Friday, 30 March 2012

Top 5... Trilogies

Truly great movie trilogies are few and far between. Historically, it seems fairly straightforward  to make a good film and a sequel that either equals, tops or slightly disappoints, but then the whole thing gets sullied by a dismal third film. I've done what I can to find trilogies where all three films stand up. I've also somewhat reluctantly ignored any franchises with more than three films in it, so I'm afraid Die Hard, Indy and Star Wars didn't get a look in, even though in each case the first three films are quite clearly the greatest. Annoyingly this also meant I couldn't use Resident Evil as the worst trilogy, ah well. Also, no loose trilogies, like Baz Luhrman's Red Curtain trilogy or Park Chan-Wook's Vengeance trilogy.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Alice


Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is already pretty mental, so when I read that this version by Czechoslovakian director Jan Svankmajer was “memorably bizarre,” I strapped myself in for a rollercoaster of ridiculousness, and I was not left wanting.
A terrifying stuffed rabbit – animated via stop motion – bites through its restraints with eyes bulging like a cartoon, dons gloves, coat and a hat, checks its pocket watch and escaped through the drawer of a writing desk that is only a little bit like a raven. Oh, and the rabbit has ripped a gash in its chest that continually leaks sawdust like an open wound. The young Alice (Kristyna Kohoutova) follows the rabbit along a carpet of set squares and rulers and down an elevator past jars of drawing pins in chutney and various animal skulls with eyeballs.
I won’t ruin all the insanity, though there is plenty here to suffice, but rest assured some of the regular Alice beats are present – the shrinking potion and growing cake, the caterpillar, the Mad Hatter’s tea party and the King and Queen of Heart’s, but the question begs to be asked that, if everything in between the main points has been dramatically changed, why not just make a different story altogether? Plus, it takes far too long for Alice to get to Wonderland (if that’s what they’re still calling it). Imagine if Frodo didn’t leave the Shire until near the end of the Two Towers, or Harry didn’t get to Hogwarts until two hours into the Philosopher’s Stone, yet the books remained the same.
If I’d seen this as a child, chances are I’d still wake up screaming. From the burrowing inflatable sock-worms, the carnivorous animal skeletons reminiscent of Toy Story’s franken-toys, baguettes sprouting nails, living steaks, Alice crying enough to flood a room and a swimming rat hammering a campfire into Alice's head, this is nightmarish to the highest degree. Also, who the hell is in charge of screwing on the doorknobs in this world, because they’re doing a terrible job.
Choose life 5/10

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Das Experiment

Based on a real test held at Stanford Prison in 1971, Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Das Experiment sees 20 volunteers placed in a 14-day research trial under 24-hour surveillance. Twelve of the men are given the role of prisoners, whilst the other eight are their guards. The prisoners are assigned three to a cell and forced to wear thin gowns, flimsy flip-flops and no underwear, whilst the guards have only one job: to ensure the prisoners obey the rules without resorting to violence. Among the prisoners is taxi driver Tarek (Run Lola Run’s Moritz Bleibtreu), a former reporter whose desperation for a story could lead to him pushing things a step too far.

Predictably, not all goes to plan, and the film remains engrossing with the fascination at how far the test will go, how far out of control it will become and what those involved will resort to. At times quite violent, the film’s strength lies in the relationship between the three groups – prisoners, guards and scientists – and in the frantic style of the more action-filled scenes. Rather more naked men than I was expecting though.

Choose film 7/10

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Sucker for punishment

I discovered recently that, in the most recent edition of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, not only had some films been added from the past 12 months (subsequently removing some of the films from the past few years, but mainly last year) but some films from earlier than last year had been added in, for example 2006's Apocalypto, which was not in the 2011 edition, but is in the 2012. Outraged isn't the word. It's clear that the makers of the book were allowing themselves to benefit from the glorious gift of hindsight, allowing them to now know that Apocalypto is a much better film than the likes of An Education and Precious, but I got to thinking, what other films am I missing out on? It didn't feel right to base my list on the randomness of the year I received the book. So after a quick Google I discovered this lovely little site, where you can find all of the films ever to appear on any of the lists, and so I've added the 54 missing films onto my pile, including those added for the latest book edition. Rest assured I'll be doing the same thing for every new edition released, but I'll try and keep within the time limit of five years. This should make January 2016 especially fun, as I'll be finishing off the list as well as those films added only days before, but we'll cross that bridge when we get to it.

