Monthly Archives: June 2015

Alexander

WFTB Score: 7/20

The plot: Called a son of Zeus, it’s small wonder that Alexander, the progeny of Philip of Macedon and Olympias, grows up with dreams of equalling the feats of Achilles. By the team he is 25 Alexander can truly be called ‘The Great’, as he has conquered the greater part of the known world; that this is not enough for him is part of his glory, and the entire reason for his downfall.

I like to think of myself (as any self-respecting human should) as a man of catholic tastes who interests himself in as many things as possible; but there are limits, and while I can explain the rules of rugby union in some depth, I know virtually nothing about dressage. Similarly, while I could ramble on about the history of the electric guitar for a while, I am woefully ignorant about all aspects of Classical History. Oliver Stone’s Alexander, then, represents an ideal opportunity to learn something.

Our tutor is Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins), a veteran of Alexander’s campaigns who is looking back on the life of the Macedonian leader with the help of a scribe. He takes us back to Alexander’s early life under the tutelage of Christopher Plummer’s Aristotle and the boy’s fiery relationships with his mysterious, protective mother Olympias (Angelina Jolie) and militarily astute but violently drunk father Philip (Val Kilmer), who schools the youngster in famous Greek legends and introduces him to his mighty horse Bucephalus. Philip has ambitions for Macedon and Greece, but his idea of expansionism means taking a Greek wife, threatening Alexander’s own succession and leading to the youngster’s banishment after he challenges his father. However, Philip is murdered soon afterwards (as Ptolemy tells us) and Alexander is installed as ruler; he uses his strategic nous to sweep through Persia, motivating his 40,000 men at Babylon to defeat 250,000 under Darius, who flees and abandons the city.

Alexander and his friends – most notably intimate ally Hephaistion (Jared Leto) – briefly make the most of Babylon’s luxury, but Alexander is driven to pursue Darius and, once his body is found, explore the far corners of the Earth, taking on a Barbarian wife in Rosario Dawson’s Roxane as part of his quest for global glory. His wanderlust has consequences, however, and Olympias’ reminders that Alexander has enemies at home and in the inner circles of his ‘mobile empire’ prove timely, as dissenting voices grow in volume and resolve. It takes defeat, near death in India and an army revolt for Alexander to turn back for Babylon and Macedon, but he is destined not to return and he perishes from a fever at the age of 32 – through natural causes or potentially by other hands.

Running at almost three hours, Alexander follows in the tradition of films such as Spartacus, Ben-Hur and more recently Gladiator, which sparked the short-lived revival in the historical epic. Unlike these films, however (and like Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven, which brought the revival to an abrupt end), Stone’s suffers from several grave flaws, chief amongst which is that it doesn’t really know what it wants to say about its hero. Yes, we are taken from barren Persian desert to the frozen mountains of the Hindu Kush and the lush jungles of India; and yes, there’s an impressive sense of scale to the battle scenes (though in the first we are repeatedly – and unnecessarily – taken out of the action to literally see an eagle’s eye view of the battle), but as Alexander and his army cuts a swathe through the known world it’s difficult to know what drives him. Alexander is revealed to enjoy the company of Hephaistion and other men more than is comfortable to his wife and some of his soldiers; he inherits the tactical guile, ruthlessness and drunkenness of his father; and he struggles to break the spell of his overbearing mother; yet the film neither educates us about nor makes us root for Alexander the man.

Much of the blame for this lies with the people responsible for casting, styling, directing and being Colin Farrell in the title role. In his first appearance as the teenage Alexander (the boy who plays the young Alexander is fine), Farrell’s blonde wig makes him look like a stereotypically poofy hairdresser, and Farrell spends much of the film looking blank and confused, matters not helped by the thick make-up that makes him and his friends appear more like rejects from Velvet Goldmine or Stone’s own The Doors than ancient Greece (the Velvet Goldmine thought exists partly due to the presence of Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Cassander, but mostly because of the preponderance of mascara). Unlike Orlando Bloom in Kingdom of Heaven, Farrell can at least shout properly, but this merely highlights another problem. Since Farrell was apparently incapable of flattening out his Irish accent, Kilmer’s Philip and most of the other Macedonians adopt it (or as close to it as they can manage) as their own. In theory, this shouldn’t be a problem – one can’t expect everyone to adopt the tones of an authentic Macedonian or a Shakespearian thesp – but in practice it’s most off-putting since the lilting brogue undercuts the epic gravity that Stone is aiming for elsewhere. It doesn’t help, of course, that old Ptolemy is channelling Richard Harris in Gladiator, via Port Talbot in Wales, or that Jolie opts for a grab-bag of East European inflections.

