In case you need reminding, The Pearl follows impoverished pearl-diver Kino, who finds an enormous
pearl that he believes will transform his fortunes. At first all seems
well, as he marries his sweetheart Joanna and they have a son. But other
men also desire the pearl, and soon the very thing which brought him so
much hope has led Kito down a dark path, ending in indifference and
I've been a big fan of The Bike Shed Theatre for some time, having attended a number of Butterscotch Sundays there (for I'm Not There,Mulholland Drive, Metropolis and Where The Wild Things Are). The theatre is an intimate, cosy and welcoming space which puts the audience very closer to the performance, and the management always try to encourage the best in local and avant-garde talent. It's the perfect venue for Dumbshow to present their show, having refined it over the last year.
The Pearl is playing at The Bike Shed Theatre on Monday September 22nd from 7:30pm. Tickets are £12 for adults and £8 for concessions, which can be purchased by calling (01392) 434169 or by clicking here. Don't forget to follow Dumbshow on Twitter @dumbshowtheatre. You're in for a treat!
We're two thirds of the way through 2014, and this month alone has already seen some of cinema's most appreciated talents leave us forever. Following the relatively understated passing of Dick Smith (whom I paid tribute to here), the film world was dealt a double whammy with the deaths of Robin Williams and Lauren Bacall. And now, only a few days ago, one of Britain's most beloved talents has departed, with Lord Richard Attenborough passing away aged 90 following a long illness.
I've said a fair amount about Williams and Bacall on The Movie Hour special I hosted earlier this month on Lionheart Radio - and I will reiterate those comments when the episode is ready to podcast. For now, I want to concentrate on Attenborough, whose appeal has all too often been reduced to a small handful of roles or contributions that he made. Many of the more populist tributes have summarised him solely in terms of his supporting role in Jurassic Park or his Oscar success with Gandhi. But as much as I've criticised him for the latter, even I'm aware that there was so much more to him than that.
Attenborough's image towards the end of his career was that of a cuddly grandfather, a luvvie figure within the film industry. But look back at his earlier acting career and you discover a man of great conviction and intensity. He was the man who brought the psychotic Pinkie Brown to life in the original version of Brighton Rock; he the doomed but principled military sergeant in Guns at Batasil and he, against all type, the terrifying serial killer John Christie in the eternally underrated 10 RillingtonPlace. For all his luvvie image, Attenborough was frequently at his best in darker roles; he had an amazing ability to channel some unearthly malevolence, something that his counterpart Sir John Mills never quite had.
Attenborough's role behind the camera should also not be underestimated. His directorial work was always marked by a deep affection for his actors and subject matter - something which got him into trouble with Gandhi but which worked wonders on Shadowlandsand Oh! What A Lovely War. As a producer he guided Bryan Forbes in his early days, lending a steady hand to The L-Shaped Room, Seance on a Wet Afternoon and the extraordinary Whistle Down The Wind. Add in his numerous charitable commitments, including the annual prize that bears his name, and you have quite an extraordinary life.
If you want to play tribute to Dickie, I would suggest starting with Shadowlands and then progressing back through his acting work. Shadowlands is arguably his finest film, the consummation of everything that made him such a widely-loved public figure - intelligence, conviction, decency and a heartfelt love for humanity. He will be sorely missed.
Seed of Chucky (USA, 2004) Directed by Don Mancini Starring Brad Dourif, Jennifer Tilly, Billy Boyd, Reginald Noble
This is the 200th Review I have written since launching Mumby at the Movies.
Horror franchises are invariably subject to the law of diminishing
returns. The original Nightmare on Elm Street, Hallowe'en or Friday the
13th were so definitive in their own ways that any sequel couldn't hope
to improve upon them, aside from addressing certain technical issues.
Even with partial returns to form along the way, these sequels
inevitably ended up retreading old ground, even in franchises that
didn't start from the top.
