Not as bad as they said, until you hit the magic realism. Lasse Hallstr
Influenced by Spinal Tap as much as it is by cannabis, this 1985 mockumentary was the last thing the duo wrote as a team. Supposedly following them as they record their last album, the best parts are the on-the-couch interviews in which Cheech improvises pretentious answers while Chong tries not to laugh. The songs themselves aren’t too funny unless you’re baked, but then that’s the point.
Troublesome teens? Round them up at random, dump them on a deserted island, armed to the teeth, and force them to fight each other to death. It works brilliantly in Kinji Fukasaku’s relentlessly violent and cheerfully tasteless satire, and is surely a public order initiative David Blunkett would approve of.
DVD EXTRAS: Loads, including additional footage and alternative ending, Takeshi Kitano interview, filmographies and director interview.
Wesley Snipes returns as Blade the Daywalker, scourge of vampires despite being half-vampire himself. This time he’s recruited by the Vampire Nation to lead a crack assault team (including the wonderful Ron Perlman) against a new breed of bloodsucker that menaces vampires as well as humans. As stylish as the first flick, but not quite as much fun.
They don’t make films like this any more. Except modern-day auteur Wes (Rushmore) Anderson does with his best movie to date?a dysfunctional family comedy which recalls the quirky ’70s prime of Nichols, Altman or Ashby. A deliciously devilish Gene Hackman plays Royal Tenenbaum, the estranged patriarch of a shabby-genteel Upper Manhattan dynasty whose early promise crumbled following Dad’s untimely departure. Weaseling his way back into the family home, Royal attempts to make peace with his embittered ex-wife (Anjelica Huston) and majestically fucked-up offspring (Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Luke Wilson).
Framed as a bogus literary adaptation and peppered with novelistic touches, Anderson’s semi-autobiographical masterpiece boasts a spiffing Stones-to-Ramones soundtrack and inhabits an offbeat, washed-out, parallel universe New York of the imagination. Featuring Bill Murray, Danny Glover and co-writer Owen Wilson among its first-division ensemble cast, The Royal Tenenbaums is melancholic yet life-affirming, gloriously pointless but richly intoxicating.
“As near as I can figure out, it’s because I fight and fuck too much,” RP McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) informs the doctor who asks just what he’s doing in a mental institution. He’s 38 years old, with five counts of assault and one of statutory rape against him. “Between you and me, she might have been 15, but when you get that little red beaver right out there in front of you I don’t think it’s crazy at all… no man alive could resist that. That’s why I got into jail to begin with and now they’re telling me I’m crazy because I don’t sit there like a goddamned vegetable.” The prison authorities believe he’s been faking insanity to get off his work detail and have sent him to the asylum. That’s the starting point.
Kirk Douglas was the original RP McMurphy. By all accounts, he was terrific in the ’63 Broadway adaptation of the Ken Kesey novel. The play closed after a few months, but Douglas was keen to turn it into a movie. On a trip to Eastern Europe, he met Milos Forman, and promised to send him the Kesey novel. The book never got through?the censors impounded it. By then, Douglas was too long in the tooth for McMurphy anyway.
Ten years later, Michael Douglas (who’d taken over the rights from his father) and Saul Zaentz again approached Forman. They wanted him because he was cheap and this was a project no major studio would back. Forman saw the material in a different way to his US producers. His experiences in Czechoslovakia gave him an all-too-personal affinity with the downtrodden inmates of the mental institution. “This was a movie about a society in which I had lived 20 years of my life,” he later commented.
One of the reasons Cuckoo’s Nest remains so fresh is that it’s so self-contained: outside forces rarely intrude. There are few specific references to ’60s America. Forman shot in the depths of winter. The crew took over a wing of the Oregon State Hospital. It helped, too, that the craftsmanship was first-rate: everything from Haskell Wexler and Bill Butler’s cinematography to Jack Nitzsche’s elegiac music works perfectly.
Nicholson wasn’t first choice: Gene Hackman and Marlon Brando passed on the role, and Forman briefly considered Burt Reynolds. When the filmmakers saw Nicholson’s astonishing performance in The Last Detail, as the marine escorting Randy Quaid to military prison, they realised he’d be perfect. There are obvious overlaps between the two films: the relationship McMurphy has with Billy Bibbit (Brad Dourif) is similar to that between the marine and his young prisoner?Nicholson the worldly-wise elder brother-type, initiating an ingenuous mother’s boy into the ways of the world.
The film has obvious and lasting appeal to anyone with experiences of institutions?whether schools, prisons or even offices?where characters like Nurse Ratched pull rank. That means just about all of us. There are lurches into sentimentality (the treatment of Will Sampson’s statuesque, catatonic Indian is both patronising and manipulative), but Forman’s satirical eye seldom lets him down. The society represented by Nurse Ratched is soulless and homogenised. Human behaviour is governed by the pills dispensed so freely to the patients and by the ersatz classical music on constant playback. It’s not so much insanity that Ratched and her types are trying to keep at bay as individualism. In such an environment, rebelling becomes a duty. It’s hardly an original thesis, but Forman and co put it across with a freshness that few other movies have ever matched.
