Sunday, 31 January 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 138

After getting up early to watch the disappointing tennis result with Andy Murray, I tried to be productive and spent the afternoon cleaning the flat. After I was done I felt that time to indulge in one of my favourite films and one of the best of the noughties... also got to enjoy a lovely lemon drizzle cake thanks to Siobhan. Mmmmm.

73 - Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind - 5 stars
Somewhat ironically considering the plot, this is one of the most memorable films I've ever seen.
Quirky screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's unique take on the romantic comedy as a man finds out that his ex has had him erased from her memory and undergoes the same procedure, only to realise that memories of the one you love, good or bad, are better than none at all. A crazy concept for sure but when it is being explained by someone like Tom Wilkinson then you accept it as being completely feasible. "Is there a risk of brain damage?", "Well technically the procedure is brain damage but it's on a par with a night of heavy drinking".
The movie works because of the relationship between Joel and Clementine. If the audience don't buy into them as a believable couple then the film would totally misfire.
Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet have never been better. Fact. During the rehearsal period of the film they bonded by talking about previous relationships, good and bad, and it is that bond, connection and chemistry between them that makes the film believable.
Carrey is astonishing in this film. His character of Joel is very introvert, quiet and shy. Basically the complete opposite of the roles he normally plays in Ace Ventura. and Liar, Liar.
Winslet is essentially playing the Carrey role in this, being extrovert, obnoxious, rude yet displaying a loveability that is needed to show why Joel fell in love with her in the first place.
A fascinating look at love and how important the role of memory can be in a relationship. ngs to mind the phrase "Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all", were they talking about someone who had their memory erased? As Joel's memories are erased, starting with recent bad, bitter memories of his break up with Clementine they slowly give way to happier times and the film examines how vital they can be in shaping who you are as a person, what you learn about live, love, etc (as hinted that Joel and Clemetine may go through the procedure several times during their lives but will always be connected).
Guaranteed to make you think back through your own relationships, for better or worse!

Saturday, 30 January 2010

(500) Films or Empire - Day 137

443 - Dog Day Afternoon - 4 stars
For people who criticise Al Pacino for being a shouty OTT Devil's Advocate-style paycheck player these days, I would refer them to this film and his performance as Sonny Wortzik.
Based on the true story of Sonny and his friend Sal who set out to rob a bank to pay for Sonny's boyfriend's sex change operation but it turns into a televised hostage situation.
Pacino owns every frame of this film with a performance full of emotion, tenderness, insecurity and humour, as he slowly unravels throughout the film unable to stay on top of the situation.
Lumet's direction is excellent using rehearsals to create a semi-improvised feel to the dialogue which helps create a feeling of authenticity and a bond between the people in the bank.
Also should be praised for the way that the gay element of the storyline is dealt with taste and never sensationalised.

469 - Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas - 4 stars
If Trainspotting is an anti-drug drug film, then so is Fear And Loathing for if Hunter S. Thompson's experiences are even partly based on truth then I never want to touch drugs... but I would still like to go to Las Vegas.
A lot of people hated this film on its release, complaining that its visual style was overwhelming, but this is kind of the point. Having read the book, this film is as true an adaptation as you can get to the visual imagery and spirit of the book, capturing the
The film is anchored by a completely committed central performance by Johnny Depp as Raoul Duke, the alter-ego of Thompson who serves as our narrator and guide into this crazy world. It is a pitch perfect caricature of Thompson from the look (he shaved his head for the part), the walk and the rhythm of his speech.  
The second part of this double act is the unhinged Dr. Gonzo played with terrifying realism by Benecio Del Toro, who seems to cause more problems for Duke than the drugs do!
Certainly not everyone's cup of tea but I would urge people to give this another chance for as Duke himself says "Buy the ticket, take the ride".

Days remaining - 228 Films remaining - 298

Friday, 29 January 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 136 - 200 not out

Tonight sees me reach the giddy heights of having watched 200 out of the 500 films on the list. And 10 days ahead of schedule too.
Spent a little time on Amazon and Ebay tracking down a few more of those 'hard to find' titles.
If anyone has a copy of Spring In A Small Town (1948) or Z by Costa Garvas that I could borrow I would be most appreciative.

457 - Full Metal Jacket - 3 stars
If war is hell does that make R. Lee Emrey the devil?
This really is a movie of two halves:
First half focusing on a unit of grunts going through their marine training led by the motivational R. Lee Emrey who delights in verbally abusing the trainees, particulary Private Pyle (played by Vincent Dinofrio). He is so over-the-top with his verbal diatribes that he makes Gordon Ramsay look like Mary Whitehouse.
As the action travels to Vietnam, the film fails to recover from the loss of Hartman and Pyle. It is a problem with films that sometimes they can peak too early or have a defining moment early on that nothing else can compare to, like the space shuttle rescue in Superman Returns or Jennifer Hudson singing And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going halfway through Dreamgirls.
But I'm digressing slightly.
The second half follows Matthew Modine's Pvt. Joker as he becomes a field reporter during the conflict and charts the inevitable loss of innocence that comes from war and having to kill.
Here it becomes your typical war film complete with war cliche #104 with a sniper revealed to be a child.
Unfortunately I was completely taken out of the film at one point due to one scene featuring the song 'Surfing Bird' by the Trashmen, which immediately makes me think of this.

381 - Monty Python And The Holy Grail - 4 stars
My preferred cinematic outing of the two Python films on the list, despite the rather abrupt ending that some people hate.
Every scene is a comedy classic and immensely quotable with tons of memorable characters whether it is discussing the wing speed velocity of an unladen swallow, "The Black Knight always triumphs", Killer Rabbits,
Part of the genius comes from the low budget; Shot entirely on location; the Pythons doing their usual playing multiple roles; no money for horses forced the genius gag of banging two coconuts together, etc.
There is also a real spark to the musical number 'Knights Of The Round Table', which would go on to spawn the hilarious and musically brilliant show Spamalot, that I have seen twice - once with Tim Curry as King Arthur, the other time it was Alan Dale aka Jim Robinson from Neighbours.

Days remaining - 229 Films remaining - 300

Thursday, 28 January 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 135

439 - Grosse Pointe Blank - 5 stars
This film kinda snuck under the radar. I always liked it, but this time I loved it.
Cusack makes for an incredibly likeable lead despite being a hitman. Probably his finest on screen performance. Martin Blank has become jaded with the work he is doing so takes on once last job, stopping by his 10 year school reunion on the way, revisiting his lost love in the process.
Strong support from Arking, Driver, a pre-Entourage Piven and a terrific turn by Dan Akroyd as a rival assassin, all making great use of a cool, razor sharp script that proves that attending your high school reunion can be murder.
The icing on the cake is the fantastic all 80's soundtrack in keeping with the nostalgia theme of the reunion. One of the best movie soundtracks of the nineties.

