Friday, 30 December 2011

The Sound of Music

Unbelievably, not only had I reached the grand old age of 24 without seeing this film, I also had little idea as to the plot, with the only detail I could quote is that at some point Julie Andrews prances around the greenest fields in all the world. It turns out this happens almost immediately, and moments later I was asleep, for a good half an hour no less, so after several chapters were skipped back I tried again, but I stick to my guns when I say that this 3 hour musical about a singing nun looking after the seven children of a strict retired navy captain is really quite boring. Yes, the songs are catchy and have had a good run outside of the film – I know most of them and have never seen an episode of How Do You Solve a Problem like Maria? – but Andrews and the children are unbearably chirpy, Christopher Plummer’s Capt. Von Trapp too extreme in his before and after being Maria’d states and Charmian Carr as the terribly named eldest daughter Liesl is a long way from even passing for 16. Add to this the predictability of the plot, the inevitable mellowing of both the children to Maria and the stony Captain to everyone – through song of course – and the aforementioned nauseating level of happy everyone is, all you get at the end is a headache. Damn good nap though.
Choose life 5/10

Saving Private Ryan

There is a drinking game, the most disrespectful and coma-inducing that I’ve ever come across, where when watching Saving Private Ryan the players all drink a shot every time someone on screen dies. If one were to play this game, which I cannot advise for medical, moral and cinematic reasons, then I would recommend having 50-100 shots per player lined up ready and waiting for the opening 25 minutes of the film, as the much celebrated D-Day landing is a veritable cornucopia of fatalities, with soldiers coming a cropper as soon as the rear doors of the landing ships open, drowning in the water struggling with heavy packs, being carried to safety and every other way available.
This opening scene is a landmark in war movie history, recreating the sense of utter confusion and imminent death present at that time. With a shaking camera, dialogue lost to explosions and gunfire, men wandering around after lost limbs and a bloody tide lapping at fallen soldiers and shot fish alike, it’s almost a relief once the landing has finished and they can get on with the plot, as Tom Hank’s captain is ordered to find Private James Francis Ryan, last survivor of four brothers and location unknown after parachuting somewhere in France. With a cast positively brimming with stars and up-and-comers – Giovanni Ribisi, Matt Damon, Nathan Fillion, Jeremy Davies, Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns, Adam Goldberg, Paul Giamatti, Vin Diesel, Barry Pepper, Ted Danson, Bryan Cranston, Dennis Farina – no character is left without some characterisation, or providing an insight into a soldiers life, be it collecting dirt from every country they fight in, writing a novel about their experiences or making sure every German soldier they come across knows they have been bested by a Jew.
There are those that claim this is a long, boring film about walking, bookended by two of the greatest battle scenes in cinematic history, yet without the middle, where we truly understand the brotherly bond felt by soldiers fighting and dying together, would the closing battle – a much more personal, strategic affair than the opener, have such an impact? For my money this is Spielberg’s most cinematic film, showcasing his ability to show ordinary people in extraordinary situations, yet without losing the human touch.
Choose film 9/10

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Dumbo

Alcohol is the solution to all life’s problems, as long as you can survive a psychedelic heffalump turbo nightmare that’s far trippier than you remember in this, Disney’s 4th feature length animation. Telling the story of Dumbo, an almost intolerable cute elephant born with ears so big they can be used as his own personal blanket, this follows him as he is ridiculed by the other elephants at the circus he’s born in, before being made a clown, befriending a mouse, getting hammered and meeting the most stereotypically racist crows ever drawn (“We’s all fixin’ to help ya’.”) Whilst much of Dumbo hasn’t aged well – the faceless black slavehands are another nod to Uncle Walt’s personal beliefs – and the plotting is far too fast for its own good, but the animation is vibrant and the characters beyond memorable. And if you can sit through Dumbo’s mother cradling her baby to sleep through the bars of the trailer she’s confined in without getting something stuck in your eye then you don’t have a soul.
Choose film 6/10

The Jerk

As soon as Steve Martin, in his first major movie role at the age of 34, tells us he was born a poor black child, you know you’re in for a bizarre ride, as Martin’s Navin R. Johnson, raised by a poor black family when abandoned on their doorstep as a baby, discovers he was adopted (“You mean I’m gonna stay this colour?”) and heads out into the world to find his future. Martin nails his naive, boyish role, capturing a childlike excitement at everything, and the tone retains an occasionally ludicrous but always hilarious feel, as Navin rises to greatness, then crashes down again. This was the perfect vehicle to shoot Martin into superstardom, showcasing his excellent comic timing, random sense of humour and skill with a pratfall.
Choose film 8/10

Sunshine

In the not too distant future, the Sun is dying and a team of American and Japanese scientists and astronauts are dragging a bomb with a mass equivalent to Manhattan Island through space in an attempt to reignite it. The crew aboard the Icarus II, comprising of a “Hey, it’s that guy” cast including Cillian Murphy, Chris Evans, Rose Byrne, Michelle Yeoh and Mark Strong, predictably encounter setbacks on their mission to save the Earth, but everything is handles with a keen eye and a steady hand by director Danny Boyle, for the first two thirds at least, as tempers fray, fists sly and lives are lost for the sake of the mission. Alas, the final reel, when the film switches from interesting, character driven sci-fi to frenetic horror slasher, is where the charm is lost. If only Boyle and screenwriter Alex Garland had paid more attention to a fitting finale than to designing space suits that are trying far too hard to be iconic.
Choose life 6/10

Tsotsi

When a stoic gang leader in the slums of Johannesburg shoots a wealthy woman and steals her car, he finds himself unable to abandon the baby he finds in the back seat. Leaving the baby is unthinkable, yet returning it guarantees capture, and so begins the young hoodlum’s journey towards redemption, learning to mend his ways, asking for help instead of demanding it through threats of violence. The characters – particularly those of his gang members – are broadly drawn stereotypes – the smart one, the angry one, the fat one – but the acting is admirable from a non-professional cast, and there is little fresh ground uncovered as the standard comic misadventures occur when a man unprepared for parenthood finds himself in charge of a child; constructing a nappy from newspapers, dancing around to stop the baby from crying. The ending too seems botched, it would have been better for Tsotsi to have constructed his own destiny but this is certainly a great deal better than director Gavin Hood’s subsequent endeavour, the universally despised X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
Choose life 5/10