The quintessential ’90s indie band take a creditable tilt at posterity on this two-disc set. Thirteen delightfully silly videos and two live sets provide the bulk, but the real gem is a detailed and affectionate documentary (reminiscent of Fugazi’s Instrument) tracing Pavement from shambolic beginnings to nominally slicker stardom, of a kind. For connoisseurs: plenty of lunatic first drummer Gary Young and Stephen Malkmus interviewed in a sauna.
Four magnificent hours of documentary narrated by Kris Kristofferson which trace the history of indigenous American music throughout the 20th century. Thrilling ancient footage of Muddy Waters, Hank Williams, BB King, Woody Guthrie and dozens of others drawn from the ranks of the true pioneers of blues, gospel, cajun, folk and country makes this an essential purchase for anyone with a passion for America’s musical heritage.
Forget CDs, this is how Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett’s bloodless multimedia project was always meant to be experienced: as a fancy interactive DVD stuffed with videos, storyboards, short animations, a documentary and plenty of hidden gimmicks that only resourceful 11-year-olds can locate. Extensive foraging suggests, however, that Albarn’s soul is still nowhere to be found.
“Don’t watch that?watch THIS!”. The Nutty Boys’ promos were always integral to their position as one of the greatest English singles bands of the 1980s. What’s “Baggy Trousers” without a flying saxophonist? What’s “It Must Be Love” without the sight of Suggs and chums risking electrocution in a swimming pool? They’re all here, from ’79’s “The Prince” to ’99’s Ian Dury-assisted “Drip Fed Fred”. Priceless.
Playing while standing on a runway with planes roaring overhead in “Beautiful Day”, introducing the Flys V Lemons Championships in “Stuck In A Moment…”, and playing with cartoons and Batman footage in “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me”, U2 are as entertaining as they are enormous and serious. More intriguing, though, are the visits paid behind the scenes as U2 play Sarajevo, bribe Larry with a mermaid and film three videos for “One”.
The two albums of Woody Guthrie songs recorded by Billy Bragg and Wilco and released as Mermaid Avenue (Volumes One and Two) are already alt. country classics. Kim Hopkins’ documentary film follows Bragg around America in search of Woody. Archive footage of the great man is interwoven with Bragg performing some 20 songs, alongside guests including Natalie Merchant. Films about making albums seldom do the music justice. Man In The Sand breaks the pattern.
DVD EXTRAS: Bonus audio tracks, discography.
David Lynch’s TV series, which first aired in the UK in the early ’90s, broke the mould on so many levels, arguably paving the way for everything from Northern Exposure and Wild Palms to The Sopranos and Six Feet Under. Ostensibly a whodunnit, this deeply unconventional show explores secrets and strangeness in a rural community. And boy, do we get strangeness, from Kyle MacLachlan’s relentlessly chipper FBI agent to the Log Lady and the One-Armed Man. Genius
Keanu Reeves stars in this dismally formulaic affair as an inveterate gambler given one last shot at personal redemption when he’s asked to coach a baseball team made up of apathetic no-hoper inner-city hard nuts. Based on a true story.
More convincingly medieval than his breakthrough film The Seventh Seal, The Virgin Spring is a dark ballad of revenge balanced between Christianity and paganism. Max von Sydow’s daughter is raped and murdered; he kills the culprits. On the surface a simple tale, but laden with intricate themes of guilt.
French study of a true-life serial killer who habitually robbed, kidnapped and killed in the south of France during the 1980s. Stefano Cassetti brilliantly captures the unhinged Succo, and there’s a steely intelligence throughout, but C
Halle Berry’s blubbing Oscar win shouldn’t obscure the fact that this is a brave, harrowing film, echoing the intimacy of ’70s cinema’s heyday. Billy Bob Thornton is uncannily intense as a Death Row prison guard who cracks up when his son Heath Ledger can’t handle his job. An odd coupling with convict’s wife Berry may or may not redeem him. Inspirational.
This’ll be the one Denzel didn’t win the Oscar for. His factory-worker Everyman holds up a hospital when the nasty insurance company won’t help his dying son. Shades of Dog Day Afternoon, but an astounding cast (Robert Duvall, James Woods, Ray Liotta) can’t stop director Nick (son of John) Cassavetes from descending into trite, teary sentimentality.
Oliver Stone in mind-fuck overdrive. Seven years after it provoked the most hysterical reactions to a movie since the ’70s heyday of confrontational classics like A Clockwork Orange and Straw Dogs, NBK remains as violent, hilarious, unsettling, outrageous and awesome as ever.
At the peak of his cinematic powers and throwing everything into an increasingly volatile mix, Stone reworks Tarantino’s original plundering spin on the familiar Hollywood tradition of lovers on a killing spree and sheerly eviscerates it. The veteran director Sam Fuller once famously remarked that movies are a battleground; a point of view that clearly has some merit as far as Stone is concerned?although he typically takes the notion further: NBK is a full-on fucking war zone. Utterly brilliant.
Hip hop’s finest double-act, Dr Dre and Snoop Dogg, pay loose, improvisational homage to the 1976 comedy classic Car Wash with this amiably inert tale of two roommates scheming, scamming and “busting suds” at the local LA ‘wash. There’s a kidnapping subplot, consistent casual misogyny, and cameos from Ludacris, Eminem and Tommy Chong. Overall, patchy, but not entirely pointless.