

It’s a delicately filmed piece, a fantastic work in character study and actually it shows Gilliam in a great light. He has always been unfairly tarnished as a maverick filmmaker after his battles with the studio over Brazil and vastly over-reported problems during the filming of Baron Munchausen. Here we see a man of great vision and spirit rendered dumb by sheer bad luck. It’s an incredible watch.

EVERYTHING OR NOTHING (2002)

Here is the perfect example of a trailer missing the point of a film. I’d imagine something more honest might have been a harder sell but although, yes, this film is the story of the Bond cinema franchise, really it’s the story of two men. This is not to dismiss the fantastically candid interviews with past Bond actors – Brosnan and Lazenby being particularly unguarded and hilarious and Connery conspicuous in his absence as we find out just how difficult he was. The meat of this story, though is the previously barely-explored relationship between the producers – Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli. It’s a dramatic, epic journey through decades of ups and downs where we get to learn who these incredible characters were and what inspired them to make the choices they made. The ups and downs of their own relationship had me welling up. It evokes a time in film history long gone where impressarios and dreamers ruled the roost rather than money men and hacks. It also brought home to me how anything behind the scenes about film very very rarely actually explains who a producer is and what they do. The director still gets all the kudos, the actors still got all of the attention but, quite simply, without a producer there is no film. Each producer, each production, differs from the next – some are creatively hands on, some are economically forceful. Some control, some support. Some hinder, some help. It surprises me that so little focus is ever put on their role.

Anyway, my producer is amazing. Hank Starrs. If it hadn’t been for his quick instincts in how he dealt with the car skidding, it could have all ended up a lot worse for a lot of people. The true heroes are rarely the ones in front of the camera and the best drama is what’s happening off-screen.