Friday, 30 April 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 226

478 - Flesh - 1 star
A Warhol inspired fly-on-the-wall look at a day in the life of a male gigolo hustling on the streets on New York, and the people he meets along the way; cutomers, other gigolos, his wife and kid.
A project that was born of its time and place that possibly blurred the lines between fact and fiction, but this was tedious and tasteless and at one point borderline offensive. A woman claims to have not minded being raped because she got her power back by doing a topless dance for one of her attackers later on. Go girl power!
And it's certainly called Flesh for a reason, as it begins with a long scene of full frontal nudity of the main character Joe, including an erection which I believed wasn't allowed outside the realms of porn (Being shown on film of course, not in real life, as erections are part and parcel of that).
98 - North By Northwest - 5 stars
Move over Psycho, I might just have found my new favourite Hitchcock film.
All things considered, this is probably Hitch at his most enjoyable. It has everything you want from a film.
You've got comedy with Cary Grant playing drunk (in a classic old-school movie star performance full of charisma and wit), and the aburdity of the 'wrong man' scenario when Grant is interrogated by the bad guys as they just think he's acting innocent.
You've got action with the crop duster chase and Mount Rushmore climax.
You've got romance in the sizzling chemistry between Cary Grant and Eve Marie Saint. The dialogue during the lunch on the train is some of the most innuendo-filled banter that you can get away with without descending into outright filth. Example: "I'm a big girl you know", "Yes, and in all the right places", Zing!

Days remaining - 139 Films remaining - 168

(500) Films of Empire - Day 225

260 - Field Of Dreams - 3 stars
What was most admirable about this film was its efficiency.
Quick five minute voiceover to introduce the main character Ray Kinsella and his backstory then boom, straight away... "If you build it, he will come".
No 15 minute 'building a baseball field' montage with cheesy 80's music, its just done.
Then ghostly baseball players turn up to use the field.
Is any explanation ever offered as to why this is happening? No. You'll just have to buy into it or not.
A heart-warming film with daddy issues that might not ever make my top ten list but I certainly wouldn't switch it off if it ever came on the TV.
Was also nice to actually see James Earl Jones in a film rather than just hear his voice!

Days remaining - 140 Films remaining - 170

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 224

221 - Far From Heaven - 3 stars
There is a phrase "they don't make them like that anymore" but with Far From Heaven, director Todd Haynes has managed to make one like that. In particular he has managed to recreate the look and feel of a Douglas Sirk film, a 50's melodrama where the fashions are perfect and young ids say "Aw shucks" and call their parents "Sir", and that has at its core a wonderful performance by Julianne Moore.
She is becomes the subject of much housewife gossip when her husband (played by Dennis Quaid in a very underrated performance) comes out as a homosexual, and seeks solace in the form of her black gardener President Palmer from 24.
Sounds like a standard episode of the Jeremy Kyle show but back in the fifties this would have been quite the scandal!

136 - Amadeus - 3 stars
I want to bring up a quick issue that I have with films that use voiceover narration as a storytelling device. In this film, Salieri is recounting his life and rivalry with Mozart to a priest. Therefore it is his version of the story he is telling the audience. Yet there are numerous scenes in which he does not appear. How does he know exactly what occurred? Or is it his version of events made up from second hand accounts, etc? Can it be trusted? Is this why Mozart has such an annoying laugh?
Not a biopic in the traditional sense, more a look at one man's obsession with Mozart and how he was so talented in the eyes of God, so much so that Salieri gave up on his owntalent in order to try and destroy Mozart's.
Excellent production design and musically only uses original Mozart pieces but didn't really justify a 3 hour running time when it didn't really get to the heart of Mozart.

184 - Dirty Harry - 3 stars
An actor couldn't really ask for a better scene to introduce their character than Harry Callahan's disruption of a bank robbery. From casually eating a hot dog and teller the shop owner to call in a 211 to the infamous "Do I feel lucky?" speech, it says everything about the man that would go on to define Clint Eastwood's big screen status.
The rest of the film however is a pretty average cop drama, based on the original Zodiac case in San Francisco.

Days remaining - 141 Films remaining - 171

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 223

429 - Danger Diabolik - 3 stars
Imagine if the story of Robin Hood had been set in the world of Austin Powers or Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls.
But in this story, master criminal Diabolik steals from the rich and... well just keeps it for himself and his unfeasibly hot girlfriend.
Campy comic book style nonsense.

