Author: Early Bird Film Society

2011 in review – Thanks for reading!

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,000 times in 2011. If it were a cable car, it would take about 17 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Trollhunter (2010)

Here we go again with another Norweigen, comedy ,fantasy, found footage film. If you’ve seen one…. etc, etc.

A trio of students (for students, read: pesky kids) set out to interview a legendary “bear” hunter but soon discover a world being kept secret from their fellow countrymen. Namely, that Trolls are real, vary in species and behaviour and have to be kept under control by the work of the TSS (seemingly two guys), or Troll Security Service. The film is made up of sequences edited together from the camera the students take along with them which has been found in the mountains.

The Trollhunter himself is the heart of the film. Played with world weary shoulders and a half empty glass by Otto Jesperson, Hans is a classic character, a tough guy with a closed past, turn him sideways and he disappears, he’s smoke and mirrors. Get the illusion right though and he’ll last forever. Hans, despite his exciting occupation,  is a modest man who is plagued by low-pay, long nights and bureaucracy up the arsehole. It’s a contrast of the fantastical vs the mundane. Knowing he should probably dissuade the students from following him, the hunter clearly desires company; someone to share in the chase. Come the final confrontation, you feel that maybe, just maybe, he’s back on track with his role in life.

Trollhunter is filled with ideas (maybe overly so) that reflect and reaffirm the myths of trolls and expand them into the twenty first century. The trolls are presented as essentially mindless, nocturnal creatures, with the trollhunter acting as a kind of population controller, keeping their numbers low and restricting them to human free areas. The trolls hunt and eat to survive with one interseting proviso; they can smell, and are angered by, Christians and the belief in God. Several of the best and most comedic scenes utilise this conceit. A Muslim confuses the trollhunter, a hymn is used to to enrage and distract a giant troll. All of this adds to the fun, showing us something we didn’t expect and pleasingly revealing a sense of not taking oneself too seriously, a crime for which more than one low budget, special effects film has been found guilty of.

Special mention must go to the character of Finn, the trollhunter’s handler/boss who deals with the press for the TSS. His explanations for the trolls behaviour, brilliant tactics of blaming Russian Bears for piles of bones under bridges and interaction with the two Polish bear hunters in broken english adds dry humour to the mix and reinforces peoples beliefs that politicians will say anything but the truth.

There are several flaws; the students are essentially unlikeable and are no fun to be around, the trollhunter gives up his secrets so quickly and willingly it’s a wondder the TSS employs him at all and the idea that these creatures (up to 200 foot tall) could even roam about today without google satellites, videophones and population expansion proving their existence is frankly laughable. In the end though, that most crucial thing has been acheived, the desire of the audience to believe and once the film has that it has everything.

It’s impossible to watch Trollhunter without thinking of the horrific massacres that have recently taken place. The films opinions on Christianity, which are so transparent, add a unwanted pall to the jokes when looked at through Anders Breivik’s inner madness.

Trollhunter (or The Troll Hunter according to the credits) is for fans of unlikely conspiracy theories everywhere. It’s kind of an incompetent X files, with a poor, put upon Mulder complaining about the hours and lack of dental coverage in the F.B.I. It’s refreshing in it’s simplicity, audacious in it’s effects and perhaps lacking in some basic story structure, all of it easily forgivable.

Early Bird Film Society Improves Hollywood: Eyes Wide Shut

Eyes Wide Shut is famous for two reasons.

It’s none of these things! Shut up New York Times!

One, it’s the final movie of maestro Stanley Kubrick, a director of such vision that had he lived longer he would have revolutionised the ‘gross out- comedy’. There aren’t many more like him nowadays. The closest for sheer tenacity could be Michael Winterbottom, who has been filming John Simm a couple of weeks every year since 2007 to ensure that his character ages properly in 2012’s Seven Days (This is true. Look it up).

