Wednesday, 22 December 2010

2010: The Year In Review

As the year draws to a close, all film journalists/bloggers/fans like to procrastinate and list their favourite films.
Drawing up the top ten is always difficult because you normally battle back and forth over what films will miss the cut... but this year it has been tough to find ten films to put on the list!
I have said it before, and many people seem to have the same opinion... 2010 has been a pretty poor year in terms of quality. For every rare spark of originality like Inception, there was just further proof that Hollywood suffers from an over-reliance on sour sequels (Sex And The City 2, Iron Man 2, Predators), rank remakes (Clash Of The Titans, A Nightmare On Elm Street) and trying to create an 80's revival (The A-Team, Karate Kid, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Hot Tub Time Machine) and the horrid reality that Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer (Vampires Suck) continue to be allowed to make films
What follows is my Top Ten Films Of 2010 (which are films that had their UK release in 2010. Otherwise Black Swan would have been top of the list) plus a bunch of other random awards.

1. Inception
2. The Social Network
3. Toy Story 3
4. A Single Man
5. Scott Pilgrim Vs The World
6. Buried
7. Catfish
8. Shutter Island
9. A Prophet
10. Of Gods And Men

Best Performance - Ryan Reynolds in Buried
It's this year's Sam Rockwell in Moon performance in that it won't be recognised by any of the Awards ceremonies but Reynolds single handedly engaged an audience for 90 minutes whilst stuck in a coffin. He runs the entire spectrum of emotions and really connects with the audience to the point that you completely empathise with him come the conclusion of the film.
Honorable Mention - Leonardo DiCaprio for two great performances in Shutter Island and Inception.
Best Director - Christopher Nolan for Inception
The best blockbuster of the year: original, thought provoking, entertaining. Nolan should be praised for showing Hollywood that audiences are willing to embrace original films as long as they are made this well.
Best Screenplay - The Social Network
I would put my life savings (which isn't all that much but it's the thought that counts) on Aaron Sorkin winning the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. He manages to recreate the sharp as a tack dialogue from The West Wing... but most importantly he makes a movie about Facebook genuinely thrilling and interesting.

Best Poster - (500) Films of Empire

It is probably poor form to award the best poster to my own event but the guys at head office did such a wonderful job creating this image of The Godfather using pictures from every single film that I watched for the challenge.
Best BluRay/DVD - Scott Pilgrim Versus The World
A great film is given a first rate blu ray treatment with stunning picture and sound quality but also hours of bonus footage and FOUR audio commentaries that reveal the incredible level of detail and passion that Edgar Wright has invested in the best comic book movie of the year.
Guilty Pleasure - Piranha 3D
Storytelling and characterisation at its most basic, dodgy 3D effects and even dodgier acting but I'll admit that I really enjoyed this. It was ridiculous, but it worked because it knew it. It had a great Jaws spoof at the beginning, a gorgeous (and naked in 3D) Kelly Brook, and it was refreshing to see a horror film that took pride in having an 18 rating. Some of the deaths were so OTT that I was laughing out loud in the cinema (getting weird looks from other cinemagoers in the process).
Best Use of CGI in a movie - The Winklevii in The Social Network
Fincher (like Christopher Nolan) knows how to use CGI to enhance a storyline not become it, and it is still hard to believe that they are not identical twins but Armie Hammer's face digitally grafted onto another person's body in some scenes. Flawless.
Unfortunately the worst use of CGI was also in The Social Network, with some terrible CG cold breath left over from Titanic being used in an outdoor conversation between Eisenberg and Garfield.

Best Song - Black Sheep by Metric (from Scott Pilgrim Vs The World)
Honorable Mention: BRAAAAAAAHHHHHHHMMMMMMMMMMMM from Inception
Best Breakthrough Performance - Chloe Moretz in Kick-Ass
"Alright you c*nts, let's see what you can do know". Boom, a star is born. No other actor this year made such an immediate impact as Chloe Moretz did as the foul-mouthed, deadly but pint-sized assassin Hit-Girl. Slicing and dicing her way through a room full of drug dealers to the Banana Splits theme tune made her an instant fan favourite but with the remake of Let The Right One In, she has shown that she has the acting ability to become the next Natalie Portman or Jodie Foster
Best Cinema Audience - The Room
Not since the Star Wars special editions releases in 1997 have I seen an audience so in tune with a film that it turned a truly terrible film into a "must see" cult classic. Spoons were thrown, people screamed "You're tearing me apart" and everyone had a blast. Can't wait till we can screen it again.
Best Fight Scene - The hotel corridor fight in Inception
Full marks to Nolan for achieving all of this dizzying fight in camera, using old-school practical effects. Bonus points go to Joseph Gordon Levitt for doing 99% of the stunt work himself.
Honorable Mention: Hit-Girl's night vision goggle raid on the warehouse (cut beautifully to John Murphy's Sunshine score)

The "They don't make them like that anymore" Award - Back To The Future (re-release)
What Really Grinds My Gears - The "Avatar Effect"
Thanks to the financial success of Avatar, cinemagoing audiences have been forced to endure poor quality films (Alice In Wonderland, Titans, Last Airbender) being retrofitted with 3D which not only made the finished film look dull and lifeless but bumped an extra couple of quid on the already high ticket price.
Hopefully this trend has ended now that Harry Potter 7 refused to put out the film in 3D since it was ready yet.
Either film the entire thing in 3D from the outset or don't bother at all!
My Own Personal Favourite Cinematic Moment of 2010
When the end credits rolled on The Godfather that meant I had finally completed (500) Films of Empire.
Anyway let the debate begin. I am right in my views or have I got it completely wrong. I'm sure you will let me know if I have!

Thursday, 16 December 2010

BLACK SWAN - This swan is certainly no ugly duckling

It would be perfectly normal to see a performance of Swan Lake greeted with a standing ovation at the climax of the show, but a standing ovation in a cinema is rarely seen outside of the Cannes Film Festival. However this is precisely what I wanted to give Black Swan when the end credits rolled on this fabulous film... but I didn't. I wasn't at a film festival, but in the middle of a crowded cinema in New York and I would have felt like a bit of an idiot clapping on my own!

In a year of overhyped cinematic disappointments, it was a delight to find a film that actually exceeded expectations, helped by the fact that I had only watched the teaser trailer and seen the gorgeous poster campaign.

Darren Aronofsky returns to the world of performance that he explored in The Wrestler but transfers the action from the wrestling ring to the ballet stage, examining the price that someone is willing to pay in order to succeed.

Natalie Portman plays Nina Sears; a young, up-and-coming ballerina who is picked to play the lead role in a new production of Swan Lake.
Whilst she is perfect for the fragile, innocent Swan Queen, her director (played with sleazy charm by Vincent Cassel) worries that she does not have the passion or sensuality needed to portray the Black Swan.
As Nina gets deeper and deeper into the role, she begins to lose her grip on reality, afraid that her understudy Lily is after her part, as she embodies the freedom and sexuality that Nina craves.

While The Wrestler was shot in the style of a documentary, Black Swan is a full blown, unashamed psychological thriller.

When I first saw the trailer, I thought the look and feel of the film as "if Polanski had directed a hybrid of The Red Shoes and Suspiria" and I wasn't wrong in my assumptions.
As Nina's darker side of her personality emerges, it manifests itself both mentally and physically as she is plagued by visions of a doppleganger and even undergoes some disturbing physical transformations in scenes that are a clear nod to David Cronenberg's The Fly.

Aronofsky delved into a nightmarish world in Requiem For A Dream and has crafted a film that slowly ramps up the tension to a point where this film is scarier than the majority of horror films released this year. The use of handheld camera creates a palpable sense of unease that trickles through the film like Nina's growing sense of paranoia and persecution.
By using the camera in this way, neither Nina or the audience are able to distinguish what is real and what is in Nina's head.

As Nina learns to become less inhibited, it triggers not only changes in her personality but also a sexual awakening: starting with seduction by her director, to pleasuring herself and culminating in the only scene this year that features Meg from Family Guy going down on Queen Amidala (and destined to become the main talking point of many reviews).
A lot of the film's humour comes from these scenes and the dialogue would not seem out of place in Showgirls, but it never descends into sleaze and that is due to the performances of the actors.

