Tuesday, 29 June 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 287

134 - The Last Of The Mohicans - 3 stars
It me a long time to get into this film and I unsure why. Perhaps it was to do with a lack of direction in the storytelling, the central love story and rescue didn't become apparent until 40 minutes into the film; or perhaps it was with my irritance at Madeline Stowe's "Scottish" accent.
It could be the same in other places but when someone does a bad version of your accent, it does seem to grate quite a lot and can prove distracting. I don't understand why they didn't just make the Munro characters English instead as everyone in the film kept referring to the British as 'The English', which is also annoying for a Scot... just ask Malcolm Tucker in In The Loop!
Daniel Day-Lewis provides his usual level of intensity to the role of Hawkeye, yet this didn't seem like your typical Michael Mann film possibly due to the shorter duration (only 117 minutes) and lack of an iconic gun fight within the stylised city landscape.
The key moment in the film is Hawkeye's instructions to Cora:
"You stay alive, no matter what occurs! I will find you. No matter how long it takes, no matter how far, I will find you."
This is a very romantic, powerful and much imitated line but I feel that it would have meant a lot more if Hawkeye had spent a year or so tracking them, but I got the sense that they caught up with them after a couple of hours or so. Would it have seemed so romantic if it was used just before you lost your girlfriend in a shopping centre... I think not.

Days remaining - 78 Films remaining - 78

Monday, 28 June 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 286

187 - The Big Country - 3 stars
First thing that struck me about the film was the opening music. It was so familiar and I couldn't figure out where I had heard it before, as I had never seen the film and knew little of it before it arrived in its Lovefilm envelope.
It's a rousing theme tune, but as someone pointed out to me, it does have some similarities with The Magnificent Seven, albeit recorded many years later, but more popular.
Gregory Peck plays the city man who travels to 'the big country' in order to wed his fiancee, but finds himself in the midst of a huge culture clash and a bitter feud between the two main families in the area.
As you would expect for this type of film, it is filled with sweeping shots of the 'big' landscapes and vistas of the setting, but there are more arguments, stolen kisses, break-ups and fistfights than your average episode of Eastenders.
Speaking of fistfights, it features one of the all time greats between Peck and Charlton Heston who duke it out until they are out on their feet, although I expected Peck to punch his fiancee after seeing this clip on Family Guy. It is up there with Rowdy Roddy Piper vs Keith David in They Live and Timmy vs Jimmy in 'Cripple Fight' from South Park, both of which owe a huge debt to The Big Country.

Days remaining - 79 Films remaining - 79

Saturday, 26 June 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 284

127 - The Sting - 3 stars
When it comes to director/actor partnerships the usual names are mentioned: Scorsese/DeNiro, Burton/Depp, Ford/Wayne, Scorsese/DiCaprio, Soderbergh/Clooney, Capra/Stewart and Raimi/Campbell... but no one ever seems to talk about George Roy Hill and Paul Newman. Together they made three films; Slap Shot, Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid and The Sting.
They were successful because Hill allowed Newman to do what he does best which is charm the audience. However unlike The Towering Inferno, Newman is happy to play second fiddle here to Robert Redford.
Redford plays Hooker who is a small time grifter whose partner is killed when they run a foul of Lonnegan (Robert Shaw). He teams up with Newman's king of the con to get revenge and they pull together a 30's style Ocean's Eleven-esque team to do it.
Redford gets the majority of the screentime, but Newman does get one great face-off with Shaw and schools everyone in how to cheat successfully at poker.
It plays out in a series of chapters that set up the various stages of the con but there are still some twists and turns along the way as you try to figure out just who is conning who.
A fun crime caper with lots of thirties period trimmings but it felt a little shallow to have won Best Picture at the Oscars. Perhaps it was making up for not awarding it to Butch Cassidy!

Days remaining - 81 Films remaining - 80

Friday, 25 June 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 283

125 - Breathless (A Bout De Souffle) - 5 stars
The French film that has absolutely nothing to do with a potentially deflating dessert. I watched it tonight at work thanks to the 50th anniversary re-release with a brand new digital print. As with all old films that have been remastered onto the new digital format, it is still a shock when they appear in the classic 1.66 format which only takes up a small middle section of the screen.
However this does not diminish the enjoyment and impact of the film, as witnessed by the positive reaction given by two regulars Beryl and Margaret who had never seen it before and loved it.
It is a film that splits audiences with some finding it shallow, pretentious and bourgeious, and others enjoying the Gallic sense of cool and Godard's New Wave film language.
I certainly fall into the latter category.
It is a film that can be accused of being "style over substance". The plot is minimal: a man shoots a cop, goes to Paris to meet a girl, gets caught. Yet the style is exactly what makes the film so cool and appealing.
With this film you can argue that Jean-Luc Godard, not Picard, created the film that would become the US and UK's definitive notion of what the French New Wave movement was all about, with the use of jump cuts, pop culture references, focus on character rather than plot, iconic images within the frame that can become cool posters, and a sense of "We're French, look how damn cool we are". No Breathless, no Tarantino.
Whilst my plot description earlier was very short and to the point, imagine a sixties version of Before Sunrise where a guy and a girl wander around a beautiful city talking about sex, love and pop culture. A culture clash between France and America.
Jean-Paul Belmondo is the loveable French rogue, who is endearing to the audience in spite of his crime. He is cut from the same cloth as the likes of Han Solo or Humphrey Bogart, who he references at one point by looking at a poster of him at a cinema.
He has this habit of rubbing his thumb across his lips and is a constant chain smoker who lights up a new cigarette off the one his is currently smoking. Tres chic.
His "romancing" of Jean Seberg is like that of a puppy or a 13 year old teenager. Constantly asking her to sleep with him and going in a sulk when she says no.
Seberg is the smart, savvy modern woman who inspired the waif like hairstyle that would feature in Rosemary's Baby. She is unafraid of sex and confident to use it and talk openly about it. There is a scene where she is interviewing an author and there is a discussion about the role of women in modern society:
"Two things are important in life. For men: women. For women: money". How true that remains.
50 years on, Breathless still feels as fresh and new as it did in 1960. A must-see on the big screen and worth catching at The Belmont this week.

