Tuesday, 31 August 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 350

13 - Chinatown - 5 stars
Every generation seems to get a new take on the Film Noir genre. The Noughties had Brick, The Man Who Wasn't There and Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang, the Nineties had The Big Lebowski, and the Seventies had The Long Goodbye and Chinatown.
Whilst the others have tended to go for updating the genre with a modern twist, Chinatown is classic film noir with an old school story. In fact the only real change is that it is in colour.
JJ Gittes (Jack Nicholson in probably his finest role) starts off with one case that soon turns into a much bigger, more dangerous case along with a good old femme fatale thrown in for good measure in the form of an unstable Faye Dunaway.
It is all presented from Gittes's perspective, so the audience find out the clues and unravel the mystery at the same time. And it is quite a complicated case with a "lot of ins, lot of outs, lot of what-have-yous" as The Dude would say in the parlance of our times. It features several twists and turns along the way but it would be poor form to spoil them but trust me, it's a doozy.
One of the most memorable moments in the film comes courtesy of its director, as Polanski has a cameo as the "kitty kat" that slices up Jack's nose, resulting in the big bandage he wears for the rest of the film. Perhaps a nod to the fact that private detectives back in the 40's Noirs would always get beaten up but never have a scratch on them.
This could be the point in the review where it would be easy to give an opinion on Polanski's recent (and past) troubles with the law but that would be opening a huge can of underage worms so I'll leave well alone and simply say that he has directed the very best film noir on the list.
"Forget it Jake, it's Chinatown", watch it and you won't be forgetting it anytime soon.

Days remaining - 15 Films remaining - 15

Monday, 30 August 2010

TOTAL CULT: Human Centipede & The Room

This week I launched a new series of screenings at The Belmont called TOTAL CULT.

The first two films we had were THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE and THE ROOM, both of which were exclusive to us and have had a lot of press.

THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE is a movie that really only exists because the director came up with the idea of sewing three people together after a discussion about a suitable punishment for paedophiles. It turns out that the film is actually much less graphic than the disugsting premise suggests but what you get is a throwback to the crazy scientist/body horror B-Movies of the 80's, with a tour-de-force performance from Dieter Laser as the insane surgeon.

THE ROOM has been billed as "the worst film ever made" and it might be, but it is so unintentionally hilarious that it becomes a work of demented genius. Tommy Wiseau is clearly on a different planet, and his writing, directing and acting is so terrible but because it believes that it is a serious movie that it works as a "so bad it's good" film that is best seen with an audience. There was banter throughout the film; cringing at the (several) sex scenes complete with jazz soft core ballads, cheering for the line "You're tearing me apart Lisa", and general laughter for continuity errors, just plain bad acting and recurring gems like Lisa declaring that she "doesn't want to talk about it".

All the screenings so far have been really well attended, in fact the Sunday night show of CENTIPEDE was a near sell-out, and the audiences have been fantastic. They have taken each film in the spirit that is intended and tonight THE ROOM even got a standing ovation from a group.

These films were a gamble as I wasn't sure if there would be an audience for them but I am delighted that there is an audience for these kind of films in Aberdeen and I'll be doing my best to continue to this type of screening, perhaps with Blaxploitation spoof BLACK DYNAMITE.

One of the most satisfying things about tonight was getting the great feedback from everyone, and one guy was even speaking about how he loved the title TOTAL CULT because it reminded him of that joke from Spaced which was where I got it from. The joke of course being that Tim's girlfriend couldn't see him because there was a spelling mistake on the cover of one of the magazines she was working on, "which one?", "Total Cult".

But first I'll be bringing back THE ROOM for another screening with full interactive audience participation involving throwing plastic spoons and american footballs!

Glad to listen to suggestions for other films to screen as part of the new TOTAL CULT season. Just post suggestions below or on our Facebook page.

(500) Films of Empire - Day 349

47 - E.T. The Extra Terrestrial - 3 stars
Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. A prime example of how a good movie can be spoiled by unnecessary changes.
Sadly the 20th anniversary edition of E.T. is the only version that is currently available and because this is the version that I watched for this challenge, it will affect the ultimate rating that I give it.
This is the version that caused some controversy when Spielberg went back and digitally replaced the government agents' guns with walkie talkies as well as replacing some of the puppets with CGI.
It was the film that caused South Park to make the episode where Cartman et all go to Hollywood to try and stop filmmakers messing about with their films when they here that Spielberg and Lucas to do the same with Raiders... I would argue that they did it when they made Crystal Skulls!
The problem is that these changes are very noticeable and the CG is not the greatest quality either. It is a real shame considering the that puppet used back in 1982 still looks good today and much better and more realistic than the poor CGI.
Thankfully however the central story has remained untouched and is still sweet and filled with wonder due to the performances of the central trio of children, particularly Drew Barrymore who is adorable as Gertie. You can feel the pain of the loss of the father that is filled by their friendship with E.T.
The emotional resonance of the children's adventure with the alien creature is heightened by John Williams' score, with the recognisable main theme and the shadowy Keys even gets a hint of the Imperial March to his theme.

Days remaining - 16 Films remaining - 16

Sunday, 29 August 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 348 - Heimat!