The Child's Play franchise seemed to
have run its course when Child's Play 3 went straight-to-video, only for
Ronny Yu's Bride of Chucky to give it a new lease of life. By
abandoning outright horror in favour of self-aware, postmodern
horror-comedy, the series successfully embraced its goofier elements and
turned them into something disturbingly memorable. Seed of Chucky
attempts to carry on where Bride left off, but is far less successful,
being ill-thought out and poorly directed.
Playing the postmodern
game is a gamble in any genre. Deliberately deconstructing a story, or
drawing attention to the artificiality of a given situation, can have
the effect of undermining the audience's emotional attachment. The
horror genre, like fantasy and sci-fi, relies heavily on the suspension
of disbelief: without an audience investing in the characters and their
situation, a horror film cannot be scary.
On a narrative level,
Seed of Chucky is trying very hard to be Wes Craven's New Nightmare, one
of the best instalments of the Nightmare on Elm Street series. Craven's
meta-horror explored the boundaries between the characters and the
actors that played them, nodding toward the films' often fanatical
fanbase and poking fun at the absurdities of the film industry. While
not as scary as the original, it managed to be both a successful
postmodern exercise and a compelling horror movie in its own right.
biggest problem facing Seed of Chucky is that Don Mancini is no Wes
Craven. While his writing skills are not in doubt (at least on the first
Child's Play film), he does not have the directorial skill to pull off
something so self-referential. Where Craven directed with intelligence,
giving the audience both gore and clever subtext, Mancini is content to
go for something much more basic and yet pass it off as being clever.
The film isn't pretentious in this regard per se, but it makes
disappointingly little out of both its premise and material.
always a certain amount of pleasure to be mined from actors playing
themselves and taking the mickey. Jennifer Tilly has a lot of screen
presence, and film fans will nod approvingly at all the references to
Bound (her break-out role with the pre-Matrix Wachowskis). But once the
basic gag is out of the way - Tilly is a fading actress who 'dolls
herself up' to get a part - the film keeps repeating itself until the
concept is neither funny or interesting anymore.
of the horror nods in Seed of Chucky are underused. John Waters is a
widely respected figure in cult film circles, and casting the director
of Pink Flamingos as a seedy paparatso is a nice touch. But his
character doesn't get to do much that is endearing or appealing beyond
the confines of the initial joke. It's very much a one-joke role, with
Waters quickly mining it for all its worth and then spending the rest of
his screen time looking confused.
Seed of Chucky isn't all that
scary either, though that isn't entirely surprising. The Child's Play
series was never an out-and-out frightener, with even the first and best
instalment having goofy tendencies and a pretty silly set-up. But while
Bride of Chucky made its humour dark enough to give the title character
some threat, Seed of Chucky is completely ramshackle, with its few
scary moments not being properly supported by the surrounding plot.
will probably find something to enjoy in the numerous grissly death
scenes, which are technically accomplished from a props and make-up
perspective. The deaths vary in their level of comedic inventiveness,
with the disembowling at the dinner table probably being the most
memorable. But as far as suspense or terror is concerned, there's
nothing in Seed of Chucky which comes together; the horrific moments are
sporadic and don't escalate in any particularly successful fashion.
comedy of Seed of Chucky is equally hit-and-miss. On top of its botched
self-awareness, many of the character jokes are laboured. The whole
discussion about Glen's gender quickly becomes tired, with the Ed Wood
reference being run into the ground and the pay-off with Glen's
cross-dressing being unsatisfying. The running jokes about Glen weeing
himself through fear are better than the similar gags in Garbage Pail
Kids, but that's about as far from a ringing endorsement as one can get.
of the funny moments come from the ridiculous nature of a given
situation. The film does go the whole hog when it comes to Chucky and
Tiffany's preposterous plan to regain human form, particularly when it
comes to getting Tilly pregnant. Brad Dourif has always done black
comedy very well, as evidenced through his subsequent work with Werner
Herzog. And having never shared a scene together in The Lord of the Rings (save in the extended cut of The Return of the King), it's nice to
see him and Billy Boyd interacting here.
