Sunday, 29 January 2012

Eraserhead

I think this is David Lynch’s idea of a romantic comedy. Shot in stark black and white and sounding like it was filmed underwater or near a busy factory, we follow the bizarrely coiffed Henry Spencer (Jack Nance) through the trials and tribulations of an average young man – meeting his girlfriends parents for dinner, encountering a beautiful woman living in the same apartment building, watching a woman with hideously deformed cheeks dancing deliriously on stage, you know, the usual.
Coming across like a 90-minute montage of nightmares I would not advise watching this before bed. Henry and his partner’s baby has the appearance of a mechanised cow foetus (possibly because undenied rumours suggest this was what was used), the aforementioned dinner sequence involves a tiny roast chicken still moving, bubbling and bleeding on the plate, and a scene where Henry cuts open the deformed baby has it becoming a bile volcano, one of the most horrific images I’ve ever seen. I’m not sure what happened to Lynch growing up, but I damn well hope it doesn’t happen to me.
Choose life 2/10

Peeping Tom

After making this film, director Michael Powell, here working without regular co-director Emeric Pressburger, had to move to Australia, for no-one else would employ him. This is a somewhat extreme reaction, especially by today’s standards, as through the eyes of a 21st century film viewer there is nothing here to shock or frighten anyone, but back then the tale of a socially awkward young man filming women’s last moments as he kills them with a specially designed camera with a blade attached probably pushed boundaries beyond what the public was used to, though it was released the same year as Hitchcock’s Psycho.
Like his lead Mark, Powell focuses more on the reactions of the characters than on what they are experiencing, and the film is at times cold and passionless, yet Mark (Karlheinz Bohm) is a chilling, disturbing protagonist; an influence to fan Scorsese’s Travis Bickle, as well as Sex, Lies & Videotapes’ Graham, making this an adequate, if not necessarily exceptional, character thriller.
Choose film 7/10

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Winter Light

My first Ingmar Bergman film does not make me want to watch any more, though several appear on the list. Winter Light opens with a 12-minute long church service by a vicar in front of a very small congregation, including hymns, prayer and the breaking of bread, and from there remains bleak and uneventful, as the vicar meets with a member of his flock contemplating suicide over concerns China could start a nuclear war and travels to a neighbouring village. The scenes are unbearably long and tedious – a man waiting by a body then helping to load it into a van with the only sound being the river flowing behind him, or a static shot of a woman reading her own letter staring straight into the camera, and overall there is little dialogue, camera movement or anything to engage the attention.
Choose life 2/10

Five Easy Pieces

Jack Nicholson is Bobby, a talented pianist who gave up his life of potential greatness to slum it on an oil rig, with a waitress girlfriend and spending his time bowling and gambling with his buddies. The movie is comprised of several great scenes – Bobby playing the piano on the back of a moving truck, trying to order French toast from a difficult waitress (“I want you to hold it between your knees”) and being ‘recognised’ by two girls at a bowling, only to be accused of being bald, but everything between these scenes is forgettable and bland, with only Nicholson’s performance – his reaction at the bowling alley is priceless – being worth paying attention to.
Choose life 5/10

La Vie en Rose

Marion Cotillard gives the role of her life in this biopic of French singer Edith Piaf, depicting her tragic existence from growing up in a brothel with her grandmother after her parents abandon her, through being discovered by Gerard Depardieu’s club owner singing on the streets, up until her death of liver cancer aged 47. Her meteoric rise to fame – she is widely regarded as France’s most popular singer – was filled with tragedy and setbacks, from going blind for several months at a young age to her partner dying in a plane crash when she demands him to fly out and see her. The plot is largely confusing, flitting backwards and forwards in time and with many people entering, exiting and re-entering her life, yet throughout the set design, costumes, make-up and performances are excellent, as of course is the music. Cotillard was rightly thrown onto the Hollywood A-list after this role, being snapped up by the likes of Chris Nolan, Michael Mann and Woody Allen, and the cinematography – particularly one extended shot around a multi-room set in her villa – is also spectacular. Some elements – Piaf’s child, for instance – seem hastily tacked on, but for the most part this is a riveting story about a first-rate musician.
Choose film 7/10

Dark Star

Imagine, if you will, that Alien was made in a garage, and with a tongue planted firmly in cheek, and you’ll have something close to Dark Star, John Carpenter’s directorial debut about 4 men travelling through space on a mission to destroy unstable planets. Little attempt has been made to disguise the near non-existent budget used to shoot the film, with a strange creature clearly made by sticking fake claws onto a painted beach ball, with the paint rubbing away in some places and a crewman off screen wobbling it around, but there is a strong vain of humour running through the piece, especially regarding an increasingly irritated bomb refusing to diffuse itself. The sound quality however is terrible, and epileptics would do well to steer clear.
Choose film 6/10

Thursday, 26 January 2012

The Star Wars Saga

I’ve already discussed my disliking of George Lucas’ recent decision to withdrawn from movie making, and my distaste for those who’ve lobbied against him for years here, so I’ll say no more about that at this time.

I had a problem before even starting to watch these cultural milestones; in what order should they be seen? I’m one of those obscure creatures (also known as ‘young people’) who initially saw the Star Wars films chronologically, from Phantom to Return. My father was never an avid SW fan (to this day he still speaks of the films with a level of disdain and mockery usually reserved for discussing his son), so there were none of the Saturday afternoon viewing marathons subjected upon my friends, and I was left to discover the films by myself, with my first experience being Ewan McGregor and Liam Neeson kicking some robot butt, and I’ve seen all the major scenes more time in Lego format via the videogames than on DVD. So, to solve my chronological dilemma, I consulted some of the aforementioned friends, and after being beaten to within an inch of my life with plastic light sabres and busts of Darth Vader, I concluded that release date order was the wisest option (although alphabetically was also suggested, but 4-2-5-1-6-3 is just silly). I should also note that episode 2, Attack of the Clones, did not appear on the list, but is featured here so it doesn’t feel left out, and because there are some (admittedly few) bits I like in it. And yes, this review contains spoilers.

So just what is it that makes Star Wars so iconic? Other than an ever-growing army of fans, the answer lies in the creation of an entirely new universe, where seemingly every minute detail of life has been mapped out. From the robot-hoarding Jawas of Tatooine to repulsive slug-like space mobster Jabba the Hutt, each new and exciting world has its own rules regulations and customs, although most worlds seem to have only one characteristic, be it desert, ice, cloud-city, forest or lava. Throw into this vast cornucopia a story of bounty hunters, intergalactic warfare and a dying breed of oddly magical humans, as well as a buddy comedy about two bickering robots, and you’ve got a license to print money and flog a limitless amount of merchandise to people who really need to get out more (that said, last year my advent calendar may have been from the Lego Star Wars range).

