Wednesday, 31 March 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 196

167 - Don't Look Now - 5 stars
The film that made people scared to death of anyone in a red anorak, especially if they were short!
Often pigeonholed as a horror film, but this is so much more. It is a story of a couple dealing with the loss of a child; a ghost story with a blind woman claiming to have a connection to their dead daughter; a murder mystery; a tragic story about fate.
Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland work wonderfully together to create one of the most believable screen couples in cinematic history. There is an incredible sense of intimacy and history between them, whether in simply a look or a touch or in that sex scene.
Nic Roeg directs with panache. Showing off the beauty of Venice but at the same time creating a real sense of unease and foreboding, particularly whenever the colour red is used.
You know that something bad will happen but it still comes as a shock when it does.

Days remaining - 169 Films remaining - 219

(500) Films of Empire - Day 195

103 - Rear Window - 4 stars
Back in the day, this would have been considered high concept. Like 12 Angry Men, all the action takes place in just one room, but instead of the audience looking in on the action, we join lead character L.B. Jeffries in looking out over his apartment block... which was a giant set created by Alfred Hitchcock, complete with an ensemble of characters known by nicknames like Miss Torso and Miss Lonely Heart.
Hitchcock's everyman of choice Jimmy Stewart is the photographer confined to a wheelchair and spends his time indulging in a spot of friendly neighbourhood voyeurism but becomes convinced that one of them (Raymond Burr aka Perry Mason and Ironside) has murdered their wife.
The film works because we are in the dark as much as Stewart's character in how much we know about her disappearance, we become implicit in his conspiracy theories.
Slowly he convinces his physical therapist (a very dry Thelma Ritter) and girlfriend Grace Kelly to become amateur sleuths to solve the case of the missing wife.
Aah, Grace Kelly. Her memory slightly tarnished by that awful Mika song, but for me she is probably the most beautiful woman who has ever lived. Her soft focus entrance in this film is a classic.

206 - The Departed - 4 stars
The film that finally won Scorsese his long overdue Oscar for Best Director. Is it his best film? No... but it is still one of the slickest and enjoyable crime dramas in recent years. It is also one of those precious rare things, a great remake which retains the tense 'cat and mouse' atmosphere of the original.
As always the majority of the English speaking world ignore any film with subtitles and as a result missed out on the Asian film Infernal Affairs, and The Departed is pretty much a carbon copy of it (even the un-Hollywood ending), transporting the action to Boston.
Leo is sent undercover to infiltrate Jack Nicholson's Irish mafia crew, unbeknownest to him gang member Matt Damon is working in the police force. Soon they are forced to search for the rat in each other's outfit whilst trying to remain hidden themselves.
The real strength of this film is the acting. A truly fantastic ensemble cast; Leo continued his tutiledge under Scorsese to shake of the shadow of Titanic; Jack Nicholson is, well, Jack Nicholson; small memorable roles for Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen and Ray Winstone; Scorsese even managed to coax a foul-mouthed scene stealing performance out of Mark Wahlberg, which is incredible considering this cast.
What is it about the Boston accent that makes swearing sound so cool?
I want to finish the review by righting a wrong that has been sitting ill with me ever since its release back in 2006. Matt Damon did not get nearly enough praise as he should have for his performance. He excels as the smarmy. slimy Sullivan who will do anything to protect himself above anything else. Big shout out and 'props' to MAAT DAAAMON!

116 - Rio Bravo - 3 stars
I'm starting to wonder if I might have Kermode syndrome. In his autobiography he says that frequently fact and fiction become blurred, as indicated in his anecdote about Krakatoa: East Of Java, and today I've found that a lifetime of watching movies has affected my memory.
You see I was in a show earlier this year called Red, Hot & Cole which featured a song called Don't Fence Me In. I recognised the song and in my head I could hear it being sung by Dean Martin in Rio Bravo.
Imagine my surprise when I watched it this evening and it gets to the scene where Dean and Ricky Nelson have a wee sing-song and... they sing something else. Somehow I had managed to edit that song into the film, anyone else ever created a movie moment that doesn't really exist?
But what was the 'actual' film like?
Howard Hawks' rebuttal to High Noon, as he didn't believe that the sherriff would have asked for people's help when a gang of outlaws came looking for trouble.
Wasn't as good as I remembered. Takes to long to get to the final showdown, and wasn't as claustrophobic as John Carpenter's Assault On Precinct 13 spin on it, the sherrifs spend too much time wandering around town.
It does have its good points though, two of those being Angie Dickinson's legs in tights, one thing my memory did not let me down on!