The Wrestler

Has there ever been a character so seemingly written for a specific actor than Randy ‘the Ram’ Johnson, so perfect a fit for Mickey Rourke it’s impossible to imagine anyone else play him. Both were big in the 80s, Rourke at the peak of his game in Diner, 9 ½ Weeks and Barfly, Randy a top billing wrestler, but then saw their popularity wane and the roles dry up, before a comeback arrived, in the shape of Sin City for Rourke, as heavily scarred behemoth with a heart of goldie Marv, and a reunion battle with former nemesis the Ayatollah for the Ram. Rourke’s face, a battleground of botched plastic surgery and his four year stint of boxing in the early 90s looks like it’s been pummelled in the ring for years, and he nails every note of Ram’s trajectory, as a particularly brutal weapons match – in which a disabled spectator offers Randy his prosthetic leg to use as a club – causes the Ram to suffer a heart attack, and his wrestling days are over. Whilst struggling to adapt to a life without his one true love, he attempts to form a relationship with similarly aging, but still smoking at 45, stripper Cassidy (Oscar-winning Marisa Tomei) and reconnect with his estranged daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood). The flinch levels are unexpectedly high for a character piece, with incidents involving a deli-counter meat slicer and a staple gun proving the most worthy of a glance away from the screen. Director Darren Aronofsky – more known for deeper, more obscure work like Pi, the Fountain and more recently Black Swan, employs great cinematography, shooting everything on location with no sets and as many long tracking shots as he can, but this is Rourke’s game through and through, and though he wasn’t robbed of the Oscar (Sean Penn’s Milk was more deserving , in my opinion), I hope he doesn’t throw everything away with support roles in entertaining but cringeworthy fare like the Expendables and Immortals. He needs some more layered, meaty roles, I’m just not sure anything will ever be such a good fit.
Choose film 7/10

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Saw

Launching a new sub-genre, in this case the US branch of torture porn, is a difficult task, but can pay off in spades if done well. James Wan, writer/director of Saw, knows this, for although on the surface his creation looks like just another horror franchise kick-starter, scratch the skin and you’ll find an intelligent, tightly plotted thriller that just happens to be sick and grotesque enough to stay with you for days, if not years later.
A serial killer going by the nickname Jigsaw has been trapping people who he deems worthy of needing to re-evaluate their lives. His traps are deadly, but can be survived if the victims are willing to suffer physical and mental scarring, and abide by his rules. Awakening in a disgusting, windowless bathroom, Dr. Gordon and Adam (Cary Elwes and fellow writer Leigh Whannell) find themselves in such a predicament, each chained by the leg to opposite corners of the room, equipped with a tape recorder, a gun, a saw apiece and a corpse in a pool of blood, with the only way out looking to be losing a foot. Meanwhile, cops Danny Glover and Ken Leung are closing in on the criminal mastermind. The plot remains just on the right side of ingenious, with some of the best twists seen in horror, and the psychological scares do greater work on the psyche than any sudden jumps although a couple are thrown in to please those unable to fully grasp a new kind of horror film.
The sequels took a great premise too far, making the plot far too convoluted and the reasons for participants being tested too obscure and mundane – undoubtedly Jigsaw would find me worthy of testing for spending too much time watching films – so go no further along the Saw blade than this fresh cut.
Choose film 7/10

Straw Dogs (1971)

When mild mannered American mathematician David Sumner (Dustin Hoffman) moves with his wife Amy (Susan George's nipples) to her home village in Cornwall, the last thing they find is the peace and quiet he was hoping for in order to write his book. Instead, the locals take a shine to Amy and mock David, showing contempt that such a bookish person could have the prize of the village. What follows is an escalation of abuse and provocations, brought to a head with the horrifically violent rape of Amy, the unrelenting and ambiguous portrayal of which caused problems for director Sam Peckinpah, with the film remaining unreleased on video/DVD in the UK until 2002. Hoffman is more believable as the pre-broken David than the near-psychopath he becomes post-rape, and the climax – as drunken locals lay siege to his house as he harbours the local simpleton in danger of being beaten to death plays out like an 18-rated Home Alone, with swinging paint cans, icy steps and a loose tarantula substituted with blaring bagpipe music, saucepans of boiling alcohol and a sprung bear trap.
Choose film 6/10

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Quiz Show

The year is 1957, Sputnik has just launched, Eisenhower has died and Nixon is president. The quiz-based game show Twenty One, hosted by the reptilian Jack Barry (a tremendously smarmy Christopher McDonald) has swept the nation and every week John Turtorro’s nerdy know-it-all Herb Stemple defeats his new opponent. The only problem is, Stemple’s ‘freak with a sponge memory’ appearance, all bad teeth, terrible glasses and ill-fitting suit, isn’t playing well with the shows bosses and sponsors, who’d much rather Ralph Fiennes clean cut intellectual Charles van Doren takes his place. Showing an obvious disdain for quiz shows, Robert Redord’s assured directorial style, flitting between the stories of Stemple, van Doren and Rob Morrow’s personal investigator Richard Goodwin keeps the largely talky sections enjoyable and entertaining, whilst still grounding them into the seriousness of the issues at hand. This, with a great cast that also includes Hank Azaria, David Paymer, Martin Scorsese (!) and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearances from the likes of Calista Flockhart, William Fichtner and the West Wing’s Timothy Busfield, makes a film far superior to the programmes it holds a mirror up to.
Choose film 8/10

Wonder Boys

Always be wary when a DVD cover proclaims the feature it houses is an Oscar winner, yet follows this statement with an asterisk not revealed until the fineprint on the back of the box, for more than likely this will lead to a win for one of the lesser Oscars that, though probably well deserved and awarded to people who are very good at, and have worked very hard on what they do, does not make the associated film any good. And so it is with Wonder Boys, overly proud recipient of the Oscar for Best Original Song for Bob Dylan’s Things Have Changed, so worthy is it that I cannot even remember hearing it, when part of me was specifically listening out after discovering the win. Whilst Michael Douglas gives one of his best performances as the mild-mannered, scarf-wearing, adulterous English professor Grady Tripp, he is let down by a meandering plot involving a dead dog, a 7ft transvestite, a stolen dress and an epic manuscript, and a fairly average cast with Tobey Maguire it’s obvious weak link – impressive when Katie Holmes is also involved as a besotted student. Too much takes place without a reason – is Maguire’s James fascinated with celebrity deaths just because he is weird? – and the script is far from excellent (“I’m not gonna draw you a map, sometimes you need to do your own navigating.”)
Choose life 4/10

Apollo 13

In 1969, man landed on the moon. This man was not Tom Hanks’ Jim Lovell, then first reserve for Neil Armstrong, but later he was given his own shat at the big floating wheel of cheese aboard the ill-fated Apollo 13. Hanks displays his greatest talent of evermanisation in this film, managing to make even an astronaut seem like a regular Joe, suffering from everyday concerns with young kids and a daughter dressing inappropriately on Halloween, coupled with the hours of arduous practice and training required for his profession and the worrying endured by the families left behind. Director Ron Howard evokes the feel of the late 60s well – the excitement of new scientific endeavours coupled with the period details, fashions, chain smoking and news reports, and Hanks is well supported by Gary Sinise, Bill Paxton and Kevin Bacon as his fellow astronauts, Ed Harris as the waistcoat wearing mission control and Kathleen Quinlan’s distraught wife, the latter of the two were Oscar nominated for their roles.
Choose film 8/10

Inception

Apparently the concept of Inception began when director Chris Nolan, he of the Dark Knight, Batman Begins, Memento and the upcoming Dark Knight Rises, the most anticipated film of 2012 (tied with the Avengers and the Hobbit), wanted to make a film in which several climaxes are all occurring simultaneously. Most directors would then structure a plot in such a way as to have different characters in different locations, all partaking in various climactic events and cutting between them, but Nolan, in what I’m going to assume was an evening rife with alcohol, narcotics and some rare kinds of cheese, opted instead to make a film predominantly set within the world of dreams.