243 - Heimat - 4 stars
Boy this is a hard film to review because this is no film, it's a space station. I jest but there are epics like Ben Hur or Gone With The Wind and then there is Heimat which runs to an incredible 15 and a half hours.
The reason? This isn't really a film but a mini-series. This was the one film on the list that I was the most worried about finding and watching and even had my argument prepared if I didn't manage to see it due to the fact that it was made for television by being split into 11 episodes... but clearly there were enough people out there who considered this such an important "cinematic" event that it reached such a high position on the list.
The only realistic way to watch the entire series whilst keeping up the pace as I neared the finishing line was to watch a episode each day along with another film.
My sceptism faded upon watching the first episode as it soon became apparent that this was indeed a great piece of storytelling.
Set predominantly in the German town on Schabbach and its inhabitants over a period of 60 years, the first episode ends with the discovery of a dead body in the woods and the disappearance of a main character. Real Eastenders type stuff but it hooked me in.
Each episode normally focused on a different character and a different time period, mostly featuring the Simon family and charted the town from before WWII all the way through to 1982.
A fascinating account of life in a small town that slowly sees the ripples of effects from the war and the technological advances of the 20th century.
At times the footage goes from black and white to small sections shot in colour. At first I thought it was due to whatever film stock they had at the time as there seemed no real method to the scenes shot in colour but apparently it was deliberate and as the time progressed through the decades, more and more colour was used until the final episode which was enitrely in colour.
Ah, the final episode. Up until this finale the series had demonstrated excellent storytelling, rich characterisation, top notch acting, blending historical fact with fictional tales, looked at a variety of issues such as the war, underage sex, depression, affairs, etc albeit with slightly more taste than something like Hollyoaks, but unfortunately a lot of the good work done in the previous 14.5 hours was nearly ruined by an ending that would have pleased the writers of Dallas.
One of the main characters Maria Simon died and all the characters returned to Schabbach for her funeral and everything was going well until towards the end when there was a scene in some sort of heavenly waiting room where Maria met all the other residents of the town who had died over the course of the season.
It suddenly went from realistic and believable to the supernatural and fantastical. A completely unnecessary way to end what had been a terrific show up to that point.
That being said, I would heartily recommend this as a great series to watch but would advise about watching it back to back!

Days remaining - 17 Films remaining - 17

Friday, 27 August 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 346

16 - 2001: A Space Odyssey - 3 stars
Am sure to ruffle a few feather with this review but I didn't really think too highly of 2001.
I mean artistically there is no denying that it is a stunning film to look at and listen to. Kubrick has clearly spent a lot of time making sure that every shot and every frame looks perfect.
Apart from being nice to look at, I found the film rather boring to endure. I expect this is what a date with Paris Hilton would be like... bazinga!
The entire film comes across like a piece of abstract art in that there are no definitive answers and everyone who watches it might take away a different intrepretation.
But unfortunately for this film I was like HAL 9000 and developed no real emotional attachment to the story or the characters.
There is very little character development (practically zero in the first two segments of the story) which didn't help me to invest in the film. HAL gets more backstory than the likes of Dave does!
My friend told me that I wasn't high enough when watching it to enjoy it but that shouldn't be a factor but it might have explained the state of mind of Kubrick et all when filming the final sequence which is very trippy and ends with a giant baby version of Dave floating in space!

Days remaining - 19 Films remaining - 18

Thursday, 26 August 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 345

221 - McCabe and Mrs Miller - 2 stars
I can't understand why this film is on the list ahead of another Beatty classic and superior film Bonnie And Clyde.
A more low-key adventure for Beatty who teams up with another beautiful woman to cause some mischief, but in this case running a saloon and whorehouse in a remote mining town.
Feathers are ruffled when he turns down an offer to buy out the business which results in bounty hunters coming to town to take McCabe out.
The look and feel of the film seem to have been an inspiration for Assassination Of Jesse James, in that both are Westerns that try to avoid the normal conventions of the genre.
This film seems to be thought of quite highly but I just couldn't get into it because of the poor quality of the DVD transfer. It was incredibly dark and grainy, and reminded me of trying to watch a dark scene at a 3D movie, which was very distracting.

104 - The Rules Of The Game (La Regle Du Jeu) - 4 stars
An amusing farce where the French upper class play a game of love, lies and betrayal whilst on a vacation at a remote country house.
Murder is on the cards (what is it about country mansions that inspire murder? Do the rich have nothing else to do?), and the tension builds as we try and figure out who will be killed and who will pull the trigger.
Well paced, witty and very French, it shows the gulf between the classes before the war and delights in playing them against each other.

19 - The Godfather Part II - 5 stars
Greatest sequel ever made? Better than the original? I'm not sure.
Still a damn fine piece of filmmaking though.
I don't think I've ever known 3 hours and 22 minutes to pass so quickly.
Al Pacino has never been better than his portrayal of Michael Corleone and the movie focuses on his descent into hell, becoming his father despite the fact that in the first film he was the one who intended to avoid the family business. He is able to do much with just a look, it's in the eyes and he manages to say a lot without having to resort to the shouty bombastics which have become his usual acting schtick late in his career.
The trail of blood that he spills on his way to cementing his position as The Godfather is mirrored by Vito Corleone's rise to power and revenge with Robert DeNiro doing an excellent job trying to make the role his own whilst having some early Brando in there too.
The cast is fantastic and Coppolla allows each one to shine without unbalancing the film and keeps a tight hold of the story which could threaten to get off point at times but manages to produce another terrific piece of filmmaking from the "golden age" of Hollywood when filmmakers and originality were focused on rather than technology and profit.

