1.15pm: Captain Jack
The best way to think of Captain Jack is as an ideal Sunday afternoon film. Made by Granada TV, it's the sort of pleasantly undemanding fluff that will probably sit quite nicely in the ITV primetime schedules at some point in the future, with annoying plugs for the Midland Bank topping and tailing every ad break.
Captain Jack Lammiman (Bob Hoskins) runs pleasure cruises around Whitby harbour for a living. He's got a strong sense of nautical history, and is notorious throughout the town for being obsessed with Captain Scoresby, a local sailor whose achievements have always been overshadowed by those of Captain Cook. He decides that the only way to commemorate Scoresby is to recreate one of his voyages: he'll travel to the Arctic Circle in his pleasure boat and place a plaque on one of the islands (despite the fact that only a couple of penguins and some polar bears will be able to read it). He gathers together a crew consisting of the few people left in Whitby who don't think he's a total nutter - an Australian hitchhiker (Peter McDonald), a holidaymaker trying to hide from his wife (David Troughton), two elderly sisters (Anna Massey and Gemma Jones) and a female stowaway so the Aussie has some love interest (Sadie Frost) - and heads off.
Amazingly, it's based on a true story: at least, Captain Jack existed, and he did make a trip to the Arctic in a totally unseaworthy boat, pursued by the authorities. Jack Rosenthal's script takes this basic situation and embroiders it with all the traditional seagoing cliches: there's a mutiny, a storm, a character who's sick for the entire voyage, a bit where someone goes overboard, and the hitchhiker and the stowaway spend ages arguing before they finally cop off. But it's all quite enjoyable, acted to the standard you'd expect from the cast involved, and Rosenthal gets in a few amusingly daft lines. ("He's done a moonlight flit! In broad daylight!")
Jack Lammiman himself turned up for the Q&A after the screening with producer John Goldschmidt and director Robert Young, and filled in the gaps not covered by the film: when he returned to England, he was put in prison for 14 days, "and I couldn't stop laughing for the first three." The one slightly disturbing element of the whole affair was when Robert Young revealed that they'd hired four polar bears for the climactic scene, but three of them died of some disease or other, so they were reduced to using one bear and some digital effects. Considering that one of the strands of the film debates the morality of celebrating a sailor (Scoresby) who harpooned more whales than anyone else around at the time, it's kind of ironic that they had to kill three polar bears to make it.
Love is Winnie The Pooh doing voodoo in corrective shoes. What does it mean? Dunno, but I haven't been able to get the line out of my head since I heard it. And if you think that's cool, you should hear all the lines from this film that I can't remember.
There are certain movies that start badly and then reach such dizzy heights by the end that you've forgotten how bad the opening was. I always like to think of The Terminator as a classic example. Every time I watch it, I spend the first five minutes screaming at the screen: "Look at those effects! They're crap! It's a couple of Dinky toys running around in front of a badly painted backdrop! Why am I watching this?" But by the time James Cameron's worked through his four or five endings, you've completely forgotten about the opening, ready to be disappointed again the next time you see it.
I think Slam could turn out to be like that. The opening isn't bad, it's just the same as every 'hood movie made in the last ten years. Ray (Saul Williams) is a small-time dope dealer on the streets of Washington DC. Caught with a tiny amount of hash at the scene of a shooting, he's arrested and banged up while awaiting trial. So far, so what? But then, sitting in his cell, he hears someone in the cell next door banging out an impromptu beatbox rhythm on his table, and starts furiously freestyling a poem over the top of it. From this moment on, the film gets 20,000 volts up the jacksie and never lets up again.
In jail he attends a class given by a writing teacher, Lauren (Sonja Sohn), who persuades him that he should get out of the criminal life and develop his poetry skills. The film is about their relationship and Ray's exploration of his creativity, held together by four or five electrifying scenes where Williams and Sohn read their poetry (which they wrote themselves). I've seen people in cinemas applaud numerous things that have happened on screen, but poetry recitals have to be some sort of first.
The whole thing reaches a spectacular climax at the Slam of the title, a competitive poetry recital featuring Ray, Lauren and several of her friends: the first time that Ray gets to perform one of his pieces in public. As Sonja Sohn said herself in the Q&A afterwards, the people in the film write the sort of poetry that only really lives in performance - demonstrated magnificently when she gave a live rendition of her big poem from the movie, Home Free ("I've got my back up against a brick wall / and a Mack truck two inches from my face"), resulting in a richly deserved standing ovation. Director Marc Levin was asked how the general audience could be persuaded to see films like this rather than the usual commercial pap. "It's up to you, isn't it?" he replied. You heard the man.
For the first time this year, the LFF has a section called Experimenta: to quote the Festival Director Adrian Wootton, "a distinct strand to showcase perhaps more radical, challenging and innovative work from filmmakers throughout the world." Which is all perfectly laudable, but I'd be curious to find out what the criteria are for inclusion. The two films in the Experimenta section that I've seen so far - Sitcom and Slam - certainly weren't mainstream, but I wouldn't go so far as to say they were experimental. Whereas Pi showed as part of the mainstream World Cinema section, and it's just demented.
