Saturday, 28 November 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 74

199 - The Texas Chainsaw Massacre - 3 stars
Is it really bad to be wishing that something really horrible happens to the guy in a wheelchair in this film? Well, Franklin is sooooooooooo annoying that I was wishing for him to meet the sharp end of a chainsaw very quickly.
I first got this film on a dodgy VHS copy in the US in 1998, when the film was still banned by the BBFC for being too extreme. I thought I was so cool for having a copy of a banned film but my cockiness was short lived as around a month after I as got back the BBFC announced plans to release it uncut!
So was it worth the wait and the hype? Yes... and no.
It would be considered pretty tame by today's standards, as actually most of the violence is commited off camera. However once Sally begins to be chased by Leatherface, it is an almost never ending assault on the senses as Sally is tormented for 30+ minutes, culminating in the most horrific dinner party ever.
I must make special mention of the best character in the film, Grandpa 'The Best Killer Of Them All'. In the most sadistic moment in the film, he is trying to kill Sally but can't hold onto the hammer so he gets help from other members of the family. Hilarious and horrific at the same time.
If you want to see what real fear looks like, look at Marilyn Burns's (Sally) eyes during the dinner scene... pure terror.

Days remaining - 291 Films remaining - 386

Friday, 27 November 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 73

380 - Children Of Men - 4 stars
In my humble opinion this was the best film of 2006, and it is a crime that it did not receive the attention/accolades/audience that it deserved on its release.
Funny that I should be watching this in 2009 as that is the year in the film when mankind ceased being able to conceive, thus humanity is looking at a slow decline towards extinction as society is collapsing in on itself. But a ray of hope exists in the form of Kee, a young girl, who Clive Owen tries to escort to 'The Human Project'.
Owen is fantastic as the everyman who has the burden of the future of the human race on his shoulders. Some argue that Owen is a boring actor but I feel that when he has the right role (Closer, Inside Man, etc) he is a great actor.
The cinematography is absolutely stunning, with several single take shot including one in a car that will leave you wondering "how the hell did they do that?". My only grumble would be that when you start to notice how clever the camera work is, you start to get distracted from the story.
More science fact than science fiction, this is a much more realistic vision of the future than a film like Blade Runner, and more believable and scary because of it.
Love the fact that Owen wears a London 2012 sweater for most of the film!

Thursday, 26 November 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 72 - It's Alive!

204 - Bride of Frankenstein - 3 stars
Picking up where the first film left off, via the unique way of Byron asking Mary Shelley to tell him a new story about the Monster.
As the tagline states, "The Monster needs a mate", and Dr Frankenstein returns to the laboratory with the even crazier Dr Pretorius to create a mate for The Monster.
The film is a fairy tale of sorts, with a moral in the story, that man should not attempt to play God, but The Monster becomes more, dare I say it, human in this film, learning about life and trying to find its place in the world, if there is indeed one for "it" at all.
Excellent Gothic production design and wonderfully hammy performances create the best of the Universal horrors from the 1930's.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 71: Boyle-ing Point!

Today I will mostly be watching the films of Danny Boyle. Like another director, Curtis Hanson, Boyle is someone who doesn't want to be pigeonholed into a particular genre, as evidenced here with this selection of films; an apocalyptic thriller/horror, science fiction, and gritty drug comic drama.

456- 28 Days Later - 4 stars
Provokes much debate as whether or not it is a zombie movie; the Infected are just that, infected with a virus and therefore not the undead. Nevertheless, it did introduce the world to the notion of 'The Sprinter'; the speedy fast "zombie" that features in the remake of Dawn Of The Dead or Zombieland, as apposed to 'The Shuffler'; the slow, almost shambolic undead of the original Romero trilogy or the brilliant Shaun Of The Dead.
While the attacks of the Infected may provide the visceral scares, the true terror lies in the scenes of an abandoned London, one of the busiest cities in world completely deserted, and at the possibility of humanity destroying itself.
Managed to spawn a very rare thing, a great sequel in the form of 28 Weeks Later.

355 - Sunshine - 3 stars
After giving a boost to the British horror genre, Boyle did the same for the British science fiction genre, crafting a fantastic looking film on a budget of just $50 million. A fraction of what a Hollywood blockbuster would spend, although Duncan Jones trumped that by spending a mere $5 million on the magnificent Moon.
The multi-cultural crew of the Icarus II set out to reignite the dying Sun but as with all great sci-fi (Alien, 2001), their mission does not go to plan.
This is roughly 3/4 of a great movie but let down by a ending that goes a bit too Event Horizon (no further spoilers).
But why do they need a bomb to restart the Sun when they have Chris Evans (not that one) on board? He's the Human Torch! Surely he could fly into the sun and reignite it himself?!

316 - Trainspotting - 4 stars
One of the great opening scenes in cinema, with the thumping drums of 'Lust For Life' and the classic speech; "Choose life, choose a job, choose a career, choose a f*cking big television...", and with it produced one of the best and most important British films in years and a much needed boost to the UK film industry.
It's Ewan McGregor's definitive performance as Renton, our guide into the murky world of herion addiction in Edinburgh, in a difficult tale told with a bold visual flair that does not glamourise drug use (despite what The Daily Mail might have said).
Also produced the iconic poster that adorned every student halls of residence and between this film and Pulp Fiction, popularised the marketing of soundtracks as must have CDs.

