Tuesday, 25 December 2018

Two From The Vault - Merry Christmas


Two Christmas e-efforts from back when Agent Rob bothered.... Anyway, thanks to those of you for sticking with the blog this year. Hopefully it's amused (and likely bemused) these past 12 months....

Saturday, 22 December 2018

GFT NOV 93, Cinema 3


Oh dear! There's nothing like the concluding film in a trilogy for rehashing past glories, going through those movie motions and failing to deliver, arriving once interest and inspiration has well and truly run dry, landing horribly over budget and terribly under delivering(!?). Be rest assured this blog is all of these things.... and more! This time Agent Rob thought he'd kick off with some of the most flatulent film flops he's slogged his way through (whilst trying to ignore his rather glaring omission from the last-but-not-last post, in the fine form of 1994's Pulp Fiction)....


Film Flops (?)

While there's nothing to beat sitting in a packed cinema watching the likes of Withnail & I, This Is Spinal Tap or Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, lapping up the same old jolly jokes, belly aching with all the other converted cults - or indeed, witnessing a sell-out crowd of schoolkids go completely ape for Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone - there's no denying a large part of GFT cinema going can be a somewhat lonely and less than rewarding experience, Rob almost convinced he's attending a private screening with only the unseen usherette's sniffing and snuffling for company. It's these moments where perhaps a film truly has to stand up and be counted - think of the comedian struggling to establish laughs to a paltry audience of 6 - and so here are just a few that fail(ed) to raise a smile....

UZAK (2002)

An absolute curio this film, painfully slow - which is really the harshest criticism Rob could level at many of these flops - and yet, somehow, it had several quite striking (in their canny representation of the drearily mundane) moments. UZAK's definitely a film Rob's glad he sat through - again, he'll always stay for the duration, hoping upon hope that there's such a(n emotional) peak to make the dull trudge along the trough worthwhile - those preciously observed moments lingering in the mind. But, like all the other films consigned to this list, he'd hesitate to recommend seeing it to anyone....

Underground (1995)

At a time when Rob still believed the (GFT brochure) hype he eagerly ventured into this acclaimed 170(!) minute epic only to discover it lasts twice as long when you're sitting down. Funnily enough IMDB has a Director's Cut that clocks in at 320 minutes. Perhaps that's just as long as it actually feels. Interminable....

In The Mood For Love (2000)

Much like Takeshi Kitano's Hana-Bi, In The Mood For Love was Wong Kar Wai's critical breakthrough, heralding his arrival on the BIG screen's BIG stage. Only, unlike Hana-Bi (which did improve with repeat viewings) this exercise in super stylish chic only ever leaves Rob cold. In fact (being typically perverse?) Rob has a lot more time for the belated sequel 2046, and rates it as one of those "I was In the Mood For Film, wandered up to Rose Street, swithered, took a punt and it duly delivered!" moments (see also The New World and Spellbound)....


Interestingly the list of memorable (though much rather better forgotten) duds really takes off into the 2000's so perhaps simply an element of (too much) "film fatigue" was beginning to creep in, the inevitable moment when nothing new quite matches up to what has been seen before and once fresh directors slip into a sluggish or indulgent middle age. So suddenly we have films like (Kitano's, no less!) Dolls (2002), Last Life in the Universe (2003), I Heart Huckabees (2004), Tony Takitani (2004), C.R.A.Z.Y. (2005), I'm A Cyborg But That's Okay (2006), Mood Indigo (2013) and High-Rise (2015), films that just completely missed Rob's mark (often setting his Spider-Sense a-tingling after 5-10 minutes, knowing that a long, incompatible and generally tedious ride was ahead)....

The Assassin (2015)

This theory is exemplified by Rob's attending a screening of The Assassin (Sight and Sound/BFI's "Best Film of 2015") a stylish, yet ultimately slow, superficial and uninvolving film. There's only so many times the camera can be pointed skyward, trees rustling in the morning breeze before it becomes as much of a tiresome cliche as the swooping CGI establishing shot favoured by a plethora of generic Hollywood blockbusters....

(At this point To The Wonder (2012) merits a special mention for being little more than an embarrassing 2 hour long perfume advert masquerading as "arthouse", a brutally boring film that sadly swore me off the work of favoured cinematic "auteur" Terrence Malick for good.)