Natalie Portman delivers the performance of her career and must be the front runner for the Best Actress Oscar in February.
Like the ugly duckling that transformed into a swan, Portman undergoes a magnificent metamorphisis.
She begins the film as a placid, innocent "sweet girl". Her protective and domineering mother (played by Barbara Hershey in full-on Mommie Dearest mode) has denied her a proper childhood, instead putting all her focus into her dancing, in an attempt to live out her dreams through her daughter.
Until now Portman has done well with roles that captured her ingenuity like Leon and Beautiful Girls but this is her first truly grown up performance reaching a level of maturity and confidence previously hinted at in Closer.
Her final dance as the Black Swan is a truly mesmerising scene to watch and completely becomes the character, leaving the old Nina behind.

It would be a crime to review the film without commenting on the ballet sequences. “it’s been done to death, I know, but not like this. We’re going to strip it down and make it visceral and real” says Cassel's character early on in the film and that is what they have done with the choreography here, all beautifully underscored by Clint Mansell who also puts his own spin on the classic Tchaikovsky. Portman and Kunis deserve huge credit for doing the majority of the dancing themselves.
I will hold my hands up and say that I am not a huge ballet fan and don't know much about the technical side of it, but I became swept up in the story being told through the dance and was nearly shed a tear during the final number... and since I have never cried at a film that is a bold statement.

Portman's final line of the film is "I was perfect" and she was. I rarely use the "M" word to describe a film, especially a new release but Black Swan is that rare beast in Hollywood these days: A Masterpiece.

Monday, 29 November 2010

1001 Films To Watch Before I Die: La Vie En Rose

Can I just start by asking if it is written into law with the French Film Industry that in order for a film to be made, it MUST star Gerard Depardieu... he's in bloody everything. Sacre Bleu!
In many ways this is your typical by-the-numbers celebrity biopic that charts the many highs and lows, in this case many lows, of Edith Piaf.
What saves it from mediocrity is the performance of Marion Cotillard. Not only is she one of the most beautiful women in the world, has a voice that could make a wolverine purr, but was also the only watchable thing in the terrible musical Nine. She was certainly more deserving of an Oscar nomination for that film than Penelope Cruz.
Speaking of Oscar, she won Best Actress for her performance as 'The Little Sparrow' with the big voice, and she is truly astonishing as Piaf, playing her from a teenager to the frail women who died at the age of 48.
Now Oscar loves nothing more than when actors play real people and Piaf's life gives Cotillard the opportunity to express the entire range of human emotions from the joy of her initial success to the anguish of the death of her lover to the pain of her illness.
It also gives her the chance to 'make herself ugly' and undergo a physical transformation, which of course worked wonders for Charlize Theron in Monster.
In all the celebrity biopics out there, they always feature scenes where the person breaks down due to problems with drink, drugs, people, success, etc. You never see films about straight-edged celebrities who lived a nice quiet life and were a goody two-shoes. And why? Because it wouldn't make a very exciting movie. You need conflict.
The main conflict that I have now with this film is with Piaf's most iconic song 'Non Je Ne Regrette Rien'. The conflict lies in its use by Christopher Nolan and Hans Zimmer as the trigger song in Inception, especially as the film stars Marion Cotillard.
The film ends with this song and features images of Piaf on her death bed and because of the way my mind works, I was wondering when the 'kick' was going to come and she wakes up from the dream!
Top 5 acting performances by musicians
1. Mark Wahlberg in The Departed
2. David Bowie in Labyrinth
3. Will Smith in Ali
4. Justin Timberlake in The Social Network
5. Stacy Ferguson in Planet Terror

Saturday, 27 November 2010

1001 Films To Watch Before I Die - ONCE

This film feels like an album brought to life, detailing the story and inspiration behind the songs in this tale of unrequited love between an Irish busker and a Czech immigrant that unfolds in an organic way that feels completely real and the songs provide a voice to the feelings and emotions of the characters that they cannot express normally.
Musicians Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova both give natural performances and have a genuine chemistry that lifts the film to rise above what could have become a stereotypical romance.
84 minutes of feelgood film that you'll definitely want to watch more than Once (sorry).

Top 5 Songs That Were Robbed of the Best Song Oscar
Falling Slowly won the Best Song Oscar in 2007 but poor Marketa was robbed of the opportunity to say her thank yous by an over-zealous band and a production team running over, and what followed was one of Oscars sweetest moments as host Jon Stewart brought her back on stage later on to say thanks. Speaking of injustice at the Oscars, here are five songs which deserved to win over the bland generic winners. Stupid Academy!

1. Blame Canada from South Park: The Movie
What did win? You'll Be In My Heart by Phil Collins from Tarzan

2. The Power Of Love by Huey Lewis And The News from Back To The Future
What did win? Say You, Say Me by Lionel Richie from White Nights

3. Ghostbusters from Ghostbusters
What did win? I Just Called To Say I Love You by Stevie Wonder from The Woman In Red

4. Nobody Does It Better by Carly Simon from The Spy Who Loved Me
What did win? You Light Up My Life by Joseph Brooks from You Light Up My Life

5. Listen from Dreamgirls
What did win? I Need To Wake Up from An Inconvenient Truth

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

1001 Films To Watch Before I Die: The Wrestler

On the surface this could have just been another film in the long line of cliched sports films about a former great star who is given one final shot at the big time. Thanks to a terrific performance from its leading man and Darren Aronofsky's decision to take a pseudo-documentary feel to the cinematography means that it manages to transcend the cliches to create a genuinely affecting movie that is not only one of the best in the sports genre but also the best film about wrestling (but that probably isn't too difficult).

I will admit at the beginning that I was a huge fan of wrestling when I was growing up (and I still keep an interest in it despite being unable to follow it as much since I don't have Sky Sports at my flat). This meant that my enjoyment of The Wrestler probably differed from the average moviegoer who had no interest in the antics of Hulk Hogan et all.

And so I'll review the film from the aspect of a wrestling fan rather than a film fan. After all there are loads of reviews about the film. Check Rotten Tomatoes to read some of them.

During the nineties when the popularity of WWE/WWF (damn pandas) was at its peak, there was the debate about whether wrestling was "fake" and inspired more heated debates than whether Santa Claus was real or not.
Yes, wrestling is fake, in that the results of the matches are pre-determined but it is very real in terms of the punishment that their bodies go through during the matches. And to the credit of the film it doesn't shy away from these aspects. This expose into the "real" world of wrestling is the film that Vince McMahon would not have wanted you to see.
On one side we see the backstage conversations between the wrestlers as the plot out the matches and the big spots they will use to wow the crowds, then it is followed by the aftermath of a Extreme Rules match where they are getting stitches and superglued after using barbed wire and the old "blading" trick, complete with authentic "holy shit" chants.
Mickey Rourke is fantastic as Randy The Ram, bringing his own past into the role whilst echoing certain characters from the world of wrestling including the Ultimate Warrior and Ric Flair.
He shows the emotional and physical pain that wrestlers put their bodies through, sometimes long after they really should have retired and the fame is gone and they wrestle for a few hundred fans in a community centre.
It is the reaction from the crowd that drives them on, as witnessed in the final moving scene where Randy addresses the fans before wrestling one last match that might kill him. It is all the more painful when thinking of real wrestlers like Eddie Guerrero and Davey Boy Smith who died at a young age of heart attacks, possibly brought on by the pressures on their bodies and steroid use.

Here is the first top 5 list, obviously inspired by High Fidelity which also inspired the name of the blog, and not taken from the feature currently on BBC Film 2010!

Top 5: Performances by a wrestler in a film

1. Jesse Ventura in PREDATOR
This was a no contest in terms of the top spot, there could only be one winner and that goes to Jesse "The Body" Ventura. Not only is he as physically imposing as Arnold, but he actually became a US Governer before the hulking Austrian but he nearly manages to steal the film from him as Blain, a Navy Seal so hard that he carries one of the coolest weapons in the history of cinema, Ole' Painless: a friggin' chain gun that is normally attached to the side of a helicopter.
He also gets some of the best lines in the film including the immortal "I ain't got time to bleed".

2. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson in BE COOL
The best thing by a country mile in a bad film that was a terrible sequel to the great GET SHORTY. The performance proved to Hollywood that he could act outside of the squared circle, but it wasn't too much of a stretch for him as he played a Samoan bodyguard who wants to be an actor and has a trick of raising an eyebrow. Well Elmore Leonard did write the character based on The Rock!

3. Rowdy Roddy Piper in THEY LIVE
He came here to chew bubble gum and kick ass and he's all out of bubble gum. One of the first wrestlers to make the crossover to movies after Hulk Hogan and he brings that fast talking sass that worked in Piper's Pit to this battle against an alien invasion which features one of the greatest fight scenes of all time.

4. Andre The Giant in THE PRINCESS BRIDE
Nicknamed the Eighth Wonder Of The World due to his size, he was never the most nimble of wrestlers but his bulk and presence were perfect for Fezzik, the hulking brute with a heart of gold in this fairytale classic.

5. George The Animal Steele in ED WOOD
The only performance on the list where the wrestler plays a wrestler, Steele played Tor Johnson who became part of Ed Wood's cast and crew during the years that would make such classics as Plan 9 From Outer Space.

So what do you think? Agree? Disagree? Mortified by the lack of Hulk Hogan on the list? Let me know, feedback always appreciated.

1001 Films To Watch Before *I* Die

Well it has been two months since I completed the epic (500) Films Of Empire challenge... and to be quite honest, I have missed it!
I have been working so much recently that I've had hardly any time to watch and enjoy films, and that needs to change.
So I have decided to work my way through the 1001 Films To Watch Before You Die as my next foray into the film challenge world.
Now before you all tell me I'm crazy, I have a much better timescale for this one i.e. before I die, which I can only hope is a long time off yet. Also anything that I have already watched as part of (500) Films of Empire will count.
Every film watched will be reviewed and in the spirit of High Fidelity, I'll throw in a Top 5 list based on an aspect of the film.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

District Mine - An Ace In The Hole

Today's big news story is the rescue of the 33 Chilean miners who have been trapped in a cave-in for what seems like forever.  Now while it is great news that they are finally getting out, the way my mind works is that it immediately reminded me of one of the films that I had watched for (500) Films of Empire called Ace In The Hole.  It concerned an unscrupulous out-of-work journalist who was first at the scene of a man trapped in a cave-in and delayed and manipulated the rescue attempts in order that he could build the story to sell to the press.
Now of course I'm not saying that this is the case here but it does have a hint of life imitating art imitating life, with Sky News apparently having a countdown from 33 to 1 as the miners come out.
It is a forgotten gem of a film that anyone who has been following the current news events should watch.  It is tough to track down but is available on iTunes.

385 - Ace In The Hole - 4 stars
As I head towards the finishing line, I am seeing a lot of the highly rated so called 'classics' of cinema, so it is nice that the Top 500 can still throw up a relatively unseen gem like Ace In The Hole.
Also called The Big Carnival it revolves around Tatum, a ruthless journalist who exploits the situation when a man gets trapped in a cave-in so that it becomes a media circus that he has control over.
There seems to be a theme running through this list that all the films that deal with journalism, depict journalist as unscrupulous, amoral douchebags who will do anything to get ahead (Sweet Smell Of Success, Network).
Now we all this type of story.  A heartless cynic exploits someone for their own advantage before eventually revealing a heart of gold and learns the error of their ways.
But in the hands of Billy Wilder, who also wrote and directed Double Indemnity and Sunset Boulevard which hardly show people as beacons of light, and Kirk Douglas, that character arc never seems like coming before it will be too late.
Douglas delivers another great performance and has terrific screen presence.  Tatum is a nasty piece of work; self-absorbed, he exploits people, not afraid to slap a woman, a hard drinker and totally heartless, but Douglas does his best to make the audience empathise and connect with his character nontheless.
To say anymore about the story could risk spoiling the film, so instead just seek out this cracking little gem of a film and another example of the old saying "They don't make 'em like that anymore".

Monday, 11 October 2010

Ten reasons why you should "LIKE" The Social Network

Initially I had quite a bit of sceptisism about The Social Network, or as most people simply refer to it "the Facebook movie". After all, most films based on computer games are terrible so what hope could there be for a film based on a computer website?
Well the odds have been well and truly defied, as David Fincher has delivered one of, if not the film of the year. Inception currently is my number one film but Social Network may eclipse it after a second viewing.
Below are ten reasons why everyone should get past the stigma of "the movie about Facebook" and watch The Social Network.

1. The opening scene
It is the best opening scene since Inglourious Basterds and these five minutes are better than most of the films that have been released in 2010. It tells you everything you need to know about Zuckerberg and that the man who created the biggest social network in the world cannot interact socially himself. The crackling dialogue that cracks back and forth between Zuckerberg and his girlfriend who is breaking up with him has the feeling of a Forties film that many argue "they don't write them like that anymore", but this proves that they can.
2. Aaron Sorkin
The man responsible for the script and the wonderful dialogue is the man behind The West Wing and should start using his talent to write his acceptance speech for the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. Anyone who can deliver a 160 page screenplay that zips by in 2 hours deserves the plaudits (the rule of thumb for screenplay is that each page equates to a minute of screen time).
3. Jesse Eisenberg
He is the thinking man's Michael Cera and with his portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg is fantastic and should mean that he will escape Cera's fate of being accused of always playing himself. In the past Jesse has always played likeable, nervous geeks but Zuckerberg (in this film) is not a particularly likeable character and Eisenberg really raises his game to give him a coldness to his eyes that while emotionless on the outside, you can see that internally he is processing things like a computer.
4. David Fincher
He has really matured and this is his most complete film since Zodiac. He has forgone his traditional love of striking, complicated visual trickery that overwhelmed Panic Room and Button and focused on the story to deliver a drama that moves at the pace of a thriller and feels like truly effortless filmmaking.

5. The score
Trent Reznor was responsible for one of the most famous music cues in recent film history with his "Hello Zepp" cue from Saw which has been used in every one of the 102 sequels since, but working with Atticus Ross, they have delivered a fantastic electronic score that generates the hum and buzz of computers and evokes memories of the score to Fight Club, also by Fincher.

6. The new Spider-Man, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and that kid from N*Sync are in it
Use this as a chance to see the talents of Andrew Garfield, Rooney Mara who will take on these iconic roles next year, and also proof that JT can actually act, proving a great choice to play the sleazy, seductive Sean Parker whose influence drives a wedge between Mark and Eduardo.
7. Citizen Kane
Some reviewers have made comparisons to "the greatest film ever made" which is a very risky thing to do, but I believe they are valid. Like Kane, this is a story about a man made up from testimonies of other people so you never get to know the real Mark Zuckerberg. It even has a nice Rosebud style moment at the end of the film that might explain his motivations.

8. The Winklevoss Twins.
It has been said that CGI should only be used to enhance the story, not become the story and in The Social Network, Fincher has one of the best and most subtle uses of CGI in recent memory. The twins are credited as Armie Hammer and Josh Pence but really these identical twins both have the head, face and voice of Armie Hammer which was digitally grafted onto the body of Josh Pence. Watch the film and you will hardly be able to notice the effect.

9. It makes scenes of people sitting around using computers interesting and exciting!
10. It shows that geeks who create websites getting success, money and getting laid.
I hope that the same is true for myself and my blog!

Friday, 8 October 2010

Unstoppable... but only for 100 minutes, therefore it will eventually stop!

Potential False Advertising Alert: If Unstoppable's running time is even slightly over or under 100 minutes I will be extremely annoyed!

Thursday, 7 October 2010

The Show Must Go On...

Now that my (500) Films of Empire challenge is over, I am spending most of my spare time rehearsing for a couple of musical theatre productions and am using my blog in a shameless attempt to sell tickets to the shows!

