March 30th ~ Movie Monday

Phil needed a laugh on Thursday night, so his choice for the Thursday movie was The Commitments (1991). Directed by Alan Parker and taken from a novel of the same name by Roddy Doyle. Doyle wrote the screenplay too with the assistance of Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, well known in the UK for their TV series ‘The Likely Lads’, Porridge, and Ausfwiedersehen Pet, (all excellent, I’ve done them all in my time!).

The movie is set in the Northside of Dublin and tells the story of how a young music fan, Jimmy Rabbitte (Robert Arkins) pulls together a band in order to emulate 1960s African-American recording artists and make an Irish Soul band. He puts an audition advert in the paper, and from a gaggle of applications by disparate and funny people, he manages to get together a singer Deco Cuffe played by Andrew Strong, some backing singers, played by Angeline Ball, Maria Doyle and Bronagh Gallagher, a pianist, guitarists, a drummer, a saxophone player and a trumpet player – Joey ‘The Lips’Fagan (Johnny Murphy ). Tensions run high in the band as Joey begins to seduce the backing singers, and Deco is obnoxious to everyone. Billy the drummer (Dick Massey) has to leave the band to prevent himself from beating up Deco and ending up in prison, and the mad security guy they had hired Mickah Wallace ( Dave Finnegan) takes over the drumming.

It’s such a fun movie, the script is sharp and funny, and the music is great, spawning 2 soundtrack albums and a Best of. All the cast were chosen for their musical ability and had to pretend to be not so good at the start of the movie, ending up being really as good as they actually were. John Murphy was the exception as he couldn’t play an instrument but Parker wanted him for the role. The Commitments’ pianist Steven Clifford, was an employee for the Dublin Corporation and took a three-month leave of absence to make the film, all the backing singers were established actresses and singers.

The movie was filmed in 44 different locations in Dublin and cinematographer Gale Tattersall wanted a “gritty, ugly” look that improved as the band became successful.

Phil and I laughed and hummed along to all the songs as we’d seen this before and have the albums, and I could quite happily watch it again when we get the blu ray, as Phil’s old DVD is in standard format so a crap picture and sound, but the movie transcends that very well.

Saturday night saw me trawling Netflix again, and I came across Snowpiercer (2013) an apocalyptic tale set in 2031, written and directed by Bong Joon-Ho and based on a French graphic novel Le Transperceneige, by Jaques Lob. A South Korean-Czech co-production, the film marks Bong’s English-language debut. The movie is set on a train, and in the aftermath of a global catastrophe in 2014 where the world entered a new and severe iceage and all life expired, after an attempt to prevent global warming by spraying chemicals into the atmosphere. It had really good reviews and a well respected cast so I thought we’d give it a go.

The Snowpiercer is a train that circumnavigates the world, and the remnants of humanity are on the train, segregated by class. The elite are at the front of the train with all the niceties of life, and the poor are in the squalid rear carriages, eating protein bars provided for them by armed guards. Inevitably the poor people in the carriages plan a revolution, and the movie follows their hard fought and hard won journey through the train in attempt to get to the front.

Chris Evans plays Curtiss the reluctant leader of the revolution, groomed for it by John Hurt playing his father-figure Gilliam, and assisted by his friend Elliot played by Jamie Bell. Octavia Spencer plays Tanya, one of the leaders in the poor section. Tilda Swinton is barely recognisable as Minister Mason the spokesperson and second in command to the train’s owner Wilford, the ever watchable Ed Harris. Song Kang-Ho plays a security expert, Namgoong Minsoo, the fighters need to help them get through the train and Ko Asung as Yona his clairvoyant daugher.

The visual effects are really good, each carriage of the train is different, a sushi carriage, a school, and with the Aquarium car expecially spectacular. The long shots of the train of course have to be CGI but that’s kept to a minimum and is well done particularly going over the the Yekaterina Bridge. The costume designer Catherine George did a sterling job, especially with Swinton’s clothing, basing Minister Mason’s costumes on  “… a certain type that I remembered growing up who would wear their fur to go into town and scoff at people who were less better off, a bit of a Margaret Thatcher type, really.” She created individual costumes for the people in the rear carriages – “The tail section clothing was pieced together from different garments and repairs were made on top of that. They had to improvise with any materials that were left on the train.” She had a difficult time with Curtis, as Chris Evans is quite muscular and fit,”We had to cut out the sleeves of his under layers to help him look leaner”.

I didn’t so much enjoy the movie as found it an interesting concept. Questions came up for us as to how the food supply kept going, how it the train was powered, why were people missing limbs, and one by one all became apparent, if puzzling. There was a twist at the end that I saw coming but Phil didn’t (I watch a lot more sci-fi than he does).

It did really well with the critics, from Rotten Tomatoes – “Snowpiercer offers an audaciously ambitious action spectacle for filmgoers numb to effects-driven blockbusters.” and nearly every movie critic has sung it’s praises to the Nth. However Jared Kendall of The Red Shtick stated that the “science” of the film is actually so bad that it does not qualify as sci-fi, but merely fantasy: “The science is awful and the big reveal is ludicrous. I disagree strongly with critics who’ve come out in support – even if Snowpiercer serves admirably as something “different,” I don’t think we should ignore such glaring defects simply because a film isn’t generic Hollywood tripe.” Chris Evans and Tilda Swinton’s acting has also been highly praised, though for me Swinton was more a caricature, whereas Evans felt real.