Taking an already interesting, fantastical premise – secrets can be obtained by stealing them from people’s dreams via extraction and spinning it on its head, as Leonardo DiCaprio’s master extractor Cobb and his team – Joseph Gordon Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy and Dileep Rao, are enlisted for one last job, to plant an idea in Cillian Murphy’s dream by business rival Ken Watanabe. By using this world of dreams, Nolan has released literally all limitations as to where the plot can go, and opened up the door for some thoroughly original set pieces, the standout of which is Gordon Levitt’s taciturn Arthur fighting armed goons in a corridor with an ever-changing, and disappearing, centre of gravity. This, combined with a rain-lashed chase through busy city streets and a Bond-inspired snowbound explosive finale adds up to one of the most thought provoking action movies in recent years.

The plot is sometimes lost amid the spectacle of the dream worlds and the new logic required to understand it – in a dream, time travels 12 times slower with each level you go down, your subconscious can flare up against you but you can bend the environment around your will – so at times you forget just what they are fighting to achieve. Nolan also appears to have paid attention to the naysayer accusers who believe, not unfairly, that his films lack a required heart and emotional depth, as the addition of Cobb’s deceased wife Mal (Marion Cotillard) appears in his subconscious, eager to turn the dream worlds against him, and the entire plot takes place just so Cobb can be reunited with his kids. Both these points seem tacked on and superfluous to the overall plot, other than adding a motive and antagonist that, although not asked for, do not overly deter.

Under close scrutiny some of the dream logic is inconsistent and doesn’t quite hold up, with some questions remaining unanswered – how exactly does Tom Hardy’s scene-stealing Eames transform into other people as the teams forger? – but the performance, cast (also including Michael Caine, Tom Berenger and Pete Postlethwaite), effects and sheer scale of the project make this unmissable, and my best film of 2010, although it makes my dreams look utterly pathetic in comparison.

Choose film 9/10

Friday, 23 December 2011

Evil Dead Trilogy

When five college friends go to stay in a mysterious cabin deep in the woods, it’s safe to assume they’ll be lucky to see their homes again, as they will undoubtedly encounter a clan of cannibalistic hillbillies or some centuries old curse. So when, in Sam Raimi’s schlock horror debut, the kids find the Book of the Dead, bound in human flesh, written in human blood, and play a recording of it being read, the dead become free to walk the Earth, and the kids must struggle to stay alive until morning, in the hope of finding their way back to civilisation. So far, so standard, but where the film differs from the gory also-rans is when a girl is dragged into the woods – by the woods – and raped by a tree. Plug sockets and light bulbs leak with blood, and one by one the kids become possessed by demons, with bloodied eyes, gnarled, pallid skin and faces like beaten up clowns. Raimi’s innovative camerawork and game cast – all terrible actors aside from our hero, the uber-chinned Bruce Campbell – stand this film out from its imitators and inspirations.
Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn is that rarest of sequels that rewrites the entire plot of its predecessor in its first 7 minutes, showing what the film could have been had a greater budget been available – a more attractive love interest, advanced effects and even a back story for the Book of the Dead. Having discovered an audience for his own brand of homemade horror and slapstick splattery, Raimi lets himself, and reprising star Campbell, off the leash, balancing the grotesque with the quirky in such classic scenes as Ash cutting off his own possessed hand and replacing it with a fully operational chainsaw. The more what the fuck moments add to the feeling of watching someone’s head explode onto a screen – the maniacally laughing moose head and bizarre neck extension are standouts, and this remains a tremendously fun, if occasionally bat-shit insane adventure.
As with Raimi’s other threequel, 2007’s Spiderman 3, the approach to Army of Darkness is to take everything and throw it at the script, see what sticks, and include it all anyway. This leads to a film with a frankly ludicrous premise – at the end of part 2 Campbell’s Ash opened a rift in time, and is now stranded in 1300AD, and stretches it past breaking point with the sheer volume of ideas piled on top. The opening death pit scene is fun, but the ensuing insanity of a two-headed Ash (beginning with a repulsive eye growing on his shoulder), Gulliver’s travel style tiny men causing havoc and a skeletal army complete with beards takes it all too far. The result is a film still endlessly enjoyable and quotable, but lacking the overall playful sense of fun from the previous entries.
The Evil Dead choose film 8/10
The Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn Choose film 9/10
The Evil Dead 3: Army of Darkness Choose film 6/10

Rope

The first of many Hitchcock films on this list – probably more than any other director, and rightly so – shows the great man at his most experimental, as he attempted to shoot this film, based on a play by Patrick Hamilton, in one continuous shot. Limited only by the maximum length of a film reel at the time (10 minutes), a fact cleverly, if unsubtly hidden by editing shots of the backs of suits or a close up on an open chest lid, he pulls it off, utilising moving walls and tracking shots to accommodate the action as it pans out in the three rooms of an upmarket apartment.
The film follows two young men – the charming yet callous Brandon and his nervous, increasingly agitated friend Philip, as they attempt to cover up the perfect murder of their classmate David, whose body is hidden in the chest they use as a centrepiece for a party held for David’s family and friends. The acting is flawless, particularly from the two leads and James Stewart as their inquisitive former house master Rupert, and Hitch earns his moniker as the master of suspense, accomplishing an ever mounting level of tension with minimal music and meticulous plotting.
Choose film 9/10

Get Carter

Get Carter is justifiably remembered for Michael Caine’s gripping portrayal of London hard man Jack Carter, visiting his old stomping ground in Newcastle to bury his brother and sort out the men who killed him. Caine is iconic as the immaculately attired, quick witted vengeance seeker, endlessly quotable (“Clever sod, aren’t you?” “Only comparatively”) and calmly menacing, yet credit should also be given to director Mike Hodges (…Flash Gordon). The framing of the shots is excellent, particularly when showing Caine watching a video, as a cleverly positioned mirror allows us to see both what he is seeing, and his reaction to it, without the need for split screens, a delayed response or a clumsy cut. The ending is brutal, if perfect, and it will take a great deal for me to sit down and watch the inevitably terrible 2000 Stallone remake.
Choose film 8/10

Les Vampires

If acclaimed (though not be me) surrealist master Luis Bunuel is a fan of your work, it’s fair to say it’s unlikely to be a straightforward police procedural picture. The likes of Zodiac and All the President’s Men are probably far too logical for him to have admired, with far too few poisonous rings, hidden cannons and magic anagrams for his liking. That, and they aren’t 10-part silent serials from 1915, as is the case with Louis Feuillade’s Les Vampires, following newspaper editor Philippe Guerande and his flamboyant sidekick Mazzamette as they attempt to track down the notorious criminal gang known only as the Vampires, led by an ever changing Grand Vampire and his muse, the most interesting character of the series, Irma Vep.
 

