Sunday, 28 February 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 166

376 - Zodiac - 5 stars
Rewatching this film just now I do believe that I was justified in calling it the best film of 2007.
The film shows that it's not only the victims that lose their lives to a serial killer as several cops and journalists sacrifice their personal or professional lives in the pursuit of the Zodiac killer, one of the greatest unsolved murder cases in the USA.
Fincher brings an intense level of detail and mood to the film and draws great understated performances from Jake Gyllenhaal and Mark Ruffalo while RDJ does his usual schtick which is always entertaining. Memorable creepy turns from John Carrol Lynch as the chief suspect and Charles Fleischer (voice of Roger Rabbit) who takes Gyllenhaal down to his basement.

156 - Saving Private Ryan - 3 stars
After an incredibly powerful and visceral opening 20 minutes where cinematographer Janusz Kaminski literally takes you onto Normandy beach and panic, disorientation and terror that soldiers must have felt coming off the boats into that hail of gunfire, the movie becomes a familiar 'men on a mission' scenario where there mission is a man, Private Ryan.
At times a tad sentimental look at war but it is full of strong performances from a cast that included many actors who are now major stars (Damon, Giamatti, Diesel, Ribisi, and Nathan Fillion aka Mal Renoylds as the 'fake' Ryan).
A moving and unexpected ending to the film enchanced by a tricksy narrative sleight of hand by Speilberg.

Days remaining - 199 Films remaining - 257

Saturday, 27 February 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 165

40 - Vertigo - 5 stars
Full review to follow...

What followed was an unexpected San Francisco double bill as Lovefilm sent me:

430 - Big Trouble In Little China - 3 stars
An entertaining way to pass 99 minutes but not very memorable. Even while writing this review the exact details of what went on during the film are already beginning to fade.
I do know that Kurt Russell was wearing a fetching mullet & vest combo and had to rescue Samantha from Sex And The City from an evil Chinese spirit who has henchmen that look like Raiden from Mortal Kombat.
Tis a shame that Russell never became the huge star that he had the potential to be after this film and others like The Thing.  "Are you ready?", "I was born ready".

Days remaining - 200 Films remaining - 259

(500) Films of Empire - Day 164

313 - Battleship Potemkin - 4 stars
An excellent example of the power and importance of editing in film. It helps the story and unfold and can create mood and emotion within the film, and is especially in silent film - where editing and music are the two most important elements, particularly in the final scene where the Potemkin prepares to do battle with two other ships. The edited sequence is cut together flawlessly to deliver a really tense countdown to battle.
This propaganda film by Eisenstein that featured the mutiny of Odessa soldiers against their Tsarist officers is most famous for the Odessa steps sequence which would be homaged and parodied in several films including The Untouchables and Naked Gun 2&1/2.

Days remaining - 201 Films remaining - 261

Thursday, 25 February 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 163

421 - Lethal Weapon - 3 stars
Most cop buddy movies work on the principal of 'good cop/bad cop' but this film uses the combination of black cop and psycho cop.
Much heavier on the 'Lethal' part of the title than the sequels, mainly due to Mel Gibson developing his 'crazy' on-screen persona between this and Mad Max that would be put to use on and off screen for the next twenty years.
Penned by Shane Black, it isn't quite as quotable as some of his later work like "It's just been revoked" from the sequel or anything from the brilliant Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, but it did make Murtagh aware that he was "getting too old for this shit". It does beg the question of how old does someone have to be before they are too old? And if he was too old in Lethal Weapon how the hell did he make it through three sequels?!

479 - The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty - 3 stars
This type of Wrong Man scenario has been done many times before, where an everyman is involved in a case of mistaken identity and espionage e.g. North By Northwest, Enemy Of The State, etc. But this time the story is being played for laughs.
The everyman in this film is Walter Mitty, a proofreader for a book company who has a tendency to daydream, much to the annoyance of his employer, fiancee and family.
I found the dream sequences to be rather self-indulgent especially the musical number, which was only really there to show off Danny Kaye's skills as a song and dance man, but they do serve an important role within the film, as the bad guys use this dependecny on the dreamworld to discredit his opinions and convince him he is crazy and imagining the spy scenario.

202 - The Addiction - 3 stars
This is not your typical vampire film. This isn't The Lost Boys or Blade and is a million miles from Twilight.
It differs because of two things.
Firstly, it is shot in black and white which is shocking for a vampire movie shot after 1930! This is a bold approach as you obviously lose the colour red which is very important in most vampire films because of the large quantities of blood that is usually spilled.
Secondly the treatment of vampirism. As the title suggests it draws parallels between vampirism and drug addiction. Lili Taylor is attacked by a vampire and starts to develop cravings for blood and suffers from withdrawal symptoms when she can't get a fix (i.e. victims) and at one point Christopher Walken turns up as a fellow vampire who has learned to control his habit and attempts to detox her, but instead she hosts a vampire orgy which results in her essentially ODing on blood.
An interesting look at vampirism that would appeal to fans of Let The Right One In who like a twist on the usual vampire fare.

Days remaining - 202 Films remaining - 262

(500) Films of Empire - Day 162

271 - Pee Wee's Big Adventure - 1 star
Irritating, irritating, irritating...
This film lost me after about 5 minutes and nothing that followed was going to be able to change my mind (not even the Tequila dance).
I just found the character of Pee Wee Herman intensely irritating, and it was not due to the fact that a customer called me Pee Wee the other week when I wore a bow tie to work. He is so OTT and idiotic I couldn't engage with the character and couldn't give two sh*ts about his bike being stolen!
This was just an excuse to have Pee Wee set off on a road trip to Hollywood to rescue his bike (clearly Kevin Smith is a big fan of this as he ripped off most of the plot for Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back), where he meets an oh-so quirky array of characters before a mad cap chase through the Warner Brothers movie studio which results in them making a film of his story... ho delightfully post-modern.
This is one film on the list I will certainly NOT be watching again!

