Friday, 30 July 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 317

36 - Andrei Rublev - 2 stars
When it comes to me and Russian films, there is just something about them that rubs me up the wrong way, like Bond and Russia during the Cold War. Specifically the work of Tarkovsky.
Like his previous entry on the list Solaris, this film is more about creating a mood or tone rather than a fast moving plot. The theme of Rublev, is creating a piece of art or document of a period in history that allows people to take from it what they will, dependent on their own feelings on the nature of God and the human condition.
Myself, I'm not a very spiritual person so in the end I took nothing from it except an admiration for its cinematography.

Days remaining - 48 Films remaining - 48

(500) Films of Empire - Day 316

30 - Aliens - 5 stars
A fantastic sequel that succeeds because it doesn't simply replicate the original but takes it in a different and exciting direction. What it does do in terms of sequels is obey the rule of more, more, more. We get more Aliens, more potential victims, more guns, more action.
Whilst the original was a haunted house horror movie within a sci-fi genre, Cameron takes Giger's iconic Xenomorph and transplants it into an action/war movie as a squad of marines accompany Ripley to investigate the planet where a colony near the alien ship has gone silent.
The marines go in gung-ho, full of cockiness and macho posturing, but it soon gives way to terror as they realise they are completely ill-equipped to deal with the alien threat.
Most of the grunts are expendable, indeed over two-thirds of the squad are killed during the initial fight, but a few manage to develop their characters - Jeanette Goldstein's tough Vasquez, Michael Biehn's quiet second in command Hicks, and Bill Paxton's cowardly Hudson.
I will always have time for Bill Paxton in a film thanks to this movie. Hudson is by far and away the best character in the film. He gets a good character arc - starts off all cocky, reveals himself to be a total coward before redeeming himself and going out in a blaze of glory.
Before you tell me that the last sentence was a spoiler, Hudson seals his own fate by talking about how he only had four more weeks of service left - one of the surefire statements in a war film that guarantees they won't see the end credits, same as just getting married or having a newborn child you've never seen.
Hudson also gets all the best lines and injects some much needed humour into the film.
"Game over, man. Game Over"
Yet this is Sigourney Weaver's movie all the way. Like Cameron would do with Linda Hamilton in the Terminator sequel, he turns Weaver into a fully fledged action hero. In the first film, she was acting out of instinct in an attempt to survive against an unknown enemy. This time around she goes in all guns blazing, even if some of it is blatantly signposted from the beginning. Oh look, Ripley can use a power loader, wonder if that plot point will come in handy later on in the film? Yes, she uses it to fight the Alien queen (a nice development of the Alien geneology by Cameron).
She also gets a nice subplot involving Newt and the chance to be a mother again (only really developed if you watched the directors cut). Her reward was a rare Oscar nomination for a performance in a science fiction film.
If there is one silly thing that you could laugh at and criticise the film for it is during the scenes in the Weyland Yutani corporate offices where they all wear the collars of their suit jackets up, like this would be the style in the future. No, it just looks stupid!
Days remaining - 49 Films remaining - 49

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 315

50 - Seven Samurai - 4 stars
As expected, this was vastly superior to The Magnificent Seven, the cowboy remake of Kurosawa's samurai epic.
One of the reasons that I wasn't fond of the Western version is because of the lack of characterisation within the seven.
With Samurai, the running time is just over three hours with the final battle taking place in the last half hour so there is plenty of time to get to know the seven samurai, even though the title is incorrect as they point out that the young member of the group is not actually a samurai, just a member of village who wants to fight.
That being said, once again there are a couple of members of the group who get lost in the mix and do not get subplots like Mifune the drunk, Shimura the leader and the young lad who becomes romantically involved with one of the villager's daughter.
The final showdown between the Samurai against the raiders is nicely drawn out and is easier to follow than the hectic gunfight of Magnificent.
If this had been The Five Samurai and been trimmed to about 2.5 hours then this could have been the five star masterpiece that others claim it to be... having said that, Five Samurai is not as catchy a name as Seven Samurai.

Days remaining - 50 Films remaining - 50

(500) Films of Empire - Day 314

46 - On The Waterfront - 5 stars
This film could have got five stars for the "I coulda been a contender" speech alone.
It is amazing that I hadn't noticed it before but this film was a huge influence on Sylvester Stallone's Rocky.
In fact Rocky is essentially what would have happened if Terry Malloy had got a shot to escape the docks.
Like Rocky, Terry Malloy is a small time hood and boxer who works as enforcer to a local union boss who becomes conflicted when he gets involved with the sister of a man who was killed for snitching to the police.
Does he do the right thing and talk to the police and lift the stranglehold that the union has over the waterfront, which would involve betraying his brother, or keep quiet and risk losing the girl?
Elia Kazan uses the film to make a statement about the McCarthy investigations of the House of Un-American Activities Commitee, because he named names during the time and in this film Malloy faces a decision whether to name names and face the consequences and repurcussions, or stay silent.
The internal conflict felt by Terry Malloy is superbly played out by Brando in one of the all time great screen performances. Brooding physicality that slowly gives way to a touching vunerability that boils over to the surface in the aforementioned scene.
It is one of the greatest monologues I've ever heard and played with such conviction as Brando, being driven to his death, tells his brother Charlie that he was the reason that he never had a chance to make it big as a boxer, that Charlie should of looked out for him instead of going with the word of the union boss.
It's an incredibly emotional moment that forces both brothers to make a decision that will affect the rest of their lives.

Days remaining - 51 Films remaining - 51

(500) Films of Empire - Day 313

385 - Napoleon - 1 star
The closer I get to the end, the more I start to realise that I might have mad an error in my strategy. So keen was I to get through the majority of the list that I would spend some days watching 4 or 5 90 minute long films. So while I now have only one film to watch each day, the films that I do have to watch are 3 hours + long, like Napoleon.
Nearly four hours long and not even subtitled but a silent film with title cards to narrate the action.
I would have to give major props to anyone who actually managed to sit through the whole of this back in 1927, even with an intermission, because this film feels as long as every single one of its 224 minutes.
With only title cards to use to keep track of who is who and what exactly is going on, when the film covers such a huge amount of time and features such a range of characters who come and go, I found myself getting a little lost.
It didn't help that I found this history lesson to be incredibly boring. I couldn't believe that even at 4 hours, it didn't even cover his whole life, only getting up to victory in Italy, with Abel Gance wanting to show Napoleon in a positive light.
The only stirring sequences was the first public singing of the Marseilles (Why is it that France, and the USA, have such great national anthems but the UK has the rather boring God Save The Queen?) and the triptych final battle sequence that used three cameras to capture the action and screened side by side, an impressive technique for such an old film.

