Yearly Archives: 2003

Weir at Sea

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (Peter Weir, 2003)

Plot wise, there is not a great deal to Peter Weir’s sailing picture Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World. During the Napoleonic Wars, the British vessel Surprise is alone at sea off the coast of South America with orders to intercept the French vessel Acheron. After an opening skirmish, Captain Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe) plays a cat-and-mouse game with the French ship, which significantly outguns his own. Along the way he must deal with inexperienced officers, insubordinate and superstitious crewmembers, and particularly the doubts and war-weariness of the ships’ doctor Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany).

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Spelling A

Review – Spellbound (Jeffrey Blitz, 2003)

The Spellbound in question is not Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller, but rather the absolutely riveting, Oscar nominated documentary about spelling bees in the United States. As with so many of the best documentaries (including the one that beat it to the Oscar, Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine), it is at once hilarious and yet kind of disturbing. It follows eight children to the National Spelling Bee, with the first half of the film patiently establishing their personalities of the contestants, and the second half showing the relentless, pressure cooker finals that utilise a gratuitously unfair (but extremely exciting) sudden death format.

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The Departure of Disney

The news in the last couple of weeks that Roy E. Disney (and another board member, Stanley Gold) have resigned from the board of the Disney corporation after disputes with Michael Eisner draws attention to the depressing future that faces the studio. I have no inside knowledge of the studio, so have no idea how effective Roy E. was as a board member. But even if his role was purely ceremonial, the symbolism of what’s occurred is bad enough. Roy E. Disney is Walt Disney’s nephew, and the son of studio co-founder Roy Disney. Given the elder Roy’s much larger then generally understood role in the studio’s operation (he ran the business end until after Walt’s death, and the studio was initially the “Disney Brothers” studio), Roy E. represented a direct, tangible link to the heritage of the company, which has always been its greatest asset. It’s long been easy – and largely accurate – to disparage Disney as just another soulless media conglomerate, but Roy E. was still there as a human link to the glory days of the thirties when Walt blazed his trails. (Sure Roy E. was just a kid at the time, but we’re talking symbolism here).

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A Long Trek Down a Short Pier

Star Trek: Nemesis (Stuart Baird, 2002)

There has been a long-standing tradition that the even-numbered Trek films are good and the odd numbered ones mediocre or bad. Star Trek: Nemesis – the tenth Trek film, and almost certainly the last involving the full “Next Generation” crew – mixes enough good, bad and indifferent elements that it would have been held up as vindication of that theory whether it was been odd or even numbered. The villain of the piece is Shinzon, who has masterminded a political coup in the Romulan empire by the empire’s underclass, the Remans. Story logic would dictate that Shinzon would be Reman himself, but Nemesis is founded on twin contrivances: firstly, that Shinzon is a clone of the captain of the starship Enterprise, Jean-Luc Picard, and secondly, that Shinzon has somehow come into possession of a prototype for the android Data. These plot points are, on close examination, patently absurd, but they serve their purpose of providing a personal link between the villain and the hero of the piece.

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Star Wars on DVD and the Pink Panther Remake

The last week or so has seen the news splash around the internet that Star Wars will arrive on DVD in September 2004, without the real question being answered: which version? Despite the breathless headlines “Original Trilogy on DVD,” nobody knows if we will in fact get the original trilogy as released in 1977 to 1983 (although those willing to take a punt have tended to state that we will get the 1997 Special Editions instead).

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The Matrix Reduced, Reused, Recycled

The Matrix Revolutions (Larry and Andy Wachowksi, 2003)

I didn’t enjoy The Matrix Reloaded as much as the original, but I think one of the principal pleasures was mulling over the questions it raised but did not answer. The months between the two films have led to in-depth debate about the implications of Reloaded.

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Phone Home

E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial (Steven Spielberg), 1982

Accounts of the early development of, and inspiration for, Spielberg’s wonderful E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial talk of two early ideas that merged into one. The first was the idea of a thriller about aliens called Night Skies, involving aliens menacing a farmhouse, which included a subplot about an alien being left behind on Earth. The second was a nebulous idea about a film based on the life of children. The latter idea seems to have gone through many incarnations, being referred to variously as Clearwater, After School, Growing Up, and A Boy’s Life. Some of these may nominally have been considered separate projects (Clearwater seems to have been based on a treatment by Hal Barwood and Matthew Robbins, while Growing Up was a Robert Zemeckis / Bob Gale script), but the common thread was that Spielberg wanted to do a small scale, intimate film about children. The greatness of E.T. can be linked to its origins in this premise: it works so well because it would be an interesting movie even without the alien.

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Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994)

Quentin Tarantino’s follow-up to Reservoir Dogs is superficially in the same vein, but it expands the scope of Tarantino’s world enormously. Where Dogs was taut and focussed (telling the story of single bank robbery, with few locations and a small core of characters), Pulp Fiction is a wide-ranging journey through the low-life of Los Angeles. Its several interrelated story lines unmistakeably occur in the same world as those of Reservoir Dogs, but the film is in every way – story, messsage, form – more ambitious than Tarntino’s earlier film. It has an air of definitiveness: not just because it is a key film of its genre, but because it is the most focussed and well executed of Tarantino’s films. It enlarges and illuminates his other work.

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Before Blogs There Were Logs

The Jaws Log: 25th Anniversary Edition (Carl Gottlieb, 1975 / 2001, Newmarket Press)

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As an enormous fan of Jaws, I looked forward to catching up with screenwriter Carl Gottlieb’s account of its making, and certainly it’s very valuable as the first hand account by a key participant of a particularly interesting project. Yet I was strangely disappointed by it.

Written in 1975, right after the film was made, it has been revised for the new edition through addition of a new introduction (by Peter Benchley), a foreword by Gottlieb, some great set photos, and copious endnotes that predominantly recount events since the book was first written. The result, unfortunately, has neither the strengths of a fresh eyewitness account nor a considered opinion made with the benefit of hindsight. The 1975 material (the body of the text) seems overly keen not to offend anyone, resulting in strange and inconsistent self-censorship: on page 46 Gottlieb grants anonymity to the second screenwriter on the project (Howard Sackler), apparently at Sackler’s request, but on Page 137 he goes ahead and names him regardless. He is also unrelentingly eager to promote the movie, which at the time was still in cinemas, and which the 1975 incarnation of Gottlieb tends to assume we haven’t seen. (Speaking of the mix of real and mechanical shark footage he earnestly informs us that we’ll “never be able to guess what footage was shot where.” Hmmm.)

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Too Placid

The Rage in Placid Lake (Tony McNamara, 2003)

Writer-director Tony McNamara’s amiable but shallow coming of age film tells the story of Placid Lake (Ben Lee), who has been bullied throughout his formative years. After a particularly violent confrontation at the end of his final year of high school, he undergoes an epiphany: he needs to try to fit in to normal society. So he abandons (or at least attempts to abandon) his unconventional ways, opting to go corporate and take a menial clerical job at the Icarus insurance company.

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