Saturday, 28 May 2011

Lord of the Rings Trilogy

This 1001 book is starting to piss me off. Not only did it count a whole goddamn TV series as one film (slyly writing the length of one hour long episode instead of the full 10-hour marathon) but now it’s counted Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy as one film. This is less annoying, as all three films appear on all of the other lists used, but think, two other films could have been removed to make up the numbers. Maybe two of the crap films I’ve already watched. Thanks book editors, thanks very much. I watched Olympia and the Spider’s Stratagem for nothing. Bastards.
Since dominating the world of cinema upon its release and becoming a cultural landmark, the trilogy has suffered a little backlash, mainly in terms of plot. Some believe, and I’m topping this list with Kevin Smith for his Rings-hating rant in Clerks 2, that the whole epic journey to thrown the mythical One Ring into the fiery chasm of Mount Doom could have been achieved a lot faster with the use of the giant eagles seen at the start of the film rescuing Gandalf from Saruman’s clutches and at the end, flying Sam and Frodo to safety. “Hey,” they say, “why didn’t they just fly the eagles to Mount Doom, chuck in the ring, then fly home for another pint of mead?” “Well,” say I, “because of all the giant frickin’ Nazguls flying around, you ignorant festering spore of mould.”The Nazguls, ridden by Sauron’s elite ringwraiths, are giant winged demon creatures, a kind of hybrid between a dragon, a snake, a garbage disposal and the thing creeping up behind you right now. Admittedly, once on the ground they seem to be fairly easily dispatched when distracted by food, swift footwork and a well-honed chopping action, but notice how the eagles only show up to the battle once some of them have already been taken out, and even then seem to struggle. Just shut up.
There is far too much to say about this trilogy, far more than I’m willing to type at any rate, but it is clear that the production of these films was very much a labour of love for all involved, particularly Jackson, with the sheer scale of everything, from Bilbo’s under-hill cottage at Bag End, through the elven city of Rivendell, the stronghold of Minas Tirith, the fires of Mount Doom and everywhere inbetween being a phenomenal undertaking, consuming many years of the lives of all who took part. All the characters are perfectly cast, even those not required of any emotional heavy lifting (Orlando Bloom, we’re looking at you), and every character has more than enough time to shine. There are many memorable moments, from Gandalf’s stand-off against the Balrog in the mines of Moriah, to Legolas’ acrobatic takedown of the mountainous four-tusked Olyphant (which, of course, still only counts as one kill), not to mention the groundbreaking effects used to create the creature Gollum.
Don’t be put off by the dungeons and dragons feel, with the silly names, invented languages and occasionally ridiculous mythology (so it’s a ring that makes one person all powerful and anyone else invisible, that can only be destroyed in a giant volcano? Well yes that sounds perfectly plausible), for this is cinema as it is meant to be, showcasing action, drama, comedy, war, every genre you care to think of. There’s even an army of ghost pirates and a few coming-of-age tales in there too. Yes, the romantic sub-sub-plot between Aragorn, Arwen and Eowyn is largely superfluous and feels tacked on, and it is a little long (never bothered me that much, I’m more than happy to spend a whole day watching films), but for a spectacle this grand, it’s more than worth it.  
Choose film 10/10

Friday, 27 May 2011


The film that made James Cromwell a perfect secret bad guy (see L.A. Confidential) and converting many meat eaters into vegetarians after seeing the consequences of the odd sausage roll, Babe tells the story of a pig, won by a farmer at a country fair, who learns to become a sheep-pig after being adopted by the farmers dogs. As a child, I remember greatly enjoying this film, especially the exploits of clumsy, prophetic duck Ferdinand who has aspirations of becoming a rooster to prevent being cooked in an orange sauce, but now I just find the whole thing tiresome. Especially the mice. What is the deal with the singing mice? I’m guessing they were probably used to introduce the various chapters in Rudyard Kipling’s book, but having them occasionally pop up and sing the chapter title, even though it’s written on the screen directly above them, just seems silly, and I’m sure they’re too small in comparison to the rest of the animals. If they were the inspiration behind the recent films of Alvin and the Chipmunks then woe betide anyone with a hand in bringing them onto the screen.
Choose life 5/10