One quick note, I'm trying to cheat by pre-empting the list, as if I saw the films that have been added in the cinema or on DVD before they were put on the list, but only if I've posted a review, then I consider that film already crossed off, so the 2010 True Grit that is now present has already been crossed out, as the review can be found here. Here's hoping that The Muppets, The Help, The Artist, Bill Cunningham New York and War Horse all appear next year! I don't have much hope for The Woman In Black.

New additions include films I know and love (Adaptation, The Host), some I've seen once but want a reason to watch again (The Social Network, In the Loop, the aforementionned Apocalypto), some I've never seen but feel I should (The Passion Of The Christ, The Queen) and some I've seen, but kind of hoped I wouldn't ever have to watch again (Eyes Wide Shut, Babel). There's also a few fairly random additions (Meet the Parents). The list now sits at 1382 films in total, so I should probably stop writing this and crack on.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Unlisted: The Help

Based on Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling novel, The Help follows Emma Stone’s aspiring writer Skeeter as she returns home from college to Jackson, Mississippi (the opportunity to play some Johnny Cash is thankfully not missed). Whilst home, the free-thinking journalist discovers the maids that helped raise her, and the rest of their upper middle class society, are treated despicably – paid less than minimum wage with no social security, forced to use separate bathrooms and generally treated as sub-humans without the blink of an eye, so Skeeter sets out to tell their story to the world, helpfully with their assistance.




As recently seen with Glory, it seems the only way Hollywood can show a story about black people is through the eyes of the white person who helped them on their way, without whom they’d be powerless and stuck as they were, and the popularity of the film, not to mention it’s numerous nominations at the Oscars, has been struck by a case of white guilt, as though not a bad picture, there isn’t really anything new here. The ground has been trod many times before, but few have used such a great multi-generational ensemble cast without a weak link amongst them. Stone is good in her first dramatic lead, showing potential but retaining her well-honed comic chops, but she is shadowed by the likes of Bryce Dallas Howard’s bitchy queen bee, Octavia Spencer’s outspoken piemaker Minny and Viola Davis’ cautious yet catalytic maid Aibileen. Spencer is good, but her Oscar should have gone to Jessica Chastain for her unrecognisably bubbly portrayal of ditzy Celia Foote, giving a performance that could so easily have been paper thin, but ends up stealing the show. Davis too didn’t deserve the Oscar everyone was so sure she’d receive, but the nomination is well placed. Allison Janney, Sissy Spacey and Mary Steenburgen help round out the cast, and all give natural, layered performances from even the most cliché characters. 




Whilst often resorting to shameless pulling of the heartstrings and occasionally implementing a chopped narrative that adds nothing to the overall result, this is elevated by the great cast offering tremendous performances.


Choose film 7/10

Friday, 23 March 2012

Mad Max

Essentially a glorified B-Movie, Mad Max saw Mel Gibson break out as live wire hero cop Max Rockatansky in a not too distant semi-dystopian Australian future. Other than Gibson, and sometimes including him, the acting and scenes are straight out of a direct-to-DVD movie – see Max sitting bolt upright in bed, a red light illuminating his haunted eyes, or his looking under a sheet at the hospital, so I wonder whether this is memorable more for the creation of the character, a Dirty Harry inspired ‘bronze’ who’ll nab his victims by whatever means, and for the supposedly superior sequel (watch this space).


My main issue is that the character of Max is initially built up as being a kind of supercop brought in when no-one else will do, almost robotic in terms of getting the job done, and for the first scene, in which Max steps in to take out a cop killer and his girl when the rest of the force is lying in a heap of wrecked cars, this seems to fit, but for the next hour we see a completely different character, a family man in need of a break from his high stress job. It’s almost as though Gibson is playing twins. Annoyingly, it’s these more sentimental moments, making up the majority of the film, that prevent MM from being the guy’s night in classic it could well have become, for the scenes of brutality, chases and revenge have real potential.