44 - Schindler's List - 4 stars
Shock. That was my initial feelings watching this for the first time today. Shock, because other than Munich, I've never seen Spielberg produce such an adult, grown up, dare I say it "proper film", as opposed to the excellent "popcorn" family friendly fare that he usually makes (E.T., Indiana Jones, etc).
The brutality of the first raid on the Jewish ghetto in Krakow is when it really hit home how had matured as a filmmaker. Women and children are shot at point blank range and with no mercy by the Nazis. Spielberg proves that he will not shy away from the harsh reality of the Holocaust.
On one side of the struggle is Liam Neeson's Oskar Schindler, a war profiteer who becomes a saviour to the Jewish workers in his factory at great personal cost to himself, and on the other side is the man he has to befriend in order to get them into his employment - Amon Goeth.
Ralph Fiennes has recently been forging a career for playing camp villains like Voldemort or Hades in Clash Of The Titans, but Goeth is pure evil. There are several examples of his loathing for the Jews, whether it be picking them off at random with a sniper rifle or listening to a Jewish architect's advice while building the camp before shooting her because he didn't like to be talked back to.
Fiennes is compelling but I found Neeson's performance to be to slightly too withdrawn and so his final breakdown at not being able to help more comes slightly too late. True he had been helping them but more for himself to begin with.
The most powerful moment in the film is where a train full of women heading to work at Schindler's factory end up at Auschwitz instead. After being stripped and shaved, they are herded into the shower room. The screams of fear are unbearable as they wait for the inevitable, but the screams turn to tears of joy when the taps are turned on and it is just water spraying down on them. An incredibly moving scene but yet again not enough to make me cry.
I truly must be dead inside that even the Holocaust isn't enough to bring tears to my eyes.

Days remaining - 52 Films remaining - 52

Sunday, 25 July 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 312

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

Days remaining - 53  Films remaining - 54

Saturday, 24 July 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 311

53 - Donnie Darko - 4 stars
Unfortunately this is no longer the five star film that I initially believed it was, thanks to the unnecessary director's cut and the realisation that Darko was more of a fluke by Richard Kelly due to his other efforts like the terrible Southland Tales.

The original Donnie Darko remains an original and twisted take on the eighties high school movie that plays out like a "John Hughes meets David Lynch" film.

After 400+ reviews I thought it would be fun to do something little different and so I've dug out an old essay that I wrote as an entry for a competition Empire magazine ran to win the chance to be interviewed on the Director's Cut DVD extras. I didn't win but didn't mind so much as the featurette contained some, how shall I put it, "interesting characters".

The focus of my essay was on how Donnie was a new breed of superhero:
Over the course of the film, a new superhero emerged to join the ranks of Superman, Spider-Man and Batman in the form of a 15 year old troubled schoolboy. Am I right to call Donnie Darko a superhero?
In the film Gretchen jokes that Donnie's name makes him sound like a superhero (using the alliteration model like Peter Parker, Reed Richards, etc) and he replies that how does she know that he isn't.
In comics a superhero is normally defined as a figure endowed with superhuman powers and usually portrayed fighting evil and crime. Superhuman is defined as beyond ordinary or normal human ability, power or experience. Donnie meets several of these criteria. He is incredibly smart, seemingly able to control and manipulate time and hints at incredible strength. He also puts his hood up whenever he is about to use his powers, similat to a superhero donning a mask or cape.

Days remaining - 54 Films remaining - 55

Thursday, 22 July 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 310

82 - The Great Escape - 4 stars
I can't believe I actually had to rent this from Lovefilm as it is usually on every Bank Holiday on BBC2 but I haven't seen it on terrestrial television once during the 310 days I've been doing this challenge.
A classic Boys Own Adventure with one of the great theme tunes of all time focuses on the inmates at a German POW camp as they plot and attempt their 'Great Escape'. It is full of good performances, tension, action and memorable characters.
Whilst still an entertaining film, what struck me when I watched the film this time is that despite of the talk of it being a true story, it is blatantly clear that this is an American film.
Why, I don't hear you ask? Because of the ending.
By now I'll assume that this film is of a certain age that I will be able to discuss aspects of the ending without having to put up huge *SPOILER* warnings!
Out of the people who escape the camp during the breakout, who survives? The bloody Yanks (Steve McQueen, James Garner, Charles Bronson, James Coburn). And who gets lined up and shot by the Nazis? The Brits! And most annoyingly, the guy who cocks it up with the famous "Good Luck" moment is a damn Scot, Gordon Jackson.

Days remaining - 55 Films remaining - 56

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 309

338 - Jules Et Jim - 2 stars
One of the "classics" of the French New Wave but I found myself unsusceptible to its charms.
Stylistically it was not as flashy as previous favourite A Bout De Souffle, instead taking a more classic and linear approach to this tale of three people in love.
Indeed you could call the relationship between Jules, Jim and Catherine, one of the original threesomes, or "menage a trois" I believe its called.
The problem I had with the central trio and therefore the film is that I didn't care about any of them.
A quick summary of the relationship goes as follows: Jules loves Catherine, they get married and have a daughter, Catherine tires of Jules and wants to be free, Jules persuades Jim to go out with her in order to keep her around, Jim and Catherine plan to marry but jealousy and free spirited Catherine cause the entire relationship to break down.
It is more of an emotional menage a trois, at no point do the three of them sleep together. Just before any of you get any ideas.
The main problem I had was with Catherine. I found her to be a self-absorbed, crazy woman who didn't have any appealing features, so when the relationship disintegrates I didn't feel sorry for any of them and felt they got exactly what they deserved (which actually might seem kind of harsh considering how it ends!).

41 - Le Quatre Cent Coups (The 400 Blows) - 4 stars
A much better film by Truffaut than the previous effort. Unlike the flashy showy style of Godard's Breathless, Truffaut uses a more simplistic, linear style and structure to the tale of a young boy who is neglected by his parents and bullied at school by teachers and pupils, partly based on autobiographical experience.
It is tough, gritty with a naturalistic performance from the young boy but thankfully does offer a sliver of hope to the audience.

Days remaining - 56 Films remaining - 57

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 308

Following my statement that I felt the Toy Story films were "the greatest film trilogy of all time"TM. I felt that I was right in my opinion but asked others for theirs. The perfect trilogy is hard to find many trilogies have become sagas thanks to recent fourth entries (Indiana Jones, Alien, Terminator), others let down by poor third parts (Spider-Man, X-Men, Godfather), whilst the Bourne trilogy, while all great movies, is exposed as being quite "samey" in that Damon is always on the run from shadowy suits using computers while he tries to regain his memory.
General consensus seemed to put forward only one genuine contender - The Lord Of The Rings.
And so with a plentiful supply of drinks, snacks and takeaway pizza I settled in for a day of watching the 12 hours that would be the extended versions of LOTR.
Would it be the greatest film trilogy of all time? Or "just three movies of people walking to a fucking volcano" like Randall critiques in Clerks II.