Peking Opera Blues

Following the various pursuits of three women in 1920’s China, Peking Opera Blues (Do Ma Daan) occasionally gets lost in its own labyrinthine plotting. The daughter of a general has joined a rebel organisation out to overthrown him by obtaining secret documents hidden within his safe. A female jewel thief on the run from the authorities tries desperately to reclaim her stolen loot from inside an opera house. The daughter of said opera house’s owner, an aspiring actress and acrobat, attempts to infiltrate the all male performance cast, much to her father’s distress, as having a female performer would ruin his business. These three plot strands are interwoven, with each girl playing a part in the other’s quest, but the repetitive forming of new plans, then immediately failing to follow them becomes jarring after a while, as does the lack of communication towards the audience – what is in the document everyone is so desperate to obtain? Why has the general’s daughter defected? Why are all the actors such screeching idiots?
At times the film borders on farce, with performers seemingly able to leap entire storeys, and audience members all moving in time during an unexpected gunfight, but the breakneck pacing, incomplete subtitles and looping plot structure let the film down.
Choose life 5/10


This isn’t fair. Dekalog is not a film, it is a television series. Originally made for Polish TV in 1987, Dekalog is a set of ten hour long episodes, each based, occasionally so loosely that the basis is unrecognisable, on each of the ten commandments. I’m sorry, but to qualify being featured in a book called 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, I think one of the predominant criteria should be that you are in fact a movie. If the conditions are so lax as to allow this television series, why not others? Band of Brothers was pretty damn good, as was Firefly. Arrested Development revolutionised the modern sitcom, I Love Lucy infamously first utilised the multi-camera setup and the Cosby Show was the first to star a famous stand-up comedian. Hell, why not all 86 episodes of the Sopranos or 156 of the West Wing?
Anyway, the list is more important than my own prejudices and opinions, so as much as I may disagree with its inclusion it must still be watched. Revolving around the inhabitants of a Warsam apartment block, Dekalog revels in the minutiae of everyday life, with little extraordinary occurring throughout the series. Each segment generally features a single, straightforward plot strand, such as a man abandoning his family on Christmas Eve to assist a former lover look for her current partner, a girl’s curiosity getting the better of her when she sees a note to be opened only after her father’s death, a peeping tom forming a relationship with the object of his voyeurism and two brothers inheriting their father’s extensive and valuable stamp collection.
Many of the plots are only partially concluded, hinting at what the characters plan to do next, but most were not too interesting, and did not deal with themes I found worthy of a short film. I did chuckle at the film being positioned opposite another skyscraper set feature within the aforementioned book, yet possibly its polar opposite in terms of entertainment, Die Hard.
Choose life 4/10


As I sit here in my Browncoats t-shirt, Firefly and Dollhouse boxsets worn and well loved on the shelf, it could be said that I’m a little biased about Serenity, Joss Whedon’s Firefly spinoff, created to tie up some of the loose threads after the incredibly popular and successful TV show was inexplicably cancelled after just one hugely entertaining series. Don’t be fooled, it’s not just another Star Trek, Battlestar or Farscape, Firefly is entirely its own creature, described more as a western, that just happens to be set largely in space, in the distant future after the Earth’s resources have been depleted and mankind has sought domicile elsewhere, ‘terra-forming’ other worlds to create habitable Earth-like planets.
All I can do is compare this to the TV show, but this is a mistake, and something I really don’t advise. The show had fourteen 45 minute episodes to introduce the characters and build on their relationships, steadily building a fan-base whilst taking the characters on various adventures and quests, whereas Serenity must introduce said characters, display and possibly develop their respective personalities and relationships, and also take them on some kind of journey, all within the space of a couple of hours, whilst covering as little familiar ground as possible, so as not to annoy the existing fans. It does this well enough, with an early extended steadi-cam shot establishing the members of the central crew-come-family, their individual characteristics, unusual manner of speech (“she is starting to damage my calm”) as they make their way around the good ship Serenity, even introducing new characters, like Chiwetel Eijofor’s nameless operative and David Krumholtz’s Mr. Universe, essentially a trial for the character of Topher in Dollhouse (and what is Inara but a doll herself?).  Some of the dialogue and mythology is a little thick for the uninitiated, but if anything it should pique their interest, enticing them to watch the show and embrace the culture.
Personally, after the events of Serenity, I’d rather they didn’t continue Firefly with any more series (although I don’t think there’s much danger of that) as certain characters are lost and conclusions reached that made the original show what it was. To find out exactly what I’m talking about, go forth and view at your pleasure, I guarantee you’ll find it shiny.
Choose film 8/10