Of course, should a film fail to entertain then just maybe you can rely on the audience to provide the laughs. I'll confess that Multiplex audiences might often be made up of young cretins who don't know how to switch off their phones but that "arthouse" crowds, who confuse the supposed sophistication of being able to sip a pint and watch a film with the reality of constantly nipping out for piss breaks, can be just as frustrating. Certainly the (slight) drunk who exclaimed "JEEEEZUS!" when a cache of guns was revealed during Breakfast On Pluto warrants a mention, as do the two old ladies who giggled their way through Morvern Callar's dub-tastic sex scene. Then again, the joy of Toni Erdmann was almost derailed by a whistling radiator. (No mention of the moron a few rows back who ruined The Grand Budapest Hotel by jangling his keys all the way through tho'!)


Film Docs

But time to knock it off with those negative waves as it seems there's no shortage of BIG screen documentaries to enjoy these days instead. Indeed, it's almost a given that a (vintage) band (famous or not so famous) receive some sort of archival blessing in this format. Not that Rob's complaining as documentary films such as The Doors: When You're StrangeMonks - The Transatlantic FeedbackNew York DollEnd of the Century, Eat That Question: Frank Zappa In His Own Words, Upside Down: The Creation Records Story and Love Story more than scratch a music lover's itch (much more than, say, the absolute horror of actual studio music bios, those Hollywood "Stars In Their Eyes" travesties that never fail to reduce an artist's creative endeavours to the worst bullet point cliches). Only Gimme Danger proved to be something of a letdown given the lack of footage of The Stooges performing live in their prime.... 

Hearts and Minds (1974)

An excellent Vietnam documentary, Hearts & Minds, (which now serves as an essential primer for The Vietnam War television series) is a harrowing watch....

Man On Wire (2008)

Man on Wire is a fascinating documentary film about a singularly driven (and naturally somewhat unhinged) individual who struggled to undertake and experience something (that now no one else ever will) and how it affected him and those around him....

You're Gonna Miss Me (2005)

Looking into the long and messy battle to try to stabilise and rehabilitate 60's acid/establishment casualty Roky Erickson of the 13th Floor Elevators, You're Gonna Miss Me is as amazing as it is distressing (and as close to mimicking the fragile world(s) of Agent Johnny as it gets)....

Film Fails


Aside from arriving at the (astounding) films of Pedro Almodovar about 15 years too late there are a few BIG screen treats that (annoyingly) slipped under the radar back in the day....

Pusher (1996)

Rob's sad to say that Pusher (and by association its two sequels) completely passed him by at the GFT. He has no recollection of seeing the trailer but there's no denying that the poster was, for him, a marketing fail. Somehow this look just did not appeal. Of course, the 3 films - best viewed knowing nothing about them at all - are gritty and excellent (but just not in the way this bloodily stylistic image suggests). Director/writer Nicolas Winding Refn's Bronson and Drive - in which particular case Rob was mighty wary of the hype machine revving away - also missed torpedoing Rob's floating boat as he drifted further away from trusting the silver screen....

Nosferatu (1979)

Beyond the fact he's missed just about all of Nicolas Winding Refn's "oeuvre" on the BIG screen it's really a combination of an abundance of laziness and a lack of time on Rob's part that means much touted restorations of films like Werner Herzog's wonderfully creepy and atmospheric Nosferatu The Vampyre or the beautifully deranged Aguirre, The Wrath of God have yet to take their place amongst his GFT greats. Andrei Tarkovsky's similarly brilliant Stalker and Solaris are certainly close runners-up in this regretful department.... Still, like Rob, they'll be back!

Stalker (1979)

Film Phantoms

To finish here's two films that have (much to Rob's surprise and knowledge) never passed through the GFT's hallowed stalls (but really ought to. Hint! Hint!)....

"The Fearless Vampire Killers"

Pardon me, but your teeth are in my neck! If ever there was a film that deserves to be blown up from DVD then it's Roman Polanski's superior, stylishly atmospheric mood piece and gently comedic horror (spoof) The Fearless Vampire Killers. Indeed, to bring this whole blogging debacle fool circle Rob was delighted to see it given a glowing endorsement in Mark Cousin's The Story of Film, the pair exchanging a few words to that effect when they met after the screening....



Bedazzled (1967)

Another (mostly) forgotten (British) gem that surely deserves a 'wider screening' (ho ho!) than the humble television can offer is Peter Cook and Dudley Moore's wonderful Bedazzled (which seems to belong to a rather long list of overlooked 60's comedies written and performed by some of the finest talents of their day)....


