Tuesday, 26 April 2011

The Truman Show

The central concept of the Truman Show, that a man (Jim Carrey, in one of his first reined in roles) is being unwittingly filmed every minute of his life for a reality TV show/, is genius, and on the surface appears well thought out. Round the clock feed is funded by blatant in-show product placement, the town of Seahaven where Truman lives is encased in a giant dome, complete with ocean, and almost everything in the show is set up to keep Truman satisfied with living there, from regular news bulletins and reminders from friends that they live in officially the greatest town in the world, to travel agents displaying posters of planes being struck by lightning, proclaiming “It could happen to you!” The shows creators have even created a fear of water in Truman, by having his father drown and making it Truman’s fault, but if you look closer there are some fairly major faults with the show. Firstly, it makes sense to give Truman’s best friend a menial job, as it requires little skill, but why make his wife a nurse? Surely it’s possible that she may need to see to someone in the presence of Truman, as shown when he goes to see her at work. This is also true of the coach-driving extra, unable to drive a coach, but the main issue here is why there is a coach station at all, when it’s never going to be used, and there not present in every town, even in the US.
In terms of execution, the film doesn’t falter, utilising a wide variety of camera and shot angles to mimic a reality television format, and the scenes showing the viewers of the show discussing their favourite moments, how they keep it on at night for company, and the interview with ‘televisionary’ Christoph (Ed Harris) essentially playing God with someone’s life all adds to the overall effect. This raises the question of whether its right to do this to someone, locking them away for their entire life, but giving them a seemingly idyllic but fully controlled one instead. And if it were wrong, would that stop you from watching it? Its scary to think, but if this happened in real life, there would probably be more people glued to their television screens in fascination than there would be protesting.

Choose film 8/10

Monday, 25 April 2011

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Within the Indiana Jones saga, each of the films has a specific role. Raiders is the leader, the well rounded, talented, good looking jock that everyone likes, admires and wants to be friends with. Crusade is the jokester, a tad immature, but loyal and loveable nonetheless. Skull is the one no-one wants to admit is in the gang, the sci-fi nerd with the stupid theories that tags along despite being the butt of all the jokes. And Temple takes life a bit more seriously, is a bit more intense, or so I’ve always remembered. When I’ve thought of it, I tend to remember the dark, mythological plot, involving sacred stones, voodoo, mass child kidnapping and slavery, yet upon rewatching I picked up on the lighter notes, the offsetting of this darkness with two of the series’ more comic (and irritating) supporting characters, various light-hearted moments (generally involving elephants) and a physics/logic defying rollercoaster minecart ride.
Although the film does offer some memorable moments, notably the bridge finale and the dinner scene (chilled monkey brains...), the too-shifting nature of the tone from humorous to sinister is too jarring, hindering the overall enjoyment of the film, and preventing it from reaching the dizzying heights of at least two of the other films in the series.
Choose film 7/10

The Blair Witch Project

I needed a short film today as I was a little pushed for time, so the 74-minute Blair Witch Project was perfect, until I realised I was watching a horror film alone in an empty flat immediately before going to bed, not always a wise decision. You’ll be able to tell when I’m really busy when I post about watching La Voyage Dans la Lune (14 mins) or the Cat Concerto (8 mins).
Supposedly well known purely for its ‘found footage’ gimmick, this is actually a very well made and surprisingly disconcerting horror, following three college students filming a documentary on the ‘Blair Witch’, a local legend believed by many to be just an urban myth.
Setup and exposition are covered by the students own camera footage of preparations for the trip and interviews with locals (planted by the directors unbeknownst to the actors), both of which serve to realise the real-life documentary format, assisted by juddery, poorly framed camerawork and occasionally inaudible dialogue.
Once the trip begins, the trio are on good terms, mucking around with the camera, filming each other peeing and generally joking around as they get to know one another, but as the trip inevitably turns sour, the three turn upon one another and the relationships break down. The reason it looks so real on camera is due to the directors putting the actors through the situations for real, making them trek through the woods, camping out and carrying all their equipment, requesting they shoot all the footage themselves, not to mention putting them through emotional and psychological trauma, usually without warning or explanation.
Choose film 7/10


It’s never a good sign when the first joke from a so-called comedy film is a throwaway gag stolen from Clueless, two friends talking on the phone, the conversation ending seconds before one collects the other on the way to school. This kind of base level unoriginal humour, along with a very immature, puerile level of swearing and obsession with alcohol, girls and sex may well be indicative of teenage boys, but doesn’t make for entertaining viewing to those of us older than 15. Apparently Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen wrote the script whilst still in school, and it shows.
Choose life 4/10

