Sunday, 27 February 2011

Toy Story Trilogy

Today’s volatile weather conditions allowed for a productive afternoon film-wise, as a planned bike ride along the beaches of Bournemouth was cut short by sporadic torrential downpours, meaning I crossed a trilogy off the list; Toy Story 1-3.

Watching the original Toy Story, the first feature-length motion picture created entirely using computer animation, always send me back to my childhood, aged 8 years old, sat in the cinema watching in wide-eyed wonder as the pixels were brought to life before me, with my Dad sound asleep in the next seat. It's one of my earliest film-related memories (my earliest cinema experience that I know of was the Lion King, but that's another post).

Pixar, for it is they responsible for both this wondrous memory and, perhaps, my love of film in general, have crafted in Toy Story that most miraculous of creations, a debut feature near perfect in execution, akin to Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs, or Sam Raimi's Evil Dead. The secret to Toy Story's success? My personal opinion is that, as with those others mentioned, the film has an overall, well known genre (children's animation), but refuses to stick to it, flitting between and parodying a cornucopia of other film genres, including war ("A good soldier never leaves a man behind!"), the heist in Sid's house, the zombie-like attack, a car chase, road movie, seemingly no movie staple is left untouched.

This multitude of movie pastiches continues through Toy Stories 2 and 3, taking in westerns, rescue missions, an amazing Star Wars riff, rom-com (Ken & Barbie), physical slap-stick comedy, a prison escape, nightmare sequence, even elements of horror, especialy with the trilogy closer's truly disturbing screaming monkey. Also, the ending of Part 2, involves that greatest of movie staples, a mad dash to and around an airport, yet Pixar approaches each aspect so uniquely that they appear fresh and new.

One of the highlights of the trilogy is the immensely enjoyable opening to part 3, where the original films have become so well known that they are ripe for self-homage, with the fantasy openings of the previous two films merged together in a tremendously fun fashion, making Pixar seem like the best possible place to work. If anyone from Pixar is reading, dear God please hire me. Please.

If I have to fault the films (and alas I do) then it is the first film's over-focus on its leads. Whilst the characters are good, and incredibly well inhabited by Tom Hanks and Tim Allen, it's the supporting characters that really shine brighter, and keeping the leads away from them for the majority of the picture is the only fault I can really pick. This problem was fixed by the time Toy Story 2 was released, with Rex, Hamm, Mr. Potato Head and Slinky-Dog being given a lot more well-deserved screen time, although the introduction of the weakest main character, Jesse, is just about corrected by pulling the one-two casting coup of Kelsey Grammar and Wayne Knight.

Also, being a mechanical engineer by day, I can't help but ignore that not all of the physics works out, but then this is a film in which inanimate toys come to life, so maybe that can be ignored. Also, at the end of Toy Story 3, how does Andy know Jesse and Bullseye's correct names? He was given them as gifts, and originally called Jesse Bazooka Jane. Sorry, shutting up.

Toy Story choose film 9/10
Toy Story 2 choose film 9/10
Toy Story 3 choose film 10/10

Friday, 25 February 2011


Before watching it, I only knew of Giant as being the last James Dean film. I'd seen Rebel Without a Cause recently, and been thoroughly underwhelmed, so had high hopes for Giant, as surely this, or perhaps East of Eden, were the reason that Dean is now such a cult icon, a supposedly defining character for a generation. Also, by looking at the cover for this film, I expected Dean to be the star of the film, his image appearing no less than five times on the cover, with Elizabeth Taylor appearing just once, and Rock Hudson not at all. It was with some surprise then that I found the stars to be Hudson and Taylor, with Dean a supporting character (granted, the most important supporting character, but supporting no less).

Having now watched the film, it shall be filed alongside the previously reviewed the Jazz Singer as an important film, just not a great one, though this time for being the last film of James Dean, rather than the first feature length to include audible dialogue. Giant documents the life of a young couple, Hudson and Taylor, from the day they meet and through the next 25 years of their lives. Even with an epic run time of almost three and a half hours, the plotting is generally fast, with major events such as their marriage and the birth of their children skipped over, pausing to show the more landmark occasions, for example the dismay of Hudson's Jordan Benedict as Jordy, his son, cries when set upon his first horse. Along the way, Jordan's life is besieged at every turn by Dean's Jett Rink, a ranchhand who, upon inheriting a small patch of land, becomes a billionaire when he strikes oil. Dean overacts to his heart's content, failing to draw any compassion within his rags-to-riches arc.

There are two main points that I took from the tale. Firstly, that some things never change, and some things do. This seems a fairly pointless ethos, but shown in the films context takes some form, as the menfolk gather to discuss business as the times change around them, but Benedict's initial negative feelings towards his Mexican ranchhands are subdued when his son, an excellent young Dennis Hopper, marries and produces a son, both Mexican and Benedict. Secondly, the film shows the dramatic effect a small act, in this case purchasing a horse, can have on the rest of your life. So, essentially, Giant is the Butterfly Effect without the nosebleeds.