Sometimes a film is in the right place at the right time to have a major effect on you, or cause you to see or interpret something differently from previous viewings. Grosse Pointe Blank was in that place at that time tonight.
I've seen this film several times but this time when John Cusack held the baby and they stared at each other, what happened would be what Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction would call "a moment of clarity".
I think it was the fact that Martin Blank was attending his high school reunion and re-evaluating where his life was headed and I could see a lot of myself in him... apart from being a hitman of course.
The unescapable fact that I am about to turn thirty, the big 3 - 0. It throws into perspective what one has achieved and not achieved, where is my life headed, etc, etc.
Relationship-wise I have only had one meaningful relationship, my first love, but between work, my new hobby of musical theatre and this film challenge, there isn't much time to meet that special someone.
Work-wise I feel that I have tried my best to make The Belmont a success and hopefully the cinema-going public in Aberdeen would agree with me but academically I could consider my time at University a disappointment as I left with a third class degree. I'll admit that I didn't have the desire and motivation at Uni, due to the fact that I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with my life and ended up doing a degree and classes in a variety of subjects.
If I was to do it all again I have no doubt in my mind that I would study film or film journalism. Between this blog, the reviews and articles that I write for Picturehouse and the podcast, I finally feel as if I have found something that I'm good at. I love doing it and would love to take it further. I'm not saying that I'll be writing for Empire magazine soon or will be the next Mark Kermode but at least I know what I'm meant to do with my life. It has taken a long time but better late than never!

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 134

440 - Akira - 4 stars
Damn I wish I'd seen this on the big screen! Can't believe that it has taken me 12 years to see Akira.
A Manga blend of Blade Runner meets The Fast And The Furious meets Scanners, this is everything you could want from the genre as it takes a more adult slant on the cartoon process packing in an equal amount of action, sci-fi, and violence, with a smidgen of political commentary.
Completely bonkers but brilliant.
For many years there has been talk of a live action US remake but I only hope that this remains rumour rather than fact, as I honestly can't see how they would do it without ruining it completely.

171 - Toy Story 2 - 5 stars
I watched this today in 3D and while it doesn't really benefit from the 3D transfer, it reaffirmed my belief that this is the greatest animated film of all time. Not only that but one of the very few films to be genuinely better than the original. And to think that this nearly went straight to video.
It subverts the original by having Buzz trying to rescue Woody after he is stolen by an avid toy collector to become the prize item in his collection. I myself am a bit of a toy collector, with nearly a complete collection of original Star Wars trilogy action figures, and could appreciate the storyline and humour about Wayne Knight's toy collector, mint in packaging, etc.
Another area of geeky appreciation was due to the fact that I worked at Toys R Us for nearly six years and immediately recognised the vinyl flooring and shelving units of Al's Toy Barn to be identical to our stores. Also the joke about toy stores not ordering enough Buzz Lightyear's to meet demand was very funny, having lived through many a Christmas like that.
Packed with hilarious references to Star Wars, 2001, Jurassic Park, etc and some of the funniest outtakes ever, this movie has everything from action, comedy and even a sense of poignancy with the story of how toys can become forgotten.
The only bum note is Jessie's overly sentimental song by Randy Newman, but that isn't enough to dampen what is a truly fantastic film.

As I have now watched all the animated films on the the Empire (500) list, here is a list of my all-time top ten animated film:

1. Toy Story 2
2. Toy Story
3. Spirited Away
4. South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut
5. Beauty And The Beast
6. The Lion King
7. Finding Nemo
8. Aladdin
9. Akira
10. Shrek 2

Would have put Spongbob Squarepants Movie on the list but it has live action David Hasselhoff so not sure if it technically qualifies?!

Days remaining - 231 Films remaining - 303

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 133

Pulled out the Trilogy Of The Dead box set in order to do a double bill but was horrified to discover that the version of Night Of The Living Dead contained in the box set was a 30th Anniversary edition that contained new footage not shot or approved by George Romero. Appalled, I quickly switched off and moved onto;

415 - Dawn Of The Dead (1978) - 4 stars
One of my all time favourite horror films which has not lost any of its power in the 30 years since its release or in the shadow of the glitzy 2004 remake (which is actually one of the best remakes of recent years).
It is much smarter than your average horror film because it has something to say about society, as opposed to just watching a masked killer chop up a bunch of sexy teenagers.
The zombie plague from Night Of The Living Dead is now sweeping across the whole of America, but the success of the film lies in focusing the story on just four protaganists whose survival we can grow to care about; Michael aka Flyboy, Fran, Peter and Rodger - a makeshift nuclear family.
They find refuge in a giant shopping mall, clearing it of the undead but become zombies themselves. Dead to the outside world and only living inside the fake consumer world they've created for themselves.
A damning satire on consumerism. "What are they doing? Why do they come here?", "Some kind of instinct. Memory, of what they used to do. This was an important place in their lives."
But don't worry if you don't want social commentary in your horror film as there are still some tasty deaths and action sequences with lots of over-the-top gore courtesy of Tom Savini.
"When there's no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth".  This is the definitive zombie movie as it illustrates the shuffling undead at their best, easily picked off when there is only one or two but when there are hundreds of them, fight them at your peril.

Days remaining - 232 Films remaining - 305

Monday, 25 January 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 132

268 - The Lady Vanishes - 3 stars
Ever wanted to see Flightplan set on a train? Well you are in luck.
One of Alfred Hitchcock's early films that he directed back before he was tempted away to Hollywood, this is the obvious blueprint for what became Flightplan, even using the 'something drawn on the fogged up window trick'.
If you saw the Jodie Foster film you'll have a fair idea of the plot. A young woman about to get a train journey gets a knock on the head and is helped onboard by a kind old woman. Upon waking the old woman has vanished and the rest of the people on the train deny her existence. Is she mad or is there a conspiracy afoot?
Wonderful interplay between the two leads Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave, who of course hate each other at the beginning but fall in love while solving the mystery, with comic reief from a pair of stiff upper lip Brits who are more concerned with getting back for the cricket!
A cracking little mystery with an unexpetedly action packed finale. Well worth a look.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 131

460 - Crash - 1 star
No not that one. No humping of open leg wounds here.
Not many films have got me really angry while watching them; Last Days, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls for example, but Crash is certainly one of them.
"How I loathe thee, let me count the ways"

1. The Academy selected this as Best Picture at the Oscars over Brokeback Mountain. Can you believe it? Jack Nicholson certainly couldn't when he opened the envelope!
2. It's one of those films that blatantly tries to appeal to the Academy; an issue movie, actors taking on their 'serious' role (Fraser, Bullock, Dillon), lots of nice soundbite speeches, blah, blah, blah
3. Shoehorning in characters from different storylines into meeting each other (the Persian daughter turns out to be a doctor who attends to Don Cheadle's dead brother for example). As if we are supposed to believe that everyone knows everyone in a city of 4,000,000.
4. The Persian shopkeeper shoots the girl with the invisible cloak of protection who is 'miraculously unharmed' because his gun had blanks in it. He shot her at point blank range!!! Even a blank is going to do damage being fired that close.

A 2 hour long film so unsubtle and heavy handed in its message that could quite easily have been summed up in these short, sweet and hilarious five minutes.