The second reason why Eyes Wide Shut is famous is because like Mr and Mrs Smith and Bad Boy Bubby, it broke up a relationship. Okay, Bad Boy Bubby didn’t really break anyone up, but one half of EBFS confirms that he had a real big fight with his other half over it.

The secret third reason Eyes Wide Shut is famous is because it’s a fucking dud. A 1920’s tale of betrayal and sex reduced to Tom Cruise simpering around a soundstage which dressed up to look like New York whilst Nicole Kidman writhes around with a sailor. There’s a scene with naked chicks in masks and a long conversation at a pool table. That’s pretty much all there is.

Well, we hear you cry, I don’t see you with a catalogue of infamous and iconic movies!

You’re right, we don’t. However, we’re still alive, so that means we have one over Kubrik which, in turn, means we are more than within our rights to tell Hollywood how they can improve Eyes Wide Shut with a brand new Director’s Cut!

Firstly, director’s cuts need new scenes. Who knows what Kubrick had hidden away in his grandfather-like beard, but it doesn’t matter as we’ve already thought of the following:

  1. Tom wanders through Mordor with a short gay hairy man.
  2. Tom walks away from a car that’s on fire, before leaping at the precise moment it explodes. FREEZE FRAME! Scene is accompanied by the following dialogue: Well, looks like Doctor Tom is headed for a heap whole lot of trouble. I’m a’reckoning he’s just gonna have to hold on till those Hazzard Boys turn up.
  3. Tom walks out of a broad selection of high class, walk-in closets with mock surprise.
  4. Tom walks across the street to avoid a guy he knew in college. The guy’s shouting ‘Hey! Remember me, Tom!’ It’d be an awkward scene, but Tom just turns up Mr Blue Sky on his iPod and keeps on walking.
  5. Tom plummets off a cliff with a Nazi in a tank. Assorted members of Tom’s family and friends (sic) rush over to see the carnage, but wait! There’s Tom behind them! Tom wanders up and looks down the cliff to see what his buddies (sic) are staring at. This scene (brilliant in Indy 3) would literally improve every film ever made (except Indy 3, twice would be taking the piss).

Also, when you re-release it on blu-ray, create new and exciting blu-ray features – For example, press the red button and Tom walks around really fast whilst accompanied by the Benny Hill theme tune.

Finally, rebrand the film, maybe rename it Doctor Tom’s Long and Boring Sex Walk – If nothing else, least the viewer won’t think they’ve been cheated.

If you would like help us to improve Hollywood one bit at a time, then let us know what we can look at next by dropping us a tweet @earlybirdfilms.

Andrei Rublev (1966)

It’s lazy and frankly unfair to compare Andrey Tarkovsky and Stanley Kubrick but lets do it anyway; Two talented directors,  blessed with almost total control over their output, operating at roughly the same time (Tarkovsky 1956-1986, Kubrick 51-99) making pictures on wildly different subjects with common themes running through them. Both were perfectionists, both relied and encouraged a certain level of over acting in their performers, both made two science fiction pieces…..and they get more tenuous…….

Whilst Kubrick kept a careful distance from the emotion and sometimes the soul of the characters, Tarkovsky paints their innermost thoughts through wrought faces, through symbolic imagery, frantic body language and long, long silences.

So whilst comparing the two against one another can be dangerous, skewing your opinion against one or the other, it can be useful to consider the two differing reflections of the same thing. 2001 sits alongside Solaris with ease whilst, to a lesser level, Andrei Rublev can be a good companion piece to Barry Lyndon. Watching one, it is nearly impossible to not recall the other.

Both focus on individuals, both span decades (something film does badly, as a rule), both show episodes of their protagonist’s life to demonstrate the whole, both have grand scores, both are baroque and bleak in their imagery and both are set against a backdrop (of a worlde gonne madde) of violence and unrest.

Lyndon is a study of greed, base lust and malice whilst Rublev focuses on faith, artistic creation, sin and torment. Both do it well.

