We've Been Watching...

Here at the Digital Fix we don’t simply watch the films that we write about. Of course, the review discs take priority so as to keep our readership informed of the latest releases, but still we find the time to satisfy our various tastes and predilections. As such we’ve come up with a new fortnightly feature in which to share some of our off-duty viewing. Every other Wednesday we’ll be asking the reviewing team to highlight some of the films they’ve been watching, whether it’s on a big screen or small, an ancient title or brand new…

JOHN: As many of my favourite American TV series have taken a final break before their end of seasons, I have searched for some more TV to fill the whole and found Monday Mornings. Ostensibly David E Kelley’s next venture after the deservedly cancelled Harry’s Law, this sees Kelley head back down the medical road of Chicago Hope. The innovation of the series is the set-piece surgical case forum where twinkly Alfred Molina scrutinises his junior colleagues, finding the flaw in their treatments or their conduct. It’s a nice conceit and finally finds a good use for Ving Rhames as an all-knowing nurse before falling back on familiar ground - the drink at the end of the day, the doddery old surgeon who could be losing it etc... Low ratings mean this may not get a second season which is a shame.

On the film front, I have of course been hard at work watching the likes of Scanners II and III so you don’t have to. Similarly I can do you another favour now by telling you that Dario Argento’s Dracula looks like it was filmed in an overlit bungalow and features poor Thomas Kretchsman turning into a giant praying mantis whilst climbing some stairs - it is quite terrible and wastes Rutger Hauer as an excellent Van Helsing.

More fun was Puppet Master and its first sequel, the bonkers Boxer’s Omen and Pete Walker’s House of Whipcord for all its cheek and two fingers to the hang ’em and flog ’em brigade. Most enjoyable though was the fourth season of Spiral which managed to implicate all its characters in deep shit before helping them to escape at the last moment. Its strength has always been a willingness to let characters make perilous mistakes whilst remaining satisfyingly human. Season four achieved all this and more, particularly the sub plots around Pierre and Josephine.

CLAIRE: Over the past couple of weeks I have been to the cinema three times, each to see a very different type of film. First up was The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, a light-hearted comedy about two old hat magicians who try to update their act when a new street magician shows them up. Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi and Jim Carrey give good performances here and I found myself chortling throughout. Not brilliant but not as diabolical as it could have been!

Jack the Giant Slayer was the next choice. Nicholas Hoult plays Jack, a young farmhand who comes across some magic beans which accidentally sprout and form a bean stalk all the way to the Giant’s kingdom in between earth and heaven. The plot was standard and so was the acting, great CGI for the giants and fun personalities given to them including Bill Nighy voicing the lead giant. I didn’t feel like they played with the story as much as they could have done and for the most part it lacked imagination. Eventually Ewan McGregor was the only thing keeping me entertained.

Most recently I got the opportunity to see a preview of Trance, the new Danny Boyle psychological thriller/heist film. This is packed full of impressive storytelling, creative character writing and just brilliant entertainment. James McAvoy gives a fantastic lead performance along with Rosario Dawson and Vincent Cassel. The sheer speed of this film is something to witness and the plot always keeps you on your toes. One of the best films I have seen in a long time, especially in terms of style and pace.

ELLIOT: My recent film viewings range from the early sixties all the way up to the present day. As is my way, I ordinarily watch numerous films from the same decade, hoping to find rare gems along the way. I started with Days of Wine and Roses, the Blake Edwards romantic-drama film about the co-dependant relationship between Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick, whose life-long battle with alcoholism destroys them over the years.

As a huge admirer of Lemmon, both his comedic and dramatic roles, this was perhaps his most challenging part. His constant battle with his surroundings are further exasperated by his need for a drink every single second; a real gem of a film, much like Leaving Las Vegas, that doesn’t shy away from showing the intricacies of a couple systematically killing themselves. Remick gives an astonishing performance too, as a woman ignorant to the powers of the poison until she meets Lemmon and is whisked away into a life of forgotten debauchery.

The exhausting yet triumphant Thomas Vinterberg drama-film The Hunt, recently released on DVD and Blu-ray, arrived from my friends at LoveFilm, and further reiterated my love for the absorbing screen presence of Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen, here playing a kindergarten teacher accused of a dreadful lie that destroys his life. A memorable film about the true meaning of friendship and the dangers of an innocent lie; Vinterberg’s portrayal of targeted mass hysteria left me with a cold and misanthropic view of society. An absolute must for all film fans!

IAN: Can I cheat a bit this week? Of course I can. Tuesday morning saw Disney preview new footage from the upcoming Iron Man 3 (out April 25), with the majority of the 20 minutes coming from the Mandarin’s assault on Tony Stark’s Malibu home. Delivering everything you’d expect, it was a highly impressive showcase of the ‘threequel’ which we can only hope manages to erase Iron Man 2 from memory. Well, that was until Sir Ben Kingsley showed up briefly, keen to relive memories of Mickey Rourke’s OTT villain. Oh well, can’t get it all right I suppose. Shane Black and Robert Downey Jr. proved an excellent combo in the underrated Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, so I retain hope.