202 - The Killer - 3 stars
Yes John Woo, 30 seconds in and already a shot with a dove in it. 3 minutes in and we've got Chow Yun Fat flying through the air with two guns. Just what I've come to expect from John Woo after the delightfully OTT Face Off (which is awesome for, if nothing else, the bit when Nicolas Cage is whacked out on drugs mumbling about how he's going to "take his face... off" complete with hand actions). But this should be Face Off cranked up to 11 since Woo wasn't limited by Hollywood standards.
I think I might have used this line in a previous review, but I've done so many now I can't remember plus it holds true to this film as well. "Wow them in the end and you've got a hit" says Robert McKee in Adaptation. And this film certainly wows us at the end. I'd actually found the film kind of tame and a bit disappointing after hearing all the hype about the "bullet ballets" but the ending totally made up for that.
Now I know that this was released before Heat, but the final shootout is a look at what would happen had De Niro and Pacino's characters ever teamed up, as Chow Yun Fat's assassin works with the cop sent to catch him (who develop a mutual respect for each other) to fight off the real bad guys. More guns, bullets, squib packs, doves, somersaults, and Wilhelm screams than you can shake a stick at, with a few bonus freeze frames and slow motion shots that evoke a feeling of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Days remaining - 234 Films remaining - 307

(500) Films of Empire - Day 130

467 - The Deer Hunter - 3 stars
When is a Vietnam war movie not a Vietnam war movie? When it's The Deer Hunter.
For this is not your typical war movie, in fact you hardly see any of the war itself. In fact it could be about any war as it is not about the conflict but the effect that war has on people. This is part of what makes this a difficult movie to watch, and there are a couple of different reasons:
1) The pacing.
For modern day audiences, this must seem like it is moving at a snail's pace compared to films like yesterday's viewing The Bourne Identity. One colleague said that he has tried to watch it twice but never made it past the wedding scene.
It is over an hour before we get to Vietnam, as the the film initially looks to develop the main characters (Robert De Niro, John Savage and Christopher Walken), their relationships and the small town community where they live.
2) Russian Roulette
War fans will be left disappointed as we almost jump cut forward from a post-wedding deer hunt straight to Vietnam where our trio of friends have been captured by the Vietkong. No big battles scenes, Platoon or Saving Private Ryan this is not.
How are three main protaganists managed to all get assigned to same unit is beyond me. The US Army must be as small as Aberdeen, where everyone seems to know everyone!
They, along with other prisoners, are forced to play russian roulette by their captors who bet on the outcome. These are difficult scenes to watch as the level of tension is very high and made more convincing by the fact that De Niro and Walken are really being slapped around by their captors. No wonder De Niro looks pissed off!
The film goes onto look at the different impact the war and the torture they endured has on them. De Niro returns home, falls in love with Meryl Streep and finds it difficult to re-integrate into the town, Savage ends up in a military hospital while Walken stays in Vietnam and plays russian roulette for money.
This leads to the final showdown between Walken and De Niro, who returns to bring his friend home. Playing against each other, it is a fantastic scene and a heartbreaking finale and it was probably this scene alone that won Walken the Oscar for this movie.
As a war movie it will be a disappointment for some people, especially those of a younger generation, but as a study of the effects of war it is a deeply moving and fascinating film.
On the lighter side of life it did lead to a great drinking game called The Beer Hunter where you take a six pack of beer, shake one up, mix them around and then take turns in opening them next to your face. One to try next time you're at a party!

The new Belmont film podcast!!!

"They're here, they're here already. You're next, You're next".

Yes, Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode, watch your back as the pod people are here... in the form of Colin, Lynsey and myself (Dallas) from The Belmont.
We are recording a brand new weekly podcast , tentatively called Podfellas: Apodcalypse Now, where we discuss all sorts of topics from the world of cinema.
The first episode is online now and you can listen to us discuss the results of the Golden Globes.
You can download or listen to the podcast at the link above, or it is now online at Itunes where you can subscribe to automatically receive the new episodes on a weekly basis.

A major thank you to John from The Kiosque website for hosting our podcast.
Next week we review A PROPHET and discuss the boom in foreign language films.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 129

365 - The Bourne Identity - 3 stars
I had originally planned to do the Bourne trilogy back-to-back in one day but ultimately decided against it as would potentially be exposing the trilogy's one major flaw. That they all really have the same plot; an amnesiac assassin slowly remembers more about who he is, beats up people with household objects, has an awesome car chase and all while being tracked by government types in a room with lots of computers.
Yet this does not stop this being a really good action thriller.
Matt Damon (looking really young) is great as the spy/assassin who is slowly piecing things back together. Not only is he good at the action scenes but displays a great sense of surprise when he suddenly starts speaking foreign languages or takes down a cop with kung fu. Teaming up with a feisty Franka Potente, Bourne is also at his most talkative in the trilogy (but that isn't saying much!).
The highlights of the movie are the things that would become staples of the Bourne formula; fantastic, gritty hand-to-hand fight scenes proving that the pen is mightier than the sword and truly great cinematic car chase through Paris, driving a Mini drawing cool comparisons to The Italian Job (at one point during the Paris scenes I was sure I could see the hotel I stayed in).

Thursday, 21 January 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 128 - I'm Batman

458 - Batman - 2 stars
A once great film when I was 12 has been tarnished by the infinitely superior reboots of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.
I know that it is wrong to be drawing comparisons when doing these reviews but when you spend your life watching hundreds of films, conciously or subconciously, these are probably going influence and shape your opinions on film in general.
For many people Jack Nicholson's scene stealing clown was the definitive Joker, but then Heath Ledger came along and showed that the Joker could a truly psychotic villain whereas Nicholson shows glimpses of his traditional crazy schtick but has more in common with Cesar Romero.
Which brings me to ask the question; where the hell is the Adam West Batman in the Empire 500 list?
But I must stop with The Dark Knight talk, that is for another review.
The film is completely unbalanced by Nicholson's performance that there isn't much time for anyone else to make a lasting impression. Keaton is OK as Batman but not as Wayne, his romance with Basigner is not engaging and it struggles because it does not involve the audience in how Bruce Wayne becomes Batman, with simply a mere glimpse at the back story.
It is not all bad. Danny Elfman's score is still one of the best from a comic book movie.

401 - Batman Returns - 4 stars
A much better film all round, that shows Spider-Man 3 that too many villains don't always spoil the broth.
This film serves to highlight Batman's fatal flaw, that he is a rather dull and boring hero and constantly upstaged by the more colourful villains; The Penguin, Catwoman, and oddly the most clear cut villain Max Schrek, played with wonderful over-the-top menace by Christopher Walken (who is my favourite actor to do impressions of... but I also do a mean Daniel Plainview from There Will Be Blood).
Aah, Catwoman. As personified by Michelle Pfieffer, she was probably one of my first serious schoolboy crushes and it isn't hard to see why considering she was in that iconic outfit!
There is beautiful interplay between Keaton (more comfortable in the Bruce Wayne role this time around) and Pfieffer as they struggle with their split personalities, leading to a great realisation under the mistletoe. I would love to see this relationship explored in the Nolan universe.
Tim Burton's vision of Batman differs from Christopher Nolan's in that the visual style is more Gothic and based in a fantasy comic book world (the creation of Catwoman and her nine lives are a clear example), while Nolan's Batman exists in a totally realisitic world where everything has a reason for existing and working.