In this world nothing is ever as it seems, with walls and paintings sliding aside to reveal hidden compartments (occasionally containing cannons), Vampires revealing themselves to be policemen, figures of authority revealing themselves to be Vampires and the dead returning back to life. This does become irritating, as logical second-guessing of the plot becomes impossible when it makes up its own rules as it goes along, but the sense of ingenuity keeps things interesting throughout the almost 7 hours runtime. I’m grateful too that modern architecture has advanced to a stage where most exterior surfaces are now only scalable using a ladder, whereas here they seem designed by the people behind Assassin’s Creed.

Choose film 7/10

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Most anticipated films of 2012

2011 is drawing to a close, and let’s be honest, it hasn’t been a terrific year for film, but worry not, in just over a week a new year will be upon us, and its already looking like a cinematic doozy. Here’s my pick of what’s likely to be saucering my eyes next year:

The Avengers
Marvel’s dream team of superheroes line up to face a world threatening attack, as well as each other, in Joss Whedon’s epic ultimate crossover.

The Pirates! In An Adventure with Scientists
Aardman are back with more traditional stop-motion animation and characters comparable with Wallace and Gromit, and just as silly.

Men in Black III
Doubters hold fire, part 2 was a blip that can be hastily ignored as Will Smith’s Agent J goes back in time to team up with Josh Brolin as a 60s Agent K.

Prometheus
Ridley Scott making a new Alien film? With Charlize Theron, Noomi Rapace, Patrick Wilson, Rafe Spall and LVF favourites Idris Elba and Michael Fassbender? Count me in.

Rock of Ages
Same director as the abominable Hairspray remake, but this features much better music and a far superior cast (no Christopher Walken though).

Jack the Giant Killer
Bryan Singer’s fairy tale reboot sees Nicholas Hoult ascending the bean stalk to fight a giant and rescue a princess.

The Dark Knight Rises
Micro-budget indie you’ve probably never heard of about some guy who gets his kicks dressing up as a flying squirrel. Or something.

Ted
Family Guy’s Seth MacFarlane makes his live action debut in a tale of a talking teddy bear. Sounds much better than I just described.

Brave
Pixar. ‘nuf said.

Warm Bodies
A rom-zom-com, but with a zombie falling in love with a person. Sounds mental, hopefully will be.

Premium Rush
A movie about a cyclist! Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s NYC delivery guy goes up against Michael Shannon’s corrupt cop.

Looper
Brick’s Rian Johnson directs Gordon Levitt (again) as a hitman tasked with killing his future self (Bruce Willis). I’ve just realised how ridiculous that sounds, so I’m eager to see where on Earth they take it.

Argo
Ben Affleck’s next directorial outing, focussing on a CIA operation to extract hostages from Iran in 1979, by directing a fake movie. Produced by Clooney and starring John Goodman.

Gangster Squad
Zombieland’s Ruben Fleischer takes a break from directing Jesse Eisenberg comedies to pit Josh Brolin and Ryan Gosling’s 1940’s policemen against Sean Penn’s Mickey Cohen.

The Expendables 2
Just look at that cast. Stallone, Statham, Van Damme, Lundgren, Li, Hemsworth, Couture, Crews, Willis, Schwarzenegger, Chuck frickin’ Norris! Just need Steven Seagal and we’re done.

The Hobbit
No idea what this is. Supposed to be good though.

It’s not all looking good though, and I think my 2012 would probably be preferable without this bunch:
The Amazing Spider-Man
Sam Raimi’s films were good, at times great, and made just the other day. I don’t care how much of a reimagining this may be, there are plenty more original films I’d rather see.

Mirror Mirror
Why release one Snow White film, when you can release two? Tarsem Singh’s release may pip the Kristen Stewart starring Snow White and the Huntsmen to the post, but it’s nauseating candy-coloured visuals and starring of Lily “daughter of Phil” Collins as White makes me ill just typing about it.

Wrath of the Titans
Did no-one see Clash of the Titans? Alas, I did, in the cinema, in what was laughably called 3D (never again), so I apologise for my part in the financial gains that must have led to this unnecessary, unasked for and frankly unwanted sequel. Screw you Sam Worthington, learn another bloody accent.

Titanic 3D
Because James Cameron doesn’t have enough money. Retro-fitting 3D should be a hanging offence.

Battleship
The navy fights an alien invasion, made by a group of people who apparently have never played the board game.

Run Lola Run

Has there ever been a more straightforward plot? Lola (a flame-haired Franka Potente) has 20 minutes to find 100,000 Deutsche Mark (about £33,670 back in 1998) to save her boyfriend’s life. That’s it. Yet director Tom Tykwer (Perfume) takes this core premise and from it creates a film so startlingly original and entertaining its a wonder Hollywood has yet to fully embrace his unique style. Employing all manner of cinematic devices, from splitscreen to monochrome, converting our heroine into animated form and revealing the lives of very minor characters in Polaroid form, the film moves at such a breakneck speed yet remains easy to follow and only occasionally exasperating. The nightclub soundtrack may fit the relentless pace but is a little headache inducing at times, as are the jarring changes in pace, from running full tilt to pontificating pillow talk on the nature of love, but with ideas this fresh even 13 years after its release, these flaws can be forgiven.
Choose film 8/10

Two Days in Paris

Jack and Marion (Adam Goldberg and writer/director Julie Delpy) are a typical couple in their mid-30s on a holiday in Europe, culminating with two days in Paris to visit the French Marion’s parents. Jack is an insecure, devious hypochondriac, paranoid of terrorist attacks and knows less French than your average American, whilst Marion’s parents (played by Delpy’s real life mother and father) know very little English, and Marion herself seems reluctant to act as translator, leading to various comic episodes, most notably with Marion’s father attempting to act out cunnilingus to Jack at an exhibition of his artwork. The film plays on both French and American stereotypes – the French are homophobic, xenophobic, inappropriately flirtatious wife beaters, all of whom have either gone out with or are trying to go out with Marion, whilst Americans are brash, ignorant tourists. The performances feel natural – up until the arrival of Daniel Bruhl’s self-proclaimed fairy, and the situations never feel overly contrived, just maybe a little exaggerated, and the cinema would be a better place if more romcoms were as insightful and humorous as this.
Choose film 7/10

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009)