First up I will be playing Lt. Brannigan in Guys and Dolls at Aberdeen Arts Centre from Wed 20th - Sat 23rd October at 7.30pm.
Tickets can be bought from Aberdeen Box Office.

Then a couple of weeks later I'll be part of the cast of The Producers performing at His Majesty's Theatre from Wed 3rd - Sat 6th November at 7.30pm.
I guarantee that this will be one of the best amateur productions that you will ever see.
If you need any more convincing there will be a giant dancing swastika and I will be dressed as a Nazi, an old lady and a member of the Village people, all in one evening.
Tickets for that can also be bought from the box office.
Hopefully I will see some of you there.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

I have a bad feeling about this...

Last night I finally managed to watch Fanboys, the Star Wars comedy that had been delayed for several years thanks to the Galactic Empire otherwise known as Harvey Weinstein.

The story concerns a group of die-hard Star Wars fans who have drifted apart but join forces to travel across America in 1998 to steal a copy of The Phantom Menace so their friend who is dying of cancer can see it before he dies.

What follows is a standard teenage road trip movie where a large percentage of the usual "dick and fart jokes" and naked breasts are substituted for geeky Star Wars references, celebrity cameos and an on-going battle with a group of Trekkies.

This film should have been a Star Wars geek's wet dream, the movie that any fan would have wanted to make.

But unfortunately it isn't.

The film struggles to find a cohesive tone with the main culprit being the cancer part of the storyline. It drifts in and out of the film and doesn't provide enough emotional weight until too late in the film. This is due to interference by Harvey who wanted to excise the entire subplot.

However what was most disappointing was the discovery that my love affair with Star Wars is over :-(

I should have loved all the repeated lines, using the Jedi mind trick to get a girl to remove her clothes, et all, but it all fell a little flat with me.

The problem was that while trying to evoke the nostalgia of how we all loved the original trilogy, it just brought to the surface all the feelings of disappointment of the final results of the prequels.

That being said, it did have a fantastic final line as the group finally sit down to watch The Phantom Menace, one of the guys turns to the others and says "Dude, what if it sucks?"... and there is the bonus of seeing Kristen Bell dressed as Princess Leia in the slave girl bikini.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Shut Up Meg!

Today I watched a couple of episodes of Family Guy and also the movie Extract.

Now I've known for years but it still baffles me that Meg Griffin aka this:

is voiced by Mila Kunis, aka this:

R.I.P. Tony Curtis & Sally Menke

Sad news to wake up to this morning to read that Tony Curtis had passed away which followed on from the death of Sally Menke, Tarantino's editor earlier this week. Both extremely talented individuals in their own right who will be sorely missed.

Tony Curtis is someone who's work I wasn't too familiar with until I did my (500) Films of Empire challenge. Till that point the only Tony Curtis I really knew was the old, slightly senile, man in a wheelchair who would appear on The One Show and tell amusing rambling anecdotes of his time in Hollywood. Thanks to the challenge however, I got to see him give three terrific performances in Spartacus, Some Like It Hot, and his best ever role as Sidney Falco, a slimy, sycophantic press agent in Sweet Smell Of Success.

Sally Menke edited every single Tarantino film from Reservoir Dogs to Inglourious Basterds. She was probably more responsible than anyone for trying to reign in QT in terms of action and pacing and helped define his style as a writer/director. Together they were as important a director/editor team as Scorsese/Schoonmaker.
Tarantino's future films will have a different feel to them but we can be thankful for the ones we already have. Below is a video where QT talks about the importance of their collaboration and some more great "hello Sally's".

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

The Look Of Love

I received the new quad poster for LET ME IN at the cinema today:

It immediately reminded me of another poster:

Which in turn, reminds a lot of people of this poster:

What is it about forbidden love that requires the central couple to stare down at the floor over each other's shoulders?
Are there any other examples of this phenomenon out there on cinema walls somewhere?

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Film Killed The Video Game Star

Today I watched the greatest film ever made that was based on a video game... in fact, it is the ONLY great film based on a video game.

That film was The King Of Kong: A Fistful Of Quarters. It is a documentary about the rivalry between two gamers looking to set the world record score on Donkey Kong.

A fascinating and entertaining look at how seriously some of these gamers (most of whom are your stereotypical nerds who clearly are all still virgins) take their 'sport', and it plays out like a classic sports underdog movie as newcomer Steve Wiebe looks to take on the shadowy and mysterious Billy Mitchell (who seems like a character from Dodgeball).

Hollywood still enjoys making movies based on video games because they believe that there is a huge built in audience. Despite the fact that throughout the years, they have all ranged from OK (Tomb Raider, Doom) to awful (Super Mario Brothers, Street Fighter, everything else).

The one that really should have worked was Resident Evil. Resident Evil 2 is still my all time favourite game and a film series based on the games about a zombie outbreak is a perfect cinematic setup but Paul W.S. Anderson failed to translate it to the big screen.

What is the secret to making a great film based on a video game? Make it about the video game and not based on the video game. If you do a straight adaptation you will end up with a terrible film that nine times out of ten has been directed by Uwe Boll.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

I'm quivering with an-tic-i-pation

With (500) Films of Empire now a distant memory, I now have only new films to focus my attention on.
But with 2010 so far proving a less-than-stellar year so far in terms of quality, what is there left to get excited about (especially since most of the great stuff being featured at the upcoming LFF isn't released until 2011).

1. Black Swan - I'm in New York during December and will use that opportunity to see this gorgeous looking film that was the talk of Venice.
2. The Social Network - Fincher tells the story behind Facebook. Like.
3. Let Me In - well my feelings on that are here
4. Back To The Future - Yep, this year is so bad that one of my highlights is a film that is 25 years old!
5. Buried - 94 minutes of Ryan Reynolds trapped in a coffin that doesn't resort to flashbacks or dream sequences to escapes the confines of the space. Excited.

Let The Wrong One In?

Something has been troubling me for some time now.

I'm referring to Let Me In, the completely unnecessary Hollywood remake of my favourite film of 2009, Let The Right One In, but has worryingly now become one of my most highly anticipated films of the year.

When I first heard of the news of the remake, my reaction was similar to everyone else:
"How dare they remake this film! Yet another example of Hollywood remaking a great foreign language film because most Brits and Americans are too lazy and/or dumb to read subtitles."

In fact at Empire Movie-Con back in August (in a very smart move by the producers), the adorable Chloe Moretz introduced two scenes from the film. She was so lovely that it stopped any bad feeling towards the remake... well almost! During a quick Q&A afterwards someone who shall remain nameless (sorry Neil ;) ) expressed his anger at the remake. Unwise since it wasn't her idea, or maybe it was:
Producer - "After the success of Kick-Ass you can do any movie you want. What will it be?"
Chloe - "You know what? I'd love to remake that Swedish vampire movie"
Plus she is Hit-Girl. I wouldn't provoke a 13 year old girl who can kill you with a butterfly knife!

I myself am usually the first person to get up on his high horse about Hollywood having such a lack of ideas that all they can do is remake other films, or moan about how people are missing out on superior quality films by rejecting any film just because it has subtitles.
For every good remake like The Departed or The Ring, we also get the bad (Dinner For Schmucks, The Eye, Pulse, any J-Horror remake really), to the pointless (Funny Games, Quarantine).

My overall feelings on the final film could depend on the handling of certain aspects of the story from both the original film and the book, but having liked what I have seen so far I am willing to approach it with an open mind.

Below are the top five reasons why I am actually looking forward to Let Me In.

1. The cast. Great character actors like Elias Koteas and Richard Jenkins alongside two of the best child actors working today. Smit-McPhee was great in The Road and Moretz has the ability to be as good as Natalie Portman or Jodie Foster.
2. At no point does it look like Twilight.
3. I'm sure that I saw Abby wearing a KISS T-Shirt at one point in the trailer
4. I have just discovered that Michael Giacchino (who won an Oscar for Up) is doing the score for the film.
5. I can pretty much guarantee that Let Me In won't have such ridiculous CGI cats in it.

I must state that my feelings towards the film have in no way been affected by the fact I have a Let Me In poster signed by Chloe Moretz hanging on my wall. Honest!