Days remaining - 170 Films remaining - 220

Monday, 29 March 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 194

190 - Eraserhead - 4 stars
I really wasn't sure how to approach reviewing this film, how does anyone? Although I knew that it wouldn't involve any in-depth plot analysis because that would be pointless with Eraserhead; the ultimate student art film, the whole thing being a giant surrealistic nightmare.
It defined Lynch as a filmmaker in that it defies explanantion and totally bonkers.
The thing that struck me during this viewing was the tremendous sound design on the film. From sound effects to the ambient score, it is simply wonderful and of the films strongest elements.
Twas my second viewing of the film and I still can't figure out how Lynch created the 'baby'. It seems so real, which is an odd thing to say about an obviously mutant baby, but between the noises and the animatronic it really feels alive.
One point, the last scene with the baby mutating into a giant head is something that shouldn't be the last thing that you watch before going to bed!

Days remaining - 171 Films remaining - 221

Sunday, 28 March 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 193

491 - Ben Hur - 3 stars

There is a tagline for Monty Python And The Holy Grail that says "makes Ben Hur look like an epic", and epic this is. Running in at just under four hours long, this is a real bum-number... even with an intermission!
What kind of film feels the need to start with a 10 minute overtune to a title card that reads 'overture', never heard of opening credits? That was 10 minutes of my life I'll never get back.
Heston is OK as Ben Hur but for me the real stars are some of the supporting characters. Stephen Boyd is excellent as Messala, the former friend who betrays him to advance his career, as is Jack Hawkins as Quintus Arrius.
I find it odd though that Boyd was beaten to the Best Supporting Actor by Hugh Griffith, who essentially did a RDJ and blacked up to play an Arabian Shiek.
After getting to the second half of the movie, which involved turning over the DVD, it was time for the main event. The Chariot Race.
It is still a genuinely thrilling spectacle some 50 years on, without resorting to a musical score, only the sound effects of horses, whips and shouts.
Lastly I knew this was a biblical epic but I couldn't help burst out laughing when Heston's is dying of thirst and prays to God for water and Jesus shows up with a cup of water for him, ridiculous!
Totally cracked up when Heston prays to God for water and a light shines and Jesus turns up, ridiculous!

340 - High And Low - 5 stars
This is what I love about this challenge; here is a film that knew nothing about, would never have watched without doing this and I discover one of the best crime films I've ever seen.
Directed by Kurosawa, who is best known for his Samurai films, shows that he is just as good working in the genre of crime.
This is a magnificent hostage thriller that is made up of two distinct halves. The first half is all set within the confines of the living room of Mr Gondo who is involved in a ransom plot, except this is not your usual ransom. The kidnapper has mistakenly kidnapped Mr Gondo's chaffeur's son rather than his own. What follows is an agonising dilemma; is another person's child worth 30 million yen and bankrupting his own family?
After the money changes hands and the boy is returned, the film focuses on the policemen who are dedicated to finding the criminal, using some good old fashioned detective work to discover the who and, more importantly for the viewer, the why.
I urge everyone reading this blog to find this film and give it a try, you won't regret it.

Days remaining - 172 Films remaining - 224

Friday, 26 March 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 191

155 - Badlands - 3 stars
I know that Tarantino gets accused of stealing from films all the time, but there probably isn't a stronger case for this than with Badlands.
I just watched it for the first time and was immediately struck by the huge amount of similarities, no more so than the fact that True Romance used the central theme music from this film, and Patricia Arquette mimicked Sissy Spacek's southern drawl voiceover.
Elements from this and Bonnie and Clyde filter through to both True Romance and Natural Born Killers, in that the central couple are young, in love and they kill people... well Martin Sheen does, a lot. Who knew President Bartlett could be so cruel?
Sheen does his best to channel James Dean in his performance but never truly shows the kind of charasmatic personality that could bewitch a young girl to stay with him through all these murders until the final scenes where he befriends the very cops who have hunted and arrested him, seemingly enjoying the celebrity status of the case.
Unlike a film like Natural Born Killers, it does not focus at all on the media coverage of the two or on the police force that is tracking them.
This is all about two people in love, beautifully captured by Terrence Malick with a beguiling voiceover from Carrie herself.

Days remaining - 174 Films remaining - 226

(500) Films of Empire - Day 189

388 - The English Patient - 2 stars
Ralph Fiennes plays Voldermort, sorry I mean a burn victim who is referred to as the English Patient. Through a series of flashbacks we piece together who he is and how he ended up in his condition.
Turns out that amongst other things he was accused of being a spy and had an affair with a colleague's wife.
I honestly tried to come to the film with an open mind, since this was a film which I had never had a huge desire to see, mainly due to its reputation as one of those dull British dramas that was popular with Awards shows but not the general movie-going public.
In the end, pre-conceptions seemed to win out as I did not enjoy this movie. Mainly due to the fact that Fiennes's central character turns out to be rather unlikeable, and in a couple of scenes, incredibly creepy as well (even more so than his character in Red Dragon), thus negating any emotional connection I could have with the story, much like the other characters in the film who try and find closure and redemption in their own lives by helping the English Patient, but to no avail.