Honourable Mentions....


Woah?! And we're still not done! Yep, much like that moment during The Last Jedi when, aching for it to just finish, Rob suddenly realised we had yet to endure the salt/Hoth planet battle from the trailer, here's five more film favourites rescued from the cutting room floor to dredge things out beyond the limit of human tolerance....

Kikujiro (1999)


Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans (2009)

The 100 Year-Old-Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared (2013)


Inherent Vice (2014)

Men and Chicken (2015)

Okay, it's all but over! The credits have rolled (the lights going up approximately halfway through) and Rob's stayed in his seat until the very end (not that you get anything approaching "Easter Eggs" at the GFT, but still), finally making his way to the exit as the usherette does the rounds, patiently undertaking the Sisyphean task of scooping up the screening's detritus....

Friday, 30 November 2018

GFT NOV 93, Cinema 2


In cinemas now! After a period mired in development hell - and quite honestly suffering as a result of an unforeseen 'writer's strike' - Agent Rob's second GFT blog finally, er, explodes onto your screens, um.... Of course, this list is by no means definitive in any way (nor exhaustive, given the heap of tickets waded through and the welter of films obviously missed). Rob has (and you your good selves have surely) seen plenty of great films elsewhere in our respective times.... but all come highly recommended regardless! Readers may expect a certain level of George Lucas-esque retroactive tinkering with the text too, so although the packaging won't necessarily change perceptibly over time the contents just might (but, in this case, only as a Force for good). To avoid any further "nailing of one's colours to the coffin" these favourite fillums are listed by year of release....

Bank Holiday (1938)

The earliest Sketch Sundays were drawn from the book Best of British: A Celebration of Rank Film Classics, which featured Box Office draws of yesteryear such as Patricia RocPhyllis CalvertVirginia - "still alive and acting!" - McKenna and Margaret Lockwood. Naturally Rob has some(thing of an accidental) knowledge of that era, having gently absorbed the text and photos over the years. The opportunity to see Bank Holiday a wonderful slice of vanished pre-War British life at the GFT being simply too good to miss. Notable for a (then controversial) early scene where Margaret Lockwood sticks her head in a gas oven as she contemplates suicide...


(With forthcoming Sketch Sundays culled from the similarly themed The Big Book of British Films, 1939-1970 there's definitely a maker/scheduler to thank for the arrival of the Talking Pictures TV channel....)

M. Hulot's Holiday (1958)

Rob's first exposure to Jacques Tati was a scrappy (and incomplete) VHS of (the somewhat overlooked in his oeuvre) Trafic, but the above languid classic - the warmest, sunniest black and white film ever made? - is just perfect up on the BIG screen. Tati's later curio Parade was also an (unexpected if uneven) pleasure when it happened to stop by the GFT....


Dracula (1958)

A well worn - or should that be wearing well? - Hammer Films classic and, quite simply, one of those films that ought to be seen in the cinema for the sheer bygone "Technicolor Treat" of the experience. Also notable for James Bernard's menacing and unsettling score....

Yojimbo (1961)

A film certainly videotaped when screened on Moviedrome (at some ungodly hour) and finally caught on the BIG screen at last year's Glasgow Film Festival. The fact that they screened the (unknown to Rob) sequel, Sanjuro, the same week made this black and white treat doubly sweet....

From Russia With Love (1963)

Again, whether you (from Russia with) love them or loathe them, there's no denying the early, Sean Connery, Bond films pop off the BIG screen like no other, the dazzling Technicolor print, the exotic locations - easily accessible by plane to the many now but surely beyond the wildest dreams of Joe and Joanna Public back then - and John Barry's sizzling scores made Rob "pay attention" when these 60's classics rolled into town for their 40th anniversary screenings....


JAWS (1975)

Making it's 1975 summer debut shortly before Agent Rob emerged from the amniotic depths, JAWS is, of course, another BIG screen essential. Hitting their 30th birthdays at roughly the same time the occasion was duly marked as the pair met up at the GFT to celebrate. And, yep, the audience (still) all shat their pants at the scene when they find Ben Gardner's semi-sunken boat and Hooper takes to the water to investigate....


(If anyone missed it, Rob's visit to "Amity Island" was blogged here....)