As for complete films, I’ve continued my quest through Bond history with Moonraker the latest re-watch. Now I know it’s utterly ridiculous, yet I’ve been a staunch supporter from my first watch. Put it this way, Die Another Day will prove a much more hellish re-watch. The past fortnight also saw my first watch of the latest Madagascar outing, a franchise I’ve had a lot of time for. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted might not reach Pixar levels of emotional depth, but for sheer invention and manic energy, it’s hard to resist. After all, it does have probably cinema’s first ever relationship between a lemur and a bear.

CLYDEFRO: It’s difficult to say just how many of us would appreciate a blend of live action and animation that manages to join the not-so-common interests of classic cartoon shorts and tales of private detectives but somehow Who Framed Roger Rabbit has persisted now for twenty-five years. The well-loved Robert Zemeckis film recently hit Blu-ray for the first time and I decided this was excuse enough to finally make time for it. Though the marketing and perception almost unavoidably imply it’s a movie for kids, the happier truth is that it probably best falls somewhere in that grey area reserved for adults who are familiar with and embrace the film’s influences. Aside from the obvious, studio-blurring references to animation of the past, I was really surprised to see the cynicism simmering barely beneath the surface. This thing is remarkably connected to Chinatown; I was even expecting to hear a line in the vein of "forget it Eddie, it’s Toontown" at some point. For the record, that BD release from Disney shows perhaps a tad more grain than some might’ve wanted but generally seems faithful to the source material while meriting an easy overall recommendation.

For a change of pace, and an all-out adherence to gross insanity, try William Friedkin’s almost unbelievable Killer Joe. The southern-fried oddity has Matthew McConaughey reminding us that he really can act, playing a Texas police detective who moonlights as a hitman. There’s nothing normal here to look at, particularly not Juno Temple’s portrayal of a very maladjusted young woman, but the cringing is sure to be part of the fun. Even if it can at times feel a little too beholden to its stage origins, the sheer verve in Friedkin’s direction combined with a brazen willingness to eschew good taste make the picture worth seeing. You’re unlikely to see anything admirably sleazier from the past several years.

MATT: As someone who is supposed to be one of the sites Asian film specialists I’ve watched an almost embarrassingly low amount of Japanese films these last couple of years (and covered even less for this site), so I made a New Year’s resolution back in December to finally get back on the Nippon wagon big time. So far this year I’ve failed miserably to live up to that pledge, but hey there’s no time like the present and just over a week ago I had the opportunity to catch Hirokazu Koreeda’s latest: I Wish on the big screen.

I Wish recently snuck into theatres in a limited nationwide release courtesy of Arrow films - although by ‘latest’ I mean: ‘took two years to get a proper release over here’. (DVD and Blu-ray releases have been announced for May 27th.) It’s one of those films for which the word ‘charming’ gets overused, but not inappropriately so. It tells the story of two brothers living at opposite ends of the southern island of Kyushu after their parents’ marriage implodes. The wistful older brother: Koichi has moved with his mother to her hometown in the southern city of Kagoshima, where he spends most of his time dreaming of getting the family back together (to the point where he even invites a natural disaster to force them out of the city), while the easy-going younger brother: Ryuunosuke has opted to stay with his father in Fukuoka on the northern tip of the island, where he dreams of new vegetables to plant in his garden.

It’s not long before Koichi uses his elder-brother influence to coax Ryu into a plan to reunite the family, but with no real method of achieving this he latches on to a rumour about the new Bullet Train line that has recently opened across the island. This rumour suggests that at the point in the route that the outgoing train catches the oncoming train, the resulting speed difference will allow a miracle to happen, so the brothers (along with their closest friends) arrange a journey to meet in the heart of the island where they can witness this occurrence and make a collective wish to bring their parents back together.

Koreeda’s documentary roots always shine through in his films and for the most part I Wish features a dual narrative that immerses the viewer completely in each brother’s day-to-day lives in a very authentic way. Many scenes are clearly improvised and they feature a colourful ensemble of characters all brought convincingly to live by a pretty young cast with seasoned support from veterans like Yoshio Harada and Abe Hiroshi. The two leads are played by real life brothers: Koki & Ohshirô Maeda and they’re pretty exceptional (I think Koreeda chose to tailor his script to the young cast by not finalising a screenplay until he had spent enough time on set with them).

Each narrative has a contrasting theme: The elder Koichi is more of a realist but he has this idealistic dream of reuniting his parents, whereas the younger Ryu is an idealist who has a more realistic viewpoint that life is less stressful now that he doesn’t have to sit through his feuding parents arguments all the time, and a breezy feel-good factor is wrought from the simple differences in both the brother’s day-to-day attitudes & that of their friends. The end result is a film that plays to Koreeda’s strengths and offers a more optimistic, sentimental counterpoint to his 2004 hit Nobody Knows.

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