6 years ago Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy took the world by storm, so it was only a matter of time before movies were made, and even less before Hollywood came a-knocking with a US remake, due to hit cinemas this Boxing Day. David Fincher is a perfect fit for the source material, as he revels in the darkness and shadows of those living on societies outskirts, so hopefully he’ll do a better job of it than Niels Arden Oplev in this Swedish original. Understandably when transferring a book to the screen, especially one as dense as this, some omissions will need to be made; plot points will be skipped over, characters written out and those remaining will be trimmed down to a fraction of their former selves, how else will it all fit into a two hour time slot whilst not alienating newcomers by cutting vital exposition? But when the central storyline is a whodunit case of a 16-year old girl vanishing from a closed off island 40 years previously and only one possible suspect is given any level of character depth, it removes any sense of mystery as to who the culprit is.
That being said, the performances are exceptional, especially Noomi Rapace (currently seen in an underused role in the Sherlock sequel, and soon to be in Ridley Scott’s Alien sequel/prequel/equal Prometheus) as the rake-thin, leather-clad, eponymously inked super hacker Lisbeth Salander, but the overall feel seems rushed. Given the choice, opt instead for the six-part extended TV series version recently released on DVD, or read the books if that way inclined, as some of the grislier scenes – the anal rape, for example – are far easier to read about than they are to watch.
Choose life 7/10

Big

When 12-year old Josh Baskin is denied a ride on a roller coaster for being too short, and is therefore embarrassed in front of his dream girl, he wishes himself big at a fairground fortune booth. The next morning he awakes as a 30-year old Tom Hanks, complete with chest hair, deeper voice and a ripped pair of space pyjamas. So ensues a fish-out-of-water comedy, as Josh, having been chased from his house by his understandably terrified mother, must fend for himself in the big wide world.
Hanks is incredible as man-child Josh, in his first truly memorable role, utterly convincing in an underappreciated performance, arguably Hanks’ best, be it kneeling on a chair, eating Oreos or simply swinging his bag as he walks, every touch adds to the sense that this really is a 12-year old boy in a man’s body.
If there are any faults, they lie in the third act, when the clichés drop thick and fast into this previously original movie. Josh begins to realise his responsibilities and grows up, ditching his best friend for a girl and eventually, if a little suddenly, realising that he just wants to be a kid again. There is also one of the most uncomfortably wrong relationships ever seen in film between Josh and corporate climber Susan (Elizabeth Perkins), so squirm-inducing it probably would have been omitted today (that said, it’s just as bad as the centuries-old vampire/teenage girl romance from Twilight... not that I know anything about those films). But regardless of however many faults the film may have, one scene, featuring Hanks, his new boss (Robert Loggia) and a giant floor keyboard in a toy store, makes any film worth watching. This is the kind of scene that never fails to cheer me up.
Choose film 8/10

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

West Side Story

It’s easy to mock West Side Story, and incredibly hard not to let out a start of incredulity, disbelief and hilarity when the Jets, a New York street gang, begin clicking, walking and turning in sync, but this 60s retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet has a lot going for it. Yes, the two leads – Jet old hand Tony (Richard Beymer) and rival Shark’s head honcho’s sister Maria (Natalie Wood, not even close to being Puerto Rican) are lifeless, charisma free and unforgivably dubbed for their singing. And yes, the dialogue has not aged well in places, but the toe-tapping tunes, particularly I Feel Pretty, America and Gee, Officer Krupke and outstanding choreography, with dances staged as fights and fights staged as dances more than make up for its faults. Supporting players perform admirably, notably Russ Tamblyn as Jets leader Riff and George Chakiris as Shark leader Bernardo, making this a musical for people who don’t like musicals – people like me then.
Choose film 7/10

The Usual Suspects

 Is it OK to ruin the Usual Suspects yet? Doesn’t anyone who cares who the ending already? Its 16 years old! Is it not another Sixth Sense or Empire Strikes Back, where the big reveal has either been witnessed firsthand or spoiled by someone else? Miraculously, my film watching companion had not seen or heard the ending to Bryan Singer’s sophomore film, and he’d have throttled me had I revealed it (Marcos hates spoilers, and will punch you in the head) so no, it would seem there are some out there yet to discover the fate of the five criminals bought in for a line-up, nor do they know the identity of their tormentor, the mythical Keyser Soze, so I’ll try and tread carefully. The cons in question – Stephen Baldwin, Kevin Pollak, Gabriel Byrne, Benicio del Toro and a career-launching, Oscar winning Kevin Spacey – have been brought together on a bogus line-up, and use their time in incarceration to plan a robbery, bus is it all a part of a bigger plan?
Told in flashback by Spacey’s weaselly over talkative ‘Verbal’ Kint, the tale begins with the death of Byrne’s Keaton, a crooked cop gone straight and the closest the gang has to a leader, after what appears to be a drug deal gone wrong. Chazz Palminteri, the cop to whom Kint tells his story, has his own theories as to what went wrong, but his opinions, and those of the viewer, get in the way of seeing the truth, ably assisted by Christopher McQuarrie’s deservedly Oscar winning ever twisting screenplay.
The cast are exceptional, particularly the scene stealing del Toro and Pete Postlethwaite at stoic lawyer Kobayashi, but it is the fine balance between tightly plotted twists and turns and sporadic bursts of action and violence that plants this firmly on the choose film list, regardless of whether you know the ending.
Choose film 9/10

Shoah

Without a doubt this 9 hour documentary about the holocaust, comprising entirely of original material with no archive footage, is worthy of a place on the list. Director Claude Lanzmann spent years interviewing historians, builders of the concentration camps, train drivers, camp survivors and even Nazi officials who ran the camps, and spent almost 5 years editing the hundreds of hours down to a four disc set. Viewing is a sobering experience, the very definition of hard to watch, but such insight of so important an event needs to be heard, with a barber tasked with shaving the Jews before they were gassed commenting that “people burn very well.” Yes, it could be shorter, as there is some repetition to hammer home the points, but anyone who felt they were only told a small portion of a much larger story in school history classes should consider this essential viewing.
Choose film 8/10

Candyman

If someone told you that if you looked in a mirror and said the word “Candyman” five times, that a man with a hook for a hand would appear behind you and kill you, what would you do? If the answer is call them an idiot and defriend them on Facebook, congratulations you’re not in a horror movie. Here, of course, the myth is discussed and inevitably activated, with disturbing and horrifying results. Virginia Madsen (remember her?) plays our doomed heroine Helen Lyle, married to university lecturer Xander Berkeley and writing a thesis on local mythology, focusing on the Candyman, an educated son of a slave whose hand was sawn off by hooligans in the late 19th century, before he was smeared with honey, stung to death by bees and burned in a giant pyre. His legend lives on with the residents of Cabrini Green – the area where his ashes were scattered, blaming him for unsolved murders.
A  lot is left unclear in the film – possibly clarified in the sequels, I didn’t like it enough to find out, and there is much debate throughout as to whether Candyman, memorably embodied by the imposing Tony Todd, whose breathy voice, sinister smile and nightmarish stare were made for horror films, is real, whether Helen is going insane or if her husband is framing her to keep her out of the way while he gets his leg over a hot young student, something never really explained, and even by the end all three are still a possibility. There is plenty of gratuitous and unnecessary nudity and some horrible imagery – graffiti from smeared excrement – but the unclear nature of Candyman’s powers, origin, intent or motive and the lacking of anything inherently scary makes this a pointless watch.
Choose life 4/10

