Monday, 30 April 2012

Who's That Knocking at My Door

The first in my Scorsese in Sequence feature and also Martin Scorsese’s debut feature film, Who’s That Knocking at My Door stars Harvey Keitel as J.R, a typical Italian American guy living in New York’s Little Italy neighbourhood. On the Staten Island Ferry J.R. meets a pretty, college educated woman played by Zina Bethune. After a long conversation about John Wayne, American movies and foreign magazines the two start dating. All is well until the girl announces that she has a horrible secret, something that J.R. has trouble dealing with.

The films opening two scenes show signs of some of Scorsese’s later work and feature an Italian mother cooking (Italianamerican, Goodfellas) and J.R. getting into a street brawl with his friends (Mean Streets, Goodfellas, Gangs of New York). An early scene which really stands out for me is the meeting of the two protagonists. The scene lasts several minutes as the two get to know each other. Both are noticeably nervous. Bethune is shy and reserved while Keitel fidgets and talks too quickly. The scene is shot using a single camera which slowly pans from one actor to the other, occasionally zooming in and out. It is a quite beautiful shot. After a few minutes Scorsese breaks with this and introduces some unusual camera angles including one from above and another that obscures both actors’ mouths with a bench. It’s an interesting and bold start to a debut feature.

Scorsese in Sequence

Scorsese in Sequence is a new feature of my blog in which I will watch, study and review every one of Martin Scorsese’s feature films, starting with 1968’s Who's That Knocking at My Door and ending with 2011’s Hugo.

Martin Scorsese is responsible for creating my love of film. It wasn’t until I was at University and first watched Taxi Driver and Goodfellas that I ever felt a love or passion for film After seeing those two in the same week I wanted to discover and watch all of his films and have since watched all but two.

I’m going to watch every one of Scorsese’s films in order and do a write up about them here. Below is the list of reviews and films waiting to be reviewed.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

TT3D: Closer to the Edge

"We know the danger. It isn't tidlywinks"

TT3D: Closer to the Edge is a 2011 Documentary which brings the world famous Isle of Man TT motorbike race to the big screen. Beginning in 1909, the TT is one of the most famous and dangerous motorsport events in the world and involves riders taking to the roads of the Isle of Man off the North West Coast of England and reaching speeds of up to 200mph on roads that would usually feature cars, busses and taxis travelling at no more than 30mph. The film follows the contrasting preparations and styles of three riders in the build up to the week long race event and follows their fortunes and misfortunes during the event itself.
The men who feature most prominently are 17 time TT winner John McGuinness, 8 time winner Ian Hutchinson and 30 year old Guy Martin who becomes the focus of the documentary. Guy is yet to win the event and is quite a character. He is a fast talking, old fashioned Lincolnite who is a lorry mechanic during the week. He is described as a maverick and as eccentric by fellow riders and is popular with riders and fans alike due to his unique take on life and take-no-bullshit persona. It is Guy Martin’s character that helps to make the film so interesting. While other riders sleep in their huge trailers, have massages and arrive at scrutineering on time, Martin sleeps in the back of his van, turns up when he wants and complains about anything and everything. As a result he comes over as a bit of a dick at times but is generally very likeable.

American Pie

Dude that chick's a MILF! Dude! MILF! MILF!

It’s the summer of 1999, I’m 13 and somehow myself and about eight friends get into our local two screen cinema one afternoon to see American Pie. 95 minutes and a lot of thrown popcorn later and we leave having seen the funniest film we think we’ll ever see. Now it’s 2012, I’m 26, I have a beard and I’ve gone back to watch the film that my 13 year old self fell in love with before watching the forth instalment of the franchise next month.

Towards the end of the senior year at High School four friends; jock Oz (Chris Klein), awkward geek Jim (Jason Biggs), quirky Paul Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) and regular guy Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) are struggling to lose their virginity before they each embark for college. Having seen classmates like loud mouth Stifler (Seann William Scott) have success on this front and after one party believing that even the dorkiest guy in the class Chuck ‘Shermanator’ Sherman (Chris Owen) has lost his virginity, the four friends make a pact that they will help each other to get laid by Prom Night.

Friday, 27 April 2012

The Avengers

"I have an army..."
"We have a Hulk."