Friday, 22 April 2011


One of my favourite movie subgenres is the limited cast, limited locations films, where, for whatever reason, only a handful of characters are involved, and are confined to a small number, preferably one or two, of areas. This is best seen in 12 Angry Men, as previously discussed, where the principle cast are the 12 jurors on a case, and the principle sets are the jury room and its adjacent restroom. Similarly, Alien sees the seven crew members of the mining spaceship Nostromo largely confined to the ship and a planet it docks at in response to a distress signal. Things take a turn for the worse when, upon docking, the ship picks up an alien lifeform (later known as a Xenomorph), whose main ambition in life seems to be removing it from other creatures.
The film shows an interesting depiction of the future far removed from the more utopian worlds of more classic science fiction. Here, men seem to have retained dominance (shown by the exclusion of women from any decision making), and where class separation is still rife (the two engineers, Parker and Brett, are paid half as much as everyone else on board). The ship’s design is a far cry from the gleaming visuals of, say, 2001: A Space Odyssey. The Nostromo is, after all, a mining craft, so the ship’s functional, mechanical nature is only to be expected, although the overly futuristic sleeping pods do jar with the rest of the ship.
Aside from the infamous ‘chestburster’ scene (of which you can now by lifesize plush toys!), I couldn’t remember most of the film, although in my memory it does tend to blend with the other films from the franchise, as my only previous viewing was in marathon format. That said, there is much that sticks in the mind now, from Hurt’s descent into the alien nest, littered with giant eggs covered in a mysterious fog, or Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) seeing off an 8 ft alien with molecular acid for blood and far too many sets of teeth dressed only in vest and knickers (Ripley’s wearing the knickers, not the alien).
Having seen many survival films, where the cast is slowly whittled down one by one until the final confrontation, I noticed that with Alien it is not immediately obvious who the main character, and therefore the final survivor, is. Most of the characters are given fairly equal screen time, characterisation and dialogue, so it is not until the numbers start to dwindle that it is clear Ripley is the heroine, as earlier in the film she seemed to be the more heartless, professional crewmember, condemning Hurt’s Kane to death by refusing him entry onto the ship without a proper scan. That being said, she does become stupid later on, stopping to put two suffering crewmembers out of their misery minutes before the entire ship, them included, will be blown up (I’ve never understood this, why do ships have self-destruct mechanisms? Were they expecting an alien lifeform to come aboard, and the only way to kill it would be to blow the whole ship up? If so, surely some other defence mechanisms could be implemented instead?), and then she goes back for the cat, kept on board purely to jump out at random moments to scare the bejesus out of anyone in the vicinity.
Choose film 9/10

The Prestige

Fittingly, The Prestige is a trick of a movie, a plaything, director Chris Nolan toying with the audience like a cat with a ball of string. Everything, from character motivation to the narrative timeline is entangled for the audience to figure out, as the tale of two rival magicians, Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale, unfolds. Jackman’s Robert Angier is a showman, but lacks the skill of Bale’s Alfred Borden, himself too concerned with the technicalities of the illusions to be entertaining. Hell, even the film’s genre, seemingly a period drama, reveals itself to be more science fiction who-dunnit (not to mention what-dun-and-how). Nothing is as it seems, but on a repeat viewing you pick up the clues, noticing that Nolan did indeed signpost the way, but the plot, characters, setting and acting was too mesmerising, too engrossing for us to notice.
Choose film 8/10

The Shawshank Redemption

This is one of the films I’ve seen more times than any other, up there with Armageddon and Die Hard with a Vengeance (criminally, neither of which appear on the list). Shawshank tells the story of Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), wrongly convicted of the murder of his wife and her lover. Really though, the film is about friendship, with Dufresne meeting Morgan Freeman’s Red, a man known to locate certain items from time to time, and the two form a firm bond. The film also shows how to make the best of a bad situation, as before imprisonment Andy was in a relationship with an unfaithful women, a successful but passion-less job as a banker and had few, if any, friends (none seem to visit him throughout his sentence), yet in prison he thrives, providing sound financial advice to the guards, making friends and finding peace within himself with the aid of a newfound routine and meaning. Andy never knew that all he wanted was freedom, until what little he had was taken away from him.
Choose film 9/10

