Stand By Me – Review

Stand By Me (1986) 

Directed by Rob Reiner. Starring Wil WheatonRiver PhoenixCorey FeldmanJerry O’ConnellKiefer SutherlandRichard Dreyfuss.

I find incredibly difficult to review “Stand By Me” without being completely biased and detached, the way a real film critic should be. But then again, I am not a real film critic, I’m just a film lover (and a geek, of course!) and most of the times my response to a film is an emotional one: if it makes me laugh or cry or think, then it means that it worked on me; but if it makes me laugh and cry and think, then there is something more to it too!

Basically let me just tell you upfront: I adore this film!

I could recite it by heart and I’ve seen it more times that I care to admit, but since this week it’s its 33rd anniversary (JESUS, where has time gone!?), and I’m being bombarded left and right by articles and reminders about it, and since I am way too tired to watch anything else, I’ve decided to put it on again…  And you know what? It still works.

The word classic gets over-used these days. Any anniversary is an excuse to re-release any piece of junk that’s more than 20 years old. Most of those films carry that cheesy sense of nostalgia for the 80s, and that’s sometimes enough for them to appropriate a cult status. But when you look at them closely, you’ll find that they have aged quite badly, either technically (terrible matte paintings, visual effects or synthesized music) or stylistically (Their look, the clothes and the hairstyles people are wearing and the corny dialogue nobody seemed to mind so much at the time).

However “Stand by me” has the advantage of being a period piece (It is set in 1959) and its simple, subtle and honest depiction of the 60s not only hides away the cheesiness of the 80s but also adds a sense of timelessness to it. The film is 33 years old, but it could just as well be 35 or 45 … and yet it still relates all of us as if it was made yesterday…

I loved it at the time, for its sheer sense of fun, adventure and mischief and I love it today for its poignant look at the way we were… or rather the way I was. A childhood, so far gone but never forgotten.

It’s the ultimate coming of age story, set in the hazy, warm, sunny and dreamy landscape of Oregon, as 4 friends set out on a journey along the railway tracks, looking for the body of a missing boy.

The film is adapted by a short novel by Stephen King, from the book “Four Seasons” (The Shawshank Redemption was also adapted from the same book) and like all the best tales from King, finds its strength in the way the characters are fleshed out: rarely have teenagers so very well depicted like in “Stand by Me”. The contrast between the way they try to act as adults in front of each other, by smoking or swearing (“Go get the food, you morphodite”) and the way they reveal their real age by talking about the most childish and mundane things and yet making them sound profound and meaningful (MightyMouse is a cartoon. Superman’s a real guy!).

Behind all that, there’s a pure, sincere and real sense of friendship that permeates the whole film.

That line at the end on that computer screen “I never had friends like the ones I had when I was 12. Jesus, does anyone?” resonates in all of us and it’s one of the most poignant and truthful line I can remember in any film.

The interaction between the four young actors is the real power of “Stand By Me”: never for a moment you think they might be acting. Will Wheaton’s take as the sensitive Gordie is impeccable. The way he pauses before delivering his lines, how he smiles and looks at his best friends, how he proudly tells them the story of Lard-Ass, how he breaks down into tears at the sudden realization that his parents might hate him and finally how coldly threatens Kiefer Sutherland‘s terrifying bully, without even flinching (suck my fat one, you cheap die store hood!).

Both Corey Feldman and Jerry O’Connell are also spot on in their roles, bringing not only that amount of comic relief needed but also that sense of playfulness that kids at that age have (I don’t shut up I grow up, and when I look at you I throw up!)

But ultimately it’s River Phoenix that steals the show. The poignancy and sincerity he brings to the role of Chris Chambers is even more enhanced today by the ending of the film and as we see him fading away in the distance and we’re just left with a sour taste of what an incredible actor he could have become.