Days remaining - 20 Films remaining - 19

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 344

254 - The Verdict - 3 stars
Sidney Lumet returns to the courtroom after Twelve Angry Men with a drama where the outcome of the case is less important than the redemption of Paul Newman's character.
Newman plays Francis P. Galvin, a once great lawyer who is now an alcoholic and an ambulance chaser. A medical malpractice case gives him a shot at some easy money but soon turns into the chance to put his demons behind him and get his life back.
Whilst the court case has all the usual twists and turns you would expect in this genre of film (surprise witnesses, setbacks, intimidation, etc), it lacks that one grandstanding moment where the lead character can really get there teeth into and create an iconic moment. If any film is to blame for this then I point the finger at Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, "You can't handle the truth!".
A great central performance from Newman who shows the character's flaws but also has that movie star sparkle when needed (perhaps he should have won the Oscar for this instead of The Color Of Money), but overall it just doesn't match up to Twelve Angry Men.

Days remaining - 21 Films remaining - 22

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

The Power Of Love... is a curious thing

I need your help with a little pet project I'm working on with a few people.

If a Facebook group can get Rage Against The Machine to number one in the charts ahead of X Factor, then I'm sure it can be used to get an 80's classic to the top of the charts too.

“Doc, are you telling me that it’s 8.25?!” “Precisely” “Dammit, I’m late for school!”And so kicks in the opening bars of one of the most recognisable songs from Back To The Future, and indeed of the 80’s – The Power Of Love by Huey Lewis And The News.Universal Pictures are re-releasing BACK TO THE FUTURE on a brand new digital print to celebrate its 25th anniversary and we want to start a campaign to get The Power Of Love to number one in the UK singles chart. Something that never happened back in 1985.The film is released on Friday 1st October, and we would like people to download the track on itunes from Monday 27th September so that it could be number one on Sunday 3rd October.Here is the link to the song on iTunes - http://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/the-power-of-love/id153926396?i=153926437

Click here to head over and join the Facebook group.

(500) Films of Empire - Day 343

57 - La Dolce Vita - 3 stars
An odd one this. I saw this a couple of years ago and hated it. I found it long, dull and pretentious. However this time around I found myself identifying with aspects of the lead character's journey and therefore became more emotionally involved in the film.
Marcello Mastroianni plays a journalist who is stuck providing copy for the gossip columns. He finds himself stuck between two worlds. On the one hand he both loathes yet idolises the world he comments on, desperate to be a part of it yet sickened that he wants to be, and on the other hand bored of his mundane life with his clinging and neurotic girlfriend.
I guess I'm at that point in my life when I have to decide whether I am happy with my lot in life, or to make a play for something greater.
Despite working in a cinema, the glitz and glamour of Hollywood rarely gets as far North as Aberdeen but this year I have been to the Cannes Film Festival, Empire Movie-Con and met some of my heroes like Edgar Wright and professionals like Mark Kermode and the team at Empire magazine.
I have tasted this life and it tasted good.  I know now that I want a career in film journalism, to report and review the world that I love and respect.  I just need to find a way of making that happen.
Back to the film however and although I had greater empathy with the film this time round it did not mask the fact that it is far too long, many of the characters are unlikeable and it paints the picture of a world that we can never hope to be a part of.
This film is also very important in relevance to today's obsession with celebrity because it spawned the phrase Paparazzi. It's true you know. Marcello's right hand man and photographer is called Paparazzo and is one of a pack of photographers constantly hounding the rich and powerful for photos during the film.

Days remaining - 22 Films remaining - 23

Monday, 23 August 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 342

14 - Once Upon A Time In The West - 5 stars
Now I understand why this is the highest rated Western on the list and one of the most highly rated films of all time. It is the finest Western that I've watched and probably the most influential as well.
Apart from inspiring a whole host of movies using the "Once Upon A Time In..." moniker, I noticed elements in the film that I have seen in the likes of Kill Bill, The Quick And The Dead, Pirates Of The Caribbean and so on.
There is much to love and appreciate in this film; the slow build of the opening scene, Henry Fonda relishing playing the bad guy for once, the beauty of Claudia Cardinale, Ennio Morricone's finest score with each main protaginist getting their own identifiable theme, the reveal of Harmonica's past, etc, etc.
I could go on but it is probably best for you to just watch the film yourself, and if you've already seen it, watch it again.

Days remaining - 23 Films remaining - 24

Sunday, 22 August 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 341

137 - Dances With Wolves - 3 stars
Well this is evidence that you should judge each film on its own merits and not be prejudice just because of your feelings on previous experiences, in this case the films of Kevin Costner.
I'd never seen this before but I went in wary due to the idea that all Costner films tended to be over three hours long and incredibly dull e.g. Waterworld, The Postman, etc.
Imagine my surprise when I got a good film through the post from Lovefilm.
Dances With Avatars is anchored by a strong performance from Costner, showcasing the heart of a man desperate to cling onto the notion of the old America.
Incredibly polished for a first time director especially considering the location shoot and the fact that Costner is the lead actor as well. He clearly must be a huge Eastwood fan, although he is not quite on his level in terms of talent.