Days remaining - 203 Films remaining - 265

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 161

267 - Crimes And Misdemeanors - 2 stars
I didn't like this film as it was two different films in one yet struggled to find the right balance between the tones. One half was a drama about a doctor having his mistress murdered (Allen would revisit this in Match Point and do it better) and the usual Woody Allen has a mid-life crisis story.
As I've grown fond of this little ritual I present the best one liner from each Woody Allen film on the list. Here is this film's:
"Honey it was you who stopped sleeping with me, ok. It'll be a year come April 20th. I remember the date exactly because it was Hitler's birthday"

493 - In The Company Of Men - 2 stars
Aaron Eckhart plays a man with the blackest of hearts as he bullies another man into helping him emotionally destroy a deaf woman by having both of them date her then break up with her. Excellent performance from Eckhart (a very underrated actor) and a cruel look at the mysogyny of men but it is ultimately betrayed by its theatrical background by obviously being a series of two handers that is more suited to the stage.

Days remaining - 204 Films remaining - 266

Monday, 22 February 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 160

165 - Partie de Campagne - 2 stars
A short film by Jean Renoir that looks at the impact a tiny moment can have on someone's life, in this case a stolen kiss. Consider this to be a black and white French mini Before Sunrise!
The Dufour family travel from Paris to the countryside for a picnic. There they encounter two boaters, or bounders and cads, who are interested in romancing the beautiful Henriette who is engaged to her rather dull fiance.
After going on a boat ride with one of the young gentlemen, they share a kiss before going their seperate ways. Years later by chance they meet by the same spot and admit to their true feelings. Oh yes, now from that description it sounds like a beautiful romantic moment but this is where the hard boiled cynic in me rises up again. I would urge people to revisit the scene where they kiss. The man is essentially forcing himself upon her until she gives in to the kiss. So when they meet years later and he remarks that he comes here because it reminds him of his happiest memories what are they exactly, "remember the time I forced myself on you"?
It doesn't help that filming was never completed and scenes towards the end were replaced with cue cards.
It seems the hopeless romantic in me is simply that... hopeless!

189 - Ghostbusters - 4 stars
One of the definitive 80's movies and possibly the favourite film of my friends Guy, Scott and John (so much so that I put a special screening on for their joint brithday party a couple of years ago. Scott was even forced to wear a Ghostbuster outfit. I'm sure I've got a photo of that somewhere).
Sentimentality would push me towards an instant five star rating but that is not the purpose of this challenge, I have to be critical and review each film as independently as I can.
Still holds up very well for a film made in the eighties. Special effects aren't too bad, nice to see Mr Stay Puft again, Sigourney Weaver is very sexy when possessed... and it has one of the best theme songs of all time (until it was butchered by Jedward on X Factor)
But the real charm to the film is the bond between the central trio of Venkman, Stanz and Spengler. You really get a feeling that these guys have been friends for a long time and the banter between them is excellent.
That brings up a problem in the film: Winston Zedemore. What is the function of him except to have a man of colour in the film?
Special mention must go to William Arterton who seemed to have a niche role during the eighties of playing absolute assholes (see Die Hard). His EPA bureaucrat Walter Peck is responsible for setting up the showdown at the end and for one of the best lines in the film:
"Everything was fine until dickless here shut off the containment unit", "Is this true", "Yes it's true, this man has no dick".

Days remaining - 205 Films remaining - 268

(500) Films of Empire - Day 159

A busy day in the world of Dallas. Film watching, show rehearsals, film watching, BAFTAs, Predator then bed. Phew, hectic or what? Quick recap of the movies watched below:

414 - The Double Life of Veronique - 3 stars
Sunday morning, tired, grumpy and with a fuzzy head thanks to Innis & Gunn is not the optimum way to view a foreign language film, especially a complex one like this!
Irene Jacob gives a terrific performance as Veronika and Veronique, two identical yet unrelated women whose lives become linked by a tragic event.
There is a theme of control and manipulation through the film as Veronique becomes involved in a relationship with a puppeteer who may or may not have information on the connection between the two women, and true motives are unclear.
Frustratingly unresolved at the end.

I missed seeing Mulholland Drive at work today because it clashed with rehearsals but I managed to sneak in a viewing before the BAFTAs whilst enjoying some tasty fajitas with Siobhan. She had never seen it and I had to prepare myself for the inevitable barrage of questions that would follow the film!

391 - Mulholland Drive - 5 stars
So difficult to talk about because it is difficult to describe and even understand. Just check out some of the 971,000 rsults for 'Mulholland Drive explained' on Google!

Originally designed as a TV pilot, David Lynch shot extra material to try and finish the project but due to the nature of the production, at times it is very Tarantino-esque, in that it is collection of weird and wonderful moments rather than a cohesive narrative.

However this does not stop it being a fantastic film which sparks hours of debate about 'what happened', 'what part of it was a dream?', etc.

Best I can figure is that Diane had her lover killed and through her guilt created a dream world where Rita was dependent on her and she had the potential to be a Hollywood sta.

Naomi Watts is fantastic in this, particularly in the audition scene where she turns a daytime soap piece into something altogether more sinister.

My favourite part is the Club Silencio sequence which features a heartbreaking rendition of 'Crying' in Spanish by Rebekah De Rio.

This film also contains the biggest scare of any non-horror movie. I am referring to the scene in Winkies where the guy describes a dream that he had. Lynch keeps the camera moving during the scene, almost as if it is floating, which increases the level of unease until the fantastic payoff.