119 - The Wages Of Fear - 3 stars
An old school example of high concept as a group of poor bums and petty criminals are given the chance to make some serious cash in exchnge for transporting a truck of nitroglycerine across country. Will the money outweigh the risk?
The first part of the film sets up the characters, allowing the audience to become emotionally invested in them once they start making their dangerous journey.
The second half switches up a gear as Clouzot manages to ring quite a few drops of tension out of the towel of suspense.

335 - The Seventh Seal - 3 stars
Ah, the infamous 'Death playing chess' film. Its impact slightly diminshed by seeing Bill And Ted's Bogus Journey when I was 11.
Still had the mystify and was surprised at the amount of humour in it as I had always thought that it would be quite dour and po-faced being a film about the plague and death and all.

314 - Sweet Smell Of Success - 4 stars
A cracking little noir tale that truly explores the dark side of show business in which the two lead characters are, for lack of a better word, absolute bastards.
Tony Curtis has never been better as Sidney Falco. the slimy, sycophantic press agent desperate to get in with Burt Lancaster's bullish J.J. Hunsecker, a Broadway columnist who can make or break careers with his typewriter.
The best thing about noir-type films was the writing. Always guaranteed some classic cutting dialogue and this film is no exception:
"I must have left my sense of humour in my other suit" and "I'd hate to take a bite out of you, you're a cookie full of arsenic".

Days remaining - 142 Films remaining - 174

Monday, 26 April 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 222

296 - All The President's Men - 4 stars
Hoffman and Redford make a great double act as Woodward and Bernstein, the reporters responsible for blowing the lid off the Watergate scandal.
Had a very authentic feel to it, of the time and place and the work that would go into this kind of investigative journalism.
For me it is up there with Zodiac for best film set in a newspaper office.

114 - The Conversation - 4 stars
Exploring similar themes to The Lives Of Others, Gene Hackman plays Harry Caul, the best surveillance expert in the business.
Guilt from a previous case gets the better of Harry and he begins to doubt himself and worries that he is involved in an assignment that will end in murder.
A lovely twist at the end but the best thing in the film for me was the slimy and slightly camp performance of Harrison Ford, in a role that came a couple of years before Star Wars.
For a sequel to The Conversation, seek out Enemy Of The State that sees Will Smith seek help from Gene Hackman playing Harry Caul in everything but name.

Days remaining - 143 Films remaining - 178

Sunday, 25 April 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 221

410 - A Hard Day's Night - 2 stars
Probably the greatest movie ever made if you are a die hard Beatles fan but for me I found it all a bit self-indulgent.
The fab four take the train on their way to play a gig that will be on TV and that is about as much plot as you will find in this excuse for them to muck about for 90 minutes while Wilfred Brambell (aka Steptoe) turns up and gurns every now and again.
Musical numbers are inserted every now and again but at least they are not shoehorned in as clumsily as in Mamma Mia!
What is undeniable however was the on-screen charisma of John Lennon. He was a joy to watch, the rest not so much!

329 - The Lives Of Others - 4 stars
The film that I thought initially robbed Pan's Labyrinth of the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, but upon seeing it, the merit is probably justified although difficult to truly compare such different films.
Another terrific German film dealing with a period of history that could be difficult for some to revisit. It involves the secret police in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Specifically an interrogator known as HGW/X77 who is assigned to spy on a German writer and his girlfriend, suspected of writing pro-Western literature.
While his own life is empty, notable in the lack of stuff in his flat that he hardly visits; use of prostitutes, etc. He lives through the preverbial lives of others by influencing the fate of the two people under his watch.

Days remaining - 144 Films remaining - 180

(500) Films of Empire - Day 220

250 - Sunrise: A Song Of Two Humans - 3 stars
Murnau, the man behind Nosferatu, takes on a different kind of love story, albeit one with dark elements of its own.
Spurred on by the woman he is having an affair with, a farmer plans to drown his wife and make it look like an accident.  However when the time comes he can't do it, instead they end up in the city and fall in love all over again.  But fate might not have a happy ending in store.
The acting is not too over-the-top like in some silent films, and Murnau manages to tell the story without an over-reliance on cue cards and intrusive musical score.

Days remaining - 145 Films remaining - 182

Friday, 23 April 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 219

222 - Mother And Son - 1 star
This is a film about a son looking after his dying mum.  I'm not really spoiling the film by summing up the movie by saying: she dies, he cries, the end.
Never has 73 minutes of my life passed so slowly.  By comparison a film like Downfall at 152 minutes fly by.
Mother And Son was minimalist on dialogue but heavy on lingering shots of M&S lying on the bed, M&S sitting in the woods, S carrying M along the road.
There was one point where there was a very odd look between the two where I honestly thought they were going to kiss!
The biggest problem for me with the film was that I couldn't give a damn about the characters therefore had no emotional response to the outcome other than sheer boredom, even at the hint that the son was so distraught that he might commit suicide.