Days remaining - 294 Films remaining - 389

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 70 - New TV?

Time for another afternoon with the random delights of Lovefilm:

428 - The Enigma Of Kaspar Hauser - 2 stars
The sad tale, based on a true story, of a young man raised in complete isolation for years then thrown out into a German town by his keeper.
It follows Kaspar as the town treat him as a curiosity, a burden, then a freakish amusement before he is taken in by a kind gentlemen who teaches him to become a man.
The portrayal of Kaspar by Bruno S. is sensitive yety his never slips into mawkishness that an Oscar contender would be tempted to do.
The enigma of Kaspar remains just that. While the townspeople try to answer it with science, there are no answers as to why he was treated the way he was.

476 - Santa Sangre - 2 stars
Absolutely bonkers. But what else to expect from the director of El Topo?
Once Upon A Freak In Mexico, where a family of circus entertainers is torn apart when the son witnesses the father cut his wife's arms off before commiting suicide. After spending time in a mental institution, he becomes his mother's hands in order to murder the people she holds responsible for her mutilation.
There was something oddly familiar about the style of filmmaking, then I figured out that it reminded me of the work of Robert Rodriguez in places. I have a feeling he was a major influence on the El Mariachi director.

My brand new 37" Samsung 1080p Full HD TV is supposed to being delivered today, at some point between 2.00 and 9.00. Since I am bound to the house for the day, might as well not waste it. So why not pass the time with another film?

284 - Scarface - 3 stars
The obligatory favourite film of any footballer or rapper, charting the rise and fall of gangster Tony Montana (complete with classic 80's style montage). Perhaps somewhat over the top (do all drug dealers sit in monogramed armchairs with a mountain of cocaine similar to Richard Dreyfuss's pile of mashed potato in Close Encounters?), this a glamorous and violent look at the life of a small time Cuban hoodlum turned drug baron. All delivered with a very understated performance by Al Pacino... who am I kidding?! This is a typical "HOO HAH", all guns blazing, "Say hello to my little friend" performance from our Al, the man who has great difficulty controlling the volume of HIS VOICE! Special praise should given to the makers of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City for their near perfect recreation of the Scarface world in the game. I hadn't realised how good till now.

6.30, and still no sign of the TV. Was supposed to have show rehearsals this evening but looks like I will have to give that a miss this week.

150 - The French Connection - 3 stars
I wasn't blown away by this I must say. Perhaps its having programmes like The Wire on every week, that nowadays gritty cop stuff like French Connection is commonplace and not as special as it might have been back in the day.
There is still one outstanding thing about this film, and that is the car chase, or should that be train chase? Breathtaking stuff and one of the greatest chase sequences commited to film.

It has arrived!!! All set up and ready to go.

56 - Casino Royale -
Seems fitting that the first Blu Ray I watch on my brand new TV should be the first Blu Ray I got with my PS3.
Lots of people have been credited with the successful re-invention of Bond; Martin Campbell's direction, Daniel Craig's steely blue eyed Bond, but there is only one person who can single handledly be credited with the success... Jason Bourne! The Bourne movies are the template for the modern spy film, to the extent that QOS was Bourne 4.
That is not to take anything away from what is still a fantastic film which is a true action blockbuster and also tapped into the popularity for late night poker programmes at the time.
A lot of negative things were said about Daniel Craig before the film came out and they were unjustified as I thought he made an excellent Bond... in this film. In Solace he was too cold and emotionless, smile for f*ck's sake. I hope they will attempt to bring some humour to the franchise soon or the new wave of success will be short lived.
I'm might be being a bit pedantic here, but something bothered me about the scene where Bond and Vesper have sex at the hospital. He's only been there for a few days and just out of a wheelchair after getting his balls beaten black and blue by Le Chiffre. How the hell is able to get it up?

Days remaining - 295 Films remaining - 392

Monday, 23 November 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 69

266 - Ghost World - 4 stars
One of the first comic book movies that wasn't targeted at the young Marvel/D.C. market. Based on the graphic novel by Daniel Clowes, it was the first comic book adaptation to be nominated for an Oscar for its screenplay, proof that Hollywood was starting to take the genre seriously after the travesty of Batman & Robin.
A tale of the disaffection of youth, as two friends spend the summer indulging in slackerdom, playing pranks on people, etc. But soon the pressure to conform to society forces the girls to drift apart as Rebecca accepts the responsibility yet Enid rebels, growing closer to a fellow loser/geek in Seymour.
It is great to see Steve Buscemi in a role that gives him more to do than just be "the guy that's kinda funny looking", though Fargo is on the list. He brings a warmth and sensitivity to the luckless Seymour, and the friendship between Enid and himself is completely believable.
Thora Birch is also excellent as Enid, delivering on the promise she showed in American Beauty.
Proves that comic books don't always have to be costumed heroes fighting each other, but about the type of people who read comics.

Top 5 comic book/graphic novel movies:
1. The Dark Knight
2. Sin City
3. Iron Man
4. X2
5. Ghost World

Agree or disagree?

Sunday, 22 November 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 68 - 100 not out!