For all its funny
moments, however, Seed of Chucky never becomes any more than a
collection of poorly-assembled bits. It never gets to grips with its
storyline beyond what is needed for a given scene to pay off, nor can it
really decide whether it wants to satirise the film business or just
use it as a plot device. There have been many worse horror films and
worse films about the film businesses, but there are few horror-comedies
which are this actively episodic.
The film also comes up short
from a visual standpoint. Bride of Chucky was shot by Peter Pau, who
went on to win an Oscar for his work on the brilliant Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. He retained many of the signature touches of Child's Play
while bringing a more tongue-in-cheek sensibility to the lighting. This
film, on the other hand, is lensed by Vernon Layton, who shot the
equally disappointing Blackball, featuring Paul Kaye and Johnny Vegas.
Blackball, Seed of Chucky has a tacky feel to it which works against
Mancini's efforts to make us like the characters. The colour palette is
far too plastic and glossy to be a proper black comedy or horror film,
with the choice of colours and angles lending themselves more to
American Pie or the Wayans brothers. Put simply, it feels cheap, and
looks far too mainstream to cut it as a proper Chucky movie.
of Chucky is a disappointing sequel which is neither funny nor scary
enough to hold a candle to its predecessor. For all the moments which
produce a shudder from the gore or a snigger from the jokes, it
ultimately never makes as much of its premise as it really should. It's
not an unmitigated disaster, and there are many worse horror sequels,
but it will leave both fans and newcomers feeling short-changed.
This is a reprint of my review which
was published on this blog 2 years ago, with a number of minor revisions. That version of the review can be found here.
National Lampoon's Animal House (USA, 1978) Directed by John Landis Starring Jon Belushi, Tim Matheson, Peter Riefert, Karen Allen
When I reviewed Basic Instinct three years ago, I talked about the
reputation of erotic thrillers, commenting that they are "often lumped
together with horror movies as the stuff that 'sensible', 'reasonable'
citizens wouldn't touch with a twenty-foot pole." You could add
gross-out comedies to this list of untouchable genres, and you might
have a case given the quality of Superbad and its recent counterparts.
But just as dismissing all erotic thrillers would prevent us from having
fun with Paul Verhoeven, so to dismiss gross-outs outright would lead
us to overlook the qualities of the film which created that genre.
Lampoon's Animal House is the first, best and perhaps only good film to
carry the National Lampoon brand. Its combination of bad taste humour,
top-notch performances and countercultural undercurrents has ensured its
place in the history of American comedies. It remains one of the
highest-grossing American films of all time, and the standard to which
all subsequent gross-out comedies aspire. Not everything about it works
after 36 years, but its importance cannot be underestimated.
with John Landis' previous film, the TV parody Kentucky Fried Movie,
Animal House created the majority of the clichés and conventions which
we now associate with gross-out comedies. There is the emphasis on
physical comedy, which extends into jokes about bodily fluids and human
anatomy. There is the utter contempt for authority, civility or
maturity, with the protagonists showing no respect or ambition towards
people with short hair in suits. There is the raucous, energetic
storytelling, with boisterous acting and big emotions from all the cast.
And, most of all, there are those difficult moments in which you're
either laughing your face off or covering your eyes, feeling really
quite ashamed at what just happened on screen.
difficult to review a gross-out comedy without simply listing all the
individual gags and commenting on how outré or disgusting they are.
Subsequent gross-out efforts like Porky's often resorted to taking
similar gags and either seeing just how far they could push them or just
cutting to the chase a lot quicker. An example would be the scene where
Bluto sneaks over to the Omega House to watch the girls undress from
the top of a ladder. While in Animal House he makes the effort to watch
them for a while, even shuffling the ladder along to see into the next
room, in Porky's the girls are shoved straight into the shower and the
boys look on with little effort to withhold themselves.
have to keep reminding yourself to see the film as a product of its
time, many of the jokes in Animal House are still hilarious today. The
accidental killing of Neidermeyer's horse is very well done, with John
Belushi's widening eyes and repeated utterance of "Ho-ly shit!". Most of
the best jokes are at Neidermeyer's expense, whether it's being dragged
along the football field by his horse or being trampled during the food
fight. The quick sight gags are also well-assembled, such as Dean
Wormer reading Bluto his grades, only to find Bluto has put two pencils
up his nose, preceding Rowan Atkinson's famous ploy in Blackadder Goes Forth.