P.S. You can probably expect a similar post just before David Fincher is ready to release his version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

Friday, 17 September 2010

A dream realised...

The (500) Films Of Empire challenge is finally over and not only did I manage to complete it but I have fulfilled another ambition of mine which was to write for Empire Magazine, which I have now achieved (sort of).
The lovely Helen O'Hara has been kind enough to post an article where I talk about the whole challenge; highlights, best film, sleepless nights, etc.
You can check it out here -

Now all I need to do is get a permanent job writing for them. That is the next challenge ;-)

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Dallas's Top 30 Films of All Time

Now that the dust has begun to settle on my epic (500) Films of Empire challenge, it is time to pick my own personal list of the greatest films of all time.
Since the challenge started as one of those things to do before I was 30, I feel it appropriate to pick the 30 films that I believe are the best according to my reviews over the past year and the 30 films I would be happy to watch again and again.

1. Casablanca
2. Raiders Of The Lost Ark
3. The Shining
4. The Empire Strikes Back
5.  Jaws
6.  The Big Lebowski
7. Back To The Future
8. Star Wars: A New Hope
9. The Godfather
10. Moulin Rouge
11.  Alien
12.  Psycho
13.  Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy
14.  Heat
15.  Toy Story/Toy Story 2
16.  Die Hard
17.  Taxi Driver
18.  When Harry Met Sally
19.  Shaun Of The Dead
20.  North By Northwest
21.  On The Waterfront
22.  Breathless (A Bout De Souffle)
23.  Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind
24.  High Fidelity
25.  Fight Club
26.  Predator
27.  Evil Dead 2
28.  The Dark Knight
29. Grosse Pointe Blank
30. Airplane

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 365 - The End

1 - The Godfather - 5 stars
So yes my earlier confession was true. The general manager of The Belmont Picturehouse had never seen "the greatest film of all time". Shocking!
But that crime against cinema was finally forgiven tonight as I completed the most epic of epic film challenges as (500) Films of Empire came to its conclusion.
And what a way to end. Over 100 people, including my dad and friends, came along to screen 1 at 8.00 to join me in watching the number one film on the list, the daddy, The Godfather.
Annoyingly due to the way this challenge has worked out, I have actually watched the trilogy out of sequence, watching part 3 then part 2 and finally the original... but is it the best?
My review of The Godfather Part 2 gave the film five stars, and it is widely regarded as a sequel that is better than the original. But this blog doesn't deal with what other people think but what I think.
And upon my initial viewing, I would say that I prefer The Godfather.
That might be due to the fact that without having seen this one, certain elements of Part 2 might not have had the same emotional resonance, but perhaps it is because it has a more complete story and it is a fabulous piece of filmmaking.
It has a really beautiful look thanks to the cinematography. I love the look and feel that films had during the seventies.
The story is compelling and never drags inspite of a running time of just under three hours. It charts the fall of the 'Don' aka Marlon Brando and the rise of Michael Corleone to take over his position as the head of the family.
Brando is superb, and the puffed out cheeks and hushed voice work perfectly when combined with his physical presence to create a man who can be softly spoken but still command respect.
I had previously said that Pacino's best peformance was in Godfather Part 2, but he is even better in this one. His character goes on an even bigger arc, starting off as the brother who has no part in the 'family business' but ends up in charge and the new 'Godfather'. The scene in Louis's restaurant where he has to kill two men is the key turning point and everything you need to know is right there in Pacino's eyes. Also he doesn't really shout at all in the film!
Acting is terrific right across the board and Sofia Coppolla is MUCH better in this film than in part 3, playing the role of the baby being christened perfectly ;)
Speaking of Part 3, I might have to change my grading of the film now that I realise that the scene in the opera house intercut with the mob hits was just recycled from this film.
Certainly one of the best films ever made, if not the best.
Certainly a fitting end to the challenge with every bursting party poppers at the end of the film to celebrate the achievement.
Now that it is all over, would I do it all again? Let's just say it would take "an offer he can't refuse" to make me do it!

Days remaining - 0 Films remaining - 0

(500) Films of Empire - A Confession!

I have been harbouring a dark secret this past year and now is the time to reveal it...

I have never seen The Godfather!

This crime against cinema will finally be rectified tonight. Phew!


A couple of thank yous

Well, tonight is the big night. The culmination of one year of my life attempting to complete (500) Films of Empire.
Inspired by Julie & Julia and desperate to find the cinematic equivalent, it started out as a bit of a laugh, one of those things to do before you're 30, but it has grown into an obsession that has taken over my life. I've basically given up having a social life for the past year due to having to watch films instead of hanging out with my friends, and as for the dating game... forget it.
I certainly know what my next challenge will be... find a date!
It has been 365 very long days during this challenge and the time spent watching all 500 films will have amounted to 59832 minutes or the equivalent of 41.6 days doing nothing but watching movies.
There have been some tremendous highs (Cannes, Empire Movie-Con, watching Alien at the Duke of York's in Brighton) and some lows (lack of sleep, ongoing frustration at work, Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull).
As I gear up towards the final screening tonight, I just want to take a minute to thank a few people who have helped out during this quest.

Thanks to:
Helen O'Hara, Chris Hewitt and Ian Freer from Empire Magazine; Lovefilm for making sure I managed to get most of the films I needed; Matty at Beak Street for designing the awesome poster; my programmer Emily for getting a few of the films on at The Belmont; Scott and Graham for getting me Heimat for my birthday; Sam, Louise, Andy and the rest of the Cannes In A Van crew; Jon and the team at Duke Of York's; the Movie-Con Forumites (there are too many to mention but include Ethanial, Odddaze, Space Cowboy, nclowe, janenotvictoria, etc); all the tweeps and bloggers for their support and kind words; the staff and regulars at The Belmont for lending me the odd DVD; my parents for not disowning me through such a ridiculous challenge; my friends for putting up with hardly seeing me in the past year, I'll make up for that on October 2nd!

I'm sure I'll have missed out someone imprtant but I'l do a full debriefing and analysis of the whole challenge over the weekend after I've taken a couple of days off to recover from the madness!

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 364

2 - Raiders Of The Lost Ark - 5 stars
"Asps, very dangerous, you go first"
Is this the perfect film?
Back in 2003, some film geeks and mathematicians worked out a formula for the 'perfect film' and decided that Toy Story 2 was the ultimate film (based on films released in the nineties).
The perfect film would be made up of: action 30%, comedy 17%, good v evil 13%, love/sex/romance 12%, special effects 10%, plot 10% and music 8%, suggested Sue Clayton, a director and screenwriting lecturer for the University of London and the British Film Council.
I would argue that Raiders is probably the most perfect film ever made. Plenty of action (the truck chase is outstanding, Ford's fist fight with Pat Roach and a aeroplane propeller, and all achieved without CGI), some comedy (Nazi monkeys, Indy's dry sense of humour), good vs evil (Indy vs Nazis), love/sex/romance (Indy and Marion, with the highlight being the scene where she tends to his wounds. "where doesn't it hurt?", "here" pointing to his elbow so he gets a kiss), special effects (melting Nazis for crying out loud), plot (a story that zips along with never a wasted moment), and finally music (you can't go wrong when you have John Williams doing the score).
"It ain't the years honey, it's the mileage".
Thankfully 19 years on, Raiders is still as enjoyable as it was back in 1981. There is probably not a more purely enjoyable film anywhere on this list.
This is Harrison Ford's best performance, totally nailing the charming rogue who single handedly makes archaeology cool. He has an old school movie charm andbalances the tough guy action with a dry sense of humour and the ability to woo the women.
Indiana Jones is up there with Bond as cinema's greatest action hero. Similar to a Bond film, it even has an opening scene with Indy on a different adventure. That iconic scene with the idol and the boulder perfectly sets the tone for the film and provides more thrills in 10 minutes than most modern Hollywood films.
Spielberg and Lucas triumphed with their salute to the B Movies of the 30's and I'm happy to see that this film still remains untouched by their hands and turned into a CGI special edition. The reason that it works so well is that it feels real. All the stunts are performed in the camera and when Ford takes a punch it looks like it hurts.
We screened it here at The Belmont a couple of years ago and it was the first time I had seen the full uncut film with full melting nazis and Indy swearing. Those bits never made it onto the BBC Sunday afternoon versions I was used to. It was one of the best screenings I've ever been to.