Beautifully photographed, as seen from the dreamy eyes of an adult (in this case Richard Dreyfuss) who’s obviously very fond of those memories, the film is also accompanied by the most wonderful soundtrack, a mixture of hits from the time, perfectly integrated into the film (like the moment the kids break into signing “lollipop“) and the actual score made up with a subtle slowed down version of the “Stand By Me” itself by Ben E.King

This film is a real little gem , a small masterpiece, dare_I-say, that works because of its charming and honest simplicity. You could easily argue against some of the clichés and the non-very-subtle depiction of Gordie’s family and the ever-too-perfect-dead-older-brother or obvious lines like “The town seemed different: smaller“, but it would be like arguing that Snow-White is a two-dimensional character, or that Nurse Ratched in “One Flew Over the cuckoos’ Nest” is an unbelievable bitch: basically it would be pointless.

Reiner’s  delicate touch seems effortless and invisible, but his imprint is all over this film. The man after all is a genius and every genre he touches turns to gold. Whether mokumentary (this is spinal Tap), Fantasy/Adventure “The Princess Bride”, Romantic comedy (“When Harry Met Sally”), Psychological horror (Misery), CourtRoom Drama (A Few Good Men).

And now this: a true undeniable classic, a nostalgic look at the way we were, in a time of innocence when friendship really meant something and when the most important question was “if Mickey’s a mouse, Donald’s a duck, Pluto’s a dog. What’s Goofy?


If you Agree, or disagree, do let me know and leave me a message.

If you enjoy this review, do leave a message (… Actually I guess you should leave one even if you didn’t…)

The Adjustment Bureau – Review

The Adjustment Bureau (2011)

Directed by George Nolfi. Starring Matt DamonEmily BluntNatalie CarterJohn SlatteryTerence Stamp

Loosely adapted from a short story by Philip K Dick from 1954 (The adjustment team), the Adjustment Bureau tries to take the usual Dick’s elements about conspiracy and paranoia and mixes them up into what’s essentially a love story.

If you really wanted to take this film apart you’d probably have quite an easy time: of course, the original conceit is ludicrous, the plot holes are everywhere and when you stop and think about it for more than 5 minutes you might even be able to draw a line connecting all the dots much before the actual ending is revealed. But all that doesn’t take away from the fact that if you did manage to suspend your disbelief, you might actually enjoy the ride.

There are a few interesting ideas here and there: the argument about pre-destiny and free will, or the fact that happiness of spirit can make a fighting relax too much (successful politicians are people who are not very lucky in love and only a broken heart can give them the anger for a real political victory). None of them is highly original to be honest, or even dealt with in any depth, but it’s all added to the mix and it’s there for whoever care enough to pay attention to the details.

The film is more concerned with the actual romance between the two leads and they both play their parts in the best possible way. Matt Damon once again demonstrates his versatility (My God, how many films has he done recently!?!) and the chemistry with his co-star Emily Blunt is quite strong despite the absurdity of the plot itself (and that awkward first scene of them together in the bathroom, which is particularly contrived and seemed a bit out of place, compared to the rest of the film).

It’s interesting to notice that the film was meant to come out about 6 months ago but rumors of disappointing test screenings, re-shoots and some of the similarities people felt the film had with Inception, delayed the release of the film. In fact I believe it had 3 different release dates.

While it might not have the scope or ambition of Inception (it’s interesting that even the UK critic Mark Kermode calling it “Inception-Light”), at the same time the film is intriguing, entertaining and even romantic enough to sustain its length (mercifully only 106 minutes), though I must say there are as many plot holes as there are people working for the “adjustment bureau itself it seems… And moreover, I thought that the ending did come a bit too abruptly and felt rushed (I do wonder if that’s the one that was planned).

It is set in today’s world and yet it has a slightly retro feel, from the way it’s filmed to the way it’s paced and acted and even the way it looks (the way the “Adjustment Bureau People” are dressed, and even the lack of in-your-face-special-effects). It almost feels like one of those episodes of the Twilight Zone from the 60s. That feeling is then enhanced even more by the presence of people like John Slattery, that we are so used to see in Mad Man (that one too set in the 60s).