315 - Sense & Sensibility - 3 stars
I wasn't a fan of costume dramas, not really my cup of tea. Couldn't see what all the fuss was about, my mother and sister swooned over Colin Firth's Mr Darcy in the BBC Pride & Prejudice. It wasn't until I saw that Joe Wright's version of P&P with Keira Knightley (obviously watched for other reasons) that I felt I had been too harsh on the genre and that there was more to them than people wearing bodices drinking tea in drawing rooms while arranging matches. What do I mean? Click here
Admittedly there is a lot of sitting around in this story of the Dashwood sisters looking for love after being evicted from the family home. It's success lies in the talents of the great cast.
This film is a veritable luvvie fest with the likes of Emma Thompson, Britain's greatest bad guy -Alan Rickman, England's Rose - Kate Winslet and Hugh Grant.
Grant seems well suited to this kind of film but does appear to have just one expression - sheepish - that has been used in this, Four Weddings and Notting Hill, which makes Hugh so charmingly befuddled.

It was now time for film number 100 in the challenge. Now officially 1/5th of the way through the list and on target to complete it by the time the 365 days are up. How to mark the century? Time to watch one of my very favourite films...

52 - The Shining - 5 stars
I don't care if Stephen King doesn't like it, for me Stanley Kubrick has crafted the greatest horror film ever made. An absolute masterpiece in terror as Jack Nicholson descends into madness as the eerie power of the Overlook Hotel takes hold.
Nicholson's performance is the obvious focal point of the film but there is a lot more to the film than just "Here's Johnny".
For me The Overlook is the most dominant character thanks to the beautiful set design (have you ever seen such fabulous/hideous carpets?), the sheer scale, influence and force that envelops the Torrance family and the manifestations of previous "guests" are a delight, like Lloyd the bartender and the deliciously evil Grady.
It may have been torturous to work on at times due to Stanley Kubrick, but thanks to his obsession and perfectionism, every single aspect of the film is a triumph, from the acting to camera work and sound.
The Blu Ray transfer is one of the best I've seen. The colours are so vivid and the sound is deafening, The Overlook took over again. It's like I'd always been there.

226 - Romeo & Juliet - 3 stars
The greatest love story ever told, adapted for the MTV generation. At first it is jarring to see Shakespeare's original text mixing with the arresting visual flair of Baz Luhrmann, but soon you don't even notice it with the cast coping well with the lyrical poetry of the Bard's words.
An excellent adaptation that got a young audience into Shakespeare, and opened the door to a host of other similar films (the only good one being 10 Things I Hate About You).

211 - Moulin Rouge - 5 stars
I couldn't believe it when a friend told me they hadn't seen this film, especially considering how much they love musicals. This was rectified this evening.
How to describe this film in two words... Spectacular, Spectacular!
Deftly moving between comedy and tragedy, Luhrmann uses modern songs to express the feelings of the characters in 1900 Paris with Ewan McGregor falling for Nicole Kidman's prostitute.
Like R&J, this is not a film that everyone will appreciate, as the dizzying descent into the Moulin Rouge moves at an electric pace that some found nauseating.
I however love everything about this film, even the normally insipid Nicole Kidman. Ewan McGregor has a good voice (better than Jedward certainly) and his emotions at the climax produce one of the best movie cries I've seen.
But this is a film about the music (well it's really about love but the music plays a huge part in that), and highlights include a camp reworking of Like a Virgin and a sexy tango version of Roxanne.
Please somebody do the right thing and turn this into a stage musical... I do realise the elephant could be an issue!

Days remaining - 297 Films remaining - 398

Saturday, 21 November 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 67

293 - La Maman Et La Putain - 2 stars
Travelled down to Edinburgh today to see The Mother And The Whore, one of the films that was proving very difficult to source. Luckily for me, it was having a special screening as part of the French Film Festival in a Jean Eustache retrospective.
Let's face facts... this is a 3 and a half hour long, black and white, subtitled film about a group of people essentially doing nothing but discussing their relationships. Transformers this is not!
This film is certainly not for everyone. On paper this film sounded incredibly dull and, dare I say it, pretentious. Yet I was surprised how well the film flowed, there weren't too many glances at the watch.
A seriously honest look at sex and relationships through a menage a trois of Alexandre, Marie and Veronika. The performances are very natural and create unexpected humour in some of the exchanges. Towards the end of the film there is a stunning 10 minute single take monologue from one of the woman as she breaks down under the strain of the relationship.
The ending of the film was rather abrupt and silly though.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 65

132 - Pan's Labyrinth - 5 stars
A young girl descends into a fantasy world and a quest to become a princess, to escape the harsh realities of life during the Spanish Civil War, when her heavily pregnant mother moves her to an outpost to stay with her new lover, a sadistic Captain.
Del Toro's finest hour is a truly magical film that creates a beautiful juxtaposition between fantasy and reality.
I only wish there had been more of the Pale Man, who featured so heavily in the advertising of the film and caused me to draw eyes on my palms for a couple of days at work!
Still amazed that this was beaten to the Oscar by The Lives Of Others, but maybe I'll change my mind when I watch it again (its number 329).