Days remaining - 1 Films remaining - 1

Monday, 13 September 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 363

3 - The Empire Strikes Back - 5 stars
I can tell you that if every year between 1985 and 1998 I had been asked to name my favourite film, the answer would have immediately been The Empire Strikes Back.
After 1998 I actually started to do film studies at university and have been working at The Belmont for the last seven years, and have developed a much greater knowledge and appreciation of film and therefore my tastes have reached further than just a galaxy far, far away.
But when I was growing up Star Wars was my number one obsession. I had (nearly) all the toys, I would watch the films every weekend, I could visualise every shot, every sound effect, every edit (even to the point I could watch the movie in my head including when the advert breaks would come in on ITV).
Empire was always my favourite. Screw anyone who thinks that Jedi was better.
Empire starts off with the best battle in the trilogy: The Battle of Hoth. It epitomises the struggle between the rebels and the Imperials, as you have tiny speeders going up against the awesome AT-ATs, Dak stupidly using the war cliche "I feel like I could take on the whole Empire myself" = dead man, plus the rebels lose!
It also introduces some great new characters into the story with the cool bad-ass Boba Fett, and Yoda.
My perception of Yoda has changed since viewing the prequel trilogy. Before I thought that Yoda was putting on an act, messing around with Luke when he firsts meets him in the swamp but now I think that Yoda has simply gone a bit bonkers due to spending 20+ years on his own on Dagobah!
The change of director to Irvin Kershner reaps dividends. Lucas always admitted he wasn't a people person and Kershner manages to draw better performances out of the cast, especially Fisher and Ford.
This was the movie that really sealed Harrison Ford's star quality as the romance between Leia and Han Solo was developed, with much of its success due to Leigh Brackett's work on the screenplay. She also wrote the screenplay for The Big Sleep and the banter between the Princess and the "scoundrel" has a whip and a snap of that dialogue that worked so well for Bogart and Bacall.
Their romance results in one of my all-time favourite film moments as Solo is about to be put into carbonite. "I love you"... "I know". Ford's ad-libbed response because he was unhappy with the line as written is just as good as the last-minute change in Raiders. Although Family Guy's response is almost as good.
When I watched this in the cinema in 1997 when the special editions were released, and during that scene and a kid in the row in front of me started to cry and I leaned forward and said "I know how you feel kid, don't worry, I've a feeling he'll be OK".
I was born in 1980 so I have no idea of the frustration that people must have gone through, having to wait for three years to find out how the story concluded and whether or not Darth Vader was telling the truth about his bombshell of a revelation "No. I AM your father!".
It was one of the original twist endings and a truly iconic cinematic moment.
"Empire" had the better ending. I mean, Luke gets his hand cut off, finds out Vader's his father, Han gets frozen and taken away by Boba Fett. It ends on such a down note. I mean, that's what life is, a series of down endings. All "Jedi" had was a bunch of Muppets." - Dante Hick, Clerks.
That quote perfectly sums up why I love this film so much. It shouldn't be the best one, because it is the middle act in a story and has no real beginning or end, but the fates aligned to produce the greatest science fiction/fantasy film ever made.

Days remaining - 2 Films remaining - 2

Sunday, 12 September 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 362

4 - The Shawshank Redemption - 5 stars
It is nice to see that over time justice is done and people realise truly great films even if they don't initially. For in 1995 Forrest Gump won Best Picture Oscar ahead of Shawshank Redemption and Pulp Fiction. Now both of these are in the top ten whilst Gump is sitting on his park bench eating chocolates at a lowly 242.
Shawshank didn't really find its audience until it was released on home video and now regularly features near the top of every 'favourite film' or 'best film ever made' lists, but does it really deserve its place so high up the list?
There was a little bit of cynicism in my mind when I popped the DVD in the player as it had been several years since I had seen it and I have built up a natural suspicion of films that are so universally accepted, like It's A Wonderful Life. But just liked that film, my cynicism was quickly washed away once it started and enjoyed it from the first minute to the last.
Isn't it funny how the best films based on Stephen King books tend to be the ones that are not supernatural i.e. The Shawshank Redemption, Stand By Me, Misery. Of course, The Shining is the obvious exception.
A superior prison drama that slow burns its way through everyday life in the prison as Dufrense refuses to conform to the instituitionalisation that affects the other 'lifers' and makes various attempts to 'break out' and avoid the pain of being imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit or being raped in the showers. He makes a plan to "get busy living, or get busy dying" whether it be providing banking advice for the guards or money laundering for the warden, or playing the opera aria over the prison radio system.
The nice thing about Shawshank is that it doesn't tip its hand too early regarding the Andy Dufrense's actual liberation from prison. This is due to the fact that the main character is actually Red, played by Morgan Freeman who really found his niche in the market as the elderly statesman narrator. We discover the twist in the tale at the exact same time as he does, and it is an incredibly satisfying moment as several minor threads come together for the big reveal.
Yes, it might be a safe and easy choice for some people when asked for their favourite film of all time, but it is a good film and while not my pick for the top spot, there are certainly worse films they could choose.
Days remaining - 3 Films remaining - 3

Saturday, 11 September 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 361

5 - Jaws - 5 stars
Duh-Dum. Duh-Dum. duh-dum, duh-dum, duh-dum, duh-dum, duh-dum, duh-dum, duh-duh-dah.
Just a couple of notes but hum it and everyone immediately knows what you are talking about.
Amazing to think that the film's biggest problem became it's biggest asset: A malfunctioning mechanical shark called Bruce.
Due to the problems operating the shark, it forced Spielberg to adapt his filmmaking style and for two-thirds of the film, the threat remains unseen. Its presence indicated by the appearance of John Williams memorable tune. It increases the tension and plays on the theme of the best horror films in that "less is more", and provides that iconic moment on its reveal: "You're gonna need a bigger boat".
The film is as lean and mean as the predator stalking the waters of Amity Island. There is characterisation and plot development with the minimum of fuss, the editing is tight (particularly during the Alex Kitner death at the beach with the reverse zoom and the cross-screen wipes), and the sense of panic on the island is palpable as the shark claims victim after victim until our heroic trio set sail to catch themselves a really big fish.
Once the Orca heads out to sea, the film rests on the shoulders of the three main actors Schieder, Dreyfuss and Shaw, as there is no one else except for Bruce in the final 40 minutes of the film.
They all bring their A-Game and create a real chemistry between them that begins as standoffish and prickly but gives in to begrudging respect during a drunken night as they compare scars and ends with Quint's terrific USS Indianapolis speech.
Now "Smile you son of a bi..." :)
Whilst some bemoan the fact that this film helped to create the summer blockbuster meaning that we have to continually put up with terrible films that are big on budget and spectacle but low on quality and ideas but Jaws still remains a 5 star film.
Part of me would still love to see Must Love Jaws though.

P.S. Jaws is in fact the other film in the top ten that I have fainted during. Embarassingly enough, I fainted when I was about 11 years old during the moment when the shark bites down on Quint causing blood to spew out of his mouth. Seems ridiculous now!