Days remaining - 82 Films remaining - 81

Thursday, 24 June 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 282

349 - Arthur - 1 star
A comedy that isn't funny = fail. Within five minutes I was fed up of Dudley Moore's drunk schtick, and therefore couldn't care about his worries over marrying someone he didn't love in order to secure his fortune. For a much funnier (at least I remember it being funnier) take on a similar idea, then watch Brewster's Millions instead.
The look of disdain on John Gielgud's face works for his role in the film but I expect it was also at the material, with the only comfort for him being the paycheck, and the Oscar he somehow won for this terrible film.

79 - The Thin Red Line - 4 stars
One of the most beautiful and haunting war films I've ever seen.
Malick returned to the silver screen after an absence of 20 years but showed he had not lost his touch when it comes to capturing stunning visuals.  
The film unfolds like a visual poem soundtracked to one of Hans Zimmer's finest scores.  The piece of music playing when the troops attack the Japanese camp is one of the finest I've heard.
I really wanted to give this film five stars but I couldn't justify it in the end because I did have a problem with it.  For it seems that Malick also brought back his problem with editing.
With several different characters providing voiceovers and other characters appearing and disappearing at random intervals it seems to lack a sense of cohesiveness and completion that otherwise would have earned it full marks.

Days remaining - 83 Films remaining - 82

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 281

363 - Good Morning Vietnam - 2 stars
Rather tame for a Vietnam film in terms of action and politics, since it is more about one particular man's experience of a war that he is not fully involved in, as Williams' DJ is there to provide a morale boost to the troops and a source of anxiety for his superiors.
Like A Year Of Living Dangerously, there wasn't much sense of danger to the main character, and the two times that he is placed in a situation of danger, it kind of wimps out of taking it to a dark dramatic place.
The film is more a vehicle for Robin Williams' brand of energetic humour. He manages to keep a fine balance between the drama of his time with the Vietnamese people and the comedy of his radio broadcasts, which unsurprisingly were all adlibbed!
Of course, if you are not a Robin Williams fan then you are likely to hate it... but I dare you to hate Aladdin!

84 - L.A. Confidential - 5 stars
Absolutely sublime filmmaking. The closest that Hollywood has come to recreating the glitz and glamour of the films made during the studio system.
Three cops in L.A. all discover their various cases are linked in this intricate detective story that evokes a neo-noir feel.
Out of the three cops Kevin Spacey is the best, delivering some old school movie star charisma. Russell Crowe is also great but now it just seems he might have been playing himself as the ultra-brutish Bud White!
It is a great supporting cast, directed with confidence by writer/director Curtis Hanson, but not sure if Kim Basinger's performance was really worthy of an Oscar, unlike everything else to do with the film. It really is much better than Titanic!
I don't want to spoil the film but there is the death of character in this and the actor/actress delivers one of the greatest final moments I've ever seen. You can actually see the light go out of their eyes. It is a death that is so good and so well handled that Steven Spielberg copied it nearly shot for shot in Minority Report.

Days remaining - 84 Films remaining - 84

(500) Films of Empire - Day 280

285 - Solaris - 2 stars
A sci-fi film that certainly has more in common with 2001 than Star Wars.
Kris Kelvin investigates problems on the Solaris space station and encounters ghosts from the past in this study of our inability to communicate, whether it be with another human or alien life.
Whilst it was more poetic and thought provoking than the Soderbergh remake which focused more on Kelvin's relationship with his wife than the more wider reaching issue of establishing contact with extra-terrestrial life, but it was lost to me in an endurance and attention sapping trip to the outer reaches of space.

Days remaining - 85 Films remaining - 86

(500) Films of Empire - Day 279

286 - L'Avventura - 1 star
This film won the special jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1961 for "a new movie language and the beauty of its images".
In other words, "arty, boring and pretentious". This film was rewarded for creating the style that many people define all European foreign language films with. In that it can be inaccessible, elitist and, yes, pretentious.
I'm a huge fan of foreign language cinema, knowing that once you get past the subtitles there is an entire world of film that can be absolutely wonderful... but a boring film is still a boring film, no matter what the language. And this is a BORING film. A total snooze-fest due to the complete lack of anything interesting or emotionally engaging happening.
L'Avventura seems to be about the disappearance of a fiesty young woman called Anna who goes missing on a small island. Her boyfriend and her best friend try to solve the mystery of why and where she disappeared to, but fall in love along the way. In the end, seeming to completely forget and not care about their mutual friend, her disappearance remains unresolved.
It sets up a mystery and starts proceedings to solve it only to give up suddenly just at the end and providing an unsatisfactory and disappointing conclusion. Imagine you meet a girl in a club, you have a few drinks and are dancing all night long, only for her to disappear with her mates at the end of the night. L'Avventura is the cinematic equivalent of a cocktease.