24 - LOTR: The Fellowship Of The Ring - 3 stars
And we're off. I initially didn't think much of FOTR when I saw it at the cinema but when I got the extended version I enjoyed it a lot more.
That was then. On this viewing I started to pick up on the holes in the story and the lack of pacing at times. Pacing is very important when dealing with 12 hours of film!
I never read the books so was coming to these films just from a moviegoer's perspective, not as a critique comparing the books and the films.
I started to worry when at the end of the first disc (the extended editions were split over two discs) they had only just formed the Fellowship of the Ring. That meant the entire second disc would be made up of them walking.
I really didn't need to spend a half hour wandering around Hobbiton or hanging out with Galadriel. Oh and talking of Hobbition, why exactly does one tiny town in the shire happen to have hobbits from Ireland, Scotland, America and Yorkshire?!
I know that Peter Jackson wanted to be faithful to the book but over the course of the trilogy there are only so many times that the Fellowship can be attacked while walking towards Mordor.
Grumbles aside, the film is extremely well made. Jackson maintains control over all aspects of the filmmaking process and delivers a great looking film with well drawn characters. Even if they are more characters than necessary but I understand that cutting out parts of the story would have caused uproar within the fan camps.
Out of the performances, Ian McKellen deliver gravitas as Gandalf and surprisingly my favourite performance in this part came from Sheffield's Own Sean Bean, who has one of the longest death sequences in cinema history (apart from possibly Mr Orange in Reservoir Dogs who lies in a pool of his own blood for the whole film). Boromir has a good character arc and a heroic death to boot. It takes three arrows to take this man down. Go Sharpe!

54 - LOTR: The Two Towers - 4 stars
Hey anyone else remember when after 9/11 people were saying that they should change the name of The Two Towers because it was reminding people of the tragedy at the Twin Towers?! People are stupid some times.
Second part gets under way and luckily the Fellowship have been split up so that we have three seperate stories to fill out the time with:
Frodo and Sam walk to Mordor picking up Gollum on the way, Merry and Pippin walk with the trees, and Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli walk/ride with the captain of the Titanic to Helm's Deep for a throwdown with a shitload of Orcs.
This was my favourite part of the trilogy mainly due to two things: Gollum and Helm's Deep.
The performance of Gollum as a fully CGI character banished all the memories of Jar Jar Binks thanks to the wonderful work of WETA workshop and Andy Serkis.
Serkis was a relative unknown before LOTR but in one scene, he revolutionised the way that performance capture was done and then received by the public.
The scene in question is where Smeagol and Gollum have a two-way conversation between the opposing sides of his personality. Pure genius and a wonderful way to handle what would have normally translated as a tricky scene to pull off in the book.
The second highlight of the film was the Battle of Helm's Deep. An epic, rousing fight scene with thousands of extras (a nice lack of CGI here) as Saruman's orcs lay siege to the walled defences of Helm's Deep. A great mixture of arrows, sword, and hand-to-hand combat that is huge in scale yet feels claustrophobic in terms of space.
The highpoint of the trilogy but many people disagree since it is not a complete story, only the middle part without a beginning or an end, but then my favourite Star Wars film is The Empire Strikes Back so what do I know?!

34 - LOTR: The Return Of The King - 3 stars
By now I was struggling. Sure you get a stirring sequence every now and then like the Ride of the Roheirrhem. But some 10+ hours in and a few things were now apparent to me. Merry, Pippin and the Ents were just really annoying. I can't believe that they didn't get killed off. They were just really there for comic relief and didn't do much of that.
It was very odd for a film of this nature to get to the end of the story and only have one of the main group of characters on this journey die along the way. Gandalf doesn't count because he comes back. Any other quest or disaster film would have had a few more deaths e.g. Posidien Adventure, Saving Private Ryan, etc.
The other problem for me was the simmering sexual tension between Frodo and Sam. Three films of talking about each other's ring, the two of them should have just found a cave and got the dirty deed over and done with. And the nonsense about how Sam gets married when he goes back to the Shire, give me a break. She is the one of the most blatant beards in the history of movies.
However saved for end of the film are the biggest problems in the entire trilogy.
Number 1 - The eagles. After the ring is destroyed and Sam and Frodo lie exhausted on the mountain top, probably after having some hot Hobbit love, they are rescued by eagles who swoop in and save them. Where the hell were they the rest of the time?! Gandalf had one doing his bidding in the first film so why didn't he just get one to give Frodo a lift to Mount Doom? Probably because it wouldn't have made for as exciting a journey but it certainly would have chalked a few hours off the running time.
Which brings me to my second problem with this part of the trilogy aka the Never Ending Story with its multiple endings. Following the destruction of the ring, Frodo and Sam share a moment and then the screen fades to black. Film's over right? Nope. We have to endure about a dozen more endings where they all say goodbye to each other, live happily ever after, etc. I will admit that when I first saw this in the cinema I burst out laughing when Viggo started singing an Elvish song. Then Frodo is seen writing the story of The Lord of The Rings but then they tack on a couple more. Fair enough for the fans of the book, but your average cinemagoer i.e. ME does not need all this closure.

So my time with the Lord Of The Rings has come to an end and I still feel justified in my claim. Sorry Peter Jackson but Toy Story is still the greatest film trilogy of all time.

Days remaining - 57 Films remaining - 59

(500) Films of Empire - Day 307

241 - Roman Holiday - 3 stars
When I first started watching this tale of a Princess hiding out in Rome being accompianed by a US reporter looking to get a story, I thought I was watching a European version of It Happened One Night, which has a rather similar story.
Saying that there is enough chemistry between Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn (can't believe this was only her first major performance as she lights up the screen) and Rome is stunning to look at, as it was all filmed on location.
A nice refreshing (and realistic) ending to the film helped it get some extra credit from me who was rather dubious as to how a princess and a reporter would live happily ever after.

Days remaining - 58 Films remaining - 62

Sunday, 18 July 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 306

144 - There Will Be Blood - 4 stars
While it might not be the five star film I initially considered it to be upon its release, I still am of the opinion that it is vastly superior to the film that the critics seemed to place in battle against -No Country For Old Men.
Nowhere was this more apparent than at the Oscars where they went head to head but No Country won out on the night but hopefully over time people will see what I see and recognise it as a classic.
Thankfully the Academy did choose to award the film with the Oscar for Best Cinematography, as it looks absolutely stunning with wide vistas not seen since the days of Cinemascope.
It is a true feast for the senses as there is also an experimental score by Johnny Greenwood of Radiohead.
This story of one man's obsession with power and greed is anchored by a towering performance by Daniel Day Lewis as Daniel Plainview. He dominates every scene he is in, which is every scene in the film with the exception of one.
Day Lewis is always incredibly intense and it must be intimidating to work with. I admire Paul Dano's guts during the baptism scene where he slaps him in the face. Day Lewis gives him a look like "I will kill you for this".
Then there is the final scene. Yes, that moment!
When they were making this film, I honestly don't believe that P.T. Anderson or Daniel planned or imagined that one certain line at the end would go on to become a catchphrase of sorts and a source for endless spoofs and impressions.
Yet it did, as Day Lewis's performance tips into the OTT and chewing of scenery (I can pinpoint the exact moment - his second "yes he doessssuerrr"), followed by accidental drooling and the immortal line "I DRINK YOUR MILKSHAKE!". I actually had that as my text message alert for a year!
It is entertaining but for me the change in tone is too great compared to the rest of the film and it takes you out of it.
Other than that tonal shift, it was pretty damn near perfect.
Once more with feeling, altogether now... "I drink..."