Days remaining - 4 Films remaining - 4

Friday, 10 September 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 360

6 - Goodfellas - 4 stars
No Goodfellas, no Sopranos. Fact.
There is a great piece of trivia on Imdb for this film that states "there are 296 fucks in this film, at a rate of 2.04 per minute... around half of which are said by Joe Pesci".
Pesci famously won an Oscar for his portrayal of "funny" Tommy DeVito. It is a scene-stealing, entertaining performance but do you really deserve an Oscar for shouting fuck a lot? I'm not so sure.
Three guys in a car hear a noise in the boot. They pull over and open the truck and finish off killing the guy lying bloodied and beaten in there. Freeze frame on Ray Liotta's face. "As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster". Instantly, I'm hooked.
Goodfellas has ten times more swagger than The Godfather. It is bold and brash, like the young upstart in the crew who is desperate to make an impression on the older generation.
You get narration not only from Henry Hill but also from his wife, talking directly to the camera, that magnificent steadicam shot through the Copa, the Layla sequence all gel perfectly together in the skillful hands of Scorsese.
Nobody does gangsters better than Marty. He instinctively knows this world and knows what music to use, when and where to cut, how to get the best out of his actors (Liotta would never be this good again), etc. Plus you get an excellent tip for cooking garlic!
Following Henry on his rise up the ladder of the Mafioso underworld, it does glamourise the lifestyle but that is the point. You need to understand the appeal of the lifestyle to then fully appreciate the downfall. I wouldn't go as far to say that it is anti-gangster in the way that Trainspotting is anti-heroin but it does show both sides of the story.

Days remaining - 5 Films remaining - 5

Thursday, 9 September 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 359 - Apocalypse WOW!

7 - Apocalypse Now - 4 stars
That's right. After much deliberation over which version of the film I should watch: original or redux, I decided to go with public opinion and plumped for the original. Two factors were key. 1. The running time. 152 minutes rather than 194. 2. The film title in the list was Apocalypse Now, NOT Apocalypse Now Redux.
A nice touch to start with The End, as President Jed Bartlett takes the ultimate boat trip up river into the heart of darkness to find a fat Jor-El babbling away about "the horror, the horror" of war.
This movie is probably the Woodstock of 'Nam, being the most trippy excursion into the jungle that has been put on film.
Of course, getting that onto film turned out to be a struggle. They say that war is hell but making this film aruguably was even worse for Coppola but he came out the other side with his reputation intact and it even inspired a spoof in the form of Tropic Thunder.
Due the nature of most films that feature a journey with a final destination in mind, the narrative can feel somewhat episodic: some travelling on the boat, stop for a while to meet some people, travel some more, do some fighting, travel some more, see a tiger, etc, etc, etc.
The individual moments are all very good whether it be Robert Duvall talking about napalm and surfing, the editing at the beginning with the helicopters becoming ceiling fans or Dennis Hopper babbling about Kurtz's genius, but overall I found it difficult for the film to gel together as a whole.
P.S. I had forgotten that Harrison Ford was in this. That means that he is the only actor to appear three times in the Top Ten. I'm sure you can work out which films they are.

My top five war films from the list:
1. Downfall
2. Paths Of Glory
3. The Thin Red Line
4. Apocalypse Now
5. The Great Escape

I can conclude that the best war films come from World War 2 but Vietnam had the best soundtrack. Not including Intergalactic Civil War in a galaxy far, far away of course!

Days remaining - 6 Films remaining - 6

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 358

8 - Singin' In The Rain - 3 stars
To gear up for the top rated musical on the list with this little video on /Film that looks at the history of dance in the movies, all set to some classic Kenny Loggins.
Another film that I had never seen before. The only thing I had seen was the hilarious Morecambe & Wise spoof from years ago but always guaranteed to bring a smile to my face.
There has been a lot of talk recently about meta films or movies about movies, and Singin' In The Rain is one of the original and best.
It revolves around a group of silent movie actors who feel threatened by the invention of the "talkies" aka talking pictures (in particular the wonderful Jean Hagen who has the looks but not the voice to succeed), but find a Hollywood reprieve through the medium of song and dance.
Whilst he may have been a tyrant and a perfectionist on set, there is no denying Gene Kelly is one of the greatest dancers who ever graced the silver screen. His technique and charisma leap off the screen and delivers one great dance number after another including the infamous title sequence (apparently done all in one take).
And here is where my problem lies with Singin' In The Rain and other musicals of this type like On The Town. A lot of these films features lots of song and dance numbers that are simply there to serve as a showcase for the performer's talent, a case of "hey everyone, come and see how good I look", with the songs and dances sometimes having very little to do with the plot.
Now there may be people out there who enjoy this type of film purely from an entertainment of the spectacle point of view, but I personally feel (and this comes from having written a couple of musicals for Student Show) is that everything in the script should have a purpose and with musicals that means that the songs should further the plot and enhance the story... and some of the songs in this film (like Good Morning) do not do this.

Days remaining - 7 Films remaining - 7

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 357

9 - Pulp Fiction - 4 stars
It is amazing to realise how long it has been since I have seen any of the films in the top ten. Obviously I wouldn't have seen any of them in the past 365 days, but I haven't seen any of these films in years. Odd considering these are supposed to be the greatest ever made. Still it is nice to revisit them all now.
My first viewing of Pulp Fiction was a memorable one. I was 15 and this was back in the day when you had to wait a year or so before a film would make its way onto Sky Movies (how on earth did we cope?). I begged my parents to let me watch it, since it was an 18 and they might have wanted to protect their innocent little boy, but they relented and we watched it... or at least I watched the first 50 minutes or so. It turned out when I looked up at the ceiling that I had actually fainted during the overdose scene and therefore never got to see the end of the film. It would actually be several years before I got to see (and stayed concious for) the entire film.
So what do I think of it now?
Empire called Pulp Fiction the "definitive nineties movie" and it would be hard to argue with that. It spawned an entire genre of imitators (i.e. any crime film had to have scenes where the criminals would talk about pop culture references in a non-linear narrative); cemented the need to have a soundtrack filled with snippets of dialogue from the movie; made Tarantino the coolest filmmaker around (even if he found it difficult to follow up on this film); and was incredibly influential on the careers of its actors (Travolta's career was resurrected, Willis proved he could do more than action, it made a star out of Samuel L. Jackson, etc).
Fiction is an interesting film but it is not due to the non-linear structure but it is down to other aspects of its storytelling. It is made up of three generic pulp stories; The Boss's Wife, Boxer Throws A Fight and The Hitmen Who Have To Retrieve A Package.
Tarantino splits these up so elements of each story appear in others but what is great about the film is that he takes each story in an unexpected direction. Instead of having an affair with the wife the employee has to take care of her when she ODs; we never see the boxing match, just the aftermath; and the story with Vincent and Jules is really made up of the scenes that would be cut from any other movie as they don't really service the plot, and just feature two guys talking about life.
The film's main strength is its dialogue. It is a beautifully lyrical film, albeit one loaded with f-bombs. QT has a real ear for natural sounding dialogue and the result is one of the most quotable films of all time, whether it is discussing the differences between Amsterdam and the US or Christopher Walken delivering another cracking monolgue about a watch up someone's ass.
What impressed me this time around was the cinematography. Andrej Sekula has a sharp eye and knows how to frame each shot, particularly during the dinner scene with Travolta and Thurman. They start off far apart and distant in the frame, then gradually met in the middle as they get to know each other.
However... after all that praise I am still only going to award Pulp Fiction 4 stars. Why? Because Tarantino has always been guilty of not knowing when to cut. Because he writes and directs his own material it makes it harder for him to edit them because he seems to lose some degree of objectivity, Death Proof being a prime example of a film with too much talking, not enough action. And in Fiction, the problem lies in that fact that The Bonnie Situation segment that ends the film is too bloated and not as good as the previous parts of the film.

P.S. The Empire 500 List was compiled back in August 2008 and at that point they said that Tarantino was yet to surpass this... but in my humble opinion (and pretty much the only one you will find on this blog) I honestly believe that Inglourious Basterds is now his "masterpiece", which seems to improve with every viewing.
P.S.S. To follow on from the story of fainting during Pulp Fiction, it was actually a pretty regular occurence during movies when I was a teenager. Something about blood made me pass out, ironic considering my dad is a haemotologist! It wasn't your run-of-the-mill OTT Evil Dead style, obviously fake blood and gore that is made from melted red crayons that affected me but realistic stuff that sent me heading straight to the floor.
There is actually another film in this top ten that caused me to pass out but which one? I guess you'll have to keep checking back every day to find out.

Days remaining - 8 Films remaining - 8

Monday, 6 September 2010

The End Is Nigh...