I’m hardly breaking new ground when I say that however big a cult following this saga may have, it also owns a few slaws. The dialogue and mythology are often hokey and cringeworthy (“May the force be with you”) and when not are hardly original (“It’s them, blast them!”) and George Lucas shows a racism and sexism unseen since Disney was room temperature, with one black man in the original trilogy (not counting Vader’s voice), and he is an opportunistic traitor, and no other human races bar whites, and aside from Leia and one other woman in power, all of the female characters are strippers or dancers.

That said, the character designs are phenomenally memorable by being really quite simple – Chewbacca’s walking carpet, clean white stormtroopers and the perfect villain in the glossy helmeted, all black Darth Vader, employing both David Prowse’s imposing figure and James Earl Jones’ mellifluous tones, no other character has so richly deserved their own theme tune.

hough the plot has many aspects to it you never lose track, and any scenes of dialogue and exposition are soon broken up with spaceship battles, light sabre action or new and interesting discoveries in the mythology. A New Hope is easily the most stand-alone film, with no initial setup required (other than rogue paragraphs travelling through space) and a satisfying ending only hinting at a sequel, but the Empire Strikes Back is widely regarded as the superior film, with the inclusion of diminutive Jedi master Yoda and jetpacking bounty hunter Boba Fett, two of the most enduring and iconic characters from the franchise, yet who only have a small fraction of the screen time between them. It also features that great twist ending, now sadly ruined by endless parodies and misquotes. Episode 6, the Return of the Jedi, is the weakest of the three, though there is no shortage of spectacle with the giant Rancor, the Sarlacc Pit and a landspeeder chase through the dense woodland of Endor. It is everything else of Endor that is the problem – the teddy-like Ewoks in particular – that explain the negativity, for if such crude creatures as these cuddly toys can take out the stormtroopers, why has everyone been so worried this whole time? That, and C3PO being heralded as a deity and the Emperor’s flawed plan to kill the rebels – if you’re leaking a plan to send the rebels somewhere deliberately so you can kill them, why not send them to a place where you don’t keep the shield generator for your new planet-destroying Death Star? – deters from the lofty levels of the earlier films.

And so we arrive at the new trilogy. As a child of 12 I must admit I really enjoyed these films, so in some aspect George Lucas succeeded. The Phantom Menace was the most anticipated movie of all time, and there was no possible way it would ever live up to expectations (something I hope is not suffered by the Hobbit, the Dark Knight Rises or the Avengers later this year) so instead Lucas aimed the film not at the hoards of devoted fans he already had, but at newcomers and younglings. The fans would flock in anyway, their money was guaranteed, if not their approval, and which is more important to a movie studio? But, in a vain attempt to pander to the fans, attempts were made to tie the prequels in closely with the originals, and to expand upon the elements most popular in the older films.

And so it is that we see Jake Lloyd’s infant Vader Anakin building C3PO and playing with a child alarmingly similar to Greedo, we discover the stormtroopers are all clones of Boba Ferr’s father Jango, Jabba starts the podrace and Chewbacca pops up with Yoda in Revenge of the Sith. It’s a wonder we aren’t shown Han and Chewie thrown into detention together at school.

Across the trilogy there are some astounding set pieces – the adrenaline fuelled, Greg Proops’ commentated pod race, Attack of the Clones’ gladiatorial battle and Obi-Wan’s light sabre battle with four-sabred robot General Grievous being particular highlights, but too much emphasis is placed on the politics of the Trade Federation and the soppy romance of Anakin and Padme that has no place in a Star Wars film. That, and too many mysteries are uncovered – no-one cared that the force comes from midichlorians in the blood stream and Vader’s rise and conversion to the dark side was more effective before every detail was explained and we weren’t shown him as an annoyingly precocious brat or lovesick teenager.

Some performances are terrible – both Lloyd and his grown up counterpart Hayden Christensen are wooden and aggravating, especially when placed alongside Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor and Samuel L. Jackson, and even Natalie Portman gives an uncharacteristically poor performance. The final film, Revenge of the Sith, is also disappointingly, but inevitably, bleak, lumbered with having to set up the gloom and oppression at the start of A New Hope. This sense of inevitability ruins the final battles between Obi-Wan and Anakin and Yoda and the Emperor, for we know everyone involved will survive, as they all appear in the original trilogy.

But however poor it seems in comparison, the new trilogy still contains films far superior, and more entertaining, than a lot else out there, and therefore should still be viewed, if a little less frequently.

This post could have gone on a lot longer – I haven’t even mentioned Jar Jar, Han shooting first, Luke Skywalker, Peter Cushing’s most evil face in the world™ or the glorious key to the series, R2D2, but I’m guessing no-one is actually still reading this, and I’ve still got over 30 posts to write, so I think I’ll call it a day.

A New Hope: Choose film 8/10
The Empire Strikes Back: Choose film 9/10
Return of the Jedi: Choose film 7/10
The Phantom Menace: Choose film 6/10
Attack of the Clones: Choose film 5/10
Revenge of the Sith: Choose film 6/10

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

In This World

Michael Winterbottom’s semi-documentary uses a novel approach in setting up and suggesting situations, then filming the reactions of Pakistani refugees at Shamshatoo Refugee Camp, Pakistan in February 2002, blurring the line between fact and fiction. We Follow Jamal and Enayat, a boy and his uncle, as they attempt to seek asylum to London, being smuggled across borders packed behind orange crates or hiding amongst sheep on a truck, but more information would have been appreciated on the details of why they are seeking asylum when their other countrymen aren’t, and some shots – a cow being brutally sacrificed, twitching as its life is forcibly removed – should have been omitted.
Choose life 2/10

Happy Together

One of the clearest examples of style over substance I’ve ever seen on screen, this tale of a Chinese gay couple emigrating to Argentina before breaking up but being repeatedly drawn back together again uses every trick in the film school handbook to distract from the lack of anything worthwhile happening on screen.
Slow motion, fast forward, lens flares, film stock used upside-down, freeze frames, narration, super-fast editing; they all come together to create a whole reminiscent of a film students first picture, using everything they’ve been taught whether it adds to the film or not, just to show that they can. Hell, I’m surprised no-one talks directly to the camera, as the two opposing personalities – the sensible introvert Lai and irresponsible, reckless Ho repeat their relationship cycle in a desperate need to connect with someone.
The cinematography is excellent, with shots from sun dappled games of street football to the couple standing by the side of a road all framed with a poetic beauty, but there is barely enough going on to fill a short, let alone 96 minutes.
Choose life 3/10

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Boudu Saved From Drowning

A kindly, respectable yet adulterous bookshop owner sees a homeless man jump from a bridge and rushes to his aid, jumping into the river fully clothed to save him (though many other younger and less plump people are on the scene before he is) and subsequently takes the tramp in, giving him clothing, food and a bed for the night. This kicks off an unusual love square between the tramp, the bookshop owner, his wife and their maid, with the ruse and uncouth hobo causing disruption in the lives of those around him. Michel Simon is perfect as Boudu, but the plot is derailed by lottery-pivoted hokum and a scene where Boudu insults, frightens and possibly rapes the bookshop owner’s wife is glossed over, though she does seem to enjoy it.
Choose life 5/10