Tuesday, 24 May 2011


Borat is one of those films made for watching in a group, post-pub session, after a few bevvies. Its premise is simple. Sacha Baron Cohen plays Kazakhstan television presenter Borah Sagdiyev, on a journey to America to learn more about their country and their culture, whilst educating the world about Kazakhstan. Or at least, that’s the setup. In actual fact, Cohen is on a mission to shock, offend and embarrass everyone he comes into contact with, using his bumbling, uneducated, sexist, racist alter ego to coax out extreme reactions from the unwitting public. I feel this film would have worked better, and been taken more seriously, as a Michael Moore style exposé, but is spoiled by the excessive and distasteful humour, calling a black man a ‘genuine chocolate face’ and celebrating the traditional Kazakh festival of the ‘Running of the Jew’, depicting Jews as goblin-like monsters that lay eggs, which children are encouraged to attack. Yes, it is all posed in jest, but the butt of some of the jokes is Kazakhstan, a nation that probably doesn’t deserve it. Maybe it is playing on the perceptions of the public of such countries, but that’s not how it comes across. That being said, there was a nice Laurel and Hardy gag that made me chuckle, and the depth to which Cohen and Ken Davitian, playing Borat’s producer Azamat, sink themselves into their roles is admirable, up to a very public naked tussle the two share in a hotel (“My moustache still tastes of your testes”).
Choose life 3/10

Monday, 23 May 2011

Brokeback Mountain

Another one I’d never seen before, Brokeback Mountain has a reputation to live up to, but of what I didn’t really know. Yes, I was aware it was about two cowboys, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhall, and that between these two, something happened in a tent, involving at least one of their man-parts and the other’s posterior, but as to how this would support a feature length picture I did not know. Wisely, director Ang Lee gets past the, ahem, climax early on, spending a greater deal of time depicting the aftermath of the relationship Ledger’s ranch hand Ennis Del Mar and Gyllenhall’s rodeo cowboy Jack Twist form on the time they spend herding goats together. Ledger easily surpasses Gyllenhall on the acting front, mumbling his way through the difficulties that come with having an affair, and Michelle Williams also impresses as his put-upon spouse, realising the truth about her husband yet living in acceptance and despair. The slow pace of the film allowed for some great character interactions too, and I approved of the film only featuring important sections from the central relationship and nothing else, with what some would describe as pivotal events – Twist’s marriage to rodeo girl Anne Hathaway or the birth of Del Mar’s two children – being skipped entirely, as to the main couple these were of secondary importance to the connection the two had with each other.
Choose film 7/10