This is it everyone. We're now into the Top Ten of the (500) Films of Empire challenge. I'll be watching one film each day until Wed 15th September when I'll be at The Belmont Picturehouse celebrating my cinema's 10th birthday with a screening of the number one film on the list, The Godfather.
Over the next ten days I'll be watching Fight Club, Pulp Fiction, Singin' In The Rain, Apocalypse Now, Goodfellas, Jaws, The Shawshank Redemption, The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, and The Godfather. Not a bad bunch of films to end on ;)
It has been quite a year that I've had trying to complete this crazy, crazy challenge but, for the most part, it has been incredibly enjoyable. I've been able to visit Cannes for the film festival, meet some incredible people (special shout-out to the Forumites) and of course, see some fantastic films.
Once the challenge is complete, I'll do a retrospective on the past year, talking about my highlights and then deciding upon my all-time favourite films.
Will I miss it when it's done? What will I do with all that free time I'll have? I just don't know!

(500) Films of Empire - Day 356

10 - Fight Club - 5 stars
The first rule of Fight Club is you don't talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club.
Alright then...

Days remaining - 9 Films remaining - 9

Sunday, 5 September 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 355

145 - Sophie's Choice - 4 stars
I wondered what this film was going to be. All I knew of it was the clip that is always shown on that 100 best tearjerkers TV show. I was unsure how the film would revolve around one decision, whether it would come at the beginning or the end of the film.
These days I don't think it is much of a secret that Sophie is forced to choose between her children when at a concentration camp, one will live, the other will die. The choice is heartwrenching to watch, especially because of the reaction of the girl playing Streep's daughter. It so believable but she is so young that I can't imagine how they got that performance from her without telling her some horrible things!
The main focal point of the film is Meryl Streep's performance and it is possibly the finest performance I have ever seen by an actress. Her Polish accent is very convincing, her spoken German is flawless and she undergoes physical transformations that make Christian Bale's seem half-assed. She is absolutely magnificent playing a woman unsure of how to live in a world where she has lost everything.
While everyone always raved about Streep, it was taken for granted that she was great, I was really knocked out by Kevin Kline as her paranoid schizophrenic boyfriend. At times charming, at others terrifying.
What intrigued me at the end of the film was that, for me, the title Sophie's Choice did not actually refer to the decision about which child would survive, but actually was about her choice of who to be with i.e. the volatile Nathan or the sweet, innocent Slingo because it is this decision that ultimately decides on what kind of life she has. However this might just be my interpretation of the film.
Quick question for anyone who has seen the film. I got a copy of the film from one of those "free in the Mail on Sunday" DVDs and there are scenes in the film that flashback to Sophie's time in the concentration camp and it is all in German and Polish but there were no subtitles so it was impossible to understand parts of this section of the film even though you could pick up the jist of what was going on. Was this just my DVD or did the actual film not have subtitles? It was a minor annoyance as I wished I could have understood what was being said in these scenes.

Days remaining - 10 Films remaining - 10

Saturday, 4 September 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 354

18 - Casablanca - 5 stars
"Casablanca. Greatest screenplay ever written" - Robert McKee.
It's true you know. In the AFI Top 100 quotes list, Casablanca has the most quotes of any film on the list with a mighty six lines, with "Here's looking at you kid" being the highest at number 5. For those who are interested, the number one line is "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn".
It might also be the greatest film ever made too. With only 11 films left to watch on the list, it will take something pretty special to leapfrog it to the title of my personal favourite film of all time. It is up there with the likes of Back To The Future and Raiders Of The Lost Ark that I consider to be perfect and wouldn't want to change a single frame of it.
That final airport scene is better than most entire films, but the whole thing is just wonderful. It has everything. It is a love story, a war film, it has humour, romance, danger, a stirring rendition of La Marseilles, Bogart's best role, it provokes the great argument in When Harry Met Sally about whether Isla really wanted to stay or go, and it does finish the best last line of a film ever.

Casablanca is one of the truly great cinematic love stories, but I'm not just talking about Rick and Isla. I'm referring to the very first "bromance" between Rick and Louis.
What? Don't believe me? Go watch it again.
Louis says things like "Well, Rick is the kind of man that... well, if I were a woman, and I were not around, I should be in love with Rick. But what a fool I am talking to a beautiful woman about another man." and "She was asking about you earlier in a way that made me very jealous...".
Finally, who ends up together at the end of the film? Not Rick and Isla. It's the original Brokeback Mountain as Rick and Louis walk off into the fog together as they start their "beautiful friendship".
If there was to be an award ceremony for the entire (500) Films of Empire list, there is only one choice for Best Supporting Actor and it is Claude Rains as Captain Louis Renault.
Renault is a slimy, sleazy, unscrupulous policeman who is not above murdering suspects and sleeping with women in exchange for exit visas to America, but in spite of all this he is incredibly entertaining and likeable.
In the hands of another actor Renault might have come across as unlikeable but Rains' charisma and wit shine through with the help of the fabulous script and lines like:
Rick: "Remember Louis that this gun is pointed at your heart"
Renault: "That is my least vunerable spot"
Renault: "This bar is closed. I'm shocked to find that gambling is taking place here"
Emil: "Your winnings sir"
Renault: "Oh thank you very much"
If the film were to have one flaw it would be that at a running time of 98 minutes, it is over far too quickly as I could quite happily stay in Casablanca with Rick and Louis for a long, long time.

Days remaining - 11 Films remaining - 11

Friday, 3 September 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 353

51 - 8 & 1/2 - 2 stars
I had a feeling that I wasn't going to enjoy this, and guess what... I was right. I have already watched All That Jazz earlier in the challenge which is Bob Fosse's take on the film and got a 1 star review for its trouble, and then I saw Nine at the end of last year that was a rather dull musical version of 8 & 1/2 which lacked any truly memorable songs.
I had hoped that these were pale imitations of the original film and it would blow me away with how good it was that it could inspire so many copycats/tributes, but alas I found it to be dull and incredibly self indulgent, which unfortunately was probably Fellini's point.
This film is a bit of a mess, which reflects the state of mind of the lead character who is a film director with director's block, played by Fellini's favourite leading man Marcello Mastrianni.
Things are not helped by the fact that the lead character of Guido is a total shit!
As he struggles to even write a script, cast actors and design sets, he drifts off into flashbacks and dream sequences that mostly involve the various women in his life as he desperately seeks that spark of inspiration that will put his film back on track.
But it never arrives and the actual film that we are are watching jumps from one unusual scenario to the next until it finishes in a ridiculous musical number where everyone joins Guido to dance around until there is a fade to black.

Days remaining - 12 Films remaining - 12

Thursday, 2 September 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 352

298 - Le Cercle Rouge - 3 stars
My second Jean-Pierre Melville film in two days, just the way that my Lovefilm list worked out it seems, but I've discovered something frustrating. That the films are not as good as the sum of their parts.
And the part that I'm referring to in this particular film is the jewellry heist sequence that lasts for 20+ minutes and features zero dialogue a la the famous Rififi.
It is tense and exciting, but another case like yesterday's film that one scene seems to stand head and shoulders above the rest of the film which plays out like a bog-standard, dime-a-dozen crime thriller with cops, robbers and double crossing galore.

Days remaining - 13 Films remaining - 13

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 351

214 - Army Of Shadows - 3 stars
There is a scene near the start of the film that shows the reality of what it takes to kill someone. Having found the traitor in the group, three men take him to a hideout to kill him. But they find out that if they shoot him then the neighbours could hear the gunfire. They then debate how to kill him, perhaps by knife - no, too long and too messy, so they finally opt for strangling him. All throughout the debate, the victim is forced to listen to them talk about the method, while he slowly weeps in the corner. The other men forced to kill him go through a whole range of emotions until the task is complete.
It is an outstanding scene, similar to one in Torn Curtain, and is the highlight of an otherwise slightly cold and bleak take on the French Resistance during WWII.
To match the mood of the film, the cinematography has a washed-out look that is full of blues and greys. Performances were good but the cold feel of the film kept me at a distance, making it feel more like a document of events rather than opening up the characters to empathy from the audience.

Days remaining - 14 Films remaining - 14