This Week on Demand: 03/02/2013

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It pains me to have a change of address continue to interrupt this most entertaining part of my work with Next Projection, particularly in the traditional first-of-the-month instalment with its concomitant content boom. My reviews below are unfortunately restricted to those films which I happen already to have seen, but for the benefit of your own exploration allow me to outline some of the more intriguing additions I’d have liked to cover, had I the online resources: Ordinary People; The Sea Inside; Quill; Terms of Endearment; Trading Places; Von Ryan’s Express; Jingle All the Way; Gentleman’s Agreement; Once Upon a Time in Mexico; Shaolin Soccer; Bad Boys; Stanley & Iris. Do accept my abundant apologies, and eagerly await the two special edition articles to follow in a humble attempt to make it up to you.


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eXistenZ

In many ways a spiritual sequel to the horrific social commentary of Videodrome, Cronenberg’s final film of the 20th century looked ahead to our current age, scrutinising the role of virtual reality and the ways in which it affects our perception of the true world around. Bioports are the chief conceit this time, sockets in the skin into which living games consoles—eXistenZ being the most popular of these—are plugged in for the ultimate personalised experience. Similarities to The Matrix abound, not solely for the pair’s shared release year: their examinations of the aloof experience of modern existence speak to the fears of a pre-millennial society faced with the terrors of new and increasingly intelligent technology. Though by far the lesser-known of the pair, Cronenberg’s is the superior film, its script’s labyrinthine structure and director’s typical flair for the grotesque making it an eerily involving, endlessly challenging, and exceptionally entertaining reflection of our modern lives. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.


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Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Arguably the most iconic of John Hughes’ multiple teen hits, the  irreverently independent attitude of both Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’s protagonist and fourth-wall breaking approach the film itself takes earns it an eternal place in the annals of film history. It’s a post-modern feast of film fun as Ferris, neurotic best friend Cameron, and girlfriend Sloane evade the efforts of Dean of Students Ed Rooney to thwart their impromptu romp through the streets of Chicago. Matthew Broderick offers an immortal performance in the titular role, making of Ferris a timeless anti-establishment hero whose popularity has endeared undiminished for more than 25 years now. Just as good is Alan Ruck as Cameron, arguably the source of the film’s finest moments and one of cinema’s most interesting, if bizarre, “conspiracy theories” (look it up). Irreverent, energetic, and enjoyable from start to finish, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off fully deserves every compliment it’s earned. RECOMMENDED.


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Holy Smoke

Reuniting with Harvey Keitel after their shared success in 1993’s The Piano, Oscar-winning writer/director Jane Campion brings the same pressing sexual tension to Holy Smoke, casting Kate Winslet opposite Keitel as the seemingly brainwashed free spirit faced with the deprogramming machismo of his exit counsellor. Again offering to Campion a raw, bravura performance, Keitel’s talents are here comparably wasted, the script’s frustrating inability to balance its comedic and dramatic aspects placing the fine work he and Winslet do far above the overall quality of the production. Though admirable for the frankness of its sexual scenes and the intriguing intentions of its skewed sexual politics, Holy Smoke has neither the structure nor the strength of character to do service to its noble themes; for all the heights their performances reach, Keitel and Winslet are engaged solely in a wild goose chase, haplessly pursuing an end the film can’t hope to attain. SO-SO.


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Scrooged

Perhaps one of the most diverse directors the business has ever seen, Richard Donner left indelible marks on—to name but a few—the horror, superhero, adventure, and buddy genres in the course of his career. Between the first and second instalments of his Lethal Weapon series he made Scrooged, an enduring cult classic and arguably one of the most entertaining screen adaptations of Charles Dickens’ work. Updating A Christmas Carol to the ruthless context of network television production, it sees a typically manic Bill Murray heading a Christmas eve rendition of the novel as his life begins to parallel the events thereof. A terrifically madcap alternate Christmas movie, it’s an interesting twist on the classic text that’s exploited for as much fun as possible in the scenery-chewing mania of Murray, who runs rampant in a larger-than-life performance. It’s fun for all the family, at any time of the year. RECOMMENDED.


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Stardust Memories

Between the releases of the two films widely regarded as his finest, Woody Allen poured himself into the production of Interiors, his first wholly dramatic film and a determined emulation of the key influence of Ingmar Bergman upon his work. Its failure, contrasted with the significant successes of Annie Hall and Manhattan, put his artistic aspirations at odds with his audience’s expectations. Meshing Allen’s typical comic antics with a witty pastiche of Fellini’s , Stardust Memories addresses this disparity through central character Sandy Bates, a filmmaker famed for his comedies but intent on tackling more serious themes. At once a gloriously metatextual work of self-evaluation, a rumination on the responsibility of artists to their audiences and vice-versa, and an irreverent rom-com as only Allen can deliver them, Stardust Memories stands as one of the director’s finest works, and—crucially—as one both he and we can appreciate equally. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.


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The Naked Gun trilogy

Even lesser known now than it was in its own time—an impressive feat indeed, its then-obscurity considered—Police Squad: In Colour!, ABC’s short-lived police procedural parody remains one of the greatest television comedies ever made, its simultaneous smartness and silliness entwining pastiche and postmodernity in a delicious cocktail of sheer, sumptuous fun. After their breakthrough success with Airplane!, creators Jim Abrahams and David and Jerry Zucker resurrected the show in film format, reteaming with deadpan master Leslie Nielsen for what would go on to become a hit trilogy. Each of the Naked Gun series’ three instalments stands tall among film comedies, their effortless ability to combine crude physical comedy and acute dialogical quips within an absurdist frame ensuring a gag-per-minute rate of astonishing, exhausting height. Nielsen brilliantly completes his transition from dramatic performer to comedy god, his straight-faced ingenuity taking Frank Drebin from baseball field and marine docks all the way to the stage of the Oscars—though not, criminally, in that sense. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.


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The Woman in Red

The fourth directorial outing for comic legend Gene Wilder, The Woman in Red is a slightly amusing and amusingly slight matrimonial morality play, seeing Wilder portray a happily married advertising executive who becomes enraptured by a model at the centre of his agency’s new campaign. Wilder’s script is a consistently witty—if never outrightly hilarious—piece of work, well-attuned to exploiting the best of his abilities as comic lead, though never terribly surprising in the directions it opts to take. What’s less effective is the often-troublesome attitude towards extramarital affairs the film takes: while looking with some degree of condemnation on those of Wilder’s character’s co-workers, his own inclinations are seen more as a source of character growth, his transgressions swiftly forgiven once he inevitably learns his lesson. That issue aside, it’s a film stuffed with enough enjoyably awkward scenes and typically energetic Wilder moments to make it a success, if only a limited one. WORTH WATCHING.

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About Author

Ronan Doyle is an Irish freelance film critic, whose work has appeared on Indiewire, FilmLinc, Film Ireland, FRED Film Radio, and otherwhere. He recently contributed a chapter on Arab cinema to the book Celluloid Ceiling, and is currently entangled in an all-encompassing volume on the work of Woody Allen. When not watching movies, reading about movies, writing about movies, or thinking about movies, he can be found talking about movies on Twitter. He is fuelled by tea and has heard of sleep, but finds the idea frightfully silly.