Days remaining - 146 Films remaining - 183

(500) Films of Empire - Day 218

166 - Goldfinger - 5 stars
The quintessential Bond film that set the rules that would define one of the most successful franchises of all time and despite inflated budgets and bigger action sequences, has never been bettered.
It is all here; Bond's suave yet cold attitude to women, Shirley Bassey belting out the theme tune, the one liners "shocking", elaborate torture sequences, Pussy Galore "I must be dreaming", and the classic line "do you expect me to talk?", "No Mr Bond I expect you to die".
Simply Bond at his best.

Days remaining - 147 Films remaining - 184

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 217

159 - The Royal Tenenbaums - 5 stars
The pinnacle of Wes Anderson's look at the dysfunctional family unit (see also Life Aquatic, Darjeeling Limited, Fantastic Mr Fox) with flawless performances from Gene Hackman (nice to see him having fun for a change), all the way down to a surprisingly moving Luke Wilson.
A witty script that easily balances the highs and lows of Royal's journey to reconnect with his family.  Great soundtrack too.

201 - JFK - 3 stars
A fact-filled look at one of the greatest conspiracies of all time or a film based on a giant pile of political bullshit? We'll probably never know, but the film itself is slick, entertaining, well paced and reminded me that when he isn't making a complete turkey like Waterworld that Costner can actually be pretty good when given the right role.

Days remaining - 148 Films remaining - 185

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 215

380 - Rain Man - 4 stars
Yet another example of me creating a scene in my mind that doesn't exist in the actual film. I had imagined a scene where Dustin Hoffman is at the casino table, hitting his head repeatedly and shouting "gotta leave the table, definitely gotta leave the table". Does this exist somewhere? Was it a spoof? An impressionist? Anyone remember this or did I invent it? Answers of a postcard please...
The film I did see was an incredibly moving road trip with the definitive performance of someone with a disability from Dustin Hoffman as the autistic Raymond Babbit. It really opened the floodgates to this type of role that would end up being spoofed in Tropic Thunder, "Never go full retard".
What surprised me in the film was how good Tom Cruise was. He starts off as an arrogant prick but goes through a genuine change over the course of the road trip. People need to give him more credit as an actor and stop focusing on the crazy Scientology.

228 - No Country For Old Men - 4 stars
The greatest skill of the Coen Brothers in this film is the way that they make the characters and dialogue written by Cormac McCarthy sound like Coen characters.
A lot of people I know were really annoyed by the ending. I won't spoil it but there were many an audible "Is that it?", but that is the same as the book and typical of the Coen's (see also A Serious Man).
The three leads of Brolin, Bardem and Jones are all terrific (even when they don't actually share any screen time together) but the movie belongs to Bardem in the same way that Christoph Waltz walked away with Inglourious Basterds.
Bardem's hideously coiffured assassin is an unstoppable killing machine, if somewhat slightly eccentric in his methods. At one point Woody Harrelson pops up to tell Brolin what he faces in the form of Chigurh;
"What's this guy supposed to be? The ultimate bad-ass?", "No, you don't understand"... I half expected him to say "Chigurh is out there. He can't be bargained with. He can't be reasoned with. He doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And he absolutely will not stop until you are dead."

Days remaining - 150 Films remaining - 190

(500) Films of Empire - Day 216

182 - Performance - 1 star
I couldn't find anything to like about this film, which I did find slightly odd since Nic Roeg made Don't Look Now which is a 5 star film on this blog.
A hideous, psychadelic mess with with James Fox's gangster enforcer forced to hide out in a grungy London flat with Mick Jagger as his groovy artist landlord.
Mick Jagger apparently got a lot of praise for his performance in this film but I just thought he was being Mick Jagger.
45 - Psycho - 5 stars
Full review to follow...
178 - Superman: The Movie - 4 stars
Not the original Superhero movie (that honour goes to the Adam West Batman film) but the one that set the bar and made people believe that a man could fly.
Similar to Anthony Perkins and Norman Bates, Christopher Reeve found that while he got the role of a lifetime in Superman, he was also unable to escape from the huge shadow cast by the flowing cape. There might be a reason for that, as is he excellent in the role, managing to get the nervy Kent down just right which is very difficult to do when he is such a big, physical guy. He also has great chemistry with Margot Kidder as Lois Lane.
I keep forgetting how long this film is, with the whole origin story of Krypton (cleverly setting up the sequel storyline of Zod) and Smallville playing out and 40+ minutes pass before a grown up Clark Kent appears and dons the famous suit for the first time.
With the sequels effectively ending the franchise until Bryan Singer's misguided reboot, it is clear to me that the film's guiding light was Richard Donner. Unfairly fired halfway through making the sequel and proof is in the superior Director's Cut of Superman II.
Days remaining - 149 Films remaining - 187