I saw this film about a week ago and I am already starting to forget it, so I suppose it’s not going to be one of those cult classic that will live forever, but while I was with it I had enough fun and I find it quite enjoyable.


Inside Job – Review

INSIDE JOB (2010) 

Directed by Charles Ferguson. Narrated by Matt Damon.

When reviewing a documentary like this I think it’s fair to make a distinction between the subject matter of the documentary and the actual merits of the film-making itself.

On the subject matter front, “Inside Job” surely deserves all the awards it is receiving (it recently won the Oscar for best documentary too). The film sets to explain the reasons (or arguably, some of the reasons) behind the financial crisis that’s hit the whole world. How did we end up where we are and whose to blame?

It could be a fairly dry and dull subject , and a rather complicated one too, but Inside Job, for most of it, manages to keep it simple and gripping at the same time without dumbing it down too much. Inevitably it ends up focusing more one one side of the argument (the  bankers) as opposed to following the more controversial route (going against the politicians. Though they do get mentioned, the film prefers not to be so hard on them as it is on those corporate people, obviously a much easier target).

And since we are all on the same boat in this never-ending financial crisis and we are, forgive me the term, rather pissed off at the way the whole thing has been carried out and handled, we are perfectly happy to see it all laid out the way it is and eventually everyone will come out it feeling even more angry and frustrated than they were before.

On that respect the film obviously really works.

As a piece of film, “Inside Job” is less interesting.

Its pace is very uneven: sometimes a bit too fast when it should be slow and a bit slow when you just want it to get on with it, for example there are way too many beginnings (one of them is probably there just because it plants the seeds for one of the best jokes  of film later on about the instability of Iceland). Not everything hits home as it probably should and not everything is as clear as it should be. After a while one million begins to sound a lot like 10 millions or 100 millions or even a billion… it’s just a whole lot of money which we’ll never see anyway… It gets slightly repetitive.

In most sequences the documentary unravels like a series lectures of economy: it is mainly voice over driven (read by Matt Damon who seems to be everywhere these days), visualized by unimaginative graphics and straight forward unremarkable archive footage. The real skill here seems to be more in the writing than the actual film-making. That’s by no means a criticism. This isn’t a film by Micheal Moore and, for most of its length, it doesn’t even try to be one: there are no stunts, and, on the surface, no tricks either.

And yet, everyone who has seen this film will most likely remember the last third, which is probably the closest thing to something that Michael Moore would do, and to me, the most interesting part. It is the moment the film-makers turn against their contributors: economists, journalists and professors, who are just as guilty as everyone else.

Watching them squirm in their seats having to defend  themselves when they thought they were just there to give us a history lesson is the most pleasurable part of the film.

And because we all want to point fingers and blame everyone for their greedy needs, we probably fail to notice the slightly biased use of the editing: I’m thinking of all those moments when questions are asked off-camera just so that we can catch the surprised faces of the people who are being interviews, and then the films cuts away to the next sequence, without giving them really the chance to answer.

We really don’t mind though: we hate those people anyway and as long as they look stupid and guilty we are happy with it.

In the end, it’s great to see a documentary like this, on a subject like the big economic crisis, getting all the awards it’s getting and though that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a masterpiece, I hope it does mean we are ready to chance the way people regulate our economy…


Submarine – Review


Directed by Richard Ayoade. Starring Sally HawkinsPaddy ConsidineNoah TaylorCraig RobertsYasmin PaigeGemma Chan.

Early review at recent festivals (Including Sundance and Toronto) have been quite positive on this small Welsh Independent film, which feels so much like a cross between Wes Anderson and Spike Jonze: in fact, it has indeed been compared to Rushmore, but also you can’t help seeing in Craig Roberts something from Dustin Hoffman in the Graduate.