The rest of the evening was taken up with the BAFTAs which were annoyingly shown on BBC1 2 hours after the event so I had to stay off Twitter, etc for 4 hours while I waited to watch the unspoiled results. After a good night of results with excellent wins for Duncan Jones and Colin Firth and a resistance by the British to being blinded by the big CGI bucks of Avatar, it was time to introduce Siobhan to the world of Predator (which she told me afterwards was hands down the greatest film she had ever seen ;) )

364 - Predator - 5 stars
Between this and Die Hard, John McTiernan has the proud distinction of directing not only the two greatest action movies of the eighties but probably on this 500 list.
It is impossible to review this in the same way that I would films like Mulholland Drive or Schindler's List. Some movies have a message, explore issues, have a story to tell, and some just want to entertain. Predator's purpose is escapism and to entertain the audience and it succeeded on that goal with me. I actually found myself quoting every single line in the film before it happened. You know you really love a film when you are able to do that (see also Anchorman, Big Lebowski, Star Wars, etc).

How OTT is this film? Exhibit 1 - Jesse Ventura uses 'Old Painless', which is a mini-gun that is normally mounted on the side of a helicopter. Exhibit 2 - The Dutch/Dillon greeting which is the most OTT shot in the history of cinema, just look at those arms!

Also with Predator, you get two films for the price of one. The first half is a straight up men on a mission film, while the second half becomes a sci-fi horror movie, as the Predator hunts the team one by one using a variety of weapons and very bad CGI.

Days remaining - 206 Films remaining - 271

Saturday, 20 February 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 157

403 - Do The Right Thing - 3 stars
Rated as Spike Lee's best film but of the one's I have seen that honour would be bestowed upon The 25th Hour.
Whilst the film will not be everyone's cup of tea, Spike Lee is a talented writer and director, but it would be best if he stayed behind the camera as his limited acting skills are shown up when acting besides the likes of Tuturro, Aiello, Ossie Davis and Samual L. Jackson.
The main talking point of the film is whether Mookie does do the right thing? Racial tensions boil over in a Harlem neighbourhood when a black man is killed by police after fighting with Sal, the Italian-American who runs the local pizzeria. Mookie throws a trash can through the window of the pizza shop which is then destroyed by the angry mob, thus deflecting the violence that might have been directed towards the Italians. Did he mean to do this? Was it the right thing to do? Open to debate.
he film should be plauded for dealing with the issues in a different way it deserves to lose marks for being the film that introduced the irritating screen presences of Rosie Perez and Martin Lawrence!

Days remaining - 208 Films remaining - 273

Thursday, 18 February 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 156

301 - Love And Death - 3 stars
Woody Allen seems to be a Marmite style filmmaker, you either love him or hate him. He also always seems to be having "a return to form" which really means that he makes a bad film then a good film then a bad film then a good film.
For me I think I go through phases of liking Allen and wasn't sure which one would turn up tonight.
This was decent Allen fare as he transfers his New York Jewish humour to the Russian battlefields as Woody gets involved in the war and a plot to kill Napoleon, all really in an attempt to impress his cousin/wife Diane Keaton, who for some reason has her hair styled like Princess Leia in A New Hope.
Combining slapstick with a comic slant on the philiosphical musings of Russian writers this has a high gag rate which is still classic Allen.
Best joke - Sonja: Oh don't, Boris, please. Sex without love is an empty experience. Boris: Yes, but as empty experiences go, it's one of the best.

416 - Bad Taste - 2 stars
What I couldn't believe is that the same Peter Jackson that directed this went on to become the Oscar-winning director of the Lord Of The Rings trilogy.
This is pure student budget filmmaking and while I applaud anyone who can actually get a film made on their own, this one was made over 4 years, it is not a great film by any stretch of the imagination.
The plot, if there was one there as it only becomes clear about 20 minutes before the end, is that government agents are trying to rescue someone kidnapped by an alien species who are transporting human flesh back to their home planet to sell as a delicacy.
Acting is not good at all, although Peter Jackson does deserve credit for being unrecognisable as Derek, he shaved his beard off, who spends most of the movie trying to put his brains back into his head before going postal on the aliens with a chainsaw. His character also gets the best line in the film; when told to run as the aliens are coming for him, he replys with "I'm a Derek, and Dereks don't run!".
Talking about the brains, the one area where the film does succeed is in the special effects and make up which are very good for done on a shoestring budget, especially the end showdown which features the unique sight of a man with a chainsaw divebombing an alien and coming out of his arse shouting "I've been reborn".

Days remaining - 209 Films remaining - 274

(500) Films of Empire - Day 155

370 - Rocky - 3 stars
It has been years since I've seen Rocky but in the meantime I've seen some of the sequels countless times with plenty of having memorable moments, even if perhaps slightly guilty pleasures, whether it's Eye Of The Tiger, the Rumble in the Jungle style fight between Rocky and Mr. "I pity the fool" T, or Rocky stopping the Cold War all by himself in Rocky IV.
Looking back at Rocky compared to the sequels you realise that whilst the sequels were more about the boxing and the spectacle of the sport, the first film was about the man.
Rocky focuses on the lovable underdog as he trains for a once-in-a-lifetime shot against the Muhammad Ali-like smooth talking, hard hitting champion Apollo Creed, and also on his relationship with the shy, timid Adrian.
The boxing doesn't really get a look in until the big fight and then it only lasts 15 minutes as Rocky succeeds in lasting the distance against the champs, creating a cinematic sporting legend and spawning multiple sequels in the process.

Days remaining - 210 Films remaining - 276

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 154

422 - A Man Escaped - 2 stars
A French prison film that is based on the memoirs of Andre, a real French POW. It is methodical and repetitive in its accounts of Fontaine's escape attempt, analysing with exacting detail the time and effort that go into a prison escape.
Imagine this film as the missing act from The Shawshank Redemption and you are on the right track.
My problem with the film was that with the film being called A Man Escaped, escaped as in the act has been completed, and the film is being told in the past tense so it doesn't have any sense of tension to it which I feel is kind of necessary in a great prison film.