Days remaining - 59 Films remaining - 63

(500) Films of Empire - Day 305

69 - Three Colours Red - 3 stars
A film with several charcters who initially seem unconnected but as the story unfolds it reveals the bond that they share. It plays out like a French Short Cuts with two great lead performances by Irene Jacob, who brings sadness and vunerability to her model, and Jean-Louis Trintignant, who brings pathos and dignity to the retired judge who is not as law abiding as he might seem.
It is an interesting film that examines themes of voyeurism, isolation, fate, coincidence.
Unfortunately for me I have not seen the other two of the Three Colours: Three Colours White and Three Colours Blue so therefore the ending had less resonance with me than it would for those who have seen the entire trilogy, when apparently characters from the other films survive the same accident as people in this film.
I have a feeling that the very high ranking of this film could have been out of love and respect for the entire trilogy rather than this one particular part. I couldn't mark this film higher because I then started to worry that I had missed other parts of the film that could have been connected to the other films in some way. Not an ideal feeling to have.

Days remaining - 60 Films remaining - 64

Friday, 16 July 2010


INCEPTION - 5 stars

Let me begin by telling you a story.
Someone tried to kill me once. I couldn't see their face as it was covered by a mask but they were drowning me. My head kept going under the water and the more I struggled, the more water filled my lungs. As I made one last attempt to get to the surface I woke up. It had been a dream. Still freaked out by it, I got up and wandered into the kitchen where my parents where having breakfast. As I explained the dream to them my nose started to bleed. I realised that something was wrong. Not the nose bleed but I remembered that I don't live with my parents anymore. I was still dreaming. Once that realisation happened I managed to wake myself up again.
Now you might feel that this amusing dream anecdote might be rather unnecessary, but if you can understand the logic or have had a similar experience then you should be able to follow the complex plot and logic of Inception.
After years of churning out endless sequels, remakes and films based on TV shows, comics, books, etc, Hollywood has finally delivered a truly original movie that fulfills all the needs of a summer blockbuster but with a story that is grown up, complicated, makes the audience think and doesn't pander to the lowest common demoninator (i.e. the kind of people who watch Epic Movie).
Leonardo DiCaprio plays an Extractor, who enters your mind through your dreams in order to steal information. He takes on one last job that will allow him to return home to his family, but this time he must plant, rather than steal, an idea in someone's head and assembles a team to get the job done which will involve entering a world of dreams within dreams within dreams.
That is all you are going to get from me in terms of plot, as Inception is best enjoyed by not having too much information spoiled ahead of time. There is exposition along the way but the film doesn't get bogged down in it so it is relatively easy to follow, but pray you don't go along with one of those people who constantly ask questions during the film: "who is he?", "why are they doing that?", etc, etc.
The most complicated thing about Inception is not the plot, but writing a review that doesn't stray too heavily into spoiler territory.
Similar to the way that Ariadne aka The Architect must construct their dream world, writer/Director Christopher Nolan can be considered the Architect of this film. And in Inception, he has designed a masterpiece. He combines the action of The Dark Knight, the theatricality of The Prestige with a tightly constructed story that revisits themes first explored in his breakout film Memento.
Nolan has risen to a level reserved for the truly great filmmakers where you can tell just by looking at a film that it is directed by him. He is helped by having built up a strong working relationship with director of photography Wally Pfister and music legend Hans Zimmer. The visual aesthetic and score are very similar to The Dark Knight (which is a good thing in my opinion, not a negative as some critics have said).
It is the best looking film of the year and beyond the stunning visuals, Pfister produces a different colour pallete for each dream world which makes it easier to keep track of the action.
Zimmer has written a score that is possibly even better than that of The Dark Knight, hitting all the right notes on the action sequences and delivering the right impact of emotion in the key scenes. The decision to use Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien as the song to trigger the 'kick' in order to wake from the dream is an odd one purely for the fact that Marion Cotillard is part of the cast and famously won an Oscar playing Edith Piaf, so it almost takes the audience out of the moment because of the connection.
Nolan also knows when and where to use CGI. Many blockbusters have become over-reliant on CGI effects but Nolan only uses it to enchance the real-life action (the fight scene between Joseph Gordon-Levitt and two henchmen in a rotating hotel corridor was all filmed in camera) or to achieve the impossible such as the moving Parisian landscapes.
Once the dream world has been constructed, the Dreamer fills it with projections (or people) and in Nolan's case he has assembled one hell of an ensemble cast for this. It might not be as glitzy and glamourous as Ocean's Eleven, but alongside DiCaprio (who follows up Shutter Island with another excellent turn that proves he keeps getting better and better as he gets older) he is backed up by Nolan veterans Watanabe, Murphy and Caine, Oscar beauties Cotillard and Page and two breakout performances from rising stars Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy.
Finally there are the dreams themselves. Nolan seems to be very interested in the world of the mind and memory and uses the medium of cinema to explore these to their full potential in thematic terms and delivering excitement and drama. In one clever sequence Cobb and Ariadne are talking about dreams at a cafe and Cobb explains that we never remember the start of a dream and we usually find ourselves in the middle of one, and asks Ariadne how they got to the cafe? Nolan has used the traditional cinematic cut to float between reality and the dream world.
There would always be a worry with this type of film that it will end with one of those cheesy "They wake up and it was all a dream" moments but I guarantee that the ending delivers so much more.
"What is the most resiliant parasite? An idea. Once an idea is implanted in the brain it is next to impossible to get rid of it"
And that is the true power of Inception. Once you have seen it, it will be impossible to forget. You are guaranteed to be thinking about it and talking about it for weeks. And that is the mark of a exceptional film.