Days remaining - 86 Films remaining - 87

Monday, 21 June 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 278

64 - Oldboy - 5 stars
It is hard to explain why I love this film so much, considering the subject matter. This is a revenge story with a twist that is so sick and nasty that it makes Kill Bill look like a slap on the wrist and a stern talking to.
What makes it work is the director's vision and the lead performance by Min-sok Choi as Oh Dae-Su who is mysteriously imprisoned for 15 years and then released with the challenge of discovering who was behind it and why.
Chan Wook Park shows great style and flair in piecing this crazy jigsaw together, from the frenetic pace and editing, jet black humour, to the glorious single take fight scene in the corridor.
To discuss any more of the story would begin to delve into the dreaded *spoiler* area, so I will just say that the twist knocks the legs out from under out main character and shows how to really destroy a man.
As for the "happy" ending, can you really call it happy? Certainly not something you can say about the poor octopus!

74 - The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre - 4 stars
I'd never seen this film before but I had seen The Simpsons episode based on it, where Bart, Milhouse and Martin pool their money together to buy a copy of Radioactive Man #1 but become suspicious of each other that they might try and steal the comic for themselves.
But Bogart and company aren't fighting over a comic, but gold. There's gold in them there hills, and they want it all, and for themselves.
It is a study in greed and madness as the friendship between Bogart, Holt and Huston slowly disintegrates due to the suspicion and distrust of Bogart's Dobbs, fearful that the others will take his share of the gold.
Terrific stuff from the three leads who develop a wonderful dynamic, and it is one of Bogart's best performances.
Also the film that gave us the great line "badges? badges? we don't need no stinking badges" which was beautifully spoofed in UHF in a pet shop... "Badgers!" :)

Days remaining - 87 Films remaining - 88

Saturday, 19 June 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 277

304 - Radio Days - 2 stars
An affectionate tribute to a time when the main source of entertainment in the family home was not the TV but the wireless radio.
Made up of a series of vignettes rather than an overarching storyline, it just doesn't gel overall. Also not high up on the classic Woody humour stakes either but funny to see an incredibly young Seth Green playing the Woody Allen character this time round.

Days remaining - 88 Films remaining - 90

Friday, 18 June 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 276

120 - Battle of Algiers - 4 stars
It is hard to believe that this is not a documentary but a dramatisation of events during the late Fifties in Algiers during the battle for independence.
Filmed in 1966 when emotions must still have been running high, there is an incredible sense of honesty, realism and authenticity throughout, especially in the scenes of bomb attacks and prisoner interrogation. The use of handheld cameras helping to increase the sense of realism.
A very powerful piece of filmmaking (with music by a certain Mr. Morricone) that shows the fight from both the side of the freedom fighters and the police trying to keep the peace and save lives.

Days remaining - 89 Films remaining - 91

Thursday, 17 June 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 275

307 - Midnight Cowboy - 3 stars
Some movies focus on a young girl travelling to L.A. or New York to make it big as an actress, but this movie sees Jon Voight travel to NYC to make his fortune... as a male prostitute.
Problem is that he's not that good. I'm sure he was fine at the sex part but he is young and naive and ends up getted hustled until he's broke and out on the street. The only positive is his friendship with fellow bum and hustler Enriqo 'Ratso' Rizzo, played with the usual conviction you would expect from Dustin Hoffman.
It is a good solid movie but Best Picture winner over Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid really?
A lot has been made over the famous "Hey. I'm walking here!" line by Hoffman, and I'm positive that it is an adlib after the taxi hits him because whilst in character just after the taxi passes by, when he shouts the line his accent drops for a moment. Check it out and I'm sure you will agree.

431 - Electra Glide In Blue - 2 stars
I'd heard a bit of cult buzz about this film but I was a bit disappointed with it. I'd heard it was the other great motorcycle film after Easy Rider, but there was only one rather tame motorcycle chase and the rest of the movie was about a short motorway cop with an abvious height complex who is desperate to become a proper cop and gets his chance when a local man is killed. Rooted deep in the exploitation era, unfortunately it didn't offer me anything to lift it out of the DVD bargain basement.