The lack of discipline demonstrated by the accent problem is also felt in the shape – or lack of it – in the film as a whole. Just when things are about to get interesting, as an assassination attempt by Philotas (Joseph Morgan) fails and his father Parmenion is murdered, Alexander cuts back in time to the murder of Philip, implicating Olympias in the deed. Why could this not have been shown in order? Furthermore, the impressive orderliness of the desert battle is replaced in India by shaky, hand-held camerawork as the army struggles with well-equipped soldiers on elephants (though who this enemy was, I had no idea); Stone also starts messing around with the colour scheme when Alexander is wounded, for what reason he alone knows. The lack of structure in the film’s second half almost certainly leads to the viewer losing interest, just when it should be building to a big climax. Perhaps most damningly of all, I promise I was paying attention but I had no idea what time period the film was set in (the 4th Century BC, as it happens), suggesting that Alexander fails to serve its purpose as a history lesson (all the stuff about people being made satraps flew straight over my head).

Alexander looks handsome but it’s just not right, telling the story of Alexander’s life through a jumbled combination of narration and re-enactment and constantly passing over enlightening details in favour of lurid sensationalism. There’s a glimpse of the world’s first cosmopolite, a man who vied with the gods for legendary achievements, but far too much of the golden-haired lover with the troublesome mother, and far too little storytelling drive. All praise to Stone for his ambition, but on this occasion he has flown much too close to the sun.

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Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

WFTB Score: 12/20

The plot: 1971. Journalist Hunter Thompson and his pharmacologically-minded attorney Dr Gonzo take a trip to Las Vegas on the pretence of covering a motorcycle race, but actually more concerned with devouring the copious amounts of drugs they have brought with them. The nightmare that ensues takes the pair on a disturbing journey, only partly caused by narcotic intake.

I am not at all familiar with Hunter S Thompson or his 1971 novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but I would assume that for most directors it would come under the category ‘unfilmable.’ Credit then to Terry Gilliam for taking on the task and bringing to the screen with some flair the face-bending, carpet-melting madness of acid, mescaline, ether and God-knows-what-else trips.

Johnny Depp plays Thompson, checking into a Las Vegas motel under the name Raoul Duke, already dosed up to the eyeballs. Protecting him, though scarcely, is friend Dr Gonzo (Benicio Del Toro); together, they thoroughly ignore the motorcycle race taking place in the desert, preferring their own medicine, which reflects the gaudiness of Las Vegas back to them as a warped, psychedelic nightmare. Depp and Del Toro are incredibly good (though I couldn’t tell you how accurate) at portraying the exaggerated mannerisms of drug use, and the distorting lens of Gilliam’s direction conveys the whole queasy ride convincingly. As it should be, the trip is entertaining for a couple of minutes, but beyond this becomes unsettling and nauseating; although Depp and Del Toro are originally entertaining in their extensive necking of drugs (their consumption of ether is very funny), it soon becomes clear that – for Gonzo particularly – it is a dangerous and self-destructive habit. When Gonzo picks up vulnerable youngster Lucy (Christina Ricci), the tone of the picture darkens considerably, as it is no longer merely themselves and the profits of hotels that the pair are hurting.