Monday, 19 April 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 214

190 - Big - 3 stars
Who didn't fantasise about this scenario when they were a kid? Although I would have preffered to have the Weird Science story become reality myself.
The film of a young boy waking up one day to find that he's 'big', works thanks to Tom Hanks who convincingly portrays the childlike enthusiasm trapped within the older body, but also shows the pain (witness the tears of fear he feels on his first night alone in NYC).
It balances the initial highs of life as an adult whilst still highlighting the need for childhood.
Most famous for the piano sequence, which never fails to raise a smile. Also one of the movie collectables that I would love to have in my flat would be the Zoltar Speaks machine.
Now I don't want to put a downer on the review but it occured to me that at one point a 13 year old boy has a sexual relationship with a woman, albeit while he is in the body of a 30 year old man. I'm just wondering what the reaction would have been if it had been a 13 year old girl involved with a 30 year old man?

350 - Planet Of The Apes - 3 stars
Boy this has dated a lot... but still better than Tim Burton's 're-imagining'. One of the definitive movie twists but I always preferred The Simpsons version.

68 - Annie Hall - 5 stars
Another film that I had only seen clips from '100 Greatest Comedies', etc. For me this is the ultimate Woody Allen film, a perfect blend of everything that makes his movies great; New York, Woody's sense of humour, Diane Keaton, etc.
I loved the use of breaking the fourth wall and Woody's conversing with the audience in an attempt to understand the situation which is so familiar to many of us.
The ending is realistic and non-Hollywood yet offers some hope in the form of Allen's character writing a play based on the relationship with a happy ending.
How could I not love this film? Because without it, I wouldn't have had two of my all-time favourite rom-coms When Harry Met Sally and (500) Days Of Summer, both of which are heavily influenced by Annie Hall.

Days remaining - 151 Films remaining - 192

Saturday, 17 April 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 213

419 - Days Of Heaven - 3 stars
An absolutely sumptuously beautifully shot film that was a worthy winner of an Oscar for Best Cinematography.
However in terms of acting and storyline, Malick tended to use a 'less is more' attitude that resulted in a rather slight but aesthetically pleasing poem to the old ways of the US.

Days remaining - 152 Films remaining - 195

Friday, 16 April 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 212

26 - Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb - 4 stars
Kubrick uses black and white film to stunning effect to create a comedy about the total absurdity of war that is made even funnier by the fact that it is, mostly, being played straight, summed up beautifully by the immortal line "Gentlemen, you can't fight in here, this is the War room".  And like In The Loop, it is probably much more accurate than we really want to believe.
It might be Peter Seller's film with three performances for the price of one, but it is actually George C. Scott's General Buck Turdgeson that threatens to steal the film from under his many noses. 

Days remaining - 153 Films remaining - 196

(500) Films of Empire - Day 211

185 - Paths Of Glory - 4 stars
A cracking film that is half war film/half courtroom drama, examining some of the absurdities of war, as Colonel Dax defends 3 soldiers facing a court marshall on charges of cowardice after a suicidal mission ordered by their commanding officer (a wonderfully slimy George Macready) ends in retreat.
A film that is set in France, all the characters are French, but the fact that no one even attempts a French accent isn't even an issue. Much better than using Allo Allo style comedy accents.

Days remaining - 154 Films remaining - 197

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 210

I'm feeling a sense of pride today as I have managed to view over 300 of the 500 films on the Empire list. Just 198 films to go which works out at 1.277 a day. I'm feeling good about the rest of the list as I have managed to get a hold of Heimat and Songs From The Second Floor, which were a couple of the most difficult films to track down. If I can get my Lovefilm list down to around 80 then I think this is achievable.