Days remaining - 237 Films remaining - 311

(500) Films of Empire - Day 127

465 - 12 Monkeys - 3 stars

One of the few Gilliam films to find mainstream success, and achieved within the constraints of the studio system, normally the kiss of death for a Gilliam movie.
James Cole is from an alternate future where most of the world's population has been wiped out by a virus. Cole is sent back in time to try and determine the source of the virus, but is plagued by a recurring dream that might change his fate.
This is a clever, well plotted film that includes a beautiful Vertigo reference that has a huge bearing on the story. Visually this is a companion piece to Brazil in terms of style, particularly the scenes in the future.
Gilliam has a knack of getting something special from actors that are not known for versatility (Robin Williams in Fisher King, Michael Palin & De Niro in Brazil for example), and does the same in this film with Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt. Willis was on the back of Pulp Fiction and going through a serious acting phase and is very impressive in this role. In fact, decent Willis performances can normally be identified as those movies in which he does not wear a toupee or other form of hairpiece.

Days remaining - 238 Films remaining - 313

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 126 part 2 - Film Piracy

371 - Pirates of the Caribbean - 4 stars
It should never have worked. A summer blockbuster based on a Disneyland ride, in a genre that was shipwrecked by the dismal flop Cutthroat Island.
Instead we got a well made film with lots of action and a great central premise of cursed pirates searching for the stolen treasure (which led to some great special effects work).
However ultimately the success of this film can be summed up in three words... Captain. Jack. Sparrow.
From his glorious entrance to him sailing of into the horizon, Johnny Depp manages to create one of the greatest film characters of the decade.
Hollywood also finally realised what all us true Depp fans had known since Edward Scissorhands, that the man is a star and one of the finest actors alive... and also now a hugely popular one as well.

475 - Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest - 3 stars
Not as bad as I remember and still quite fun, but difficult to fully appreciate when you know you are only seeing part of the whole story (the third part of the trilogy did not make the list).
Suffers from the same flaws as Transformers 2, and if Michael Bay had watched this then he could have avoided some of them, in that it is too long, the storyline is too complicated (not helped by the fact that they were writing the script as they went), and they felt the need to bring back almost all the minor characters when the could have focused more on developing new ones.
One example of a great new character is Davy Jones. The squid-like villainous captain of the Flying Dutchmen who will stop at nothing to find Captain Jack and settle their debt. He is brilliantly played by Bill Nighy and I will go on record as to say that Davy Jones is THE greatest CGI character even commited to film. The CG work is outstanding to the point that it looks like it is make-up and prostethics. Any scene where there is water splashing on his face is a marvel to behold.
It draws comparisons to The Empire Strikes Back (see below) for its dark cliffhanger ending. A bold and sad turn of events, #spoilers# where Jack is eaten by the Kraaken, that led me to decide that I could never marry Keira Knightley due to her betrayal of Captain Jack. The editing and music in this sequence made it as moving as the carbonite scene in Empire, although "'Ello beastie" isn't as good as "I know". Just a shame that the third movie completely undid all the good work.
Oh, and Geoffrey Rush's tiny appearance at the end just served to point out how much he was missed and what a pivotal part he played in the success of the first film.

To digress from the review I want to look at just some of the similarities between this franchise and that of a famous space set trilogy (as noticed on several other websites as well).

Good Guys:

  • Will Turner is the Luke Skywalker character, who is a bit wet and whiny and having a lot of unresolved daddy issues.

  • Elizabeth Swann is fulfilling the role of the Princess who is captured, rescued, tempted by romance with a pirate and stuck in a love triangle between Will and Jack, luckily she doesn't turn out to be anyone's sister.

  • Captain Jack Sparrow is the character that everyone wants to be, therefore Han Solo. A bit of a rogue who will look out for himself first but ultimately a good guy. His ship The Black Pearl is his Millennium Falcon, which would make Gibbs Jack's Chewbacca.
    Also Jack's fate at the end of Dead Man's Chest is similar to Han's fate at the end of Empire.

Bad Guys:

  • Davy Jones is akin to Jabba the Hutt who has made a deal with Jack Sparrow and puts a price on his head. Jabba wants to put Solo into the Sarlaac while Jones has the water-based Sarlaac lookalike Kraaken.

  • Tom Hollander's Lord Beckett would be The Emperor in control of the Empire (East India Trading Company) and through manipulation has a Vader-like hold over Jones and Norrington.

There are lots more examples of how similar the two franchises are but that is just a brief overview. Next time you watch them, look out for the references/similarities.

Days remaining - 239 Films remaining - 314

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 126

141 - Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs - 3 stars
The very first feature length animated film, and the second highest animated film on the list but I can't help thinking that this is so high up is due to a sentimental look back at it through rose tinted glasses. While its place in film industry is undeniable, there are a lot better animated films out there, even if it did provide the blueprint for them.
A beautiful handdrawn Disney look that captures both the light and dark side of the fairy tale, with the wicked Queen's old woman one of the silver screen's first memorable villains.
The songs are OK but not a patch on the quality of output in the early to mid-nineties, also the Snow White's singing voice has a horrible nasal, warbling tone to it.
What I do have know however is a greater respect for the movie Enchanted, as I was able to recognise a lot more references from the movie.
Funny note: the hunter meant to kill Snow White brings the Queen back a pig's heart instead. For a moment I thought it was a deer's heart and thought that the hunter might have been the one that killed Bambi's mother in a piece of Disney serendipity.

294 - The Red Balloon - 4 stars
An enchanting little tale of a young boy who has a "pet" balloon that follows him around everywhere he goes, but tragedy approaches as other children become jealous and want the balloon for themselves.
A magical short film with great humour and outstanding special effects for the time it was made, 1956, with any wires of trickery seemingly invisible.
It also has the proud honour of having the most emotional inanimate object since the plastic bag in American Beauty.

(500) Films of Empire - Day 125

447 - Ten - 3 stars
A rather interesting film that is minamilist in its approach yet ultimately more absorbing because of it, which is simply ten conversations between an female divorced Iranian cab driver and her insolent son, family and random customers.
It has a remarkable honesty and realness to it, that if this was in any way scripted I was not able to tell as it flowed organically, especially the banter between the mother and her son who is bitter about her divorce to his father.
It slowly builds up a fascinating look at the role that women have in Iranian society.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 124 - Golden Globe night

Back from a long day at work which I started with a double bill of award contenders - Precious and Up In The Air. Both excellent films.
Got home and needed a movie to watch to pass the time until the Golden Globes start.

473 - Into The Wild - 4 stars
This true story is a poetic look at one young man's journey into the wilderness in an attempt to disconnect from the materialistic trappings of modern day society.
Emile Hirsch grounds the film with a strong but quiet central performance which allows the supporting cast to shine as the people that Alexander Supertramp meets as he travels across America onto his (ultimately) final destination of Alaska. Standouts include Catherine Keener as a motherly hippie and a pre-Twilight Kristen Stewart as guitar-toting jailbait. Also nice to see Vince Vaughn play against type.
The cinematography is breathtaking, giving a real sense of scope to the journey undertaken by McCandless, and features an awesome soundtrack by Eddie Vedder.

Days remaining - 241 Films remaining - 319

(500) Films of Empire - Day 123

101 - Raising Arizona - 2 stars
I'm not entirely sure why, but this is the first Coen Brothers film I've really been disappointed with. I was not expecting much from the likes of Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers, but with such a high rating on the list and lots of people praising it, I reached the end "maybe it was Utah" and felt rather underwhelmed.
Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter make for a good central pairing but there is just something 'off' with this black comedy, made even blacker due to the central theme being child kidnapping!Perhaps it was that it didn't really feel like a traditional Coen film, even with some quirky minor characters. Overall a bit more like 'Falling Arizona' than 'Raising Arizona'.