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Midnight Run

From its cheesy logo, synth-heavy score and buddy-movie premise, Midnight Run could have easily been lost amid the flotilla of similar films released in the 80s, but its multi-faceted plot, quick-fire dialogue and outstanding performances from leads Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin set this apart from the rest. De Niro plays Jack Walsh, an ex-cop turned bounty hunter on the hunt for Grodin’s Charles ‘the Duke’ Mardukas. Initially this looks like it’ll be a cat and mouse chase film, with Walsh spending the majority of the screen time hunting his prey, but after tracking him down fairly early on, the film becomes more of a road movie, as Walsh has five days to get the Duke from New York to Los Angeles, with the FBI, the mob and a rival bounty hunter all after the Duke for themselves.
De Niro is at his light-hearted comic best, just watch him practicing flashing a stolen FBI badge, and Grodin is a delight as Walsh’s polar opposite talkative Robin Hood figure, stealing from criminals and giving to charity. Other comic touches and performances and well played, from the beleaguered FBI officer Alonso Mosely, the mobster who seems to think the whole job is a bit of a holiday, and the inept bounty hunter Marvin and Joe Pantoliano’s increasingly irate bail bondsman. No-one does screaming anger quite as well as Pantoliano. This is a little known gem, those I watched it with had never heard of it, let alone seen it, but every one of them loved the film, and it’s worth a watch for the litmus configuration scene alone, Grodin seriously needs to be in more films.
Choose film 8/10

Friday, 13 May 2011

Children of Men

A fairly standard prophetic drama is elevated above an otherwise also-ran status by an interesting concept (no-one has given birth in 18 years) and an outstanding cast (Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, Chiwetel Eijofor, Pam Ferris, Danny Huston), as well as Oscar nominated cinematography, an award criminally awarded to Pan’s Labyrinth instead. It is this camerawork, most noticeable in several uncut extended tracking shots involving moving vehicles, gun shots and wounds, crashes, crowd scenes and explosions, that justify its inclusion upon this list, and makes Children of Men a must see, if just for the sheer level of technical accomplishment on display.
Choose film 7/10

True Romance

Arguably one of the defining movies of the nineties, directed by Tony Scott, written by Quentin Tarantino, starring a cornucopia of iconic actors and featuring an air guitar-tastic soundtrack including Aerosmith, Billy Idol and Soundgarden, True Romance is nothing short of pure entertainment. The story, Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette as newlyweds on the run from her past and his mistake, takes a back seat (in a pink Cadillac) to a supporting cast of scene-stealing character actors including Gary Oldman as pimp and wannabe Rasta Drexl, Dennis Hopper as Slater’s father, Christopher Walken as a Sicillian mobster and Brad Pitt as stoner Floyd who, with only a few lines of dialogue and a near-immobile part walks clean away with the film. Not to mention Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Rapaport, Tom Sizemore, Chris Penn, James Gandolfini and Val Kilmer (as Elvis no less), this is worth watching just for the cast list.
Choose film 8/10

Man With a Movie Camera

Some of these films do really feel like a waste of my time. This is essentially a documentary of everyday life, showing seemingly random footage of people going about their daily lives. The lack of any real narrative or plot meant it was very easy to drift off away from the film, making it useful for those in search of inspiration, mental list-making or a spot of meditation, but those looking for an insightful or entertaining film should look elsewhere. That being said, the image of cinema chairs unfolding themselves, waiting for an audience to perch upon them was nice, as was the meta imagery of the film itself being edited, and the footage of the camera, showing the loading of the film, winding the handle, changing the lens etc. It was these moments of a film about itself that reminded me of Chronique d’Un Ete.
Choose life 3/10

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Seriously? Potter? On the list? We live in a world where a Harry Potter film is voted onto a top 500 list and Hitchcock’s masterful Dial M For Murder isn’t? This is considered more essential viewing than Eastwood’s Mystic River? Doug Jones’ Moon? Adaptation? Motorcycle Diaries? Planes, Trains and Automobiles? No? Anybody? Fine.
Not that I’m against the Potter-verse, I own all the books and have seen all the films, some of them at the cinema, and I’m quite looking forward to part 7ii, if only so this bloody franchise will cease and desist. Hell, I even queued up outside Morrison’s on the day book 7 was released (unintentionally, I thought they opened earlier), but I couldn’t say what happens at the end of it though, other than I think a ruddy great battle, and one of the twins dies (I know, only one?).
So why is number 3 on the list instead of the others? If I had to pick, I’d have gone for number 4, the Goblet of Fire, purely because it’s my preferred of the books and has dragons in it, but 3 seems to have received far greater critical acclaim. The power of three it would seem is in its tone, as new director Alfonso Cuaron (replacing Chris Columbus, to be replaced by Mike Newell for part 4 and David Yates for the rest of the saga) darkens the cosy, comforting feel of the first two, but not so much as becomes commonplace for the latter half of the series. He does deal with some tricky topics though, encountering betrayal, execution, wrongful imprisonment, a man living as a rat for 12 years and an inflatable Pam Ferris (one of the least popular sex dolls in existence I assume).
The main flaw of the Potter franchise is its leads, with the understandably inexperienced child actors thrust front and centre they cannot hide behind more professional adult stars, but the cream of British acting and comedy do their best to fill in the surrounding cracks. Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Richard Griffiths, Gary Oldman, Timothy Spall, Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane, David Thewlis, Emma Thompson, Dawn French, Lenny Henry, Julie Walters, Mark Williams and Warwick Davis all do their bit, but whenever the story is left purely to the kids the quality is severely diminished.
Choose life 6/10