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 64

227 - Leon - 4 stars
And it was all going so well. Just at the end of the film, Sting appears to sing the song over the end credits. But let's not dwell on the negative on what is otherwise a great film.
The movie might be called Leon, but the movie succeeds or fails on the performance of Natalie Portman as Mathilda, the young girl who turns to the assassin next door for help when her family is killed.
It is a debut of such intensity, maturity and worrying sensuality (witness her exchange with the hotel manager and her attempted seduction of Leon). It is little wonder that she drew comparisons to a young Jodie Foster whose role in Taxi Driver was similar.
There is fine support from Jean Reno as the professional (something he has been unable to top since his appearances in Hollywood fare like Godzilla), and an over-the-top, crazy Gary Oldman (as was typical of him during the early nineties).
Luc Besson delivers his best film that features a beautiful central relationship, moments of unexpected humour and great action sequences.

89 - Magnolia - 3 stars
Paul Thomas Anderson's Short Cuts. Both have Julianne Moore but she doesn't show her Va-Jay-Jay in this one.
This look at how several lives intersect across one day in L.A., and while its running time is 3 hours, unlike Jesse James, it is well paced. The frequent cutting between storylines helps to keep the movie flowing and credit must be given to the music score which keeps a fast rhythm to the film. The songs provided by Aimee Mann also move the story foward as well.
Anderson assembled a great ensemble cast including some of his regulars; Julianne Moore, William H. Macy and Philip Seymour Hoffman, but the standout performance actually comes from Tom Cruise.
He is a whirlwind of energy as Frank TJ Mackey, teacher of the Seduce & Destroy programme, demonstrated in his entrance to the 2001 theme "Respect the cock, and tame the c*nt", but equally effective in the quiet moments "what am I doing? I'm quietly judging you"
Sometimes Cruise delivers his best performances when he is not having to deal with the pressure of being the lead (witness his movie stealing role in Tropic Thunder).

361 - Clerks - 3 stars
Clerks was one of those films that had a big impact on my life. It came out around the time I started to work at Toys R Us and I would always watch it on a Friday night before a busy weekend working there, especially around Christmas time when the customers became even more annoying!
Not as good as I remember but still very funny if you have ever worked in retail or the customer service industry.
I'm surprised that Chasing Amy isn't on the list as I consider it be Kevin Smith's best film. Established Jason Lee as one of the best swearers in Hollywood (see also Dennis Farina, Peter Capaldi, anyone in The Departed) and got Ben Affleck's best performance on camera.

Days remaining - 301 Films remaining - 404

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 63

396 - The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford - 3 stars
I return to this film wondering if I had misjudged it on its release. Critics called it a "the best Western since Unforgiven" and a hark back to the days of films like Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid. While many staff at the cinema raved about it, some made it their film of the year, I found it bloated, poorly paced and didn't feel emotionally connected to it.
Second time around, I liked it a lot more as there is so much to appreciate from a filmmaking perspective: Cinematography is absolutely stunning (between this and No Country For Old Men Roger Deakins had a very good year. Someone give this man an Oscar!), the music is great and the sound mixing terrific (one of the best films I've heard through the surround sound system at home), but the real highlights are the performances of Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck.
Casey looks to be overtaking his brother Ben in the acting talent stakes (sorry Ben, time to focus on your directing), and delivers a fascinating turn as the cowardly sycophant Robert Ford.
Brad Pitt does not get enough credit for being a great actor in my opinion. Nowadays it is all about 'Brangelina' and the giant adopted family, that people forget how good he is. In possibly his best performance since Fight Club, Pitt excels as the outlaw who slowly unravels as he is increasingly unable to cope with his own legend and celebrity (a case of life imitating art?). He is sensational in the scene towards the end where he puts a knife to Ford's throat.
However having said all that, I still feel that it is overlong and could have easily chopped around 20 minutes out and it would have been an even better film. I understand the first edit was around 4 hours long so I can be thankful that I didn't have to sit through that at the cinema... at least there is a pause button at home!

Monday, 16 November 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 62

346 - Leave Her To Heaven - 3 stars
It's a Technicolour Film Noir! This is a film that bursts with the colour pallette of a Powell & Pressburger or Douglas Sirk movie, but at its heart it is a noir as dark as Double Indemnity.
A naive writer impulsively marries the beautiful Ellen Berent (played by Gene Tierney, who was Oscar nominated for this role), but fails to see how insanely jealous she is.
Desperate to have him all to herself, she goes to increasingly devious methods to do so, all the while knowing that their union will end in tragedy.
Ellen is probably the original 'bunny boiler' but as she doesn't kill any wildlife, I will give her a new moniker based on her most heinous crime... "cripple drowner". When you watch the film, you'll understand what I mean!

42 - Kind Hearts And Coronets - 4 stars
An absolute delight of a film. Ealing comedy at its very blackest.
David Price is the antihero with one of the longest names in cinema history (Lord Louis Mazzini D'Ascoyne, the tenth Duke of Chalmont), who recounts his memoirs as he awaits his death sentence.
It follows his quest to kill all the members of the D'Ascoyne family in order to claim his place as Duke and avenge the banishment of his mother from the family.
Most of the reviews of the film focus on Alec Guinness as he plays eight different membersb of the family (young,old, male, female)
But for me the star of the show is Price, who is wonderful as Mazzini. He really should be the villain of the piece, as he is a sociopathic murderer, yet since the whole film is told from his point of view, it becomes nearly impossible not to associate and sympathise with him as he murders and manipulates his way to fame and fortune, all the while knowing that he will meet his commupence. Back then due to Hays code, the bad guy can't get away with murder but the film does have some degree of ambiguity. Possibly one of the films that led Hollywood to reason that if you want to have a really great bad guy, get someone British.
Thank goodness the much-mooted remake has never happened. Don't mess with the classics, isn't that right Gus Van Sant

Days remaining - 303 Films remaining - 408

Saturday, 14 November 2009

It's A Small World After All...