(500) Films of Empire - Day 304

105 - One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest - 4 stars
Is there more to the film than just the Jack Nicholson show? Yes there is... just about.
Jack whilst never less than entertaining, can be put into the same category as Al Pacino, in that after they won their Best Actor Oscar, more often than not they just seem to repeat aspects of that performance. Pacino won for Scent of a Woman and ever since he has hardly stopped doing the shouty "Hoo-ah!" thing, and with Jack there are elements of the manic McMurphy in several of the characters he has done since including The Joker, Melvin Udell, Daryl Van Horne and of course Jack Torrance.
Speaking of The Shining, I hadn't realised that Scatman Crothers is in this film too and once again because of Jack things don't end well for him.
Because I was able to see beyond Nicholson's performance, I was able to appreciate the themes and issues raised by the film much more.
It is very much anti-authority and anti-establishment and it centres on a battle of wills between McMurphy, an inmate of the asylum who is only there to try and avoid prison, and Nurse Ratched, the tyrannical head nurse of the asylum, whose dominance and control over the patients is lost due to McMurphy's influence over the group.
Of the group some characters get more development than others. A very young Christopher Lloyd and Danny Devito are merely sketches of characters, whilst The Chief and B-B-Billy Babbit get more screen time.
Having said that, there should have been more time spent discussing the relationship between Babbit and his mother as one of the main plot points at the end of the story hinges on this and I wasn't convinced by the course of action that Billy takes.
It determines the outcome of the battle between Ratched and McMurphy, with someone ultimately paying the price of standing up against authority but it is a hollow victory.

Days remaining - 61 Films remaining - 65

Thursday, 15 July 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 303

186 - United 93 - 5 stars
I was in Majorca coming in from a drunken night out when I turned on the TV and saw the footage of the World Trade Center. I sobered up pretty quickly. 5 years on from 9/11 and Hollywood was finally ready to visit the events of that tragic day and of all the films made about it, it was United 93 that did it with the most respect and taste.
Using unknown actors and improvised script, Paul Greengrass creates an intimate documentary feel that plays out in real time and doesn't resort to Hollywood cliches or attempts to manufacture and manipulate emotion. Yes, the trademark Greengrass shaky-cam is in full use here, but it adds to the sense of realism.
For added realism they managed to get the participation of several air traffic controllers and Ben Sliney who was the real person in charge of Air Traffic Control on 9/11 (his first day on the job) and the man who made the brave decision to ground all aircraft in the USA. I can't imagine what it must have been like for him to have to relive those feelings and emotions whilst filming this.
The first time I saw this film it was at The Belmont. I initially thought that we had got the reels in the wrong order because at one point the military are talking about finding planes that had already crashed. Then I realised that this was just an accurate representation of the total clusterf#ck of information being passed through department to department as nobody knew what was going on or how to deal with a situation like this.
At the end of the first screening I saw, everyone sat in silence for about a minute before one guy just exhaled slowly and I thought that reaction summed up the film. It is an exhausting experience. You know how it is going to end but during those final moments you are hoping and wishing that they can do something to change their fate.
I have never cried during a movie and through the course of this challenge I was hoping to find one that would. After seeing Toy Story 3 last week I might be softening in my old age because from the passsengers making their phone calls to their loved ones onward I did feel quite emotional. There was a lip quiver but no tears. The search continues.

Days remaining - 62 Films remaining - 68

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 302

173 - Memento - 5 stars
Following a preview screening of Christopher Nolan's awesome mind-bending noodle scratcher Inception, I felt it was time to watch Nolan's other film that focuses on the mind and the last film of his on the list left to watch.
Memento holds a very special place in my film going history. Why? Because it was the very first film that I saw here at The Belmont back in the year 2000. The movie sounded intriguing and we ventured along to this tiny door on Belmont Street that gave way to a TARDIS like 3 screen cinema that showed films that you couldn't watch down at the multiplex.
Who knew back then that I would end up working here and 10 years later I am waiting anxiously on word from the Council that our company will get to continue running The Belmont for another 10 years.
But I have digressed...
Where do start your review of Memento? At the beginning? The beginning that is really the end? Well, I'll get to that later.
Let's just start with Leonard Shelby, our narrator of this story. I have spoken in the past about unreliable narrators and how the audience are at their mercy as to what information is shared with them, and Leonard Shelby is the most unreliable narrator in the history of cinema as he doesn't even remember what he has told us.
When we first meet Leonard he is telling us about his "condition" and how he has brain damage that prevents him from forming new memories. They fade in time like a dream upon waking.
This condition does put him at a disadvantage in his quest to find the man who raped and murdered his wife. All he has to go on are scrambled notes and tattoos on his body.
Guy Pearce, forgive the pun, makes for a memorable lead, allowing the audience into his world, showing pain (remembering his wife) and humour ("What's happening? Oh, I'm chasing this guy... no, he's chasing me!"), and for us to empathise with his condition and struggle to avenge his wife's death.
What makes the film so unique is in its structure. The black and white sequences move forward in time and are used to establish Leonard's condition and the background to his wife's murder, his investigation and the tale of Sammy Jankus. Intercut with these are the colour sequences which move backwards in time from a murder until the two threads meet each other.
It puts the viewer in a similar position as Leonard. Unable to see the entire picture, like trying to solve a puzzle with a missing piece.
Is it unfair to discuss a major plot point that could be seen as a spoiler? The film has been out for nearly 10 years now, and it only comes as a twist due to the complex structure of the narrative. Chronologically it come 1/3 of the way through the story; when Teddy explains to Leonard what really happened following his wife's death and how Leonard initially conciously decides to claim that Teddy is responsible and will hunt him down.
This revelation of details casts doubt over everything else we've seen or been told by Leonard. This speech by him, sums up the problem with having faith in what he knows.
"Facts, not memories. That's how you investigate. I know, it's what I used to do. Memory can change the shape of a room; it can change the color of a car. And memories can be distorted. They're just an interpretation, they're not a record, and they're irrelevant if you have the facts."
Unlike Leonard, you won't forget this film after seeing it and just like Nolan's masterpiece Inception, it generates discussion and debate long after the fun last line "Now... where was I?".

Days remaining - 63 Films remaining - 69

Top Ten of 2010 - The Year In Review... so far

So we are over halfway through the year and now is as good a point as any to take stock of the cinematic highs and lows of 2010 so far.
To be honest it has not been a great year for film in terms of quality or admits.
Due to a combination of the World Cup and some scorching weather, a trip to the local cinema has not been at the top of everybody's 'to do list', and I can't really blame them as it has the quality of the releases this year has been poor, especially the so-called summer blockbusters.
In fact it was a struggle for me to think of ten great films for my list, only the top five are probably guaranteed to still be there at the end of the year.

Lowlights of the year so far:

3D - We are now experiencing the fallout of the Avatar effect and quite frankly I am completely underwhelmed. So far all we are getting are animated films (How To Train Your Dragon, Shrek) and some shocking post-production 3D conversions that have had no benefit to the action and have even compromised the quality of the film in terms of visual aesthetic (Clash Of The Titans, Last Airbender). It appears the decision for the use of 3D is being taken by the studios looking to add a few extra bucks onto the price of the tickets and prevent piracy, rather than a creative decision by the director. Stop Hollywood, please before its too late!
I saw Toy Story 3 last week in 3D and it did not need to be in 3D. Personally I will wait to see what Martin Scorsese does with the technology on Hugo Cabret and how it works filming live-action and real people, not Smurfs.