The Avengers or Marvel’s Avengers Assemble here in the UK for ridiculous reasons is the long awaited teaming up of the characters from Marvel’s recent and successful movies. Loki (Tom Hiddleston) returns to Earth and steals The Tesseract, an energy source being worked on by scientists at S.H.I.E.L.D. In response, S.H.I.E.L.D Director Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) activates the Avengers Initiative and assembles a team of superhuman men and women that comprises of Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Loki’s brother Thor (Chris Hemsworth) who join S.H.I.E.L.D Agents Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) in attempting to stop Loki from subjugating the world’s population.

There was always the danger that things could go ‘tits up’ for Marvel when producing a film on this scale and with so many well known characters and actors/personalities involved. I’m delighted to say that they have pulled it off and that The Avengers is a terrific film. The plot itself plays second fiddle to the assembling of the team and I don’t think this was a bad thing. Obviously Marvel will be hoping for a sequel or five to come after the film so it was essential that the characters interactions and developments with each other were given high priority. The sharp dialogue is thrown between the characters with more force and precision than a throw of Thor’s hammer.  In the end the story is similar to every other superhero movie; bad guy brings destructive forces to Earth in an attempt to rule and/or destroy humanity while superhero(s) attempt to stop them. In Loki and Tom Hiddleston though, there is a bad guy who carries great menace and feels more dangerous when he is doing nothing than when he is thrashing his weapon around. I think that Hiddleston gives the best performance of the piece.

Thursday, 26 April 2012


A married woman (Gwyneth Paltrow) stops off in Chicago on her way back from a business trip in Hong Kong to engage in extra marital activities with an old boyfriend. When back home in Minneapolis she feels ill and believes she has contracted a cold while away. It turns out to be something much more serious though when she suffers a fit and is rushed to hospital. Unable to save her, doctors inform her husband (Matt Damon) that she has passed away and medical examiners begin tests to figure out what the deadly virus is. Meanwhile people all over the world are contracting the virus and it soon becomes clear that there is an epidemic on a global scale. WHO epidemiologist (Marion Cotillard) travels to Hong Kong to try to find the source of the infection and Disease Control boss (Laurence Fishburne) sends field agent (Kate Winslet) to Minneapolis to get a grip on events there. In a final strand to the story, blogger (Jude Law) is informing millions of his readers about Government cover-ups and conspiracies but has an agenda of his own.

The Color Purple

"I'm poor, black, I might even be ugly, but dear God, I'm here. I'm here."
It’s 1909 and a young girl who has had to endure terrible sexual abuse from her father, baring him two children in the process, is given to another man as a wife. Despite being freed from her father’s clutches this is extremely painful for her as it means she is separated from her sister to whom she is very close. Her new life is no better than her last as she soon discovers that she is to be treated like a servant by her new husband, a man much older than her and who shows her no love, affection or kindness. Tasked with raising his children (one of which is barely younger than her), maintaining the house and satisfying him sexually, the film follows her life over the course of the next thirty or so years as she and other black female characters have to endure some of the worst of the racism, sexism and poverty that people had to face during those times.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Le Donk & Scor-zay-zee

Shane Meadows (This is England) directs this mock music documentary about Le Donk (Paddy Considine), a Nottingham based roadie working for The Arctic Monkeys and managing rapped Scor-zay-zee (playing himself). The film blends reality and fiction and is set and filmed in five days leading up to an Arctic Monkeys gig in Manchester. Le Donk has recently separated from his pregnant girlfriend (Olivia Coleman) and travels to Manchester with Scor-zay-zee for work and with the hope that he can somehow get the rapper on the bill at the gig.

Paddy Considine is brilliant as Le Donk and carries the entire movie. Most of his lines are improvised and the majority work, with hilarious results. He appears to be channelling David Brent and Alan Partridge at times but is thoroughly convincing.  The film itself outstays its welcome after about 45 minutes. Despite a promising start the joke kind of gets old by the mid way point and although the film comes in at only 71 minutes, it feels long. I couldn’t help feeling that it was more suited to TV and perhaps would have worked better as a 45 minute or one hour special. I’m glad that I didn’t see it at the cinema myself.