When Animal House was first released, it was accused by
large sections of the press of being mean-spirited. In fact, what has
made the film last so long, and age so relatively well, is the amount of
heart that it has. We have genuine affection for the characters even at
their most outrageous, and we have a stake in their actions because we
are always rooting for the underdogs. Dorfman and Kroger (a.k.a.
Flounder and Pinto) are the heart and soul of the film, being every bit
as socially awkward and inept as we were in our first years of
The film is constructed in a way which betrays not
only the upstart nature of the magazine, but Landis' love for old
comedies. The film opens with our two protagonists going to the Omega
fraternity welcome party, and promptly being shoved into a quiet corner
with the other outcasts, out of the way of the snooty, 'clever' people.
The trappings and sense of humour aside, it's not so different from what
Charlie Chaplin used to do, putting the Tramp around 'respectable'
people in authority and then bursting their egos to either win the day
or get the girl (sometimes both).
The other big reason for Animal
House's endearing popularity is its countercultural subtext. While the
magazine was very much a product of the 1970s, Animal House is set in
1962, dubbed by co-writer Douglas Kenney as "the last innocent year...
in America". What appears on the surface to be a bunch of overgrown
teenagers fooling around and being idiots becomes something of a
harbinger for the youth-led revolution that would sweep America as the
decade went on. The film doesn't go into any great detail on this, let
alone become political, but it is important not to overlook this
Viewed through this kind of prism, it isn't hard to see
why the film became such a big hit with young audiences. While the
hippie rebellions of the 1960s were long dead by the time of its
release, it epitomised and captured the fantasy of so many young people,
to fight against the established order and eschew the values of their
parents. Most of the 'adult' characters - Dean Wormer, Greg, the vast
majority of Omega house - are characterised as complete squares, who
deserve to be run out of town for being so boringly pro-establishment.
Only Donald Sutherland's pot-smoking English professor is spared the
rod, being down with the kids enough to get Karen Allen to sleep with
This brings us on to a further asset of the film, namely the
relatively decent way in which it treats its female characters. It's
hardly going to win any prizes for equal opportunities, but neither is
it as openly leering or sleazy as one might expect. Some of this is down
simply to period details - girls' underwear was more complicated in the
1960s and there was a lot more of it. But Landis is careful to give a
couple of his actresses room for manoeuvre, with Karen Allen making the
very most of her role. She's neither a self-obsessed, pulchritudinous
cheerleader like Kim Cattrall in Porky's or a bookish nerd who couldn't
buy a boyfriend.
The performances in Animal House are of a very
good standard given the inexperience of both the cast and the director.
Landis' biggest coup is being able (for the most part) to rein in John
Belushi, getting him to focus his energy where Steven Spielberg let him
flounder in 1941. He's not entirely in control, particularly during the
final set-piece, but there are hints in the performance he gets from
Belushi of the great work they would do in The Blues Brothers.
John Vernon is brilliantly intimidating as Dean Wormer, using his
distinctive voice and uptight physique to be both threatening and
spineless. Tim Matheson and Peter Riegert are a perfect team as Otter
and Boon respectively, with the golf scene summing up their endearing
kinship. Donald Sutherland makes the most of his brief appearance (which
includes a shot of his backside) and Karen Allen holds her own against
the male cast, just as she would do in Starman or Raiders of the Lost Ark.
The problems with Animal House can be divided into two
camps. The first, and more forgivable, are the technical shortcomings,
which can be largely put down to Landis' lack of experience. The ramming
of the parade stand is poorly edited, with the Deltas' car taking an
awfully long time to cover two yards, and the payoff of the Dean and
other dignitaries leaping into shot isn't really worth the effort. We
could put much of the final sequence into this camp, with underwhelming
crowd choreography and poor timing on a couple of gags.
second camp concerns the moments when the film oversteps the mark.