As long as you can bear the hallucinations as Thompson and his partner flit between hotels on the strip, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is always an interesting film, and not only cinematically. There are plenty of cameos for star watchers, an appropriately acid-tinged soundtrack, and the script, as is to be expected, is sharp and often very funny. Thompson’s subtitle to his novel was A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream, and Gilliam’s film picks up on the fact that Las Vegas, as the ultimate distortion of American ideals, is nightmarish enough (perhaps too nightmarish) without the use of drugs to heighten the experience. It also picks up, during a well-written respite from the drug-induced carnage, on the feeling of decay prevalent at the time, the hippy idealism of the mid-60s having burnt out, leaving America with the spectres of Nixon and Vietnam hanging over it.

It’s entirely possible, however, that you won’t be able to bear the hallucinations, and if the bar turning into a roomful of lizards doesn’t put you off early on, the second major adrenacol-powered binge, which sees Depp waking up in a devastated, flooded room with a tape recorder and a tail strapped to him, might. The film will not be to everybody’s tastes, and even those who enjoy the opening may find the second half a bit much (the pair attending a police conference on narcotics may well have been rooted in fact, but still feels like a rather clumpy joke). If you are at all curious, I recommend giving Fear and Loathing a try; I enjoyed it much more on a second viewing than on my first, and unlike the practices it portrays the only long-lasting effect it can have is an extended feeling that you have watched something very, very strange.

American Pie

WFTB Score: 13/20

The plot: Four high-school friends make a pact to lose their virginity before they graduate, the snag being that only one of them has a girlfriend – and she’s not putting out. As the weeks count down, Jim, Kev, ‘Oz’ and Finch try to secure their sure things; but for Jim especially, public humiliations seem destined to ensure that their mission is doomed.

Jim Levenstein (Jason Biggs) experiences the usual growing pains when his parents disturb his onanistic activities; but his friends are also prisoners to their hormones. At a party hosted by their brash acquaintance Stifler (Seann William Scott), Jim’s interest in foreign student Nadia (Elizabeth Shannon) is ruined by his all-consuming awkwardness; Kev’s (Thomas Ian Nicholas) relationship with Vicky (Tara Reid) is stalling somewhere around third base; Chris, or ‘Oz’ (Chris Klein), discovers that his self-given nickname ‘Casanova’ isn’t as alluring as he hoped; and Finch, or ‘Sh*tbreak’ (because of his OCD habits in regard to personal hygiene) is merely waiting for the right woman.

When the men find themselves outshone in the sex department by the ghastly Chuck Sherman (Chris Owen), aka The Shermanator, they resolve to do something about the millstone of virginity hanging around their necks by agreeing to cast it off by prom night. For Finch, that means doing nothing to tarnish the romantic legend he mysteriously has within the school. For Oz, it means letting his sensitive, singing side out at the expense of his lacrosse-playing jockularity, in the hope of wooing pretty chorister Heather (Mena Suvari). For Kev, it means treating Vicky less selfishly and perhaps even bringing himself to say the ‘L’ word (note for Scott Pilgrim fans: it’s still not “lesbians”). And for Jim – oh, poor Jim – it means less experimentation with warm baked goods and more taking of opportunities, such as when Nadia comes round for help with her studies and ends up semi-naked in his bed. Unfortunately, that doesn’t quite go to plan either, meaning that the only available date for the prom is geeky flautist Michelle (Alyson Hannigan), who doesn’t – on the surface at least – seem to offer great opportunities for popping his cherry.

In the considered opinion of certain sections of society, American Pie was proof positive that other sections of society – youths, essentially – were uncultured, filthy, sex-obsessed monsters, making this movie nothing more than the Porky’s of the day. Certain episodes seem to bear this out: Stifler drinking (and regurgitating) semen-laced lager; Finch being forced by laxatives not to take a break for once; and, famously, Jim’s disastrously premature conclusions to his encounter with Nadia being broadcast via webcam to the whole school. It’s all juvenile stuff, but behind these scenes there’s a more mature sensibility than you might expect. For while the lads (and some of the ladies) feel immense peer pressure to lose their virginity, those with their heads screwed on (notably Natasha Lyonne’s Jessica) are on hand to give good advice: ‘It’s not a space shuttle launch – it’s sex’, Jessica says at one point; ‘It’s not that damn important’, Jim says later on. Of course, nobody laughs at these bits, but American Pie is far more conservative, positive and orthodox than many give it credit for.