Max (Sean Gullette) is a mathematical genius who spends a large amount of each day locked in his apartment with his enormous home-made computer. Obsessed by the mathematical patterns that occur throughout nature, he develops a theory that everything can ultimately be broken down into predictable mathematical patterns: his current project involves trying to calculate the pattern behind the New York stock market so he can predict the fall and rise of shares. On the few occasions he leaves his apartment, he's hounded by a representative from a financial institution that wants the rights to his work, and by a group of Hassidic Jews who are conducting their own numerological research into the numeric patterns hidden in the Torah.
Max's health (physical and mental) is suffering under these combined pressures, and matters come to a head when his computer crashes during what looks like his first successful predictions of the stock market. In its death throes, his computer spews out a 216 digit number, and suddenly everybody is desperate to grab Max and his work for themselves. Why? Oh, you wouldn't believe me if I told you.
Eraserhead is the main comparison people reach for when they're talking about Pi, and it certainly shares a number of common reference points: although unlike Eraserhead, Pi does have a genuine plot at its centre, even if it does resemble an episode of The X-Files on peyote. Shot in incredibly grainy, high-contrast black and white, writer/director Darren Aronofsky throws in all manner of wild ideas - strange camera angles, a loud electronica soundtrack, some arresting scenes involving a camera connected to Max's body and pointing at him - but can't quite make them all gel into a coherent whole. Still, like Eraserhead, it's the sort of film we'll probably look back on in a few years when Aronofsky is famous and say "of course, he hasn't had any original ideas since Pi, you know". Time will tell.
Notes From Spank's Pals
Ken - A really enjoyable romp. Compared by some to an Ealing comedy, it involves the little man (Captain Jack, played by Bob Hoskins) taking on the authorities who declare his trawler unseaworthy by setting sail for the Arctic with an amateur crew who've never been to sea before. As with any film set on a boat, there is a man overboard and a mutiny or two: and as with any film set anywhere, a romantic involvement or two. But despite the predictability, it's a highly uplifting feelgood yarn. Of course, the telephone and marine radio conversations between Bob Hoskins and Maureen Lipman make you wonder if it's an extended advert for British Telecom, and the CGI polar bears aren't all that they could be: but it wasn't made on a Hollywood budget. The low budget also shows up in the use of stock footage from the 1970s: the frigate chasing the trawler is HMS Ashanti, displosed of by the Royal Navy in 1981. Though I suppose we should be grateful that the footage was in colour. Highly recommended.
First Love, Last Rites
Ken - A truly dreadful film, apparently based on a short story by Ian McEwan, but relocated from the British seaside to a Louisiana bayou for no good reason. It must have been a very short story, because throughout the film's 97 minutes, nothing happens. There is a suggestion that the male lead may be on the run from the police, but nothing is revealed. There is a suggestion that the female lead had an unhappy childhood, but nothing is revealed. There is a rat scratching at the skirting board throughout the film: thankfully, the rat does get killed at the end, otherwise the film wouldn't have a single fully developed character. Don't even recommend this to your worst enemy.
God's Got My Number
Rachael - This is a bit of a shock if you did rather well in your French exams at school, because it's all in modern colloquial French: I think I understood about two words, and they were the technical ones. The story is about a modern day wimp, who for once actually looks and acts and talks like a wimp, unlike the charismatic figures of people such as Rowan Atkinson and Woody Allen. However, he does share their problem of attracting every single stunning beauty in the film, and we the audience (especially us young females) are left asking just what the hell they see in him. It's a nice view of France, looking even more antiquated than England, and struggling even more manfully to catch up with the technology of the 90s. It's quite a whimsical story, about a miserably useless sound operator (whose hairy mike appears in all the films he records) and his adventures through love as he haltingly finds his way through three gorgeous females. It's slightly incredible, but really amusing with some nice touches: and it's great to see it in a full packed Odeon cinema, as opposed to on your video or on Channel 4 at half past eleven on a Sunday night when nobody's watching.
Ken - It's in black and white, and is about a mathematician investigating stock market trends, who is suffering from epilepsy (or something similar), the drugs for which result in some very strange hallucinations, mostly on subway platforms. He then becomes mixed up with some very un-Orthodox Hassidic Rabbis who believe his stock market research could reveal the true name of God. Talk about confusing: at one point I was wondering if the scenes had been strung together in some apparently random order, based on some mathematical formula known only to the director. But at least it was better than First Love Last Rites.
Rob G - One word: enjoyable hokum. (Numerology was never Rob's strong point - Spank)
|<-Back to Saturday 07/11/1998||Return to LFF '98 Index||Forward to Monday 09/11/1998->|