Another problem is that the film has no real message. The gang of the man Max killed at the start end up tracking Max and his family, yet not because he killed their cohort, simply because they run into each other. It could so very easily have been a vengeance plot, but for reasons unbeknownst to all, this was omitted in favour of fate and coincidence.

Choose life 6/10

Top 5... Toilet Scenes

Let's revel in some low brown humour for a change and look at cinema's greatest toilet scenes. Not just bathrooms, so no Full Metal Jacket or Psycho I'm afraid, but those that specifically feature the porcelain throne.

In an attempt to ruin his date, Lloyd (Jim Carrey) has given his pal Harry (Jeff Daniels) a heavy does of powerful laxatives. To top it off, Harry's latrine of choice doesn't have a working flush.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Unlisted: The Woman in Black

Technically, Daniel Radcliffe is an adult. He’s 22 years old, so it’s possible he could have a young child and a wife who died in childbirth, and I suppose in the past these things happened younger, and of course he wants to distance himself from a certain well known child role, but with his boyish face and general lack of sufficient acting ability (though there’s no doubting it’s improvement since the early years of Potter) you’d think he’d pick a role that required a little less heavy living as the bereaved lawyer struggling to make ends meet in this picture from Hammer. But as it is, Radcliffe has unfortunately picked a part he simply isn’t right for. His face is too well known against a cast of whose are only vaguely familiar. It’s a role better suited to the likes of Rafe Spall, Armie Hammer or Jim Sturgess, who have already landed but haven’t yet rocketed to megastardom. One understands Radcliffe’s motivation, and indeed his name carries the film, but it’s clear he wasn’t cast for his skill as an actor or appropriateness for the character.

I’d heard tell from a horror aficionado that the film was scary. This is true, in the same sense that a jack-in-the-box is scary. If your idea of terror stems from a clearly signposted jump scare (every time the cat appears in Alien, for example) then this movie will chill you to the bone, but other than a couple of mildly inventive scares there’s not a lot here to send your popcorn skyward. This doesn’t mean it’s advisable to take young kids to though, for although it is a 12A, some of the themes are not suitable for bringing your 6 year old son and his two friends to see, especially if you’re going to sit in the seats directly in front of me and the little sods are going to insist on turning round and staring at me for the final hour of the film. Selfish father in Salisbury last Wednesday, I’m talking to you. Also, the two mad old woman behind me to the right, please shut the hell up in future, I can see and hear the film, so do not need everything explained loudly, and guys sitting along my row, sit the fuck still, all these chairs are joined together. Dick. Seriously, there weren’t that many people in the cinema, how come I was surrounded?

Anyway, the film. Radcliffe plays small time lawyer with poor emoting abilities Arthur Kipps, who visits a remote village to sort out some legal documents for a house. The villagers are less than happy to have an outsider visiting, and are rather keen to send him on his way, for they’re understandably concerned that every time Kipps visits the house, separated from the mainland by a long path that’s underwater when the tide comes in (you reckon he’s going to get trapped out there at some point?), someone’s kid dies in horrific or violent circumstances. What’s stranger here though, and what doesn’t make sense at the end of the film, is why the villagers don’t explain to Kipps what is going on. Had they told him he’s inadvertently causing it and how, chances are he might stop. Other than this glaring oversight, there were a couple of other issues I had with the film. Firstly, at one point Arthur willingly goes swimming around in mud deeper than he is. Before doing this, any sensible person would at least remove their waistcoat, tie and shoes, not needlessly jump in dressed for a formal dinner party. Secondly, about half way through the film part of the game is given away purely by stylistic choices as to the nature of what is causing the travesties is shown to us but not to Kipps, and will clearly not be a threat towards him until somewhere near the end of the third act. At this point I nearly stood up brushed my hands off and walked out with a “Right, that’s that sorted then” motion.