Friday, 8 April 2011

X-Men 2

With the consistently excellent Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass) releasing his upcoming X-Men First Class soon, a film about which I am very excited, and not just because it features January Jones and very little clothing, I thought it was apt to cross off X-Men 2. Although there were some excellent scenes, most notably the entrance of fan-favourite Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) attempting to kill the President, the attack on the Mutant Academy and the fight between Wolverine and Lady Deathstrike, there were some plot holes I just couldn’t get past at the end of the film (spoilers).  Firstly, when Magneto (Sir Ian McKellen) breaks into Cerebro, where a brainwashed Professor X (Sir Patrick Stewart) is being used to locate and kill all mutants worldwide, we are shown the mutants writhing in pain for the 30 seconds or so they are being attacked, so when the machine is altered, to affect non-mutants instead, we can only assume that they (we?) are put under a similar level of duress. So we’re talking about everyone driving a car, every pilot flying a plane, every surgeon performing an operation, all these people would be unable to function for a few minutes, causing carnage worldwide, and probably a massive number of fatalities. Secondly, why did Phoenix (Famke Jannsen) die? Yes, she got off the plane to lift it into the air (I’m assuming there are some logistical difficulties with lifting something you yourself are inside), yet there is a period of time between the plane being up in the air and the flood of water, that she is holding back, from engulfing her. She knew there was a teleporter on the plane, as we are told she is preventing Nightcrawler from helping her, but why not let him bamf out and grab her after she’s lifted the plane? It is a completely needless death, present only so when Charles meets the president at the end of the film, he can say there were losses on both sides, even though we are shown she didn’t really die.
Other than that, Brian Cox makes an excellent Bond-like villain, complete with henchmen, underground lair and, ahem, crippling put-downs (remarking “don’t get up” to a wheelchair-bound Professor X), and making the film more of an ensemble piece, as opposed to the originals Wolverine-show , even though he is the most memorable and fleshed out character. I also approved of director Bryan Singer including elements of his own life, for example Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) ‘coming out’ to his parents as a mutant.
Choose film 7/10

Thursday, 7 April 2011

The Spider's Stratagem

I’ll be honest, I lost track of this film. It seems to involve a man investigating the death of his father, but I really don’t know what happened after that. Every character seems to be contradictory, saying one thing then immediately changing their mind or acting oppositely, and the plot seemed to move backwards and forwards without warning, notification, explanation or reason. There was some lovely dialogue though (“I’m 74, and I’ll buy a drink for anyone who pisses further than me.”)

Choose life 2/10

Terminator 2: Judgement Day

How do you make a sequel to Terminator? It seems like the perfect movie to create a franchise with, featuring the possibilities for labyrinthine time-travel plotting, self referencing paradoxes and a villain who can be killed, but can also always return, but therein lays the biggest stumbling block. The villain from the original, Schwarzenegger’s unstoppable mechanical monster, the main draw of the first film, surely must return for the second, especially seeing as, in 1991, he was one of the biggest stars in the world. But how could the same robot come back as the villain? The sequel must somehow build upon the original, develop it further, else why bother? Having the same villain, with essentially the same plot, would seem a waste of time. So, proving that necessity is indeed the mother of invention, director James Cameron pulled a full character flip on not just Arnie’s T-800, now here as protector rather than foe, but also of Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor, discarding the ditzy 80s hairdo for some badass fighting skills, tank tops and a permanent ticket to the gun show. The introduction of John Connor (Edward Furlong) as a ridiculously irritating teenager spouting laughable phrases (Asta-la-vista, baby? Seriously?) is also a diversion from the expected, as he’s the so-called saviour of mankind, but he’s so goddamn annoying that whenever he was onscreen I found myself rooting for the bad guy.

And what a bad guy. Tackling the insurmountable challenge of topping the Governator’s performance in the previous film, Cameron used Robert Patrick as the liquid metal T-1000, able to mimic anything it touches. The T-1000 is superior to the T-800 in every way, making the formerly unstoppable Terminator now seem genuinely flawed. R-Patz plays the T-1000 with a similar steely, machine-like physicality to Schwarzenegger, but is much more agile and flexible, creating a more efficient killing machine.

The CGI (and indeed, lack thereof) is incredible (I recently discovered that the shot where the Connors go digging around in Arnie’s head whilst he is talking was done completely without computers, instead using a fake mirror and Linda Hamilton’s twin sister) especially the T-1000’s morphing abilities (the shotgun-blasted creature at the end is in actual fact a fully mechanical model, that someone probably has in their house somewhere. I want it). 