There's not much point getting offended by Animal House, since it exists
to provoke an emotional response that will separate those who get it
from those who are too old or dull to understand. Nevertheless, the
subplot about Pinto supposedly molesting a young girl really shouldn't
be there: it's not narratively integral, as well as not being pretty.
Lampoon's Animal House remains the benchmark for the gross-out comedy
genre it helped to create. Landis' later comedies like Trading Places
would be more technically proficient, and not all of its material holds
up to present-day scrutiny. But the anarchic spirit and enjoyably bad
taste remains intact, making it essential viewing for comedy fans - even
those who are on double secret probation.
NEXT REVIEW: My 200th Review on Mumby at the Movies!
Get Over It (USA, 2001) Directed by Tommy O'Haver Starring Ben Foster, Kirsten Dunst, Melissa Sagemiller, Shane West
Last November, I wrote an article for WhatCulture! in which I cited my
ten favourite film adaptations of William Shakespeare plays. Reducing
over 100 years of cinema down to a top ten is no easy task, so to make
it easier I restricted my list to adaptations which retained
Shakespeare's dialogue. While there are many so-called vernacular
adaptations that I admire in some way, I felt that disposing of the
language somehow made these versions less faithful: losing the unique
speech pattern of Shakespeare robs many of his greatest lines of their
power and meaning.
If we remove this distinction, however, we
broaden the landscape of films which attempt to bring Shakespeare to a
more modern, often younger audience. Alongside more famous teen
offerings like Romeo Must Die and 10 Things I Hate About You, we find
Get Over It, a loose reworking of A Midsummer Night's Dream with a
bright, shiny colour palette and a pre-Spider-Man Kirsten Dunst. While
being far from perfect as either a Shakespeare adaptation or a teen
comedy, it's not without its charms.
There are two angles from
which we can approach Get Over It. One is to judge it in terms of its
fidelity to Shakespeare's play, and the other is to judge it according
to our expectations of teen comedies. To put it another way, we have a
choice between attempting to justify it in the company of many more
consciously high-brow efforts, or to defend it as a surprisingly good
offering in a genre sadly associated with all that is low-brow, clichéd
Taking the first approach, the film retains
some key elements of the 'Dream which are played up to varying extents.
Most obviously, it retains the structural device of the
play-within-a-play, or in this case play-within-a-film. While this is
pretty common in teen dramas, the relationships between the actors in
the film are reflected in their characters on stage in a way which is
believable and amusing. Tommy O'Haver isn't a brilliant director, but he
does replicate the deliberate artificiality of the
play-within-the-play; it's not as easy as it sounds to get a good actor
to play someone who can't act.
The central theme in Get Over It
is that the person that you love now isn't necessarily the person that
you're meant to be with. This is a theme that crops up time and again in
romantic comedies, often being used as the excuse to get our two overly
glamourous leads to end up together when the plot can't do it on its
own. The film makes no attempt to challenge this incredibly trite
sentiment, but it does at least try to tie it to something more
Shakespeare's comedies like the 'Dream and Much Ado About Nothing regularly involve people falling in love unexpectedly with
people whom they previously held in no regard. Benedict and Beatrice in
the latter begin hating each other, but through the plotting of their
friends end up genuinely falling in love. Twelfth Night even turns this
device on its head, with Malvolio's cross-gartered downfall serving as a
warning against trying to impress others based on idle gossip.
Over It attempts to tie the dynamic of its four main characters to the
four Athenian lovers in the 'Dream. The most straightforward and
faithful thing would be for the characters to exactly mirror their
theatrical counterparts, and for the casting of the play-within-a-film
to fit that. But instead, our central character Berke (played well by a
young Ben Foster) goes from resembling Lysander in nature to being much
closer to Hermes: he stops seeing Kelly as a distraction from his
pursuit of Allison and discovers that he truly loves her.