Days remaining - 90 Films remaining - 92

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 274

109 - Touch Of Evil - 5 stars
It took a long time for Orson Welles's true vision of Touch Of Evil to reach the silver screen, in fact Welles died before he could see it, but it was well worth the wait.
After being taken out of his hands and edited by the studio, Welles wrote a detailed 58 page memo outlining all the changes that should be made and this was finally completed in 1998.
The result is one of the best crime noirs ever made. Definitely up there with Chinatown. And it has an excellent musical score by Henry Mancini.
You can have nothing but admiration for a film that begins with tracking/crane shot like this one that follows the path of a bomb through the US/Mexico border whilst also introducing us to our two main characters.
"Are you a mexican or a mexi-can't?". Sure the casting of Heston as a Mexican raises some eyebrows but he has a commanding presence that cancels out any doubts.
Orson Welles also has a terrific screen presence which is much more literal as he is huge in this film. Hard to believe he was only in his forties when this was made. It is arguably his best acting role as well, as Quinlan the "great detective but a lousy cop".
The main thing that struck me when watching it this time is the huge influence that it seems to have had on Psycho.
Both films feature scenes of Janet Leigh being terrorised in a motel, feature a theme of exposing the dark underbelly of American society, they share a similar visual and audio aesthetic and Mort Mills who plays Al Schwartz in this film turns up as the Highway Traffic Cop in Psycho. There is an interesting essay comparing the two films here.

190 - Ed Wood - 5 stars
The crowning achievement of the partnership between Tim Burton and Johnny Depp.
Depp fills his Edward D. Wood Jr with such boyish enthusiasm that it is easy to get swept up in his belief that he is actually making great movies.
The production design and black and white cinematography give an authentice 50's feel to this touching tribute to the "worst director of all time" which chronicles his first film Glen or Glenda, his friendship with Bela Legosi and the making of his "masterpiece" Plan 9 From Outer Space.
Is it a coincidence that Burton's best film is the only won that Danny Elfman didn't do the music for? Instead it was Howard Shore.
Despite having many regulars in the cast like Jeffrey Jones, Lisa Marie, etc it is one of the least Burton-onian Tim Burton films. An with he draws a sweet, sympathetic portrayal of Legosi from Martin Landau (although the Oscar should have gone to Samuel L. Jackson and he had evey reason to swear at the Oscars), Bill Murray being awesome as usual and even a decent role for SJP who at one point reads a review about herself in the paper and asks "Do I really look like a horse?". I'd forgotten about that and burst out laughing whilst all alone at home.
The reason I chose to watch this film today is because of the lovely scene where Ed Wood meets Orson Welles and they chat about how people keep interfering in their movies, "I'm about to do a film with Universal and they want Charlton Heston to play a Mexican". I wonder what film they were talking about?

Days remaining - 91 Films remaining - 94

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 273

290 - Rashomon - 4 stars
Gutted. I watched this and then found out just aftrward that there is a remastered print doing the rounds. Could have screened it here... still might actually.
A terrible crime takes place but who was responsible? Kurosawa examines the notion of truth by having four accounts of what happened but all of them are different so whose version is to be believed?
It boasts two excellent performances from Toshiro Mifune as the bandit and in particular Machiko Kyu as the wife, who plays hr character completely differently in every version.
A fascinating example of playing with narrative but don't expect any answers as it will be left up to your interpretation as to who is telling the truth.
Its success and Honorary Oscar is sighted as the main reason for the introduction of the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar category. It is great that the US realised that excellent films can be produced outside of Hollywood, especially these days when Hollywood seems utterly dependent on sequels and remakes.

253 - First Blood - 3 stars
The original and most restrained Rambo film where Stallone's Vietnam vet snaps after some mistreatment by small town cops and proceeds to start a one man war on the town.
The first hunt in the forest reminded me of Predator but with Rocky Balboa rather than an invisible dreadlocked alien taking down a group of cops one by one.
It is interesting to note that there is only one death in the film and Rambo is not directly responsible.
The cops in the town are not 'bad guys', just people who happened to provoke an unstable Vietnam veteran who goes a little crazy, and it takes a delicate balancing act to keep our sympathies with Rambo.
However I was not convinced at all by Stallone's tears and wailing on breaking down at the memories of his time in the war and his treatment on his return to the US. He is much better when doing the physical side of the action and acting.

126 - Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid - 5 stars
This film has the distinct honour of being the first Western to receive that much sought after five star rating.
An affectionate love song to the Western and the song Knockin' On Heaven's Door that plays at several points during the film signifies not only the death of certain characters but also the death of the Western itself as a genre. The year after this Blazing Saddles was released and the spoof effectively killed off the genre that has only been seen sparingly since with the like of Unforgiven in '92 or Assassination Of Jesse James in '07.
Pat Garrett knows that the West is dying and is trying to secure a life for himself afterwards but the price he has to pay is to track down his old friend Billy The Kid.
Like Unforgiven, we know how it will eventually play out but it's all about the journey and it is hndled and judged perfectly.

Days remaining - 92 Films remaining - 96

Monday, 14 June 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 272 - 100 not out!

I can't believe that this time has come around so quickly. I now have less than one hundred films left to watch in order to complete the challenge. By the end of the week I should have only one film to watch each day.

138 - Cool Hand Luke - 4 stars
When I finally get to the end of this challenge I expect Mr Paul Newman to be pretty close to the top of the list of my favourite movie stars. There might be better actors out there but probably not 'stars'. There was always that 'Cool Hand Luke' smile that Dragline talks about in every film he did.
And he uses it to full effect in this film as the chain gang member who rises to iconic status within the prison due to his attitude to no-conformity, even reaching Christ like levels (see the pose he is in when he finishes the egg eating contest).
Oddly for a prison movie, initially it actually makes the notion of 'doing time' seem quite enjoyable. There is no rape in the showers for example. Everyone seems to get along, they drink, they laugh, they oggle young ladies seductively washing their car... but eventually the system slowly breaks Luke down, because "What we have here is failure to communicate".
One of the stand out moments in the film is the famous egg challnge where Luke bets that he can eat 50 of them in 1 hour and is, literally, egged on by his buddy Dragline played by George Kennedy, best known as Frank Drebin's boss in Police Squad.
If you ever want to have your memories of this ruined then I would recommend catching the episode of Jackass where they recreated the contest... only this time it involved vomiting, a LOT of vomiting. I am still unable to even smell a hard boiled egg without gagging!