Days remaining - 242 Films remaining - 320

Friday, 15 January 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 122 - A third of the way there...

So by my calculations, day 122 marks the point where I am one third of the way through the challenge (in terms of days). Totalling up the films so far I have watch 178, which is 11 ahead of schedule. Not bad going but the plan is to try and get to 100 days remaining and have only 100 films to watch.
To treat myself on this momentous occasion, I thought I would choose a film that I knew I would really enjoy. Popular consensus was with High Fidelity but when I got back from the cinema at 10.30pm I changed my mind as I think that after watch High Fidelity, I may very well want to reorganise my DVD collection autobiographically and will need a whole day for that. So instead I went with...

244 - Dazed & Confused - 4 stars
"If I ever start referring to these as the best days of my life, remind me to kill myself"
Randall 'Pink' Floyd certainly has a point. If you look back on your life and think that school was the best time that is saying that you've done nothing with your life since you were 18.
Now Dazed & Confused is one of my comfort movies. I can just put it in the DVD player anytime and know I'm in for a cool, fun 90 minutes.
The only disappointment from the film is realising that my last day of school was not as fun or eventful as this one. In fact I can't even remember what I did, so it can't have been that exciting. I certainly know I wasn't allowed to paddle the upcoming first years!
Funny to think that back in 1994 this was a cast of relative unkowns that included Milla Jovovich, a blink-and-you'll-miss-her Renee Zellweger, Matthew McConaughey, and Ben Affleck proving that he's best when playing a complete asshole.
The Seventies are lovingly recreated, mainly thanks to some fabulous wigs and a kick-ass soundtrack that include such tunes as Sweet Emotion, Slow Ride, Paranoid and the KISS classic 'I Wanna Rock and Roll All Night (And Part Of Every Day).
There is just time to mention one of the all-time greatest supporting characters in the history of cinema... Wooderson. This is a sleazy guy in his late-twenties hanging around high school kids, wearing pink velour trousers, yet somehow McConaughey manages to make him kinda likeable... and doesn't even remove his shirt in this film. He also gets the best line in the film, "That's what I love about these high school girls. I get older, they stay the same age"
A fun, nostaligic look back at our youth, when life was a lot simpler; before jobs, relationships, mortgages, etc, etc. It's like Wooderson says "The older you get, the more rules they are going to try and get you to follow. You just gotta keep on livin', man. L-I-V-I-N.

Days remaining - 243 Films remaining - 321

Thursday, 14 January 2010

(500) Films of Empire- Day 121

170 - La Haine - 3 stars
Famously screened to the Parisian police force and government this is a fictionalised story based on real life events by director Matthieu Kassovitz (best known as the love interest in Amelie), it follows three friends Said, Hubert and Vinz as they wander around the estate with a cop's gun, with Vinz threatening to kill a cop if their friend dies in hospital as a result of police brutality.
It is a visceral look at a society about to explode and you know that violence is inevitable (but when it comes it is not how you expect). The three leads give natural, honest performances with Cassell showing some of the Gallic charisma (check out his DeNiro impression in the bathroom mirror) that made him the breakout star of the film.
With it being based on real life and, at times, having a documentary feel to it, it would have been interesting to see some interviews with people from the projects about their lives and the effect that the police action had on them cut into the film in places. The three leads give natural, honest performances with Cassel showing some of that Gallic charisma (check out his DeNiro impression in the bathroom mirror) that made him the breakout star of the film.
One quibble, but this is not down to the film maker, but when releasing a black and white subtitled film on DVD it might be an idea to have the subtitles in a colour other than white, as at times it made it very difficult to see what was being said. Good thing I got a 2 in standard grade French!

Days remaining - 244 Films remaining - 322

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Part 2 - Along Came A Spider

I decided to watch the two Spider-Man films tonight after the news this week that Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire have left the franchise due to ongoing " creative differences" and that Sony plan to do a reboot of Spider-Man in 2012.
Initially I was bemused by the idea, after all it's been less than 10 years since the first film was released, but have decided to rewatch the films to see if isn't such a bad idea...

437 - Spider-Man - 3 stars
A very entertaining but deeply flawed movie.
The standard superhero trilogy goes as follows; first film - good, second film - brilliant, third film - crap. And Spider-Man is no exception, why do you think that number 3 isn't on this list!
The first film is normally let down by having to deal with the origin story, therefore not leaving much time for other plot lines to develop and major action sequences to take place.
Yet this film succeeds in capturing the origins of Spider-Man, from Peter Parker getting bitten, discovering his powers, the death of Uncle Ben, "With great power comes great responsibility", yadda yadda yadda...
Sam Raimi's visual style is perfect for the story, as you get a real sense of how it must feel to swing around New York City.
Casting is good with Maguire being suitably geeky as Peter Parker, Willem Dafoe chews scenery as the Green Goblin and J.K. Simmons IS J. Jonah Jameson.
Small faults lie in some dodgy CGI, a bad Power Ranger costume for the Green Goblin (which highlighted the problem having your main characters completely behind masks thus losing some of the expression and emotion in the performance), that last-minute post 9/11 scene on the bridge "you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us" and Kirsten Dunst is too much of a wet blanket as Mary Jane.
But these were all minor quibbles in what is otherwise a great start to the franchise, as proven by this being the first film to ever take over $100 million in one weekend, thus providing CPR to the genre that had flatlined following Batman & Robin.

411 - Spider-Man 2 - 4 stars
One of the best superhero films of all time that improves on the original in every way.
The cast are more comfortable in their roles, the CGI is much slicker, and more importantly Sam Raimi has been let of the leash artistically, allowing for much more of his trademark style in the picture e.g. the 'birth' of Doctor Octopus in the hospital being an homage to Evil Dead 2, and Bruce Campbell gets a fantastic part as 'Snooty Usher' who has the priviledge of being the only person to defeat Spider-Man in the series!
Alfred Molina is excellent as Doctor Octupus (even though from reading the comics I always imagined Elton John playing Doc Ock), leading to a terrific set piece on the train.
The story has a lot of depth to it, the first superhero film to truly look at the struggle of being a hero whether it is sacrificing work, life, and love... and amusingly how being a superhero can effect one's 'performance' as Spidey comes under stress he is unable to shoot the white webbing from his wrists ;)

After the mishandling of Spider-Man 3, a reboot isn't really that bad a prospect, especially if they do a Dark Knight-style take on the story, but that might not sit well with the potential of 3D filiming opportunities which the character of Spidey is screaming out for some web action flying out at the audience.
The key will be finding the right director who is able to put their own stamp on the saga but with enough backbone to challenge the studio on the problems that surfaced on the third movie (i.e. too many villains).
To put my tuppence worth into the argument, I would love to see Edgar Wright direct with Joseph Gordon Levitt as Peter Parker.