First Blood

The first time I watched this franchise kickstarter, as I’m sure was the case with most people who saw it after the release of the sequels, I was expecting a film more like Rambo 2-4, Stallone’s version of Red Dawn or Commando, charging around winning the Vietnam war singlehandedly, damming rivers with the sheer volume of machine gun shell casings left in his wake. But instead, First Blood follows Sly’s Vietnam vet John Rambo who, upon discovering he is the last surviving member of his crew, is run out of town by Brian Dennehy’s judgemental cop who doesn’t like the look of him. Refusing to leave, the cops – all of whom are either crooked, sadistic or offensively ginger – take him in and beat him around a bit, causing Rambo to snap and run off into the wood suffering ‘Nam flashbacks, with the cops hot on his tail and eager for revenge.
Seen from a different viewpoint, it would be easy to retell this as a horror film from the perspective of the police, with a plucky young David Caruso as the potential hero, as the small town police are taken out one by one by a sack cloth tunic wearing lunatic and an array of ingenious yet brutal traps, but this is Stallone’s show, and he puts in a committed, almost wordless performance.
Choose film 7/10

Beau Travail

Opening with a foreign cover of Holly Valance’s seminal pop masterpiece Kiss Kiss and apparently based on Herman Melville’s Billy Budd, Beau Travail is the Nytol of cinema. Twenty minutes after pressing play you’ll feel your eyelids become heavy, the world around you will slowly blur and you’ll sink back into your chair like a beanbag full of marshmallows, for this is a film in which nothing coherent really happens.
Narrated by French Foreign Legion Chief Master Seargeant Galoup (Denis Lavant), we follow the mundane day-to-day activities of the troops; washing, ironing perfect creases into their uniforms, getting a haircut, silently performing training exercises and occasionally enjoying a bout of aggressive hugging. The film has a half-remembered, dreamlike quality, and director Claire Denis has an eye for colour and lighting, but the lack of story makes it hard to care.
Choose life 3/10

A Canterbury Tale

If I’ve never heard of the film I’m watching, I usually assume it’s from the 1001 or 5-star lists, as though I’ve heard of a lot of films, these lists are peppered with some pretty obscure titles, so I was surprised to find this 1944 British film to be sitting at number 176 on Empire’s reader-voted top 500 and nowhere else.
Writing/directing/producing duo Powell & Pressburger, of the previously reviewed the Red Shoes and Black Narcissus, here tell the story of an earnest and open-minded American soldier alighting from his train a stop early in the small Kent town of Chillingham during World War 2. With the next train not scheduled that day, he hangs around and assists the locals in the search for a man terrorising the female residents by pouring glue in their hair.
There is some nice back-and-forth dialogue, and interesting ruminations on the famous Pilgrim’s Road, blacksmithing, church organs and UK/US comparisons, but also a lot of “Say, what’s that over there?” mundanity. The creative use of lighting is interesting, with a face and body all in darkness with only the eyes illuminated, but the ending is too twee and nicely tied up for my liking.
Choose life 6/10

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

The Phantom Menaced

So George Lucas is apparently retiring from making movies, citing the reason that whenever he makes a film (or tinkers with an existing one) the Internet explodes with criticism, snide remarks and unremitting hatred, for a filmmaker previously revered for making some of the most popular films ever made. To quote the bearded one in a recent interview with the New York Times, “Why would I make any more, when everybody yells at you all the time and says what a terrible person you are?”

Yes, he sounds like a whiny schoolchild, but he makes a fair point, and although I don’t blame him, I must admit I’m disappointed. The Star Wars films are excellent, and you can expect to read my List post upon them soon (we had a lovely little Star Wars marathon weekend last month), and I even enjoyed the prequels. If it wasn’t for them, I’d have gotten into Star Wars much later (remarkably, I saw the films in episode order rather than release date), and found the most recent Indiana Jones film enjoyable and a very entertaining film, just not as good as the rest in the series. FYI, it was still voted onto the list, so I’m not alone in this reasoning.

If you don’t like a film, by all means don’t recommend it to your friends, and even write a negative review about it if you like, but no-one is forcing you to see it, and what right do you have to contact the guy who made it and piss on his cornflakes? If you don’t like his films, don’t see them. If you don’t approve of his modifying the films he’s already made or converting them to 3D, don’t buy them. If they’re really that bad, enough people will do the same, they’ll make no money and he won’t make any more, but don’t ruin the enjoyment of anyone who does like his films by encouraging him to not make anymore. Lucas continuing to make films does nothing to you whatsoever.

The Artist

That’s right! I’ve been to the cinema twice in 5 days! Haven’t done that since I was single! Anyway, I managed to convince Aisha to come with me to see the Artist, the modern made silent film about the birth of the ‘talkies’, currently bothering awards ceremonies and set to win big at the Oscars next month. The film was excellent; it didn’t overplay the silent gimmick, even using it for some well timed and perfectly executed comic beats, and the performances were flawless, especially from leads Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo, and the adorable dog Uggie.

The plot was a tad predictable, concerning Dujardin’s silent movie star losing his way amid the encroaching sound-laden future, whilst Bejo’s struggling extra finds spoken dialogue could lead to a promising career, but then the plots of silent movies often were, especially by today’s standards, where 99% of stories are entirely made from previous pictures. The supporting cast of well known or know-the-face actors, including John Goodman, James Cromwell, Missi Pyle and Malcolm MacDowell, was a little off putting, as many had wordless roles I was waiting to crop up again, but other than that this was a near perfect film that’s my current frontrunner for best picture.

Choose film 9/10

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Dog Day Afternoon

Based on a true story, Sidney Lumet’s tale of two inept criminals (Al Pacino and John Cazale reuniting after the Godfather 1 & 2) whose attempted robbery of a Brooklyn bank descends into chaos once the police, the media and the general public get wind of their plans. Pacino gives arguably one of his best performances – without resorting to ‘shouty Al’ – as he struggles to handle a situation completely out of his control, that is only ever going to become more so, and it’s refreshing to see a heist film with a couple of average Joes doing the robbing, as unlike Ocean’s Eleven or Inside Man, these guys have no plan, no masks, hell they even use their real names. Lumet excels when restricted to small locations (see 12 Angry Men), and here is no different, with almost the entire film taking place in and around the bank, as Pacino’s Sonny becomes a hit with the crowds gathering around the crime scene. Heading straight into the plot – Lumet rarely bothers with much initial back story – the direction is tight and entirely to the point, as every scene helps to progress the story further, or reveals a character detail previously unknown. There are some nice comedic touches – a bank teller hostage receives a call from her husband, asking what time she thinks she will be finished there, and when Sonny asks Cazale’s borderline psychotic Sal what country he wants to flee to, Sal replies “Wyoming,” and look out for Lance Henrikssen as FBI agent Murphy in one of his first film roles.
Choose film 8/10