158 - Unforgiven - 4 stars
As dark and bleak a Western as you are likly to find, filmed by one of the true greats of the genre.
I felt it could have been stripped back a bit. Richard Harris' English Bob seemed superfluous and the young kid who get Munny onto the saddle again is far too annoying (but maybe that was Clint's view on the youth of today).
It still rates highly because of the lovely slow build of anticipation. You keep hearing about how vicious and what a bad-ass Clint Eastwood's William Munny is, that you know it is just a matter of time before he finally snaps and pulls the trigger.
There is a huge grey area over who the good guys and the bad guys are in this film.
William Munny is a retired killer who only takes on a bounty hunting job in order to provide for his kids.
The two cowboys who are the targets are merely the catalyst or Macguffin that forces Munny out of retirement.
The main adversary is Little Bill Daggett, played by Gene Hackman. Little Bill is the no-nonsense Sheriff of Little Whiskey which is the final destination for Munny. Whilst his methods are suspect, his intentions seem honorable in trying to keep his town a safe place to be... but he makes a huge mistake when he makes an example of Munny's best friend and partner Ned Logan as it causes Munny to reach for the whiskey and his shotgun!
If you want to see this story done in a comic book world then I suggest finding a copy of the Old Man Logan series by Mark Millar, where Wolverine hasn't popped his claws for years but goes on one final mission... and you know at some point he'll go SNICK!

58 - Close Encounters Of The Third Kind - 4 stars
Spielberg's first encounter with aliens before returning to the genre with the more child friendly E.T. but this is much more grown up fare.
Absent father themes are common place in Spielberg's films but in this case it focuses on the father Roy Neary, played by Richard Dreyfuss. After having experienced a close encounter, he starts creating Devil's Towers out of mashed potato and ultimately abandons his family in order to find the answers behind it all.
I'm sure I couldn't have been the only one who thought that was more than a slight resemblence between the scientists' first contact site and the area where the Nazis test the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders Of The Lost Ark.

Days remaining - 93 Films remaining - 99

Sunday, 13 June 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 271

124 - A Woman Under The Influence - 2 stars
Gena Rowlands is the mentally unstable wife in this domestic melodrama but I personally felt that it was overplayed at times and became a caricature of 'crazy'.
Peter Falk aka Columbo himself is terrific and frightening as the husband who is unable to cope with her erratic behaviour.
Didn't need to be 2 hours 20 minutes long though.

153 - The Innocents - 3 stars
Are the children possessed or is Deborah Kerr just as crazy as a box of hallucegenic frogs? You decide. The ending is left unclear and open to interpretation but I have to say that I was disappointed by this film after it being billed as Britain's greatest chiller.
For me the best British ghost story is not found on screen but on stage in London in the form of The Woman In Black. An absolute must see!

134 - Se7en - 5 stars
It marked the arrival of David Fincher on the Hollywood radar, as some seemed to ignore/overlook Alien 3.
The seven deadly sins have probably been done before as a motive for a serial killer, but never as well as this.
Kevin Spacey is pitch perfect as John Doe, so calm and precise in his actions he leaves a memorable and chilling impression, even though we only meet see him for the last twenty minute of the film. I love his retort to Freeman when he sees a dead dog on the road, "I didn't do it".
Between this, The Usual Suspects and Swimming With Sharks, 1995 was th year that turned him into a star.
This film is dark and gloomy, emphasised by the constant rain (although interestingly it disappears when Doe finally reveals himself and his master plan), so don't go in expecting a happy ending. I have just four words for you... "What's In The Box?"

Days remaining - 94 Films remaining - 102

(500) Films of Empire - Day 270

341 - The Passenger - 4 stars
Slow and meandering at times but never dull, this is a beautiful haunting film about a man's desire to escape his normal life.
Jack Nicholson reigns in the crazy to deliver a subtle, nuanced performance as a burnout journalist who takes on the identity of a dead man in his hotel.
He finds out that it isn't so simple to escape his past or that of his new identity.
The final shot is superb that brings the story to an end but leaves some level of interpretation open to the audience.

256 - Le Quai Des Brumes - 3 stars
A film that's as dark and gloomy as the fog that surrounds the port town where an Army deserter seeks passage out of France.
Only one problem, one known to most men, he falls in love.
It has a great look to it and the leads have good chemistry but I could see the ending coming from a mile away.