20 - Blade Runner - 5 stars
A cracking throwback to the film noir genre wrapped up in a gorgeous science fiction package.
Harrison Ford is superb as Deckard, the hardboiled 'Blade Runner' who is forced to take down 4 replicants in a futuristic version of Los Angeles.  It's probably his best acting after Raiders, and although he may have had issues with Ridley Scott on set, I feel that it adds to his performance.
Star Wars is normally credited with moving sci-fi away from the clean, precise, clinical worlds and spaceships of the 50's b-movies or 2001, but Ridley Scott is equally influential.  Between this film and Alien, Scott helped create the Tech Noir look of modern sci-fi that combined the futuristic with the realistic, and 20 years before Firefly had that fusion of East and West cultures.
But behind the fantastic production design and special effects, is  the story of a man who can rediscover his humanity, as beautifully summed up in one of the final moments, the wonderful "Tears In Rain" speech.
Of course I watched the definitive, superior Final Cut of the film (devoid of silly happy endings and expository voiceover) but it does bring up the question of when you work your way through a list like this and you get to a film that has several different cuts or versions, which one do you watch?  It is difficult to know because the list just says Blade Runner.
It's funny now to watch films like Blade Runner and Back To The Future that were set in the near-future back then, seeing their vision of the future and realise that in just 5-10 years we'll have flying cars, androids, hoverboards and powerlace Nikes!

Days remaining - 24 Films remaining - 25

Special (500) Films of Empire Screening

500 Films. 365 Days. 1 Geek.


Wednesday 15th September, 8.00pm at The Belmont Picturehouse.

The 15th September will be day 365 in my challenge to watch every single film on the Empire Magazine list of the 500 Greatest Films Of All Time in just one year.

"It's a crazy endeavour, but you're doing brilliantly. Best of luck on the final stretch!" - Helen O'Hara, Empire Magazine

To celebrate the end of this amazing challenge I will be hosting a special screening of the number film on the list - THE GODFATHER.

It also happens to coincide with the 10th anniversary of The Belmont Picturehouse so please come along to what promises to be an emotional end to one of the craziest films challenges ever undertaken and a celebration of one man getting a social life back.

Tickets are on sale now, click here for details.

Friday, 20 August 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 339

269 - A Place In The Sun - 3 stars
You know, if my memory serves correctly, and it normally does, then the only Elizabeth Taylor film that I have ever seen is The Flintstones.
The only only Liz Taylor I've ever known is the ageing, divorced Liz that we've seen in the papers the last few years.
So imagine my shock when I watched this film and found out that she was a major hottie back in the day, hubba hubba.
This story of a fatal love triangle has two strong female leads, particularly Shelley Winters (who might have had trouble swimming in this film but at least she made up for it in The Posieden Adventure!), but I found Montgomery Clift to be a rather bland leading man. He didn't seem to have the charisma to charm both, let alone, one of these ladies.
Luckily a blustering, yelling Raymond Burr aka Perrry Mason turns up towards the end as a vindictive D.A. to give the final moments some much needed oomph.

Days remaining - 26 Films remaining - 27

Thursday, 19 August 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 338

90 - When Harry Met Sally - 5 stars
Will I be starting a mass debate (he he) by stating that in my opinion, When Harry Met Sally is THE best romantic comedy of all time?
Let me list ten reasons why I am correct:
1. This is Billy Crystal's best performance outside of an Oscar ceremony.
2. A lot of the conversations are honest and based on issues and conversations that many couples have had i.e. "can men and women really be friends?"
3. The opening credits are the same font as the one that Woody Allen uses in all his films. In fact, this is the best Woody Allen film that Woody Allen never made.
4. "Don't fuck with Mr Zero". This is one of the sharpest scenes I've seen in a comedy. It's the timing of the lines to the mexican waves, Crystal's delivery and a kicker of a punch line.
5. Meg Ryan is actually cute and lovable in this film. Not the cold fish-lipped woman she has become these days i.e. her appearance on Parkinson.
6. The sweet interviews with the old couples that break up the film into chapters. Ain't they adorable.
7. Carrie Fisher in a great role that isn't in a Star Wars movie.
8. This film introduced me to Casablanca, now one of my all-time favourite films.
9. "I love that you get cold when it's 71 degrees out. I love that it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich. I love that you get a little crinkle above your nose when you're looking at me like I'm nuts. I love that after I spend the day with you, I can still smell your perfume on my clothes. And I love that you are the last person I want to talk to before I go to sleep at night. And it's not because I'm lonely, and it's not because it's New Year's Eve. I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible."
10. Oh, and Meg Ryan fakes an orgasm :)

Days remaining - 27 Films remaining - 28

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 337

263 - Das Boot - 4 stars
A taut, tense, claustrophobic film that really puts you in the same position as the crew of "the boat". We join Lt Werner, a war correspondant, who joins the German crew of a U-Boat on a mission towards the end of WWII.
The first hour introduces us to the crew and we get the usual stereoptypical characters such as the war-fatigued captain, the fresh faced newbie, the by-the-book officer, etc, etc. You spend time with the men so that the expected events that come later on will mean more on an emotional level.
Only those expected events never quite happen. Yes, there is an attack on the u-boat that causes them to sink and there is a race against time to repair the ship. But there isn't people dropping dead left, right and centre or sacrificing themselves for the lives of others that you normally get in a Hollywood movie. Then I remembered that this WASN'T a Hollywood movie, but one of the most expensive and critically acclaimed German films ever made. It is good but for a German look at war there is still no better film than Downfall.