Public Enemies

Michael Mann likes the central plot of Heat – expert cop and master thief and their teams on a destructive path towards one another with disregard for their personal lives – that this is the third time he’s made it, after the TV-movie L.A. Takedown, the DeNiro/Pacino classic and now this depression-era take, pitting Johnny Depp’s public enemy number one John Dillinger against Christian Bale’s FBI man Melvin Purvis (whose name is almost an anagram of Mr Evil Penis, but is one for vermin pelvis). (For all I know this is also the plot of Miami Vice and the Last of the Mohicans, I haven’t got round to watching them yet but it seems unlikely.)
The parallels with Heat run deep – the first criminal act, an opening prison break, is almost botched by a trigger happy accomplice soon removed from the group – but the key difference is the pivotal central scene where our two leads meet. In Heat, DeNiro’s thief McCauley and Pacino’s cop Hanna share a mutual respect, that they are dealing here with the other side of their own coin, a talented man with opposite morals. Here, Dillinger and Pervis despise one another, disgusted that they are within the other’s presence or mentioned in the same breath. This complex central relationship was key to the layered texture of Heat, and its absence is felt.
Depp has always been better at characters (Scissorhands, Sparrow) than he has emotions, and Dillinger is bland and lifeless in his hands, yet still more likeable than Bale’s cold, business-like Pervis. DiCaprio would probably have been a better fit for Dillinger, but as FBI director J. Edgar Hoover appears here as Billy Crudup this would have made DiCaprio and Clint Eastwood’s current biopic of the man problematic.
All this in account, this is still an entertaining action/crime movie, with plenty of period gun porn for those that way inclined. Mann’s attention to detail is perfect, and there is some of the best comedy ever seen in a 1930s set cop movie – see Dillinger wondering around the offices of the FBI department out to catch him, casually asking the score of a sports game. Smarter and more thought provoking than most gun-happy movies, this is definitely worth a watch.
Choose film 7/10

Braveheart

A young Scottish boy in the 13th Century is mentally scarred by the sight of dozens of his kinsmen slain and hanged. He is too young to fight the English, for it is those villainous scoundrels that are to blame, and when his father and brother do not return from battle he is sent to live with his scarred uncle Argyle (Brian Cox). Taught to use his brain before his sword, he grows up to become Mel Gibson, returns to his home village and falls in love, only for those Anglo-Saxon bastards to kill her too. Understandably, this sends Gibson’s William Wallace into a bit of a tizzy, so he sets about raising an army to thwart the tea-drinking tossers and their leader, evil Edward I. I’m no historian, but to say the film is blinkered by a love for the Celts is no exaggeration, with us Englanders shown creating laws where it is fine for us to sleep with a Scotsman’s wife on her wedding night, and banning the kilt-wearing types from brandishing so much as a stick. I’m not saying this didn’t happen, and I’m not going to burn any calories finding out, but I’m going to assume that something from the mind from Gibson can be taken with a rather hefty pinch of salt.
That being said, Gibbo gives good as the rabble rouser, hinting at the madness (and mullet) of Lethal Weapon, with an imposing presence and questionable accent. Much too can be said of Gibson the director and producer – roles for which he took home the Best Director and Best Picture Oscars in 1996. With an eye for locations and an ear for mixing the comic with the tragic, this is a well balanced film. Some of the fights and chases feel a little clunky, and the many brutal deaths – throats slit, fence post impalings, gouged eyes and mutilated horses – seem a tad gratuitous at times.
Choose film 7/10

Monday, 19 December 2011

Fish Tank

Just another Kidulthood? Not so fast. Where Noel Clarke’s debut was all teen speak, yoof culture and multi-stranded east London ghetto-cool, Andrea Arnold’s second film, after her Oscar winning 2003 short Wasp and Cannes’ Grand Prize of the Jury awarded debut Red Road tells of a 15 year old girls attempt to make something of herself, with people coming at her from all sides.
Katie Jarvis plays Mia, picking fights and sneaking away from her neglectful mother and foul mouthed little sister (“cuntface”) to score cider and practice dancing in an abandoned flat in her tower block home. Her life is nothing but insults, confrontations and disencouragement from her family and her peers, until her mother starts dating Michael Fassbender’s Connor, a positive influence with a steady job and encouraging guidance, helping Mia to take her dancing onto the next step (pun intended). With some very strong language, unexpected dark turns and a scene where we watch a girl squat and pee on the floor this is at times a difficult watch, and its overall message, that role models are not what they seem and all dreams will be crushed in obvious ways, is a little hard to take. Best watched as a double feature with Little Miss Sunshine for their exactly polar opposite climactic scenes.
Choose film 6/10

The Blues Brothers

No, you’re not seeing things. Hell has not frozen over, a pig did not just fly past the window and Paul W. S. Anderson did not just make a good film, I have written a post. I honestly cannot explain why I haven’t written anything for the past 2 months (2 months? Sheesh, sorry), but rest assured I have been steadily watching films, I’ve handwritten a bunch of posts and just haven’t gotten round to typing them up, so hopefully over the next few weeks I’ll catch up with the 60-odd films you’re all dying to read about.
So, here we go. The Blues Brothers, a 9-piece rhythm and blues band fronted by brothers ‘Joliet’ Jake and Elwood Blues (John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd) started life as a sketch on American comedy show Saturday Night Live, who’ve had something of a chequered history with sketch to screen adaptations. For every Wayne’s World there’s an It’s Pat, Coneheads or A Night at the Roxbury, but it all kicked off with the Brothers Blue, an undeniable stone cold classic, with a supremely quotable script, dead-on performances and more cameos than Belushi’s eaten hot dinners. Everybody from Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and John Lee Hooker shows up to belt out a number whilst Jake and Elwood set out on a mission from Gahd to get their band back together and raise the $5,000 dollars required to save the orphanage they grew up in. On the way they are hunted by the police, led by John Candy’s plaid-clad detective, rival band the Good Ol’ Boys, a group of Illinois Nazis, the army and Carrie Fisher’s flame thrower toting vengeful ex. With so much going on it would be understandable for the central stars to stick to their sketched personas, but both give it their all, especially Belushi, whose absence couldn’t be replaced by the trio of John Goodman, Joe Morton and a little kid when the ill-advised Blues Brothers 2000 rolled around. Above all, the film never loses its sense of fun, even with a two-hour plus run time unpopular with traditional comedies. A high level of farce – the brothers are remarkably blasé about the level of destruction around them, at one point strolling away unharmed from an exploding building -  helps to retain the silliness, and the soundtrack deserves a place in everyone’s music collection.
Choose film 9/10