Subtitled Film Marketing - I love subtitled films and here at The Belmont there is an audience for them. However certain distributors do not have the same faith in the product that we do at site level and have started to market these films by creating trailers that hide the fact that it is in a foreign language and instead just have Voiceover Guy talking about the film. Recent examples include Coco Before Chanel, Heartbreaker and The Girl Who Played With Fire. Click on the links and see for yourself, in Heartbreaker the only words spoken in it is when the guy sings Wham!
It is fair enough that they want to get as many people to come and see the film as possible but they are not the ones who have to deal with the ignorant idiots who come out of the screen after 10 minutes to tell us the film is in French and they "paid to watch a film, not read one". They really grind my gears.

Highlights of the year:

Cannes Film Festival - My first experience of a film festival was an absolute delight. Got to see some great films (Another Year, Rubber) and some stinkers (Extreme Labyrinth 3D, You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger), walked the red carpet, mingled with celebs (Andy Serkis), and helped out with Cannes In A Van. Not bad for a guy from the 'Deen.

Originality finally coming back to Hollywood? - Inception is my film of the year so far and really hope that it becomes as popular with audiences as it was with the critics. In a year of endless sequels, remakes and films based on books, TV shows, etc and the lukewarm audience response to them, it is refreshing to see Warner Bros taking a $180 million chance with Christopher Nolan's original idea for a blockbuster.
Other examples of original movies this year include Rubber (about a killer tyre that can blow things up with its mind) and Human Centipede (disgusting yes, but original all the same).

(500) Films Of Empire - I am greatly enjoying this exhausting task of watching the 500 greatest films of all time and with just under 70 films to go in 63 days, I am confident of finishing it in time and hope to have a screening of the number one film at The Belmont on the final day (which also happens to be the 10th anniversary of The Belmont)

Top Ten Of The Year
1. Inception
2. Toy Story 3
3. A Single Man
4. Kick-Ass
5. A Prophet
6. Shutter Island
7. The Secret In Their Eyes
8. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
9. Heartbreaker
10. Rubber

Worst Films Of The Year
1. Sex And The City 2
2. Clash Of The Titans
3. You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger

Most Anticipated Films Of The Year
1. Scott Pilgrim Vs The World
2. The Social Network
3. The Rum Diary

Thursday, 8 July 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 296

82 - Batman Begins - 4 stars
For those who have grown up with Batman, watching the Adam West TV series on C4 on a Tuesday night after school or the Tim Burton films, this film could really have been called Batman Begins... again.
But this is the first time that we have really seen the origin story of Batman.
Drawing upon some great source material like Frank Miller's Batman Year One, it definitively answers the question of why someone would dress up like a bat and just how he manages to get all those "wonderful toys".
For me, Christian Bale is the best Bruce Wayne/Batman since Adam West. He manages to switch between three different personas: the Bruce Wayne who is filled with guilt and vengeance by the death of his parents, the playboy billionnaire public persona of Bruce Wayne (that Bale plays very similar to Patrick Bateman in American Psycho), and finally Batman the costumed vigilante.
A lot of people have criticised Bale's gruff Batman voice (which has now spilled into other roles like John Connor in Terminator: Salvation), but I personally don't mind it. At least he is making an effort to disguise his identity beyond just wearing a mask. Peter Parker/Spider-Man puts on a mask but doesn't change his voice, Clark Kent just removes his glasses to become Superman. Surely those people close to them would recognise the voice at the very least, let alone any physical resemblance.
The true hero of Batman Begins however is not Bale but director Christopher Nolan. After small films like Memento and Insomnia, Nolan proved that he could deliver an exciting, action-filled blockbuster.
Batman is one of those superheroes where you can debate just how "super" he actually is, because he doesn't have any of the regular superpowers like flying, x-ray vision, super-strength, etc. Instead he has tons of cool gadgets and some martial arts training.
One of the successes of Batman Begins was how Nolan grounded everything in reality. It goes into detail on how they create the costume and how he gets the gadgets like the grappling gun and Batmobile, it just helps to be a billionnaire. Everything can be explained and would work within the real world, making the film more believable than your average comic book film.
It would have been easy to automatically give this film 5 stars as it rescued the franchise after the abysmal Batman & Robin... but I'm not going to do that. It only receives 4 stars because of the time spent focusing on the origin story, it lacked an iconic villain (something that comic origin stories suffer from but make up for in the sequel), and Katie Holmes seems miscast an out of place compared to the quality of the rest of the cast.

15 - The Dark Knight - 5 stars
"And here... we... go!"
Right from the start, you know you are watching something special. Filmed in IMAX ratio and looking crystal clear on BluRay, Nolan kicks off the film with the greatest bank robbery since Heat.
Michael Mann's Heat has been a huge influence over the The Dark Knight, and the film manages to actually transcend the comic book/superhero genre and join Heat in being considered as one of the best crime films of all time.
The famous McCauley/Hanna conversation over coffee about how similar they are is mirrored by The Joker explaining to Batman that one can't survive without the other, "you complete me". Everyone involved in the original, stepped up their game for the sequel and were working at the bext of their ability and it shows. What was great about this film is that they didn't just sit back and repeat what worked in the original but did something new.
Where Batman Begins was set in the dark and gloomy nightime of Gotham City, The Dark Knight shows it during the day, showing the crime doesn't rest when The Joker is involved.
Also for the first time in Batman movie history, Batman leaves the confines of Gotham City and travels to Hong Kong. It was fun to see it on the big screen as I went to Hong Kong in 2007 and actually had cocktails at a bar at the bottom of the IFC building that Batman jumps off of during the film.
The casting also improves on the first film with Maggie Gyllenhaal providing more weight and toughness to the recast role of Rachel Dawes, and Aaron Eckhart was also terrific as Harvey Dent, even if his story arc as Two-Face is a tad rushed as it would have worked better being the main protaginist in the next film.
"How about a magic trick? Ta da, it's gone!"
And so began the greatest performance in a comic book movie. Ledger is absolutely electrifying as The Joker, taking it in a completely different direction from Jack Nicholson's ghoulish clown.
It is a completely committed performance of a dangerous and disturbed individual built up from months of research into the character using comics like Killing Joke, Long Halloween. A great combination of make-up, costume, posture and voice that is full of glorious flourishes like his waddle while wearing the nurse's uniform,
Was his performance Oscar worthy? Compared to the rest of the nominated performances, yes. The closest that anyone came to him was Robert Downey Jr in Tropic Thunder.
On the subject of Oscars, what was unbelievable was the lack of nominations in any of the major categories such as Best Picture, Director, etc. Even Hugh Jackman remarked on it during his opening song at that year's ceremony. "How can a billion dollars not be sophisticated?"
So those films like District 9 and The Blind Side that got a Best Picture nomination this year, you have TDK to thank as its snub directly led to the creation of the 10 nominee category.
Hopefully next year Oscar will make up for this terrible oversight by giving much deserved rewards to Chris Nolan and Inception.