Taxi Driver (1976)

The ultimate '70's film (with Mean Streets running it a close second)? Certainly this was probably the ultimate student film for us back in the day, Robert De Niro being the ultimate student's actor and Travis Bickle the ultimate (anti-social) student's anti-hero. Without question a truly powerful piece of filmmaking enhanced tenfold by the terrific and evocative score from Bernard Herrmann....


Apocalypse Now! (1979)

Another no-brainer to be seen on the BIG screen, Apocalypse Now drew an (apocalypse) "Wow!" from Rob when he finally had the opportunity to travel up the cinematic river, losing himself in the jungle with Captain Willard and crew. (Not to be confused with the uneven, overlong and frankly messy REDUX version - if it proved one thing it's that the editor of the '79 version brought the original safely back from 'nam in one (untouchable) piece.)...

Sonatine (1993)

We now enter the "Holy Trinity" beginning with "Beat" Takeshi Kitano's excellent Sonatine. John Woo may have blown the cinema doors off with his stylish HK action films but it was Takeshi Kitano's offbeat yakuza gangsters who sure made sure they stayed that way... for film after film... until he lost his UK distribution - immediately after 2003's stirring Zatoichi, no less - and so limiting his rather fine late period Outrage trilogy, amongst other (admittedly more obscure) films, to hard to find/afford limited European DVD releases....


Chungking Express (1994)

Rob had no idea the treat that awaited him when he took a punt on this strange Hong Kong import.  (He even met a pal on the way to the cinema who reckoned it sounded pretty boring and didn't fancy seeing it). "Nae luck" as they say, for this film remains one of writer/director Wong Kar-wai's best, if not Rob's very favourite. Stylish, evocative, kooky, dreamy - it has it all (and Faye Wong)! (The following year's sequel/spin-off, Fallen Angels, which completely confounded Rob at the GFT, is actually pretty good too....)


(If anyone missed it, Rob's pilgrimage to Chungking Mansions was blogged here....)

La Haine (1995)

Completing this exciting world cinema triptych is La Haine, another incredible and evocative film that shone a brutal light on the stark reality of life in the housing projects of Paris. (Especially) notable for a memorable Dolly Zoom overlooking the city streets and, when first viewed, the fact that Asterix and Obelix were subtitled (by the American translators?) as Charlie Brown and Snoopy....


Battle Royale (2000)

Just mental....

Blue Gate Crossing (2002)

Rob can't recall much about this distinctly humid film other than, in an odd way, it's wistful and mannered approach to the subject of young people (falling in love and discovering themselves) stood in stark contrast to the sort of gritty/contrived "yoof" rubbish perpetually ground out to an audience of none by the British film industry, that curiously uneven mix of social realism and obvious lcd comedy - when he realised nothing this subtle, this perceptive could be crafted on these shores. This film and many like it may also succeed due to the fact that it's harder to tell if a young actor is poor when they're not speaking and emoting in your native language....

Ping Pong (2002)

One of those sincere and joyous world films about dreams, about friendship, about being yourself and never giving up. Some very fine moments and, as per just about every film on this list, at least one truly memorable and touching emotional peak....


Toni Erdmann (2016)

When GFT head honcho Allison Gardner stepped out in front of the audience to introduce (the actually much better than it looked) T2 Trainspotting she made a deliberate slip, accidentally welcoming everyone to a screening of Toni Erdmann. Agent Rob was certainly taking (mental) notes and saw this supremely bizarre film the following week. How best to describe this long, strange stroll through a life-affirming black and bleak comedy (like that, maybe)? Hmm, maybe best we all wait for the (then mooted) Jack Nicholson starring remake, er.... (Last year's The Square is quite similar in execution, the long running time allowing the characters and (clever comic) situations room to really breathe...)

Honourable mentions....

Before this epic completely runs out of steam Rob thought it better to cut to the chase and quickly showcase a further few film favourites that bubbled under the making of this list....

Stranger Than Paradise (1984)



Noi Albinoi (2003)

The Station Agent (2003)

Kontroll (2003)


Catch A Virgin Ghost (2004)

Is that it? Of course not! Everyone knows that franchises (and especially) trilogies are where it's at! So if this rough around the edges "assembly cut" of cinematic cult/ure has only served to whet your appetite then brace yourselves for more (of the same-ish) when we'll get to film documentaries, film flops, film discoveries, film fails and much more (as salvaged from this blog's cutting room floor), screening soon in Cinema 3....