Rublev (for those not up on their fifteenth century, Russian icon painters) is a fifteenth century, Russian icon painter about which little is known ( Tarkovsky has seemingly extrapolated a tortured soul from his works, which we see before the end credits. Rublev is a monk, eschewing worldly pleasures for a simple life of religious fulfillment and artistic creation. Unfortunately, fifteenth century Russia is a brutal place, subject to raids from the Tartars, ruled by feuding Princes, struck by famine and cold.

Rublev speaks rarely, embracing a vow of silence for a large portion of his life, he looks and listens to the violence and poverty around him. Using it to produce sparse, ascetic, almost uplifting paintings. We see Rublev watching a Jester criticise the church and state with satire before being led away by soldiers, stumbling across a pagan festival, being a victim during the sacking of Vladivar within a cathedral he has decorated and other scenes Tarkovsky imagines influenced the artist within him.

Creative (and wholly made up characters) pop up to symbolise creative freedom and indeed the lack of it, a man launches a hot air baloon whilst people decry him as a devil for example. Rublev is beset by visions; the crucifixion on a snow covered hill, a prince putting out the eyes of an artist so he can work no more and  crucially, a vision of his mentor Theophanes, who appears to Rublev whilst he sits in the ruins of Vladivar Cathedral, Rublev talks to him and at one point stares into the camera whilst railing against the idea of the truth as if speaking directly to us, centuries in the future.

Tarkovsky ( with wonderful cinematography from Vadim Yusov) makes every image a lesson in expressing the scene, fifteenth century Russia looks authentic and populated by fake people and stories give the film a dreamlike (nightmare) quality, slow motion is employed to heighten the horror of every day life.The violence is more shocking than say, Hostel, because of the context, eyes are cut out, men are tortured with fire, horses fall off scaffolding (then get stabbed), women are raped and it’s clear that life expectancy is short.

Andrei Rublev is a film that will reward repeat viewings, slowly unveiling it’s layers of subtle meaning and undercurrents through almost perfect use of sound and images. Like films are supposed to be.

The horses are lovely too.

King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)

A documentary about a world you never knew existed, a world that seems ridiculous, populated by fringe members of society, filled with passions and rivalries, rules and rule breakers, this is the world of competative gaming. Classic arcade games (pac man, donkey kong, centipede, etc) played for hours to achieve a line on a website ( and the awe and respect of a dedicated few.

We meet Billy Mitchell, a legend within the community, holder of multiple high scores, restaurant owner, long of hair and neat of beard. He has flinty, cold eyes and speaks in aphorisms and metaphors, raising classic gaming to new heights by comparing it to war. He’s frighteningly close to the Danny McBride character in The Foot Fist Way. He is the King.

Next is Steve Wiebe, an amiable schlub from Washington State, having been laid off he decides to attack Mitchell’s high score on Donkey Kong jr. He is the pretender.

The film charts Wiebe beating Mitchell, having his score brought into disrepute, trevelling to Funspot (a “world famous” arcade in New Hampshire to compete live and failing to draw Mitchell into a live, one on one “Kong Off”. Mitchell seems scared to lose his title, refusing to even compete, communicating through a little army of sycophantic disciples.

Three dimensional characters are pretty much guarenteed in a documentary, free as they are, from fulfilling the duty a script has prepared for them. Mitchell and Wiebe are rounded characters because (obviously) they exist outside the screen. Mitchell goes from positively Machiavellian and obtuse to being childish and pathetic. Wiebe, far from the schmo he appeared to be, has a wife and kids and teaches middle school science. He wins our sympathy by not rising to Mitchell’s schemes and tantrums, appearing pragmatic about the scene he’s accidentally found himself in.

We see the referees and judges who accept and officiate events and high scores, a strangely heart warming bunch of geeks (not an insult) who do something they love for little reward. Little moments add to the drama, a failed attempt leads one competitor into the car park for a breakdown, a judge runs round the arcade telling everyone to come and witness the “kill screen” on Kong. Talking heads fill in the details the two leads don’t provide and there is always a poignant quote ready for use.