Days remaining - 95 Films remaining - 105

Friday, 11 June 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 269

280 - Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior - 3 stars
Mel Gibson's other signature 80's role is Mad Max Rockatansky. Max is the Jason Bourne of the 80's letting his actions do the talking and using a minimal amount of dialouge.
The sequel briefly recaps the first film before setting out on a mission where he gets involved with a group of oil refiners who are under siege from a vicious gang of scavengers.
It is hilarious to think that during the Eighties, if a film was set in the near future then bad guys would be represented by having them wear S&M style leather gear. It was impossible to take Vernon Wells et all seriously when they were wearing assless chaps. Wells seemed to always be playing homoerotic villains during the Eighties. In Commando, he seemed to have a crush on Arnold and in this film he has a blond gimp on the back of his motorcycle.
It all pales in significance to the campness of the lead villain Humungous, a guy with the body of a wrestler and wearing just as little except for a Jason Voorhees style hockey mask.
It doesn't detract too much from the main attraction which are the car chases which still have the desired impact and exhilaration that you need from an action movie.

Days remaining - 96 Films remaining - 107

(500) Films of Empire - Day 268

351 - Zulu - 2 stars
I always seem to get confused between Zulu and The Man Who Would Be King, mainly because Michael Caine is in both films and wearing a red uniform. There is one difference however.
In Zulu, Caine is rather quiet and reserved, not the shouty Cockney he is in most of his films. No calling the Zulu warriors "bloody spear chuckers" or anything like that.
I found the film rather boring if I'm honest and the battle scenes were rather repetitive and the characterisation was painted with broad strokes and I didn't care that much about the characters.
My respect for the film was certainly not in the same league as the respect the Zulu warriors held for the soldiers at the end of their battle.

Days remaining - 97 Films remaining - 108

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 267

102 - The Hustler - 5 stars
The best sports movie ever made with Paul Newman oozing cockiness and charm as Fast Eddie Felson, and some of the best pool action seen on screen (until The Color Of Money).
After losing to Minnesota Fats in an epic 24 pool game, his confidence is crushed. He slowly rebuilds his life after meeting Piper Laurie, but gets involved with slimy George C. Scott. Unable to let go of his dream, he makes a deal with Scott to finance one more rematch with Fats but is unprepared for the actual cost of the decision he makes.
A dark moral tale about the lengths that some people will go to, and the sacrifices they make, in order to become a winner, even if only in their own head.

61 - The Usual Suspects - 4 stars
I'm going to be controversial now and say that this is actually just an average crime thriller that has been elevated to classic status due to the great twist at the end that sparked endless debates about just who was "Keyser Soze".
It is a fantastic reveal that is superbly edited, made even better by having a false conclusion a couple of minutes earlier, that turns the whole movie on its head and make you shake your own head at not spotting it sooner.
I know that in Adaptation screenwriter Robert McKee says "wow them in the end and you've got a hit" but is a great final five minutes enough the excuse what up until that point is just an OK film?
Lovely to see an early performance by Benecio Del Toro stealing the show as the mumbling Fenster.

Days remaining - 98 Films remaining - 109

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 266

148 - Z - 3 stars
An intriguing film about a political assassination conspiracy within an unnamed country.
It shows the effects from several different viewpoints like the wife, political party, police, etc and, unfortunately, the futility of trying to bring change and justice to a regime that is corrupt.

154 - Betty Blue - 3 stars
This film holds a very special place in my film viewing education. This was the first sex scene that I had seen in a movie... and what a sex scene it was. The opening shot of the film is a slow track in a couple having loud steamy sex and my introduction to what I considered to be the sexiest woman I'd ever seen, Beatrice Dalle (even inspite of the fact that she didn't shave her armpits).
If memory serves correctly, I was about 15 when I saw this late at night on Channel 4, possibly after an episode of Eurotrash.
(to get sidetracked for a moment, it reminds me of the scenario familiar to many young boys who have that first uncomfortable viewing of scenes of a sexual nature on the TV with their parents watching as well. Isn't it funny how the parents notice how uncomfortable it is for everyone and it is almost guaranteed that the kid's next birthday or Christmas that they will get a TV for their own room so they can watch stuff in private?!).
But enough about the sex and nudity (of which there is a lot, after all this is French), what about the actual film, is it any good?
I watched the version Integrale which was three hours long, and it takes it time to really focus in on the relationship between Zorg and Betty; a wannabe writer and his tempetuous, crazy muse.
Betty proves to be both the dream and nightmare girlfriend. The best fuck of your life but an insane, high maintenance girl.
There is a two hour version which is probably just as good but would change the context of the relationship as certain subplots and characters would likely disappear.

180 - To Kill A Mockingbird - 4 stars
Another film that was a first time watch and another film that I had misjudged from footage I had seen. I thought that it was all about the court case, like a 60's version of A Time To Kill.
But of course it was so much more, a tale more about a time and a place and attitudes within society, as Atticus Finch defends a black man against a charge of rape within a community in the deep South, and tries to provide a good example for his children.
Anchored by a towering performance by Gregory Peck, it is the children that prove the film's greatest strength, particulary the young girl who plays Scout.

94 - The Wild Bunch - 3 stars
By the films that I've viewed on the list so far there are two types of Western; the 'slow walk/ride off into the sunset', or the 'going down in a blaze of glory'. This film certainly falls into the latter category with squibs going off left, right and centre, slow motion deaths and even a Wilhelm scream for luck.

Days remaining - 99 Films remaining - 111

Monday, 7 June 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 265

111 - Fitzcarraldo - 3 stars
A film that is as much about Herzog's obsession with making the film as it is about a man's attempt to build an opera house in the middle of the Amazon jungle.