Not to say it’s a bad film, it’s just thoroughly underwhelming and predictable. Other than a few sequences – the candles in the hallway and a nice moment with a reflection in the window – and a wonderful supporting role for the ever-underused Ciaran Hinds, there’s nothing here I’ll remember for long.

Choose life 5/10

Sunday, 18 March 2012

I Am Cuba/Memories of Underdevelopment/Lucia


There comes a point in the life of every blog when you just have to give in and succumb to what the public wants. It’s a wonder I’ve made it this far, but I’m afraid that time has come. I’ve been inundated with torrents of requests to focus on an area I, and many other blogs, have previously neglected. Yes, that’s right, it’s time for the post devoted to the history of Cuba! Yep, that’s right. There are not one, not two, not four, but three films on the list that all focus on the ‘modern’ history of a country I’ve never really even thought about, let alone cared (apologies to my veritable army of Cuban followers) and surprisingly enough, none of them are any good.

I Am Cuba inconceivably holds the rank of 112th best film in Empire’s poll, and for the life of me I can’t fathom why. Other than the impressive early tracking scene, where the camera goes underwater in an unbroken shot, there’s little to recommend about this tale if four disconnected stories in Cuba. The acting is largely terrible, and the stories are slow and poorly told, with an at least 10-minute edit on each section still required. Nothing more than well-filmed propaganda, such a high placing on Empire’s list makes me question their tallying methods.

Memories of Underdevelopment is a largely plotless rumination on gender, language and politics in early 60’s Havana, following a wealthy former businessman turned writer as he woos an aspiring actress, only to eventually be taken to court for allegedly abusing her virginity. Dull and overlong even at 97 minutes; it’s so boring that one of the highlights is a lecture.

At 2 hours and 40 minutes long, Lucia is a monumental waste of time. Three women, all conveniently but pointlessly named Lucia, live through three eras in Cuban history – 1895, 1932 and the 1960s. I can’t really explain the importance of these times without external research, as I was bored after 10 minutes and spent the next 150 intermittently looking at my watch and hoping for the film to end, as other than some interestingly lit scenes, nothing coherent really happens in any of the segments.

I Am Cuba: Choose life 3/10
Memories of Underdevelopment: Choose life 2/10
Lucia: Choose life 2/10

Friday, 16 March 2012

Top 5... Alan Tudyk Characters

Alan Tudyk is 41 today, so let's celebrated his birthday with his best five roles:

5. Jack (Knocked Up):
More of a cameo, Tudyk plays Jack, Alison's (Katherin Heigl) boss at the TV studio where she works along with Kristen Wiig's bitchy colleague Jill. Tudyk steals the scenes he's in, insisting that, if Alison wants to be on camera, though he can't legally ask her to lose weight, it would be nice if she looked a bit tighter.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Platoon

Charlie Sheen is Chris Taylor who, after dropping out of college because he wasn’t learning anything, volunteers to fight in the Vietnam war, amongst recruits including Keith David, Forest Whittaker, Tony Todd, Kevin Dillon and a young Johnny Depp. The platoon is split, with half drawn to Willem Dafoe’s free-thinking, laidback stoner Sergeant Elias, with the rest, including brown-nosing Sergeant O’Neill (John C. McGinley), prefer the ethos of scarred Staff Sergeant Barnes (Tom Berenger), who counts success by how high the bodies are piled, rather than whether peace has been achieved.

There’s an interesting film buried in here somewhere, but it either follows Sheen’s naive, error-realising private or the conflicts between the two sergeants and their unrespected, inexperienced Lieutenant (Desperate Housewives’ Mark Moses). Some gripping moments stand out – a night ambush, and the colour slowly fading back in after a white-out napalm drop – but the rest is underwhelming and littered with trite or cheesy dialogue and 5-cent philosophising: “We did not fight the enemy, we fought ourselves, and the enemy was within us.”