I may be suffering from a bout of absurd generosity, but I think American Pie works because its heart is very much in the right place. All Hollywood movies exist to make money for the studios, of course, and neither the gross-out gags nor Nadia’s boobs (perhaps surprisingly, the only pair on display) are going to hurt ticket sales from snickering teenagers; but I honestly believe that these are no more important to the film’s success than the positive message that drives the film, namely that you should like and respect the people you have sex with, including/especially the first time you do it. You could even argue that the notorious bits are just a sweetener to lure people in. Plus, the juvenile gags are actually very funny. Even when the humour blatantly serves no other purpose than to shock, it works – witness the success of the word ‘MILF’, which this film didn’t invent but certainly popularised.

Besides, the film works because Jason Biggs makes Jim such a normal, lovable loser. He’s as much curious as he is priapic, and his double act with Eugene Levy as his well-meaning but equally awkward father gives the film a warm and extremely funny heart. And although Hannigan only gets a limited amount of screen time, she is obviously a gifted comedian, wringing every irritating ounce of fun from her interrogative inflection. She also gets the film’s best line, though I couldn’t possibly tell you what it is here. This trio helps us overlook the fact that neither Nicholas nor Klein light up the screen with acting luminescence, and Scott’s awful Stifler is only made at all bearable by the fact that he doesn’t get much screen time (unaccountably, the sequels found him the most interesting character of the bunch).

The American Pie series has certainly been a case of diminishing returns, in entertainment value if not financially; but taken on its own merits, the original is a highly entertaining slice of coming-of-age life with a realistic (kids do have sex), honest (hey, boys knock one out once in a while) and essentially responsible message for its target audience. It’s a shame that the sequels and spin-offs – though this is hearsay as I’ve only seen The (ghastly) Naked Mile – dispense with this message in the pursuit of ever more bare flesh and outlandish grossness.

All the Bonds – from best to worst.

Having now uploaded reviews of every James Bond film released up to (and including 2017, it would be a damn shame not to make a list ranking them from the best-scoring ones down to the bottom. So here is that very list!

Bear in my mind that these rankings come from a film lover, not a Bond fan, and the score is a reflection of each film as an individual movie, rather than how it compares (in any direct sense) with other entries in the series.

“Aah”, I hear you say, “but you have to be immersed in the world of Bond to appreciate where the films are coming from”. Actually, I don’t. A film that’s chauvinist in attitude, poorly plotted and/or badly made is a bad film regardless of the lead character’s name; conversely, the good examples are good movies in complete isolation of 007 lore. Nobody gets special treatment here.

In general, the best films are those that really pay attention to what they’re doing and care about the final product: notably the early ones, where everyone had a stake in making sure they got things right; and those that had to work to bring Bond back to the public’s attention (I think you could legitimately call GoldenEye and Casino Royale reboots). Also, Moore’s best entry, The Spy Who Loved Me, was the 10th film and Skyfall coincided with the series’ 50th anniversary, both reasons to make a special effort (that said, neither Moore nor Dalton’s introductions resulted in great movies, and the 20th film in the series was hardly a resounding success).

I’ve peeked at other people’s rankings of the movies, and my obvious outlier is The World is not Enough. It seems that for many, Denise Richards’ portrayal of Doctor Christmas Jones was enough to kill the movie stone dead. It’s true that her performance takes the word ‘unconvincing’ to new and uncharted heights, but I maintain that she is only a medium-sized negative in a fairly large bag of exciting pluses.

Anyway, here’s the rundown, with unofficial Bonds included for reference. Where the scores are the same, I’ve gone with my gut instincts as a tie-breaker.