Just want to point you in the direction of Captain James Amazing's Cinematic Escapades blog.  Someone else is working their way through the Empire 500 list, albeit at a much more leisurely (and perhaps sensible) pace.
He discovered my blog via Twitter and we've been keeping track of each others progress ever since.
But imagine my surprise when I got a message on my blog saying that he was going to be in Aberdeen this week and visiting my lovely cinema.
So I got to meet the man behind the blog and we ended up talking movies for hours in the pub.
A very cool guy with a very well written blog that goes into the detail that I wish I could in my blog but I am slightly rushed for time!

Friday, 13 November 2009


It's 1.15am and I am just back from a late night screening of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY on Friday 13th and I feel compelled to review the film right now... as I really don't want to go to sleep yet! Released here on the 25th November it arrives in the UK on the crest of a wave of hype that hasn't been seen for a horror movie since THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. Made on a tiny budget ($15,000), grossed $100 million at the box office and scared the crap out of Steven Spielberg. Is it able to live up to the hype... Yes!
A simple setup of a couple: Katie (paranoid and fearful that something has been following her throughout her life) and Micah (one of the worst boyfriend's of all time) using a video camera to record evidence of strange happenings in their house is used to wring every drop of fear out of the audience.
There are horror movie cliches; Ouija Board, check. Investigating strange noises in the attic, check. The couple (mainly Micah) might be stupid but the film puts a new twist on them.
The night scenes are truly creepy as the camera remains in a static wide shot of the bedroom and the audience start looking around the room for hidden dangers and scares.
The film succeeds in terrifying its audience because it sticks to the golden rule of the horror genre, "less is more". You only catch glimpses of shadows, footprints, strange noises, but your mind goes into overdrive and conjurs up something much scarier than the filmmaker can put on screen.
There will be countless moments during a screening when people will jump and scream, followed by the nervous laughter as they tell themselves it is only a movie.
Of course, there will be comparisons between this film and the likes of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, REC and CLOVERFIELD, due to the similarities in filming style and documentary-type story but it surpasses them because it is a film that stays with you after you leave the cinema.
You'll end up double locking doors, checking under the bed, etc before going to sleep in the fear that it could happen to you. The sense of fear and unease the film creates is something that I haven't experienced since watching RINGU nearly ten years ago.
Scariest film of all time? Maybe. Scariest film of the decade? Definitely.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 58

497 - Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon - 3 stars
Watched this film today whilst there was a debate on Twitter about a Lovefilm poll of films that defined a decade, and this film is definitely one of them.
One of my pet peeves is people not watching a film just because it is in a foreign language and has subtitles.  Grow up people!  You are missing out on so many great films by being so close-minded.
Helped by Oscar and BAFTA glory, Crouching Tiger was the film that got people to go out and watch these foreign language films.  It was one of the early success stories here at The Belmont and proved that there was a market for cinemas like us and the rest of the Picturehouse group that show quality films over the latest blockbusters.
There is a plot about a special sword and seeking revenge on someone who killed their teacher hidden somewhere beneath the extraordinary fight scenes.  The first film to really showcase the Wushu style of fighting to the Western world, the choreography is stunning and almost balletic in terms of style.
Inspired a series of this type of film including Hero and House Of Flying Daggers, and Hollywood employing the fight choreographers in all their action movies.
The influence it has had on cinema makes it worthy if the title of one of the "films of the decade".

393 - Garden State - 3 stars
This was Zach Braff's, everyone's favourite Scrubber, first effort at writing and directing, and was the trend during the mid-naughties, the film is a quirky indie slacker comedy.  On its release I was in my mid-twenties and could identify with the lead character Andrew Largeman, not with his high level of Lithium intake, but with his lack of direction in life.  I now know that I'm in the right business for me and just have to work on my personal life.  Seeing it again now, I was slightly more resistant to its charms, but there was still much to enjoy, like Natalie Portman's performance.  She is absolutely adorable as Sam.
And fans of 'The Big Bang Theory' will see a young Sheldon as a "fast food knight".
There is a great moment where Largeman wakes to find 'balls' written on his face, this reminded me of when we did something similar to a friend of ours one evening when he passed out too early in the night!  They will remain nameless!

142 - Almost Famous - 4 stars
Cameron Crowe's semi-autobiographical love letter to the music industry and the power that it can have over people.
The greatest thing about the film is Philip Seymour Hoffman as Lester Bangs, an infectious bundle of energy who has the film's second best line; "the only currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone when you're uncool".
For those who are interested, the film's best line is "They don't even know what it is to be a fan.  To truly love some silly little piece of music, or some band, so much that it hurts".
And that is why I love this film, because that quote sums up how I feel about movies.
Also after seeing this and (500) Days of Summer, I can safely say that Zooey Deschanel has the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen.