Choose film 6/10

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

The Jazz Singer

Today I watched the Jazz Singer, infamous for being the first film to use dialogue, or more accurately, singing, as this is a semi-musical, presumably to showcase the new sound technology of 1927, as I felt that the inclusion of full-length song performances detracted from the plot, of a young Jewish boy who runs away from home to become a jazz singer. I feel that this film was included in the 1001 Films to Watch Before You Die purely due to its significance in cinema history, of being the first 'Talkie', not because it is one of the 'great' films.
Choose life 4/10

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Out of Sight

Last night I watched Out of Sight. I'd seen it before, but never really paid an awful lot of attention to it, but this time I made an effort to follow the plot. I think the film is a little over-rated, with editing style taking precedence over actual substance. In places, it seems to want to be a modernised version of classic cinema, with freezeframes, snappy dialogue and a plot that sees George Clooney's prison escapee and Jennifer Lopez's federal marshal thrown together and falling for one another, but it is this plot device that in my opinion lets the film down. I've always hated the tacking on of an arbitrary romance subplot almost ruining what would otherwise be an incredible picture (see also the Nightmare Before Christmas, Pulp Fiction, Star Wars), and this is definitely the case with Out of Sight. If the film had focussed on Clooney's Jack Foley, his escape from prison and the heists before and after, I feel it would have been a far superior picture. By all means keep J-Lo's character, (but for the love of cinema, recast) but drop the frankly ridiculous romance between the two. The best part of the film was the cast, with Don Cheadle eating up the screen as hoodlum Snoop, whilst Ving Rhames supports well as Buddy, Foley's redemption-craving partner in crime. And the last minute cameo is one of the greatest I've ever seen.

Choose film 7/10

Thursday, 17 February 2011

All Quiet on the Western Front

Right, it's done, the list is complete. It can be found on the Challenge page of this truly marvellous blog. The final count stands at 1,327 films, somewhat less than I was anticipating, but still a decent number to watch in 5 years (0.73 a day, stats fans), considering I've got to track most of them down, and a large number won't be watched by my girlfriend (rules: no subtitles, no gore, minimal swearing, no snakes), severely limiting the days I'll be able to watch them.

And so, the journey continues, with my watching tonight of the original 1930 version of All Quiet on the Western Front. I recently watched the 1979 TV movie version, and found it entertaining, especially Ian Holm's moustache, but feel that the original is far superior, not least because all the actors in the remake seem to bring nothing to their roles, copying their predecessors exactly, especially Donald Pleasance as the teacher who inspires his students to enlist. The film is notable for being an American-made film depicting the Germans during World War I, and depicting them sympathetically, as real people with feelings and fears, not just faceless stormtroopers who must be defeated.

Choose film 7/10

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

True Grit (2010)

I'm a massive Coen brothers fan. I've got all their films, a couple of posters, and eagerly await any and all of their new releases, as in a perfect world all films would be directed by the Coens. After the release of Burn After Reading on DVD I even completed a 23 hour marathon of all their films in a single day, and man that was a good day.

True Grit lived up to my high expectations. Jeff Bridges, one of the greatest leading character actors of our time, has been added to the list of my favourite screen drunks (alongside Dudley Moore in Arthur, Nicolas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas and Val Kilmer in Tombstone), and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld also impresses, although not necessarily enough to warrant her Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination (itself a slap in the face, being the film's lead over the Best Actor nominated Bridges). She may be considered the next Scarlett Johansson, after her early career-making turn in the Coens' the Man Who Wasn't There. Oh yeah, add Billy Bob Thornton to the screen drunks for Bad Santa, can't believe I forgot that.

Anyway, Matt Damon is solid as LaBoeuf, the Texas Ranger assisting the duo's quest to find the man who killed Steinfeld's father, as do Barry Pepper and Josh Brolin as the baddies on the run. The supporting cast is also filled with kinda funny lookin' eccentrics, as per usual with the Coens, especially the lawyer near the start, with his alarmingly acrobatic top lip. The tabletop chat with a John Goodman and Steve Buscemi near-lookalikes also made me smile, bringing memories of the Big Lebowski's bowling team, especially with 'Goodman' insisting that 'Buscemi' doesn't talk, a la "Shut the fuck up, Donny".

Choose film 9/10

Sideways/Les Vacances de M. Hulot

Cross off two more! I watched Sideways on Sunday, still loved it, but then I'll watch anything with Paul Giamatti in, even Shoot 'em Up, and I'm looking forward to watching Cold Souls at some point in the future too, as well as Barney's Version. Choose Film 7/10

Rented les Vacances de M. Hulot too. Wasn't overly impressed if I'm honest, I found the lack of a driven narrative to be annoying, and that most of the occurrences were contrived merely to allow a few slightly humourous pratfalls. Plus, the character of Monsieur Hulot is a clear inspiration for Mr. Bean, the character that lessened Rowan Atkinson as a comedy genius in the public mindset, for which there is no possible forgiveness. Choose Life 4/10

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Second Chance: Jurassic Park 3

Jurassic Park is one of those films that really should have stopped at just 1 film. As much as I do love the second film, adding an all-star cast of Julianne Moore, Vince Vaughn, Peter Stormare, Richard Schiff and Pete Postlethwaite (R.I.P.) to the already spot-on casting of Jeff Goldblum, and with the addition of Compsognathus, one of my favourite dinosaurs (get over it, I'm a nerd), I feel that lifting the curtain on the mythology behind the parks sullies the memory of the original film, which I still deem as near-perfect cinema (major failing point: not killing the kids).