Days remaining - 245 Films remaining - 323

(500) Films of Empire - Day 120

219 - The Outlaw Josey Wales - 4 stars
Eastwood proved that he had picked up a lot from working with Leone by delivering a truly great Western with understated direction that allows the story to flow nicely.
Josey Wales is almost like Unforgiven in reverse, as a man becomes a cold blooded killer to avenge the death of his family by Union soldiers slowly regains his humanity and sense of place in the world as he assembles a rag-tag group of followers whilst being hunted for being an outlaw.
Has a mix of terrific fight scenes, stand-offs, memorable supporting characters and a multi-layered central performance by Eastwood.
Best western I have watched on this list so far.

352 - Unfaithfully Yours - 1 stars
Uh oh, Preston Sturges could be joining Bob Fosse on the list of directors whose films I just can't seem to like.
This film is about an orchestra conductor who believes his wife is cheating on him. During a concert, inspired by different pieces of music, he dreams up several scenarios to dispose of his wife.
It is an interesting concept but the film ultimately fails due to the central characters being unsympathetic, and the director trying to use a light screwball comedic tone to what is a dark subject matter. It doesn't help that it descends into (what I assume to be) farce at the end with Rex Harrison's conductor proving to be a bumbling oaf incapable of carrying out a murder. Although there was a gag about being unable to find a pair of gloves that fit that made me think of OJ Simpson.
In order to see an example of great black comedy about murder, rent Kind Hearts & Coronets instead.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 119

326 - The Great Silence - 3 stars
A spaghetti western with a difference. This one swaps the dusty savannahs and deserts for the snowy mountains of Utah, meaning that the Giallo blood looks extra red on the white landscape. A mute killer called 'Silence' wanders into town, as so many cowboys do, to avenge a murder and kill some no good bounty hunters (Boba Fett is nowhere to be seen however).
A little-seen western that has risen to cult status due to some hilarious dubbing (witness the scene where a guy is speaking to a bar full of people whilst eating a chicken), Klaus Kinski's villainous bad guy and one of the most downbeat endings in the history of cinema.
Definitely worth checking out if you are a fan of Westerns as the mute Silence is a clear influence on Clint Eastwood during his time in the West.

490 - Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street - 4 stars
A perfect marriage of material, director and actor as Tim Burton gets to put his Gothic stylings to great use in the musical of Sweeney Todd with his muse Johnny Depp as the eponymous barber.
The cast are in fine singing form (The dulcet tones of Alan Rickman are on show again, but Bonham Carter is a little weak but we all know why she got the part, wink, wink), but Depp reveals a surprisingly good voice that has just a hint of David Bowie in it, to add singing to his repetoire. It's enough to make you sick to see someone so talented.
Some of my friends who love musicals have bemoaned the absence of the signature tune 'The Ballad of Sweeney Todd', a song that sets the scene and links the film together. Apparently it had been recorded by Burton with Christopher Lee and Giles from Buffy on vocals but a version of it doesn't even appear on the DVD to placate the fans.
I was disappointed that this got a 18 certificate in the UK as it deserved to be seen by a much wider audience. Yes there is a lot of blood at times but with the Hammer-style bright red colour and somewhat over-the-top nature of the geysers of blood eminating from the necks (sometimes even hitting the camera) would have deserved a 15, but then I'm not on the BBFC.
Something occurred to me watching the film this time around. Sweeney Todd assembles a chair and chute to the bakehouse to dispose of the victims, as in the real story, but if you look at the layout of the building, the victims would be dropping directly into the pie shop floor, and that wouldn't be good for business!
So with Sweeney Todd scored off the list that leaves me with just one musical left in the Top 500 - Singin' In The Rain. So until I watch that in September (as it is in the top 10) here is a list of my favourite musicals (should cartoons count? If they follow traditional musical structure I think its OK)
My Top 5 Movie Musicals
1. South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut
2. Little Shop Of Horrors
3. Beauty And The Beast
4. Bugsy Malone
5. The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Monday, 11 January 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 118

342 - The Gold Rush - 3 stars
A sentimental ranking for one of the masters of the Silent Movie era, this being his most film besides The Great Dictator.
It features his most iconic character The Tramp prospecting in Alaska, a beautiful score and some of Chaplin's most loved set pieces; the boiled boot, the balancing cabin, and of course the dance of the bread rolls (beautifully homaged by Johnny Depp in Benny & Joon).
However there was something slightly odd about the film and I believe it may have been due to the fact that I was watching the 1942 rerelease with narration by Chaplin, rather than the silent movie storyboards.  This meant it was strange to see a film where the characters were not speaking yet there was a voiceover describing the action.
If there is time I would like to reassess the film by seeing the original 1925 version but this film proved difficult to track down in the first place, the version I watched being one on You Tube! 

Sunday, 10 January 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 117

477 - Rebel Without A Cause - 3 stars
Recently I've seen films with Presley and Monroe, both of whom were 50's icons, yet while they both made their mark on the silver screen, neither of them would be missed as much as the other 50's icon James Dean.
This is the first time I've seen him in a film (I seem to be using the phrase 'this is the first time...' a lot recently. Makes me think I've hardly watched any films in my life!), and he truly had a talent that is sorely missed.
He takes what could have easily been a cliched poster boy for bad behaviour and turns him into a fantastic complex kid who visibly struggles to be accepted by both family and society. You really empathise with him, sure he lashes out, gets involved in some bad business but the later scenes where he romances Judy and cares for Plato are very touching.
Then there is Natalie Wood, oh boy is she gorgeous. Kept thinking that she looked very familiar and it wasn't until checking up IMDB that her daughter was Natasha Gregson Wagner, as the resemblence is very strong.
Oh and yes, you are correct. That is a very young Dennis Hopper playing one of the gang's goons!
I was expecting the film to be lots of young kids having a fun teenage rebellion against the 'square' community by drinking, driving, fighting, etc but I was surprised at the level of depth in the family relationship between Dean, his emasculated dad and over-bearing mother.
While the kids may have taken the film to show off Dean as the ultra cool guy, it is similar to Trainspotting in that it shows the downfalls of such a lifestyle as well as the glamorous highs.
Yeh, you can get the girl, but only if her boyfriend has just died in a car crash after a game of chicken!

240 - Forrest Gump - 2 stars
I came into this film with a lot of prejudice, but had to try and put that aside to review this with as little bias as possible. So it isn't the worst film in the world... but it isn't the best either.
I still can't believe that this film won Best Picture at the Oscars over Pulp Fiction (#9 on the list) and The Shawshank Redemption (#4 on the list)!!!
It's well made and a sweet nostalgic look at American history through the eyes of one man, but it is far too cutesy and schmaltzy for my taste.
A perfect example is that stupid floating feather that bookends the film, uurrggh why is it even there?
Then we get to Tom Hanks's perfomance, which while good, I cannot watch now without thinking of this.
Plus points are an excellent performance from Gary Sinise as Captain Dan, and it has one of the best soundtracks of all time, even if sometimes cheesily used to indicate a sense of time and place throughout the story.
Holy crap, the kid from The Sixth Sense is Forrest Jr! Does he see dumb people all the time? That's maybe a bit harsh, I'll have the Daily Mail up in arms on that one!