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Paranormal Activity

First off, don’t make the same mistake I did, watching the film alone, at night, in bed, in the dark, for this is the exact setting for most of this found-footage horror. Katie and Micah (Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat) are a young couple in a new home. Since childhood Katie has been plagued by bizarre nocturnal occurrences, which have begun to get worse since moving, so Micah sets up a video camera to try and record whoever is behind them. Much of the film takes place with a stationery camera, set at the foot of the couple’s bed as they sleep, with occasional noises and doors slamming being the worst that happens (if you’re frightened of something coming into your room at night, why not at least sleep with the door shut?). This means that the final scenes, where shit starts to get real, are all the more powerful and traumatic. Whilst not terribly frightening, the slow build and believable characters reacting in plausible ways (initially Micah is more concerned with filming the events than helping Katie stop them) make this at times quite unsettling. They should have used a different location though, as the massive three bedroom house, with luxury kitchen, double lounge and swimming pool is not believable accommodation for such a young couple.
Choose film 6/10

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

The Thing

Arguably surpassing Howard Hawk’s 50s sci-fi classic the Thing from Another World (a feat unlikely to be achieved by the imminent Mary Elizabeth Winstead starring prequel, confusingly also named ‘The Thing’), John Carpenter’s Thing deserves its place on the list for Rob Bottin’s effects work, occasionally assisted by the legend that is Stan Winston.
Defiantly demanding that the titular creature - a life form able to imitate any living thing it comes across – not just be a man in a suit, we are treated to all manner of beasties, from an arm-munching human torso to spider-legged scuttling heads with eyeballs on stalks, as well as the nightmare inducing stages in their transformations. In a post CGI era these effects still hold ground with today’s effects houses, showing at times animatronic models can be better and more memorable than a bunch of pixels.
Carpenter has always been a master of cranking up tension through the roof, and the secluded Antarctic research base here provides the perfect scenario, with its all-male inhabitants already at each other’s throats from cabin fever. Usually with these kind of monster attacks a small group thrillers it can be easy to see who at least a few of the early victims will be, but here the equal screen time, characterisation and importance to the plot, as well as a few well-placed red herrings, mean that anyone trying to second guess the script will pursue a fruitless endeavour.
Ennio Morricone’s atmospheric score and some sharp dialogue add to the sense of claustrophobia and breakdown of relationships, and there’s an interesting spoiler if you speak Norwegian, when the basic plot is outlined at the initial meeting of some researchers at the beginning of the film.
Choose film 7/10

Monday, 17 October 2011

There's Something About Mary/Dumb & Dumber

Say what you will about directing brothers Peter & Bobby Farrelly (Kingpin, Me, Myself & Irene, Shallow Hal, Stuck on You, Hall Pass), but at times their combination of prat-falls, worst case scenarios, extreme gross-out humour and stellar casts of ensemble comic actors can occasionally work out well, with these two films being pick of the bunch. The humour may go a tad too far for some) laxatives, urine drinking, masturbation and an excruciating penis-in-zipper-moment), but by ensuring their actors play the roles straight, and staying just the right side of plausibility make sure these films serve their intended purpose, as light-hearted comedy. If anything, it’s the small moments that make these films excel, be it a disc-sanding pedicure in Dumb & Dumber or the infamous spunked-up hair-do in Mary, as well as simple yet spot-on puns and wordplay (“a rapist wit”), and the casting is such that the central actors could not be replaced without seriously jeopardising the characters they play. So yes, the Farrellys have made some duffers in their time, but they’re worth enduring if occasionally they crap out gold like this.
There’s Something About Mary Choose film 7/10
Dumb & Dumber Choose film 8/10

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Titanic

Now bear with me here, but I do actually really like Titanic. This may all stem from a fascination with the tragedy as a child, but its also in part due to James Cameron’s direction of a film too easily written off as a soppy romance that just happens to be set aboard the most famous nautical disaster of all time, other than Speed 2: Cruise Control. What Cameron does is take 1958s A Night to Remember, the foremost Titanic film pre-1997, and add characters you genuinely care about; DiCaprio’s steerage class ragamuffin and Winslet’s pressured poor little rich girl, as well as a sense of spectacle unavailable to film makers in the pre-CGI movie making era. There is a clear divide in the film – and eventually in the ship too – around the half way mark, once the inevitable iceberg has viciously assaulted the great ship and departed without exchanging insurance details, where the gender that the film panders to switches. Initially, the tale of an across-the-tracks romance between the leads and comparisons of their expertly realised respective classes, culminating in a steamy encounter in a car in storage is squarely aimed at the female half of the audience, but as soon as the Atlantic ocean decides it wants to come aboard and everything starts taking place on an ever increasing incline, the ensuing carnage, death and destruction should appeal to any man with a penchant for disaster movies.
Weaving fact (Kathy Bates’ ‘unsinkable’ Molly Brown) with fiction (Apparently one reason the iceberg wasn’t spotted until it was too late was due to Jack and Rose sharing a passionate snog on deck) it isn’t difficult to understand why this was the Biggest Film of All Time™ until Jimbo’s latest azure-tinged epic.
Negative points? At 3 hours it’s a bit of a trek, and the multiple villains (there’s at least four, not counting the iceberg) are all a bit too one-note to be believable, even though one, Jonathan Hyde’s weaselly marketing man Bruce Ismay, is based on a real person. There are also a few too many shout-at-the –screen moments of stupidity on behalf of the leads escape attempts – surely Rose would have realised Jack would have a better chance of survival on his own, if she has got on a lifeboat. That being said, there isn’t enough to detract from the quality of the film, with the characters and story never being overshadowed by the stellar effects work.
Choose film 8/10

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Easy Rider

Starring, directed, written and produced by Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda, there is every possibility that this film perfectly encapsulates the end of the 60s in America incredibly well, but alas today its relevance is far less. The two stars set out on a drug fuelled road trip, casting aside their watches and heading across the American South in search of the true spirit of America, and unfortunately they find it everywhere they go.
Being a child of the 80s and 90s, I’ve only known drugs to be illegal, harmful, detrimental to your wellbeing and generally a bad idea (Trainspotting and Requiem for a Dream were important parts of my youth), so to see their being used with such wild abandon is almost infuriating from an arguably more informed position (arguably because I know more about the effects, but nothing about the experience itself). I can only assume the intense and bizarre results of an acid trip are shown correctly, and if so then this films effect on me is probably the opposite of that intended, I don’t ever want to take drugs or experience such a level of disorientation,
Jack Nicholson makes an all too brief appearance as drunken lawyer George Hanson, owning knowledge of the finest whorehouse in the South, but even he cannot resurrect this aimless love letter to the free love era from the doldrums, though a stark and unforgettable ending is very well implemented.
Choose life 6/10

