Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Stuff I own on Region 1

2. Thrashin'

I assure you there are some serious films in my DVD collection. It’s just some of the trashy flicks I like aren’t always available on Region 2, such as Night of the Comet and this gem from 1986.

Thrashin' is ostensibly a Romeo and Juliet-type tale of two warring ‘tribes’ of skaters played out against the backdrop of a very 80’s neon-heavy Venice Beach. With a title track performed by Meat Loaf (somewhat at odds with the rest of the garagy, west coast punk soundtrack) this is a totally rad film with some gnarly skating to boot. It also features an early lead performance from the now well-established A-lister, Josh Brolin. I always remembered seeing the film advertised in the pages of the DC and Marvel US comics I OD’d on as a kid, but I didn’t catch it until much later, when I was probably too old to really dig it as much as I did.

Like Breakdance: The Movie (aka Breakin’), a film from the same era cashing in on the then latest craze, the plot here is pretty much secondary to the real star of the show - namely the amazing skateboarding sequences performed by real professions (a teenage Tony Hawk being one of them). It’s a film very much of it’s time but I'm always interested in soaking up stuff that was produced in an era that I was old enough to remember and quite frankly, loved.

Although I suffer from zero balance and chronically awful coordination skills which have hindered my ability to skate, I’ve always had a fascination with the look and lifestyle. Films like this and Dogtown and Z-Boys have provided a fascinating (in my mind) look into the birth and development of a once specialist hobby which now have a significant place in modern culture. Just wish I could grind dammit!

Monday, 14 September 2009

People, it’s funny!

I went to see the latest Judd Apatow comedy at the weekend. It didn’t make a lot of money in America but I read some of the reviews and it sounded promising. On a side note, I don’t know why, but I’ve recently been looking at box-office figures overseas as some kind of yardstick in judging if a film is worthy of my time. I know its ridiculous and it’s getting really annoying, but it’s always there, subconsciously in the back of my mind when I’m choosing stuff to watch.

I’m happy to report that not only was this a fantastic film, but for my money, it’s the best so far from Apatow and competes with Punch Drunk Love (although a very different role and film), as Sandler’s greatest performance. In fact, I couldn’t believe how good he was in this film. He’s playing a pretty unlikeable character here, but by infusing him with believability and pathos, there’s enough for the audience to still sympathise and relate to. It’s also interesting to note that while perhaps not identical on a personality level with the star, this is probably the closest he’s come to playing himself - further enhanced by the meta-sprinkles of having early video footage of a pre-famous Sandler at the beginning of the film and the character’s chose of film roles within the film, mirroring that of Sandlers previous output.

This is definitely a more character-driven comedy than both the star and directors previous work and that’s why it works so well. As funny as The 40-Year Old Virgin and Knocked-Up were, they always seemed to me (particular Virgin) as a series of comedy set-pieces arranged around a plot. Funny People has a well-developed and satisfying journey for its characters, and it resonates more strongly because of this. Annoyingly, this was obviously too much of a leap for an American audience to make as so far, the film has made just over $50 million at the US box office – all the more disappointing when you consider it was the big, so-called comedy ‘tent-pole’ release of the summer.

When Apatow decides to make another film, I can just imagine the studio executives pressurising him to jettison all the stuff that made Funny People work. I sincerely hope that this doesn’t happen and on the strength of his earlier successes, I hope he has enough muscle to be able to still make what he wants. Sadly, I have a funny feeling that it won’t happen that way.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Cinematic sex fix

Film can be a wonderful teacher. Through the medium we can learn all about different aspects of human nature and behaviour. As you can imagine, as a young teenager the sex part of this proved particularly intriguing to me.

There was enough proper porn to educate my friends and I during the school holidays (thanks largely to someone’s dad who possessed a Larry Flynt-esque volume of shoddy, mostly unwatchable Betamax and VHS), but those weren’t the sort of films you could borrow for home use. I watched the mainstream products to educate myself, although there were a few distractions along the way:

I remember my sister, around six at the time, walking in on the scene with Richard Dreyfus banging the maid (rather enthusiastically I may add) in
Down and Out in Beverly Hills. Being in my early teens, it was still an awkward age for me to try and explain what was happening on screen, although any worries soon dissipated as my sister quickly deduced that the two were in- fact 'doing exercises' to which I wholeheartedly agreed.

My dad once recorded
Rita, Sue & Bob Too for me to watch when I was 13. I don’t know if this was some kind of half-hearted attempt on his behalf to stealthfully introduce me to the old birds and bees, or maybe he just genuinely thought his son would like to see what grubby sex could look like. Whatever his intentions, it was certainly an eye-opener. I’ve actually grown to really appreciate and embrace this film (anyone who says they don’t like it is being snobby) but the disturbing image of Bob’s ass frantically bobbing up and down, mid-coitus in the front seat of his Ford Cortina, has been forever seared into my brain. This was made by the late revered British film-maker Alan Clarke and it’s still the funniest and most realistic depiction of sex I’ve seen in a film.

If there was ever a need for a remote control which could magically rewind or fast-forward events in the actual real world, it would have been particularly useful for one evening in my childhood when I settled down to watch
Risky Business with my Mum present. To give you an idea of how young I was, I didn’t think to read the synopsis in the Radio Times and it was probably past my bedtime anyway. I’m not even sure my Mum knew what was on until she peered up from her newspaper about 20 minutes in to witness The Cruiser groping an semi-naked Rebecca De Mornay from behind, and then shluping her in all different positions and areas around his parent’s house, including the oak staircase.

It was one of those moments when any sign of movement on my behalf would have acknowledged the acute and overbearing embarrassment I was feeling. I think I actually held my breath for a couple of minutes before limply excusing myself. Was my Mum unaware of the torture that I was going through at that moment? - probably not. Situations like that are much more heightened when you’re at that age.

I think I was around the age of 14 when my parents (with my Mum's involvement this time) handed me a copy of an old (and very dated) 60’s sex farce called
Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush they’d recorded off telly the night before. It had been a film they had watched as a young couple (shudder) and for some reason, I guess they felt that this was something I might learn from or maybe it was their way of providing some kind of anthropological snapshot of their own teenage years. Whatever they intended, the film wasn’t sexy nor enlightening. It was shit.