183 - Le Samourai - 3 stars
Really wanted to watch Breathless after reading an excellent article in The Observer but we are screening it at work when it is re-released on the 25th June, so I picked out another French film instead.
Alain Delon rocks the Rorschach look of fedora and raincoat as the assassin who struggles to live by his moral code when he is betrayed by his employers.
If you need any further proof you can go and watch Mesrine and A Prophet, but Le Samourai is yet another example that nobody does crime films any cooler than the French.

140 - As Good As It Gets - 3 stars
As good as it gets? No, not really. This is just the Jack Nicholson show with his usual brand of crazy filtered into a more mainstream mode.
Fine support from Greg Kinnear as his gay neighbour but I didn't like Helen Hunt in this film, or in general really, and wasn't convinced by their relationship.
Highly overrated on this list in my opinion.
Trivia: Yes it really was Shane Black, director of Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang and star of Predator, as the manager of the restaurant!

92 - Once Upon A Time In America - 3 stars
Sergio Leone's attempt to do his version of The Godfather Trilogy, in one film. At 4 hours long and years spent in the editing room it does have a feeling of being incomplete; Joe Pesci's character feels like he got forgotten about, other characters seem to be left out to focus on the main relationship between Robert DeNiro and James Woods' characters, continually jumped back and forward in time, etc.
I can buy into movies where you follow the main character who is a criminal if it sets out te reasons why they became one; bad upbringing, need to survive but I lost any empathy for DeNiro's character when he forces himself on and rapes his friend's sister who he has been romancing. Sorry Bobby but after that there was no emotional connection with the story for me and I couldn't care about what happened at the end.

So now I have 100 days left and feeling pretty good about my chances of completing this mammoth task in time. I have only 115 films left and secured all the hard to find titles, got my Lovefilm list down to under 50 films, and down to an average of 1.15 films a day. The aim is to get to 90 films left with 90 days to go so I can truly focus on one film a day. Of course I still have the 15.5 hour long HEIMAT to go though!

Days remaining - 100 Films remaining - 115

Sunday, 6 June 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 264

302 - The Best Years Of Our Lives - 4 stars
An interesting take on the war film. Whilst so many in the genre follow the young grunts as they are initiated into the horrors of war (see the next film reviewed), this shows us how soldiers that have survived the war attempt to readjust to everyday life.
A strong ensemble cast but notable for Harold Russell, a war veteran who lost both his arms in the war and his performance is excellent as a non-actor bringing his real life experience to the film. There is a heart-breaking scene where he shows his girlfriend what life would be like if she stayed with him; undressing him, putting his prosthetic arms on, etc. Very moving.

60 - Come And See - 4 stars
Bloody hell this was a grim watch. A harsh and at time hallucinatory descent into hell and madness for a young boy who joins the Russian forces fighting the Nazis during WWII.
The young boy Florya in question is played by Aleksy Kravchenko and it is a startling performance. For the second half of the film he is almost mute and appears to be in a state of shock or even catatonic, which makes me wonder if the filmmakers didn't do something to him during production as it was a hell of a lot to put him through.

97 - Reservoir Dogs - 4 stars
It makes feel really old to think that this film was first released 18 years ago! It was one of the first films that got me really excited about cinema, and it was an event too as my mates and I watched on a pirate copy since we were 12 at the time!
Now its funny to see how young the cast look in this film (especially Tarantino, he has got a little chubbier since then).
Described as the 'L'Enfant Terrible' of cinema upon its release, Quentin Tarantino gave Hollywood a shot in the arm with his violent, profanity and pop culture spewing heist movie that didn't show the heist.
He made wearing black suits really cool and helped to create the modern CD soundtrack that featured cool songs from the movie interspersed with snippets of dialogue.
The slow motion walk to Little Green Bag and the ear slicing scene to Stuck In The Middle With You are still iconic but have inspired a million inferior copycats.
Oh, and my favourite 'dog' has to be Mr. Pink. Buscemi is awesome as the fast talking weasel of the group who doesn't tip. Plus he gets away in the end... or does he?

Days remaining - 101 Films remaining - 119

Saturday, 5 June 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 263

139 - Blow Out - 5 stars
Often cited as one of Tarantino's favourite films (I recognised the musical cue 'Jack and Sally' that he used in Death Proof). Like Tarantino, DePalma is one of cinema's great "borrowers" or "thieves", and Blow Out is his version of The Conversation or Blow Up, where someone captures evidence of a murder on recording device, in Blow Up it was a photograph, in Blow Out it is a tape recording.
Starting off with a classic bait and switch of a killing that turns out to be a movie within the movie, this film is inventive in its use of cinematic techniques; split screen, flashbacks, and in one bravado dizzying shot a continuous pan around Travolta's editing suite as the room and his mental state start to break down.
Travolta is excellent as the burnt out sound editor who gets in way over his head, and a nice creepy turn from John Lithgow as the killer.
I'm afraid that I'll have to enter #SPOILER# territory in order to discuss the ending.
Suffice to say that Travolta's character fails to prevent a murder which is recorded on audio tape. To fulfill the girl's wish of wanting to be in the movies and to punish himself for the guilt he feels, he puts her scream into the movie he's working on. Twisted genius that I absolutely loved.