Days remaining - 307.  Films remaining - 410

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 57

311 - American History X - 4 stars
A powerful film, in spite of the troubled production, that examines the ugly side of human nature as one man seeks redemption and tries to prevent his brother from following in his footsteps.
At times an incredibly difficult film to watch.  A basketball game where Neo Nazis banish the black players from the court is played out as a magnificent victory to the audience, there are sickening racial attacks, and then there is the moment where Derek murders the carjacker.  The horrible grating sound as he puts his teeth on the kerb is haunting.
All this is backed up by one of the all-time great screen performances from Edward Norton.  He is a revelation as the hate-filled skinhead that renounces his ways and attempts to leave his former life behind.  As shown in Fight Club and Primal Fear, Norton is perfectly comfortable playing two characters and he is totally believable as both the angry skinhead and the young man seeking to protect his family from the results if his actions, at one point trying to cover up his swastika tattoo in an attempt to erase his past.

(500) Films of Empire - Day 57 - Why the world doesn't need Superman Returns

446 - Superman Returns - 1 star
The problem that I have with SUPERMAN RETURNS, is that it should have been great. Bryan Singer had already directed two great comic book movies in X-MEN and X2, they were using the original theme song, the trailers were promising (the bullet hitting the eye was a very geeky moment), yet the end result felt like such a wasted opportunity.

Here is a film that we were told would not be rebooting the franchise but carrying on after the events of SUPERMAN 2, ignoring the other awful sequels.

However the main plot was simply a repeat of the Lex Luthor land storyline from the first film, making it seem like a rerun of old ideas.

Other problems with this film: Kate Bosworth was too young to play Lois Lane. The only good action sequence, albeit a fantastic rescue of the plane and shuttle, was at the beginning of the film. Kevin Spacey was a fantastic Lex Luthor but didn't have enough to do and all his best bits were in the trailers.

All those niggling problems that I had with Superman as a character came to a head: Clark Kent was gone for five years, so was Superman. They both come back on the same day. Somehow the people of Metropolis are not able to notice that a pair of glasses is not the best disguise in the world.

And finally, Superman has some questions to answer over the parentage of Lois's child. Despite Kevin Smith's view on the subject (see the Kryptonite Condom speech from Mallrats), Singer has opted to have Superman be the father of her child. Yes, the did have sex in Superman II, but dependent on which version you watch, Superman has given up his powers and become human - so would he have even be able to pass on his powers? Also at the end of the film, he erases Lois's memory so she doesn't know his secret identity therefore also erasing the memory of them having sex. Lois must be wondering how she could have had sex with Superman without her knowledge... he must have been faster than a speeding bullet!

Phew, think that is my rant over... suffice to say that it is a thumbs down to Superman Returns.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 56

273 - The Maltese Falcon - 2 stars
One of the first films that made Bogart a true Hollywood star, a lovable rogue completely at ease with the dialogue of the film noir period.
It benefits from a slightly less complicated plot than The Big Sleep, but I don't think that it as good as that film due to the lack of chemistry between the leads.  Big Sleep had the sizzling Bogart & Bacall, whereas the female lead in Falcon was Mary Astor who I didn't think was very good at all.
Do yourselves a favour and go watch The Big Sleep instead.

I know what film you think I should watch next.  Bogart, Lorre, Greenstreet... it's got to be Casablanca right... wrong.  It's one of my all time favourite films so I've leaving it till near the end.  Besides another Lovefilm double bill has popped through the letter box.

203 - The Exorcist - 3 stars
It had been banned for years!!!  I finally saw the first horror film to be nominated for best picture at the Oscars, in 1997 when it was re-released, so therefore it would always struggle to live up to the hype as "the scariest film ever made".  Also I had seen the spoof Repossessed before I saw The Exorcist.  I came out of the first viewing a tad disappointed.
Rewatching it now, I can appreciate what a great movie this is from a filmmaking perspective.  The direction, sound effects, visual effects are all superb and backed up with an amazing performance by Linda Blair who was only 13 when she made the film and earned an Oscar nomination as a result.
It still retains the power to scare and haunt audiences as they witness, not only, the battle between Fathers Karras & Merrin and Pazzuzo, the demon within Regan, but also the struggle between religion and faith, and science.
Oh, I must give praise to the documentary 'Fear Of God' about the film by Mark Kermode, who has an excellent film review slot on Radio 5 every Friday afternoon at 3.00pm.  Click here to hear his thoughts on some of the best and worst movies in recent years.

462 - Dead Man's Shoes - 4 stars
The only appearance of the list for Britain's DeNiro and Scorsese - Paddy Considine and Shane Meadows.
One could call this is a British Kill Bill with Paddy Considine playing a former soldier who returns to his hometown to seek revenge on the gang that abused his younger brother.
An absolutely brutal revenge flick with a mesmerising performance from Considine.  Recently he has shown great comedy chops in Hot Fuzz and Le Donk & Scor-Zay-Zee, but between this film and My Summer Of Love he displayed the potential to be one of cinema's best psychopaths.  The scene where the guy asks him "what the f*ck are you looking at?" and his reply is simply "you ya C*NT!" shows just how menacing and terrifying he is but also completely convincing.
A great British movie that shows Hollywood just how good we can be.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 54 - Julie & Julie

Sunday for the most part (I did watch the football in the pub in the afternoon and watched the horrendous result on X Factor), was spent in the company of Miss Julie Delpy with three of her films on the list:

390 - 2 Days In Paris - 2 stars
Julie Delpy directs, produces, writes and acts in this comedy that owes a huge debt to the Before... films (which I'm reviewing below) and to Woody Allen, so much so that someone on IMDB called this film 'Woody Amelie'.
Delpy plays a neurotic woman who takes her American boyfriend to spend '2 days in Paris', staying with her family (played by her real parents) and friends, where the language barriers and the fact they keep bumping into Marion's ex-boyfriends.
It's all been done before but amusing to anyone who has found meeting the parents an intimidating experience.