The film also comes with one of cinemas coolest moments, when the T-800 single handedly reloads a shotgun whilst riding a motorcycle, with Arnie not even looking at it. I also enjoyed how the Terminator universe had expanded from the first film, the events actually causing progression, as the arm of the T-800 that was trapped in the factory has been discovered, as has an integral chip from within its head, allowing scientists to invent the technology required to create the Terminators, possibly sooner than would have happened had the original T-800 and Kyle Reese not come back from the future in the first film.

Choose Film 9/10

The White Balloon

An Iranian film shot almost entirely in real time, about a young girl trying to buy a goldfish before the New Year, this is hardly action-packed cinema, but was still surprisingly gripping. Following her on the various ordeals she encounters, first convincing her mother to let her buy one, then losing her money not once but twice, and diverting along the way to the strangers who help or hinder her quest, you begin to genuinely care about the girl, and desperately hope that she accomplishes her fairly pointless mission.
I liked how a child’s perspective of the world was accurately depicted on film, with both the girl and her slightly older brother believing that any problem can be solved by any adult, simply because they are an adult and know how to do everything, or how nothing is more important than whatever the child is doing, anything is forgivable, even stealing.
Choose film 6/10

Independence Day

Much like Titanic (also on the list, some other time) this is a film that only really reaches its stride in the second half, once the iceberg has hit and the world starts to sink. Ignoring the obvious, huge and much-discussed plot holes (what if the alien spaceships didn’t operate on Mac OS?) this is actually a very enjoyable popcorn film, with Roland Emmerich unleashing his full hatred on mankind in the form of giant spaceships playing a lethal game of chess with the Earth. The cast contains many tongue-in-cheek performances by actors more known for comedy (Will Smith, Randy Quaid, Jeff Goldblum) and displays people from all walks of life, be they a drunken former abductee or a Clinton-esque president, berated for being too young, all bonding together to save their planet. At times it is a little too patriotic though, as we are shown late in the film that the rest of the world have been waiting for the yanks to come up with a solution (“About bloody time” complains a typically posh Englishman), but then in a big dumb action movie you can expect some big dumb ideas (Smith’s first human interaction with an alien sees him punching it in the head). Also, the US patriotism is probably more of a money-making plot, seeing as the director is actually from Germany.

Choose film 8/10

Chronique d'Un Ete

I can’t say I’m surprised that this film is unavailable for rental from Lovefilm. It’s essentially a collection of interviews with various Parisians in 1960, being asked whether they are happy, and discussing topics including life, success, wealth and race. As an insight into life there and then it is interesting, but only in how it highlights the differences and similarities between the inhabitants of the same city. It all gets bit meta later on, when the directors, an anthropologist and a sociologist, discuss how the film has been limited up to that point, before showing the film to the people interviewed within it. Their reaction to the documentary is included as part of the film, as is the directors subsequent discussion of the reaction of the film, and the difficulties they have had making it. Many years before commentaries and behind the scene footage was popular, these two were self-analysing and critiquing the film they were making, whilst they were making it, and filming it as they went, to be included in the very film they were analysing. It’s the kind of moebius-strip film-making that could good on forever, but thankfully doesn’t.

Choose life 5/10

Good Will Hunting

Is anyone else waiting for the second Oscar-winning screenplay from Matt Damon and Ben Affleck? I know they’ve been busy (until recently, Damon more so than Affleck), and that they essentially wrote the script because they weren’t getting the roles they wanted, but the guys obviously have talent, and I hope they start tapping away again soon. Affleck could even direct this time, as he’s shown great promise with Gone Baby Gone and, apparently, The Town (I’ve not seen it yet but am looking forward to, I’ll keep you posted).

Good Will Hunting sees Damon as an undercover genius, working as a janitor at Harvard University. He spends his nights drinking and fighting with his friends, repeatedly getting into trouble with the police until he is caught solving a complex math problem by Stellan Skarsgard’s professor. Skarsgard promises to tutor the boy, as long as he sees a psychiatrist (Robin Williams). Damon as ever is on fine form, and writes himself some of the best scenes he’s ever had, with his barroom put down of a plagiarising college-boy a particular highlight, Damon’s effortless reeling off of quotes and opinions flowing so naturally it’s a wonder the guys never won a major acting award. Williams too was a risky choice to play the mostly serious psychiatrist, bearing in mind this was released the same year as Flubber, but he excels, making Sean sympathetic yet stern, humorous and serious in the same breath. He almost steals the film from Damon, who I must say absolutely nails the expression of sheer joy when he realises Sean’s touchy subject. 
The film features some excellent scenes revolving purely around the dialogue and acting, with Damon and Williams’ conversation on the bench, and Williams and Skarsgard in the pub being too personal favourites. Usually, I don’t have as much of a problem with Affleck as an actor as most people, in fact when his character Chucky attends a job interview in Hunting’s place he is excellent, bringing an unprecedented confidence and swagger to the scene, but his reaction at the very end of the film is so terrible that it almost ruined the film for me. You can almost see his brain attempting to manoeuvre the different areas of his face into where he thinks they should be to express whatever the hell it is he’s trying to emote.