Days remaining - 102 Films remaining - 122

(500) Films of Empire - Day 262

177 - City of God - 5 stars
Based on a true story, this is an energetic, dazzling look at life in a dangerous neighbourhood of Rio de Janerio aka the City of God.
Essentially narrated by Rocket, a young boy who dreams of becoming a photographer and escaping the ghetto, it tells the stories of many of the key players in the battles includng Little Zee, Knockout Ned, Benny, etc.
All the stories link together and paint a portrait of the city that is told with passion and zest by director Fernando Meirelles who draws excellent performances from his young amateur cast.

Days remaining - 103 Films remaining - 123

Thursday, 3 June 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 261

213 - Songs From The Second Floor - 2 stars
Filmed by an unmoving camera in a series of individual episodes or sketches, this is an incredibly bizarre Swedish film that I'm still not entirely sure what it is all about.
I suspect it might have to do with the disintegration of society during an apocalypse but I might be wrong.

76 - Manhattan - 4 stars
It's hard to believe that Woody Allen thought this film was one of his worst efforts. The black and white cinematography is stunning and the opening monologue set to the music of Gershwin is one of the most iconic in cinema.
Once again the chemistry between Allen and Keaton is fantastic and a mature-beyond-her-years performance by Muriel Hemingway as Allen's young girlfriend.
As a total cynic... actually I would clasify myself as a 'hopeless romantic, in that I'm hopeless at romance... I prefer my love stories not to end with everything working out but to have that little element of doubt as to whether they will live happily ever after as that is more akin to real life.

161 - The Year Of Living Dangerously - 2 stars
Most famous for Linda Hunt winning Best Supporting Actress Oscar for playing Billy Kwan, a Chinese-Australian dwarf.
It does have a fair amount of steamy passion between Riggs and Ripley but their screen time together is too brief to truly care about their relationship.
Likewise, until the end there wasn't enough evidence of the 'living dangerously' for Gibson's journalist to fully emotionally connect to the struggle.

Days remaining - 104 Films remaining - 124

(500) Films of Empire - Day 260

232 - Jurassic Park - 5 stars
Like the attraction at Universal Studios Theme Park, this film is a ride from start to finish, pure and simple.
From the moment that you catch your first glimpse of the Brachiosauras (the groundbreaking special effects still hold up today some 18 years on) this film grabs a hold of you and doesn't let go until the end credits.
It is set piece after set piece; the T-Rex attack, electric fence climb, and inspiring one of Spaced's best parodies, the Raptor hunt "clever girl", etc.
Also features some great scene-stealing by Jeff Goldblum as the world's coolest mathematician.
Was nice to see Dickie Attenborough still have a spring in his step, although his accent does take a wander around the UK during the film.  And you could do a drinking game, taking a drink every time Hammond says "spared no expense".

344 - The Last Waltz - 2 stars
Clearly on the list due to the devotion of fans of The Band, but this is essentially a concert movie with some interviews with members of The Band interspersed throughout.
Since I'm not really a fan of them or the music in the film it did not hold any interest for me.

246 - The Philadelphia Story - 3 stars
Empire described this as a love triangle but really this is a love pentagon as there are five people involved in this tale of a socialite's marriage with various parties interested in the outcome for different reasons.
A fantastic central trio of Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart and Katharine Hepburn ensures that the story and dialogue are delivered with a sparkle in the eye and a crack of the tongue.
This is the first Katharine Hepburn movie I've seen on this list and it just makes me realise what a fantastic job Cate Blanchett did in The Aviator.
Was also genuinely surprised how it played out in the end as I normally can see it coming a mile away but this old-school romance had some unexpected twists and turns in the road.

Days remaining - 105 Films remaining - 127

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 259

249 - My Darling Clementine - 3 stars
Yet another serviceable Western on the list. I don't know what it is about the genre but I've yet to blown away by one but I still have a few to watch that appear near the top (Unforgiven, Good, Bad, Ugly, etc).
Henry Fonda stars as the noble Wyatt Earp and teaming up with Victor Allure's Doc Holliday who end up in the fight at the OK Corral.
Interesting to watch a Western in black and white and also to see Walter Brennan as a bad guy in this film.
But for what my opinion is worth, the best movie Doc Holliday was Val Kilmer in Tombstone. He stole the show.
Oh yes, and it does indeed have that song in it, which for me is now always associated with Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind.

87 - The King Of Comedy - 4 stars
Often referred to as an underrated Scorsese movie but this is clearly not the case as enough people rate it highly enough to be in the top 100, with only Raging Bull and Goodfellas above it.
The story of a stand-up comedian who kidnaps his hero Jerry Langford in order to get a spot on his talk show. Nowadays with the obsession with reality TV and the lengths that people go to to become famous, it does not seem so far-fetched.
I'm going to go on the record here and say that Rupert Pupkin is Robert DeNiro's best ever performance. His awkwardness and delusional self-belief are pitch perfect.
There is terrific support from Jerry Lewis playing against type as the talk show host Jerry Langford, coping well with DeNiro's method acting.
The only weak link for me was Sandra Bernhard as Pupkin's crazy friend and accomplice. She was just too annoying and I would have preffered someone slightly less obviously crazy in the role.

Days remaining - 106 Films remaining - 130