Days remaining - 176 Films remaining - 227

Monday, 22 March 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 188

Today is the centennial of Akira Kurosawa's birthday so time to pop on a film to celebrate this awesome cinematic talent.

95 - Yojimbo - 4 stars
I have to love a film that features a scene where a dog scampers past with a human hand in its mouth. Mainly because the lead character had a look on his face that exactly mirrored my own feelings at that point... of WTF?!
Yojimbo is probably best known for inspiring Sergio Leone's Spaghetti Western A Fistful Of Dollars, but this is the most Western Eastern I have ever seen, if that is even a proper sentence!
A lone Ronin known as The Bodyguard (aka Yojimbo), who is an absolute badass played by Toshiro Mifune, plays two rival gangs against each other until they have wiped each other out.
Most of the action takes place in the main street with dust and leaves blowing by, as the gangs and The Bodyguard have face-off after face-off with samurai swords, until one gang member reveals that he has a pistol, changing the course of the battle.
The soundtrack is also ahead of its time, feeling very jazzy combined with traditional Asian percussion.
Hugely influential in terms of filmmaking style, particularly on George Lucas, and story (its been remade twice but in different styles).

It appears I have made a miscalculation somewhere along the line and having triple checked my Empire magazine and the films I have watched it appears I only have 228 films left to watch when I thought it was 229. Seems that I've mistyped a number somewhere as I haven't missed out a review. Oh well, one less to go!

Days remaining - 177 Films remaining - 228

(500) Films of Empire - Day 187

320 - Braveheart - 2 stars
Mel put on a dodgy accent and took some liberties with history to produce a film that has some patriotic, rousing highlights but at nearly 3 hours long, slightly outstays its welcome.
Mel himself is OK as Wallace but has some good support in the forms of Sophie Marceau, Brendan Gleeson and an excellent Patrick McGoohan as Longshanks. Ironically Angus MacFayden as one of the few main Scots in the film is quite poor as Robert The Bruce, never truly convincing in his switching of allegiances.
James Horner's score suffers from being rehashed later on for Titanic, they are very similar and I couldn't listen to it without thinking of the other film so that is never good.
The other main problem with the film is that it is never able to top the scene of The Battle of Stirling Bridge, yet no bridge to be found during that scene.
Itself, the scene is one of the best battle scenes ever filmed in my opinion. Brutal and bloody, this is fight scene filled with passion. How they managed to create this without killing anyone or any horses I'll never know (apparently they used fake ones but you are a better man than me if you can spot them).
It is the moment that Scotland truly gets behind Wallace and creates the legend, but it is so overwhelming that nothing that follows can top it for spectacle so it leaves a bit of a void that cannot be filled, even by Wallace's martyrdom at the end.

Days remaining - 178 Films remaining - 229

Sunday, 21 March 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 186

360 - The Return - 4 stars
A good wee Russian film this, with two boys dealing with the return of their absent father after 12 years. One accepts him with open arms while the other is suspicious of the stranger. A fishing trip to help them reconnect soon turns into a terrifying test of manhood that will have tragic consequences.
Initially unsure as to where this was going, once you realise that it is about the boys and not a mystery about where the man has been and what he has done, it is a tense production with great performances from the two young brothers.

108 - Tree of Wooden Clogs - 1 star
In the words of Craig Revel-Horwood from Strictly Come Dancing... Dull, Dull, Dull!
I never thought this was going to finish! I knew it was 3 hours long but was constantly checking my watch to see how long I had left of this monotony.
This is a film about a farming community in Italy where nothing interesting happens. Actual events of note that happen in this film; poor boy gets accepted to school, woman has a baby, man cuts down tree to make clogs for son, two people get married, pig is butchered, man who cut down tree is fired and family thrown out of house, the end.
Those are the main plot points in 180 minutes of following a bunch of farmers around, and it was scripted like this. It isn't even a documentary. If it was, they would have scrapped it to find a more interesting subject to focus on.
There is a subplot about a guy who creepily stalks a young woman, asks her for a kiss but rejected. An hour later, they are suddenly getting married and adopting an orphan. How am I supposed to care about this when they don't even show more than 5 minutes interaction between the characters.
It didn't helped that it had been re-dubbed in Italian over its original dialect but it proved very distracting.
The most shocking thing about it was not how dull it was but the scene where a live pig is slaughtered and then gutted, whilst still alive and squealing in pain having its throat cut. Distressing to watch and something that would not be allowed these days.