Over It makes no bones about playing fast and loose with Shakespeare,
right down to Berke breaking character during the stage show and
ad-libbing to convey his love for Kelly. This does make it a frustrating
experience for purists, who know the play backwards and want to see it
accurately replicated in a modern setting. Certainly the film isn't in
the same league as Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet, which updated the
setting while retaining the period language.
Rather than viewing
it as an accurate adaptation, it's perhaps better to see the film as a
gateway drug for people coming to Shakespeare for the first time. Many
who've have to deal with Shakespeare in high school will recognise the
reluctance of the characters in having to perform it, and find some
mirth in the more ostentatious or pretentious characters who yearn for a
life in the theatre. While it's far too loose as far as the actual plot
is concerned, it does convey the awkwardness of approaching Shakespeare
and poke fun at the equally awkward way in which it is often staged.
film is at its best when it attempts to show the characters being
affected by the subject matter of the play. There are a number of
visually pleasing set-pieces, in which Berke finds himself in the woods
with Allison and Striker, growing in jealousy and frustration as events
unfold and he finds himself helpless and unable to act. These are the
best-lit and most appealingly-shot scenes in the film, giving us a break
from the shiny, late-1990s visuals. Maryse Alberti is a good
cinematographer, having shot Velvet Goldmine, and it's nice to see her
trying to move the film into more poetic and ambitious territory.
at Get Over It from the second perspective (i.e. as a teen comedy),
it's also a pleasant surprise in a couple of ways. Like many teen
comedies, the plot is as predictable as they come: we know that Berke
and Allison won't get back together even without Shakespeare poking his
nose in. But there is a certain pleasure to be derived from seeing all
the pieces fit together, and if the film makes us laugh than it's
ultimately doing its job.
The film benefits greatly in this
regard from Martin Short. Short's played many an outrageous and annoying
character in his time, often turning up in supporting roles where he is
given a free rein and quickly gets on our nerves. But in this instance,
he manages to focus his energies into a confident performance which is
goofy and silly but ultimately rings true. His character is more
believable than his work in Father of the Bride and its sequel, with all
the exaggerated features having logic behind them rather than just the
Kirsten Dunst is also a pleasant surprise. Dunst
took the role because it gave her the opportunity to sing on screen, and
she nails both the vocal numbers with a surprise amount of presence.
But like Short, she also has a knowingness to her: she knows how the
rules of this kind of film work, and therefore how to take something
silly and make it pass off. She raises the standard of the other
performers for every second that she's on screen, something that she has
done with increasing regularity as her career has developed.
rest of the cast, by contrast, are more of a mixed bag. Neither Colin
Hanks nor Sisqó get a great deal to work with, with the former lacking
the overt charisma of his father. The latter seems to have been cast as a
gimmick, given his chart popularity at the time, which makes it all the
more peculiar that he gets so little to do. Melissa Sagemiller is
passable as Allison, though she doesn't play the later scenes all that
convincingly, and Shane West isn't as memorable as he could have been.
Get Over It has just about enough going for it to pass muster. Its
opening musical number, with Berke being followed by dancers, is like a
more upbeat, cheeky version of U2's video for 'Sweetest Thing'. Berke's
parents are a welcome source of deadpan laughs, while his scenes with
Kelly are pitched just right, being tender without getting cloying. At a
time when most teen comedies were being pitched in the vein of American
Pie, it's refreshing to find one that's willing to be sweet and
Get Over It is a fun and light-hearted teen
comedy which serves as a reasonable introduction to one of Shakespeare's
best-loved play. Anyone searching for either a perfect adaptation or a
mould-breaking teen comedy will wind up disappointed, but it does enough
to satisfy the casual viewer who wants the best of both worlds. Whether
as a frothy romantic excursion or an opportunity to see Dunst before
her big break, it remains a surprisingly charming comedy.
NEXT REVIEW: National Lampoon's Animal House (1978)
I’m Daniel Mumby – writer for WhatCulture!, radio presenter on Phonic FM, and the curator of this blog you see before you. Here you’ll find all my movie-related musings, including reviews, articles, podcasts and much, much more. Thanks for stopping by!