Days remaining - 28 Films remaining - 29

(500) Films of Empire - Day 336

218 - M. Hulot's Holiday - 1 star
Time Out called this "the funniest film of all time", but they must have watched a different film, or have a different idea of what "funny" is.
Monsieur Hulot was the inspiration for Mr Bean, and Hulot is a well-meaning but bumbling fool who unwittingly causes havoc while on vacation at a hotel on the coast.
A predominantly silent film, much of the comedy is derived from physical comedy or slapstick but I couldn't even raise a smile.
Looking back through my notes on this challenge, the only two comedies to have received the hallowed five star rating are Airplane and Anchorman so I guess my sense of humour lies in a different area of comedy than that of Monsieur Hulot.

130 - The Man Who Would Be King - 3 stars
And finally I get to see the "other film with Michael Caine in a red military uniform" which I seemed to keep mixing up with Zulu. This one has the more recognisable Caine persona, that being a shouty Cockney.
But this isn't a war film as such, instead two British men trek to a remote country where they intend to becomes kings by helping a leader to defeat his enemies before usurping him, but events take an unexpected turn when the tribe mistake one of them for a scared God.
Connery shows more depth than normal as he struggles with the power given to him as he becomes increasingly unwilling to relinquish control, even if it means paying the ultimate sacrifice.

Days remaining - 29 Films remaining - 30

Monday, 16 August 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 335

163 - The Bridge Over The River Kwai - 4 stars
It took me a while to really get into the film and that was mainly due to the fact that whenever Alec Guinness spoke I immediately thought of him as Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Luckily I did manage to get past this and I am glad I did as it is a good film and one of Guinness's best performances.
He plays the commanding officer to a group of British soldiers in a POW camp. Initially there is a stand-off with his Japanese counterpart about the rules and regulations of running the camp, but this slowly gives way to a mutual respect and understanding.
This sets up the main crux of the film which is Guinness's stiff upper lip causes him to force his soldiers to actually design and build a bridge that would stand the test of time, despite the advantage this may give the Japanese during the war.
I would have loved to have seen more of the British soldiers actually building the bridge but instead the focus shifts onto a plot to destroy the bridge, led by an American soldier who previously escaped the camp.
As with all war films the story doesn't well for all involved but I wasn't expecting such a high level of tragedy. As perfectly summed up by a survivor "madness, bloody madness".

Days remaining - 30 Films remaining - 32

Friday, 13 August 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 330

57 - Lawrence Of Arabia - 3 stars
If there was one film on this list that truly encapsulates the term 'epic' then I would probably select this film over any other.
It has stunning widescreen vistas and battle scenes where hundreds of arabs on horses attack an enemy town (all done back in the day with real extras, no CGI here thank you very much).
Yet for such a big film it has some beautifully deft little touches. Like the edit where Lawrence blows out a match and it cuts to the desert, or Omar Sharif appearing out of a mirage on the horizon.
Whilst it is big and grand and continued that practice of blacking people up (and not in an ironic Tropic Thunder way. This time it is Alec Guinness as an Arab Sheik), I couldn't help feeling that I didn't learn enough about T.E. Lawrence as a man that I should have from spending nearly four hours with him.
Instead I just got the feeling that this film established the genre of "man immerses himself into another culture in order to learn about them but ends up fighting alongside them" that has been used in the likes of Dances With Wolves, The Last Samurai and of course Avatar.

282 - The Godfather Part III - 2 stars
At one point, Pacino shouts "Just when I think I'm out, they pull me back in".
That sentence echoes throughout the film as there is a feeling that the people involved are simply going through the motions. Indeed Coppola himself only did this film for monetary reasons.
For apart from a nicely handled series of mafia hits intercut with an opera performance, the entire film and story feels completely unnecessary and undoes a lot of the excellent work that has proceeded it.
And then there is poor little Sofia Coppola. Bless her, she tried but at times she is visibly uncomfortable. At least she can take comfort in the fact that she is a much better director than she is an actor, as Lost In Translation.

Days remaining - 35 Films remaining - 33

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 329

106 - A Man For All Seasons - 3 stars
Not my kind of film by any stretch of the imagination but certainly has a lot to admire, in particular a great central performance by Paul Scofield as Thomas More, a man who would ultimately give his life rather than betray his religious beliefs.
It asks the question of what you would sacrifice for your ideals. Job, family, friends, even your life? More gives up all of these by refusing to acknowledge Henry VIII's marriage to Anne Boleyn as he feels it goes against the word of God.
John Hurt plays a right slimy bastard in this film and deserved getting an alien burst out of his chest a few years later as punishment.
I can't help thinking that a little more could have been made of the relationship between More and Henry VIII as they are only seen together once, and it would have heightened the impact of their decisions if we had seen more of them together.
Also Robert Shaw as Henry VIII unbalances the film slightly with his OTT drunken, boorish King.