Days remaining - 179 Films remaining - 230

(500) Films of Empire - Day 185

67 - Tokyo Story - 4 stars
Sometimes I regret being part of the MTV generation, living in a world of Bourne Ultimatum-style fast cutting movies. My patience for the slowly drawn out drama has subsided in recent years.
But that actually helps, in retrospect, to appreciate this movie more.
This film is all about highlighting the differences between generations, the old and the new.
An old couple leave their quiet, quaint hometown to visit their grown-up children in the hustle and bustle of thriving Tokyo following the second world war.
Then soon realise that they are being left behind as the world moves on and even their own kids don't have time for them.
While I did find the film very poorly paced, there is doubting its power, as it really does affect you and makes you think about your own family and your relationships with your parents; Do I speak to them enough? Am I a disappointment to them? (Something I have always worried about considering my dad was a doctor, mother a biology teacher and sister a pharmacist. Here's me running a cinema... quite a difference in career paths!)
These feelings are increased at the climax of the film. I wouldn't call it a twist, more a plot development but you could see it coming but suffice to say, not one to watch on Mother's Day!

Days remaining - 180 Films remaining - 233

Saturday, 20 March 2010

KICK-ASS review.... It, umm, kicks ass?!

KICK-ASS is not your typical comic book movie. This is a movie about people who read comic books.
Dave Lizewski has grown up reading comics, and to paraphrase a great line from GOODFELLAS, "as far back as he could remember, he always wanted to be a superhero", and so he tries a spot of costumed vigilante justice in the form of Kick-Ass. However thisis the real world. It's not "with great power comes great responsibility" but more like "with no power comes no responsibility", and Kick-Ass soon discovers that being a superhero without superpowers is actually a bad idea when he gets mixed up with a vengeful mob boss and a couple of 'real' heroes.
Since most comic book movies start with the origin of our hero, it is useful to look at the origin of the movie.
After false starts on X-MEN 3: THE LAST STAND and THOR, Matthew Vaughn was still desperate to make a comic book movie. Screenwriting partner Jane Goldman introduced him to her friend Mark Millar, a hugely successful comic writer for Marvel. He had a project called KICK-ASS and Matthew was immediately drawn to this pop culture referencing, ultra violent and Daily Mail-baiting story, there was just one problem... no studio wanted to touch it. Mainly due to one character in particular, but we'll get to her in a minute.
So Vaughn raised $30 million by himself and decided to make it on his own.
The result is one of the greatest independent movies of all time, slicker and more inventive than most of the current output from Hollywood, and Vaughn is having the last laugh as all the studios that initially passed on the film were fighting tooth and adamantium claw with each other for the chance to distribute the film.
Billed as SPIDER-MAN meets SUPERBAD meets KILL BILL, this movie has just about everything you could want from a comic book movie; inventive action scenes ranging in style from Jackass to first person shooter to full on John Woo bullet ballets; laugh out loud humour; lots of cool comic book references for the geeks out there, yet remains accessible for the unitiated or un-nerdy; Vaughn, like Tarantino, displays a good ear for music in his use of songs in the film from a crazy use of the Banana Splits theme to a superb use of the score from Danny Boyle's SUNSHINE in the most emotionally affecting scene I have ever seen in a comic book movie.

The real strength of the film lies in its characters and their relationships, who are given real depth by writers Jane Goldman and Mark Millar.
Aaron Johnson is very good as Dave/Kick-Ass, making him accesible and relatable (let's face it, most blokes have at one time or another dreamed about being a superhero). But as with most superhero films, it is often the supporting characters and villains who are more interesting and entertaining.
Mark Strong cements his role as Britain's top rent-a-baddie, with another excellent turn as Frank D'Amico, and Mclovin... sorry Chris Mintz-Plasse is good a Frank's son who is trn beween hving a friend for the first time and proving himself to daddy.
Speaking of daddies, Nic Cage delivers his finest performance in years as Big Daddy. Gone are the memories of THE WICKER MAN remake as he strikes the right balance between tender an crazy in a convincing father-daughter relationship with Mindy and the balls-out action hero. I couldn't stop myself laughing when I heard him do his Adam West impression whenever dressed as Big Daddy, 'tis a stroke of genius.
Which leads us to the film's secret weapon. The reason the Daily Mail is getting its panties in a twist... Hit Girl!

