Thursday, 31 December 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 107 - A trip to Paris, Texas

It is Hogmanay ans this will be the last film reviewed in 2009, and how did it end, not with a bang but a whimper...

392 - Paris, Texas - 2 stars
A Belmont staff favourite but for me, my response was a bit... meh.
Harry Dean Stanton plays Travis, a man who has disappeared for four years, who reappears on the Mexican border looking to reconnect with his son and find his missing wife, with the hope of redemption in the form of an empty plot of land in Paris, Texas.
I have only seen Stanton in Alien, and he was pretty non-communicative in that, so it was interesting to see his character develop and open up through the course of the film, up to the important confession scene where he reveals to his wife why he disappeared, albeit through the mirrored glass of a nudie booth. It was this scene that saved the film from being a total disappointment for me.
Like Travis is unable to connect to his family, I was unable to emotionally connect with the characters, and thus the film left me cold. My disinterest in the film aside, Wenders did create a beautiful colour pallete for the film, with vivid blues, golds, greens and the pink of Kinksi's dress when we first meet her.

Right I'm off out to celebrate the start of 2010, which will hopefully be better than 2009. Happy New Year to everyone who is reading the blog, thanks for sticking with me.

Days remaining - 258 Films remaining - 345

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Top 25 Films of the Decade

The Noughties has been quite the decade for the film industry.

We've seen the rise of the most successful franchise in film history in Harry Potter; success for genres like musicals, comic book movies, Pixar-style animation and torture porn; technological advances in the form of digital cinema, 3D and live satellite screenings.

On the flipside there was a writers' strike, and Hollywood began to run out of creativity and originality, developing an over-reliance on remakes and uninspired sequels, often at the expense of the smaller productions. Plus we had to deal with the increase in movie downloads and piracy that threatened the industry.

But all was not lost as there was the rise of the arthouse cinema as the UK cinema going public developed an bigger interest in foreign cinema and documentaries, the standard of which has been exceptional this decade and more than rivalled the output from Hollywood.

Here is a list of the 25 films that I consider to be the best/favourite/influential of the last decade (in chronological order):

Memento (2000)

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2001)

Requiem For A Dream (2001)

Moulin Rouge (2001)

The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy (2001 - 2003)

Mulholland Drive (2002)

The Royal Tenenbaums (2002)

Donnie Darko (2002)

Finding Nemo (2003)

Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World (2003)

Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy (2004)

Shaun Of The Dead (2004)

Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (2004)

Downfall (2005)

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

Brokeback Mountain (2006)

Children Of Men (2006)

United 93 (2006)

Pan's Labyrinth (2006)

Zodiac (2007)

The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

There Will Be Blood (2008)

The Dark Knight (2008)

Let The Right One In (2009)

Avatar (2009)

(500) Films of Empire - Day 106

270 - The Death Of Mr Lazerescu - 2 stars
The soundbites on the DVD hailed this as a "comic masterpiece" but I think that my funny bone must be broken.
I felt nothing other than sadness and depression after viewing this 2.5 hour long tale of one man's misery at the treatment he receives from the Romanian health service as he is shipped from hospital to hospital.
Filmed almost in a documentary style, it is a terrifying look at a health care system where the doctors and nurses don't care at all. Lazerescu symptoms are immediately dismissed by most doctors because he's been drinking, highlighting some prejudice and stereotyping.
The film is far too long but I guess this is part of its message about the waiting time that patients go through when at hospital.
Would hate to see a UK remake looking at the NHS, but if they are looking to make a real comedy then having one produced by Armando Iannuci or Chris Morris would be a welcome watch.

336 - Titanic - 3 stars (overall)
"This ship can't sink!" "She's made of iron sir, I assure you she can".
And so comes the turning point in this 3 hour epic that is half Romeo & Juliet, half Posidien Adventure. As such I will be reviewing the movie in two halves - the love story and sinking ship.
The Love Story - 2 stars
Rather insipid stuff that was created to give an emotional focus to the film to avoid it being a simple retread of A Night To Remember, with some terrible dialogue written by James Cameron (who seems more comfortable writing dialogue for machines than humans), and a manipulative score to tug at the heart strings. I wasn't really a fan of Leo until he started working with Marty but he has a great chemistry with 'England's Rose' Kate Winslet. As a bloke watching the film, things definitely picked up when she got naked. Was not expecting that in a 12 rated movie ;)
The Sinking Ship - 4 stars
The action still holds up well 12 years on. Before Avatar, Cameron knew how to balance practical and special effects. Similar to Apollo 13 where we know how the story will end, does create tension in who will survive.
Then it all ends with another Celine Dion song, but as much as I want to knock a point off for it, but I found myself kind of liking it, must be getting soft in my old age!

309 - The Terminator - 4 stars
A thriller as cool and efficient as the cybernetic assassin stalking Sarah Connor. Between the electronic music score by Brad Friedel and Arnold's unstoppable Terminator, this plays out like a Sci-Fi version of Halloween.
The first installment of the franchise has a much more gritty, grungier feel than the more expensive, polished sequels, part of the Tech Noir sci-fi style that was popular during the 80's with films like Blade Runner and revived by The Matrix.
My God, the 80's had some bad fashion, and bad dancing. The scene where the Terminator attacks Sarah in the club Tech Noir (where the style got its name from) is hilarious for some of the haircuts, outfits and dancing.
A breakout role for The Governator who proved particularly adept at playing a near silent, ruthless killing machine.
But T-101 in this movie is not as proficient as the model in T2. During the chase sequences, the targeting system is poor, with the Terminator being about as accurate as an Imperial Stormtrooper!
Having watched T2 last week, I was startled at the change in Linda Hamilton between the films, with only a hint of the steely eyed warrior that would emerge in the sequel present in the poodle permed Sarah Connor.

Days remaining - 259 Films remaining - 346

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 105

I'm now off work until 2010! A great statement to make, until you realise that it only means a couple of days. But that is a lot of time for movie watching...

492 - Amores Perros - 3 stars
Is it just me but I am beginning to worry about Inarritu. Is he unable to make a film that isn't made up of interconnecting stories? Between this, 21 Grams and Babel, it has become his M.O. Can't he come up with just one story that could sustain a 90 minute film rather than lots of little 30 minute stories?
That being said, he is very good at this type of film. Inarritu draws good performances from his central cast, keeps the action moving well by knowing when to cut back and forth between the stories, and by having stories that people can invest in to begin with (although I would liked to have seen more in the Daniel et Valeria story about the seperation between him and his wife).
This is not a happy movie though, given that the title roughly translates to "Love's a bitch", and while not as emotionally raw as 21 Grams which deals with death and loss, this examines the pain that people experience for love, whether that is for a human or a dog! Just witness the heartbreak 'El Chivo' suffers when he returns home to find his dogs have been killed.
It was clear from this performance that Gael Garcia Bernal was destined for great things, displaying charisma and bravado that would make him a worldwide star.