Saturday, 14 January 2012

War Horse

Went to see War Horse last night, and to be honest I wasn't expecting that much, a kind of Au Hasard Balthazar combined with a WWI Band of Brothers, following the exploits of a boy and his horse as they navigate the major events of the first world war trying to find one another. But what I found was an uplifting, beautifully shot old fashioned film that was far more entertaining than I could have hoped.
Though at times the plot gave way for nosebags of sentimentality (this is a Spielberg film, after all), and few of the characters are onscreen enough to leave a resounding impression, though their parts of the story are some of the most touching (hello, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, Toby Kebbell and Eddie Marsan) every second of footage used is shot so perfectly, by Spielberg's regular director of photography Janusz Kamisnki, who will surely receive an Oscar nod, if not a statue. The most beautiful moments are those in a far from beautiful setting, with Joey, the horse, jumping over and through trenches on No Man's Land, only to be ensnared in barbed wire, or a sunset-backlit ride up a distant hill, and the sheer scale of some scenes, with hundreds of extras running from trenches or preparing for war. John Williams' sweeping score is good but forgettable, and this is hardly one of Spielberg's best (it isn't quite the Saving Private Equine I was hoping for), with perhaps not quite enough time focussed on those fighting the war (it's a good 45 minutes or so before the horse and boy, played by OK newcomer Jeremy Irvine, are separated), this is still a very entertaining watch. I think it's better if you don't really care about horses, as I enjoyed it immensely, but my horse-obsessed girlfriend spent at least a quarter of the two and a half hour run time watching through her fingers, so desperate was she not to see anything bad happen to a horse. It's also remarkable that they made a film whose central character is a horse, yet at no point did I think it would be better if the horse could talk, or had an internal dialogue, even when he makes friends with another horse.
Choose film 7/10

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Henry V

Before going in I thought I’d be completely lost in this, having not seen Henry I-IV, but I think the films must be standalone stories or something. This adaptation of Shakespeare’s royal epic (which I haven’t read, yet, and am not overly inspired to do so now) stars, and was directed by, Sir Lawrence Olivier, and uses the novel concept of being set on a stage at the Globe, complete with a heckling audience and backstage costume changes. Whilst certainly an interesting idea, this distances us from the film, in the same way as a laugh track would from a terrible sitcom, constantly reminding you that you’re watching a film. The conceit is wisely dropped for the central acts, freeing up the action for larger sets, sweeping camera movement, horses and battles. The rousing speeches are highlights, but the whole affair is dry and slow.
Choose life 5/10

King of New York

Christopher Walken landed a rare starring role in Abel Ferrara’s 1990 thriller as NY crime lord Frank White, recently released from prison and patrolling the rain lashed, neon-lit underbelly of his city. With the aid of his crew, Frank sets out to fix the city that has fallen apart in his absence, whilst retaining his criminal status, something cops Wesley Snipes and David Caruso rather object to. Also featuring Lawrence Fishburne, casting a shadow over everyone else’s performance as Walken’s right hand man and overall manic chicken-eatin’ mother fucker Jimmy Jump, and small roles from Steve Buscemi and Lost’s Harold Perrineau, if anything this film focuses too much on the policemen, and would have benefitted greatly from more Walken (as indeed could every film). He is the titular king, the film is his story, yet he seems to be a lesser character in it, though he is the most interesting as he disposes of the competition that have been running his city into the ground, and walks coolly and calmly away from a kill. I don’t think the ending did him justice either.
Choose life 6/10

Belated New Year's Post

Woah, I've been running this blog for over a year now, and in a few weeks I'll be a year into this godforsaken challenge, thats 20% of the way through! Only four years left! And still over a thousand films! I'm not sure about this, but I'm told 2012 has usurped 2011 for position of What Year It Is, so this is as good a time as any to make some blog-related plans.

Firstly, I've still got a few overdue posts to write (31, but who's counting?) and I'm currently 14 films behind where I should be on my schedule, and about 7 hours behind if you're working it out that way instead, so the main goal really needs to be to pull my head out of my arse and catch up. I've been doing pretty well recently, last weekend being the most productive blog-wise since records began, and I need to keep this up. I've stopped watching films recently, other than LoveFilm, Movie Night or when someone else wants to watch one, in the hope that this will give me more time to write posts, and it seems to be working. I'm going to give myself until the end of February (but I'm aiming for January) to catch up on post writing and film watching, and after that I'm going to work like buggery to keep on top of it.

Secondly, the blog looks a bit dull, doesn't it? I quite like the logo (a neatened up scribble I made at work one day) but it could look better, and I've got some ideas for the side bars, so watch this space.

Thirdly, this isn't supposed to all be about the list. When I started this blog I wrote a couple of random posts, and started a small section called Second Chance, where I watched a film that everyone says is crap, to give it another shot (shockingly, most of them still were) and once I've caught up on the list posts, then I'll kick start the other posts too. I have other opinions as well, you know.

And finally, the name of this blog is Life Vs. Film, yet it's all about film, so let's get a bit more life into it, shall we? Although my life largely revolves around the world of movies, but I do other stuff to I'd like to discuss or showcase. I read a lot, cycle, and am an amateur craftsman, baker and chocolatier, so expect to see some of this discussed in the upcoming decades. I'll try and tie it all into movies as much as I can though, fear not.

So that's what 2012 may hold for my little corner of the web. I've also been dabbling in twitter recently (more on this later), so please feel free to follow me on @LifeVsFilm, joining I think just Aisha and a load of fake accounts. Wow, all that and I didn't even mention the Mayans. Ah balls.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Frankenstein/Bride of Frankenstein

Although at times laughable now, back in 1931 James Whale’s adaptation of Mary Shelley’s classic horror may well have been truly terrifying. Everybody knows the story; a mad scientist and his hunchbacked assistant rob some graves and, with the aid of a handy lightning bolt, create life in a giant, shambling monster, who eventually escapes his castle prison and is hunted down by a screaming mob with pitchforks and torches. This sense of inevitability is what lets the film down, and the limited effects available 70 years ago makes the film pale in comparison to however you can picture it in your imagination. Boris Karloff (replaced with a large ‘?’ in the opening credits for maximum levels of mystery) is brilliant as the monster, displaying childlike innocence in a giant, rigid, wordless performance that sees him throwing a young girl into a river to see if she’ll float, yet remains the victim in this tale.
The sequel picks up at the exact end of the first film, but is not encumbered by knowledge of the plot, or at least not for me, as all I knew was that at some point a female monster was created with a big black Marge Simpson hairdo with a white streak through it. The film uses a nice reminding device – the story is being told by original author Mary Shelley to her husband ad Lord Byron – which although takes you out of the film, adequately reminds of the climax of the previous picture. There are some cringe worthy scenes, most notably a blind man teaching the monster how to speak reminiscent of the worst scene of Terminator 2, with John Connor teaching Arnie how to be cool. The bizarre scene where Dr. Frankenstein’s former mentor Dr. Pretorius reveals the miniature people he has created in jars, including a king, a queen and a mermaid, is just insane, and Pretorius himself is a perfect combination of Doc Brown and Grand Moff Tarkin.
Frankenstein: Choose life 5/10
Bride of Frankenstein: Choose life 4/10

