The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash (1978)

April 18, 2009

rutles-1“the whole thing is brilliantly authentic

This is a great film.  It works if you have a sketchy knowledge of The Beatles because it doesn’t rely on obscure references or in-jokes but equally if you do have a nerdy knowledge of the Fab Four (as I probably do) then it is never simplistic or inaccurate.  Knowing how possessive and geeky Beatles fans can be, that’s quite an achievement.

There are superb Beatles pastiche songs by Neil Innes from The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and hilarious cameos from George Harrison, Mick Jagger, Bill Murray, John Belushi, Michael Palin, Bianca Jagger, Roger McGough, Paul Simon and Ronnie Wood- some as themselves, some as minor characters.  There are superb one-liners from the pen of Monty Python’s Eric Idle (“Many fans burnt their albums, many more burnt their fingers attempting to burn their albums”, “He was supposed to have been killed in a flash fire at a waterbed shop”, “In the midst of all this public bickering, “Let it Rot” was released as a film, an album, and a lawsuit”) and the whole thing is brilliantly authentic.  The Beatles Anthology, the real documentary which followed probably twenty years later and is also exceptional viewing, can’t help but look like this and that’s a great testament to the direction of Eric Idle and Gary Weis.  The budget might have been miniscule (it certainly looks like it) but it hardly matters, there is enough invention and intelligence here to make it all worthwhile.

The only real negative is that the film, sadly, peters out.  The frantic pace of the gags in the first three quarters of the film appears unsustainable and it doesn’t help that they are parodying a relatively sad period and slower, more introspective songs.  It’s hard to write a pastiche of something that was fairly ridiculous to begin with and the Maharishi stuff, the Magical Mystery Tour and the slow-motion bust up are all tip-toed around in the least satisfying segment of the film.  Swapping references to late sixties drugs like LSD and marijuana for tea just isn’t very funny, is it?

But it’s still fantastic, second only to the mighty This Is Spinal Tap. 8/10

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Rushmore (1998)

April 7, 2009

rushmore_adThis might be Murray’s best ever role

Amazing that I’d never seen this.  It’s a cracking little film, but one that slips a little under the radar being a little overshadowed by the star-heavy The Royal Tenenbaums.  It is a very Wes Anderson film;  lots of great screen compositions, beautiful colours, lots of stills with graphics, a phenomenal soundtrack, quirky characters doing pretty incredible (and frankly uncredible) things in between smoking a lot and riffing some impossible-to-extemporise dialogue.

It is about relationships and the lengths people will go to in order to get their own way.  And in Rushmore that familiar Anderson territory is better explored than he perhaps manages anywhere else.  Jason Schwartzman’s Max Fischer is a scholarship student at the prestigious Rushmore Academy who hides his modest background (his father, played by Seymour Cassel, is a barber) and will do anything to remain at the school.  He develops a friendship with a wealthy but unhappy middle-aged man Herman Blume (Bill Murray) and an infatuation with a teacher (Miss Cross, played by Olivia Williams).  Inevitably, they develop a relationship between them causing conflict and a reappraisal of priorities.

Where most of Anderson’s films are a triumph of style over substance- not necessarily a criticism of course- this one has a little more depth.  I particularly like the Oedipal themes which recur, Max has father-figure relationships with his own father (well, duh!), Herman Blume, Dr Guggenheim (Brian Cox, an underrated actor) and even is the father-figure for Dirk Calloway- I don’t know what it’s called in the US but here he’d be called Max’s fag.  The way in which the same relationship is shown with differing dynamics is really quite nicely done.  This also gives scope for some great characters and some really enjoyable performances, most especially by Bill Murray: Rushmore is a total gift for Bill.

I thought this was great.  I don’t want to give it an 8/10 because I’ve given loads of films an 8/10 and it feels a bit devalued, but that’s what it really is for me.  8/10

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Ed Wood (1994)

February 5, 2009

The first time I saw this I enjoyed it in the same way that I enjoy watching, say, Plan 9 From Outer Space-style tat- I enjoyed laughing at it rather than with it.  This was my second viewing and I didn’t enjoy it half as much and by the end I was bored to tears.  I’m by no means a Tim Burton fan because of his ‘distinctive style’ which is a polite euphemism for lack of variety, but he has made some films I’ve really enjoyed.  With this, though, he shows no objectivity whatsoever- more or less everyone is mugging for the cameras as if their lives depended upon it.  Perhaps that’s the joke- the relatively huge number of continuity errors I spotted would suggest so- but if so, it wasn’t quite clever enough to pull it off.

Burton’s regular lead Johnny Depp is as irritating as fuck in this, all hyperactive head-shaking and Porky Pig speech patterns, I usually like his hammy style but in this (as in last year’s bloody dreadful Sweeney Todd) he was proper tat.  In addition Bill Murray- by 1994 almost completely morphed into the ‘Buster Keaton without the stunts’ that he is today- is miles away from his best form.  Add to that a script that gets repetitive and fails to intrigue at all and you’re looking at a proper flop.  A shame because the film could have been really good with just a little more care and attention.

martin-landau-as-bela

What saves the film is the career-best performance of Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi.  He is worth the admission price alone and for that I’m thinking 4/10.


The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

February 2, 2009

Not one to let a good idea go to waste that Wes Anderson is he?  I hadn’t seen this before, but I had seen The Royal Tenenbaums and so it feels like I have.  This is more or less the same- a quirky offbeat  drama featuring a dysfunctional middle-class family learning to love themselves and one another in unusual circumstances- in fact it’s the same.  And less.

Owen Wilson plays Owen Wilson as always, Adrien Brody looks a bit uncomfortable as his brother and Jason Schwartzman plays a third brother.  No-one really stands out either positively or negatively.  The dialogue is arch and stilted but not as clever as it probably looked on paper.  There are a couple of wasted cameos from Anjelica Huston and Bill Murray (who appears to have been flown to the Indian location and back just to run and fail to catch a train for fuck’s sake!).  It all smacks of a film made by a man who believes he can do no wrong and will do whatever enters his head, however ill thought-out or unnecessary.

The film looks great and has a fantastic soundtrack but I could put my MP3 player on shuffle and flick through a book of postcards to get that. 3/10