Seth Gordon (Don’t make a film about bad employers in the future Seth) paces the film perfectly, piecing together a narrative that gives the impression of being effortless. He appears to have been in the right place at the right time but this is almost certainly sleight of hand, hiding a very clever assemblage of footage.

The best documentaries draw you in regardless of previous interest in the subject and whilst Kong is no Hoop Dreams ( a tussle for points on a videogame isn’t going to hit as hard as kids struggling to rise out of he ghetto) it’s certainly not out of place in it’s company.

Horrible Bosses (2011)

Throwing all the right ingredients into a bowl doesn’t necessarily make a fucking cake. Horrible Bosses is a mess, underdone and underthought. Crude without being clever, over reliant on the belief that it SHOULD be funny whilst all evidence points to the contrary.

Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis play Nick, Dale and Kurt, three regular guys who (incredibly quickly) make a pact to murder each other’s nightmare bosses for the greater good. So far, So Strangers on a Train, but that’s it. That’s all we get. A casual rip off with bad jokes hung all over it

There is talent splashed all over the screen but it is never allowed to breathe within a structure that leaps and jerks across narrative gaps with no regard for that most crucial factor; GIVING A SHIT.

Blaming Seth Gordon, who so delighted us with King Of Kong, seems churlish when there are four screenwriters and a fistful of excellent comedy performers in the mix.

Jason Bateman (Nick), one of THE perfect straight men in Arrested Development is marked as a loser right from the start, claiming that “taking shit” is the key to success. He never really recovers. Can we all, collectively, find a suitable vehicle for Bateman before his turn as the bunny head wearing masturbator in the execrable Smokin’ Aces becomes his stand out role. His boss, a sneering, self-serving chief executive played by Kevin Spacey Gordon Gekko’s Bateman, nearly causing the audience to root for the bad guy. Spacey reprises his role from the excellent Swimming with Sharks with relish and doesn’t lose any dignity here.

Charlie Day (Dale) shot to fame with the sitcom It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (which he admirably wrote with two friends), the first series of which is a gem practically unheard of in England. Here he is a dental hygeinist fending off the disgustingly sexual advances of his dentist boss. What would be a horrible situation is totally undermined by casting Jennifer Aniston  as his superior. She is so attractive, so assured and so filthy (upsettingly so Rachel fans) that it is impossible to imagine anything other than complete capitulation from Kurt.

Aniston, who progressively got better and became funnier as Friends lurched on and on, has been displaying her good comic timing and excellent hair in trash like Along Came Polly and The Switch (Bateman…..again) for years and it’s easy to point the finger at her for choosing these awful roles. What would be more depressing would be if Aniston was picking the best of a bad bunch, implying Hollywood doesn’t care for funny women (Anna Faris would agree) anymore.

Charlie Day is shrill but not unlikeable, making the most of his coke out sequence, a moment when he confuses Strangers on a Train and Throw Momma from the Train and a running gag about his presence on the sex offenders list. These are really the only low brow things that come out on top.

Jason Sudeikis (Kurt) fresh from the rightfully lambasted What Happens in Vegas and the almost ironically unfunny Hall Pass is an unlikely lothario having to cope with the company he loves being inherited by the coke snorting, call girl abusing son of the founder. This son is played by a balding, pot bellied Colin Farrel. He’s charmless in the best way and a good charicature of a plausable enough creation. He’s easily the best thing in Horrible Bosses when he clearly shouldn’t be.

The film skirts with poking fun at racism (Indian call centres, black criminals) and nearly falls over into just racism. Homophobia gets a nod and the three leads are so relentlessly stupid and incompetent it’s a wonder they even have bosses to contemplate murdering in the first place.

More than any of the above however is the way Horrible Bosses shoots itself in the foot by constantly evoking earlier, funnier films.Spilling cocaine screams Woody Allen, nervously entering a dangerous bar recalls Pryor and Wilder strutting into prison in Stir Crazy and an interrogation sequence makes you beg for the guile and skillful hitchhiker questioning in There’s Something About Mary.