147 - Notorious - 3 stars
Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains, Nazis, Warm Climates. It must be Casablanca. No wait, that's not Bogart, it's Cary Grant with Hitchcock directing this tale of romance, deception and espionage in sunny Rio.
It is a neat little thrller and Hitchcock builds the tension nicely as he always does but something about this left me a bit hollow.
Bergman has to seduce Claude Rains character in order to get into his life and spy on his nefarious activities yet she is conflicted as she loves her government contact Cary Grant. The problem is that we never really see the romance. They arrive in Rio and suddenly it's eight weeks later and they are in love. Although Grant does the classic 'pull in and smooch' he does so well in other movies, I never felt the heart of the relationship that should drive them back together.

441 - Being John Malkovich - 4 stars
The most original film on the list? Quite possibly. Spike Jonze, creator of such classic music videos as Sabotage, Weapon of Choice and Praise You, meets king of the quirky screenplay Charlie Kaufman to create a story where a man working on the 7 & 1/2 floor of an office building finds a secret door which is a portal into the head of John Malkovich.
Central to the story is a unique love square (I know you get love triangles, do you get love squares?) between puppeteer Craig, his wife Lottie, his colleague Maxine (played with an amazing sensuality by Catherine Keener) and Malkovich. Craig loves Maxine but Maxine loves Lottie but only when she is in Malkovich. Are you keeping up? Best to just watch the film, it is too complicated to describe.
I truly believe that Malkovich should have got an Oscar nomination, for his performance and for being such a good sport and delivering one of the most surreal scenes in cinema history as Malkovich goes inside his own portal and enters a world where everyone and every word is Malkovich. Not only does he play a caricatured version of himself but also Craig Schwartz controlling Malkovich. One of the best moments is when Malkovich expresses his concerns to his best Hollywood friend... Charlie Sheen of all people, genius!
I heard a story that when the film was being pitched a studio executive asked if he couldn't have chosen a more high profile actor, "why couldn't it be Being Tom Cruise?". Ridiculous at the time, but given Tom's habit for bizarre outbursts over the last couple of years, it might have made for a very interesting film!

Days remaning - 211 Films remaining - 277

(500) Films of Empire - The Lost Titles...

With 200+ days still to go in the challenge to watch 500 fims in a year you might think tha it has been plain sailing. Not true, the Empire list failed to take into account that some idiot like myself would attempt such a crazy idea and would struggle to actually find some of the films in the list due to such factors as having never been released on DVD, region codes, etc.

Below is a list of some of the films that are proving difficult to track down. If anyone has a copy of any of the films on DVD, VHS, etc or happens o notice they are screening on TV or at a cinema somewhere in mainland Europe please let me know so I can try and get them. I might even give you a free ticket to the cinema for helping me :)



385 - Ace In The Hole (1951)

234 - Heimat (1985)

213 - Songs From The Second Floor - directed by Roy Andersson

161 - The Year Of Living Dangerously - directed by Peter Weir

Monday, 15 February 2010

(500) Film of Empire - Day 152 - Valentine's Day

Such is my sad little life that I am all alone on Valentine's Day, but that means I'm free from having to pay over-inflated prices for cards, chocolates and flowers.
After an afternoon of rehearsals for the second show I will be in this year which will be a cabaret of Music from the Movies, how perfect is that for me, I retired to the comfort of my sofa with a curry banquet for one (is there anything more depressing on Valentine's Day than ordering a curry banquet for one? Answers on a postcard please) as it was time for a double bill and started with a romance... a True Romance!

157 - True Romance - 4 stars
The course of true love never runs smooth and that certainly the case for Clarence and Alabama, a comic book and movie nerd and a call girl, who get mixed up with white Rastas, mob bosses, movie producers, and a stoned Brad Pitt along the bumpy road to love.
One of the major criticisms of Tarantino, and at times a very valid one, is that he doesn't know how to edit himself. He writes and writes and writes but is very bad at cutting things out of his own work. Inglourious Basterds is his best work in years and gets better with multiple viewings but it doesn't alter the fact that it is a bit too long. Then there is Death Proof, half an OK film and half of self-indulgent waffle between annoying female characters.
However True Romance might be Tarantino's best film because it is not directed by him. Tony Scott directs this with his usual visual flair mixing fast cutting, gun fights, action, music, etc with the high octane style that served him so well through 80's action films like Top Gun, etc but still knows when to slow things down to serve the dialogue, which is unmistakabley Tarantino.
Whether it is Clarence talking to a woman at a bar about Elvis or Kung Fu movies, Galdofini's mobster discussing how the act of killing becomes diluted, it has a familiar ring to it that comes from Hollywood's enfant terrible.
And it is in this film that we get Tarantino's finest scene; Walken vs Hopper in 'the liar scene'.
I encourage you to use the link and watch the scene in its entirety but to summarise, Walken is at his most chilling as a mob enforcer determined to get Hopper to spill the beans on where his son Clarence is. Hopper knows he is screwed either way so turns the tables on Walken's Sicilain mobster with a classic history lesson. Tony Scott uses simple shots to allow the two actors to go back and forth with each other and the classical music over the top creates one of the best face offs in cinematic history.
Now I don't want to spoil the ending of the film, but since it is Valentine's Day and I'm in a bitter kind of mood I would have been much happier to have seen the film end with Tarantino's original ending, which is available on the DVD if you want to see it.