Men in Black

Men in Black is a universally adored film, I think. But why is it so loved? What is the secret? Well MIB is that rarest of creatures, a film that is all things to all people. It is not simply a big budget summer blockbuster action movie, nor is it just an effects-driven sci-fi film, or a well crafted character piece, a buddy-cop movie or an offbeat bureaucratic comedy. It is all these things and more, telling the story of Agent J (Will Smith, now a fully fledged movie star after Bad Boys and Independence Day) a new recruit to the secretive Men in Black, an organisation tasked with managing the many alien lifeforms on Earth, without the knowledge of the general public. In true buddy movie form, J is partnered with Tommy Lee Jones’ grizzled yet laconic Agent K (who may well be too old for this shit), but I don’t remember Riggs and Murtaugh driving upside down in a tunnel, Tango and Cash delivering an alien squid baby or Turner and Hooch getting covered in slime – OK, bad example.
MIB 2 was a travesty that actually damaged the integrity and quality of the original, taking the ‘best’ (read: most puerile and asinine) elements from the first (Frank the talking dog, the coffee aliens) and teamed them up with casting Johnny Knoxville and an alien with testicles on his chin called a Ballchinian, so bad not even Patrick Warburton and Rosario Dawson cannot salvage it. I only hope the planned MIB 3 is an improvement.
One last request, more David Cross and Tony Shalhoub cameos in films please.
Choose film 8/10

Billy Elliot

Apparently it’s strange that I’ve never seen this before, though to be fair I don’t really think you need to, so formulaic is the plot of the boy striving to defy his father’s wishes and become a ballet dancer. Initially, the boy will accidentally experience the disapproved of skill, and show an unexpected (at least for him and the rest of the cast) flair and enjoyment for it. Knowing his family will disapprove, he’ll hide it from them, only confiding in a couple of friends and his maternal-love replacing new mentor. Inevitably, his family will discover the truth and be horrified, until they see that he is actually good at it, and more importantly it makes him happy. Begrudgingly, they will accept the path he has chosen and assist him on his way as he struggles to overcome the prejudice that comes with his working class background, until finally he is accepted by everyone. It’s this sense of by-the-numbers plotting that has maintained my distance from Billy Elliot in the past. That, and that it’s about dancing. And Northerners. The cast perform well, especially Jamie Bell as the eponymous Elliot, Julie Walters as his new mentor and Gary Lewis as his disapproving Dad, but its hard to ignore just how clichéd the whole affair is.