When people leave the cinema at the end of the film, it will be Hit Girl that they will be talking about. Imagine if Leon had survved to train up Mathilda to be a fully-fledged assassin and you are not even close. In her first appearance she delivers the C-bomb before laying waste to a room full of henchmen. After that she dials the action up to 11 and steal every single scene she is in, yet amazingly never allows you to forget that she is just an 11 yar old kid.
Between Hit Girl and her role as Ei in the upcoming US remake of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, Chloe Grace Moretz will be the breakout star of 2010, I guarantee.
KICK-ASS can be described as a Ronseal film, in that it does exactly what it says on the tin. Not only one of the most enjoyable cinematic experiences of the year, but one of the best comic book movies of all time. While it might not be as good as THE DARK KNIGHT, it is certainly a lot more fun!
Edgar Wright, the bar has been raised fo SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD. I await the results with baited breath!

Friday, 19 March 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 184

372 - Natural Born Killers - 1 star
There is nothing worse than seeing a film that doesn't connect with you and leaves you as soon as you leave the cinema. A good movie should make you feel something, even a bad one can make you emote, whether it is love, admiration, dislike, respect, etc.
This film certainly made me feel something... but it was anger, something I haven't really felt often in a cinema screen. Of course I felt angry and violated by Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls, but that is a story for the time when I have to review that film because someone voted for it enough times for it to make the Top 500!
Cited as one of the most controversial films of all time, I found this film to be so over-the-top in terms of performance, visual style and editing that it was bordering on offensive and nauseating.
There is something intriguing about the film's views on how the media can affect our views on violence, but could have been more successful if it had kept Tarantino's original script which had more focus on Wayne Gale's reporter character and his commentary on the Mickey and Mallory case, itself inspired by the true life cases of Bonnie and Clyde and Starkweather-Fugate, rather than it being a road movie about the two lovebird killers, which in itself glamourises and romanticises their carnage.
Stone uses almost every visual and editing trick in the book during the film; black and white, rear projection, sublimenal cutting, montage, etc, etc, etc but it is just too much. Some of the performances are similarly OTT in keeping with the tone of the film, ranging from the bad, Tommy Lee Jones I am looking at you here, to RDJ's excellent Austrailian accent as shock jock Wayne Gale.
From the central pairing of Mickey and Mallory, Juliette Lewis just repeats her usual Southern girl schtick but Woody banishes the memories of Cheers behind him in an impressive portrayal of a media-savvy psychopath.
Unfortunately, a couple of good performances could not stop this film from gaining an infamous 1 star rating. The chance to provide an interesting and thought provoking perspective on violence in the media was lost due to Stone's technique - opportunity missed!

Days remaining - 181 Films remaining - 234

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 182

297 - It Happened One Night - 4 stars
The first film to win the big 5 Oscars (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Screenplay), a feat that has only been repeated twice by One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest and The Silence Of The Lambs, so it comes with a lot of hype to live up to.
A typical screwball comedy of the time, in that our leading couple initially rub each other up the wrong way but eventually fall in love. It is a formula that has fallen into cliche over the years so it really depends on the chemistry of the couple as to the success of the film.
Luckily Gable and Colbert have it in abundance so we are happy to join them on their cross-country journey on the night bus.
Thinking about it, this film is screaming out for a remake on the Megabus from Aberdeen to London :)
There is a nice subplot about celebrity marriage and their relationship with the press that helps make it still relevant in today's society.

Days remaining - 183 Films remaining - 235

(500) Films of Empire - Day 181

292 - La Belle et le Bete - 4 stars
A delightful imagining of the fairy tale.
No singing teapots here but still full of beautiful, magical touches like real arms acting as the candleabra holders in the Beast's castle and living statues. Something you just wouldn't get in these days of CGI.
The true wonder in this film however is the performance of Jean Marais as the Beast. He manages to convey so much emotion underneath 5 hours of make-up yet disappears within the character that I didn't even realise until 2/3 of the way through that he was also playing the character of Avenant. Now that is acting.
Days remaining - 184 Films remaining - 236

(500) Films of Empire - Day 180

93 - The Spirit of the Beehive - 3 stars

A beautifully shot and poetic tale of innocence, it is an obvious influence on Guillermo Del Toro, particularly Pan's Labyrinth, as it features a critique on the Spanish Civil War as seen through the eyes of a young girl.
The film focuses on a family who are fragmented and distant from each other; the father tends to his beehives, the mother is secretly writing letters to someone in the war, and the two daughters are left to play and delve into fantasy to escape their humdrum existence.
It is anchored by an enchanting performance by 7 year old Ana Torrent as the little girl who believes in monsters, because her sister tells her that Frankenstein's monster was real after they see a screening of James Whale's Frankenstein at a travelling cinema.