265 - A.I. Artificial Intelligence - 2 stars
Against my better judgement I found myself admiring aspects of the film that Steven Spielberg made from Stanley Kubrick's vision. It had some interesting ideas about what it means to be human, excellent production design some seamless special effects and Jude Law being less slightly annoying than usual.
But somewhere in the back of my mind was this niggling feeling that I really didn't like this movie.
And then the movie came to its conclusion with robot David returning to his makers in his quest to become a real boy... but it then went on for another 30 minutes... and aliens turned up!
Then I remembered the reason why I hated the film, this awful ending where aliens are suddenly introduced which shattered any good faith I had in the film up to that point.
Look fair enough if alien life forms had been present or even alluded to previously, bu just randomly showing up at the end. I can buy the fact that acompany is creating lifelike human robots because that is the story being told and that wrld has been created for the film... not an alien world.
Similar feelings during Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skulls, where I really didn't want it to be aliens but it was.

245 - Downfall - 5 stars
One of the greatest war films of all time, in fact the greatest war film I have watched so far on this list.
Extra special because this is a German film that creates a fascinating, detailed portrait of the fall of the Third Reich at the end of the second World War.
While the film is flawless, the true power of the film lies in the performance of Bruno Ganz. Most films that feature Hitler potray him as a monster or caricature of how we want to see him, but Ganz plays him as a man.
You see the tyrannical leader losing the plot as his empire crumbles around him but also there are glimpses of the charming man who entranced a nation. One of the all-time great screen performances.

217 - The Magnificent Seven - 2 stars
Apart from the enduring and famous theme tune and Eli Wallach's entertaining bad guy, I didn't find much to like in this film.
The trouble with an ensemble film like this is you have to spend a long time introducing each character then have to keep several plates spinning by featuring them frequently.
As such, several of the 'magnificent' seven get lost in the mix with most of the focus being on Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen and the young kid called Chico.
So much so that during the final battle, when some of the seven die, don't worry I won't say who, but there isn't as big an emotional punch as there should have been. In fact most seem to be shot by some mysterious sniper off screen.
It might be awful to say, but I actually prefer The Three Amigos!

Days remaining - 155 Films remaining - 198

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 209

281 - Interview With The Vampire - 2 stars
What are the odds on getting Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise to star in the same movie for a reasonable price these days? Pretty long I should reckon.
A vampire film that, for me, is a huge case of style over substance. A sumptuous looking affair but unfortunately Brad Pitt's character who narrates the film and suffers a guilt complx over killing humans, is not as interesting as Cruise's Lestat or Kirsten Dunst's Claudia, a ever-ageing vampire trapped in the body of a young girl.
Also the ending feels unnecessary and a power play on Cruise's part.

77 - Spartacus - 4 stars
It seems that from the evidence on this list that the only type of swords and sandals epics that were produced, or at least appreciated by the masses, were the ones that featured a storyline where someone becomes a slave but rises up against an Empire.
Kirk Douglas makes for an engaging lead, even if his chin dimple can be distracting from time to time, and has a great chemistry with Jean Simmons.
Great villany and support from Ustinov and Olivier, with Hopkins providing his voic in a re-instated scene with suspiciously dirty dialogue about snails and oysters.
Whilst not as technically brilliant in the battle scenes as Gladiator, it has a lot more heart particularly in the battle between Douglas and Curtis, to see who will be crucified.
Might have just sneaked five stars if it had featured a young Brian Blessed in the scene where everyone shouts "I'm SPARTACUS!", would have been brilliant.

112 - I Am Cuba - 4 stars
A visually stunning piece of cinema that sees a Russian directs this film about Cuba during the revolution, but in the style and feel of the French New Wave.
There are four different stories that each focus on a different group of characters and also different characteristics of Cuba itself, ranging from the personal to the political.

272 - The Bird With The Crystal Plumage - 2 stars
Dario Argento's first feature that has a lot of his trademark touches; black leather gloves, jazz funk soundtrack, lashings and lashings of blood.
Argento's films also normally feature a foriegner coming to Italy and getting caught up in a murder case where quite often there is a vital piece of evidence missing, or perhaps just missed on initial viewing.
Loved the part where the police were talking about blood samples and running them through a computer and went into a room with 5 of the giant cabinet style computers, all working for one task!
After the killer is finally revealed the denounement feels far too rushed and is a bit silly really, without much explanation, therefore it is not as good as Profondo Rosso (Deep Red) which is far superior and much more deserving of a place on the list.