Days remaining - 69 Films remaining - 68

(500) Films of Empire - Day 295

446 - High Fidelity - 5 stars
My original plan for this film involved it being one of the last films watched before the top ten and spending a day trying to reorganise my DVD and BluRay collection autobiographically but fate stepped in.
For the last few years I have been involved in writing the Aberdeen Student Show (although not last year due to "creative differences" with the director) and this year I will be script editor again and have convinced the production team to do a High Fidelity style romantic comedy where someone revisits his ex-girlfriends in order to gain some wisdom about himself so that he might win back the love of his life.
And so with that plot in mind, it proved the perfect time to revisit the film of my all-time favourite book.
Now more often than not film adaptations are might with one big criticism, that "it wasn't as good as the book".
In the case of High Fidelity however, I honestly believe that it is one of the greatest book to film adaptations of all time.
It might not be LOTR and be as close a scene for scene translation of the book, and there were criticisms for moving the setting of the film from London to Chicago but the film succeeds because it keeps the heart of the book.
Relationships (both ones that work and ones that don't) are universal and the screenwriters were right to focus on the characters and not worry about the setting.
The book unfolds from the viewpoint of Rob Gordon who analyses his past relationships when his current girlfriend breaks up with him.
In a risky move the screenwriters kept the narration by the main character, who often speaks directly to the audience. In the wrong hands it could have been a disaster but John Cusack pulls it off effortlessly, proving engaging to the audience despite the character's obvious flaws (selfish, naive, lack of desire, etc).
Rob Gordon is one of those characters that I can relate to. He runs a small independent music shop and I run a small independent cinema. He sits around making up Top 5 lists with his staff and customers, and so do I. He is not very good at relationships and neither am I. I've always claimed to be a "hopeless romantic" in the terms that I'm hopeless at romance. I would also probably have worries about dating someone who hated one of my most beloved movies/albums.
It is one of the most honest romantic comedies done from the man's point of view. Yes ladies we do act like this but you should love of us inspite of this not because of it!
The writing is excellent, accurate and worryingly familiar to anyone who has been in a relationship and Cusack has assembled a great supporting cast behind him to deliver the lines including his sister, Tim Robbins and Jack Black. Funny to think that when I first saw this film, I didn't know anything about Tenacious D and was genuinely surprised by how good Black's singing was on Let's Get It On at the end of the film.
It hits all the right notes, being romantic when it needs to be and having some truly funny scenes. Easily one of my Top 5 films about relationships:

1. High Fidelity
2. Swingers
3. When Harry Met Sally
4. (500) Days Of Summer
5. Annie Hall

Days remaining - 70 Films remaining - 70

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 294

223 - Safe - 1 star
"Is it safe?". Not for Julianne Moore in a film that failed to get under the skin of a condition where a woman becomes allergic to her environment. Is it physical or physcological?
I really feel that a TV documentary would have been far more interesting and emotionally affecting than this Hollywood take on it.
It focused much more on how the people around her reacted to her actions and condition, also examining the spiritual healing aspect and whether it is real or a scam.
Despite my disliking for the film, I could not fault Julianne Moore who once again delivers a strong performance and proving she is one the best actresses working today.

Days remaining - 71 Films remaining - 71

Monday, 5 July 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 293

84 - Blue Velvet - 5 stars
Tonight at The Belmont we had a screening of the David Lynch classic. Originally this was booked as part of a film noir season but following Dennis Hopper's death due to a battle with cancer, it became a tribute screening to the late, great man's career with Frank Booth, arguably his most memorable role.
Like Shrek was fond of saying "Onions have layers", and this film is a noirish onion that peels back the layers of US small town suburbia to reveal the dark underbelly of society.
It was a predecessor to the likes of American Beauty and Desperate Housewives but obviously goes to much darker places. It was only tonight that I noticed the connection as Kyle Maclaughlin stars in Housewives and Velvet, something that must have been on the producers' minds when casting him (in Housewives that is).
A very young Maclaughlin is walking through the quiet sleepy town of Lumbertown and finds a severed ear. His fascination to solve the mystery of who it belonged to sends him tumbling down the rabbit hole to find some deeply disturbing and unpleasant characters lurk behind closed doors, in a theme he would revisit with Lynch in the fantastic TV series Twin Peaks. That reminds me, I should really get the second season on DVD once this challenge is completed.
The two main inhabitants of this "strange world" are the masochistic singer Dorothy Vallens (Rosselini) and the sadistic and psychotic Frank Booth.
This central menage a trois and the sexual violence that results from it sparked huge controversy at the time and caused Mark Kermode to write a scathing review that got him a punch in the mouth... he has since rewatched it and loved it.
Rosselini brings a sadness and vunerability to the character and like Hopper famously said, "he is Frank" and makes his chilling portrayal believable in this dream like world.
Music always plays an important part in Lynch's films, and there is often a moment where one song becomes a focal point of the movie. However it is not Blue Velvet, but In Dreams by Roy Orbison. It features twice; once lipsynced by Dean Stockwell, Lynch used the same effect in Mulholland Drive with Llorando which is a Spanish version of Crying by Roy Orbison again, and then spoken by Frank to Jeffrey during a scene where he beats him up, saying the lines:
"In dreams, I walk with you. In dreams, I talk to you. In dreams, you're mine, all of the time. We're together in dreams, in dreams."
There is a dream like quality to this film like much of Lynch's work but with Frank "Baby wants to fuck" Booth around it will always be more of a nightmare.

Days remaining - 72 Films remaining - 72

Sunday, 4 July 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 292

251 - Darling - 3 stars
The shallowness of celebrity is savagely exposed in this film that sees Julie Christie sleep her way from TV interviewee to Italian Princess thanks to an amoral attitude and a gravity defying push up bra that must have been an inspiration the creators of the wonderbra.
Filmed in black and white, Schleisenger uses visual tricks that evoke the feel of the French New Wave and Fellini.
It is a credit to Julie Christie that despite her faults there is something incredibly watchable and endearing about 'Darling' that allows her to rise above the new found celebrities who are famous for being famous, like the dreaded Paris Hilton.