Days remaining - 248 Films remaining - 330

Friday, 8 January 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 115

339 - Spirited Away - 5 stars
I absolutely adored this film.  There were high expectations because this was one of the very few films to break the almighty dominance of Pixar and win the Oscar for best animated film in 2003, but it delivered on every level.
The fantasy world where Chihiro becomes trapped and forced to work until she can figure out a way to release her parents is full of beautiful flourishes and is so perfectly realised that its as if Guillermo Del Toro got the chance to make an animated film.
Without a doubt one of the best animated films of all time.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 114

230 - Howl's Moving Castle - 1 star
Well 150+ movies watched I've finally come across a film that I care as little about as this.
A young woman is cursed into becoming a 90 year old woman who seeks out the wizard Howl who might be able to lift the curse, yet ends up falling in love with.
The main problem I have (and there are many) is that Howl is an annoying, petulant idiot (maybe that's why he's voiced by Christian Bale, baa-zing!) and can't really find any reasons why Sophie would fall in love with him.
There is also a war subplot that is glossed over until the end of the film. Sophie kisses a scarecrow who turns back into a human being saying that true love broke the spell, but is informed that she loves Howl. Slightly miffed he quickly explains that he is the missing prince whose disappearance caused the war and that he'd better go home and sort it out.
Hated it, hated it, hated it.

203 - Monty Python's Life Of Brian - 3 stars
After my biblical epic disappointment earlier this week it was nice to see Python do Ben Hur but without the chariot race!
A very funny attack on faith, not God, but faith, with some classic moments but for me it isn't as good as the funnier more quotable Holy Grail.
But what a way to end, with 'Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life'. Just hope that they use it as the end credit music for The Road when its released tomorrow!

Days remaining - 251 Films remaining - 333

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 113

21 - The Third Man - 3.5 stars
Yesterday a member of staff told me that after the release of Third Man, Carol Reed received a present from a fan with a note that read "I've just seen your new film and thought you might need this for your next one". The gift? A spirit level!
Indeed, one of the most visually striking things about this film is the use of 'canted angles' or the 'Dutch tilt'. Designed to make the audience feel as off-balance as Holly Martins during his investigation of his friend Harry Lime's death.
Set in occupied Vienna, the issues of the occupation and criminal racketeering have an added relevance today due to the current situation in Iraq.
The camera work, script and performances are all top notch, as is the claustrophobic sewer chase, however I can help feeling that the film loses some of its magic on repeat viewings. In that once we know the identity of the 'Third Man', we are essentially waiting 70 minutes for Orson Welles to show up and steal the movie from under our noses.
Therefore I am making this my first review to include a half star as I just cannot decide whether it should be 3 or 4. Will sleep on it and reevaluate later on.

176 - A Canterbury Tale - 3 stars
I wonder if this film was mentioned during any of the reviews of Michel Haneke's latest film The White Ribbon. Both deal with a small town under the grip of mysterious happenings, with punishments dealt to those who betray the town's ideals.
Specifically 'The Glue Man' who pours glue in the hair of girls who socialise with soldiers.
Two soldiers and a girl victim stay in the town for a while to unmask the 'Glue Man' before taking the 'Pilgrim's trail' to Canterbury to receive blessing or penance.
A great British mystery that promoted good relations between the US and British forces during wartime.

Day remaining - 252 Films remaining - 335

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 112

488 - Princess Mononoke - 2 stars
My first taste of Anime and Studio Ghibli and this was an animated film on an epic scale with a cursed prince falling in love with a wolf girl and trying to stop a war between humans and the forest creatures. Typically bonkers fantasy fare from Ghibli with talking wolves and boars and a deer god with the face of a man, but quite adult for a cartoon, there are battle scenes with people losing arms and legs.
I didn't really connect with this film though as there wasn't a clear side to root for as both humans and animals were sympathetic except for a few characters.
Also the central romance element was slightly underdeveloped and the ending felt rushed, like the forest is saved, we'll all live happily ever after, goodbye.
I needed something more.

236 - My Neighbour Totoro - 4 stars
Now this one however was an absolute delight. A man and his two young daughters move into a country house while the mother is in hospital. To escape from the pressures of growing up and the worries about their mums health, the two girls descend into (what may or may not be) a fantasy world where they befriend a giany cuddly egg-shaped cat creature they call Totoro.
The scene where Totoro appears next to them at a bus stop in the rain and is given an umbrella is simply delightful.
A terrific family film that deals with a difficult subject (how to deal with illness and the pains of growing up) in a really beautiful way.

Days remaining - 253 Films remaining - 337

Monday, 4 January 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 111

Disappointing start to the day as I got 40 minutes into Ben Hur before the disc started skipping and I had to give up on it. Stupid dual layer DVDs, would be better off with a VHS!!!

164 - The Searchers - 4 stars
A truly iconic Western that showcases the dark heart of the West.
The film has everything a Western should; beautiful sweeping landscapes, cowboys and injuns, fistfights, some romance, and of course, The Duke, complete with his trademark long drawl "That'll be the day".
John Wayne gets his finest role as anti-hero Ethan Edwards, a man at odds with his own society and also 'The Commanch'. His hatred for them boils over when they kill his family and kidnap his niece. Ethan's racist feelings are brought to the fore when he is joined on the search by a part-Commanche relative, his repulsion at captive women turned Commanche, his desire to see his own kin dead than 'Injun', and the pain upon realising that he is no different to Scar, the Indian chief he has be hunting.
On seeing this again I noticed several scenes that have been referenced in other films; the iconic final shot was stolen/homaged by Tarantino in Inglourious Basterds when Landa looks out of the cabin towards the escaping Shossana. And the scene where Ethan and Martin return home to the burning homestead was used by George Lucas in Star Wars, all The Searchers needed was a couple of burning corpses! What a geek to notice things like that!
Also probably just nitpicking here but John Wayne and Jeffrey Hunter are out in the wilderness for five years looking for Debbie yet seem remarkabley clean shaven during this time. They are desperate to find her yet have the time to shave every morning?

48 - This Is Spinal Tap - 4 stars
I recently said that Anchorman was the comedy of the decade, but This Is Spinal Tap would have to be up there with Airplane as the most influential comedy of ALL TIME.
Without Spinal Tap we wouldn't have had the Christopher Guest comedies Waiting For Guffman, Best In Show, etc, programs like The Office and Curb Your Enthusiasm and certainly not Anchorman or any comedy that relies on improvisation.
A rock 'n' roll mockumentary that is made even funnier by how realistic it is. Don't believe me, just watch Anvil! or even some parts of Almost Famous to see how accurately it reflects the life of a fading rock band.
The quality of the songs is also very good. People sometimes forget that McKean, Guest and Shearer did all the performances themselves, with such great tunes as Big Bottom, Hell Hole and Sex Farm.
There are so many classic moments ("These go to 11", "That one's called Lick My Love Pump", the Stonehenge model) but my favourite line is "You can't dust for vomit"!
So crank this one up to 11 and enjoy the laughs on Tap.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 110

Time to revisit a film that has had a huge impact on my life in terms of my film viewing and eventual career. I first saw this film 10 years ago as part of a film studies course I took at University. The course was the only one I really It opened my eyes to the language of film and how they are made. The first time I realised that a film could be more than just entertainment but a work of art. This appreciation for film that has developed over the years has steered me to my current job as General Manager of The Belmont. It has allowed me to indulge my love of movies and hopefully develop other peoples too.
But I'm digressing, time to review the movie;