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Monsters

Holding the prestigious position of most recent film on the list, having been awarded a 5-star rating from Empire magazine mere months before this cinematic odyssey began, Monsters is also one of the greatest examples of economic film making. Shooting on the fly with a skeleton crew and adding all effects afterwards himself, director Gareth Edwards (currently remaking Godzilla, hopefully with a better sense of scale continuity than Roland Emmerich, and without Matthew Broderick) has crafted a film equal parts Cloverfield, District 9 and any rom-com road trip you can think of. The plot is straightforward, Scoot McNairy’s cynical photojournalist Andrew must transport spoilt bosses daughter Sam (Whitney Able) back home across Central America. The hitch? Aliens landed in Mexico 6 years ago, and the area is now classified an infected zone, with only a few days before sea and air travel will be shut off for six months. Until the beautiful, unforgettable climax the titular creatures are barely seen, glimpsed in children’s cartoons, signs and graffiti, yet these giant bioluminescent jellyfish-like beings are more memorable than the central couple. Though not awful, the two leads are hardly required to stretch their talents, being a couple in real life whose marriage caused Edwards to miss a premiere of the film. As with all rom-coms, with or without building sized aliens, the two begin at odds with one another, but grudgingly grow to like each other through forced exposure, tequila, and redressing a bandage by firelight. Using a genuine couple heightens the realism of the relationship, so come the conclusion you hope they work something out between them.
Choose film 7/10

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Shallow Grave

When their new flatmate is found dead in his room with a suitcase full of money under his bed, best friends Juliet (Kerry Fox), David (Christopher Eccleston) and Alex (Ewan McGregor) decide to keep the money and bury the body in the woods, in the eponymous less than permanent resting place, only to find there are others on the trail of the recently deceased. Danny Boyle’s debut picture shows promise for both the director and his young leads, but the plot is too straightforward and loses its way during one of the trio’s mid film meltdown, and the ending isn’t as clever as it needs to be. The blackly comic tone (“You’re a doctor, you kill people every day”) and some interesting and imaginative shots –a robbery from the point of view of a cash machine – almost make this worthwhile, but it is only really noteworthy as a stepping stone from which Boyle would go on to become one of the better British filmmakers of recent years.
Choose life 6/10

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Buster Keaton

 I went on a bit of a Buster Keaton spree here, courtesy of LoveFilm’s watch online feature, allowing me to watch all of his films from the list - five in total – almost in one go. Ranging from 45 to 107 minutes in length, all are of course silent and black and white - the latest was made in 1928 after all, but to a film they are all exceptional, but I couldn’t help picking up on some recurring themes. Of the five, four involved a damsel in distress scenario, where Keaton’s diminutive heroic figure is the only one able to save her. Four predominantly feature trains, three offer a high speed pursuit, three have major plotlines revolving around an across the tracks romance, three use the theme of inheritance in some way and all five feature peril involving water, be it a dam, waterfall, water tower, boat or flood.
The best of the bunch are the General, depicting Keaton’s southern train engineer singlehandedly invading the North to rescue his girl and his beloved train, and Sherlock Jr., where a cinema employee dreams of being a famous detective. The General offers much in the way of action and physical comedy, as Keaton climbs over and sits on the front of a moving train engine. It’s Keaton’s most famous film, and rightly so, as his straight-faced fool tries so desperately and earnestly to do the right thing that he cannot help but be hilarious, staggering from one mishap to the next, rescuing the girl from the enemy only to be confronted by a bear. Throughout the films Keaton takes a cartoonish view to violence – getting limbs caught in a bear trap is less of an inconvenience than when it happens in the likes of Straw Dogs or Severance, but this only adds to the fun – it wouldn’t be very entertaining for the characters to be rushed to hospital every few minutes.
Seven Chances is at the disadvantage of having been made into the Bachelor, starring Chris O’Donnell in 1999. The remake does nothing but detract from the quality of the original film, as both use almost entirely the same plot – a man must marry before a given date, or be denied a rich relative’s vast inheritance – yet Keaton does it much more successfully with little messing around or unnecessary mucking about with now perfunctory rom-com tropes.
Our Hospitality plays on the Romeo and Juliet tale of warring families with besotted children, but takes it in an inspired new direction when Keaton’s Willie McKay attends a dinner hosted by the family of his new love, only to discover they are the Canfields, with whom the McKays have feuded for many years, and who are responsible for killing Willie’s father. The new spin is that, although the Canfields desperately want to kill Willie, their family code of honour prevents them from doing so whilst he is a guest in their house, so Willie does his best to remain there indefinitely.
Finally, Steamboat Bill Jr. sees Keaton sent to work in Boston with his steamboat captain father, but the beret clad, ukulele playing, moustachioed diminutive Keaton is not what his father was expecting. Somewhat predictably, Keaton’s Bill Jr. is eventually required to save the day, making his father see him in a whole new light, but along the way some incredible stunts, including the infamous house front falling on Keaton during a storm that could have killed him had it gone wrong, make this a worthwhile watch all the same.
The General – Choose film – 9/10
Seven Chances – Choose film – 8/10
Our Hospitality – Choose film – 7/10
Steamboat Bill Jr. – Choose film – 6/10
Sherlock Jr. – Choose film – 9/10

Monday, 3 October 2011

Heimat

A 15 ½ hour German film about life in a village from 1919 to 1982? Bring it on. Following the Simon family in the village in the Hunsruck in West Germany, this eleven part film, although technically I think this belongs on a TV series list, starts at the end of the first world war as Paul Simon, son of Katharina and Mathias, brother of Eduard and Pauline, soon to be husband of Maria and father to Anton and Ernst, returns home, and plays through the lives of this family, along with their various partners, offspring and neighbours, over the course of the following 63 years. The scope of this piece is hugely ambitious, with over 100 speaking parts, but the episodic nature works well, with even a recap at the start of each segment.
A large portion of the film is understandably given over to world war 2, from its outbreak, duration and aftermath, and much is shown from different viewpoints – the home guard, bomb defusal, Hitler youth, and an impressively impartial viewpoint is given to it. However, a lot of the plotting is of a soap opera standard, with love triangles and children growing up in ways unhoped for by their parents. Also focus, is lost once the spotlight moves from village stalwart Maria to her children, although this could be a deliberate way of showing the village – from which Maria has barely left her entire life, is also losing focus, splitting in different directions as per the varying lifestyles of her children.
Yes, this is ridiculously long. Ridiculously. We’re talking over 20 episodes of 24 here, over six discs, so if you’re gogin to watch this in one go, don’t invite me round. But if split over a few evenings, in much the same way as a normal TV series, this is definitely worth a look, even if some plot points are clearly signposted, and it gets a bit silly at the end when a main character dies and meets everyone they’ve met who has died before. Apparently, if you are blind when you die, in Heaven you’re invisible.
Choose film 6/10