Days remaining - 73 Films remaining - 73

Saturday, 3 July 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 291

100 - Network - 4 stars
Another incredibly prescient film about the media with the ability to correctly predict the state of television nearly 35 years ahead of time.
"Television is not the truth. Television is a goddamned amusement park".
Following news of his imminent firing, newscaster Howard Beale has an on-air meltdown with the famous "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore". The audiences embrace this media prophet who speaks the truth and tired of all the "bullshit".
The network however want to exploit him and turn his ramblings into a prime-time show thanks to ruthless TV producer Diana Christensen who is more concerned with ratings than the quality of the content. Seeking sensationalism over the truth:
"We could make a series of it. "Suicide of the Week." Aw, hell, why limit ourselves? "Execution of the Week." "Terrorist of the Week." I love it. Suicides, assassinations, mad bombers, Mafia hitmen, automobile smash-ups: "The Death Hour." A great Sunday night show for the whole family. It'd wipe that fuckin' Disney right off the air."
The writers understand the medium of television and the vicious satire they are working to create and even have the characters make reference to this as William Holden's character leaves his wife and explains to her that this the Act 2 moment where the cheating husband leaves only to come back in the third act with his tail between his legs after being dumped by the beautiful leading lady.
Performances are strong right across the board and received a record five Oscar nominations for acting including winners Faye Dunaway and Peter Finch (the only person other than Heath Ledger to win an Oscar after their death).
The film ends with a moment of television that would seem as controversial as Sachsgate, as the network executives come up with a incredible solution on how to get Howard Beale off the air... but how long will we have to wait before something like that becomes a reality?

Days remaining - 74 Films remaining - 74

Friday, 2 July 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 290

181 - Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls - 4 stars
I first encountered this film when I wrote a film course for the cinema on cult movies called Total Cult. It was filed heavily under CAMP. This film is as camp as a field of pink tents at a festival of campness.
The Carrie Nations - an all-girl rock group - head to Hollywood to make it big, only to get sucked into the drug and sex-fuelled decadence of the L.A. lifestyle.
While it has the sex, drugs, rock n roll and trashy feel of Meyer's other films, it also works as a dark satire of show-business.
If there was one scene that sums up the feel of the movie then it would be the party at Z-Man's house. It contains the line "This is my happening and it freaks me out" which is an obvious inspiration for Austin Powers.
The character of Z-Man is one of the greats of the exploitation genre. Apparently influenced by Phil Spector, in his velvet suits and Shakespearean way of talking Z-Man is a force of nature and steals every scene he is in.
The initial highs of the success and parties fall away to reveal shattering lows in the form of drug addiction, attempted suicide, abortion, adultery before descending into a over-the-top murder rampage featuring Superwoman, Tarzan, a Nazi, Batman and Robin. Best just to watch in order to understand.
One girl hilariously blames her boyfriend when he walks in on her with another man by repeatedly crying "you said you were going to study.  you said you were going to study".
The film ends with a little epilogue that feels like it could appear at the end of an episode of Scrubs, as the narrator of the film gives us the moral of each person's individual story.
As a cautionary tale about the dark side of Hollywood, it is up there with the likes of Sunset Boulevard and Mulholland Drive.  Yes you read that correctly.  I am comparing Russ Meyer's trashy, campy movie to two classics and I feel justified.
The thing that might shock most people when they watch it is not the final scene, but when they see that the writer of the film is none other than Roger Ebert, one of the world's most famous and well-respected film critics and current Twitter obsessive!

Days remaining - 75 Films remaining - 75

Thursday, 1 July 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 289

160 - Being There - 4 stars
A very sweet and charming film where talk of gardening becomes a philosophical view on the world.
Peter Sellers is tremendous in a straight role that tempers his usual humour in his performance of Chance, or Chancey Gardener.
This is Sellers' Forrest Gump, as Chance is very innocent and simple-minded. His only interaction and education coming from his love of gardening and television.
Chance lived a very isolated life, working as a gardener for an old man, never leaving the house. Forced out onto the streets following his death, a chance (ha ha) meeting leads him to stay with an old, dying businessman and his younger wife.
They mistake his comments on gardening as a philosophy on business and the economy, and becomes a surprising political figure when his comments are quoted by The President:

President "Bobby": Mr. Gardner, do you agree with Ben, or do you think that we can stimulate growth through temporary incentives?
[Long pause]
Chance the Gardener: As long as the roots are not severed, all is well. And all will be well in the garden.
President "Bobby": In the garden.
Chance the Gardener: Yes. In the garden, growth has it seasons. First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again.
President "Bobby": Spring and summer.
Chance the Gardener: Yes.
President "Bobby": Then fall and winter.
Chance the Gardener: Yes.
Benjamin Rand: I think what our insightful young friend is saying is that we welcome the inevitable seasons of nature, but we're upset by the seasons of our economy.
Chance the Gardener: Yes! There will be growth in the spring!
Benjamin Rand: Hmm!
Chance the Gardener: Hmm!
President "Bobby": Hm. Well, Mr. Gardner, I must admit that is one of the most refreshing and optimistic statements I've heard in a very, very long time. [Benjamin Rand applauds]
President "Bobby": I admire your good, solid sense. That's precisely what we lack on Capitol Hill.
There are several interesting touches and moments that could threaten to upset the balance of the film; the use of a funky version of Also Sprach Zarathustra from 2001, the scene where Shirley Maclaine misinterprets Chance's declaration that "I like to watch" and results in Maclaine masturbating for him while he watches TV, and the end moment where Chance appears to walk on water... but director Hal Ashby manages to make them all work perfectly.
What doesn't work however is having the film spoiled by the 'outtakes' over the end credits, which break the spell of the previous 2 hours.

P.S. Two cast members from The Thing appear- spot Copper and Palmer in small roles.

Days remaining -76 Films remaining - 76

(500) Films of Empire - Day 288

143 - Cyrano De Bergerac - 3 stars
One of the great stories about unrequited love.
Depardieu plays Cyrano who is 'a fighter not a lover' due to his hang-up about his nose, which you could use to hang up your coat (boom boom).
Although as this film proves, it is not wise to insult a man who is so eloquent with words as he will use them to cut you down to size as this clip proves. Also see how Steve Martin does it in Roxanne's comedy duel.
Cyrano's issues over his appearance mean that he is unable to declare his love for his cousin. I could make a lot over this issue but it seems that this was quite normal at that time for people to marry their distant relatives, so it is best to accept this and move on rather than dwell on the fact that it is a bit creepy and incestuous. Surely there must have been someone pretty out there that he wasn't partially related to.
Unable to romance her himself, he helps a young suitor by providing his words by writing letters to her. Will she ever learn the truth behind the author?
The most wonderful thing about the film is the use of language. It just rolls of the tongue of Depardieu and the use of rhyme gives it a wondeful poetic quality.
It also has some of the best subtitling I've seen on a foreign language film as it manages to keep the rhyming and rhythm of his speech without losing too much in the translation.

Days remaining - 77 Films remaining - 77