Ivan the Terrible

Oh dear God how many films about Russian history do I have to watch? Jesus I’m getting tired of typing about this, so you must be tired of reading this (I’m under the misapprehension that anyone is actually reading this. Or I’m talking to the voices in my head. But then why would I type that? Now I’m confused.). Our old friend Sergei Eisenstein (Battleship Potemkin, Alexander Nevsky, October) has been at it again, and fortunately I’veonly got one more of his films to watch now (1924s Strike, available to watch online at LoveFilm, yet I just can’t bring myself to do it yet). As I’ve said before, I don’t know anything about Russian history, nor do I really care about it, and I’m trying not to do any extra research to review these films, to help my ‘man of the people’ style reviews. I’m not going to recommend you watch a film that requires you to pass a history A-Level to a high degree beforehand.
So, in a nutshell, Ivan the Terrible tells the story of the man who united Russia in the 16th century. It was conceived as a trilogy, but Eisenstein passed away after making part two (I really shouldn’t be, but at least a small part of me is glad about this, although of course I’d have preferred he lived but just not made it, or anything else, ever again). The subtitles are difficult to read – white text on a light grey background – so much of the dialogue is lost, but I think he takes on the Russian leaders who opposed him, and the general people turn against him for going against God. There is a song including the lines “Sew a cloak of fox fur, trim it with beaver,” and the use of shadows is nice, with Ivan’s (Nikolai Cherkasov) distinct beard silhouetted against a wall, but the plot is dull and impenetrable without the aforementioned qualifications.
Choose life 3/10

The Big Chill

Imagine if Diner or St. Elmo’s Fire had a reunion twenty years later, and you’ll be picturing something like this, when a group of friends meet up for a weekend to attend the funeral of one of their number who killed himself. Kevin Costner filmed scenes as the departed Alex before they were cut, but his presence isn’t missed amongst those that remained, including Jeff Goldblum, William Hurt, Glenn Close, Kevin Kline and Tom Berenger. The weekend reveals that none of them are as happy or settled as they may initially seem, and each character is inhabited totally and wholly; the cast even shared a house together before the shoot, and remained in character throughout it. The soundtrack is also exquisite, featuring the Rolling Stones, Procul Harum, the Beach Boys and Marvin Gaye.
Choose film 8/10

The Dollars Trilogy

Widely regarded as the first spaghetti western (actually 1959s Il Terrore dell’Olkahoma), Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars is at least the first important one, birthing the greatest western icon since John Wayne in Clint Eastwood’s drifter, immortalised by a hat, beard, poncho and a squint. Before Leone, Eastwood was known best for his TV western Rawhide (the theme tune of which is sung at the country and western bar in the Blues Brothers) , but this shot him into not just the Hollywood A-List, but into the pantheon of American icons as the nameless cowboy out to make a profit from a small town heading into ruin. Run by two warring families, the Baxters and the Rojos, Eastwood sees a unique opportunity (unique that is unless you’ve seen Yojimbo, from which this borrows heavily) and sets about pitting the two families against one another. Leone’s direction, only cutting a shot when he has to, combined with Ennio Morricone’s whistling score and the spectacular cinematography of a barren, bleached landscape under a harsh, unforgiving sun makes for a spectacular western steeped in both American characters and European style.
Inconceivably, Fistful’s lesser yet still unmissable semi-sequel For A Few Dollars More didn’t make it onto the list, but I watched it again anyway. This time, Eastwood’s identically attired yet still nameless drifter finds that it may be beneficial to team up with Lee Van Cleef’s rival bounty hunter to catch their latest target. Look out for Klaus Kinski as a hunchbacked member of the gang they’re chasing.
The closer to this trilogy is widely regarded as one of the best films in the world, and currently holds the number 4 spot of IMDb’s top 250. From the opening score, undoubtedly one of the greatest in cinematic history that would be my ringtone were it not Reservoir Dogs’ Little Green Bag, you can tell you’re in for something special. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly follows, as the title suggests, three men, whose lives converge around a loot of gold buried in a grave. Eastwood’s Blondie is debatably the ‘Good’, a bounty hunter returning criminals for reward, then shooting the noose when they’re hanged so he can collect it again in the next town. Eli Wallach’s Tuco is the ‘Bad’, one such vagrant Blondie hands in, and Lee Van Cleef is given short shrift as the ‘Ugly’, as hired killer Angel Eyes, who always goes through with a job he’s been paid for. Unlike the previous two films, this is not the Clint Eastwood show, and if anything Wallach, the most interesting and entertaining character, is given the most screen time as the three set out to torture, beat and murder the others for a shot at the gold. Although the plot gets lost a little in the middle, when the US Civil War takes over, but by the three-way standoff at the end any flaws are forgiven. It’s the kind of scene that just doesn’t work on paper (shot of eyes, then a gun, then feet, eyes again, repeat for 5 minutes) but is unequalled on screen, and the ending is perfect.
A Fistful of Dollars: Choose film 8/10
For a Few Dollars More: Choose film 7/10
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Choose film 9/10

October 1917: 10 Days that Shook the World

I’ll be honest, about 10 minutes into this film I got up and started making my dinner, occasionally glancing at the screen just to make sure I wasn’t missing anything important. This is a propaganda piece made for the 10th anniversary of the Russian revolution, made by several filmmakers, led by Sergei Eisenstein. The ‘film’ re-enacts the first days of the revolution, shows inspirational imagery of men drinking together, and is occasionally intercut with large text proclaiming FRIEND! or BROTHER! or some such nonsense. I’m sure it served its purpose back in the day, but is it really necessary to include this on a list of films you must see before you die? I could have quite happily died without seeing this film. Hell, halfway through I could have quite happily just died.
Choose life 1/10

A Fish Called Wanda

An Englishman named George Thomason (Thomas Georgeson, seriously), his American partner Wanda (Jamie Lee Curtis), her supposed brother Otto (Kevin Kline) and the stuttering animal lover Ken (Michael Palin) successfully perform a diamond heist, but an elderly witness dobs George in, and John Cleese’s henpecked lawyer Archie Leach is appointed to defend him. All of these people are liars, murderers, adulterers and thieves, most notable Curtis’ Wanda, who finds herself seducing everyone else to get her own way, with arousal via foreign languages being her only weakness. The film belongs to Palin and the Oscar winning Kline. Though the other performances are all excellent, the characters of the timid Ken and the philosophical but very, very stupid Otto are so comically rich that they deliver the most laughs, particularly when they share the screen, be it Otto declaring his undying love to Ken, or sticking ketchup-covered chips up his nose to extract information. Cleese should also be commended, if only for prancing around naked singing in Russian.
Choose film 9/10