Rank   Film                                              Bond          WFTB Score

1          Goldfinger                                     Connery           14/20

2          GoldenEye                                    Brosnan            13/20

3          From Russia With Love                 Connery           12/20

4          Casino Royale                               Craig                12/20

5          The World is not Enough               Brosnan            12/20

6          Dr. No                                            Connery            11/20

7          Skyfall                                            Craig                11/20

8          The Spy Who Loved Me                Moore               11/20

9          You Only Live Twice                      Connery             11/20

10        Thunderball                                   Connery              10/20

11        The Living Daylights                      Dalton                   9/20

12        The Man with the Golden Gun      Moore                    9/20

13        On Her Majesty’s Secret Service  Lazenby                 9/20

14        Live and Let Die                            Moore                    8/20

15        Spectre                                            Craig                      8/20

16        Licence to Kill                                Dalton                    7/20

17        For Your Eyes Only                       Moore                    7/20

18        Tomorrow Never Dies                    Brosnan                 7/20

19        Diamonds are Forever                   Connery                 7/20

20        Moonraker                                      Moore                    6/20

            Never Say Never Again                  Connery                6/20

21        Quantum of Solace                         Craig                     6/20

22        A View to a Kill                                Moore                    6/20

           Casino Royale                                 Everyone!              6/20

23        Die Another Day                              Brosnan                5/20

24        Octopussy                                       Moore                    4/20

So, what do you think? See individual reviews for in-depth opinions and don’t be afraid to say I’m wrong. I love a good argument.

The Bounty

WFTB Score: 11/20

The plot: At an Admiral’s Court of Inquiry, Lieutenant William Bligh is asked to give an account of how and why his ship The Bounty was taken by the crew in a mutiny led by Fletcher Christian. As events unfold, Bligh is shown to be less than a hard-hearted monster, while Christian’s naive idealism leads him into some very rocky waters.

If your understanding of what happened on board The Bounty comes solely from the celebrated Clark Gable vehicle Mutiny on The Bounty, you will no doubt be of the opinion that Bligh was a lying tyrant who deserved everything he got and Fletcher Christian a salt-of-the-Earth character who did what he had to do to earn dignity and respect for the ordinary sailor. Roger Donaldson’s version of the story, claiming the high ground of historical accuracy, corrects some of these false impressions; whether or not it can claim the high ground of being a better film as a result is a different matter entirely.

The Bounty begins not at sea but on land, with Lieutenant (as he was) Bligh (Anthony Hopkins) facing a Court of Inquiry into the events surrounding the loss of the ship during a mission to take breadfruit from Tahiti to Jamaica. Once this frame is established, we travel back to the start of the mission and find Bligh troubled not so much by Fletcher Christian (Mel Gibson), a good friend whom Bligh has asked to come on board The Bounty, as by designated First Mate Fryer (Daniel Day-Lewis). Tension on board the ship is largely limited to the lower rank sailors and mostly initiated by troublemaker Churchill (Liam Neeson), and Bligh doesn’t ruffle many feathers until he reveals his ambition to confront the dangerous seas around Cape Horn. Fryer, rather than Christian, shows insubordination and a month of failure to round the Horn sees Christian promoted when Bligh reluctantly admits defeat. The ship eventually reaches Tahiti where the crew are enthusiastically welcomed by the semi-naked natives and King Tynah (Wi Kuki Kaa), Fletcher’s eye taken by his beautiful daughter Mauatua (Tevaite Vernette).

The freedom of island life is a world away from that on The Bounty, where Bligh retains his strict, stuffy orderliness, and the situation becomes too much for Churchill and others to bear. Christian’s love for Mauatua and the harsh treatment of deserters, plus Bligh’s renewed determination to round Cape Horn, drive Fletcher to mutiny, and Bligh is put on a launch where only his faith, endurance and seafaring skills keep him and those loyal to him alive; Christian, meanwhile, finds his deeds met with horror by King Tynah and he and his new wife are banished. They set off with the mutinous crew to find an acceptable home, but all discover that life on the run is far from idyllic.