Days remaining - 156 Films remaining - 201

Monday, 12 April 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 207

306 - The Prestige - 4 stars
"Are you watching closely?", and you will need to pay close attention to this tale that features Batman versus Wolverine in a battle of duelling magicians.
Nolan is one of my favourite filmmakers, working equally well in complex narratives like this and Memento, and saving the Batman franchise showed he can do blockbusters too.
If he can be faulted somewhere, it can be with his female casting choices. Katie Holmes was the worst thing in Batman Begins, and here Scarlett Johannson is little more than a pretty distraction and a pawn in the magicians' game, which actually is her role in the show.
Luckily the rest of the cast are superb. This was one of the first cinematic outings for the wonderful Rebecca Hall and Michael Caine lends great support.
Jackman and Bale are excellent as the feuding magicians; Jackman plays the suave, debonair Angier to a tee and Bale excels when not hampered by his gruff Batman voice.
"The secret impresses no one, the trick you use it for is everything".
It is impossible to really discuss The Prestige without a huge #SPOILER# warning, but I will try. There are two twists as it were. One is so incredibly simple that you'll be kicking yourself you didn't see it sooner, while the other trick leaves a slightly bitter taste in the mouth.
"Now you are looking for the secret. But you won't find it of course, because you're not really looking. You don't really want to work it out. You want to be fooled."
Once you get over the initial disappointment of the science fiction explanation that doesn't sit well with the rest of the film where magic is presented as practical effects and sleight of hand, it is great to rewatch and catch all the things that you should have seen the first time around.

395 - Casino - 2 stars
Underwhelmed. That would be my one word review.
Whilst Scorsese brings an incredible level of detail to this tale of the fall of the 'old' Vegas, run by the mobsters before becoming the gaudy Disneyland like world of today, I felt it was let down by an over-reliance on voiceover, and 3 hours it was far too long.
Although it was necessary in order to win the record for most swearwords in a movie, including 422 'fuck's.
Whilst an unremarkable Scorsese film, one scene in particular will always stay with me. The vicious beating of Joe Pesci and his brother with baseball bats before being buried alive. One of the most uncomfortable viewing experiences I've endured.

Days remaining - 158 Films remaining - 205

Friday, 9 April 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 205

327 - Un Chein Andalou - 4 stars
From the minds of surrealistic director Luis Bunuel and Salivdor Dali came this short film about dreams and also a two finger salute to poet Federico Lorca, himself an Andalousian.
Infamous for the eyeball slicing scene, which is still difficult to watch even when you know it was a dead horse's eye, there is so much more imagery in this film that is beautiful yet utterly bonkers; ants coming out of a man's hand, a man dragging two pianos with dead horses on them.
What does it all mean? Answers on a postcard please, all I know for sure is that I liked it, even if I don't know why!

417 - Lords Of Dogtown - 2 stars
I am baffled as to why this film is on the list when skateboard fans should have chosen the superior documentary Dogtown & The Z Boys.
The only benefit of having a fictionalised version of the same story is a great stoner performance from Heath Ledger.
My advice is to seek out the original documentary for a true look at the rise of the Z Boys who made huge waves in the world of skateboarding.

Days remaining - 160 Films remaining - 207

(500) Films of Empire - Day 204

72 - Twelve Angry Men - 5 stars
I was debating with myself whether to give this film a four or a five star rating. Looking back on the film, I couldn't find any fault with it and therefore it must be a five star film.
The ending might never really be in doubt but sometimes it is all about the journey, and it unfolds with the direction and dialogue of a fantastic stage play, yet cinematic conventions allow for close-ups and other techniques to increase the tension and claustrophobic atmosphere of the room and situation. It is perfectly paced at just over 90 minutes, and at times you keep forgetting that this is simply a room of twelve men arguing.
And each of the 12 jurors gets a chance to shine in this wonderful ensemble cast. However there are a couple of standouts in the forms of Henry Fonda and Lee J. Cobb.
Best courtroom drama I've ever seen... even though it's not technically set in a courtroom.

Days remaining - 161 Films remaining - 209

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 203

215 - Jackie Brown - 4 stars
Tarantino's most mature and underappreciated work, not just because of his ageing cast, but due to the fact that this is the only time that he is adapting someone else's work, therefore it is less self-indulgent.
Based on the novel Rum Punch by crime supremo Elmore Leonard, it is still very Tarantino in the tone of the dialogue and in terms of his visual style (this film more than others is a huge influence on Edgar Wright, with lots of jump cuts and action cuts).
Tarantino's encyclopedic movie brain once again pays dividends in the casting department, given career restarts to Pam Grier and Robert Forster (star of 80's cult classic Alligator).