399 - Greed - 2 stars
Begins with a title card reading 'personally directed by Erich Von Stroheim', as if it could have been impersonally directed by him? The film is also dedicated to his mother, a back handed compliment perhaps considering the film is called Greed?
Stroheim's original vision was a 9 hour epic on how greed corrupts and destroys. It was cut down by the studio to just over two hours, and it is amazing that something vaguely coherent could be salvaged from that.
Even for two hours the story plods along at a pedestrian pace, as a woman's obsession with her lottery winnings threatens to alienate her husband, family and friends, ultimately leading to tragedy.
The film's message is clear and due to the style of silent filmmaking, most of the subtlety is lost.
This is the only silent film on the list and you can forget how important music can be in a film till you see a silent movie, where it relies on music to create mood and emotion.
P.S. The husband in the story is dentist and I just wanted to highlight the two greatest dentists in cinematic history; Szell and Orin Scrivello

328 - The Truman Show - 4 stars

It shares a central theme with The Matrix, in that what do you do when the world you are living in turns out to be a lie?  This is what happens to mild-mannered Truman Burbank as he slowly loses his grip on his sanity as it is revealed that he is the star of the biggest reality TV in the world - but without his knowledge.  "We accept the reality of the world with which we are presented" - Christof

It is a deeply satirical look at the world's obsession with reality TV, yet this was made back in 1998 when the craze was just starting to take off.  It touches upon issues like product placement (Truman's wife dropping brand names into the conversation) and Big Brother-style control of what we see and do (in the form of Ed Harris's Christof aka The Creator)

But the revelation here is Jim Carrey, delivering a beautifully understated performance.  It showed the world that he was able to successfully do dramatic roles as well as the zany, rubber faced comedies he became famous for... although try telling this to the Academy who have criminally overlooked his performances in Truman Show, Man On The Moon and his best film, Eternal Sunshine.

Days remaining - 260 Films remaining - 349

(500) Films of Empire - Day 104

70 - Stand By Me - 3 stars
Looking at the list, Rob Reiner has quite a good showing, with 4 films in the top 500, and all of them made in the space of just five years.
This is the more family friendly of Reiner's Stephen King adaptations, the other being Misery, and proves that he is the second best person to do justice to King's stories, the other being Frank Darabont. However it might not be a coincidence that they have normally stuck to the less supernatural horror stories in his catalogue.
That is not to say that the film doesn't deal with death. A friend's funeral sparks a memory in our narrator's mind about the first time he'd seen a dead body.
He tells the story of how Wesley Crusher, the young Indiana Jones, that kid from all those 80's movies and Jerry O'Connell aka the fat kid from Stand By Me go on a journey to find the dead body of a kid from their school.

It is a film about the loss of childhood innocence and the fight against having to grow up, deftly handled by Reiner who manages to balance the sentimentality, comedy and drama in the story while drawing authentic performances from the young friends, and genuine menace from 80's bad boy Kiefer 'Jack Bauer' Sutherland.

"I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?"

Well yes Richard Dreyfuss, I do. I'm still friends with the guys I've known since secondary school and despite having grown up and moved on to different cities, have careers, long term relationships, etc. We still see each other and I genuinely believe that we'll be friends for life.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 103

288 - Who Framed Roger Rabbit - 3 stars
Why does this not have a question mark in the title? It means that Who was the one that framed Roger. Was it Doctor Who?
It uses the familiar film noir plot of having the private detective being involved in a frame job, and then investigating the crime behind the crime, the twist here being that the people involved are not people but toons.
Before we had Jar Jar Binks, Gollum or Avatar, it was Bob Hoskins acting against cartoons.
Roger Rabbit was famous for having the cartoon characters from both Disney and Warners interacting together on screen for the first time, with Donald Duck and Daffy Duck recreating the piano scene from The Cat Concerto during a club cabaret night.
Let me take a moment to talk about Jessica Rabbit, the hottest cartoon character of all time, with a figure too hot for a PG cartoon, like she says "I'm not bad, I'm just drawn that way". It was a great piece of casting to get Kathleen Turner, the modern day Lauren Bacall, to voice Jessica, a sultry femme fatale who may or may not have any underwear!
The action is quite extreme for a PG, with a couple of murders, Christopher Lloyd's Judge Doom is a terrifying creation, and "The Dip" that dissolves toons is sure to distress young kids worried that Roger might end up going the same way as Bambi's mother, not to mention the fact that a cartoon woman is married to a rabbit... if they had kids would they be half rabbit/half human toons?
A problem I did have with the film is that between Zemeckis, Lloyd and Silvestri doing the music, I occasionally got a feeling a Back To The Future deja vu!

489 - Brick - 4 stars
Another film that puts a unique spin on film noir, transporting the hard boiled world and language of the genre into a high school setting.It is a method that has previously been used successfully in films like Clueless and Baz Luhrmann's Romeo & Juliet.
Initially confusing and jarring to the ears, the audience has to deal with lines like;
Look, I can't trust you. You ought to be smart enough to know that. I didn't shake up the party to get your attention, and I'm not heeling you too hook you. Your connections could help me, but the bad baggage they bring could make it zero sum gain or even hurt me. Better coming at it clean.
No, bulls would gum it. They'd flash their dusty standards at the wide-eyes and probably find some yegg to pin, probably even the right one. But they'd trample the real tracks and scare the real players back into their holes, and if we're doing this I want the whole story. No cops, not for a bit.

But stick with it and you are rewarded with a tightly paced film noir full of red herrings and double crosses.
There are great little touches like Brendan losing his shoes during a foot chase to stay silent, or the hilarious moment when two rival gangs meet up to discuss a deal and are served lemonade by the Kingpin's mum.
One of the main reasons for its success is the performance of Joseph Gordon Levitt. All grown up from the days of 3rd Rock From The Sun, he excels as the protaganist, as quick with his wits as he is with his fists (even though he is on the receiving end of quite a few beatings). G.I. Joe aside, Levitt has made some great film choices recently, choosing work for the role rather than the money e.g. Mysterious Skin, The Lookout and the great (500) Days of Summer.

Fascinating to see how the Film Noir genre has evolved in style over the years. From the black and white Warner Bros classics like Maltese Falcon, Double Indemnity and The Big Sleep, through the 70's with The Long Goodbye and Chinatown, to modern day 'noirs' like The Big Lebowski, Brick and the fantastic Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang.

Friday, 25 December 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 101 - Merry Christmas

413 - Finding Nemo - 4 stars
Widely regarded as Pixar's finest hour, both critically and commercially, so I thought that this would be much higher up the list.
The film follows Marlin, a neurotic, unfunny clownfish as he searches the ocean for his missing son Nemo, who is stuck in a fish tank as the inhabitants attempt a POW-style prison break. There is family drama, action, comedy, everything a great family film needs. Yet as with all great Pixar productions they appeal to adults and children alike.
It still amazes me how Pixar continue to improve film after film. The quality of the animation is the highest they had produced, yet they improved again with WALL-E and Up. The underwater world is stunning to look at yet back up with some of the best characters in the Pixar universe; Ellen DeGeneres as the Leonard Shelby of the reef, Bruce the shark, Geoffrey Rush as Nigel the pelican, the whole cast of the fish tank and of course, the Seagulls "Mine!". The best ensemble since Toy Story.
Further proof that Pixar are one of the very best studios at work today and have the highest overall rating do far on the Top 500 list.

