Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Craig Milne reviews his ten favourite films, Part 3

Withnail & I
UK 1987
Director: Bruce Robinson
Screenwriter: Bruce Robinson
Runtime: 107 min
Certificate: 15
DVD Distributor: Paramount Home Entertainment

A clichéd student flick, and possibly the most over-quoted film of all times, but there is no way I could dismiss Withnail & I purely on this basis. Bruce Robinson’s semi-autobiographical comedy about two unemployed actors and their rampant alcoholism is just too quirky, loveable and too damn funny for me to ignore.

The two misanthropes of the title decide they must escape the squalor of their flat in Camden, and take a journey to Penrith, to a cottage owned by Withnail’s Uncle Monty (Richard Griffiths). A meandering plot with no discernable direction, it is the strength of the dialogue which carries the film through the mishaps and disasters which befall the two title characters. That is not to say it should be regarded as a collection of quotable one-liners though. A superb supporting cast of eccentrics makes the lack of actual storyline immaterial, as the film becomes a hilarious freakshow of random encounters. Monty, a ‘raving homosexual’, bemuses with talk of ‘firm young carrots’ while leering at the terrified ‘I’. Danny (Ralph Brown), the affable yet strangely intimidating drug dealer, is such a great character he was even resurrected in Wayne’s World 2.

The title roles, filled by Richard E. Grant as ‘Withnail’ and Paul McGann as ‘I’, are so exceptionally well played that the dialogue feels natural and instinctive throughout. Grant and McGann bring the characters to life, although it is ironic that the pair should excel at playing two failed actors. But this is part of the film's innate charm. The overly dramatic Withnail avoids becoming a caricature of an arrogant drunk buffoon through the engaging performance by the effortlessly flamboyant Grant. McGann ties the whole shambolic proceeding together with an innocent, but far from naïve, humanity in the role of ‘I’.

Like all the films on my top ten, the best thing about Withnail & I is the enduring quality it possesses. After countless views, it still makes me laugh, grimace and even a little teary eyed.

Fight Club
USA/Germany 1999
Director: David Fincher
Screenwriter: Jim Uhls
Runtime: 139 min
Certificate: 18
DVD Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment

Arguably the cultural zeitgeist for the disenfranchised young white male at the turn of the century, Chuck Palahniuk’s novel, Fight Club, explores the dangers of the emasculating, consumer driven, capitalist society which is dominating our lives. A sinister tale of mental imbalance, nihilistic destruction and primal anger, the bleak dystopian novel was a perfect candidate for adaptation into an era defining movie. Whether or not David Fincher’s movie changed anything depends on your point of view, but for me it defined a large part of my youth and my life since. I first saw it when I was fifteen, and was profoundly affected by it. It made me question my position in society as a young, white, middle-class male, and it forever deterred me from entering the hideous banality of the corporate, white-collar world.

Again, the powerful performances of the lead actors, Brad Pitt as ‘Tyler Durden’, Edward Norton as ‘The Narrator’ and Helena Bonham-Carter as ‘Marla’, are major reasons why this is a great movie, as is the director’s flair for dark, subversive cinema (The Game, Se7en). The sharpness of the dialogue, the pitch-blackness of the comedy and the vicious, bloody violence are likely the main reasons why this is such a popular film, and to be fair, some of the reasons I like it. But there is much more to it than these superficial aspects. Fight Club captures the atmosphere of despondency which permeates so many aspects of our society, describing modern young males as a generation of men without history, without a purpose. An inwardly rebellious howl of masculine identity, it resentfully states that if society no longer needs men, then men no longer need society. Often overtly homoerotic and masochistic, it confronts the alleged ‘crisis of masculinity’ in post-modern society in what many critics and government officials described as a dangerously provocative way.

Delightfully sardonic, vitriolic and nihilistic, the movie stays true to the novel, but with Fincher’s distinctive cinematic style, Fight Club is one of the most unique cinematic experiences I have ever witnessed, and proof that movies can change your life.

Read Part 4 tomorrow!

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