347 - All About Eve - 5 stars
I was absolutely shocked when I got halfway through the film and suddenly realised what this reminded me of... All About Eve is Showgirls but without the tits!
Anne Baxter stars as Eve Harrington; a seemingly shy young girl who latches onto a huge Broadway star (Bette Davis), and will stop at nothing and not let anyone get in her way as she schemes and charms her way to the top.
It has the record for most female acting nominations for a film, 4 in total, but lost out on all of them due to the fact that they were competing against each other and split the votes.
The entire cast is excellent, in particular George Sanders as the vitriolic drama critic, and make the most of a excellent script by Joseph Mankiewicz that full of barbed little zingers.
"Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night". Bumpy yes, but an absolute delight as well.

118 - Withnail & I - 4 stars
One of Britain's best loved comedies but on this viewing I started to empathise with the sense of pathos in the film, as struggling writer and actor "I" comes to realise that his life is bing wasted hanging around with friend Withnail.
It is still very funny and much of the humour comes from "I trying to fend off the amorous advances of Uncle Monty (the fabulous Richard Griffiths).
So cult and popular that Mike Myers even went as far to cast Ralph Brown as a stoned roadie in Wayne's World 2 and he basically repeated his role as Danny, the soft spoken inventor of the Camberwell Carrot.
The main reason for being such a beloved cult film is due to the mythical Withnail & I drinking game. I say mythical because I have never actually seen anyone play it, possibly due to the fact that it involves matching Withnail drink for drink during the course of the film which would require the player to consume in 107 minutes (estimated): 9.5 glasses of red wine, 1 pint of cider, 2.5 shots of gin, 6 glasses of sherry, 13 whiskies, and a half pint of ale... lighter fluid optional.

Days remaining - 162 Films remaining - 210

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 202

96 - American Beauty - 3 stars
Look closer... is the tagline for Sam Mendes's film that takes a deeper look at the smiley facade of suburban life and find everything is not quite what it seems.
Amongst a strong ensemble cast, including an unrecognisable Alison Janney from The West Wing, Kevin Spacey is excellent as Lester Burnham; a sad sack of a man who is ignored by his family, passed over at work and generally miserable before an encounter with one of his daughter's friends reinvigorates his zest for life. Think of it as Fight Club but with rose petals and plastic bags instead of fists.
It does pose several questions, like what ever happened to Wes Bentley? Why does the soundtrack appear in every reality show like The Apprentice? etc.
This movie gets a lot of stick, recently voted one of the 20 most overrated films of all time but I still like it and find much to admire... however if it wasn't for American Beauty we would never have had Desperate Housewives, and for that it must lose a point!

324 - Lone Star - 2 stars
A skeleton is discovered in the desert belonging to the long-time missing former sheriff of Rio County. Sam Deeds (Chris Cooper in his second film of the evening) must delve into the past to solve the murder, even if it means finding out the culprit was his own father, cop hero Buddy Deeds. Buddy Deeds is played in flashbacks by Matthew McConaughey. It is claimed by some to be his best role but they might be saying that just because he dosn't take his shirt off in his one, but everyone knows his best performance is as Wooderson in Dazed & Confused.
If it had simply been a story about solving the murder this film would have been pretty good, as Deeds's investigation will impact the lives of several of the people in the town as it moves to a shocking nd powerful conclusion.
Instead Sayles also brings in a subplot about an Army corporal trying to reconnect with his father. This storyine took important emphasis away rom the main stroy and didn't really interest me at all.

Days remaining - 163 Films remaining - 213

Monday, 5 April 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 201

334 - The Magnificent Ambersons - 2 stars
Apart from Citizen Kane, every Orson Welles film seems to come with a story of troubled production and a final cut that was overseen by the studio and not the director.
This particular film lost 40 minutes and had a happier ending tacked on. Unlike Touch of Evil however, Welles's original vision is no longer available, the original footage destroyed.
As a result this critique on the laziness of inherited wealth against those who achieve through industry feels rather disjointed (flat in parts, then rushed in others).
The critique is personified by the battle between the young and spoilt George Amberson and Eugene Morgan (played by Mercury Theater regular Joseph Cotton), focusing on their relationships (George with Lucy, Morgan's daughter, and Eugene with George's mother) and the impact that Eugene's invention of the automobile will have on them and society.