This bromantic, improvised, over lapping, pseudo real speak, sub, sub genre of comedy hit it’s peak with Knocked Up. That it subsequently birthed this stillborn is insulting to the style, class and intelligence of that, almost perfect film.

Also, worst title since Very Bad Things.

Somewhere (2010)

There is a sense of not knowing where to start with Coppola, she remains a slight enigma despite an achingly cool phone book and the rare ability to operate within Hollywood on her own terms. She revisits themes (fame, dislocation, fame, modern world, fame, absurdity of fame, fame etc) and if you discount Apocalypse Now, has retained her Father’s ability to keep the camera still and let the story tell itself. Admirable, all things considered.

Here, she gives us Johnny Marco; film star, whiskey drinker, womaniser and  occasional father to an eleven year old girl. He’s presented as bored and numb, filling his days with sex he doesn’t enjoy and the pursuit of sex which he does. He drinks a lot and says very little, being as famous as he is, rooms and people revolve around him, he’s almost a bit player in his own indulgent dream. Then he gets lumbered with his daughter, Cleo, his normal patterns are disrupted and he starts to smile a little bit.

The treatment for this film could easily have ended up as a Disney vehicle for the Rock but in Coppola’s hands we get a careful, neo-real, darkly comic exploration of the trappings of (hands down at the back) fame.

There is a feeling that this really is what being a mega famous movie star is like, great and awful at exactly the same time. A life filled with obligations (press junkets, daughters, fans) and absolute freedom (almost unlimited money and power). Marco is played with knowing stoicism by Stephen Dorff (a man with “So Fucking What” on his c.v.), he is totally believable; beaten up by hard living, confident, sad behind the eyes. Exactly as you’d think in real life basically.

Cleo is played by Elle Fanning, she’s gangly and growing up but is more comfortable and in many ways wiser than her father. She is perfectly placed to hand out life lessons to Marco, a look here, a cough there, all shunting Marco back onto the straight and narrow.

Coppola keeps it simple, shooting with natural light, keeping even the bizarre situations (nude, male massage) believable and only letting the essentials make it to the final cut. A touching relationship is allowed to form between Marco and Cleo and the two share a chemistry that engenders sympathy towards Marco that is almost certainly undeserved. The comparisons to Lost In Translation are obvious but the twist in th central relationship lends a lovely fresh edge to the same story. After Marie Antoinette (fame again) it’s no surprise to find Coppola back in her wheelhouse. Lovely.

The American (2010)

It’s probably nostalgia to say that Hollywood used to make ten of these films a week but there is a definate seventies feel to Anton Corbijn’s (Control) second film. The exquisite framing, soft light, sparse screenplay and muddied morality are a throwback to Hollywood’s golden age.

Clooney plays Jack, a professional hitman being hunted by his own kind. He is sent to a postcard of an Italian village to lie low until the storm passes. Here he befriends a priest and a whore who in their own ways help Jack with his soul searching.

It would be impossible to make an “Assassin trying to leave” film withoout cliche but none of them feel unnatural, even the beautiful prostitute with a heart of gold (a reccuring phenomenon that will never die) sits happily here, helping along an admirably simple story.

Both Clara (the prostitute and Father Benedetto see through Jack’s cover as a photographer, seeing the lie but letting it go until Jack is ready (forced) to reveal his true self.

Clooney must pick his roles carefully or it could be just that his real life character which seems affable and charming is only a short twist away from a host of roles. He never seems to bring any baggage with him which is a skill in itself. It’s difficult to remember a truly bad film (Ocean’s 13 and 14 to contradict that) he’s been involved with. Here he broods, drinks coffe and speaks broken Italian as well as anyone, he handles Rowan Joffe’s excellent screenplay superbly. Ignoring the rare dialogue, acting with furtive glances and icy stares, his body language easily confidant, poised and coiled for either a fight and a flight.