Top Hat

My first encounter with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, this does not make me look forward to any others. The plot is paper thin and rests upon a simple, easily clarified misunderstanding – Astaire’s dancer Jerry Travers falls for Rogers’ Dale Tremont staying in the hotel room below his, but she thinks he is married to a friend of hers and rebukes his advances. Every plot point, from their initial meeting (he is dancing in his room, alone, for no reason, waking her up, so he dances on sand to not make any noise, instead of, I don’t know, just not dancing) seems to have been contrived simply to show off the dance skills of the two leads. Seeing as I’m incapable of telling good dancing from bad, or even if the dancers are in time to the music, this is entirely lost on me, the dance sequences left me bored and awaiting a scene where someone didn’t spontaneously burst into song for no apparent reason.
Choose life 5/10

Friday Night Lights

I’ve heard before that this is one of the better sports movies and, though I know very little about American football (or women’s rugby, as I like to call it), the games shown here were well shot and captivating. But, a good sports movie is still just a sports movie, and is therefore about nothing. I didn’t play sport in school. I dabbled in cricket a little, very briefly played football but then gave up when I saw the little benefit that could be achieved with the maximum effort put in. So instead I studied hard, did my homework and did OK in school, and from there went to college and university on my academic qualities, got a job and now make a living. I’m not a natural genius, I worked hard to get what I have, so when a film tells me that these kids playing football aren’t the brightest, and their only way out of their backwards hick town is via throwing a bag of air across a line or between two posts or whatever the hell they do over there, I just have to sit back and try not to throw everything to hand at my TV. I don’t care how committed the rest of your town is to a game, and it is just a game after all, if you don’t have yourself a backup plan when you’re relying on not damaging that oh-so-fragile body of yours to secure you’re future, you’re even dumber than anyone could have predicted.
Anyway, rant over, as you can guess, I’m no sports guy, so good luck to this film. Billy Bob Thornton is the football coach to a high school football team in a town full of meat sacks that shuts down every Friday night come game time. Every man, woman and inbred child in this town has an opinion they’re only too willing to share as to how the game should be played, and generally a different one after to the event as to how it should have been played. Local radio shows take call-ins from fans, on suggesting that they’re “doing too much learnin’ in this school,” and the kids themselves are under more pressure than is healthy from all around, particularly in the case of Garrett Hedlund’s Don Billingsley, whose father was a star in his day, yet Don is playing third string (I think this is a bad thing). Meanwhile current star quarterback Boobie Miles enjoys a celebrity lifestyle and just has to show up to training, with all the plays centred on him, so guess which players going to receive an unrecoverable injury? This true story from director Peter Berg, helmer of least anticipated film of 2012 Battleship, follows the Permian Panthers, for that is their team name, from the play-offs to the final, and though the outcome of the final match isn’t inherently obvious, everything else in this film is.
Choose life 4/10

Aguirre: Wrath of God

In 16th century South America, a large group of conquistadors are exploring the jungles, searching for El Dorado, the city of gold. Among this group are knights in full armour, maidens riding in slave-carried sedan chairs, monks, llamas, pigs and men dragging cannons, desperately trying to traverse knee deep mud and extremely dense rainforest. It was these images that first made me think this was a comedy, as the shots of these 100s of people blindly heading deeper and deeper into the lush undergrowth without even contemplating what could possibly be ahead is frankly hilarious, but when a smaller (but still fairly sizable, and weighed down with unnecessary items and people) is sent forward as a scouting party, they are rapidly picked off one by one by natives, illness and each other. Eventually leading this group is Klaus Kinski’s wild-eyes Aguirre, desperate to divert to mission to his own gain via any means necessary, even shooting the man currently in charge. After the initial hilarity the movie takes a dive towards bleaker, more surreal pastures, and although some shots, the final one for instance, of Aguirre finally controlling his raft, apart from the hoards of monkeys, are memorable, this film really isn’t worth the time.
Choose life 5/10

The White Ribbon

One cannot deny that this is an excellent, well made film by director Michael Haneke about a pre WW1 German village suffering from seemingly random acts of terrorism – the doctor’s horse is tripped on his way home from work, a barn is burned down, a woman dies when some rotten floorboards give way beneath her. Yet viewing is not a satisfying experience, as our narrator, speaking from the future about years long past, seems reluctant to release all the details of his story. The children of the village are severely mistreated by the pillars of their community, namely the pastor, doctor and baron. The pastor labels them with the titular white ribbon for the smallest offence, and when his pubescent son admits to self gratification; his hands are tied to the posts of the bed when he sleeps, to prevent any further sinning. It is obvious from the start that the children are behind the village’s incidents, having formed a kind of gang, yet these suspicions are never fully confirmed, with the most validation provided by a character approaching a bird’s cage holding a blade, and then the bird later found dead. Though Haneke has made a living from ambiguous works, some of his other features – Hidden or Funny Games for example – are superior to this in that you feel you have been told at least most of a story, rather than excerpts from a couple of chapters.
Choose life 7/10

sex, lies and videotape

The first spoken word in this film is “garbage”. I wouldn’t go quite that far, but I don’t quite get the big deal of this piece. Centring around four main characters, Andie Macdowell’s prudent homemaker Ann, her promiscuous sister Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo), Ann’s lawyer husband John (Peter Gallagher) who is sleeping with both of them, and his old college friend Graham (James Spader), this plays out slowly and plainly, with plot points signposted miles in advance. Graham hasn’t seen John for 9 years, but has moved back into town and needs somewhere to stay temporarily, so crashes at theirs. He seems a little off, a little antisocial and distanced from the world, and when Ann goes to visit him in his new apartment, she discovers he has a ‘personal project’ that involves him videotaping women discussing their sexual experiences, and occasionally masturbating. It seems the only way the impotent Graham can become aroused is via a camera, hence this rather literal stockpiled wank bank. The film shows how powerful a camera can be, with the subjects being more willing to open up when staring into a lens than someone else’s face, and Spader’s performance is riveting and genuinely unsettling at times, but watching Macdowell trying to act is painful, and not enough unexpected occurs.
Choose life 5/10

Cinematic Cure for the Common Cold

I have a cold, it’s quite possibly going to kill me. We’re not talking about some run-of-the-mill everyday man-flu here, this is like if Gwyneth Paltrow in Contagion screwed the monkey from Outbreak, then sneezed all over my Fruit & Fibre. My nose has become a sewer pipe for an over-producing factory of snot. And because of this ‘case of the sniffles’ (my mum’s words) I took a day off work (the first in living memory, save last year’s truck meets bike debacle) and whilst off I thought I’d endeavour to find the best kind of film to watch when you’re ill, and cross a few off the list whilst I was at it.