Choose life 6/10

Waltz With Bashir

An Israeli animated documentary about the Palestinian conflict that at one point features a cartoon porn sequence? Righty-O. Artist/director Ari Folman, himself a Lebanon veteran, employs a unique cel-shaded animation style to assist in recounting the dreams, memories, flashbacks and hallucinations of his fellow surviving comrades that, whilst beautiful and visually striking, occasionally detracts from the already fascinating tales his friends have to tell. The style fits well with the inspiring dreams – packs of yellow-eyed feral dogs chasing through the streets – but during the one-on-one conversations that inspire the stories, the style feels jerky and distracting, so perhaps these sequences would have been better off using real footage or kept as voiceover.
Choose film 6/10

Monday, 12 March 2012

Unlisted: Bill Cunningham New York

Chances are, you’ve never heard of Bill Cunningham. If he cycled past you on the street you may not give him a second glance, and if you saw him hop off his bike to take pictures of a pretty young thing in attractive attire, you’d be forgiven for thinking him to be nothing more than a dirty old man, but Bill is one of the most interesting, knowledgeable and influential fashion photographers working today, and he’s over 80 years old.

For Bill, you see, is behind two regular columns for the New York Times. Evening Hours sees him documenting the goings-on of New York’s night life at various functions and parties around the city; whilst On The Street gives Bill a chance to publish the photographs he’s taken of the more creatively dressed pedestrians he finds wandering around the Big Apple. Models and celebrities are not necessarily of his concern; it is the clothing that catches his eye, from a unique hat or novel colour combination to something truly original. He treats everyone the same, from supermodels to the bag women living on the streets, as long as it’s something different, and he’s not afraid to call out the likes of Mizrahi or Armani if they dare to release a new line similar to something that’s already been done. At one stage in his life, Bill owned a hat store, yet had no interest when the likes of Ginger Rogers and Joan Crawford graced his doorway, for in his mind they just weren’t stylish.

For all his love of the fashion world, the octogenarian doesn’t exactly cut a stylish figure in his functional street-sweeper jacket, flat cap and duct-taped poncho, and for the most part Bill isn’t in it for the money. He lives in a tiny one-room apartment with no kitchen, no wardrobe, and barely a bed crammed in amongst the forest of filing cabinets holding negatives of every photo he’s ever taken.

If you think that everyone in the fashion world refuses to leave the house without being ready for the catwalk, this is a must-see, and will even appeal to those without any interest in style (oh, wait, that’s me!). It’s refreshing to see someone with a true passion, who doesn’t mind working for next to nothing, genuinely enjoys what he does and is rewarded for it, yet still remains courteous, honest and immensely dedicated even in his autumn years, and to prove it, the likes of Tom Wolfe, Patrick McDonald and Anna Wintour all show up to sing Bill’s praises.

Choose film 7/10

Sunday, 11 March 2012

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly


42-year old Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric) lives a life of wealth and excess, flitting between his three young children, a successful career as editor of Elle magazine and the bevy of beauties ready to satisfy his every need. But one day, on a drive with his eldest son, Jean-Do suffers a stroke and becomes a victim of ‘Locked-In Syndrome’, an extremely rare condition leaving him fully conscious but completely paralysed, except for blinking his left eyelid.

Beginning with the blurry, distorted hospital room swimming into focus, much of the film is shot from Bauby’s perspective, including the harrowing experience of having his right eyelid sewn up, seen from the inside. Amalric’s narration is wonderful, encapsulating the frustration of a man used to extreme independence, who now cannot wash, communicate or even move without another’s assistance, and praise must also be given to the supporting cast of implausibly attractive therapists and assistants tasked with acting to a camera for a lot of the film, and Max Von Sydow as Bauby’s elderly, apartment-bound father.

A story of triumph over intense adversary that does well not to dwell on the depressing, director Julian Schnabel amazingly mines humourous streaks – the agony of an immovable fly on the nose – whilst also celebrating the wonders of perseverance, memory and imagination.

Choose film 8/10

Friday, 9 March 2012

Top 5... Shootouts

This week saw me slaughtering dozens of friends, their partners and people I don't really know in a fairly epic game of Laser Quest, so to celebrate lets take aim at the greatest shootouts in movie history, get your human shields at the ready.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Unlisted: The Muppets

Celebrating the best film I’ve seen this week that’s not on the list, first up its The Muppets. I mentioned recently that I’ve not had a lot of dealings with the muppets in the past, and I now realise I’ve lived a previously unfulfilled life, devoid of a required amount of felt to maintain the desired level of happiness.

