The Watchers

The Watchers

Monday, 22 April 2013

Withnail & I (1986)

I was deeply saddened at the death of Richard Griffiths, who sadly passed away at the end of March at the age of 65.

Griffiths was an accomplished stage actor, originating the role of Hector in Alan Bennett's The History Boys- for which he won an Olivier Award and a Tony for Best Actor- and appearing in The Sunshine Boys (opposite Danny DeVito) and Equus (with Daniel Radcliffe). On television, he appeared as Henry Crabbe in Pie In The Sky for five series and made guest appearances in The Vicar Of Dibley, Minder and Bergerac. On film, he took roles in films as diverse at The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981), Superman II (1980), The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell Of Fear (1991), Stage Beauty (2004) and the film adaptation of The History Boys (2006). However, I think it's fair to say that Griffiths' film career can be defined by two roles: that of the snobbish Uncle Vernon in the Harry Potter franchise and as the lascivious Uncle Monty in Withnail & I.

Withnail & I is a true British cult classic. Written and directed by Bruce Robinson, it chronicles the misadventures of two dissolute actors (played by Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann) as they 'go on holiday by mistake'. Fed up of London, Withnail (Grant) sweet-talks his Uncle Monty (Griffiths) into letting them stay at his holiday cottage in Penrith. However, they have to contend with randy bulls and belligerent poachers... not to mention a surprise visit from Uncle Monty.

This was Richard E. Grant's first film role. Withnail (as written) is a dream character to play- pompous, flighty, indignant, theatrical and larger-than-life- and Grant's performance is truly memorable, railing against life's injustices and ejecting the eminently quotable dialogue with utter panache. Indeed, it was Grant's performance of the line 'FORK IT' which got him the role. Withnail is one of cinema's greatest and best-known drinkers but, famously, Grant is teetotal- only drinking once at the behest of Robinson and McGann so he could get an idea of what it felt like. Unsurprisingly, not a pleasant experience. There is a drinking game that can be played, where you match the characters drink for drink, but it's probably not advised (especially the lighter fluid!)

When you have a character as outrageous as Withnail, you need a more introspective counterbalance to stop things from going too far. McGann is indeed that balance as the anxious 'I' (known as Marwood in the published script; his surname can be seen briefly on the telegram delivered to Crow Crag). He provides the grounding to Withnail's fancifulness, but is not a boring cipher of a character. Indeed, his progression from 'resting actor' to 'leading man' shows the shift of the film from comedy to something more deep. The final scenes in Regents Park with Withnail and Marwood, now hair cut and suit worn, have a delicate poignancy to them.

Finally, the performance by Richard Griffiths as camp Uncle Monty is a pure delight from start to finish. Much like Grant's performance, Griffiths seems to delight in the dialogue, lines like 'as a youth, I used to weep in butchers' shops' dripping like honey from his mouth. Whilst Monty's attraction to Marwood is initially played for laughs, his unexpected gatecrashing of their holiday combined with an attempt to force himself on Marwood again switches the tone of the film from comedy to drama. There's an unexpected tenderness and sadness in Monty's plea for Marwood to 'give in' to his urges, reflecting the problems that gay men faced in the 1960s (homosexuality was only decriminalised in 1967). It's a truly bravura performance.

Withnail & I is a rarity in film in that every role is cast perfectly. Ralph Brown is hilarious as the philosophical Danny the Dealer and Michael Elphick is greatly menacing as Jake the poacher. Even minor roles- such as the belligerent Irishman who calls Marwood a 'ponce' or the uptight tea shop proprietor in Penrith- are brilliantly done. The tonal shift from broad comedy to drama is handled well; it's not a jarring turn from one to the other. From Monty's moving plea to Marwood, through to Danny's claim that 'the greatest decade in the history of mankind is over. And as Presuming Ed here has so consistently pointed out, we have failed to paint it black', the film ends with the feeling of an irrevocable change; Marwood has moved on from the shambolic life of Camden and things will not be the same again. It can easily be read as a metaphor for the fin-de-siecle feelings that accompanied the end of the 1960s.

If you've never seen this film, seek it out and watch it. If you have, it's certainly worth rewatching as a fitting tribute to the late, great Richard Griffiths who will be much missed.


Friday, 12 April 2013

Comic Book Movie Round-Up #2: Thor: The Dark World

Our second comic book movie round-up is on the second movie from Marvel's Phase Two collection (the first being Iron Man 3). It is...

Thor: The Dark World

Director: Alan Taylor
Writer: Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely from a story by Don Payne
Provisional Release Date: October 30 2013 (UK); November 8 2013 (US)

What We Know: The title of the Thor sequel was announced at Comic-Con in July 2012

Disney and Marvel Studios released the full synopsis for the film in October 2012.

"Marvel's Thor: The Dark World continues the big-screen adventures of Thor, the Mighty Avenger, as he battles to save Earth and all the Nine Realms from a shadowy enemy that predates the universe itself. In the aftermath of Marvel's Thor and Marvel's The Avengers, Thor fights to restore order across the cosmos... but an ancient race led by the vengeful Malekith returns to plunge the universe back into darkness. Faced with an enemy that even Odin and Asgard cannot withstand, Thor must embark on his most perilous and personal journey yet, one that will reunite him with Jane Foster and force him to sacrifice everything to save us all."

Who's In?: Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Anthony Hopkins (Odin), Natalie Portman (Jane Foster), Kat Dennings (Darcy), Jaimie Alexander (Sif), Ray Stevenson (Volstagg), Idris Elba (Heimdall), Stellan Skarsgard (Dr Erik Selvig) and Rene Russo (Frigga) all reprise their roles from Thor.

New cast members include erstwhile Doctor Who Christopher Eccleston as Malekith The Accursed (leader of the Dark Elves) and Lost's Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje plays the dual role of Algrim The Strong who then becomes Kurse. Zachary Levi will play Fandrel, taking over the role from Joshua Dallas. Richard Brake and Clive Russell have also been cast.

Chris O'Dowd (Bridesmaids) has revealed he has recorded a single scene for the film.

Alice Krige, perhaps best known as the Borg Queen in Star Trek: First Contact, has been cast in a supporting role, with rumours she will be playing Alflyse, Queen of the Dark Elves.

It has been rumoured that Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale) was to play Malekith but was unable to take the role due to commitments on the Hannibal TV show.

Alan Taylor took over as director after original director Patty Jenkins left the project over 'creative differences'.

Anything Else?: Back in September, it was reported that the Marvel character Doctor Strange would appear in the film as a colleague of Jane Foster. Joel Edgerton was lined up for the role, but no follow up reports have emerged. There are plans for a Doctor Strange movie afoot so we'll just have to see if he turns up.

It was reported back in October 2012 that Natalie Portman was 'coerced' into returning to do the film. It was stated by TG Daily that Portman had no wish to be involved once Patty Jenkins withdrew but Marvel Studios exercised their right. 

Filming began in September 2012, with battle scenes filmed in Surrey:
Chris Hemsworth with his stunt double
Christopher Eccleston as Malekith 

At the start of April 2013, Marvel Studios offered a preview of the Phase Two films which included concept art and stills from Thor: The Dark World:

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Programme 29: GI Joe: Retaliation, Welcome To The Punch, Stolen, Parker, Jack The Giant Killer, Premium Rush and Madagascar 3

The Watchers Film Show: Ep 29 from The Watchers Film Show on Vimeo.

Programme 29 is available to view!

In a veritable feast of film, we feature reviews of no less than SEVEN films: cinema releases G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Welcome To The Punch, Stolen, Parker and Jack The Giant Killer, and DVD releases Premium Rush and Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted.