Saturday, 31 October 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 45

A few days late in posting but here are my reviews for the 30th October, more horror films in the run up to Halloween, and speaking of that:

461 - Halloween - 3 stars
Earlier I had talked about Scream and how the characters knew the rules of the genre and this is the film that set those rules.
Don't drink or do drugs - check. Don't have sex - check. Don't ask who's there - check. Don't say "I'll be right back" - check.
A huge influence on the entire horror genre, the reason it remains scary after all this time is down to the music. John Carpenter's seminal score, all composed on a Casio keyboard, is almost as relentless as The Shape's pursuit of Laurie.
The film was screened to studio executives without the music and they thought it wasn't scary, and it wouldn't be, it would be 90 minutes of a man walking after Jamie Lee Curtis. Once the music was added, it becomes a scary thrill ride.
It pays tribute to another great slasher movie, Psycho. Donald Pleasance hams it up as Dr. Sam Loomis, it was also the name of Janet Leigh's boyfriend in Psycho and Janet Leigh's daughter is none other than Jamie Lee Curtis!
And who knew that William Shatner was so terrifying? Well, if you've heard him sing... just kidding, but it was a William Shatner mask that was used to make Michael Myers signature mask.

Fortune favours the brave as ITV2 had Shaun Of The Dead on tonight, and a chance for me to get the detailing correct on my Halloween costume.

231 - Shaun Of The Dead - 5 stars
People who know me well, will know that I am a huge fan of Spaced and the work of Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg.
SOTD was born out of a Resident Evil 2 spoof on Spaced, and resulted into the best rom-zom-com ever made. It is also the best example of a TV series successfully transferring to the big screen, albeit with different characters.
Slacker Shaun attempts to win back his girlfriend and get his mates to the safety of the local pub during a zombie apocalypse.
Its merits lie in its absolute Britishness (cricket bats are weapons; zombies are in the garden, what do you do? have a sit down; "your idea of a night out and an inpenitrable fortress are the same place, we are in a pub!") and a comedy cast comprising of the best current British talent, including the scene-stealing Bill Nighy.
It is also intricately plotted as lines and entire scenes are repeated throughout the film but within a different context (just compare the two trips to the shop).
It succeeds where others have failed because it manages to find the perfect balance between horror and comedy, similar to one of its influences An American Werewolf In London.
The last half hour becomes darker and darker as we lose several main characters (including one who has a death similar to Captain Rhodes in Day Of The Dead), yet because we like them, their deaths mean more. Yet they know when to lighten the mood with a zombie beat down to 'Don't Stop Me Now' by Queen.
A cracking start to the 'Three Colours Cornetto' Trilogy by messers Pegg, Frost and Wright.

Friday, 30 October 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 44

We had a Gangsters & Molls evening at The Belmont with the bar being turned into Fat Sam's Grand Slam Speakeasy. After getting dressed up in my best suit, tie, braces and trilby and sipping on a tasty Sazarac it was time to settle down and watch the movie.

373 - Bugsy Malone - 3 stars
Bonus points go to whoever came up with the idea to do gangsters with kids, inspired thinking that gave birth to one of cinema's coolest weapons - the splurge gun.
Some great songs in this movie; Bad Guys, Give A Little Love, etc - but the problem is I can't say "performed" by the cast as they were dubbed by adults! Which brings me to the "acting". I think it is easy to see why Jodie Foster was the only one to become a star... oh, and Dexter Fletcher of course!
Yes, most of the "acting" is not very good and there are several mistakes like people staring into the camera, mis-steps in the dances but amazingly it all adds to its charm. It's like the ultimate school show brought to the silver screen... in spite of some worrying sexual undertones to Tallulah's song (but I guess Jodie Foster would get used to that filming Taxi Driver soon after).

Thursday, 29 October 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 43 - The horror, the horror...

Halloween is approaching (the film and the day) so to get into the spirit of things, it is time that I start working through the horror films on the list.

485 - The Wicker Man - 3 stars

Christopher Lee's personal favourite is at times bizarre yet undeniably a hugely influential film (see the plot of Hot Fuzz is very similar, the League of Gentlemen "you did it beautifully Tubbs", and many more), that has one of the most chilling endings in cinema history, "oh God, oh Jesus Christ!". Scotland has never seemed so terrifying than in this cat and mouse mystery to find a missing girl. Quick note about the remake. Many will write it off as a travesty, yes it is awful but I have seen it and would class it under the 'so utterly dreadful it is hilarious' category. Don't believe me, watch the highlights here!
482 - Scream - 4 stars
The film that breathed new life into the slasher genre and countless Halloween costumes is actually still very scary. The opening 15 minute sequence with Drew Barrymore is truly unsettling and introduced killers to their most useful weapon, the mobile phone.
In this film the characters have grown up watching horror movies and therefore know the rules of the genre... still doesn't help them from getting sliced and diced though.
A special mention is due for Jamie Kennedy's character Randy, the film geek who works in the video store. There has possibly never been a film character that is more like me in the history of cinema. Made me think my chances of survival are pretty high (until the sequel anyway!)
A victim of countless pretenders and spoofs but this remains a great horror movie because when it is scary, it really is scary!

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 42

In honour of my trip to Brighton at the weekend, I picked up a copy of the finest film ever shot there:

241 - Brighton Rock - 4 stars
My abiding memories of Richard Attenborough are as the director of Gandhi, John Hammond in Jurassic Park or the sweet, frail man I met at a book signing in London. Therefore it came as quite a shock to see Dickie as the twisted, manipulative hoodlum Pinky Brown: A local gangster who romances a girl just to keep her from testifying against him in a murder case. A terrific British film noir with an amazing chase sequence, with Pinky's gang (featuring Dr Who William Hartnell) stalking a former associate through the busy streets and seafront of Brighton that ends on a ghost train. Soon to be remade, catch the original classic first (then watch The Third Man, also written by Graham Greene)

319 - The Lion King - 4 stars

OMG, how good is this film? Very good is the answer. I hadn't really seen it in years and was very impressed. From the opening bars of "Arsene Wenger" in 'Circle of Life' there follows the best collection of Disney songs in one movie (you can slag Elton all you want, he can produce some fantastic songs) and provides the great trivia question: In which film did Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane first sing together?
Loved the Bambi meets Hamlet storyline (or Bamlet or Hambi), and the fact the Simba's dad is voiced by James Earl Jones (aka Darth Vader), "Simba, I am your father".
One of the best Disney films ever made.

Monday, 26 October 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 40 - Brighton Rock(s)

So I'm in the middle of a 7 hour train journey back up to Aberdeen, coming to the end of my 1188 mile round trip journey to Brighton involving planes, trains and automobiles (well one taxi), all just to watch a film on the list, #32 ALIEN.
Was it worth it? Most definitely!
I had never been to Brighton before so I went for wander along the pier and had some fish and chips on the seafront before wandering up past the pavilion to the grand old Duke of York's for the film.
The Duke of York's is part of the CityScreen group, whom I work for at The Belmont. The cinema is 100 years old and the UK's oldest purpose built cinema. It has all the old school charm and sense of nostalgia and history that is sorely missing from the modern multiplexes. A tiny box office, kiosk and bar lead through to a wonderful auditorium with working curtains, piano and a balcony that Statler and Waldorf would be most comfortable hurling abuse from. All in all, the perfect venue to watch this classic film. I even got a tour of the projection booth!

32 - Alien - 5 stars
The screening was of the original theatrical cut of the film and the print we watched was from 1979, complete with all the scratches and imperfections around the reel changes that have gathered over the years, but it was in great condition for being that old, and really added to the event.
Before starting this quest I would have ranked Alien in my top ten of all time. Is it still there? Yes.
It still holds the power to shock, as was witnessed by several audience members jumping out of their skin (possibly having never seen the film before). It was described as Jaws in space, the perfect blend of horror and sci-fi.
The movie Halloween had come out in 1977 and is an obvious influence as the notion of the final girl is used here and the producers cast Sigourney Weaver as Ripley (when it had originally been written as a male part). It would become her defining role, really showing Ripley as the tough heroine in the sequel.
The pacing is very slow in the film, unthinkable these days, and nothing really happens for 30 minutes, it's all character building.
There was a Q&A with the editor Terry Rawlings after the film and he said that it was all deliberate, about pushing the tension as far as they could before delivering the scare. Everything is taken at a slow pace until Ripley starts the self-destruct sequence and then it gets faster.
The death scenes are still some of the best in horror; the chestburster being the most iconic (fear of male rape, giving birth, etc) but my favourite is Dallas in the air shafts (and no it's not just because we have the same name).
Absolutely facehuggingly brilliant!

The Q&A with costume desginer Jon Mollo and editor Terry Rawlings was informative with Rawlings having some great anecdotes about Alien, Blade Runner and Alien 3.

Afterwards I met Jon (the manager at the DOY) for a beer and we caught up and he made me very jealous about his trip to Paris to visit lots of cinemas.

Thanks to Jon and Felicity and all the staff at The Duke Of York's for a great screening and great cinema. Oh and I must plug Flick's Flicks on the Picturehouse website where you can see Felicity talk about some of the upcoming movies at our Picturehouse sites (

(500) Films of Empire - Day 38 - Hey you guys!

378 - The Goonies - 3 stars
I think that I mentioned on a previous blog that it can be dangerous to rewatch films from your childhood as they may not be as good as you remember, but luckily this was not the case with The Goonies. Still terrific.
It's all still there; the truffle shuffle, Sloth, the story about the puke in the cinema, the reference to the octopus we never see, and it hits all the right notes for a family action adventure (even if there was more swearing than I remember hearing on a TV version), as it comes across as a mixture of Indiana Jones meets Pirates but for kids, with clever references to Superman and Gremlins (films by the director Richard Donner and producer Steven Spielberg).
But it does make me laugh that the pirate they are searching for is called One Eyed Willy... how wude!

Thursday, 22 October 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 37

Apologies for the lack of reviews over the last couple of days.  I've been working pretty much full stop since I got back so haven't had time to post full reviews yet... don't worry, I've still made time to watch some films though.
Nothing off the list today but did see The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus and Fantastic Mr Fox this evening, the latter film already making my Top 10 of the year.

(500) Films of Empire - Day 36

400 - The Incredibles - 4 stars
One line soundbyte for this film: It's like Watchmen for kids!
Both films feature heroes and society adjusting to life where the government has outlawed superheroes. Can the extraordinary be just ordinary?
Mr Incredible can't. He moonlights as a vigilante, helping people at night but soon ends up getting his family involved when his nemisis finds out where he is.
Jason Lee is one of the highlights as Syndrome, Mr Incredible's number one fan turned nemisis, even if he is more Bond villain than super villain given that his hideout is inside a volcano on a desert island, but brilliantly spoofs the idea of the villain monologing and given too much information away.
The film also ruins the idea of superheroes wearing capes. Cape = death.
The best superhero movie not based on a comic book.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 35

153 - Gladiator - 3 stars
Movie genres tend to be cyclical in nature, going through periods of success, failure, success, failure, and so on. Gladiator briefly brought back the swords and sandals epic that had been dead and buried since the likes of Ben Hur in the fifties (although Alexander saw that the revival died out early on).
It is still the high point of the revival and the benchmark that the other films such as Troy and 300 were compared to. It succeeded due to the expert eye and controlled direction of Ridley Scott, who recreated the vast Roman empire, from victory on the battlefields of Germania to the coliseums of Rome (not the colour contrasts between the cold blues of Germania and the warm yellow and golds of Rome).
It also brought Russell Crowe to the attention of Hollywood, with a commanding, Oscar-winning screen presence as Maximus Decimus Merideus, father of a murdered son, husband of a murdered wife, etc, etc, etc. He also has terrific support from Richard Harris and Oliver Reed in his final screen performance, showing what he was capable of when not pissed!
Crowe is totally believable in the role and can easily deliver lines like "what we do in life, echoes in eternity" and "at my signal, unleash hell", whereas people like Brad Pitt and Colin Farrell failed miserably.
However I must point out that I was not really able to enjoy the film properly and it was all down to one man... Hans Zimmer. I haven't seen Gladiator for many years but it occured to me that Zimmer basically copied the score for this when he scored Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, even at some points note for note. Even Jack Sparrow's theme sounds like Maximus's! It totally brought me out of the movie, bad Zimmer!
If you are interested in seeing Gladiator meets Pirates, watch Master And Commander which is fantastic and features Russell as Lucky Jack.

(500) FIlms of Empire - Day 34

394 - Cloverfield - 4 stars
Visually overwhelming on first viewing, it was time to fully reassess the movie that was more nauseating to watch than The Blair Witch Project.
Filmed entirely from the perspective of a camcorder held by Hud, who was part of a group holding a going away party for their friend Rob, when an unknown "thing" attacks NYC.
Trying to evacuate Manhattan, with Rob wanting to stop along the way to rescue his best friend/girlfriend, the reason and force behind the attacks is slowly pieced together through tiny glimpses out of the corner of the camera, mobile phone conversations and news reports.
There are obvious allusions towards the events of 9/11 with the NYC attack, the shocked dust covered bodies wandering the streets, the overall sense of not knowing what is happening, etc.
The intro to the film sets up a sense of how it will all end, but with all the characters thrown into this situation early on and not a huge amount of time for character development means all bets are off in terms of survival odds.
Overall an immensely enjoyable thrill ride and everything that Godzilla (1998) should have been!

(500) Films of Empire - Day 33

471 - Harry Potter And The Prisoner of Azkaban - 3 stars
The only chapter in the hugely successful Harry Potter franchise, and justifiably so.
Benefitting from a streamlining of the plot and story, and wonderful skilled direction from Alfonso Cuaron - it's as close as we were ever going to get to Del Toro doing Potter.
This was the first of the films to be "darker than the one before", with the terrifying Dementors, werewolves and Gary Oldman!
The three child actors finally start to get comfortable in their roles, with Emma Watson proving to be the one who will most likely break free from the franchise.  They have wonderful support from the best of British, including Emma Thompson, David Thewlis and Alan Rickman.  He is superb as the villainous Snape.  I could listen to him speak all day, as he can make "three hundred and ninety four" sound like Shakespeare.
But can anyone explain why Michael Gambon is playing Dumbledore as Scottish in this film?

Saturday, 17 October 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 32 - A brief encounter with Brief Encounter

171 – Brief Encounter – 4 stars
First time I’ve seen the writer and producer of a film credited after the director... such must have been the power and success of Noel Coward at the time, to have a better credit than the wonderful David Lean.
(I’m wondering what film was the first to feature their credits at the end of the movie? Am I correct in thinking that it was Star Wars: A New Hope?)
Why was I under the impression that Brief Encounter took place over one day in a train station cafe? How wrong I was!
Instead it is a woman’s silent confession to her husband of an illicit affair (well as illicit as affairs could be portrayed back in the days of the Hays Code).
Normally extensive voiceover would be frowned upon as Robert McKee (yes, him again), believes it to be lazy writing, but it works perfectly here as Celia Johnson recounts her relationship with Trevor Howard.
Both actors are wonderful in their roles and make the most of Noel Coward’s words, with Johnson excelling in creating a poignant, heartbreaking voiceover.
Makes me hopeful I might find true love on the train and not just overpriced snacks and a sore neck because I fell asleep with my head against the window!

(500) Films of Empire - Day 31 - Mother & Daughter Double Bill

First up was Mommy Dearest Judy Garland in:

172 – The Wizard Of Oz – 3 stars
Has this lost some of the magic now I’ve grown older? Or was I never really that taken with Dorothy’s journey through the land of Oz?
Dorothy Gale is whisked off to the merry old land called Oz (finally got the third of Family Guy's three Wizard references in the show) by a twister or is she just knocked out and having a vivid dream. The script cleverly sets up clues to everything that happens in Oz within the first 15 minutes.
The songs are OK (they use the same tune for each of Dorothy's companions, how lazy!), The Munchkins are still bizarre, the modulation done to their voices in the songs is extremely irritating but the highlight is still The Wicked Witch Of The West, hamming it up something fierce with her flying monkeys (monkeys always make a film funnier).
I think one of the problems for me was that I had recently seen the stage show Wicked, chronicling the lives of the witches of Oz when growing up, and was working out how it all fit together with the film storyline (pretty well actually).
Out of all the versions of the story: this, The Wiz, Return to Oz, Wicked. Give me Wicked anyday, nothing beats Defying Gravity!

373 – Cabaret – 1 star
What is it about Nazis and musicals? They are everywhere: Sound Of Music, The Producers, and now Cabaret.
It was daughter Liza Minneli’s turn with a plot that clearly had a major influence on Moulin Rouge (writer moves to seedy part of Berlin and becomes infatuated with a singer in a club who romances rich men for the chance of fame), and the most prominent eyelashes since A Clockwork Orange, this had a promising set up but ended up leaving me cold and unmoved.
In an odd move for a musical, the characters don’t sing to each other, with the only songs coming from the Kit Kat Club (led by an exuberant Joel Grey as MC), and describing the mood and plot of the film.
In Adaptation, the screenwriter Robert McKee tells Kaufman that “your characters must change, and the change must come from them”, and the two main leads don’t. They end the film almost exactly the same as when they started, which annoyed me no end.
Life is a Cabaret old chum... not mine Liza darling!

It's All So Cliched!

One thing I’ve noticed from some of my reviews, is bemoaning films that seem so clichéd, whether it be Glenn Close coming back from the dead for one last scare in Fatal Attraction or the plain bookworm who actually turns out to be a stunning beauty in Funny Face.
Yet I wonder if I am being too harsh here? Fair enough if I was talking about She’s All That or some horror remake, but all movie clichés had to start somewhere and perhaps in one of the movies on this list.
The bookish librarian turning into the femme fatale by removing her glasses and letting down her hair was, in my opinion, originated in The Big Sleep in a scene between Humphrey Bogart and Dorothy Malone.
What about the ‘back from the dead’ jump? It has been used so many times over the years but most critics agree that Carrie was the film that populated it, but had it been used before? Any ideas?
I’m watching films from a time period of 80 years, so I have to keep an open mind here and avoid talk of clichés when for all we know I could be watching the film that invented it!
Cliches have developed because plot devices like these have proven effective and popular with cinemagoers so of course they will be used over and over again, the trick is to put a twist on it to keep it fresh.

Friday, 16 October 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 30

With the cartoons out of the way, it was time to start sifting through the musicals my sister had lent me. Now in my humble opinion, let’s face it this is my blog, who else’s opinion are you going to get? In my opinion, a musical should have you singing and dancing as you leave the theatre/cinema. At the very least it should have one memorable song that you’re humming a few days later: West Side Story has ‘America’ or ‘Somewhere’, Oliver! Has ‘Consider Yourself’, even South Park has ‘Blame Canada!’.

I am forced to admit here, and I hope musical purists don’t think ill of me, that I rank South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut, as one of the finest examples of the screen musical. Simultaneously spoofing and celebrating the Disney-esque cartoon musical, the 4-way medley towards the end of the film is an absolute triumph of the genre...
But I digress, I was planning on talking about:

353 – Funny Face – 1 star
A musical without a single memorable song and bloated, overlong, self-indulgent dance sequences (Fred Astaire, I’m talking to you. Yes you can dance, we know, cut it out). Also, bless her heart, Audrey Hepburn is no singer. No wonder she was dubbed over in My Fair Lady.
And that is where we come to my second major problem with the film. The plot concerns a fashion magazine giving a bookworm a makeover to turn her into their next cover girl, so far so clichéd, and I know of the phrase ‘suspension of disbelief’ but when the bookworm in question is Audrey freakin’ Hepburn, one of the most beautiful women to ever live, it skips into the unbelievable. They don’t even attempt to make her look unattractive by messing her hair up or making her wear glasses.
Suffice to say that I did not like this movie at all.

485 – Breakfast At Tiffany’s – 3 stars
Come back Audrey, nearly, all is forgiven. It seems fate has delivered you to me again in the form of Tiffany’s being screened on Portuguese TV this afternoon, what are the odds?!
Have you ever had the feeling you had thought you had watched a movie but it turns out you haven’t? I had that with this film. Seems I had pieced together an idea of the film from posters, books, and countless E4 compilation shows for romantic films, etc.
Forget Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and the red haired one (only kidding, I know its Miranda). Holly Golightly was the original SATC girl: fancy apartment, gorgeous outfits, different man every night, etc.
Now I did like this film. It was a sweet little romance, even with slight hints towards HG being an escort, but there was something that bothered me during the film: George Peppard. He plays the romantic lead, and Holly’s neighbour, Paul Varjak. Fair enough, they have a great chemistry together and if I had seen this in 1961, there would have been no problem (only problem being I wasn’t born till 1980). The problem for me is that George Peppard will always be Hannibal Smith from The A-Team. I grew up watching the show every Saturday afternoon on ITV1 after the Shinty results. After he gets the girl at the end, I half expected him to light up a cigar and say “I love it when a plan comes together”.
Overall a good film and much better than the song “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” .

Top 3 movie style icons
1. Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast At Tiffany’s – no one has ever looked more stylish on screen
2. Sean Connery in Goldfinger – what man has ever put on a tuxedo and NOT pretended to be Bond, James Bond?
3. Brad Pitt in Fight Club - come on, he made being beat up look cool!

333 – Grease – 3 stars
Yes, they are all far too old to by playing teenagers. Yes, it is a lot dirtier than you remember (the Rizzo pregnancy angle, “Sandra Dee, lousy with virginity, etc), not the most suitable musical for a PG family audience to watch together.
But where it succeeds, it excels. Now THIS is a musical with memorable songs and dance sequences. I’d forgotten how many songs I actually knew, even the slow ones ( Hopelessly Devoted, Born To Hand Jive, and the always played at weddings, Grease Megamix) *Please note – I did NOT sing a long to the movie alone in my room*
You can forgive a film its minor flaws when it is so infectiously fun as this... as they say in the film, “Grease is the word”.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 29

Another day of sun, swim but no sangria due to more alcohol-triggered migraines!

345 - Fatal Attraction - 2 stars
How do you measure the success of a film? Is it how many Oscars it wins? Is it how much money it makes at the box office? Or how well it permeates the public zeitgeist?
For while the film has dated quite badly (Poodle perms always will unfortunately) and it seems awfully cliched (perhaps it invented some of those cliches) and pedestrianly paced after a fast setup, but for the last 22 years it has provided us with two words frequently to describe a troubled ex, "bunny boiler". It's amazing that one tiny scene could become so ingrained in the social conciousness.
Hollywood showed that for every Sally Albright, there is an Alex Forest. Any man should realise that if a woman cuts her wrists on the second date, this won't have a happy ending!

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 27 & 28

The holiday to Madeira did not get off to the best start as I was sidelined by a migraine for the best part of 24 hours - travelling on an airplane with a migraine is no kind of fun!

The only bonus (if watching movies when you should really be outside enjoying the sunshine is a bonus) was the chance to sneak in a couple of movies.

For the holiday I took a selection of DVDs borrowed from my sister, as there is a TV and DVD player in the apartment, so this week I will mostly be watching Disney cartoons and musicals.

343 – Monsters Inc – 3 stars
Another slam dunk by Pixar, who must have one if the highest hit ratios on the list (only Cars and A Bug’s Life are not in the 500). Unusually for an animated film, John Goodman and Billy Crystal got to record their lines together allowing them to have a wonderful chemistry. Also gets bonus points for having a proper baddie in the form of Steve Buscemi’s Randall. The best in-joke is the restaurant called Harryhausens.

436 – Beauty And The Beast – 4 stars
Saw this for the first time today and believe that this is a true classic Disney highlight. Also the only animated film nominated for the Best Picture Oscar (long before they created the best animated film category). It has one of the all-time great Disney songs in ‘Be Our Guest’, so good that not only did I adapt it for a recent Student Show called ‘Dial M For Mastrick’ but The Simpsons did a brilliant spoof of it called ‘See My Vest’.
Could have got very close to a five star rating if it wasn’t for the voice of Celine Dion appearing over the end credits to perform her version of the title song.
Is it wrong to find Belle extremely attractive? Think she is the hottest Disney character ever!

Day 28 was a bit more productive, a wander around the town, a swim, etc. But I don't get a suntan, I burn! So I can't stay in the sun too long, so I broke up the day with a few movies, one after breakfast, one after lunch, and one before bed. What a routine I have.

407 – The Jungle Book – 1 star
The single star is just for the songs ‘Bear Necessities’ and ‘I wanna be like you’. I really did not like this film seeing it again. The story is tediously repetitive; Mogwli doesn’t want to leave the jungle so tries to fit in with various animals. Sing a song with some elephants, doesn’t work out. Sing a song with monkeys, doesn’t work out. Etc, etc. Then after 90 minutes of saying that he doesn’t want to go live in a Man village, one glimpse of a girl and he forgets his pals and joins the village, making everything that has gone before rather irrelevant.

444 – Hairspray – 2 stars
Ricki Lake solves the problem of racial segregation in 60’s Baltimore, not through her TV talk show, but through the medium of dance on the Corny Collins show in John Waters’ tale of how music can bring people together. As un-PC as one would expect from Waters but overall it’s possibly his least schlocky work, and went on to inspire the hit musical, which is a more accomplished and complete work.

442 – Atonement – 4 stars
Very accomplished filmmaking by Joe Wright that was slightly overhyped by the British media and BAFTA on its release but still has some masterful touches: the use of the typewriter in the musical score, THAT steadicam shot along Dunkirk (there was a similar 10 minute tracking shot in P&P that I thought Wright would have one in every movie he made, so was disappointed when it didn't appear in The Soloist). But the high point of this film are the performances. James McAvoy delivers on the promise shown in Last King of Scotland and pitches a perfect accent too as Robbie the man accused of a terrible crime that parts him from his love Cecilia, played by Keira Knightley, Joe Wright seems to be able to bring out the best in her. But the central focus of the story is Briony, in a star-making performance by Saoirse Ronan (soon to appear in Peter Jackson's The Lovely Bones) and Vanessa Redgrave who should have received an award nomination for her one scene confession of how the story ends, truly heartbreaking.
And the film also contains the c word used in a way to create the most terrifying use of a typewriter since The Shining!

Right, blog update done, time to get some sun!

Days remaining - 337 Films remaining - 449

Sunday, 11 October 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 25 & 26

Day 25 was a zero film day as I had a long day at work trying to organise everything before I jet off on holiday. Luckily the cinema was very busy thanks to the first in another season of our Met Opera Live performances. It ain't over till the fat lady sings... oh wait.
When I got home late there was only time to catch up on X Factor before bed. A movie would have to wait till Sunday morning while I was packing.

383 - Serenity - 4 stars
Released in 2005, Serenity is the sci-fi film that the Star Wars prequels should have been!
Based on the cancelled TV series Firefly by Joss Whedon (the geek behind Buffy), it manages a great blend of action, fully developed characters, horror and humour... and not a huge over-reliance on special effects.
George Lucas made the prequels about the story of Anakin Skywalker but forgot that when we all watched the original trilogy as kids, no one wanted to be the bland Luke Skywalker, we all wanted to be Han Solo.
And Serenity has their Han Solo in the form of Mal Reynolds (ably played by Nathan Fillion), who is even more of a scoundrel then Han. The rest of the cast are superb and the bond they developed during the show is clear to see in the movie. New to the cast for the film is Chewitel Ejifor is also terrific as the cold, calculating Operative.
Now with the fact that the film was possibly the last chance to continue the story, Joss Whedon takes a tough line with his characters and not all of them make it to the end. It makes the ending genuinely exciting as you don't know what will happen.
However I do recommend watching Firefly before seeing Serenity to heighten the emotional impact of the characters' fates.

On holiday tomorrow to Madiera for a week so won't be watching as many films as usual (unless I get sunstroke on day one and spend the rest of the week inside) but I'll try and update each day if I can.

Friday, 9 October 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 24

Keeping it short and sweet today, just one flick:

309 - Transformers - 3 stars
I remember seeing the fantastic advert for Citroen with the transforming car dancing like Justin Timberlake and thinking it won't be long before they make a Transformers movie.  And lo and behold, a couple of months later production had started.
I really enjoyed this movie as a Ronseal film, as in it does exactly what it says on the tin: robots, check, explosions, check, etc, etc.  It's actually one of Michael Bay's more restrained efforts (until the last half hour anyway when it has too many close ups of the robots and you can't tell what the hell is going on!) that manages to pack in an equal amount of laughs, explosions and the gorgeous Megan Fox.  The moment she bends over the engine of the car was as big 'a star is born' moment as when Cameron Diaz stood up in The Mask.
The one thing that bugged me though *spoiler warning* is how Josh Duhamel's soldier actually managed to survive the movie when his first line was "I just can't wait to hold my baby girl for the first time"... that is the kiss of death in a war movie!
Having said all that though I do think it is much higher on the list than it deserves, 309? really?  Didn't anyone watch Revenge Of The Fallen?  A film so bad even IMAX couldn't polish the $200 million turd Bay took on screen.  A bad case of suffering Pirates sequelitis, where they just take everything that worked in the first movie and put even more of it in the second one. Grrr.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

(500) Films Of Empire - Day 23 - I am McLovin!

Today was my grandmother's funeral, so a tough day for the family. I did a reading at the service but even though I'm a movie geek, I did manage to resist the temptation to do 'Clocks' by WH Auden from Four Weddings And A Funeral!
After the service there was a reception where I got to meet lots of old people who I didn't know and they all knew me when I was a baby
It got me in the mood to watch Elizabethtown. I know a lot of people hate it, Cameron Crowe at his most self indulgent, but I have a soft spot for it... any film that has a funeral ending with Freebird is good by me.
Of course Elizabethtown isn't on the list so needed to make amends, and needed a laugh so pulled out:

487 - Superbad - 3 stars
Another slamdunk from the Apatow school of comedy with breakout performances from all involved, especially McLovin. This bromance is the funniest film since Anchorman and the best high school comedy since American Pie.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

(500) Films Of Empire - Day 22

In preparation for my upcoming holiday I spent the day doing some washing, packing and catching up on movies since I won't have a lot of time to watch any over the week I'm away.

276 - Layer Cake - 3 stars
A very slick crime thriller by Matthew Vaughn.  Mr Schiffer produced Lock, Stock and Snatch before taking a seat in the director's chair, which leads me to believe that he was the brains behind Ritchie's brawn.  Daniel Craig, displaying the steely eyed charm that would lead him to becoming 007, is the drug dealer looking to retire but is dragged into "one last job".  Great 80's inspired soundtrack and Sienna Miller in her pants - bonus.

326 - Out Of Sight - 4 stars
Steven Soderbergh left the arthouse behind and broke into the mainstream with this pulp crime film that is as cool as a cucumber and twice as smooth. It allowed George Clooney to break away from ER and established him as a movie star with old school charm and sex appeal a la Cary Grant. Shame Jennifer Lopez has never been able to live up to the promise she showed here. Features one of the sexiest scenes ever committed to film. Soderbergh has even admitted to copying Don't Look Now, but why not when the results are this good.