451 - Speed - 2 stars
"I saw this in a movie about a bus that had to SPEED around a city, keeping its SPEED over fifty, and if its SPEED dropped, it would explode. I think it was called, "The Bus That Couldn't Slow Down." - Homer J. Simpson.
Don't expect anything too deep from Speed as this is what I call a Ronseal film, in that "it does exactly what it says on the tin". After a tense opening sequence involving an elevator rescue, we get 60 minutes of a bus speeding around the city, great chemistry between Keanu & Sandra, Dennis Hopper hamming it up, running, jumping, explosions, etc.

Days remaining - 264 Films remaining - 355

Thursday, 24 December 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 100

Wow day 100 already. Time flies when you are watching hundreds of movies! And its Christmas Eve so time to crack ou the festive films on the list...

309 - Gremlins - 3 stars
Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, except for the Gremlins making a mess in your kitchen!
Joe Dante, Chris Colombus and Steven Spielberg put a vicious twist on It's Wonderful Life. If you thought George Bailey's trouble were bad, they have nothing on Phoebe Cate's reason for hating Christmas.
Yet the whole town is in trouble after Billy Peltzer fails to obey the rules of looking after Gizmo the mogwai and unleashes a swarm of vicious green monsters on their quiet town.
While most of the violence is slightly comic book and over the top, there is a real mean streak running through the film.
It is nice to look back on a film like this and see that all the gremlins, etc were done using practical effects and puppetry, something sorely lacking in today's filmmaking.
The Wonderful Life references are plentiful; The town of Kingston Falls is based on Bedford Falls, the evil Mrs Deagle is the female version of Mr Potter, the film is even on the Peltzer's TV at one point.
And if Kingston Falls looks rather familiar that is because it was filmed on the same studio backlot as Back To The Future!
So just remember the true meaning of Christmas: keep them out of the light, don't get them wet nd don't feed them after midnight!

29 - Die Hard - 5 stars
The greatest action film ever made? I think so. Do you?
Best Christmas film? Well, its set on Christmas Eve so therefore it qualifies.
During the eighties, action movies were made for big guys like Arnold and Stallone. Die Hard was one of the first to have the hero be more of an everyman type of character, and made Bruce Willis one of the biggest stars in the world.
It also led to a series of imitators; Under Siege - Die Hard on a boat, Passenger 57 - Die Hard on a plane, etc, etc.
I love everything about this film. From a bizarre reason for John McClane to not be wearing any shoes, Agent Johnson & Agent Johnson (no relation), "Now I have a machine gun, ho-ho-ho", the fire hose escape, the vault opening to Ode To Joy, everything.
But the real reason why this film is better than the rest is simply down to Alan Rickman. Hans Gruber has to be one of the best bad guys of all time, and paved the way for all villains in Hollywood films being played by British actors.
When dealing with Takagi he effortlessly switches from charming, "When Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept for there were no worlds left to conquer. Benefits of a classical education", to ruthless "I will count to three there will not be a four". He is the perfect foil for McClane's wisecracking cop.
Its a role that he took to the next level as Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
Yippee-Kay-Aye Mother F*cker

Days remaining - 265 Films remaining - 357

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 99

480 - The Son's Room - 2 stars
This Palme D'Or winner deals with a family, in particular the father, dealing with the loss of their son following a tragic accident.
The father is a psychiatrist, able to analyse and help people with their problems, but unable to turn that analysis inward and help himself and his family through the pain and heartbreak.
An OK film but this has all been done before and it didn't really do anything new with it.  A bit underwhelmed considering the prestige of the big win at Cannes.

35 - Terminator 2: Judgement Day - 4 stars
Funny to think back that the Judgement Day in question was supposedly August 27th 1997.  I guess they really did manage to alter history for the better!
When this was released did they even try to keep it a secret that Arnold would be the hero in this one?  Might have made for a good reveal if they did.  Would have been difficult with Schwarzenegger being the biggest action star in the world and proving to be a hit as the hero in films like Predator and Commando.
Cameron has a habit of making great sequels (T2, Aliens... Piranha 2: Flying Killers?) and T2 outperforms the original in nearly every way.
The action scenes are fantastic and the special effects are groundbreaking, for 1992, but that should be expected from Cameron.
What makes this film really special is the relationship between the young John Connor and the T-800.  There is a real heart to the scenes where John tries to teach the Terminator to learn and blend in with humans.  Arnold's finest performance without a doubt.
It is a shame that Robert Patrick never really did anything of note after this as he is excellent as the cold, efficient T-1000 killing machine.
Absolutely one of the best sequels of all time but not sure if it really merits being as high as number 35.  Hasta La Vista Baby.

Days remaining - 266 Films remaining - 359

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 98

494 - Sideways - 4 stars
The movie that sent sales of Merlot plummeting and got me into wine.
Before this film there was only Ernest & Julio Gallo and Jacob's Creek, now there is a world of Sancerre, Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.
The film coincided with City Screen placing a bigger emphasis on wine, where I got to go to wine tastings and the cinema hosting several wine event including a French vs Californian tasting.
But Sideways wouldn't have had the impact that it did on the wine industry if the film itself wasn't as good as it is.
It is hilarious, wonderfully written and directed by Alexander Payne and well acted by the four leads, although part of me will always wonder what this movie would have been like if George Clooney had played Jack, as he had actively wanted the part.
There is a terrific relationship between Miles and Jack; one a womaniser, the other his put-upon friend. It got me reminiscing about holidays I've had with my closest friends, but that might be a story for another time!
Paul Giamatti, while not your typical leading man, delivers a tremendous performance as Miles, one of life's losers who may find hope in a fellow wine enthusiast.
There is one moment towards the end of the film when Miles's ex-wife lets slip that she is pregnant. He feigns happiness but his face and eyes show the heartbreak he feels inside. A truly wonderful piece of acting and it is a travesty that he wasn't Oscar nominated for this.
Any fans of Sideways should check out Oz and James's Big Wine Adventure. A great programme designed to get novices and experts alike trying some great wines.

148 - The Red Shoes - 2 stars
One of the most vibrant and beautiful technicolour films ever made from the stable of Powell & Pressburger. Yet, unlike A Matter Of Life And Death, I found this film to be a case of style over substance.
It is based on the Hans Cristian Andersen fairytale about a woman who puts on a magical pair of red shoes that won't let her stop dancing, ultimately leading to her death.
This fairy tale becomes the central ballet that the lead character Vicky Page becomes famous for, and is staged in a 15 minute sequence in the middle of the film. Fabulous if you like ballet, personally it reminded my of the weird dream sequences in Dumbo and Vertigo.
Her success causes her to become involved in a love triangle; in love with her composer husband, and in love with her career and dancing.
This is where the film falls down in my opinion, as the romance between Vicky and Julian feels rushed and underdeveloped so when she has to make her tragic, final decision, the difficulty in her choice doesn't ring true.