First off, discount anything subtitled or 3D, you feel bad enough already, having to wear glasses or read isn’t going to make you feel any better. Amelie is a great feel- good film, but if your head feels like wool almost anything in English is going to be a better choice. The same can be said for anything too obscure. David Lynch, Luis Bunuel, Lars von Trier, sit back down. Terry Gilliam is just about acceptable, as most of his work tends to have a light-hearted edge to it, but the others are going to look especially trippy, depending on your medicine cocktail of choice. Probably best not to watch Brazil though.

I’ve followed five schools of thought here: 1. Watch a western. Real men working hard for a living, fighting, killing and sexing up whores like real men should do might just inspire you to man up and show those germs who’s boss. If you’re a girl substitute this for some period Jane Austen nonsense. Being ill in olden times was not deemed proper. 2. Watch a horror, in an attempt to scare yourself so much you forget you’re ill, or possibly scare the illness away. I’m not a doctor, but I think this is medically possible. 3. Watch a depressing film. Seeing people worse off than you should make you feel better about the situation, in a “yes I may be ill, but at least I haven’t been buried alive” kind of way. 4. Watch a kids film, definitely animated, preferably Pixar. Lighthearted, simple to follow and always has a happy ending, this is a traditional antidote to any problem I come across. 5. Die Hard. John McClane has never found a problem he can’t shoot through, and you’re namby-pamby congested sinuses aren’t about to stop his track record. Plus, it’s festive, and I’m not waiting another 11 months before I can watch it again.

1: Our western of choice is Red River, primarily because LoveFilm delivered it through my door the day before the sick day. This is a proper western, with John Wayne and everything. He plays Thomas Dunson, whose woman is killed by Indians and, instead of seeking revenge like any other John Wayne character, sets out to start a cattle herd with his best friend Groot and a young boy with a cow. The boy grows up to be Montgomery Clift fourteen years later, and the three men must head a cattle drive of 10,000 bovine 1,000 miles in 100 days. It’s the kind of film where as soon as a kindhearted, friendly young farm hand expresses his intentions of spending his share of the pay for the drive on a pair of shoes for his beloved young wife, in the very next scene he is trampled to death in a stampede. Wayne gives one of his best performances as one of his most layered characters, and the film soon becomes less about the drive and more about the fate of Dunson and Clift’s Matthew Garth, as the two have different beliefs as to the correct destination for the drive, how to get there and how the men working under them should be treated. It’s a little long for the story it tells – in the third act diverting to assist a wagon train set upon by Indians just to add a romantic edge to the story, developing the script into a sub-screwball comedy, and I was a little disappointed by the surprisingly upbeat ending. That said, it was a good watch for a sick day, kept me engrossed and I genuinely cared about the characters come the close.

2: BBC iPlayer very kindly showed 1940s classic horror films Cat People and its sequel, the Curse of the Cat People recently, and having not got around to them yet, this was a perfect opportunity. Both films follow the life of Oliver, a 30-something New Yorker, who has apparently never been unhappy before, who falls in love with and marries a beautiful woman and has another, equally beautiful, intelligent and kind woman in love with him. Am I supposed to care about this guy or wish him dead? Anyway, the blurb for the film told me that Irena, the woman he falls for, is haunted by a past which threatens those around her with death and destruction. Couple this with a title like Cat People and I’m expecting either at some point she’s going to turn into a more feline werewolf than is traditionally expected, one side of her family are freakish upright-walking cat/human hybrids, anyone she loves will turn into a cat or at some point 50-foot long cats will drop from the sky and crush everyone she’s met. Disappointingly the first option is chosen, and the limited effects available in 1942 prevent a Rick Baker-esque transformation from being shown. There was an annoying lack of horror in both this and the sequel, which shows Oliver a few years older with a 6 year old outcast daughter, who is given a magic ring with which she wishes for a friend, only for that friend to be the spirit of a figure from Oliver’s past. Only a couple of scenes across the two films offer the slightest amount of tension and none are even the slightest bit scary, so I’m afraid cold theory number two remains untested. The characters are underwritten or superfluous, particularly the sequel’s Jamaican houseservant Edward, whose chief role is to spout dialogue the audience has already assumed or flat out knows, and I’ve have preferred more attention to have been spent on how stupid the woman is who, when she believes herself to be cornered by an attacker, jumps into a brightly lit swimming pool and splashes around for a bit.

3: If you’re going to watch a depressing film, it has to be a true story, as no-one has ever made something up that’s worse than something you hear on the evening news. And so is the case with Glory, Edward Zwick’s tale of the first all black infantry regiment of the Federal Army during the US Civil War. It says something about late 80s/90s Hollywood that the only way we could be shown a story about black people is through the eyes of the white man brought in to lead them (Matthew Broderick). The movie is rife with clichés (the four privates we focus on all have memorable and recognisable character traits, and all share the same tent, including Morgan Freeman’s kindly old hand and Denzel Washington’s Oscar winning portrayal of the angry, rebellious ra1bble-rouser Trip) and guilty of using Matthew Broderick in a serious role, and too often dwells on sentimentality. It’s also an enraging film, watching the racism against the men denied uniforms and shoes because they are not believed to ever be used for warfare. As for good for illness, the schadenfreude aspect did make me feel a little better, but the severity of how much these guys had to go through just made me feel worse.

4: Here we go, the last Pixar film to be crossed off the list (A Bug’s Life, Cars and Up didn’t make it I’m afraid) tends to be one of the least remembered, though that may change once next year’s prequel Monsters University hits cinemas. This is the best kind of Pixar film, one set in a slight variation of the real world, showing a side of it previously unseen, yet whose origins exist as mythology in our world, in this case that there’s a monster hiding in your closet. The studio – the most consistently outstanding studio working today – takes this concept and forms not just a plot but an entire world around it, with the monsters working for a corporation collecting children’s screams to be used as power for their city. Somehow, who knows how, they manage to make two of these child-terrifying employees our heroes; Mike and Sully voiced perfectly by Billy Crystal and John Goodman), who must face the everyday woes of paperwork and fuel shortages like the rest of us office-ridden schmucks. I’ve mentioned it before, but the key to Pixar’s success is in the details. Mike uses a giant contact lens to cover the single eye that takes up most of his body, sprays on Wet Dog odourant before a date and takes his snake-haired girlfriend to the acclaimed restaurant Harryhausen’s. That, and top notch voice work from a cast including Steve Buscemi as dastardly reptile Randall, James Coburn as Monsters Inc. CEO Henry J. Waternoose and Yoda himself Frank Oz as Randall’s sidekick Fungus. Perfect viewing if infected or not.