17 - Taxi Driver - 5 stars
This nearly lost a star because of one minor niggling point that annoyed me. There is a scene where Cybil Shepard and Albert Brooks are talking in the campaign headquarters for a couple of minutes before Travis comes in. However the whole movie is from Travis's point of view so that brief scene should not have been in the film because it didn't come from his POV. Anyway, that was the only flaw that I could find in what I would consider to be Scorsese's masterpiece.
The cinematography shows us a New York that is a million miles away from the bright and breezy tourist attractions that feature in a film like On The Town, Schrader's words really bring the character of Travis Bickle to life, and one of Bernard Hermann's final scores helps give the film a dark, grimy feel that is as sleazy as the movies that Travis Bickle enjoys watching.
Speaking of those movies, that really has to be one of the worst first dates in cinema history as DeNiro takes Cybil Shepard to a porno movie. Can anyone think of worse cinema date?
I'm pretty sure that I had stated earlier on in the challenge that DeNiro's performance in King Of Comedy was his best, but now that I've seen this again I'm swinging back to Travis Bickle.
Bickle is a completely 3D character. You get a real sense of his background, current state of mind and his hope that Cybil, then eventually Jodie Foster''s Iris might be his chance at salvation.
Jodie Foster has this ability to play well beyond her years despite being so young as her performance her and in Bugsy Malone proved, even if it did cause a hell of a lot of controversy... just ask Ronald Reagan!
She has the tough nut exterior of the girl forced to work as a prostitute but then there is a scene where she is having breakfast with Robert DeNiro and her real personality and the scared girl wanting to just be a kid comes through. There was something in her performance in that scene that made me think of Chloe Moretz aka Hit-Girl from Kick-Ass. I think that she has the potential to be as good as Jodie Foster or Natalie Portman, with an ability to combine a childish innocence with a maturity well beyond her years.
That has slightly digressed from the main topic but suffice to say that Taxi Driver is fantastic!

Days remaining - 36 Films remaining - 35

(500) Films of Empire - Day 328

49 - Evil Dead 2 - 5 stars
I love this film, but never expected it to rank so highly on the list. That's right, the horror film that features a laughing deer head and a man fighting his own hand, is rated higher than classics like The Thing, The Shining, Halloween, etc.
Is it scarier than any of these films? Hell no. Is it the funniest and most deliciously OTT horror film ever made? Hell yes.
It is a film overflowing with invention and creativity that is sorely lacking in the horror remakes of today. You have fast moving ghostly tracking shots, ram-o-cam (using a hammer to break down the door), eyeballs flying across the room, tree rape, gallons of blood and goo, creepy and hilarious sound effects and all done on a tiny budget.
I bet that when you first saw this film you didn't think "One day Sam Raimi would go on to direct the Spider-Man trilogy".
Much of the success of the film lies in the relationship between Raimi and his lead actor and friend Bruce Campbell.
Bruce Campbell is one of the all-time cult actors and it is due to this film. Hand on heart, this is one of the definitive performances in a horror film, comparable to Jack Nicholson in The Shining and Anthony Perkins in Psycho. Ash goes from cowardly jerk to convincing action hero over the course of the film, culminating with one of the greatest moments in film history, after all what can be cooler than replacing your hand with a chainsaw? Groovy!
Raimi's ability to torture Campbell during the production is matched by his skill as a physical comedian and his performance in this film can be compared to the work of Jim Carrey in the early nineties. In fact, if Campbell had only managed to catch a proper break, he might have had a similar career. Don't believe me? Then just watch the scene where Ash fights his own hand and then try and tell me that it didn't have an influence over this scene in Liar Liar where Carrey beats himself up.
Finally, what's not to love about a film that features a man cutting of his own hand with a chainsaw then putting it in a bin and putting the book Farewell To Arms on top of it?!

Days remaining - 37 Films remaining - 37

Sunday, 8 August 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 327

398 - Killer of Sheep - 2 stars
With a pseudo-documentary feel, the camera seems to follow the characters rather than driving the action, it paints a portrait of life in a black community in the Southern US.
Whilst it is an interesting slice of life, I struggle to see its merits of a place on the list. The list required people to list their top ten films and I fail to see how this film could have had such an effect on people that it would rank so highly for them. But then what do I know? There are people out there that probably consider Epic Movie to be the greatest film of all time!

300 - Sawdust And Tinsel - 2 stars
Bergman looks at the effects on infidelity and disatisfaction at one's lot in life against the back drop of the circus, and that the smiley facade of a clown can mask a wave of bitterness and resentment.
The acting seemed overly theatrical to me and the characters themselves were unpleasant so I didn't care about their plight. There was also a lack of resolution at the end of the tale.

There is an issue about films set within a circus, because they automatically make me think of two things: Pennywise from Stephen King's IT and Papa Lazarou from League Of Gentlemen.

Pennywise (played with such malice by Tim Curry) is the number one reason why people of my generation are scared of clowns. It was a regular visitor to the late Friday night slot on BBC1 during the early nineties and silly kids like me would stay up late to be terrified that we'd "all float down" with the clown.

Days remaining - 38 Films remaining - 38

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 324

178 - Hellzapoppin' - 4 stars
I honestly don't know how to describe what I have just seen, other than that I loved it.
It is a musical comedy that bends and breaks almost every cinematic convention there is. Not bad for a film made in 1941.
Within its lean 80 minute running time it spoofs Citizen Kane, the main characters talk to the audience and projectionist, they stop making one movie and the director convinces them to make another one, one with a love story instead, Frankenstien's Monster turns up and it features some amazing cutting techniques and special effects for its time.
It might be true that some of the humour will be a bit dated now, there is a lot of Vaudevillian humour (it was originally a Broadway production), but when it has a gag rate that is possibly as high as Airplane, even if some miss there will be enough hits that you are guaranteed to finish the film with a smile on your face.