121 - Los Olvidados - 4 stars
Aka The Young And The Damned, and in this film the kids in this Mexican slum are damned if they do and damned if they don't. A cautionary tale, that has become relevant again given all the gang violence and complaints about "the youth of the day". Imagine City Of God meets Oliver Twist, but there is no chance of redemption, no escape from the slums or even their past.
While the film is a work of fiction, it feels real and believable, thanks to Luis Bunuel drawing naturalistic performances from all the kids.
Yet the director of Un Chien Andalou still manages to bring in some of his trademark surrealism as Pedro is tormented by bizarre dreams. You'll never look at chickens in the same way again!

Days remaining - 185 Films remaining - 237

Monday, 15 March 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 179

427 - Spring In A Small Town - 2 stars
Voted by some as the greatest Chinese language film ever made, but I found it to be, well, just a bit dull really.
A forbidden romance built on stolen glances and the occasional hand-brushing-hand style that was common back then. Almost theatrical in approach, most of the action takes place in one house, but it feels long at 90 minutes, which is not a good thing.

Instead I would recommend that people seek out In The Mood For Love instead which also deals with a forbidden love affair and one of the most beautiful, poetic and moving love stories and is the best Chinese language film that I have ever seen, and it is a travesty that it didn't make the list!

Days remaining - 186 Films remaining - 239

Saturday, 13 March 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 178

210 - Platoon - 3 stars
The Vietnam war threatens to take newbie Charlie Sheen's soul but will it end up in the hands of pot-smoking, peace-loving Willem Dafoe or sadistic Tom Berenger. If you've seen the DVD cover then you've got a pretty good idea how it might end!
Seeing this so late on in my viewing life, it just becomes another war movie... is that a spoof waiting to happen? Oh no, that was Hot Shots Part Deux.
There is nothing here that makes it stand out from the Vietnam crowd, mainly due to Sheen's rather one-dimensional performance.
Fun can be had spotting familiar faces in a 'before they were famous' kind of way; like Johnny Depp, Dr Cox and Johnny Drama.
I love Adagio For Strings, and remember seeing the famous clip and love how it was used there, but on watching the whole film, I suddenly realise it becomes very overused and thus loses its impact.

For the record, my top 3 Vietnam films (at this moment) are:
1. Apocalypse Now
2. Casualties of War
3. The Deer Hunter

Days remaining - 187 Films remaining - 240

(500) Films of Empire - Day 177

278 - Carlito's Way - 3 stars
DePalma and Pacino return to the gangster world of Scarface but this time Pacino is the rehabilitated Carlito Brigante, an ex-con determined to stay straight despite the best efforts of old friends and colleagues.
The other main influence on Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Carlito's Way is slightly overlong at 2.25 hours but has two major plus points:
A good Pacino performance being more restrained than normal i.e. more whispering than shouting!
A climactic fantastic tension-filled subway train sequence and shootout at Grand Central station.

Days remaining - 188 Films remaining - 241

Thursday, 11 March 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 176

129 - Harvey - 3 stars
Another Jimmy Stewart classic, I seem to be watching a lot of them recently, and a quintessentially charming and eccentric performance as Elliot P. Dowd ("here, let me give you one of my cards. Now if you should want to call me use this number, this other one is the old one."). Dowd is a man who causes great worry for his relatives because he enjoys a drink and is friends with a 6 foot 3&1/2 inches tall invisible white rabbit called Harvey. A truly great performance from Stewart that is funny, caring, subtle and believable.
A fine supporting cast and a witty script makes for a lovely way to spend an afternoon with Harvey the invisible rabbit, and an intersting tak on the notion of mental illness.

279 - National Lampoon's Animal House - 3 stars
The film that spawned a thousand American Pie's, Old School's, and Van Wilder's, but even after 20 years it's still funny.
Never seen it before and was under the assumption, generated by all the footage that is on the '100 funniest movie clip shows', that John Belushi's Bluto was the star of the show, but really only plays a supporting role. It is very much an ensemble comedy with most members of the Delta house getting a chance to shine.
Anyone else feel that Tim Matheson (Otter) seemed to have a young Paul Rudd vibe about him?
Also has the distinction of being Kevin Bacon's first film role... let Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon begin!

