Scene Unseen:
Some Whole Films.

In the weeks I've been working on this column there have been movies which I've wanted to cover but haven't been able to find an angle. They're maintream pieces which for one reason or another have generally gone unnoticed either because they sound difficult, strange or in one case bonkers. All of them are worth digging up if you're in the mood ...

The Mod Squad

Unfairly unheralded when it was released in the UK by virtue of being an adaption of a tv series no one had seen, The Mod Squad is epitomy of cool. It plays like a homage to the seventies exploitation genre done in the style of the French New Wave. The main reasons to watch are Claire Danes, Giovanni Ribisi and Omar Epps slink their way through the proceedings, their mesmerisingly understated performances recalling early Clint Eastwood, that kind of slow burn charisma.


A sports road movie about karoke, Duets is deeply unconventional, irrational but ludicrously enjoyable. It's one of those moments when a series of characters, stories and ideas which shouldn't be together in the same 112 minutes collide and somehow work. If nothing else, it's a chance to see people like Paul (American Splendor) Giamatti, Maria (The Cooler) Bello and Gwyneth (for goodness sake) Paltrow command a room with their vocal stylings.


Bonkers. From the retina-searing cinematography to the larger than life performances U-Turn is classic film making from another reality. It's difficult to eventually put your finger on why it all finally works although I personally put it down to cameo performance which appears about halfway through -- it doesn't last long; it doesn't contribute anything to the film overall but its mere presence elevates everything...

Blue Crush

Stop sniggering. This is the film you think you'll abore until you see it. From the opening moments your eyes will be glued to the screen as wave after massive wave sloshes across the screen attacked by these tiny creatures, mini-Everests forming and reforming, each a new adventure. Even those who are less forgiving of the standard romantic subplot must agree that the performances likeable, the photography stunning, and the action heartstopping.

Last Party 2000

Phillip Seymour Hoffman investigates the 2000 Presidential Election as it happens drawing out the issues and presenting an even more horrific view of American politics than Michael Moore has four years later. The Democrats eventually come across as the lesser of the two evils, my favourite moment being when at their conference Hoffman asks a member what they stand for and after she offers the list tells her it's exactly what he heard at the Republican conference. You should come to the UK...
Life So yes I'm feeling much better thanks. Now I'm trying to get my head around yet another redesign of the Blogger interface. Confusing.
Film They've done it again, the golden age continues. Spiderman 2 is another triumph, two hours of gripping action adventure backed up with a heartbreaking story. It's funny, heart stopping, everything you'd want or expect - it's better in so many ways than the first film, but also complements it. As though someone was reading my mind many of the objections I had to the first film have been addressed - it feels like one continuous story; it really looks like a man flying through the city now - its incredibly difficult to tell which is human and which isn't; it is also more willing to take time to tell the story.

But - and here I am sighing by the way - it doesn't feel like Spiderman. Not the comic book hero. This isn't an adaptation it's a re-interpretation - and done so well. But the central character just feels too far away from the man who appears on the printed page. Before you start shouting that he's been humanized to make him acceptable for a general audience I understand but I have an argument. Over the years there have been many of adaptations of Sherlock Holmes and countless actors interpreting the role. But I think if you stand them next to each other, the general essence of the character remains the same, because he is what people are tuning in for, to see him solve a case.

So why in putting Spidey on screen have they stripped him of all the characterization which made him such a joy on the printed page? At the basic level it's the wisecracks. At times Spidey's sarcasm is hilarious; the problem is that because he's such a troubled soul in the films it would be incongruous so out they went. Spidey also has a slightly naïve arrogance which means he'll burst into a situation already assuming that he's going to win before realizing the odds are against him; he'll also seek out danger to a certain extent, look for mayhem when he can. In the films, it all seems so reactionary - Spiderman only ever crops up when someone in the vicinity of Peter Parker is in trouble - we never actually see him out on an evening 'patrol' - it's implied but we really need to be able to watch him taking out those petty criminals to get sense of what his life is like so that we can understand the tiredness in his eyes.

There are rumours that Eliza Dushka is in the running for the third film to play The Black Cat. Which is fine - perfect casting in fact. The trouble is that part of that relationship arc is the verbal sparring and sexual chemistry between the two of them. But since this version of Peter seems to want to either look dumbfounded, awestruck or give a deep philosophical it's difficult to see how the dynamic will work. So top of my wish list for the third film is to let Spidey relax into his vocation a little and enjoy the power he has. Otherwise you start to question whether people are turning up for a film which happens to be about a character called Spiderman, or to see Spidey back in action.
TV The crazy geniuses at the BBC have decided their year end Doctor Who DVD release is to be a boxset of episodes from incomplete stories. The aptly titled Lost In Time set is one of those times when an obvious revenue stream is thrown to one side in favour of giving something back to the fans (the content dribbled out over about ten videos in as many years previously). That said, it should inspire some people to go out and invest in the audio versions of the missing episodes which have been out for a while.
Blog! Happy 5th Metafilter.
TV After ITV announced that they were developing late afternoon spin-offs of their primetime soap operas, I didn't think the channel could be any more ideas bankrupt. Then I read: "ITV is bringing back its classic dramas Rumpole of the Bailey, Sharpe and Inspector Morse." As my Mum said when I told her: "Isn't he dead?" Well yes...