A change of pace now and I'm watching Little Miss Sunshine that holds a special place in my heart as it was the first movie that I watched with the first girl I ever loved and the only relationship I've ever had. We had a great year and a half before it ended but we've remained close friends and she still knows me better than anyone.
It's funny how films or songs can suddenly transport you back to a certain place or time in your life, make you feel and remember things that can make you feel happy or sad, and all from just a chord or lyric or image. That's why I love movies so much, they are my true Valentine. Because they will always be there, even if no one else is.

402 - Little Miss Sunshine - 4 stars
The original little film that could, and did by grossing over $100 million worldwide and winning awards left, right and centre. This resulted in every quirky indie hit being labeled as "this year's Little Miss Sunshine".

The reason this film succeeds is down to the quality of the acting. There is not a poor performance between the dysfunctional family, mixing established character actors like Kinnear, Collette and Arkin with rising stars Dano and Breslin. The standout performance however comes from Steve Carell as Frank, the gay, suicidal uncle. It is a deeply moving and charming performance as you can see his journey from despair to reconnecting with his family. It is a million miles away from Brick in Anchorman or The 40 Year Old Virgin, and continues the tradition of comic actors playing it straight e.g. Bill Murray and Jim Carrey.
The climax of the film is a critique and mockery of the Bizarro world of US child beauty pageants. Seriously, look at some of the kids Olive is competing against. They resemble children but their faces look like grown ups, deeply disturbing (for more evidence check out Bruno for the depths the parents will sink to to promote their children).
However its the weird and wonderful that win out in the end thanks to the funniest dance sequence since Napoleon Dynamite.

Days remaining - 213 Films remaining - 280

Sunday, 14 February 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 151

122 - The Princess Bride - 3 stars
William Goldman created one of the best loved fairy tales of the Eighties by using the classic structure and giving it a post modern twist in the telling of it (a grandad, played by Peter 'Columbo' Falk reads it to his grandson) and the dialogue that has some serious snap, crackle and pop. Also some of it seems rather adult for what is essentially a kids film, e.g. "there is a shortage of perfect breasts in this world, it would be a shame to ruin yours".
Perhaps it is because I never saw this as a kid (what? I can hear you all crying out in disgust. I must have been too busy watching Star Wars for the 1000th time), but I wasn't as blown away as I thought I was going to be.
Although there it is still an enjoyable film that gave pop culture lines like "Inconceivable" and "My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die" and my favourite scene in the film, the battle of wits which has a fantastic punchline.
It also breezes along at a nice 90 minutes with tight pacing except when it is being interrupted by Fred Savage complaining to Columbo about the kissing or the fate of certain characters.
This makes light of one of my pet peeves for you know what really grinds my gears? Besides people who don't watch subtitled films? People who ask questions during a movie?
Is there anything more annoying than having a film interrupted by "who is that guy?" or "why are they doing that?", when you know that if they just sit back and enjoy the film the question will be answered in time.
I'm happy to answer questions after it's finished if there is confusion or just a good discussion to be had but leave it till the end credits!

Friday, 12 February 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 150

175 - Rushmore - 4 stars
Between Wes Anderson and Jason Schwartzman, their creation of schoolboy Max Fisher could well be the Ferris Bueller of the Nineties.
Both are cocky young men but where Bueller was looking to escape from school, Fisher spends too much time in it with lots of extra curricular activites (as shown in a funny montage).
Central to the story is the love triangle between Max, the object of his affections Miss Cross, and his friend Herman Blume, a businessman and former Vietnam vet who was "in the shit", played with sardonic wit by Bill Murray.
It is wonderfully played out as Max and Herman prove that the thing that drives men to madness is women. They have petty fights with each other as they both make a play for Miss Cross, alienating each other until Max brings everyone together at his school play Heaven & Hell, a Vietnam epic that hs the budget and special effects of a Michael Bay blockbuster!
Anderson has a Coen-like quality in creating quirky but memorable minor characters in his films and Rushmore has the fantastic Magnus Buchan, the Scottish bully who torments Fisher.
He has one of the strongest Scottish accents I've ever heard o screen, possibly due to the fact he is in a cast of Americans and Brian Cox also plays American. It proves once again that Scots are among the top swearers in cinema (see also Begbie in Trainspotting and the fabulous Malcolm Tucker in In The Loop, who raises swearing to an art form).

Days remaining - 215 Films remaining - 283

The Belmont Film Podcast - Episode 4

The brand new podcast is online thanks to the lovely John at The Kiosque website.

This week Lynsey and myself review THE WOLFMAN remake starring Benicio Del Toro, Sir Anthony Hopkins and Emily Blunt.
Also up for discussion is the over-reliance on CGI in modern cinema against excellent practical effects in the likes of THE THING.

To listen to and download the podcast, click here.

To subscribe to the podcast via iTunes, click here.

Remember that feedback is always appreciated, so any thoughts or comments can be posted below.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 149

435 - American Psycho - 3 stars
Misjudged on its release by those expecting a horror or psycho thriller. Instead the filmmakers scaled back on the extreme violence that featured heavily in the novel and instead produced a blacker than noir comedy and wicked satire of the fashion, music, greed and materialism of the 1980's.
Patrick Bateman is the kind of guy who would have idealised Gordon Gekko from Wall Street. "Greed is good", but murder and listening to Phil Collins is bad. His lifestyle, his clothes, his apartment all suggest that he wants to "fit in" with society, except for one problem. He's totally insane... well anyone who listens to Phil Collins must be mental.  His bloodlust is not fuelled by childhood issues or anger at the state of the world but because someone has a better business card than him.
Christian Bale was a revelation in the role, this being his breakout adult role proving he is no longer "the kid from Empire Of The Sun". He effortlessly switches bewteen smarmy yuppie, goofy music nerd and psychotic killer.
The best moments in the film are Patrick Bateman's music reviews. Taking place during sex with hookers or murdering work colleagues, Bateman muses on such eighties musical visionaries as Collins, Whitney Houston and, the highlight of the film, murder to Huey Lewis And The News.