Choose life 6/10

Winter's Bone

Soon to be slinking her way into Rebecca Romijn’s azure shoes as a young Mystique in X-Men First Class, Winter’s Bone sees newcomer Jennifer Lawrence as 17 year old Ree Dolly, charged with finding her meth-cooking runaway father, or be turned out into the woods after he placed their house up as collateral for his bail. Ree, who also cares for her 12 year old brother, 6 year old sister and mentally ill mother, sets about questioning her father’s relatives and associates, but is told to stop asking questions and just leave the matter alone.
Lawrence was nominated for the Oscar for Best Actress, losing to Natalie Portman for Black Swan, but I’m not sure why. Yes, it’s a difficult character, appearing in every scene and dealing with an awful lot of frustration, anger and desperation, but I don’t think it’s as worthy as the other nominees on the list, it appeared as it showed a promising new talent that could be nurtured by a nomination. I don’t disapprove of this technique of bringing up new actors, but it’s not what the Oscars are for.
The film is not so much slow as it is unhurried, meandering from Ree’s quest as she teaches her siblings basic survival skills, how to shoot, hunt and prepare a squirrel for dinner, showing that for Ree life does not stop just because she has something to do.
Choose film 6/10

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Crash (1996)

I’ve previously mentioned that I’m not overly squeamish about violence and mutilation in films, but I’m afraid this was more than I really wanted to take. This is a story of a movie producer (James Spader) who, after surviving a car crash, discovers a cult of car crash enthusiasts and proceeds to have as much sex as possible with every member of the cast, predominantly in cars. The sex is far more graphic than it needs to be, and involves, if not is stimulated by, the wounds and scars of the crash victims. Other than joining the club, there is no real narrative drive of the film, as the characters move from one orgy to another. Elias Koteas however is hypnotic as crash club leader Vaughan, but I’m not a big fan of nudity in general, and this film is little short of needlessly pornographic.
Choose life 3/10

Crash (2004)

An all-star cast playing characters from all walks of life who, over a period of a couple of days, become intertwined with one another’s lives through circumstances distressing, joyous, criminal and fatal. No, I’m not talking about a masterpiece lovingly crafted by Paul Thomas Anderson or Robert Altman, instead a thoroughly commercial, awards-baiting crowd-pleaser from Paul Haggis, largely depicting themes of racism and prejudice in Los Angeles. Featuring a pair of car jackers (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges & Larenz Tate), a racist cop (Matt Dillon) and his rookie partner (Ryan Phillippe), dating police detectives (Don Cheadle & Jennifer Espoisto), a TV director and his wife (Terrence Howard & Thandie Newton), the LA district attorney and his socialite wife (Brendan Fraser & Sandra Bullock), a Persian storeowner and his family and a Mexican locksmith (Michael Pena), as well as secondary characters including William Fichtner and Keith David, it is clear that Haggis wanted to make a film to be discussed, to be seen by many and considered for awards a-plenty, but not necessarily a good film. The issues he discusses are important and the situations topical, for example a black director being told to make one of his characters ‘talk blacker’, or a district attorney concerned about his public ratings after being mugged by two black criminals, but the revelations are shallow and the characters stereotypical, none of them deep enough to warrant a great deal of screen time, in contrast to Anderson’s Magnolia or Altman’s Short Cuts. That said, the film is enjoyable, the cast do well and some of the dialogue is excellent, so go ahead and watch it anyway. I could argue that it didn't deserve the Oscar for Best Picture, but up against Capote, Good Night and Good Luck, Munich and Brokeback Mountain I don't really know who is more worthy.
Choose film 6/10

Monday, 2 May 2011

The Red Shoes

I’ve read before that this is supposedly Martin Scorsese’s favourite film. I can’t remember why, and I’m still not sure now, but if he likes it then fair enough. The Red Shoes tells the story of Julian Craster and Victoria Page. He is a music student, given a job at the ballet orchestra after his professor steals his work for a show, and she is a promising ballerina, given a shot at the big time when a professional dancer leaves to get married. Predictably, the two end up working on the same show, the Ballet of the Red Shoes, he as composer and she as the star.  I’ve never been overly keen on dance, and I’ve never attended a ballet recital, so I can’t say I was necessarily engrossed in the backstage goings on, as the Machiavellian show director forbids the leading couple from seeing one another, but there was an interesting 20-minute wordless dream/dance sequence involving fairytale backgrounds and characters, and I liked the implication of a train passing using puffs of smoke, lights, sounds and actors following the ‘train’ with their eyes, but overall found the film was largely dull.
Choose life 4/10