Black Narcissus/An Education

Nearly finished the list! Just editing out the duplications. Fortunately, I seem to own a good couple of hundred of the required films, but I feel I may be re-joining LoveFilm pretty soon, and learning how to set my VCR (yes, VCR, what's the weather like in the present?) for the random daytime gold that is Film4. I've also discovered the library of DVDs at the university my girlfriend attends, offering up to 3 rentals at a time, for free! Alas, she is only there for a few more months, so I'm going to be renting as many as I can whilst she's there.

Whilst forming the final list, I've managed to cross a few more off (not entirely sure how, as I've not actually printed it yet), namely Air Force One (there is never a time when I don't enjoy Harrison Ford kicking ass), Black Narcissus and An Education. Black Narcissus wasn't what I was expecting, as from what I'd read it was supposedly sexually charged, which I found strange considering it was about nuns setting up a new hospital/school in the mountains of 19th century India. Not to say it was a bad film, as the scenery was incredibly well shot, and the film dealt with some nice themes of faith, isolation and commitment to a cause. If anything, I'm now going to try and read as little as I can about the films before watching them.

This would also have proved useful for An Education, of which I had heard a lot of praise. I found the film enjoyable, but very predictable. Carey Mulligan, as the film's lead Jenny, performed very well, but I feel the film is stolen by her onscreen father, played by Alfred Molina. Bizarrely I had heard nothing of his role before watching, but watching him ascertaining the appropriateness of paying for someone else's petrol when they're treating him to dinner reassures of his existence as one of todays greatest character actors.
Black Narcissus Choose Life 4/10
An Education Choose Life 5/10

Turns out Air Force One wasn't on the list in the end, whoops, but Choose Film 6/10

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Second Chance: Sex and the City the Movie 2

I must have done something wrong. I've no idea what it was, but believe me I'm sorry, as the punishment for this unknown wrongdoing was a viewing of Sex and the City the Movie 2. I've never watched an episode, and certainly haven't seen the original film, but I knew of the characters, their names and basic cliche stereotypes (Charlotte = prim and proper, Carrie = whiny clotheshorse, Miranda = businesslike, Samatha = whore) from pop-culture. I've never had any desire to watch anything even vaguely related to this show, and this viewing has only furthered this mission.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Is 3D killing cinema?

Yesterday, my girlfriend and I wanted to see Tangled. We want to see it in 2D, as I refuse to pay an extra £2.00 per person to see the exact same film (£3.00 if you include the glasses), with an added third dimension. I don't care if it's more immersive, it's the same film, I don't care. It's just another way of draining my hard earned money out of my pocket, where it's busy keeping the moths warm. However, the optimum times for watching the film were only showing in 3D, so we didn't go, we went home and watched Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer instead. I may never forgive cinema. We're going to see it tonight instead, in 2D, but if we weren't such social outcasts that we didn't have two consecutive weekend evenings free, we wouldn't see it, and the Gods of Movies would never see our readies.

Why should I be punished for not wanting to watch in 3D? All you people excited to see the next revolution in cinema can just shush, it's not that big a revolution, and I really hope they stop making films in 3D, I feel it adds nothing to the experience, save forcing me to wear my contacts instead of glasses, else I must commit the fashion faux pas of the double-spectacles. Anyway, I demand that cinemas provide equal rights for both 2D and 3D viewers. Let us make our own minds up about how we want to watch it, don't force 3D on us, or you;ll lose our business.

Friday, 4 February 2011

The King's Speech/12 Angry Men

I'm still working on the full list, its quite long so may take a while to sort through any duplications, but suffice to say I'm thinking I've bitten off slightly more than I can chew, as I haven't heard of many of the 1001 Films to See Before You Die, let alone seen.

I have already started the challenge though, with I think the only film on the list to still be in cinemas, The King's Speech, featuring in Empire's 5 Star 500. I was very impressed with the picture, especially Colin Firth's performance as King George VI, much deserving of it's recent awards and probable Oscar. I was also pleased to see Helena Bonham Carter, proving she doesn't need a manic character and silly wig to be captivating, leaving me wishing she who plays straight more often. I was however disappointed with Guy Pearce and Timothy Spall, seemingly playing caricatures of King Edward VIII and Winston Churchill respectively. Pearce especially seemed to be doing his best Terry-Thomas impersonation, unable to remove the silver spoon from his backside. Choose Film 7/10

I've also crossed off one of my favourite films, 12 Angry Men. I adore this film, and find it incredible that it can be so enthralling, yet only uses 12 actors, a couple of props and largely one very small location. The performances are superb, as the 12 jurors decide the fate of a young boy's life. I love how Sidney Lumet cunningly moves the walls in and the camera closer and lower as the scenes progress, to enhance the claustrophobia of the situation. Choose Film 9/10