5: Ah, Die Hard. You revolutionised the world of action movies, encouraging studio execs all over Hollywood to green light Die Hard... in a submarine, on a bus, in space concepts left right and centre. You gave us Bruce Willis as a believable action hero without the need for bulging biceps and legs like tree trunks (he even name-checks Stallone and Schwarzenegger in the script). And you gave us Alan Rickman’s greatest role until Galaxy Quest as the refined, immaculately attired thief Hans Gruber (I don’t count Snape as a new character, as he’s basically Gruber with a cloak). The film is note perfect and barely puts a foot wrong, though some characters are broad stereotypes, especially the members of Gruber’s crew, and McClane’s wife’s sleazy co-worker Ellis, so much of a bastard whenever he’s onscreen you root for the terrorists. I tend to put this on as a background film when doing other things, but this is incredibly counter-productive, as I invariably end up engrossed as soon as McClane throws a corpse out of window and I join in with a “Welcome to the party pal!” This was definitely the film that made me feel the greatest, or was at least the one I watched with the moost narcotics inside me, so I’m going to conclude that the best film to watch when you’re ill is one you never forwards, backwards and thrown off a building. If it’s a seminal 80s action movie, so much the better, just make sure it’s one of your favourites. If only a cold were curable by making fists with your toes on carpet.
Red River - Choose film 6/10
Cat People - Choose life 4/10
Curse of the Cat People - Choose life 3/10
Glory - Choose life 6/10
Monsters Inc. - Choose film 8/10
Die Hard - Choose film 10/10

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Ghost World

Enid and Rebecca (Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson) have just graduated high school, and have no plans as to their future. They have no desire for college, careers or being members of society, are proud of their outcast status yet mock everyone else either for conforming to societies standards or differing from it. When they respond to a lonely guy’s missed connection in a newspaper, Birch’s Enid takes a shining to the shy, unassuming Seymour (Steve Buscemi). Enid is a destructive force, bringing down all those around her whilst she steadfastly refuses to grow up. Where consciously or not, everything she does prevents her life from progressing, be it dying her hair green before going apartment hunting with Rebecca or criticising the films at the cinema where she is hired. Understandably, everyone around her seems eager to develop their lives to a stage where she is no longer involved, be it her overly doting yet unattached father (Bob Balaban), her friends or Seymour, whom she helps to find a partner, only to be excluded from his life once three becomes a crowd. The movie fails the one-hour test; after 60 minutes I still didn’t care what happened to any of the characters, as watching Enid self-destructive cycle spin around again left me bored and disinterested. The only saving grace however is Buscemi, remaining just the right side of creepy, even with a horrendous side parting. His obsessed record collector struck a note with me, for if you replaced the music with books and DVDs, I’m fairly sure I’ll be him in 20 years should my girlfriend ever leave me.
Choose life 4/10

Great Expectations

Dickens is my favourite writer of whose work I’ve read very little, and remember even less. I’m going to put that down to his being the West Wing character Sam Seaborn’s favourite writer, and because what I can remember is exquisite. I’m attempting to correct this literary oversight by reading the complete works of Dickens, however I’ve had David Copperfield sat in my bookcase for a few months now and have yet to even slide the book from its old fashioned cardboard sleeve and leaf through the hair’s breadth pages. This is not for want of trying, it just seems that another book will jump out at me sooner, or an issue of Empire will be posted through my door (I’ve recently ended my subscription to Total Film for this very reason, for two film magazines and my girlfriends insistence that I subscribe to Esquire leaves precious little time for reading anything else before the next month’s batch comes through the letterbox). If anything, Great Expectations has inspired me to pursue my Dickensian endeavours ever further, with its rich characters, superb storytelling and above all marvellous dialogue, taken directly from the pages written 150 years ago.
The first Dickens adaptation of director David Lean, followed by Oliver Twist 2 years later, bizarrely absent from the list, the film does have its flaws. A 38 year old John Mills was far too old to portrayal the youthful 20-year old Philip ‘Pip’ Pirrip, with the wrinkles in his forehead too far engrained to be concealed, and Alec Guinness, as his roommate Mr. Pocket, always looked better fighting with a light sabre than with a boxing gloves. Other than this, Lean directed wisely by remaining true to the book, a tactic that would make this a must see if directed by anyone.
Choose film 8/10

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Badlands

If Badlands is anything to go by, then Terrence Malick is one of the most overrated directors in cinema, having completed only five pictures, but with critical and cineaste acclaim deserved only of the likes of Scorsese, Spielberg and Hitchcock. Though I haven’t yet seen Days of Heaven, the New World or the Tree of Life (though Days is on the list, and I live in a great deal of hope that I am proved incorrect), from what I have seen of Badlands and the Thin Red Line, I’m guessing they are mostly comprised of a philosophical narration, ruminating on the nature of life, set over a thrown together, meandering plot shot almost entirely at sunset. Whilst I appreciate Line in spite of these things, it was more for the ensemble cast, wartime setting and stunning cinematography that I am willing to endure its occasional pontificating on the ways of the world. Badlands, however, has little to offer save excellent early performances from Sissy Spacek and the legendary Martin Sheen, playing characters based on 1950s killers Charles Starkweather and Carol Fugate, themselves inspired by Bonnie and Clyde. Sheen is Kit Carruthers, a garbage man with dreams of being a James Dean-lookalike outlaw. He meets Spacek’s Holly and, when her father shoots her dog when she lies to him, Kit kills him and hides him in the basement, which to be honest Holly takes rather well. This begins a killing spree as the pair run from the pursuing authorities and try to set up a life on their own, away from the world. Holly’s narration is infuriatingly sparse, as instead of detailing why they are doing what they are, we are simply told “The reasons are obvious, I don’t have time to go into them right now.” Much of the film is symbolic in a way that doesn’t hold up when you think about it – a man ringing a bell to call his deaf maid, a suicide message left on a record player next to a house fire that will undoubtedly engulf it – and I really cannot fathom why this film has garnered such a reputation as being more than a film, but a work of art. I’m not ashamed to admit that I much prefer Natural Born Killers, Oliver Stone’s take on a similar story with the same influence (also on the list), as that at least has identifiable characters, justified (if not condoned) actions and innovative style. Badlands seems just about a deluded man running away with a teenage girl, killing everyone they meet just so he can become famous and be shot down with a girl by his side to scream out his name.
Choose life 6/10

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Alexander Nevsky

Once again, as with Battleship Potemkin (also directed by Sergei Eisenstein), a greater understanding of Russian history probably would have made this film more appealing, and more likely to hold my interest. As it is, this tale of a 13th century Teutonic knight was lost on me, and I found the whole thing dry, dull and passionless. The titular Nevsky (Nikolai Cherkasov, a mixture of Charlton Heston and Richard Branson) is a fisherman and prince of his nation who raises an army of soldiers and peasants to fight back after his beloved homeland is attacked. In said army, two soldiers compete for the hand of a girl, with the man who shows the most valour being rewarded with her marriage, though it is not mentioned how she would make such a judgement when not present during warfare. The battle scenes are too long and stagey, with actors waiting for their opponent to take their turn as though playing Final Fantasy, and everyone on one side rides off at the shout of “We have won this day,” despite the battle being far from finished, with many soldiers on the opposing side still fighting. The good and bad guys are clearly marked – no prizes for guessing the men throwing screaming children into a fire with no morsel of remorse are going to be the villains, and there’s little to really recommend about this film, especially if you know nothing about eastern European history.
Choose life 3/10