169 - Viridiana - 3 stars
It forgoes the usual surrealism to be a more refined and accomplished product that the other Bunuel films on the list.
Probably the finest looking film Bunuel has made, it adds an ethereal beauty to this tale of a naive Nun who leaves religion behind to try and help less fortunate people, after her uncle tries to seduce her.
It is a film that can be interpreted many different ways whether it is a criticism of religion (at one point a group of beggers and lepers recreate the Last Supper) or maybe it is a criticism of mankind, in that deep down humanity is evil and we'll destroy each other.

Days remaining - 41 Films remaining - 40

(500) Films of Empire - Day 323

25 - The Good, The Bad & The Ugly - 3 stars
What better way to review The Good, The Bad and The Ugly than to talk about the parts of the film that were good, bad and, er, ugly!
The Good - Eli Wallach's Tuco is a very entertaining character and makes for a great double act with Clint's Man With No Name, so much so that Tuco could have been The Man Who Talked Too Much. Morricone's score is terrific.
The Bad - the film is a tad overlong if I'm being honest, and Lee Van Cleef's Angel Eyes aka The Bad disappears for too long during the middle of the film.
The Ugly - Not sure what to put here so I'll just talk about the awesome Mexican standoff at the end of the film. Leone manages to wring every drop of tension he can from this face-off as the three men fight for the right to get their hands on the gold. There are more cuts in this moment than I think there were in the rest of the film as Leone cuts back and forth to each man, starting off with wide shots then moving closer and closer till you can see the whites of their eyes (and noticing that Lee Van Cleef is missing the top part of one of his fingers). The time taken over this final showdown was even longer than it takes Dermot O'Leary to read out the results on the X-Factor!
A fantastic moment that leaves you with an overinflated appreciation of the film, until you start analysing it later and realise that the rest of the film doesn't live up to this one iconic gun battle.

31 - Gone With The Wind - 3 stars
Well at least I can say I have finally watched GWTW. If it wasn't for this blog I would probably have never seen it. Why? Mainly due to the fact that it was my sister's favourite film and she would go on about it all the time and I just got so sick of it that I could be bothered watching it.
My honest verdict now that I've sat through all 4 hours of it? Not as bad as I thought it was going to be. Actually maybe that's the wrong choice of words. I was never really expecting it to be a bad film, more that I would find it insufferable.
I did struggle with the first half of the movie set against the backdrop of the Civil War (wow, both films today were set at this time, spooky), mainly due to the fact that Scarlett O'Hara is such a spoilt little madam.
The second half is an improvement because Scarlett does show some attempts to change her ways following her pledge "I'll never go hungry again", and she grows into a headstrong woman which finally leads her into the arms of Rhett Butler.
Their love story is the real reason why the fans love the film so much but I had to wonder why? These relationship between them is heated that it is almost like two magnets pushing against each other that it is impossible to keep them together. They are in love, they break up, they marry, they divorce, etc, etc, etc. Now I might be old-fashioned, or maybe they are, but I'm pretty sure that when Butler carries O'Hara up the stairs saying "this is one evening you're not keeping me out" that he is forcing her to have sex, but the film makes it ok by having her smiling the morning afterwards even though he apologises for his actions. True Love indeed!
The film does end the right way however by having they go their seperate ways. Will they get back together as Scarlett intends? Well to quote Butler himself... Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn!

Days remaining - 42 Films remaining - 42

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 322

12 - The Apartment - 4 stars
A very high ranking for a much loved film that is a lot darker than I was expecting. Not many romantic comedies these days have an attempted suicide as a main plot point!
Jack Lemmon is perfect as the employee climbing the corporate ladder by letting his bosses use his apartment as a love den for their extra-marital affairs.
He faces an age-old dilemma when the girl of his dreams becomes involved with his boss. Does he keep the job or go for the girl?
He has a nice warm chemistry with a youthful, demure Shirley Maclaine who is the object of his affection, and their banter is brought to life with crackling dialogue from one of Hollywood's greatest writers Billy Wilder:
"Ya know, you see a girl a couple of times a week, just for laughs, and right away they think you're gonna divorce your wife. Now I ask you, is that fair?"
"No, sir, it's very unfair... Especially to your wife."

37 - A Clockwork Orange - 3 stars
Just like Alex getting his Ludovico technique treatment, I found some of this hard to take in and accept.
I'm not sure what it was exactly, whether it was the dominating visual style or Malcolm McDowell's lead performance, I couldn't figure if he was playing it straight or not.
I don't want to bad mouth the film, because this is not a bad film by any stretch of the imagination. It is very well made as one would expect from Kubrick, but I think it is the type of film that is easier to digest and appreciate on second viewing.
Controversial when it was released, it has grown to become much more relevant over the years and I'm sure that there are some in society who believe that the measures used against Alex would be a welcome deterent to violence for the young knife crime hoodies of today.