450 - King Kong - 3 stars
The gods of television scheduling were smiling upon me when I got home from work with Peter Jackson's King Kong on ITV2 at 9.00. I started watching it but realised I had it on Blu-Ray so put that on instead, meaning I wouldn't have to endure lots of advert breaks.
Watching this again it reminded me of Avatar, a personal yet flawed project of love by the director.
A hark back to the Golden Age of filmmaking and the wonder of cinema but suffers from a slightly bloated storyline with some very dodgy CGI effects yet unlike Avatar, Jackson is able to give more depth to the secondary characters, sometimes only a few lines, but the actors create something more from them and the audience are more involved in their eventual fate.
Naomi Watts deserves credit for giving one of the best performances for acting opposite a fully CGI character, developing a believable relationship with Kong. She could teach the cast of the Star Wars prequels a thing or two.
Still I admire Jackson as a filmmaker and can't wait to see The Lovely Bones (screening at The Belmont Picturehouse from 29th January).

Days remaining - 267 Films remaining - 361

Monday, 21 December 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 97

195 - It's A Wonderful Life - 5 stars

I have been very cynical about this film in the past, wondering why it is so many people's favourite Christmas film, "It's about a guy who wants to commit suicide, not very feel-good is it?". This coming from the man whose top 3 Christmas films are Die Hard, Gremlins and Muppet Christmas Carol!

I now feel kind of stupid after watching it on Monday night to realise that I had only ever seen the last 30 minutes! I cannot truly judge a film when I haven't watched all of it, can I? Yes I can, I know any spoof film called Epic Movie etc will be crap.

This film seems to have a much greater significance this year than most due to its storyline. Here the owner of a Buildings & Loan loses $8000 due to employee negligence and has to be bailed out by the public. Sound familiar? He even contemplates suicide at one point. I wouldn't have been surprised if the audience had shouted for him to jump!

But they wouldn't have, because its Jimmy Stewart. He was cinema's lovable everyman but in this film, I think his first back from serving in WWII, he displays amazing range; goofy to passionate, caring to despair, even anger - witness the scene where he shouts at his wife and kids. This is arguably his greatest performance, which previously I had thought was Vertigo.

I really empathised with George Bailey. Putting his life on hold to support the family, desperate to get away and make something of himself but hopes dashed at every turn. No wonder he loses it completely when everything falls out from under him.

This is where Clarence comes in. George's guardian angel shows him what life would be like if he'd never been born at all. Pretty rubbish for everyone involved its safe to say!

So he dashes back in time for the business to be saved and a good old sing song round the Christmas tree.

I have said before that I've been looking for a film to make me cry and this one nearly had me blubbing like a baby. After a pretty rubbish year where the new Mr Potter-esque 10 screen Cineworld opening has halved our takings, it has been a constant struggle to survive and the weight of it all nearly got the better of me.

This was the second film I had seen this week that got a round of applause at the end (Avatar was the other one). I'd like to think that the applause was for The Belmont for putting it on, as there were no members of cast and crew present!

There is one unresolved issue though? Whatever happens to Mr Potter who took the $8000? Does he get his commupence?

Days Remaining - 268 Films remaining - 364

AVATAR: Game-changer or Nappy-changer?

Well it seems that this week there have been two things that you had to have an opinion on. 1) RATM or X Factor for Christmas number 1 and 2) AVATAR - is it any good?

After a boozy head office party in London last week, I was lucky enough to get to see AVATAR in 3D at the IMAX... I say lucky, but I really just booked my ticket 2 months in advance!

I had tried to go into his film with as little hype and expectation as possible, difficult I know. I avoided reading reviews and had only seen one disappointing 2D trailer and two preview scenes at Movie-Con.
I had previously learned my lesson about believing the hype, only to have George Lucas produce THE PHANTOM MENACE and INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULLS, the result being that he, in the words of Simon Pegg, "raped my childhood" TWICE!
So with relatively low expectations and a huge pair of 3D glasses on my face, it was time for the main event.
You know you're onto a good thing when seeing the 20th Century Fox logo in 3D prompts an "ooh" from the audience.
The 3D is stunning and adds amazing depth to the visuals without ever resorting to cheap gimmicks like so many of the horror or animated 3D films.
Cameron has succeeded in creating a believable (well maybe apart from the floating mountains) living, breathing planet out of a series of 1's and 0's. Alive with colours and imagery never before captured on camera.
The Na'Vi themselves are wonderful. The motion capture used provides the best performances since Gollum, the level of detail in the expressive eyes and faces is extraordinary.
After a while I honestly forgot that these were fully-CGI characters. Things have come a long way since Jar Jar Binks.
But I must be honest, AVATAR is not a perfect film.
The plot and dialogue are not as strong as the visuals, think ALIENS meets THE LAST SAMURAI, and at times it gets forgotten about as Cameron stops to look around and marvel at the world he has created, causing the film to drag in a few places. Dialogue can be corny at times, what is the rare mineral the company is mining for called? "Unobtanium", really James, really?
Minor characters like Trudy, Spellman, Parker and Tsu'tey, get lost in the mix when they could have developed into, pardon the pun, 3D characters with potential for great story arcs.
And the battle scenes can sometimes feel like something straight out of Halo.
Film geeks like myself will have fun spotting all the ALIENS references; from marines in power loader style suits, Giovanni Ribisi's slimy Carter Burke-esque company man, and the company behind the whole operation is Weyland-Yutani in everything but name.
So is it the game-changer that everyone was hyping this to be?
From a storytelling viewpoint, there is nothing here that is very new or original, but seeing this in 3D on IMAX turns what would be a 3 or 4 star movie into a 5 star must-see experience.
From a filmmaking viewpoint, absolutely. It raises the bar in terms of what can be achieved in terms of visual effects (there is no way it can lose the Oscar for special effects), as much as The Matrix did 10 years ago. It could even put actors out of a job eventually, with more films moving to motion capture performances e.g. TINTIN. Once all the information is stored on a computer, it could easily be replicated and manipulated to create new films without them even being there.
Despite its flaws, this is a must see film. With all the news in the press about film piracy and declining audiences, James Cameron has delivered a movie event that demands to be seen on the largest 3D screen possible and will be responsible for bringing people back to the cinema. And that can only be a good thing.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 96 - RIP Brittany Murphy

I was saddened to learn that Brittany Murphy had died this evening. She died of a heart attack at age 32. Another tragic death at such a young age. Great in films like 8 Mile, Clueless and Girl Interrupted, but often picked poor projects like Just Married or Uptown Girls. Next year we'll get to see her final screen role as part of Stallone's The Expendables. If reports are to be believed, and the death had something to do with prescription pills, her death will be compared to that of Heath Ledger's, another talent who died before truly realising their potential.
So as a tribute to her, and because its on the list, I decided to watch:

274 - Sin City - 4 stars
The most faithful comic book adaptation of all time, Rodriguez never even wrote a screenplay or storyboards, simply using the comics as reference.
Four of Frank Miller's hard boiled, ultra-violent film noir tales were filmed in a strikingly bold black-and-white pallete with flashes of colour, backed up by great performances by Benecio Del Toro, Clive Owen and Bruce Willis. Also features the best work Jessica Alba has done (writhing around a pole in her pants), and Elijah Wood trying to shake off the shackles of being Frodo.
Rodriguez didn't really get the credit he deserved for creating the visual style (that would be replicated in such other comic book films as 300 and Watchmen), but also coaxing great performances from the likes of Mickey Rourke, this was his real comeback not The Wrestler.
To see just what a great job he did, watch The Spirit and find out how badly Frank Miller did when Rodriguez wasn't around.
And Murphy's performance? One of her best. She's the common link that appears through the storylines, portraying a perfect blend of sexy and sassy in keeping with the noir style. What's most impressive is that due to the filming techniques, she actually filmed all of her scenes in one day!