[Albert Finney playing Rumpole might not be such a bad update (the Leo McKerns were made in the age of multiple camera studio productions on videotape) but do we really need more Sharpe? I smell an international co-production...]
Film Well, while I was away McG walked from the Superman film again, thank Krypton, over story differences. As Sci-Fi Wire quotes him: "I was passionate about telling the genesis story, and the studio wanted something a little different." Because the world needs another filmed version of Superman's origins, we haven't seen that in The Motion Picture, Lois and Clark or Smallville. Now about the Kevin Smith draft...
Life I called work today to tell them that I would be back in on Saturday. I'm fairly on the mend and should be OK by then. It's at times like this that I'm glad I took up drinking mostly water -- there has been a definite need to be hydrated. It's wierd to be online though. Lot's of catching up to do. So -- what have I missed?
Life Sorry for my silence but I've been stricken by some illness which we can only put down to something I ate. Could have been anything although I'm sure it's connected to the symptoms I was having last Thursday. I sort of OK over the weekend, I managed to get to work on Monday, only to leave again an hour later after complications and I've been in bed since. Speak to you soon.
Film Just watched a great little piece called The King Is Alive. It's the fourth Dogme '95 film and follows a group of tourists and businessmen who's coach gets lost in the desert and are forced to survive of tins of carrots, passing the time by putting a production of King Lear. Think Ken Branagh's In The Bleak Midwinter meets the opening sundrenched scenes in Pitch Black. As time goes on, their lives and the story from the play start to interlink. In an interview, director Kristian Levring describes the genius element which makes the film particularly interesting:
"Some find the idea amusing while others think that it is the most ridiculous thing they ever heard, and since he hasn't actually brought King Lear with him out into the desert, the play he stages is the King Lear of his memory, modified to fit with the people he has at his disposal. In that way he makes it a Dogme King Lear. The film focuses on what happens with these people when they start thinking about their characters, their roles, who they are and the art in their every day lives."
The scenes in which the characters read the lines as non-professional actors really do sent me right back to working through the plays in English Literature. Some of us really thought we could act...
Life My eye sockets have been aching all day whenever I move the iris to look in a direction my head isn't facing. I think it's probably eye strain brought on my too much VDU which is going to make for an interesting week at work.
Film Fahrenheit 9/11 has been an extra-ordinarily difficult film for professionals to review. Many of the pieces have discussed Michael Moore's argument or favourite moments within the film but have given few comments to the actual film making, a few cursory notes here and there about pacing or editing. I'm usually a fairly passionate reviewer - if I really like something the reader will find a three paragraph love-in. And I'm very passionate about this film, and happy that it's a cinema documentary people want to see. It's going to be interesting to see the effects it has in the coming months - will it really have power to sway the voting habits of a country?

What is startling for me is how little Moore has changed the way he presents the story. Although I missed the original release of Roger and Me (I was reading about robots in disguise at the time), for some reason I caught all of TV Nation when it turned up on BBC Two and that took me into my university years. Considering the controversy, it's interesting to note how close the new film is to the short ten minutes stories which appeared on television and his previous work.

Throughout, there is still the mix of old tv footage, stunts and illustrative contemporary interviews. The proportions of each have been reduced and increased depending upon the story being told but it is very much Moore's style and just as distinctive as latter day Woody Allen. So here he is still the guy standing toe-to-toe with security guards, making impossible demands of congressman and reducing the description of the US government's response to 9/11 as old clips from Dragnet.

It's a particularly good way of making an argument, but the weaknesses in the film occur when the voiceover drifts away. It's not that we need Moore telling us what to think of the images we are seeing, but it adds a coherence - at times the viewer is disgusted but at the same time wondering what the film-maker's point is other than isn't the world a horrible place. The images don't completely continue the story.

But when the complete story is being told, it's very persuasive. Republicans might want to attack Moore's motives and some of the internal logic, but I'm yet to hear anyone try and rationalize the clip after clip of their President compromising the stateliness of his office. Say what you like about the paradoxes inherent in Moore the man, but it's inspiring that given the tools he has that rather than going after the small fry he's now gone right to the top.

[I saw the film at a Saturday 3:45 showing and it was full. Many journalists and writer who have been to see the film with the public to see their reaction have talked about the heckling and the applause. At my showing the only time anything happened was when a clip of Britney Spears appeared in which she was asked about the Iraq war From out of the darkness deep male voice shouted: "Whore!" He was utterly silent through everything else ...]