Sunday 28 September 2008

Jericho Days (2008) - ickleReview (cinema)

A collection of amateur archival footage of my neighbourhood, Jericho, in Oxford, shot in the late 1950s by Wally Peedell. Most of it was filmed on an 8mm camera with no sound. At the beginning of the film there are video interviews with some old ladies reminiscing about life in Jericho when they were younger. The rest of the hour or so of film is of special occasions in Jericho such as the street parade, the flooding, Guy Fawkes' Night, election day 1959, summer festivities, and playtime at St Barnabas School. Most of the people in the audience at the Phoenix Picturehouse were local pensioners. There were frequent giggles of delight and recognition of the old shops and way of life. People seem to have fond memories of community life in Jericho 50-odd years ago. The 8mm film looked great. It was accompanied by a pleasant musical soundtrack. The inter-titles were sometimes amateurishly fashioned and not always readable. These were essentially home movies of everyday life. An hour was just about the right length. It was just starting to get a bit boring when it ended.

Nugget: free to get in and probably just a one-off showing for the locals. Don't expect to find this at your local multiplex.

Friday 5 September 2008

Fast Food Nation (2006) - ickleReview (DVD)

This is an unusual but powerful fictionalized adaptation of Eric Schlosser's non-fiction book about the production of fast food in the USA. Director Richard Linklater tells the interweaving stories of Mexican migrant workers; the Vice-President of Marketing for Mickey's (Greg Kinnear), a leading burger chain (like McDonald's); a Mickey's employee (Ashley Johnson); and lots of other characters around them. The impressive supporting cast of familiar faces includes Kris Kristofferson, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Avril Lavigne, Luis Guzmán, and Bruce Willis.

Guzmán plays a people trafficker who helps Mexicans cross the border at night and ferries them to Cody, Colorado, a commercial strip of a town with a depressingly long line of fast food restaurants. The Mexicans have come to work in the meat packing factory that is fed by the huge cattle ranches. It's gruesome and dangerous work, but they can earn more in a day ($80) than they would earn in a whole month back in Mexico. Kinnear's character, Don Anderson, has been sent by his boss at Mickey's on a fact-finding mission to investigate claims that faecal matter (i.e. cow shit) has been detected in the patties used in Mickey's successful Big One burgers, which are manufactured at the meat-packing factory.

It feels like a John Sayles film with a powerful political message. It's not always subtle, but then it is dealing with a brutal trade in people and animals. It's a brilliant way to realize the documentary quality of Schlosser's investigative journalism in a narrative fiction format.

Nugget: polished and important stuff.

Knocked Up (2007) - ickleReview (DVD)

Comic film about an unwanted pregnancy with some bad taste jokes that are on the borderline of going too far, but still made me laugh most of the time anyway. The characters are likeable and it's quite sweet in parts without being too mushy. Seth Rogen, who plays the main character, Ben Stone, reminds me a bit of someone I went to college with: Ben McDermott.

Nugget: a slightly more grown-up take on the gross-out movie.

Thursday 4 September 2008

Stardust Memories (1980) - ickleReview (DVD)

A disappointing Woody Allen film shot in black and white. Allen plays a comic film director who no longer wants to make funny films. He goes to a film festival that is showing a retrospective of his films. He stays in the Stardust Hotel and reminisces about his life. There are three female love interests. The film doesn't have a clear structure. It's a bit like Fellini: artfully shot, good-looking, but a bit boring and lacking in substance.

Nugget: one of Allen's missable misses.

Monday 1 September 2008

C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America (2004) - ickleReview (DVD)

The premise of this spoof documentary is great: what would happen if the Southern Confederates had won the American Civil War? Slavery would still exist in America! The reality is a somewhat slow and boring film, which is witty rather than laugh-out-loud funny. It's cheaply produced and made to look like a TV documentary produced by the "British Broadcasting Service", complete with ad-breaks and programme trailers. Part of the problem is that it doesn't look real enough - especially the spoof film excerpts. I'm sure it would be funnier to someone who knew more about American history and so would understand the clever tricks the writer/director Kevin Willmott is playing. I was so bored by it, though, that I couldn't face sitting through it all again to hear his director's commentary. I was hoping to see more of what life in Confederate America would be like now, but the only glimpses you get of that are in the hammy adverts and the last few minutes of the film. Most of it is a subjunctive retelling of American history.

Nugget: good idea, poor execution. Profoundly disappointing.

Murderball (2005) - ickleReview (DVD)

Murderball bad-ass Mark Zupan. Photo source: United States Quad Rugby Association.

is a sport invented in Canada also known as wheelchair rugby. It is played by quadriplegic athletes in teams of four and is a cross between basketball, rugby, and ice-hockey. Each athlete is given a points value of 0.5-3.5 depending on their level of ability and movement. A team can have no more than 8 points on the court at a time. A quadriplegic is a person who has impairment in all four limbs, usually from a spinal injury, but it can also include amputees. This documentary directed by Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro follows the USA quad rugby team for two and half years from the 2002 world championships in Stockholm to the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens. It also tracks the Canadian coach, Joe Soares, star of the USA team at the 1996 Atlanta games. The USA and Canada were the two best teams in quad rugby leading up to 2004.

This is a great sports movie. The athletes have a brilliant attitude. Some of them say their lives changed for the better since they became quadriplegic, mainly because it has given them the opportunity to play quad rugby. It is a thrillingly fast and violent sport, played in customized wheelchairs with added armour and rollerblade front wheels, which look like the machines from Robot Wars.

The filmmakers give the film balance by telling the stories of long-term quadriplegics like Mark Zupan and Joe Soares alongside Keith Cavill, who sustained a spinal injury in a motocross accident shortly before the film was made. We see Keith in rehab, coming to terms with his new way of life; and we see Zupan, who has lived with his wheelchair for 11 years, since he was 18, and Soares, who had childhood polio. Zupan is a real star. He's an asshole, just like he was before he got injured, but a likeable asshole with a fuck-you attitude well suited to the tough, intense sport of Murderball, where one of the main aims is to run into your opponent so hard that you knock him over, out of his wheelchair, and out of the game.

It's quite appropriate that one of the extra features on this DVD is a Jackass Murderball special. That's the sort of attitude to life that some of these players have. These characters are surprisingly ballsy, overturning some of the stereotypes attached to people in wheelchairs. They still have an active sex life, enjoy drinking and going out, and are fiercely independent.

The film is given a natural trajectory by the build-up to Athens, and a plot-line through the rivalry between the USA and Canada. Coach Joe Soares fell out bitterly with the USA team when he was dropped for being too old and too slow, so he moved to Canada in defiance. Some of the American players and officials goad him with betraying his country. He just wants to win to prove them wrong.

Nugget: Murderball is a tremendously funny and moving film. It will change the way you think about people with disabilities.