The cloth characters latest outing both improves upon and acknowledges those that have come before it (I’ve read that Muppets in Space and Muppet Treasure Island aren’t as good as The Muppet Movie or Muppet Christmas Carol, but I intend to find out soon) and like those other films the plot is kept nice and simple – Muppet superfan brothers Walter and Gary (co-writer and real-life Muppet super face Jason Segel) go on holiday to LA with Gary’s long term girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams), where they discover that wealthy oil baron Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) plans to buy and destroy the Muppet Theatre, giving the duo a few days to round up their disbanded heroes and raise $10 million. Just like its predecessors, the film is packed with mostly recognisable cameos, including Alan Arkin, Sarah Silverman and a very game Jack Black, and the soundtrack, including a moment where Chris Cooper quite unexpectedly raps (it’s not that bad actually) and the Oscar winning Man or Muppet is amazing, written by Flight of the Conchords Bret McKenzie, and I shall be purchasing it soon.

Improving upon the first movie by never spending too much time on one character, there are still a few flaws. Most irritatingly, a detail from the finale – Walter’s talent - is not mentioned throughout the entire film, and is pulled out of a hat at the end, and the first half, whilst good, is nowhere near as entertaining as the second, once the show the gang are putting on kicks off. Hopefully we won’t have to wait another 10 years before the next Muppet film, though if we do I’m sure it will be worth it.

Choose film 9/10

Saturday, 3 March 2012

The Secret In Their Eyes

This 2010 Argentinean story of a retired lawyer reliving a case from 25 years ago starts slow, but after about half an hour finds its feet, becoming a gripping, thought provoking thriller.
Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin, excellent) has become bored of retired life, and wants to write a novel based on his most interesting case, that of the rape and murder of a 23-year old schoolteacher a quarter of a century ago. Flitting between his modern-day remembering with the upper class boss he never had the guts to say he loved and the case itself, the film is difficult to initially pigeonhole, as it can’t decide if it’s a crime procedural, romantic drama or nostalgia piece, and is overall too slow. A turning point is reached when the cinematography kicks it up a notch with the stunning scene that starts with the camera flying through the air towards a football stadium, dives into the crowd and on to our protagonist and his alcoholic assistant searching the throngs for suspects. Seemingly unedited we follow them as a chase breaks out behind the scenes, through a bathroom brawl, down quite a long drop and onto the pitch mid-game; stunning.
Though the case appears to be all wrapped up just after the half-way mark, yet solving the case isn’t the only hurdle that must be overcome for justice to prevail. Creatively shot, with characters usually framed by doorways, piles of books, paperwork or grimy windows, this plays out like a particularly classy episode of your favourite law-based TV series (don’t have one myself), and there is more tension in one brief, wordless elevator scene it’s almost unbearable. Some scenes, particularly early on, do not realise their full potential – a raid on an elderly woman’s house in search of evidence could have been more of a set piece, though there is a nice chuckle to be had at its payoff.

A worthwhile film who’s ending and key scenes will stay with you, but if the Hollywood remake in the cards ever come to fruition (and I hope it doesn’t) then they need to wirk on the start.

Choose film 7/10

Friday, 2 March 2012

Top 5... Directorial Debuts

For the first instalment of what will hopefully become a weekly addition to my little corner of the Internet, I’ve decided to look at some other first starts, namely the best first pictures of notable directors. These lists will only ever be made up of films that I’ve actually seen, so if there’s any glaring omissions (sorry, when) then chances are I haven’t caught up to it yet, or I dislike it for some ridiculous personal reason, like it stars Uma Thurman or doesn’t feature Steve Buscemi. If anyone disagrees with my choices please let me know, I’m always eager to discover new films. Oh, I’m not taking into account films made by people who haven’t done anything since, or anything good at least. I’m anticipating another top 5 in the future of One Hit Wonders. Also, I'm not going to go into great detail on these films, as most of them appear on the list. If they don't I may make an exception.