Days remaining - 189 Films remaining - 242

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 175

362 - The Elephant Man - 4 stars
Along with The Straight Story, this is Lynch's most un-Lynchian work. Here he delivers a sympathetic retelling of the story of John Merrick aka The Elephant Man that has a tremendous performance from John Hurt. He is ably supported by Anthony Hopkins as Merrick's doctor and friend. It was nice to see Hopkins in this kind of role which he has been limited in since the success of Hannibal Lecter.
The black and white cinematography adds an ironic beauty to the proceedings and works perfectly for the story.
A beautiful and moving conclusion to the film is helped by the use of Adagio for Strings, one of my favourite classical pieces and one often used in film (Platoon, Alien 3, etc).

Days remaining - 190 Films remaining - 244

(500) Films of Empire - Day 174

252 - Ninotchka - 3 stars
A crackling chemistry between Greta Garbo and Melvyn Douglas helps drive this tale of romance in wartime Paris between a dour Russian diplomat and a suave Parisian playboy.
That's all I really have to say about that.

225 - Get Carter - 4 stars
Take note Guy Ritchie, it is possible to make a gritty British gangster film without having tons of mockney muppets in it!
Following a fantastic opening theme from Roy Budd, Michael Caine returns home to Newcastle to kick arse and take names in order to find out who killed his brother. The Northern rural setting means the action plays out like the most vicious episode of Coronation Street you have ever seen.
Michael Caine's Carter is a typical anti-hero. An unlikeable character; ruthless and vicious, yet there is something very entertaining about him. Not difficult when you have Caine delivering lines like; "You know, I'd almost forgotten what your eyes looked like. Still the same. Pissholes in the snow." and "You're a big man, but you're in bad shape. With me it's a full time job. Now behave yourself."
He also manages to gain our sympathy when we discover the reason why his brother was killed, and we wish him well in his attempts to dish out vengeance at those responsible.
While the fashions and locations may have dated, the film still remains relevant and enjoyable despite a shocking ending.

Days remaining - 191 Films remaining - 245

Monday, 8 March 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 173

Looks like it is Brian DePalma day with a nice double bill of his work.

295 - The Untouchables - 3 stars
A thoroughly entertaining but possibly factually flexible gangster film, thanks mainly to a scene stealing performance by Sean Connery.
The Oscar was clearly a 'career achievement' award and at no point during the film does he come close to an Irish accent but it doesn't matter when he is clearly having a ball with the part, with great lines like "You're mucking with a G here pal", "Just like a dirty wap. Bringing a knife to a gun fight", the iconic speech "You wanna know how to get Capone? They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. *That's* the *Chicago* way! And that's how you get Capone".
The other iconic part of the film is the railway station shootout on the steps with the Battleship Potemkin homage, complete with pram and sailors. Tarantino often gets a bad rap for stealing from movies but DePalma has been doing it before Tarantino started work in the video store, as I witnessed in the next film I watched.
One major criticism of the film, one that goes against popular opinion and likely to invoke a backlash, is that I found Ennio Morricone's score to be overstated and intrusive to the action going on.

86 - Carrie - 3 stars
I have a feeling that this is another film that features so highly due to sentimentality and that fantastic jump moment at the end that spawned a thousand imitations. The first hour plays like a 70's version of Mean Girls with telekinesis before the shit finally hits the fan and it turns into the prom from hell.
I liked the execution of the prom sequence and the use of split screen and panelling helped to make it into a horror classic.
Not so keen on the Psycho rip-off music used whever Carrie was with her mother though.

Days remaining - 192 Films remaining - 247

(500) Films of Empire - Day 172

277 - On The Town - 2 stars
3 sailors get 24 hours 'shore leave' in the Big Apple but with a U certificate it is safe to say that this is not The Last Detail!
After somehow managing to do all the tourist hotspots (Statue of Liberty, Wall Street, Central Park, Fifth Avenue, Rockerfeller Center) in just three hours to the one memorable song in the film, New York, New York, it's a wonderful town, the Bronx is up and the battery's down... As someone who has been to NYC I can tell you that it would take a hell of a lot more than three hours to do all that!
What follows is Gene Kelly searching New York with fellow sailors Frank Sinatra and some other guy to try and find and romance Ann Miller's Miss Turnstiles through the medium of song and dance.
A bright, breezy and inoffensive musical yet ultimately forgettable. Also has a bizarre sequence where there is a musical within a musical recap of the day's events. Very odd.

Days remaining - 193 Films remaining - 249

Thursday, 4 March 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 170 - Woah, oh, we're halfway there...

... as the famous Bon Jovi once said, and it is true today as I have reached the halfway point in the challenge with the Kill Bill double bill. 250 films have been watched and reviewed in 169 days (an average of 1.48 a day). Looking back over the films it looks like 21 films have achieved the prized Dallas 5 star rating, with 12 films getting the 1 star wooden spoon!
Highlights so far have included my trip to Brighton and the grand old Duke of York's Picturehouse; our Big Lebowski bowling night; and meeting Mark Kermode at The Cameo.