Friday, 18 December 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 94 - Dudestock

43 - The Big Lebowski - 5 stars
Before this challenge started this film would be in my all-time top ten. Will it still be there at
the end of the blog? After this viewing I think it certainly will.
We screened this tonight at work and another employee and myself were essentially mouthing along with the film.
A unique spin on the film noir genre as what starts out as a simple request for a new rug, "it really tied the room together", sees The Dude become tangled in a wicked web of kidnapping, nihlists, pornographers, paedophiles, brother seamus', and of course bowling.
Some will argue that the Coens have made "better" films but for me this is their most beloved, quotable and brilliant film.
A career high for everyone involved with the best cinematic threesome since Wild Things. The trio of The Dude, Walter and Donny have such a believable relationship that you believe they known each other for years. The group dynamic is perfectly illustrated in the first bowling scene.
One of the biggest influences on Lebowski is the film The Big Sleep, most obviously the title.
Directed by Howard Hawks and starring Humphrey Bogart as Chandler's private detective Philip Marlowe, it tells the story of Marlowe investigating a case of blackmail for the Sternwood family that features many characters similar to those found in Lebowski.
The first scene in the film sets up the dynamic. Marlowe arrives at the Sternwood house and is let in by the butler Norris (represented by Philip Seymour Hoffman's Brandt), the old General Sternwood who is confined to a wheelchair (the Big Jeffrey Lebowski), and the two femme fatales, Carmen Sternwood, the young seductress (a la Bunny Lebowski) and the mysterious Vivian, played by Lauren Bacall, who is similar to Julianne Moore's Maude Lebowski.
The storyline is reminiscent of Lebowski and of many film noir, Chinatown for example, in that there is no such thing as an easy case, “lot of in's, lot of out's, lot of what have you's”.
Funny that while The Dude is considered the protaganist of the film, he only advances the plot twice; going to the Big Lebowski to get a replacement rug and confronting him at the end.
I could go on and on about how much I love this film but will leave you with ten moments that secure its place in my all time top ten:

1. The Dude gets Donny's ashes in the face
2. The Dude deciphers Jackie Treehorn's "secret message"
3. Gutterballs dream sequence
4. Philip Seymour Hoffman as Brandt
5. Dude and Maude talk about sex, "you mean coitus?"
6. The Dude fixing the chair to the door
7. "This is what happens Larry when you f*ck a stranger in the ass" - hilariously dubbed to "when you meet a stranger in the alps" on US TV
8. The Dude getting hit in the head with a coffee mug
9. "This isn't Vietnam, this is bowling, there are rules"
10. Jesus Quintana - One of the greatest character entrances of all time

The evening was enhanced by having our very own Lebowski-Fest-lite in the form of Dudestock which featured some Wii bowling down in the bar washed down with a few caucasians. The Dude abides.

Days remaining - 271 Films remaining - 366

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Top Ten of 2009

2009 is nearly at an end and time to give my opinion on the best films of the year. The following list is a Spinal Tap list, in that this one goes to 11. I tried very hard to limit myself to ten films, and I had done it until I realised I had left UP of the list. By hat point there wasn't anything I could take out so 11 it shall have to be.

1. MOON - Stunning debut from Duncan "Zowie Bowie" Jones and the performance(s) of a lifetime by Sam Rockwell

2. LET THE RIGHT ONE IN - The perfect antidote to the Twilight films

3. (500) DAYS OF SUMMER - Best romantic comedy since High Fidelity

4. STAR TREK - What the Star Wars prequels should have been!

5. AVATAR - Cinema will never be the same thanks to the "King Of The World". Plot & screenplay problems aside, this must be seen in 3D on the biggest screen possible.

6. IN THE LOOP - There hasn't been a funnier film this year. Malcolm Tucker is a legend!

7. INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS - A return to form by Tarantino

8. FANTASTIC MR. FOX - A cussing good movie

9. A SERIOUS MAN - Seriously good but that ending will piss off a lot of people

10. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY - Scariest movie since The Descent

11. UP - Pixar can do no wrong (except for Cars!)

Agree? Disagree? Let me know your favourite films of the year.

(500) Films of Empire - Day 93

198 - Fargo - 3 stars
In preparation for Dudestock I decided to watch a Coen Brothers film and picked the first film of theirs that I ever saw and the first to get them attention on the Awards circuit (culminating in Oscars for McDormand and screenplay and a BAFTA for director Joel).
This fake 'true' story about a kidnapping that goes horribly wrong could have become horribly cliched, but the strength of Fargo, and indeed all of their films, is the quality of their writing and the characters they create, even the seemingly minor ones have great depth and charm.
Sometimes when watching Coen brothers flms, they remind me of a great theatre company. They write, produce and direct the shows themselves, and have a great team of regular actors to work with; McDormand, Buscemi, Tuturro, Goodman, etc and can pull in a big name star when the role calls for it (Clooney, Pitt, etc). I guess you could liken them to Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre company.
So despite appearing in several of their films already, actors like McDormand and Buscemi bring a new spin to their characters.
Frances McDormand is adorable as Marge Gunderson, dealing with a pregnancy and a triple homicide, "Yah, oh yah".
Buscemi is equally funny and (purposefully) irritating in the role that would forever caused him to be described and typecast as "kinda funny looking".
It feels like Fargo in Aberdeen at the moment, with us being completely submerged in snow. Might see old Marge out and about, Yah, but unlikely to find any bags of money though :(

Monday, 14 December 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 90

71 - Night Of The Hunter - 3 stars
Initially a flop on its release, the criticism of the film caused this to be Charles Laughton's only film as a director. And that is a terrible shame as there is a great deal to admire in this tale of a villainous preacher who infiltrates a young family in an attempt to get his hands on the takings from a bank robbery.
The film is anchored by the performance of Robert Mitchum as Preacher Harry Powell, a man of God who definitely works in mysterious ways, even having 'love' and 'hate' tattooed on his knuckles. Tip-toeing the line between charming (his outward persona to the naive small town locals) and terrifying (to the children as he plots to get the money from them).
There is also beautiful cinematography, some of it is reminiscent of Citizen Kane.
Now the film does have it faults. Perhaps it was because "it was a simpler time back then" but I couldn't get over the fact that Shelley Winters gets married to Powell about a week after her husband's hanging because some local busy-body thinks that the kids "need a man around".
Also some of the performances are a little corny, especially that of Pearl (the little girl), but I shouldn't be too harsh since Laughton apparently had no time for the kids during filming.
Rewatching it this time, with a greater degree of film knowledge, I was able to spot wonderful touches like the cross of light that appears on the water as the children escape Preacher, or how the sets of the bedroom look like a church. The level of religious imagery is very detailed.
Regrettable that he never directed again as I think there were more great films to come from Laughton.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 89 - John Hughes

This a double bill that I wanted to do following the death of John Hughes earlier this year, however I did not own a copy of The Breakfast Club. That's what Lovefilm is for.
So following the X Factor final (sad I know but I can't help getting sucked in), I stuck on the double bill, inspired by Olly doing Twist & Shout from Bueller, complete with dance moves.