Sweeney Todd

Who could resist a film featuring Alan Rickman singing about marrying his adopted daughter! Me, it turns out. Many have criticised the picture for being too gory, although its hard to see how Tim Burton could have avoided the flood of viscera required to depict the story of Sweeney Todd, a barber who murders his clientele by slitting their throats in a specially designed barber’s chair (That I must say did appeal to the mechanical engineer in me), only for their innards to be baked into pies served in the shop below the barber’s. So, instead of toning down the gore, Burton embraces it, commencing the show following a trickle of blood, luminous red against an almost monochrome London, as it drips, seeps and oozes through cracks, down gutters and into the sewers. It is clear from this opening that those of a weaker disposition should stick to a more family-friendly film, such as the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
But the gore isn’t the problem. I can take most horror films, with only Hostel so far causing any undue distress (I can’t take the bit with the eye). No, my problem you see, is the singing. For yes, Sweeney Todd has retained its original music-hall trappings as being a musical, with all of the principle cast, including Rickman’s villainous Judge Turpin, his menacing sidekick Timothy Spall and leads Helena Bonham-Carter as Mrs. Lovett and Johnny Depp as the eponymous Todd at some point or another spontaneously bursting into song. To start with this is fine, with Depp’s husky Bowie-esque warbling complementing the tone of the film, but when plot points are hidden deep inside the occasionally indistinguishable lyrics, and conversations begin to dip in and out of verse as the tune permits it gets a bit tiresome. To be fair, I’m not normally one for musicals, but the subject matter doesn’t seem to lend itself to the medium, and I think if they took out the songs there’s not really enough plot to fill a film. That said, Sacha Baron Cohen steals the show as Pirelli, a showboating rival barber, and there is some impressive camerawork, probably to justify relocating the story from the stage to the screen, but overall I’d give it a miss. Also, why does Anthony Head cameo? He’s onscreen for all of two seconds, and you spend the rest of the film wondering when he’s coming back, yet he never does. The scene’s not even important. And why is Judge Turpin so shocked to see he has stubble on his face? Has he just reached puberty? Is that literally the first time he hasn’t shaved for more than three days?
Choose life 5/10

The French Connection

The French Connection started an obsession of Hollywood’s with gritty cop thrillers continued with Serpico and Dirty Harry (both arguably owing their places upon the list to the French Connection). Deciding to portray more than just car chases and shoot-outs, instead including the mind-numbing mundanity of spending hours listening at a wire tap, staking out a suspect’s house and dismantling an entire car to its base components, as well as the gritty violence almost required to make an arrest distances this far from more modern-day blockbuster police movies such as Bad Boys or SWAT. It’s a wonder we’re not shown policemen filling out a mountain of paperwork. Not to say that the shoot-outs and car chases in the French Connection aren’t incredible, with the chase against a criminal-carrying overground train being both the highlight of the film and possibly the greatest car chase in movie history.
The greasy, bloodstained heart of the film is the star-making turn from Gene Hackman as obsessed detective ‘Popeye’ Doyle, unable to go out for a drink without seeing a table full of potential crims and kick-starting the plot of a film. Hackman is one of the greatest actors of his generation, and his leading roles began here, ably communicating the frustration and dogged determination of the case, the insanity brought about by cabin fever wire-tapping, the frustration at being outwitted by the men he’s chasing. The film also shows the parallels of the criminals living the high life, dining at 5-star restaurants, against the police tracking them dining on hotdogs and paper cups of coffee. This divide was more recently, and much less effectively, portrayed in Ridley Scott’s American Gangster.
If I had to pick a flaw with the film, it’s that police detective work seems to be based rather substantially on luck. Although it is through many, many hours of hard and committed work that most of the progress with the case occurs, a couple of major breakthroughs, including the inception of the case itself, transpire from fluke occurrences, be it the aforementioned sighting in a bar, or Doyle strolling along and coincidentally seeing a man he’s after. Also, the rather abrupt ending could have been softened a little, but its bleak starkness complies with the rest of the film.
Choose film 8/10