After a break for dinner (chilli con carne with nachos and sour cream, if you were wondering), I decided to have an evening dedicated to female filmmakers:

463 - Juno - 3 stars
First up was for re-evaluation was Diablo Cody and her Oscar winning screenplay about a sassy young girl having to deal with an unexpected pregnancy.  This Oscar is normally given to the little film that could, or "this year's Little Miss Sunshine", so does Juno deserve all the acclaim? There will be a Cody backlash, starting with the upcoming Jennifer's Body, and sure some the "Junoisms" and teen dialogue does become annoying (and probably make little to sense to people much older than me), but there is some great writing here and at its heart is a great central performance from Ellen Page (who was brilliant in Hard Candy).  Jason Reitman is developing into a great director and one who knows how to get the best from his actors (I can recommend that you seek out Thank You For Smoking), and I can't wait to see what he does with George Clooney in 'Up In The Air' out in January.

262 - The Virgin Suicides - 2 stars
Sofia Coppola's first film behind the camera (of course she appeared in front of the camera for daddy in The Godfather Part 3, and how can we forget that?!), proved she is a better director than an actor, just like Ben Affleck!  This is a gorgeous film to look at, with a beautiful soundtrack by Air, and before the time I started to find Kirsten Dunst really annoying.  But I felt kid of empty after watching the film, not really connecting with the story, hence the low score.

128 - Lost In Translation - 4 stars
Starts with one of the greatest opening shots in cinematic history (up there with the star destroyer in A New Hope), and ends with that magical moment that sparked so much debate, "ooh, what do you think he whispers to her?".  But sandwiched inbetween them is Bill Murray's finest performance, combining the improv comedy skills and the pathos tinged sadness he has shown in working with Wes Anderson.  Bill had every right to look pissed off when Sean Penn beat him to the Oscar... at least he got a BAFTA though.  Having said all that, this film is misleading as I've never met anyone who looks like Scarlett Johansson while staying in a hotel :( 

Top 5 films set in hotels:

1. The Shining
2. Psycho
3. Lost In Translation
4. Barton Fink
5. 1408

Days remaining - 343.  Films remaining - 457

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

(500) Films Of Empire - Day 21

99 - Toy Story - 5 stars
This film ushered in a new era for animated films and put Pixar firmly on the Hollywood map.
Rereleased this week in 3D, it is the first film to have the treatment that doesn't include any unnecessary gags of throwing things at the screen.  It's absolutely beautiful to look at (check out the UV neon colours in Sid's bedroom as an example) and strengthens the argument that 3D will last beyond gimmick films like horror films and children's animated movies - however the real test still lies ahead in the form of Avatar.
The animation is stunning, voice work is fantastic (Allen perfect as the toy who believes he is the real deal), but as Pixar has proved time and time again, the strength of a movie will always depend on the quality of the story and the screenplay.
Lovely references to Star Wars, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Alien, Back To The Future and one of the great uses of the infamous Wilhelm Scream.
If there was one thing I could moan about it would be simply two words... Randy Newman 
Yet despite how wonderful this film is, I honestly believe that the sequel is even better, possibly the best sequel of all time... but I'll get to why when I review it in January when it's released in 3D.

A link to a compilation of lots of Wilhelm screams that have popped up in loads of movies since Star Wars in 1977 (but originally used in a western called The Charge At Feather River).

Now I said yesterday that I would name ten movies I felt should have been on the list (i.e. the DVDs left on the shelf after removing all the films I needed to watch):

1. Swingers 
2. South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut
3. Team America
4. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
5. Adaptation
6. Star Trek: Wrath Of Khan
7. Master And Commander
8. Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1978)
9. Caddyshack
10. In Bruges
11. Talented Mr Ripley

Yes there are 11 films on that list, but that is because I made the list of ten then realised I'd forgotten to put Swingers on it!  So now this list goes up to 11!

After another evening of rehearsals with Lyric, I settled in for a lazy night in front of the TV with:

466 - Snatch - 2 stars
After the cinematic misfires of Swept Away and Revolver (and his marriage to Madonna), Guy Ritchie returned to the cockney crime drama with RockNRolla, but it just seems to me as proof that he is a one-trick pony, albeit one with some degree of creative flair. Snatch is very enjoyable and at times his best movie but I feel he has pandered to the needs of the American market too much .  Worth of a spot on the top 500?  Not really.  Should I be worried about what Ritchie does with a budget of $100 million+ for Sherlock Holmes?  Well it is a cockney crime drama of sorts?!  Still, Guy Ritchie did springboard The Stath into his career as THE B-Movie Action Hero.

58 - His Girl Friday - 3 stars
Film Noirs and Screwball comedies (what does the term screwball comedy even mean?!) in the 30's and 40's were famous for their razor sharp, fast talking dialogue and I don't think I've ever seen a movie where it was more rapid fire than this.  Researching the film on IMDB I discovered that it was the first film to have characters speaking over each other.  No wonder Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell can't wait to get their lines out when they spark and crackle like they do in this tale of an unscrupulous newspaper boss trying to disrupt the marriage plans of his ex-wife and editor, all the while trying to get the scoop on the upcoming death row hanging case.