I was less taken by it. On one hand it’s the sort of film I really want to like (Mainly because it’s been founded by the now gone British Council, but also because it’s always refreshing to see a little Indi trying to make it among those big Hollywood monsters), however I just couldn’t help feeling that not only I’ve seen it all before, but that behind the sporadic bittersweet and quirky humor, it all felt a bit too cold and calculated and in the end it was just very “gray”, just like that Welsh weather.

There are good individual isolated sharp moments, but the pace of film as a whole feels completely off. It is very self-indulgent (those moments with the 8mm footage for example, outstay their welcome) and you can’t help feeling a strange discrepancy between the  fast witty humor from the script and the actual staging of it. The film is patchy and uneven: from the very misjudged soundtrack (the score does not match the pictures nor the dialogue on the screen and the songs didn’t always work for me),  to the way it’s been filmed (very real at times but very stylized in other places). Finally, editing wise, it was too slow when it should have been faster (somewhere in the middle for example), and too fast when it should actually have been slower: the whole subplot with the parents at the end seems to resolve too quickly, for example. In fact the whole ending felt like it had been attached at the last moment and it’s too sweet and clean for this type of film.

The stuff around the kids is works a lot better than anything to do with the parents. The portrayal of the uncomfortable teenager feels quite accurate, honest and, despite the not-always-necessary voice over, somewhat poignant too. However beyond that, there were too many caricatures too, who contributed to the uneven feel I had at the end: Paddy Considine’s character was way too cartoony and the moments with his top speeches were clearly other examples something else which definitely could have been trimmed a bit.

On a silly side -note, I really didn’t like the titles at the front and the typeface of the captions in general… But that’s just a question of taste I guess.

On the whole “submarine” is an interesting yet flawed debut film but I’m looking forward to see what Ayoade does next.


Ironclad – Review

IRONCLAD (2011) 

Directed by Jonathan English. Starring James PurefoyKate MaraBrian CoxPaul GiamattiJason FlemyngMackenzie CrookAneurin Barnard.

Blood does run indeed in one of the most brutal in-your-face violent Brit-flicks (and not just British to be honest) I’ve ever seen.

In fact it’s the violence itself that seems to be Ironclad’s selling point. It’s obviously all sold as “realism” but we all know that in this case it’s just another word for gratuitous and exploitive.

And so as the handheld-shaky-cam swings about and the editing goes crazy hiding the pretty low-budget, limbs fly left, right and centre, hands get chopped off, people get literally sliced in two in the bloodiest and ruthless gore-fest you’ll ever seen.

To be honest with you, after a while if you just go with the silliness of it all, you might actually even enjoy it a bit. I think I did,  despite the never-ending 121 minutes.

But in its defense, to be able to stretch what’s essentially one long battle for 2 hours is quite an achievement.

The story of Ironclad, after a very dodgy (though mercifully short) intro/opening which seems has been lifted straight out of a bad docu-drama, is indeed very simple: a small group of 20 people or so try to protect Rochester Castle (Apparently a pivotal garrison in England) against a siege by King John’s army. That’s pretty much it. Don’t expect much else in terms of character development, or plot twist, or story, or even lines of dialogue: in fact most of the dialogue consists of a series of aaaaaaaaarrrrrrhhh and rrrrroarrrrr and other stuff like that. However compensating all that, you’ll get  a lot of stabbing, slicing, hammering, catapulting and all type of swordplay and fights.

And the choral soundtrack makes it all feel even bigger that it is.

Paul Giamatti is probably the most absurd miscast of the year so far and yet, aware of that himself, he ends up having great fun with the role and plays it so over-the-top that you just can’t help but laughing with him.

All the other actors too give their best with their one-dimensional characters.

Incidentally the whole audience I was with laughed out-loud at the ludicrous ending too, in fact perfectly in keeping with the rest of the film, which at least doesn’t take itself so seriously like Russel Crowe’s latest Robin Hood.

What can I say? I will never watch this film again, but while I was there I had fun with it (if only it had been 20 minutes shorter I might have liked it even more…)


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