358 - Russian Ark - 1 star
There is an argument that cinematography and editing are tools that allow the story to unfold and shouldn't be obviously OTT where the audience thinks "wow, that is a cool shot", and that is the point when you are taken out of the movie albeit temporarily.
An example of this are the noticeable extended steadicam shots by Joe Wright in P&P and Atonement, as a result I was continuely expecting a similar shot in The Soloist and unable to fully get involved in the film, although it turned out that there wasn't one at all!
That isn't to say there are not exceptions to the rule like the crane shot in Touch of Evil or ... And so with that thought in mind I popped Russian Ark in the DVD player and prepared to watch an arthouse film that is 96 minutes long and shot in one single continuous take. Would the extreme and bold choice in cinematography style have an effect on the viewing of the film?
Turns out it really didn't matter, it could have had tons of crazy Michael Bay style camera work but it wouldn't have stopped this film being the most boring film I have watched so far on the list, if not ever!
Some philistines out there claim that foreign language films can be too arty and pretentious, and if this was the only one I had seen I would be tempted to agree with them!
I don't have much interest in Russian art or history so I have absolutely no desire to spend 90 minutes slowly walking round a Russian heritage museum through varying points in history.
Now we come to the camera work in the film. It is a wonderful experiment in organisation and timing to make sure that everyone hits their marks on time (sound dubbing was clearly done in post-production) and after about 10 minutes or so you become used to the fact that it is all being shot in one continuous take... or is it?
I'm going on record now to post my suspicions tht this is not one single continuous take. I suspect there may be a couple of hidden edits in here.
A famous case of this is Alfred Hitchcock's Rope. It was shot in just ten takes each lasting around 10 minutes in length (because this is how much film the camera coul hold at one time) and edited together to almost seem like a continuous take. The edits were hidden by having the camera moving behind a character of focusing on a table (another great example of this is episode 4 of the great TV series Psychoville).
I believe that thi was done here too, as there are a couple of odd moments where the camera zooms in and focuses on a particular painting befre panning away again, and I think it is in these moments that secret edits between take occur. I might and could be wrong but my suspicions are there.

Days remaining - 216 Films remaining - 284

(500) Films of Empire - Day 148

426 - Enduring Love - 2 stars
Daniel Craig plays a man who is involved in a hot air balloon accident that ends in the tragic death of a man. Obsessed with anaylsing the accident to find out if it could have been prevented, he becomes distant from his girlfriend yet at the same time more involved with a creepy stalker whose intentions are not clear.
Despite a good central performance by Daniel Craig, this is a bit of a mess really. It has the look and feel of a BBC TV series but they have tried to make it more mainstream by having some flashy camerawork and an loud substandard Psycho-esque score that is used to let the audience know that something creepy, tense or exciting is happening, all of which feels out of place with what should have been a small, modest film.
Then there is the problem that I have with the scene in the end credits. A scene that has no real purpose being in the film and doesn't answer any questions that we have about a certain character throughout the film. Wish I could say more but it would be entering spoiler territory and besides a lot of people seem to agree with me on the message boards on IMDB!

Days remaining - 217 Films remaining - 286

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 147

162 - A Nightmare On Elm Street - 3 stars
I'd originally scoffed at the high ranking of this thinking there must be better horror films out there. But you know what, it is actually very good, one of the better horror films of the 80's.
Memorable for being one of those films that many people saw when they were children and having a lasting effect on them. Like all those people who are afraid of clowns because when they were 12 years old they stayed up late to watch Stephen King's IT and were terrified by Tim Curry's Pennywise.
Nightmare works because of its strong concept, the fear that we are totally helpless when we are asleep and the idea that if we die in our dreams, do we die in real life?
The deaths of the young teenagers haunted by the gruesome Freddy Krueger are nicely executed, with Freddy being much more malicious and joke-free than the sequels. It has a mixture of good and bad effects; good - the girl flying around the ceiling and the bed of blood; the bad - Freddy's big wobbly arms and final scare moment (it's obviously a doll!).
It also earns bonus points for being the movie with the casting credit of "introducing Johnny Depp". That's right, everyone's favourite quirky actor first popped up as one of Freddy's victims in the early eighties. In a piece of spooky film trivia, apparently he only got the part after coming along to the audition with friend Jackie Earle Haley who is due to appear this year as Freddy Krugeur in the upcoming remake, which actually looks surprisingly good!
Hope it keeps the creepy nursery rhyme;
1, 2 Freddy's coming for you,
3, 4 better lock you door,
5,6 get a crucifix,
7, 8 better stay up late
9, 10 never sleep again...

Days remaining - 218 Films remaining - 287

The Mark Kermode 'It's Only A Movie' Book Tour

After bravely/foolishly (delete as applicable) staying up till 3.00am to watch the New Orleans Saints deservedly win the Superbowl, I managed to get up and grab a train down to Edinburgh and our sister cinema, The Cameo (voted one of the best independent cinemas in the UK although I’m sure that if The Guardian had visited The Belmont then we would have made the list too!).

The reason for my visit was that The Cameo was playing host to the UK’s most infamously coiffured film critic, Mark Kermode to promote his new autobiography IT’S ONLY A MOVIE. What followed was an entertaining one man show as DrK revisited a few of the stories and anecdotes from his years in the film critiquing business.

Yes, many of us familiar with Mark Kermode over the years had probably heard some of the famous stories before, like Herzog getting shot and the obligatory mention of THE EXORCIST as “The Greatest Movie Ever Made”TM but it really didn’t matter when they were told with an infectious enthusiasm that made it very apparent that he still has the same love for the world of cinema as he had when he saw his first film some thirty plus years ago.