It’s refreshing to find a film this quiet, the music swells every so often but for the most part, shoe’s creak and clothe’s rustle as we hear the world as Jack does, listening for threats and making instant decisions based on his honed senses.

Like the butterflies tatooed on Jack’s body this is a beautiful film that flies by too fast.


The jungle invites madness, the heat, the inhospitability, the myths and secrets it contains. Wages of Fear, The African Queen and most famously Apocalypse Now (wreaking havok both infront and behind the camera) all understood the power of such an alien land. Fitzcarraldo understands and embraces that insanity, mining a seam that runs so deep as to be endless.

Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald (Fitzcarraldo to the locals) dreams, yearns, to bring opera to the heart of Peru. To acheive the money and notoriety such an endeavour requires he takes on the task of harvesting rubber from the deepest, darkest parts of the rainforest. Aquiring a steamboat and a crew he sets about his task with a kind of fevered ambition.

Klaus Kinski plays Fitzgerald with no shame, no fear and an air of charisma that could change worlds. His bug eyes, white teeth and electric hair hum and buzz with the passion of his goal which he pursues relentlessly. His is a performance that throws out the rule book and converts non believers.

Fitzgerald has no money to speak of, speculating in a failed railway and the delivery of ice to sustain a meagre (opera filled) existence. To fund his expedition he borrows money from the madam of a local brothel, the desire of men to fuck ceaselessly being directly channeled into man’s desire to create is a blackly comic hint at things to come.

Deep into the rainforest, with his crew having fled, Fitzgerald unveils his plan to his three remaining men. If they can only drag the steamboat over a mountain untold riches will be theirs. He enlists the help of savage natives by subdueing them with opera and his boat (“they know we are not gods but the ship has really impressed them….” is a memorable line) and together they clear a path and begin to undertake the impossible.

Directed with a command of the medium and a zeal that more than reflects his protagonist, Herzog has made a formidable film. A giant story that speaks to everyone with even a flicker of desire or passion to pass on to others. Religious without being so crass as to invoke god whilst simultaneously celebrating the creation of art and that same futility Fitzcarraldo has lasted this long and will continue for as long as we do.

Lies (1)

“….the purpose of the motion picture is the gradual revelation of the human genitalia…..” -Mamet

How long is Transformers (1 or 2 or 3) going to be someone’s favourite film? Five minutes? A few days? Some people forgot about it before the credits told us about the music used. That’s not to disparage Transformers, it does what it does – makes money. That’s all it does. We (and you pray all the people in charge) want more, always more. Stories that sing and soar, films that last forever. Story is fast becoming the preserve of playwrites, novelists and parents. Film (the parts that make money) has forgotten story, sometimes willingly, it simply feels it doesn’t need it anymore.
The executive thinks: Shall I wait for the epehemeral? The story my writer may or may not deliver? Or shall I pick something quantifiable?
For an executive can count explosions, car chases and tits but finds it trickier to assess emotional involvement and satisfying denouements.
This executive is smart but myopic. He may save his job that is always on a thread but he hammers one more nail into the story coffin and that creature has been sustaining humanity’s soul since it was born.
People no longer come out of the cinema asking whether “Anyone saw that coming?” they scream “Oh my God! Did you see what they did to the Golden Gate bridge?” They scream this because it is what they are being fed. Next week it will be the Hoover Dam or the Houses of Parliament and the previous landmark destroyed by dragons is forgotten. The parts of a film where story used to ply it’s trade are being squeezed and squeezed until you get two lines of exposition and five Fast and Furious films that ALL make money but can’t be distinguished between.

Stories don’t have to be labarynthine and shocking (Chinatown), explore the human condition through time (2001:A Space Odyssey), or just be about killing a shark (guess) but they have to be there or we might as well be watching coke commercials.

The Bicycle Thieves – a man tries to find his stolen bicycle. As simple a story as there ever has been but we are still watching. Every year. Hollywood lost it’s bike a while ago and it simply doesn’t care.