200 - Before Sunrise - 3 stars
A very simple premise; boy meets girl on train, they spend a day walking, talking and flirting around Vienna, boy and girl part ways.
Yet this is a difficult film for me to review as I originally saw Before Sunset, which I loved, before this film.  On my first viewing of Sunrise I was met with a problem, I really didn't like the character of Celine.  I found her rather irritating, so much so that I probably would have skipped out on her when she went to the toilet!
A rather fantastical, idealic view of young romance to this cold hearted cynic, but does feature a scene in the Vienna ferris wheel which reminded me of The Third Man.

110 - Before Sunset - 4 stars
The sequel takes place nine years after Vienna. Jessie has written a book about that fateful day and is at a book signing in Paris when he bumps in Celine. What follows is, yes you guessed it, another 90 min
utes of two people walking and talking round a beautiful city.
But this time it really works, probably due to the two star crossed lovers having grown up (somewhat) wiser. How much of the grown up Jesse and Celine is the characters and how much is the actors playing them is open to debate. There does seem to be a degree of truth and autobiography in their experiences and outlooks on life.
There is a beautiful, underlying honesty to their conversations with a lot of it improvised to heighten the emotional connection between them.
It is full of beautiful moments, like in the taxi when she reaches out to touch him then pulls back and he doesn't see it, and a perfect ending for hopeless romantics where you get to make up your own mind as to how the story ends.

I myself have spent 2 days in Paris, with someone very special, doing the touristy thing, visiting Le Deux Moulins from Amelie and Shakespeare & Co. from Before Sunset.  And although it didn't turn out exactly as I would have liked... no I did not propose at the top of the Eiffel Tower!  I would like to go back, to do the cinephile tour of Paris as it has some of the best cinemas in the world.  Will I include a trip to Paris in my quest to watch all the films on my list?  Perhaps...

Saturday, 7 November 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 53 - F*ck me gently with a chainsaw!

412 - Heathers - 2 stars
Now I'm sure I'm going to ruffle a few feathers with this comment... but I preferred Mean Girls to Heathers.  Now I know that may annoy some people but please remember that people's opinions of films depend greatly on when they watch them.  And I watched Heathers at a time, thanks to the internet and social networking sites, when teenage suicide was a serious matter, therefore my review is based on now, as all my reviews must be, rather than when it was first released.
It concerns Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder) and JD (Christian Slater) rebel against the popular clique of girls (all called Heather) by killing them and passing it off as teenage suicide.
It is an OK movie but I feel that Mean Girls did it better, with psychological bullying being much more powerful and long lasting than just killing them off.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 51 - Remember, remember, the 5th of November...

After a quiet week on the film watching front, I needed to re-energise myself by watching a movie that summed up what this whole challenge is about - a love of cinema.

239 - Cinema Paradiso - 4 stars

Yet another first time viewing, and a film that I'd been meaning to watch ever since I took over at The Belmont.

The whole film is a love letter to the movies, following the relationship between Toto, a film buff and Alfredo, the projectionist at the local cinema. But it is also a foreshadowing of the possible death of cinema. The joy and happiness that small town cinemas bring to the community could be lost due to TV, video, and now DVD, illegal downloads, etc.

I firmly believe that there will always be a place for somewhere like The Belmont as nothing beats the experience of enjoying a great movie on the big screen with an audience.

I am not really a soppy, emotional person and as such I have never cried at a film, and I only remember welling up twice at the cinema. 1 - during the final ride to death in The Last Samurai and 2 - the final video confession of Javier Bardem in The Sea Inside. And in Cinema Paradiso, Toto's reaction to the kissing montage nearly had me going as well, I teared up a bit.

With 400+ films left to watch, will I be able to find a film that reduces me to tears? Maybe... but it certainly won't be Titanic!

As it is November the 5th, there was one film that stood out on the list that should be watched today:

418 - V For Vendetta - 3 stars
A lot of purists who have read the book are not fans of the film but as I've not had a chance to read the graphic novel, I am only able to review it as a film and not an adaptation.
Hugo Weaving delivers a truly great vocal performance as the titular V, especially in his introductory speech to Evey with no less than 43 V words in the solioquey. 
Natalie Portman is also terrific as Evey Hammond, delivering on the promise that she showed in Leon and would replicate in the likes of Garden State and Closer.  Her accent is good, much better than Ewan McGregor's attempts at accents!  She also looks fantastic with a shaved head and may have even inspired Britney Spears's radical haircutting incident a few years ago.
A really good film with something interesting to say about the nature of terrorism, one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, it's release was delayed after the 7/7 attacks in London.