369 - The Breakfast Club - 2 stars
"Don't you forget about me" sang Simple Minds, and it's tough to forget this film. One of the definitive teen movies of the eighties, from the master of the teen movie John Hughes (responsible for among others Sixteen Candles and my personal favourite of his, Weird Science). Hughes takes the usual school stereotypes, locks them in detention for 8 hours and attempts to strip back the layers to reveal that deep down 'we're all the same'. So we get The Jock (Estevez), The Nerd (Michael-Hall), The Outcast (Sheedy), The Prom Queen (Ringwald) and The Rebel (Nelson), all regular members of 'The Brat Pack', and continuing the trend of having teenagers played by actors in their mid-twenties.
So how do 5 teenagers pass the time in an all-day detention? They sleep, slag each other off, claim that they are "nothing like them" especially in the case of Bender, smoke dope, dance around, give heartfelt confessions, etc, etc.
But do they manage to break down the barriers and become BFFs? Not really. Whilst they bond during their time in lock-up, the conclusion made is that the class structure within high school will prevent them from becoming friends as they move in different circles.
And how unfair is it that the nerd ends up alone? Ringwald and Nelson hook up and Estevez and Sheedy get it on, leaving poor Anthony all alone. Totally unfair that they are off smooching while he has to write the essay for ALL of them. Perhaps he doesn't need to because of Weird Science where the nerds created their own woman in the form of Kelly Le Brock.
A portrait of school at a more innocent time, imagine a modern day version with hoodies in the classroom!, but it has aged quite badly and doesn't quite have the charm to this (nearly) thirty-something that it had in his teens.

88 - Ferris Bueller's Day Off - 4 stars
Now here is a film that doesn't tire or get old. Ferris's message of "Life moves pretty fast, if you don't stop to look around once in a while, you might miss it", is as valid today as it was back then.
It has to be said that at my age it is a lot more difficult to pull a "sickie" and take the day off to pursue some wild extra-curricular activities, especially since I am the boss. Curse my position of responsibility!
His day of fun includes many iconic moments such as the trip to the museum, and the 'Twist & Shout' performance at the parade.
He effortlessly coasts through life and because of this, Ferris is a great hero for the eighties generation, who else could have pulled off a leopard-print sweatervest, but every great hero needs a great villain, and Ferris has his in the form of Ed Rooney, a man who "won't let some snot nosed punk leave his cheese out in the wind", and determined to catch Ferris out. Rooney is played in a great, slimy performane from Tim Burton regular Jeffrey Jones.
I wonder what Ferris Bueller would be doing now? Still bunking off work? Maybe a sequel would be fun...

Days remaining - 276 Films remaining - 369

Saturday, 12 December 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 87

372 - Army Of Darkness - 2 stars
Or to give its full title, Bruce Campbell Vs Army of Darkness.
Be under no illusions, this is the Bruce Campbell show. No other characters really get a look in, as he gurns and quips his way to victory against the deadites, and at one point Ash fights an evil version of himself, double the Bruce. Gone is the wimpering, cowardly Ash from the first film and now we have a fully fledged 80's style action hero.
There will be more in-depth discussion about how great Bruce Campbell is when I review Evil Dead 2, and the Spider-Man films.
This film is not as over-the-top bloody as the first two, instead Sam Raimi seems to be fulfilling a childhood dream by making his own Harryhausen film, as Ash takes on an army of stop-motion skeletons.
Unfortunately I didn't find this as good as the originals, Evil Dead 2 being one of my all-time favourite horror films. Thee wasn't enough blood and gore splattering the screen and Raimi didn't abuse Campbell enough. Didn't help mattes that I accidentally put on the US theatrical cut instead of the Director's cut that has the better ending.

Friday, 11 December 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 86 - X marks the spot

462 - X2 - 4 stars
Screw Avatar! If you want a movie with blue people in it, chose X2 with Nightcrawler and the incredibly hot Mystique (is that wrong? I don't think so).
I had recently compiled a list of the top 5 comic book movies, putting this at number 4. Having rewatched X2 tonight, I would like to raise its position to number 2 and drop Sin City to 4.
This film was the best comic book film until Christopher Nolan rebooted the Batman saga, because Bryan Singer created a movie that works as blockbuster that appealed to the mass market yet had a huge amount to say about discrimination in society (more on that below).
Having established the characters in the first film, this movie allows the story to be the focus, as the opposing mutants are forced to team up against William Striker, a Mengele-style general, who wants to rid the world of the mutant "curse", played with relish by Scotland's hardest working actor Brian Cox.
It fleshed out existing characters, clearly realising that Jackman's Wolverine was the real star, whilst hinting and teasing new ones (Colossus, Kitty Pride, etc). It also cleverly set up the Dark Phoenix storyline, that was rushed and poorly executed in the third film,
It is really frustrating that Singer left the franchise to make the disappointing and pointless Superman Returns, leaving us with Brett Ratner to deliver an all-action/no substance sequel.
Also having rewatched this film, I can't help thinking that the Wolverine spin-off made even less sense with bigger plot holes than I remember, might have to rewatch that (if I have time!).

Below are extracts from a course I gave on Comic Book Movies and my thoughts on the X-Men trilogy as a look at discrimination within modern society:

Part of X-MEN's success was that it wasn't just a comic book movie. X-MEN posed interesting questions and theories on the issues of discrimination and tolerance in modern day society. When Bryan Singer took on the project, he said that he didn't want to make a comic book movie, he wanted to make a science fiction film, set in the real world and grounded in reality.
This reality is apparent from the opening scene which takes place in Poland, 1944 where a young Jewish boy Eric Lensher is separated from his parents in a Nazi concentration camp. This is where Lensher's powers to control metal manifest for the first time, planting the seed for him to become Magneto.
In a nice touch, the mutants' powers normally occur and manifest during times of great emotional stress and intensity, their bodies going through strange changes – essentially an extreme version of puberty. Something all children have to deal with what can be a difficult and confusing time, witness Rogue's first kiss for example.
Singer invested in the themes that haunt every alienated person, from suffering schoolchild to anguished adult: “Am I alone in the world? Why am I different? To what lengths will I go to fit in?”
X-MEN is a parallel for every type of 'ism' or bigotry out there – whether that be racism, sexism, religion, sexuality, etc. Look at the current situation in America following 9/11, where a Muslim or person of Arab descent cann be victimised or persecuted due to the race and religion of the terrorists.
According to Ian McKellen, Marvel said that the majority demographic for the X-Men comics is black, gay and Jewis young men, “They're the people who, in our society, feel most disaffected. They are made to feel as if they are mutants. So I feel I'm sticking up for the minorities, of which I am a member”.
“Bryan pitched the films to me as a parable for the gay dilemma. What do you do once you realise you're gay and you're different? Do you try and fit in and play down the differences... or follow the Magneto road and say we're so different that we're superior?” - Ian McKellen
There is a lovely scene in X2, co-written by McKellen, where Bobby “Iceman” Drake 'comes out' to his family as being a mutant. He is met with fear by his brother, who calls the police, and bemusement by his mother and father:
“We though Bobby was going to a school for the gifted”, “He is gifted”
“Have you ever tried not being a mutant?”
Bryan Singer chose to focus the story on the differing attitudes of Charles Xavier, leader of the X-Men, and Eric Lensher aka Magneto, the leader of the Brotherhood of Mutants. Singer described them as Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, two people with differing methods on how to achieve a common goal. Magneto has seen in the past how minorities have been singled out and murdered, his family was killed and he still harbours that fear and resentment.
People fear what they don't understand.
“Mutation. It is the key to our evolution. It has enabled us to evolve from a single cell organism into the dominant species on the planet. This process normally takes thousands and thousands of years, but every few hundred millenia, evolution leaps forward.”
What's interesting about the X-Men is that each of them has a different ability that can be both a blessing and a curse. For example Cyclops has this incredible energy in his eyes but he can never really look at another human being.
The various ways in which the humans attempt to deal with the mutant phenomenon are very relevant to today's society.
In the first film the main opposition to mutants is Senator Kelly, who is attempting to pass a Mutant Registration Act. In a scene reminiscent of the McCarthy era, in which mutants would be named and shamed. Kelly's claim that he possesses “a list of names of identified mutants living right here in the United States” is based on Senator McCarthy's almost identical claim about Communists working in the US State Department. It was subsequently proven to be rhetoric, McCarthy was in possession of no such list.
“I think the American people have a right to decide whether they want their children to be at a school with mutants, to be taught by mutants. Ladies and gentlemen, the truth is mutants are very real and they are among us. We must know who they are, and above all we must know what they can do.”
“Senator, it is a fact that mutants who have come forward and revealed themselves publicly have been met with fear, hostility, even violence. It is because of that ever present hostility that I urge the Senate to vote against Mutant Registration.”
In X2, an assassination attempt on The President by a mutant starts the first steps of a war between humans and mutants. It is later revealed to have been engineered by a bitter war veteran who has experimented on mutants (furthering the links to Nazi Germany), now seen by some as a shot at the Bush administration's war on Iraq, using an attack by a minority as an excuse to go to war.
In X-MEN 3: THE LAST STAND, scientists develop “The Final Solution”, vaccine designed to eradicate the mutant gene from the system, essentially a cure to mutation, something that does not sit well with Magneto;
“They wish to cure us but I say that we are the cure.”

Thursday, 10 December 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 85

474 - Enter The Dragon
Having watched Brandon Lee's The Crow the other day, it was time to see his father's final film and the only Kung Fu movie to appear on the list.
This is like a Bond film but with Bruce Lee as the super spy. Tasked with taking down a crime lord by competing in a martial arts competition (now I know where Mortal Kombat got its storyline from), he fights his way through many henchmen on the crime boss's island complete with underground lair... did I mention the villain has interchangable hands (including solid steel, bear claw and knives). Best villain that the Bond films never had.
Characterisation and plot are given the briefest of sketches to allow for the fight scenes to be the main focus. Such was the secondary status of the story, that the whole film was recorded silently and redubbed back in the US.
And this film is all about the action, mostly choreographed by Lee, showcasing his immense talents to the world (film was produced by the USA, not Asia), with a variety of fights; one-on-one, mass brawls, the famous room of mirrors sequence, etc. At one point Lee even breaks a young Jackie Chan's neck!
Tragedy seemed to follow the Lee family as like his son, Lee died before fully reaching his potential and three weeks before the premiere of this film.
A fitting tribute to his legend as all the elements (dodgy dubbing, great fight scenes, blatant stereotyping, such as Jim Kelly's afro-haired black man) all combine to make this a cult classic.

Days remaining - 280 Films remaining - 373

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 84

464 - Seven Brides For Seven Brothers - 2 stars
What a plot! A man walks into town one day and decides to get married so quickly finds a wife. She becomes sick of sharing the home with his six brothers so she devises a plan to get them married and off the farm quick sharp. And how will she do this? Through the medium of song and dance of course!
This leads to a truly barnstorming sequence (held at a barn raising event, maybe its where the expression came from?) where the brothers court the local ladies. Achieved through an impressive 10 minute dance number that contains terrific dance moves mixed with acrobatics.
But here is how mysoginistic the film is, how do the men get the women to fall in love with them? By kidnapping them and forcing them to live on their snowed-in mountain farm for the winter!
An incredulous story, saved by the use of cinemascope as it looks stunning but probably only used in order to get all 14 main characters on screen at the same time!

78 - Rosemary's Baby - 3 stars
One woman's descent into insanity as her perfect life; lovely home, loving husband, dodgy haircut ("it's Vidal Sassoon"), slowly crumbles as she becomes convinced that there is a conspiracy against her and her unborn child.
Paranoia is a theme that runs through many of Polanski's films (I don't know why he would think that people were out to get him?), and his anti-"Love Thy Neighbour" sentiment is present here before becoming the central theme of the fantastic The Tenant.
The neighbours in question are the wonderful Castevets, played by ??? and the Oscar-winning Ruth Gordon. Imagine your interfering grandparents turned out to be Satan worshippers, that's the Castevets.
Polanski wisely keeps most of his cards to his chest, keeping the audience wondering if what Rosemary believes is really true or all in her head.

Days remaining - 281 Films remaining - 374

Monday, 7 December 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 83

445 - Dumb And Dumber - 2! stars
I didn't find this film as funny as I remember (despite some of the best laxative acting I've ever seen by Jeff Daniels).
I do a question about the film though, which was dumb and which one was dumber?
I've been a fan of Carrey since Ace Ventura but feel that his comic talents have been used to better effect in films like The Mask or Liar Liar. There was certainly no hint in this film that he was capable of dramatic roles like Truman Show/Eternal Sunshine.
This film was supposedly the birth of the gross-out comedy genre but I would give that claim to the Farrelly's third film There's Something About Mary and Cameron's 'hair gel'.

468 - The Crow - 3 stars
Everything about this film is an Emo or Goth's wet dream, from the story (about a man who rises from the dead to avenge the death of his fiancee), to the production design, to the soundtrack to the especially given the tragic circumstances surrounding the film's production and the death of Brandon Lee.
It was upsetting to notice similarities between Brandon Lee and Heath Ledger while watching this film. Both died before truly achieving their potential, and both of their most iconic roles were playing comic book characters wearing facepaint.