There are plenty of things to be said in The Bounty’s favour. It’s a handsome-looking film, with a handsome-looking ship at its heart, and it’s clear that no expense has been spared to recreate the events of the time – there are no back-projections here, and no CGI either. The screenplay concentrates on making recognisable men out of the lead characters and the actors do well in portraying their complexities; Hopkins is particularly good as Bligh, whose self-assurance is seen to be borne out of experience rather than arrogance, though his quest for glory as a circumnavigator eventually undoes him. While Gibson is less forceful, his moodiness is also more realistic than Gable’s bluff charms, and we can easily believe that Christian acted out of love for a beautiful woman rather than a selfless determination to see the Navy do right by its men. In smaller roles, actors like Bernard Hill and Phil Davis also impress, while it is nice to see newcomers such as Laurence Olivier make a cameo appearance.

Why, then, the middling score? Well, while Roger Donaldson captures some very pretty pictures, he fails to invest the film with much in the way of excitement or momentum, a problem immediately demonstrated by the stuffed wigs in the Court of Inquiry, a framing device which serves to restore Bligh’s reputation but doesn’t do anything for the film’s pacing. When the mutiny does come, it’s late on in the film and overly shouty, its imminent arrival heralded with clumsy musical stings (more on the music shortly). Also, while I will forego my usual dig at Dino de Laurentiis productions and concede that the partial nudity is probably historically authentic, The Bounty does itself no favours by lingering on the bodies of the Tahitians (where are all the chunky ones, or ones with bad teeth?). By intercutting Christian’s sexual relations with Mauatua with the sweating face of Bligh (he has previously pored over a portrait of his wife), the film is given a psycho-sexual subtext that it really doesn’t need. Incidentally, sex provides The Bounty with one of its rare comic moments when Bligh is expected to sleep with one of Tynah’s wives; the film would have done well to take itself less seriously, follow Mutiny on The Bounty’s lead and include more light relief.

And then there is the music. I praised Vangelis for his spacey score for Blade Runner, which suited the futuristic mood of the film perfectly. However, Vangelis also provides a mostly spacey score for this story of 18th Century seafaring and not only does it fail to liven up the drama of the film, it feels entirely out of place. Synthesisers really don’t sit well amongst the costumes and customs of life at sea, and I will have to watch Chariots of Fire again to see if something inherently makes the modern music work better for that film; here, the broad synth pads that accompany long shots of the boat merely make you wonder why both were not cut to save time.

The Bounty certainly deserves credit for its overall presentation, offering more balanced portrayals of both Bligh and Christian than other cinematic versions of the story, and facing up to the truth about what happened to Christian and his violent band of mutineers (the closing caption stands as a direct rebuke to Mutiny on The Bounty’s opening one). But in its quest to be even-handed, the film forgets to say anything decisive and drifts for long stretches in the doldrums. This, together with Vangelis’ very middling score, explains the middling score.

Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)

WFTB Score: 14/20

The plot: The crew of The Bounty are tested beyond their patience by the arbitrary and disproportionate cruelty of Captain Bligh during their mission to pick up breadfruit trees and take them to Jamaica. First Mate Fletcher Christian, seeing his men suffer past endurance, eventually takes action and seizes the ship; but his decision to set Bligh loose will have repercussions for them all.

Although MGM’s handsome portrayal of the famous and notorious story of the British ship The Bounty gives the game away in a lengthy foreword, the tale is so well known that all it does it prepare us (even more than we are already disposed) to cheer on the ‘hero‘, Fletcher Christian. As Mutiny on the Bounty begins, Christian (Clark Gable) is in Portsmouth, cheerfully but muscularly pressing sailors into service on the ship for a two-year voyage to take breadfruit trees from the South Seas and transport them to Jamaica in order to cheaply feed slaves. Some of the jacks (like Eddie Quillan’s Ellison) are reluctant to go because they have loved ones at home, whilst others blanch at the name of the ship’s commander – William Bligh (Charles Laughton). Young Midshipman Roger Byam (Franchot Tone) is not in the least bit reluctant, as he is on a quest to write a Tahitian dictionary; but as the ship sets sail, Bligh’s zeal to display authority is demonstrated when he insists that punishment is carried out in full on a sailor who is already dead.