Sunday, 22 April 2012


Nathalie (Audrey Tautou) is left devastated after the death of her new husband Francois (Pio Marmai) and spends the next three years mourning him, in a daze, floating through life. One day unexpectedly she kisses a new colleague of hers, Markus (Francois Damiens), an unattractive, balding Swede in an act that leaves him perplexed and creates tensions at work.
The first half of this film was incredibly dull and bland. I was beginning to regret seeing it until the introduction of Damiens as Markus. He bought a spark to the film and took it from a magnolia tragedy to a sweet and funny romantic comedy. Up until this point it felt like the film was going nowhere. Nathalie had been hit on by her boss in a scene which bought nothing to the film; she had somehow gone from selling programmes at the theatre to having her own office and running some sort of case (which was never explained). Then Damiens arrived and lit up the screen. His character was bumbling and nervous but sweet and kind and it is clear why Nathalie is drawn to him. Their relationship creates many funny scenes as well as some that verge on melancholia.
Tautou is fine as Nathalie but she is hardly stretched. She has to play a pretty young widow who looks glum, something her face seems to do naturally. The supporting cast are all fine too and include a Christina Hendricks lookalike(Audrey Fleurot) who plays a secretary, wears the same outfits as ‘Joan’ from Mad Men and even has the same pen around her neck! The star of the show though is Francois Damiens who steals the film. He plays the sort of character that you would love to be friends with and you know would always look out for you. He also gives the ordinary man hope by getting together with Audrey Tautou. He also provides most of the film’s comic relief.
One of the problems with the film is that it suffers with the same musical trouble as Little White Lies. Obviously film makers choose music that conveys a certain mood but here as in the aforementioned film, it is so palpable it verges on being ridiculous. I also have a problem with the dull first act but overall this is a throwaway romantic comedy which features strong central performances and a message that it doesn’t matter how someone looks but what matters is what sort of person you are.


The Cove

2010 Oscar winner The Cove is a documentary that looks into and questions the morality of Japan’s dolphin hunting policy. The film shows viewers evidence of the 23,000 dolphins which are killed in Taiji, Japan each year. It also touches upon the trade of catching and selling dolphins for the entertainment industry.

The main interviewee is Ric O’Barry, the man responsible for training dolphins for the 1960s TV show Flipper. After his favourite dolphin is said to have committed suicide, O’Barry turned away from dolphin training and vowed to free every captured dolphin he could. After discovering the cruel practice of dolphin killing in Taiji, O’Barry has spent many years fighting the local fisherman and government and trying to bring the killing to the attention of the international community, with little success.

Saturday, 21 April 2012


Marley is a 2012 Documentary film that tells the story of legendary Jamaican reggae artist Bob Marley. The film charts his life from his humble beginnings in a small country village without electricity, through his rise to fame in Jamaica, to his exile in London, subsequent return to his Island of birth and eventual death at the age of just 36.

Before going in to the cinema I wouldn’t have classed myself as a Bob Marley fan and although I have a couple of his albums and love his best known songs I knew very little about him. The film gives an honest account of his life and of Marley as a man. The story is told using achieve interviews with Marley himself but mostly through interviews with his friends, family and ex colleagues who are still living. Some of the interviewees are great characters and speak with wisdom. Others are hilarious and most have a fantastic Jamaican Patois which is delightful to listen to. The film also gives some background to Rastafarianism, something else that I knew little about.

The whole film is backed with over sixty Marley and Bob Marley and the Wailers songs which start with the song he first recorded aged sixteen and ends with One Love. This film has one of the greatest soundtracks of any film I’ve seen. The highlight for me was Marley’s triumphant return to Jamaica for the One Love Peace Concert in 1978. After years living in London following an attempt on his life, Marley returned to Jamaica and performed in front of 32,000 people and bought the leaders of Jamaica’s warring Political Parties up on stage where he managed to get them to hold hands above their heads in a sign of peace. It was an amazing thing to witness, even in the cinema and its impact was obvious.

The final quarter of the film takes on a deceivingly sadder tone as we reach the final years of Marley’s life. After a battle with cancer he died in 1981 in Miami, USA. There were many people crying in the theatre, including my girlfriend after a very sad few moments on screen. The film ends on a positive note though by showing how Marley’s music and message is still being used to educate and unite people today.  
The film shows Marley to be both a great musician and great man but isn’t afraid to look at his less impressive traits. His womanising is mentioned on several occasions, as is his poor parenting. His willingness to do anything to make it is also a constant theme. He was willing to change his style as well as drop his friends in order to become better known or appreciated and the film doesn’t shy away from letting this be known. A thread I’d like to have seen explored further was his lack of success with black audiences outside of Jamaica. It was hinted at several times but is an interesting area which could have been looked at further.   