There was time for one more film before bedtime and so I continued the Hugo Weaving/Wachowski Brothers link and turned on:

39 - The Matrix - 4 stars
This film is THE film I bought a DVD player for and the one I use every time I need to set up my surround system.  Skip to chapter 29 and the lobby sequence.  Hearing the bullets scatter around the room is the height of home cinema cool.
It is funny to think back to May 1999, when everyone was excited about The Phantom Menace and no one had even heard of The Matrix... but it was Neo, Morpheus, and Trinity that captured the moviegoing public's imagination after the disappointment of the Star Wars prequel.
I hate to use the phrase but it did "raise the bar" in terms of sci-fi with the use of 'bullet time' and the fight choreography by Yuen Woo-Ping.  Keanu Reeves is great as Neo, not really acting at all at being overwhelmed by the situation he is in, and Hugo Weaving created one of the great movie villians in Agent Smith.
It was a shame about the terrible sequels that disappeared somewhere up their own arse.  Yet they did spawn this wonderful sketch starring Will Ferrell.

(500) Films of Empire - Day 50

247 - All That Jazz - 1 star
I think it is now safe to say that I am not a fan of the work of Bob Fosse!  I hated Cabaret and did not like this film either.
I found it incredibly over-the-top and self indulgent but I guess that is to be expected when it is a semi-autobiographical story written and directed by Fosse.
With a heavy influence from Fellini's 8&1/2, it follows the hard drinking, hard smoking, womanising director/choreographer Joe Gideon as he looks back on his relationships and struggles to bring a show to the stage (based on Fosse's real life production of Chicago).
Certainly not to everyone's taste (though clearly appealing to Baz Luhrmann), Fosse doesn't care as he made this film for himself, but his undeniable talent for staging, choreography and all that jazz do shine through in the musical numbers.

I must apologise for the delay in posting these blogs, but the usual 48 hour working week, rehearsals for a play and watching all these movies is starting to take its toll.  50 days gone, 75 films watched.  I know that I will have to pick up the pace if I'm to complete this challenge.

Days remaining - 315.  Films remaining - 425

(500) Films of Empire - Day 49

318 - Rebecca - 3 stars
The first of several Hitchcock films on the list, one I've never seen before and the only one to win Best Picture.
It was the first film that Hitchcock made in Hollywood and it is apparent that he wasn't fully allowed to be the Master of Suspense that we all came to know and love.  There was not much of his trademark style in the first half of the film but once the revelation of the fate of the first Mrs De Winter is explained then Hitch comes into his own.
It reminded me of The Woman In Black, a novel and excellent stage play, where the title character is largely absent from the screen yet has an amazing presence and hold over the characters.
The main performances are very good, with Mrs Danvers particularly sinister.
As I noted earlier, the only Hitchcock film to win Best Picturre at the Oscars but I feel that it is not as good as his later work, especially during the late 50's, early 60's.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 47

289 - The Thing - 4 stars
I can't believe that this film was a failure on its release as it is one of the true classics of the genre.  Critics and the public found the body horror of the film too nauseating but Rob Bottin's truly 'out of this world' creations remain a highlight in the world of special effects, and like American Werewolf, all the more effective for being real, practical SFX rather than CGI (which is what would be used in the much-mooted prequel I'm sure).  So Palmer's response to seeing a head sprout legs and scuttle away is exactly the same as the audiences "you've gotta be fucking kidding".
I have done film courses on the horror genre before and in them I have talked about the differences between tension and suspense.  Suspense is where the audience knows more than the characters.  For example, when the audience knows the killer is in the house and is waiting for them to jump out on their victims.  Tension however is where the audience know as much as the characters, and this is what makes The Thing so effective.
You have a large group of people in an isolated location who are infiltrated by a shape shifting alien.  They know that (at least) one of them is The Thing, and so do we, but nobody knows who it is.
This leads up to one of the best scenes in the movie and in cinema as an example of tension, the blood test.
Also contains one of cinema's best tag lines (Man is the warmest place to hide) and last lines, when two characters (no spoilers) sit down in the frozen camp and suspicious of each other, share a drink "Maybe we'll sit here a while, see what happens".

(500) Films of Empire - Day 46 - Halloween

Twas All Hallows Eve and we hosted a big costume party at the cinema, you can check out photos of the best costumes on our Facebook page.  I went as Shaun from Shaun Of The Dead.  Had an incredibly geeky moment when Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg praised my costume on Twitter.  You can see what you think here.  After the party it was time for the main event, a digital screening of a remastered horror comedy classic:

108 - An American Werewolf In London - 4 stars
First of all I have to praise the quality of the digital presentation, it looked fantastic and like a brand new film.  
I have a feeling that The League of Gentlemen were big fans of this film. East Proctor must have been the inspiration for Royston Vasey.  Throughout the opening scenes in the pub I kept thinking "this a local town for local people, there's nothing for you here".  Great support from Brian Glover as the 'chess player'.
Can see why people had a crush on Jenny Agutter when this film came out, she is very cute.
But this film is about werewolves so we need to talk about them.  The transformation scene is still amazing to watch, all done in full light and with none of the CGI that is so commonplace an cheap looking these days.
It strikes the right balance between horror and comedy but I'd forgotten just how funny it was, although a lot of the humour comes from the differences between the Americans and the British, with the scene in the porno theatre the highlight.
Also enjoyed the Frank Oz cameo and the fact the soundtrack was all made up of songs with moon in the title!