Roll on the next 250...

325 - Kill Bill Vol. 1 - 4 stars
423 - Kill Bill Vol. 2 - 4 stars
Thought I would review these two films together as this was how Quentin Tarantino originally envisioned the film, although I think that if it had been released all together it would have been quite different, particularly the pacing and structure.
At the moment The Bride's bloody quest for revenge in Kill Bill is very much in two parts. Volume 1 is an Eastern (with the use of Anime and Sonny Chiba) and volume 2 is his Western (use of Morricone Spaghetti Western themes, extreme close up of eyes, etc). If it had been presented in one film the dramatic change in tone following the outstanding Battle of the House of Blue Leaves, would have disappointed by lots of talky scenes and little comparable action.
In my review of True Romance I talked about Tarantino's problem of writing terrific scenes rather than a flowing cohesive story and once again this film is split into chapters but I won't go on about it again.This time I want to focus on Tarantino's true gift; music selection. He has an uncanny knack of finding the right song for the right scene and turning it into something iconic and instantly absorbed into pop culture: Stuck In The Middle With You, Misirlou, Didn't I Blow Your Mind This Time, Theme from Cat People. And for Kill Bill it was Battle for Honor and Humanity that became synonomous with the film and was in endless parodies and used in The X Factor. The use of Santa Esmerelda's Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood is inspired and fits perfectly within the scene between O-Ren Ishii and The Bride.
Speaking of The Bride, it is an iconic role for Uma Thurman; a smart, sassy and superbly physical performance.
When watching the films back to back, the impact of the first volume cliffhanger is diminished and I feel that Tarantino played his hand too early by introducing Bill early into the second volume when it would have been better to only see him at the end of the film.
Was I alone in thinking that Darryl Hannah looked incredibly sexy with an eyepatch? I had an idea for a spin-off film featuring Elle Driver and Johnny Depp's Agent Sands from Once Upon A Time In Mexico as a team of blind assassins. Could work?!
On initial release, like most other people, I preferred the first part to the second part, and probably still do but volume 2 grows better every time I see it.

So there we have it. 250 films out of the 500 have been watched and reviewed. And 12 days ahead of schedule. Not bad going at all. Just 250 more to go...

Days remaining - 195 Films remaining - 250

(500) Films of Empire - Day 169 - The big 3 - 0!

384 - The Shop Around The Corner - 3 stars
The inspiration for You've Got Mail, but set in a simpler time when people actually wrote letters by hand.  Yes, two people fall in love by writing anonymous letters yet can't stand each other in real life.  We all know how it's going to end but the important test of a good romantic comedy is how enjoyable the ride is... and this is a cut above the rest due to excellent chemistry between Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan, and a moving subplot about the store owner which has an impact on the characters.
While based on a Hungarian play, I couldn't understand why it was set in Budapest as it could easily have been set anywhere, especially when no one even attempted an accent!

242 - King Kong - 4 stars
The original and still the best.  This was my first viewing of it and I liked it a lot more than Peter Jackson's remake.  Leaner and meaner, it zips along at a cracking pace and has a great mix of action but the romance is underplayed a bit.
Amazingly the effects in the original have held up better than the 2005 CGI version!  I only wish I could have seen this in 1933 on its release to see the reaction of the audience.

Days remaining - 196  Films remaining - 252

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 168

135 - Duck Soup - 4 stars
Up there with Dr. Strangelove as the greatest comedy about war. A fantastic blend of slapstick and razor sharp gags delivered with aplomb by Groucho Marx, the master of the one-liner.
"Remember you're fighting for this woman's honour, which is more than she ever did". Zoom, zoom, zoom.

Days remaining - 197 Films remaining - 254

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 167

257 - The Black Cat - 2 stars
A husband and wife get caught up in deadly game of revenge between horror icons Bela Legosi and Boris Karloff, this time playing survivors of WWI who suffered different fates. Legosi was imprisoned while Karloff found wealth and power.
A nice little tale but suffers too much from comparisons to their earlier horror work (Legosi still seems to be doing his Dracula schtick) but does have a nice twist towards the end.

115 - Blazing Saddles - 3 stars
Mel Brooks' Western parody still has a high gag hit-to-miss ratio after all these years but some of the impact has been diminished.
The famous 'fart' sequence is, in reality, only about 15 seconds long and has been surpassed in later years by gross out comedy films like Dumb And Dumber.
Also has an ending as odd and bizarre as Monty Python And The Holy Grail, but at least this film manages to finish the story!

Days remaining - 198 Films remaining - 255