Days remaining - 282 Films remaining - 376

Sunday, 6 December 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 82

481 - Topsy Turvy - 2 stars
Very surprised to see Mike Leigh put down the dishes and step away from the kitchen sink for once and create a film that is neither as dour as Vera Drake, that features the most ironic "best Christmas ever", or as insanely upbeat as Happy-Go-Lucky starring Stacey Solomon from X-Factor, sorry Sally Hawkins.
A leisurely (meaning slightly overlong) look at Gilbert & Sullivan's struggle following a run of creative impass as they attempt to bring The Mikado to the stage.
The attention to detail in recreating the theatrical period of the late 19th century is terrific but I really felt that at 160 minutes, this was too long and Leigh could have exercised some control over the editing. I wasn't really interested in this film until the Mikado production began, and that was at least an hour into the film! Also surprised at the lack of interaction between Gilbert and Sullivan in the film, and Jim Broadbent's Gilbert seems to be a dry run for his performance as Harold Zidler in Moulin Rouge.
258 - The Blues Brothers - 2 stars
A few weeks ago I called Moulin Rouge an over-the-top musical, however musicals probably don't get more over-the-top than this!
Don't think any Gene Kelly musicals feature a car chase through a shopping mall, destroying ever shop in the place, or an attempt to destroy the most cars on screen in film history!
The Blues Brothers started life as a Saturday Night Live sketch and unfortunately it is a case of the soundtrack being better than the actual film, for once you take away the extreme excess of the chase scenes, and Carrie Fisher's attempts on Belushi's life then there really isn't much here apart from the songs.

483 - The Big Red One - 2 stars
An un-Hollywood treatment of WWII based on the real life accounts of director Sam Fuller. It was an odd movie to watch as it was full of familiar scenarios yet devoid of the usual Hollywood cliches that are present in so many fictional war stories.
Four recruits slowly lose their innocence to the second world war under the guidance of the weary, gritty Lee Marvin. Through the various campaigns they grow closer to each other, but become withdrawn from the rest of the squad who are nameless, expendable grunts who worry about getting their cock blown off (you'll understand when you see it).
So odd to see Luke Skywalker snapping and firing round after round into the body of a Nazi whilst liberating a concentration camp.
I should have felt more emotional when watching this true story but it seems that I have become used to the Hollywood take on the war, and feel that this story (as such) has been told better elsewhere.

Days remaining - 283 Films remaining - 378

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 78 - Cruise Control

209 - Local Hero - 3 stars
Why have I never seen this before? I realise that I've been saying this a lot recently but considering I live in Aberdeen and this was filmed a short distance away in Pennan, site of the famous hotel and phonebox.
A sweet little fish-out-of-water tale of an American oil executive who comes to Scotland to buy up a small fishing town, only to be (shock horror) charmed by the locals of the quaint setting.
Interesting to see a young, pre The Thick Of It Peter Capaldi in this, and not swearing once!

Early evening was spent at a Director's Cut talk with Craig Armstrong at the University. He has composed the music for such films as Romeo & Juliet, Moulin Rouge and Ray but I kept my geek credentials alive by asking about the differences to the score between original director cut and theatrical releases of Incredible Hulk and use of "the sad walking away music" from the TV show!

Once I got back it was time for a Tom Cruise double bill:

455 - Top Gun - 3 stars
Gosh, where to start with this film? With the Simpson/Bruckheimer/Scott Jet Porn? (no, not that Jet from Gladiators, if only!) With the subtle, almost turning to blatant homoerotic subtext? No, with the Cruise magic movie formula:
In Top Gun, Tom Cruise plays a successful pilot who suffers a crisis of confidence who meets a woman who convinces him that he is a good fighter pilot.
This formula can be used for almost every Tom Cruise film, just change the profession.
Days Of Thunder - change fighter pilot for racing driver.
Jerry Maguire - change fighter pilot for sports agent.
Etc, etc...
Then there is the 'bromance' angle, famously highlighted by Quentin Tarantino in a film called Sleep With Me.
There is topless beach volleyball, men talking about how seeing jets gives them a hard-on, etc. Then there is the brooding sexual tension between Maverick and Iceman that can only be resolved once Maverick's 'partner' Goose dies (closest I've been to tears so far in the challenge, how sad is that?!). Then they can be each others "wingman" any time!
Recently berated someone for not believing that Meg Ryan was in Top Gun, but there she is as Goose's wife. And Tim Robbins pops up to as Merlin too. Odd people to see in a over-the-top production like this.
Oh, but is it any good? Of course, cheesy as hell but very enjoyable but it did fail in its attempt to get me to sign up for the Navy!

420 - Jerry Maguire - 4 stars
This film had me at Hello!
Using the magic formula discussed above, Tom Cruise finds his place in the world as the sports agent with a soul, a new family of single mother and cute/bordering-on-annoying kid, and one excitable client.
Oh Cuba Gooding Jr. You were great in this film, showing us the money. What happened? What a way to piss away all that Oscar goodwill... Boat Trip, Norbit, Daddy Day Camp!
Note to Miss Zellweger, you look great in this film, no need to go for the skin and bones look you had in Chicago!
The best collabortion between Cruise and Crowe, it shows Cruise off to the best of his abilities, which I still rate highly, and never strays too far into sacchrine.

Something odd happened while I was watching the movie.
I had just read an article on the internet about how Waterstones was destroying bookselling as it treats books as commoditites and not pieces of artand it got me thinking if cinemas are doing the same? At the moment The Belmont Picturehouse is going through a horrible period of very low audience figures due to a new 10 screen Cineworld opening in the centre of Aberdeen. This means we are fighting against 3 big multiplex cinemas, with the new one showing the same films as us. Since we have lost our USP, perhaps we need a new one. So I've started writing a Jerry Maguire style mission statement, its not a memo, about how cinema can get back to treating films as events and pieces of culture, not just the bottom line dollar.
I'll post this on the blog once I have finished it.

Day remaining - 287 Films remaining - 381

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

(500) Films of Empire - Day 77

495 - Jailhouse Rock - 2 stars
This is the first Elvis Presley movie that I've seen. Pretty sure they were shown on BBC2 on a weekend afternoon back in the nineties but I remember growing up watching the Martin & Lewis comedies on a Saturday afternoon, really enjoyed those, but none on the list.
Interesting move to have Elvis's character rather dislikable; a self absorbed ex-con (on manslaughter no less, no petty crimes here), but this was made just after Rebel Without A Cause when the moody, sexy teenager was the King of Cool, and Elvis certainly ticked those boxes.
A very average movie that would have benefitted from more of Elvis's greatest hits (only the title number is a classic) in this tale of an ex-con who makes it big in the music business and Hollywood before learning a life lesson about not being such a twat!

124 - The Silence Of The Lambs - 4 stars
"It rubs the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again". Still hard to believe that a psycho thriller like this scooped all the top Oscars (film, director, screenplay, actor, actress) and only the third horror film to be nominated for the Best Picture prize. But the reason it won is because this is an extremely well made movie (even though the look of the film has dated slightly in the last ten years). Several fantastic set pieces; the 'wrong door' raid on Bill's hideout, the Night Vision sequence and the wonderful execution of Lecter's escape, done with a bait and switch that would have tickled Hitchcock. But the success of the movie comes down to the performances of the leads Foster and Hopkins. I say leads, but Hopkins' charasmatic cannibal is only in the film for just over 20 minutes yet makes such a lasting impression, "I ate her liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti" that it seems like he is there the whole time. He is a complete psychopath, shown in the viciousness of his escape, yet we are happy that he is going to get his revenge on the slimy Dr Chilton. So popular was Hannibal the Cannibal (Hopkins slightly hammy portrayal, not Brian Cox's in Manhunter) that we would endure a couple of inferior remakes/sequels/prequels/etc and spoofs that it nearly impacts on the effectiveness of this film. Forget the rest and enjoy one of the best serial killer movies ever made.

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