Fans of the Mayo and Kermode podcast would have been delighted to see the talk come to a close with him pulling out his stylophone for a musical tribute to Duncan Jones’s MOON to make up for its shocking Oscar snub.

A short Q&A followed with almost everyone in the audience having two questions instead of one but we found out that the Film 2010 rumours are sadly false (for the time being anyway) and that someone in the audience was sitting behind Mark when he had to remove someone who fainted during a screening of IRREVERSIBLE at the Filmhouse in Edinburgh.

Finally Mark finished the evening by doing a book signing where he showed that he was a true gentleman by taking the time to speak to every person individually and his encyclopaedic knowledge came to the fore as he rattled off details about cult films, recognised people by their twitter/email names from the podcasts and even a guy’s short film that he’d judged in a competition several years ago.

They say that you should never meet your heroes but after last night I’m glad that I’ve met one of mine.

Mark Kermode will be appearing at several Picturehouse cinemas over the next few weeks so if you can beg, borrow or steal a ticket it is worth it because even if you have seen AVATAR in 3D (and I saw it on IMAX), you haven’t seen AVATAR until you’ve seen Mark Kermode’s AVATAR!

Dallas King, "better than Megan Fox" - Mark Kermode

Sunday, 7 February 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 144

312 - Suspiria - 4 stars
I must give a special "shout out" to the team behind the Blu Ray transfer because the results are absolutely beautiful. I watched Suspiria a few years ago on DVD and it was grainy and dull, but seeing it after it had gone through this high definition restoration it was like watching an entirely new film.
The first thing that you notice are the colours. They are so intense and vivid, particularly the colours red, blue and green. This was the last film shot on Technicolour and a fitting tribute to this bold, vibrant film format although at times the colour scheme is so intense that it could threaten to overwhelm what is happening on screen.
This horror film based around an American student discovering her ballet school is run by a coven of witches is most famous for its series of elaborate murder sequences. You have the opening murder through the glass window, the death where a girl falls into a room that for some reason is filled with nothing but barbed wire, and the highlight of the film, the death of the blind piano player. Now I've seen this film before but I was still fooled by the fabulous bait-and-switch of the death (I won't spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen it yet).
The other highlight of the film is the soundtrack by Goblin and Dario Argento. This was their second collaboration following the success of Profondo Rosso (aka Deep Red) and they would go onto do the soundtrack for Romero's Dawn Of The Dead. It's a fantastic blend of synth and funk that is as seminal a work within the horror genre as the soundtracks to Halloween and Psycho, even to the point where Hans Zimmer has referenced this heavily when scoring the soundtrack to The Ring remake in 2002 (something I only noticed during this viewing).
Whilst the film is a tremendous fun and a landmark within the horror genre, it is not immune from criticism as some of the acting is shockingly bad, particularly the lead actress Jennifer Harper; although this might be in part to the fact that the film was entirely redubbed in post production and she was acting opposite Italian actors.
If you liked/loved this film then I must recommend Profondo Rosso (Deep Red) which I believe is even better than Suspiria and has fantastic use of the archetypal black leather murdering gloves!

Days remaining - 221 Films remaining - 288

Saturday, 6 February 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 143

408 - Zelig - 2 stars
A so-so effort from Woody Allen and a little bemused by its inclusion on the list as Allen has made many better films (many of which are also on, and much higher up, the list).
It takes the form of a fake documentary looking at the life of Leonard Zelig (played by Woody himself) during the 1920's and 30's who was dubbed the human chameleon because he would mimic the physical and mental characteristics of those he comes into social contact with. This can range from mimicing mannerisms to drastic physical changes even body weight and colour.
Zelig's case becomes big news and he becomes a celebrity in the early quarter of the century and Allen inserts himself into footage from the era to make it look like Zelig was interacting with some of the stars of the day, even putting himself into a Nazi party rally.
A curiosity more than anything for the techniques used and evidence that Allen might have invented the 'mockumentary' before Spinal Tap.

Days remaining - 222 Films remaining - 289

Thursday, 4 February 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 142

191 - Brokeback Mountain - 5 stars
So much more than just "that gay cowboy movie", this was one of those times when everything seems to come together to create a truly beautiful film.
As I tried to explain to a few customers when this film came out (no pun intended), this is not a gay film but in fact it is simply a love story, as the central relationship between Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist transcends any boundaries of sexuality.
The performances of Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal show amazing depth and maturity from the young actors.  Ledger in particular finally showed what a truly great actor he was and it is a terrible shame that he died before really being able to fulfill his potential.
Ang Lee's understated direction allows the action to unfold at its own pace and is beautifully underscored by Gustavo Santaolalla.

234 - The Bourne Ultimatum - 5 stars
The culmination of one of the very best film trilogies of all time.
While you could complain that they are all very similar in terms of the storyline and action, they are all excellent films in their own right. And Ultimatum is the best of the bunch.
The first half hour is almost a horror movie in that it is terrifying to realise how plausible the speed and precision that government agency can invade our privacy and track our every move. The scene where Paddy Considine is being chased through Waterloo station is the standout set piece of the series. Now every time I walk through the station I am constantly checking the movements of the CCTV cameras!
The bonus of this film is that Bourne is finally up against a worthy adversary in the form of David Strathairn's slimy Noah Vosel.  A man who is very quick to eliminate civilians or even members of his own department if they are perceived to be a threat to him.
The only minor annoyance with the film was for some reason the screenwriters tried to shoehorn in some hint at a previous romance between Matt Damon and Julia Stiles.  It wasn't mentioned in the first two and just seemed forced in order to bring her back, which wasn't necessary.
I fully agree with Damon's decision to only return if Greengrass directs, but after three films treading familiar waters they would have to do something very different to make it a success... which they have, its called Green Zone and looks like Bourne in Iraq being chased by Jason Isaacs with a handlebar moustache!