Days remaining - 43 Films remaining - 44

Monday, 2 August 2010

(500) Films of Empire - Day 321

323 - The Last Seduction - 3 stars
Like Big Lebowski, Chinatown or Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Last Seduction is a modern take on the film noir genre.
Now most films in the genre focus on a man who becomes entangled with a femme fatale who becomes their downfall, in this film the femme fatale is the main character.
Linda Fiorentino is terrific as the ball-busting, manipulative, scheming Bridgette Gregory who has a heart as black as her stockings, and it is a shame that she didn't go on to become a bigger star but the film choices that she made after this meant that it just didn't happen.
Bill Pullman just about manages to keep on the right side of playful menace as the wronged husband but Peter Berg doesn't really work as the dumb patsy who is being played by Bridgette.
Where is does work is in its use of the film noir language and mise en scene, and also features lots of geeky references to classic noirs like Double Indemnity: at one point Fiorentino calls herself Mrs Neff, the main character in DI was called Walter Neff.

291 - Rocco And His Brothers - 3 stars
An Italian film that has five, well I guess they are called chapters, each about a different brother but most of the action revolves around two brothers Simone and Rocco.
For a long time the film had no real plot instead revolving around the characters until a choice made by one of the brothers threatens to destroy the family.
Rocco becomes romantically involved with Simone's former girlfriend, a prostitute called Nadia, and Simone, mad with jealousy because Rocco now has the career and girl that Simone wanted, beats up Rocco and rapes Nadia, destroying the relationship.
The film was supposed to show how the event affects the whole family but despite the fact that there are five brothers and a mother, we don't see enough of them and how they deal with it.
I think that the film could have been improved by scaling down the number of brothers and simply focusing on the two brothers Simone and Rocco because the performances are great by the three leads.
By doing this it could have cut down on the excessive three hour runtime!

For fudge sake, I've done it again. Somehow I've gone and overestimated the number of films I had actually watched. I blame my trip to Canada as the error seems to have come at some point just after I got back. With only a dozen films left on Lovefilm and all the other films physically sitting next to my dvd player, I have tripled checked the number of films left to watched by doing two seperate lists (marking them off in Empire magazine and keeping a written list of the films watched).
So 46 films left to watch with 44 days to watch them in. However that does include Movie-Con weekend so I think I'll need to get a few more done before heading to London for Empire's own (smaller scale) version of Comic-Con to have three glorious days of movies.

Days remaining - 44 Films remaining - 46

(500) Films of Empire - Day 320

194 - Bicycle Thieves - 3 stars
The quest to find a film that makes me cry continues as I watch another film that regularly appears on top tearjerker lists. Of course I have to be skeptical when even the Holocaust fails to bring a tear to my eye (see Schindler's List review).
This is high concept plot at it's most simple. An impoverished man is offered a good job that requires a bicycle to get around the town but his bicycle is stolen. Desperate to provide for his family he takes his son on a quest to recover the bike.
As the search continues the relationship between the son and father comes to the forefront.
Worried about looking like a failure to his son, he makes the wrong decision to try and steal a bicycle in order to keep his job but is caught by an angry mob.
This act is witnessed by the son, who tries to get the men to let go of his dad but simultaneously heartbroken to see his dad resorting to such extremes. The hero he looked up to had now become the villain.
This is the scene that causes grown men to cry in a similar way to Toy Story 3, the loss of childhood innocence but not even a misty eye for me I'm afraid.

Days remaining - 45 Films remaining - 45

(500) Films of Empire - Day 318

11 - Raging Bull - 4 stars
I've been seeing a lot of black and white films recently and when done right, like this film, it can look so beautiful that you wonder why people started doing colour pictures in the first place. It might have helped that I was watching this on Blu Ray.
It is a real shame that we will hardly see any more black and white movies being produced because it is more expensive to film that way these days. I had heard a rumour that last year's White Ribbon had been filmed in colour and then digitally converted to black and white in post-production!
The boxing scenes have a poetry and ballet like quality about them, devoid of the fast cutting, montage fuelled segments that would popularise the Rocky series. In fact there is not all that much boxing in the film as it is a portrait of a man rather than the sport.
This was back in the day when DeNiro could still lose himself in a role, before he became a paycheck player and caricature of himself like Pacino. In honestly struggle to think of decent performances for both men after Heat.
Here he becomes Jake LaMotta, a powderkeg of rage and self-destructive tendencies. His commitment is never more apparent than, at the time, his record breaking weight gain of 60 pounds (or one Dakota Fanning) to play LaMotta in his later years away from the ring.
Whether it is asking his brother to punch him in the face, his taunting of Sugar Ray "You never got me down Ray", or his vicious breakdown in the police cell, it is never less than mesmerising.
Yet as I have always said, your enjoyment of a film can be affected by your own experiences, and there were two occasions when I found myself taken out of the movie (much like people who are taken out of the world of the film when a Wilhelm Scream is used), and they were when Joe Pesci shouts "There's no way you can lose" which reminded me of the Lovefilm advert that always played at the cinema, and the "Did you fuck my wife?" rant by DeNiro that was spoofed by Eddie Izzard during his Dressed To Kill show:
"You fuck my wife? You fuck my wife?", "I AM your wife", "You fuck my wife?".
But these are minor points and you shouldn't really begrudge a film too much when it ends with LaMotta reciting the classic monologue from On The Waterfront. Is he simply reciting it or is he actually talking about his own brother? The debate is now open...

Days remaining - 47 Films remaining - 47