Marley is a fantastic biopic documentary which sheds light on one of the world’s best loved musicians. It isn’t afraid to show both his good and bad sides and does a good job of illustrating his life from start to finish. It is accompanied by a soundtrack that head my head bobbing and feet tapping throughout and made me want to go out and further explore his back catalogue as well as his message of One Love.


En Vivo!

En Vivo is a live concert film from British Heavy Metal group Iron Maiden. Filmed in Santiago, Chile in front of 50,000 fans in April 2011 it was part of their Final Frontier Tour. While not technically a film, it is the most cinematic concert film I’ve seen.

The film starts with a montage that includes the band landing, preparing and arriving for the concert and is interspersed with some pretty poor computer graphics of explosions, planes and the band’s mascot, Eddie.

The concert is nearly two hours long and includes a total of seventeen songs, of which six are from their latest album The Final Frontier. Classics such as Iron Maiden, Fear of the Dark and Number of the Beast also feature. There are many notable absentees though such as Run to the Hills but when a band has a back catalogue stretching back to 1980 there are bound to be a few tracks that could have been included which weren’t. Many older songs have been featured on previous concert DVDs anyway. For my money, the best performed and received songs were Dance of Death and Iron Maiden.

The film uses split screen to great effect which gives the viewer the chance to see several pieces of the action at once. It is a great technique and something I haven’t seen before. It allowed the audience to feel more a part of the proceedings and gave greater insight to what was happening on stage. The editing is superb.

I’ve seen Maiden once, in 2005, and remember being amazed by the amount of energy they bought to their performance. Now, with an average age of around 57 the band still run and jump around like six year olds and its sometimes a bit funny. The band has never been known for their great fashion sense and some of their outfits are also pretty amusing. Iron Maiden isn’t Lady Gaga however and they let their music do their talking and it is incredible to see 50,000 people all jumping up and down in unison to some of the greatest heavy metal music in history. Eddie inevitably makes an appearance but his ‘Eddie cam’ doesn’t really work. His second appearance as a giant head and hands behind the set is very impressive however.

I think this is a concert that can be appreciated on an aesthetic level even if you aren’t an Iron Maiden fan. It looks stunning on Blu-Ray and the split screen editing works marvellously. The old songs still sound great after 30 years and their newer stuff has to potential to become the classics of the future.  


Friday, 20 April 2012


I’m often/sometimes/never asked questions about my blog so thought I’d answer a few and ask/answer a few of my own.

Who are you?

I’m Tom, I live in Manchester, England and I’m in my mid 20s. I love watching and discussing films but also like politics, history, photography, comedy, formula one and basketball.

What is this exactly?

This is my blog. I review every film I watch.

What sort of films do you like?

I like all sorts of films and have no favourite genre. I do really like the silent comedies of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin as well as Korean cinema though.

What are you’re favourite films then?

My all time favourites include Taxi Driver, Oldboy, Wall-E, Battle Royale, Moon and City Lights.

And what about directors?

Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Charlie Chaplin, Werner Herzog and Park Chan-wook are my favourites.

Why is your writing so shit?

This is just a hobby and I have no background in writing. I tend to get a bit carried away and lose track of where I am in my excitement so sometimes things don’t feel very cohesive. Also, I’m mildly dyslexic so back off buddy!

What’s with your ratings?

I usually watch films that I think I’ll like which is why you’ll see more eight and nine out of ten's than two and three's. From January 2012 to August 2012 I used 1-6 stars to rate films but began to find this too constrictive. I also thought that it didn't differentiate my opinions in a meaningful way so I started to use 1-10 out of ten instead.

I don’t agree with your review, what can I do about it?

Well, you have two options. You can either try and guess my password and change the review yourself or as I’d prefer you can comment. I’d love to hear from you.

I want to give you money/have your babies/get in contact with you. How do I do that?

You can comment on a post, find me on twitter @TheBackFilms or email me at

Read an interview with me by here.

Rescue Dawn

After making the 1997 documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly about German-American Navy Pilot Dieter Dengler, Herzog also wrote and directed a feature film version, based on the real events, which was released ten years later. The film begins with shocking real footage of low level bombings over Laos before we meet the protagonist. Dengler (Christian Bale) a Navy Pilot is shot down on his first combat mission over Laos in February 1966. After surviving the crash and the next couple of days in the jungle, Dengler is captured and tortured by the Pathet Lao and ends up in a prison camp. Already in the camp are three Thai, one Chinese and two American prisoners who have been there for over two years. Degler decides immediately that they must all escape and begins planning. The planning and execution take many months however and getting out is only the first of many hurdles.