65 - Harold And Maude - 4 stars
For a long time I had only heard of this film in a quote in There's Something About Mary where Cameron Diaz remarks that "Harold And Maude is one of the greatest love stories of our time".
A few years ago I presented a film course on cult movies and while I did mention it, I didn't focus on it because I'd never seen it but now I have it would certainly have qualified on several criteria: non-commercial/mainstream plot, box office failure, great soundtrack.
I was immediately taken with this film from Harold's first attempted suicide. They slowly become more elaborate as the film goes on (from hanging and shooting to immolation and seppuka), and they are very funny, Harold uses them to deter potential girlfriends his mum is trying to set him up with. It then makes it more tragic when you learn of the reason why Harold does these suicide creations.
He is a young boy obsessed with death and it takes a woman who is near death and has a giant piece of art in the shape of a vagina to help him discover his zest for life.
The relationship between Harold and Maude is the real heart of the film and feels completely genuine, and is one of the greatest love stories of our time, albeit a rather unconventional one.
It also has an adorable soundtrack by Cat Stevens.
Must just say that my favourite moment in the film is when Harold slowly turns to look directly at the camera following one of his suicide attempts, hilarious.
Oh, and if you've ever seen Life Aquatic. Remember the bald accountant guy? That's Harold all grown up.

Days remaining - 164 Films remaining - 215

(500) Films of Empire - Day 200

38 - Heat - 5 stars
What an Easter Sunday treat!
An exemplary crime thriller/heist movie/cop drama/all of the above, perfectly executed by Michael Mann who proves with the bank heist escape, that no one, and I mean no one does a shoot out better than Mann does. Need any more proof than watch Public Enemies. The shootout in Heat is what surround sound was made for.
This blog will allow me to clear up an argument that I have had with several people, all of whom incorrectly believe that the man who plays Waingro is Buffalo Bill in Silence Of The Lambs. They are wrong, but Ted Levine who played Buffalo Bill is in Heat and plays one of Pacino's right hand men. So there, case closed!
Finally you cannot talk about Heat without talking about that scene. It is a sit-down to rival Walken vs Hopper in True Romance, where De Niro and Pacino finally get the chance to go face to face. Another argument has surfaced claiming that they never appear in the same shot but these people must only have seen the TV pan and scan version because on the widescreen DVD they are.
There is often great debate about who is the better actor but here they match each other blow for blow in which two bitter rivals realise that they have more in common than they thought. DeNiro is the epitome of movie cool, and Pacino reigns in the boombastic shouting, saving it for a couple of great occasions ("she's got a GREAT ASS!!!" for example).
Unfortunately it is probably the last great performance that either of them have done, with nothing since reaching this level. Both have almost become parodies of their earlier selves; Pacino always shouting and DeNiro tarnishing the good name of Taxi Driver with his "Are you looking at me?" speech in Rocky & Bullwinkle. Even the two of them teaming up again resulted in the awful Righteous Kill. Come on Bobby, give Scorsese a call and get back to making great films again.

Days remaining - 165 Films remaining - 217

(500) Films of Empire - Day 197

212 - M - 3 stars
Travelled all the way down to jolly old London town for a much needed weekend away from the office, a good catch-up with friends and a special screening at the BFI Southbank, sight of the famous Kim Newman Basterd-Hard Movie Quiz win last year.
I met up with Tim aka @cjamazing who is doing a similar challenge to myself, just without the ridiculously short timescale. Check out his blog here.
A lot has been made recently about the future of cinema, and the technological advances of digital and 3D cinema, but I do have a soft spot for the hiss and crackle of an old 35mm print, imperfections and all.
The central plot of M concerns a town under the terrifying shadow of a child murderer. When the police investigations start to infringe on the criminal element of the city, they decide to take matters into their own hands and begin a manhunt for the killer, in an attempt to return things to the natural status quo.
The film suffers from a strong lack of pacing; nothing really happens in the middle of the film except lots of different groups arguing about what should be done, although there are a few nice moments of the kind of hysteria/mob justice that can erupt in the wake of such crimes (and this was before the era of tabloid journalism).
The main reason that this film features so highly on the list is due to the final scene and the performance of Peter Lorre as the murderer (and most likely molester) of children, absent from a lot of the film to enhance the feeling of the fear of this unknown monster, sometimes only heard whistling 'In The Hall Of The Mountain King', which gives the Alton Towers adverts a whole new sinister reading.
Revealed as a short, chubby little man, there is something inherently creepy about him. If there was ever a film biopic of his life, he would be played by Steve Buscemi as they are both "kinda funny looking".
Following his capture, he is tried in front of a kangeroo court of his peers, including pickpockets, thugs and even murderers, all united in their belief that his crimes are indefensible and must be stopped.
Lorre then delivers a magnificent performance as he tries to explain the reasons why he is driven to kill, his compulsion and it is during this that he turns from a monster into a human being, albeit a very sick and troubled one. Very powerful stuff, check it out here.
Days remaining - 168 Films remaining - 218