28 - Citizen Kane - 4 stars
Will "The Greatest Film Ever Made", as many of the critics polls and lists often award, live up to its title?
It is a film that splits many people. Critics adore it, some hate it, a lot have never seen it.
Watching it again it is obvious that it is a film that is much easier to admire than to like or 'enjoy'.
From a filmmaking perspective it is an absolute marvel to behold. Probably as big a game-changer in its day as Avatar is today. It advanced the medium in terms of storytelling, camera shots and editing techniques such as dissolves (the initial fade up to Xanadu), montage (the breakfast scene), and most beautifully of all is the use of deep focus to create some stunning long shots. And all of this achieved by Welles at the age of 25!!! I'm coming up to my 30th birthday and it makes me feel lazy in comparison.
As for the story, it is more difficult to engage with. A reporter tries to discover the meaning behind 'Rosebud' and the real Charles Foster Kane behind the public image. The problem being that Kane is dead, and the stories about Kane are told by other people and therefore not from Kane's viewpoint, making it difficult for the audience to really connect with him (despite a great performance from Welles who plays him from 25 to 70, something that gets overlooked when people focus on his direction, production, writing, etc).
Towards the end of the film, the identity of 'Rosebud' is still elusive and the reporter remarks;
"Anyway, it wouldn't have explained anything... I don't think any word can explain a man's life. No, I guess Rosebud is just a... piece in a jigsaw puzzle... a missing piece."
To both the reporter, Kane remains an enigma or unsolvable puzzle... that is until the camera pans away and over the huge array of Kane's possessions until it lands on *spoiler cough cough*... I'm not going to tell you, go see the movie!
Now the audience has something tangible to work with but must draw their own conclusions as to what it symbolically represents.
This is what may frustrate modern audiences, some who demand that everything be spelt out to them in bold capital letters. There is a time for movies like this and a time for movies that make people use their brains and rewards them for it.
Personally I like a movie that gets people talking and provokes discussion after its finished, whether it's the true identity of Keyser Soze, what Bill Murray whispers to Scarlett at the end of Lost In Translation, or what is meant by Rosebud.
In closing, how best to describe Citizen Kane? It is similar to these 100 greatest film lists. When people vote for the 'best' films, they really are voting for their favourites. I do consider Kane to be one of the greatest films ever made, but in terms of enjoyment and if I was scanning my DVD collection for something to watch, it probably wouldn't be the first one picked off the shelf, so therefore I can only award it 4 stars.
That being said this is a film that everyone who is passionate about film should see at least once... that way you can make up your own mind and not have to go on what all the critics have written.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 109

 207 - The Misfits - 3 stars
Sometimes a film's legacy is more famous than the film itself and The Misfits is case in point.
Another film dogged by production problems and infamous for being the last film of leads Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe.
Clark Gable said he was glad that filming had finished because "working with Monroe nearly gave him a heart attack", two days later he had a heart attack and died.  Monroe died of a drug overdose soon after filming, having been in rehab during filming, hence the soft focus used on some close ups during the film.
But is the film actually any good?  You would assume so with it being at number 207 on a list of the 500 best films of all time... but it is a good film, if not a great one.
After seeing Some Like It Hot, I was no expecting Monroe to be as good as she was, showcasing a wide range of emotions as the divorcee who tries to find freedom in the West but instead has her innocence destroyed.
Her character is also responsible for causing men to fall in love with her at the drop of a cowboy hat.  Those to fall under her spell include ageing cowboy Clark Gable, rodeo rider Montgomery Clift and mechanic Eli Wallach.  With Wallach in the cast I couldn't help but imagine the film as a love triangle version of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly!
A good script provides a swansong for the ways of the old West as the cowboys start to realise that time is moving on without them.
P.S.  Funny to see Kevin McCarthy from Invasion of the Body Snatchers appear as her ex-husband.  I could see him running after the guys trying to stop them falling under her spell, "you're next. you're next, you're next!".

113 - Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy - 5 stars
"San Diego, which of course is German for a whale's vagina"
A few people I know have had the audacity to try and claim that this wasn't funny but if they don't laugh at lines like that then I don't want to be friends with them.  For not only is this the funniest and most quotable film of the last decade but also the most important.  Why, I hear you ask?  I'll tell you.
Not only does it have one of the best comedy casts of all time (Ferrell, Carell, Rudd, Vaughn, Wilson, Willard, Stiller, Rogen, Parnell, Black), but it signified the beginning of the Apatow era for comedy.  While only a producer on this film (albeit with a quick cameo "smells like a turd covered in burnt hair"), it proved a breakout platform for the improvisational comedic styling that Apatow would use so well to produce smash hits like 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Superbad, etc, etc.
There is a basic plot in here somewhere about news reporters, sexism and pandas but it is really just an excuse for the highest joke per minute ratio since Airplane.
While Brick Tamland might be one of the greatest comedy creation of the noughties, I have to give a special mention to Paul Rudd, who has gone from doing generic rom-coms to proving to be the Best Supporting Actor - Comedy of the last decade, before deservedly attaining lead actor status in Role Models and I Love You Man.
This is the film that I probably quote in real life more than any other (probably to the annoyance of work colleagues and friends), so they will often hear me say;
"I'm in a glass case of emotion!", "Milk was a bad choice", "Como estan, beetches", "Son of a beesting", "By the beard of zeus", "sometimes you've just got to say 'when in Rome'"
and I'm looking forward to the day that I can say this to a lady!

Days remaining - 256 Films remaining - 342

Friday, 1 January 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 108 - Some like it lukewarm

27 - Some Like It Hot - 3 stars
After a cracking Hogmanay night I woke up with a bit of a hangover but delighted to find another classic on the TV, what a good start to 2010.
Yet another film that it is amazing to think I haven't seen, with so many moments that feature on the usual '100 Greatest Lists'.
At the centre of the film is a terrific pairing of Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis as two musicians who go on the run from mobsters, disguising themselves as women to be part of an all-girl group, led by the sexy Marilyn Monroe.
Curtis and Lemmon have a great comic timing between them, and are both game enough to throw themselves into there performances as 'Josephine' and 'Daphne', Lemmon especially, setting the standard for all sex swap comedies to come.  But Curtis's finest moments come as his third alter-ego; 'Junior', a Cary Grant spoof millionnaire who romances Monroe.  Best moment is when he claims to be unable to have feelings for a woman, kisses Marilyn then sits back down, "See... nothing!".
Monroe is the very definition of a star. Not an actress, but a star.
At times she is clearly reading from cue cards, Curtis said that kissing her was like "kissing Hitler" and there are legendary stories of Wilder having to do 80+ takes for one scene with her. I only wish she had live long enough to work with Kubrick, now that would have been fun to watch!
Despite all this her personality and natural charisma shines through as she plays Sugar Kane, a glorified version of herself, full of bubbly innocence and warmth.
A good comedy but it falters during the gangster scenes where the murders are very dark in tone compared to the rest of the film, also there was great potential in some of the minor characters who get lost in the second half of the film.
Overall I enjoyed it but was slightly underwhelmed on first viewing but that could be due to the fact that it has been hyped as one of the best films of all time and therefore has a lot to live up to, but as they say in the film... "Nobody's perfect!"