Days remaining - 223 Films remaining - 290

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 141

458 - Ikiru - 3 stars
A word of warning to film fans out there. Try not to read too much about a film before viewing as it could seriously impact your enjoyment.
This was the mini review in the Empire 500 list:
A dying man tries to get a playground built, and Akira Kurosawa demonstrates his range by segueing from acidic dissection of Japanese office workaholism to understated, uplifting tragedy. If you don't cry at the end, you need a new heart.
Issue number one. From reading this description I assumed that this was the main plot of the movie but this does not kick in until two thirds of the way in, after he goes through one of those 'trying to enjoy life' phases of drinking, partying and romancing of younger ladies. So he decides to turn an abandoned cesspit into a playground and suddenly we cut to his wake! WTF? I thought that this was the end of the film and felt totally jipped.
However it turns out that we get to see his struggle to get the playground built through flashbacks as his fellow employees remember him, culminating in his death on the swings in the completed park. I think my enjoyment wouldn't have been spoiled if I hadn't been continually waiting for the playground aspect to appear.

My second problem is that I didn't cry at the end, therefore apparently I need a new heart. Who am I? The Tin Man from the freaking Wizard of Oz?
425 - Wonder Boys - 4 stars
One of the most underrated films of the last decade, if only for the fact that hardly anyone saw it on its original release!
Curtis Hanson is like Danny Boyle in that as a director he refuses to become pigeonholed into one particular genre, instead producing films as diverse as this, L.A. Confidential, In Her Shoes and 8 Mile.
Here he directs an excellent cast in this tale of a burnt out English tutor having the weekend from hell as his wife leaves him, his mistress tells him she's pregnant, one of his pupils is acting rather oddly and topped off by his editor wanting to see his unfinished second book!
Michael Douglas's finest performance since Wall Street and the character of Grady Tripp is Douglas's The Dude, if nothing else for the fact he smokes a lot of pot and wears a dressing gown!
This film is probably unique in the fact that this is the only film in which you will see Iron Man and Spider-Man in the same bed together, as Robert Downey Jr's editor seduces the young impressionable student played by Tobey Maguire!

Days remaining - 224 Films remaining - 292

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 140 - It's Groundhog Day... again

259 - Groundhog Day - 4 stars
One of the most original and greatest comedies of the nineties with Bill Murray in the role of a lifetime, or should that a lifetime in a role, as Phil Connors who is stuck within his own personal hell of Groundhog Day in Punxsatawney, Pennsylvania.
There is a hint of It's A Wonderful Life to this story of a grouchy weatherman who is forced to relive the same day over and over in order to learn one of those Hollywood style "life lessons" and become a better person who has that one perfect day.
Normally this is achieved in a neat 100 minutes but for Phil the process takes years and years.  It is never explicitly said how long Phil is stuck in the time loop but director Harold Ramis said it would have probably been over 10 years (I think the screenwriter wanted it to have been thousands of years.
One of the great things about the film is that it never explains why or how this is happening to Phil, it just is.  We see Phil go through various stages during his many experiences in Groundhog Day; initial bewilderment, enjoyment, manipulation, despair and suicide, before finally attempting to better himself.  
Yet due to it's comedic tone, unable to explore the darker side of what someone could and probably would do if stuck in a time loop with no consequences to their actions i.e. torture, rape, murder, etc
It needed an actor like Bill Murray who could easily have the nasty attitude at the beginning yet convince the audience of his ability to change over the course of the film.
A special mention must go to Stephen Tobolowsky's Ned Ryerson. One of those truly great supporting characters, with what would have been very little on the page Tobolowsky creates a lasting impression. "Bing, watch out for that first step, it's a doozy!"
Would have received the rare honour of the five star review if it wasn't for the personality and talent vacuum that is Andie Macdowell!

Days remaining - 225 Films remaining - 294

Monday, 1 February 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 139

454 - The Bourne Supremacy - 4 stars
Paul Greengrass took over the franchise and delivered an even leaner, meaner sequel that quickly dropped the romance subplot (quite literally by *spoilers* shooting it in the back of the head), and Bourne is back being tracked by a bunch of suits looking at computer monitors who are terrified because they are now the target of Bourne's anger.
This was the moment that Damon turned into a A-List megastar, carrying a film with a magnetic ans physical screen presence yet not saying much at all. After all, actions speak louder than words, and they certainly do when you are kicking somebody's ass with a rolled up copy of Heat magazine!
The film, in my humble opinion, was responsible for the new direction and success of the James Bond reboot. Gone were the gadgets, romancing and witty quips and replaced with a grittier, more realistic feel in keeping with the Bourne films. Even the ending of Quantum of Solace is a rip-off of the ending of Bourne Supremacy with a confrontation/confession in a snowy apartment block.
The other major influence on filmmaking in the last few years, arguably for better or worse, is the super fast, even dizzying, editing style that is used during the movie-defining car chase. In this MTV generation, a lot of young filmmakers think that by editing a sequence so that you squeeze in 100 shots within 30 seconds means that you can place emphasis on style over substance. This isn't a criticism of this film but on the copycats that followed.

389 - Election - 3 stars
A witty social and political satire about a teacher who rigs a student council election due to a vendetta with a pupil.
I know I'm not alone in finding Reese Witherspoon intensely irritating but I guess that works very well for this film when she is supposed to be annoying.
Matthew Broderick was very good as the teacher whose simple life spirals out of control, all due to complications in what should have been a simple election. Often forget that Broderick can be a good actor and not just Ferris Bueller.
Just wondering if Jim McAllister was working in Florida in 2000 during the Bush/Gore election?

Days remaining - 226 Films remaining - 295