Monday, 5 October 2009

(500) Films Of Empire - Day 20

Forgot to remark earlier about my delight at buying the latest issue of Empire last week and seeing my picture in the coverage of Movie-Con, being immortalised in print in my favourite movie magazine (page 33 if you have a copy at hand, I'm the one grinning like the geek that got the cream) is a great feeling. Apologies for the shameless self promotion but this blog is written by me, about me, so I feel I can be a little self-indulgent every once in a while.

Tonight's feature presentation, courtesy of Lovefilm, is:

472 - Le Doulos - 4 stars
This tragic and twisty film noir sees Jean-Paul Belmondo continue to channel that French Bogart cool as the police informant with a heart (even donning a Casablanca style raincoat and fedora) in this New Wave thriller that's more hard boiled than Cool Hand Luke's favourite snack.

Top 5 favourite foreign films (as of just now, cause let's face it, it could change by the end of the list)

1. Let The Right One In
2. A Bout De Souffle
3. Infernal Affairs
4. Downfall
5. In The Mood For Love

About to head to bed but caught part of The Break Up on TV.  Not a good film at all but has a couple of great scenes where Favs and Vaughn recapture that great Swingers chemistry.  Makes me very upset that Swingers is not on the 500 list as it is one of my favourite films of all time.  Tomorrow I will work out the ten worst omissions from the list, but its 1.30am and now time to sleep, so once again... Good Night and Good Luck (will change to a Truman Show sign off soon, once I watch it).

Days remaining - 345.  Films remaining - 465

Sunday, 4 October 2009

(500) Films Of Empire - Day 18 & 19

The last two days have been very tough between work and some difficult family news and tonight's film was an apt choice that will become clear to those who know me.

375 - Four Weddings & A Funeral - 2 stars
Some people love this because it kickstarted the Richard Curtis/Working Title boom of the late nineties with the likes of Notting Hill and Love Actually.  And some people hate it for the same reason!  Foppish, charmingly befuddled Hugh Grant (who has mined this type of role for all it's worth) meets and falls in love with Andie Macdowell (truly woeful) over a series of wedding and funeral sketches, whilst swearing a lot.  The second wedding and funeral scenes are the highlights of an otherwise patchy film... and then there is THAT bloody song on the end credits!

Friday, 2 October 2009

(500) Films Of Empire - Day 17

Friday is always a busy day as it is new release day in the cinemas, although today the busiest film was the one we've been screening for four weeks now, Julie & Julia. Things seem to work differently in an arthouse cinema!

Got home from work to discover Fisher King was on More 4 and Matrix on ITV2 but both had already started, bloody typical. So to the DVD collection it was and plucked MIB out of the pile, for the simple reason that it was only 98 minutes long and I have a 14 hour shift tomorrow and didn't want to be up too late!

409 - Men In Black - 3 stars
Funny to think that in 1997, Will Smith was still escaping the "Fresh Prince" tag and it was the back-to-back success of Independence Day and this film that made him the biggest star in the world, and here he is playing sidekick to Tommy Lee Jones's K, with Jones proving adept at comedy, something he hadn't really showcased before.

It's probably been 10 years since I saw this film. Looking at it now, with a young hip black new recruit and a crusty white guy who is getting too old for this sh*t, is MIB really a role reversal, child friendly Lethal Weapon with aliens? All it would need is an alien screaming that they have "Diplomatic Immunity".

Thursday, 1 October 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 16

So after last night's false start I got up (slightly hungover) and watched the whole of:

School Of Rock - 3 stars
Just like Gerard Butler and 300 being a perfect fit, Jack Black was born to play the part of Dewey Finn.  It's a tour-de-force of manic, wild energy combined with the musical talents he displayed with Tenacious D (albeit with having to tone down the language for this family film).
Great soundtrack and child actors you don't want to punch add to the hugely enjoyable yet slightly predictable story.

Popped into work to help out with the near sell-out live satellite performance of the NT production of All's Well That Ends Well.  The healthy turnout for this type of screening bodes well for the future when more events like theatre and music concerts will be screened live via satellite into cinemas.

Got home to find a new Lovefilm disc waiting for me:

299 - The Palm Beach Story - 2 stars
Apparently this is a screwball comedy but I couldn't find the comedy in it as I didn't laugh once watching this tale of a woman going on a farcical trip to Florida to get a divorce, all the while taking advantage of the kindness of older gentlemen.  Instantly forgettable.

(500) Films Of Empire - Day 15

Day 15 was spent getting our new brochure ready, selecting the films we're going to show in Oct/Nov.  Now some might consider it a slight abuse of power but I've managed to get a few of the 500 greatest films into the brochure!  But with the new Cineworld opening soon, we are going to be competing against 26 multiplex screens showing all the big blockbusters, so it is important to diversify and get some classic films onto the big screen.
So look out for Bugsy Malone, Midnight Cowboy, American Werewolf In London, a Wes Anderson season and the daddy of the list... the digital re-release of The Godfather!
Everyone is welcome to come along to The Belmont and join in the challenge.

After a few days of intensive work on the upcoming fight with the new Cineworld (now dubbed Operation Braveheart: They may take our lives, but they'll never take our customers), went out for a few beers and a curry with my boss.
What I forgot is that the combination of beer + curry makes you very sleepy so when I got home and put on School of Rock to watch... I feel asleep halfway through so I'll need to try it again tomorrow!