Throughout the journey to Tahiti Bligh’s contempt for the men who serve him is contrasted with Christian’s more encouraging style, and matters are made no better when Byam himself is singled out for punishment, Fletcher’s decision to rescue him in high seas setting him and Bligh on a collision course. Tensions are raised further when Bligh is suspected of taking provisions off the ship for himself, then accusing others of theft; but just as Christian’s patience is about to snap, they strike land, where all are welcomed by King Hiti-hiti (William Bambridge) and his extremely friendly natives. Byam strikes up a relationship with Tehani (Movita), whilst Fletcher – once he wangles his way ashore – becomes smitten with Maimiti (Mamo Clark). Given a taste of the islanders’ unfettered lives, the sailors are naturally reluctant to re-join the ship, and Bligh’s insistence that the men are deprived of water so that the breadfruit plants survive is the last straw. Christian takes control of the ship, putting the captain and others faithful to him on a launch. Miraculously, most of them survive and Bligh swears revenge, not only on the man responsible for mutiny but anyone who could be seen as taking part in it.

The most immediately impressive aspect of Mutiny on the Bounty is the scale of the enterprise. It is patronising to consider filmmakers of the 1930s as primitive, but considering that talking pictures were not yet a decade old, the achievement of bringing life on the ship to the screen – plus a wealth of outside locations to represent Tahiti – is considerable. Occasionally the film’s ambition stretches the technology to its limits, with some of the rear-projection work quite obvious and a few shots of Byam up the mast asking too much of the celluloid; but by and large, the film convinces in Portsmouth, the middle of the ocean and on the island paradise of Tahiti. The no-expense-spared filming deserves a plot to match, and the film pulls off a neat trick of highlighting characters other than Bligh and Christian without lessening our appreciation of them, Quillan’s Ellison in particular proving a sympathetic mutineer. The concentration on Byam in the film’s courtroom climax is a decision that can be debated, especially as history has been mangled to have Bligh present; but Byam’s moving speech promoting dignity at sea justifies it and his ultimate fate provides a satisfying and relieving closure. The film certainly has more drive than later efforts at telling the story, as it chooses not to linger too long in Tahiti and has an exciting chase element when Bligh – incredibly – appears on the Pandora in single-minded pursuit of his nemesis. That said, a little more explanation of the journey might not have gone amiss, The Bounty’s thwarted attempts to round Cape Horn represented only by a series of squiggles on a map.

Uniquely, Mutiny on the Bounty’s three leads were all nominated for Best Actor at the 1935 Oscars (they all lost) and each are excellent in different ways. Franchot Tone treads his difficult middle ground with skill, his humanism naturally allying itself with Gable’s Christian, the passionate yet personable First Mate who ostensibly carries the film. However, Gable’s strong performance would have been significantly diminished had he not played opposite Laughton, who is brilliant as the self-made Captain. Laughton’s Bligh is haughty, hypocritical, and eyes both sailors and officers with utter contempt, making it completely believable that he would give water to his cargo before his men. Even so, he is an impressive seaman throughout and Bligh’s nobility in the launch ensures that he is far from a one-dimensional villain. Elsewhere, although many of the sailors are limited to being flogged and giving Bligh murderous looks, they also have jokes and moments of comic relief (the doctor is also quite a comic part) which break up the harsh conditions and violence on the ship, something Roger Donaldson’s The Bounty of 1984 sorely lacks.

Mutiny on The Bounty was a smash hit in 1935 and unlike many of its contemporaries still looks good and raises the pulse today. True to the facts it may not be, but it proves a point that filmmakers ignore at their peril: if you give your characters compelling motivation and exciting things to do, the audience will gladly come along for the journey, and may even (metaphorically speaking) do some of the rowing for you.

Monsters, Inc.

WFTB Score: 14/20

The plot: Life’s a scream for buddies Sulley and Mike – literally – as Mike is the green one-eyed monster who lines up doors for big furball Sulley to creep through, catching the children’s shrieks to power the city of Monstropolis. But trouble’s afoot: not only are young ones not screaming enough to keep the city going, but Sulley inadvertently lets a girl through the door into the monsters’ world.

Pixar’s fourth feature film sees the computer animation geniuses behind Toy Story and Toy Story 2 back in children’s bedrooms, but this time it ain’t the toys that come to life. No, in Monsters, Inc. the monsters in the cupboard are not only real, they rely on giving kids the shock of their lives in order to get them screaming, providing the energy on which Monstropolis runs; and it’s at this job that blue giant Sulley (voiced by John Goodman) excels, working with his engineer Mikey (Billy Crystal) to break Monstropolis’ scream record before snide camouflage expert Randall (Steve Buscemi) can take the crown. Children are less susceptible to being frightened than in days past, however, causing power shortages and a major headache for factory owner Mr Westernoose (James Coburn), and that’s not the only problem: monsters who come into contact with children or even their clothing are thought to be contaminated, possibly with fatal consequences.

So when Sulley steps through the door into a little girl’s bedroom and he leaves with her on his back, mayhem is guaranteed to follow. Sulley and Mike’s efforts to conceal and return the totally unfazed toddler – named ‘Boo’ by Sulley – end in panic and their banishment to the real world, but not before they learn of Randall’s wicked plans to kidnap children and extract their screams mechanically. After a short stay with the Abominable Snowman (John Ratzenberger), our heroic duo rush back to save Boo, resulting in a frantic chase through the factory’s huge warehouse of bedroom doors to return the girl through her own before she comes to any harm.

Monsters, Inc. does so many things right you would forgive Pixar for thinking they could do no wrong. The idea behind the story is (like the Toy Story films) a simple and elegant piece of role reversal, with the monsters being terrified of a small child who actually likes them (she calls Sulley ‘Kitty’). Having the child at the age where she can only speak a few words is a masterstroke as it accentuates the need for Sulley to look after her and for the pair to emote through physical contact; the way Sulley and Boo learn to love one another is very touching and makes for a beautiful and entirely unforced end to the movie, bolstered by the solution to Monstropolis’ energy crisis.

As is to be expected, the monsters’ world is impeccably realised, with the creatures all a little bit scary but mostly cute; Sulley is especially adorable, with some stupendous animation employed to render his hair realistically (the way snow sticks to it is most impressive too). The monsters’ workplace – especially the ‘scarefloor’ – is also a thing of beauty, and the film’s climax in and through the warehouse of doors is brilliantly done, a roller-coaster ride which doesn’t exist solely to jazz up the film for 3D viewers (a regrettable trend if ever there was one). I didn’t fall entirely in love with the representation of Boo as a big-eyed, pig-tailed cutie, but she is pleasant enough and even if she doesn’t move like a small girl her facial expressions are always spot-on. It’s probably better to be reminded that we’re watching a cartoon than attempting any form of disturbing photorealism.

The film’s also funny, with some snappy lines and a host of Pixar in-jokes, but there’s a thin quality to the tale which means that it doesn’t flow from one sequence to the next in the same way the best of Pixar does. It’s partly because the story’s not packed with events, but mostly because Monsters, Inc. cannot compete with Toy Story’s impressive roster of characters. Goodman’s Sulley is a lovable good guy with a heart of gold and little else, while Crystal’s familiar stand-up patter means that Mikey remains entirely Crystalline (so to speak), taking those familiar with his voice slightly out of the film: or perhaps that’s just me. It’s an issue for the writers rather than the performer, but Sulley’s wisecracks do eventually wear a bit thin, as does his pursuit of Jennifer Tilly’s snake-haired secretary Celia (though the snakes themselves are great fun). In their parts, Buscemi and Coburn are reliable if devoid of much that makes them memorable.

Monsters Inc. is a wonderful-looking film with a warm heart and, it could be argued, is the last Pixar movie made with the attention on creating fun, rather than exploring what animation is capable of in both a technical and emotional sense. It will pass a very easy 90-something minutes for viewers of all ages, but whilst its characters are exotic in appearance they are, in fact, the ordinary Joes and Joans, good and bad, of the monster world. Perfectly good enough for even the most demanding viewer, naturally, but with Pixar you can’t help wishing for a little bit more. Luckily, their next project was a little-known effort called Finding Nemo.