Choose film 7/10

Miller's Crossing

As I’ve previously mentioned in my post about the remake of True Grit, I’m a massive Coen brothers fan, so when my girlfriend selected Miller’s Crossing from the DVD stack to watch last week, I was overjoyed.

So, what’s the rumpus? Crossing depicts life in prohibition era America, following Tom (Gabriel Byrne), adviser to Albert Finney’s mob boss Leo, whose woman Tom happens to be sleeping with. The film features many outstanding performances, especially John Turturro as the excellently named crooked bookie Bernie Burnbaum, Jon Polito as rival mobster Caspar and Steve Buscemi as the weaselly Mink, cast purely for his ability to speak the dialogue faster than any of the other actors. The plot is typically dense, as Tom switches allegiances amid the ensuing power struggles, and you must pay attention if you want to follow the plot, so often are major events discussed bullet-fast.
The film’s standout scene has to be the Danny Boy sequence. Albert Finney has never topped a list of movie bad-asses, especially dressed in a red silk dressing gown, embroidered slippers and half-moon spectacles, but after seeing his thwart an attack on his life using only a liberated tommy gun, some unexpected acrobatics and a cigar he never stops chewing, you’ll think he could take out the Expendables single-handed.

The Coens are well known for playing with their audience, something they delight in here, with many conversations taking place, before panning round and revealing an unexpected listener, altering the entire dynamic of the scene, and hats are used more pivotally than possibly in any other film, giving away a person’s whereabouts, used as currency or symbolising a loss of dignity.
So that’s the rumpus, an excellent comedic gangster noir about friendship, character and ethics. And hats.
Choose film 8/10


Apologies, I watched this over a week ago, but haven’t had a chance to write anything until now, sorry. I’ve got a soft spot for Election that is also one of the reasons I don’t necessarily get on well with the film. Growing up, I was always a Tracy Flick kind of student. If there was ever a hand up in class, chances are it would be mine, I took my schoolwork very seriously and wasn’t necessarily the most popular person at school (shock horror),  although I can’t say I distinctly remember sleeping with any members of staff, but I’ve blocked out a lot of my formative years so who knows what happened. So although I empathise with Flick, pitch-perfectly played by the Golden Globe nominated Reese Witherspoon, I feel sorrier for Matthew Broderick’s ethics teacher Jim McAllister, and even more so for my own previous teachers, who had to endure a real life version of Flick’s character.

The plot finds McAllister organising the upcoming election for student body president, a role for which Flick is running unopposed. Horrified at the thought of having to spend any more time than is strictly necessary with his aggravating student, McAllister sets about encouraging another student, Chris Klein’s popular yet slow jock Paul Metzler, to run against her. Difficulties arise when Flick discovers, the plot and Paul’s outcast sister Tammy also runs against them both.
The cast all do an excellent job of rounding out their characters, but I feel that Klein is very underrated in this film, with his candidate speech being one of the highlights. I was also pleased with the character of McAllister, especially making him an ethics teacher, considering almost everything he does is unethical in some way or another, from setting a pop quiz when he needs to run errands to sleeping with his best friend’s wife in front of his own infant godson.
Choose film 7/10

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Glengarry Glen Ross

Glengarry Glen Ross has an excellent ensemble cast that cannot be ignored, featuring Al Pacino, Ed Harris, Kevin Spacey, Alan Arkin, Alec Baldwin, Jonathan Pryce and the great Jack Lemmon, all sharing the screen and delivering award-worthy performances. In particular, I was very impressed by the mesmerising cameo from Baldwin as corporate ball-breaker Blake, brought in to motivate the employees of the real estate firm (or make them feel about 2 inches tall, whatever works) and Kevin Spacey’s weasel-like manager Williamson, knowing he has no right to his job and sticking firmly to the rules and regulations to make sure he keeps it. I was reminded of 12 Angry Men whilst watching, with the confined locations, all-male cast and stage origins of the story, as well as the heightening tensions, hot and wet climates and outbursts of anger from its central cast. Harris and Arkin, as the angry Moss and deflated Aaronow respectively, seemed a little one-note, but their characters were still vital to the story, and each had their highlights.

Choose film 8/10