There are Herzogian themes all over the place in this film. There is a strong man vs. jungle theme, men overcoming almost impossible adversity and a study of madness. All of these things have been major parts of previous and subsequent Herzog films such as Fitzcoraldo, Grizzly Man and Aguirre. You get the feeling from watching the film that the actors were put through some extremely tough situations and this is another Herzogian trait. The jungle is almost impregnable and the actors are covered with live leeches and forced to eat live maggots. All of this helps to make the film feel very real.

The story, based mostly on fact is incredible. Without wanting to give away everything, it is incredible what the men did in order to stay alive. And even before the escape attempt, the section in the prison is very tense and interesting. The three main western actors are all excellent. Christian Bale, known for transforming his body between films here transforms before our eyes from a slightly podgy Navy Pilot to an emaciated, almost skeletal figure. He also has an unnerving quality to him, almost like he isn’t taking anything seriously. It’s a strange but compelling performance. Jeremy Davies (Saving Private Ryan, LOST) looks as though he has stepped out of Auschwitz. His body is shockingly thin and he is incredible as the slightly mad Gene DeBruin. Steve Zahn (Treme) produces a different type of madness to Davies and is also excellent.

If I had one complaint about the film then it would be the poor CGI in the early stages. The one scene in which Bale and co. are flying over Laos looks very poor but the film cost only $10m and it only occurs once. In an otherwise excellent film, this is my one solitary complaint.

Overall the film is on a par if not better than Herzog’s earlier feature work. It is a study of madness, desperation, compassion and survival and features three excellent performances.  


Che Part One

The first of a two part biopic of Cuban revolutionary leader Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara stars Benicio del Toro as Che. The film flicks back and forward between late 1950s Cuba and various interviews and appearances by Che in 1960s New York but the main focus of the film is the revolution itself and the part that Guevara played in it.

Although I identify myself as very left wing and have seen the fantastic The Motorcycle Diaries based on Guevara’s trip around South America I knew very little about the man or the revolution before watching this film. I was aware that it took place and that Guevara was involved as a General of sorts but that was just about the extent of my knowledge. The film does reasonably good job of explaining the reasons behind the revolution, who is fighting and why. Guevara’s political beliefs are also laid out early on and we learn more about him and his ideology through various acts and speeches.

The story is fascinating and picks up pace as the revolution sweeps across the country, beginning in the mountains and ending up in large guerrilla style street battles against government forces. I am torn as to whether I think I learned enough about Guevara as a man. On the one hand, his political ideology was a constant theme but there was very little of Ernesto. This is very much Che, as the title would suggest. A character who takes a back seat is Fidel Castro. I’d liked to have seen more of him and learned more but obviously this is a Che biopic, not a Castro film. I think someone of limited knowledge of the issues, history and people the film studies may struggle to enjoy is as much as someone who is more aware of its context. Unlike Scorsese’s biographical films which you are able to go into having never heard of their subjects, this is a film which rewards those with an understanding and perhaps leaves those without previous understanding slightly perplexed. I’d class myself as being somewhere near the middle of that spectrum and as such I enjoyed the film very much but was left wanting to know more on occasion, both about Guevara and Cuba.

Benicio del Toro’s performance as Che is incredible. He embodies him both in image and in his interpretation of the man. He looks an awful lot like Guevara throughout the film. Another double was Demian Bichir who when viewed in profile was the spitting image of the ex Cuban leader Castro. The acting throughout was excellent but due to my lack of knowledge of those involved, I am unable to say whether they were true to the people they were portraying.     

Che Part One is an interesting look at one of the most recognizable and influential people of the 20th Century. The film is very much biased towards Guevara’s point of view and as such I don’t think it is a particularly balanced film, although I would identify my ideology as closer to his than my current government so don’t mind the lack of balance. I was interested throughout but was left wanting to know more about him and the country he was fighting for. On the plus side, del Toro is excellent and the film has a great look to it.


Tuesday, 17 April 2012


Pixar’s 2008 Wall-E is set in the distant future; at a time when the human race has left Earth due to an unmanageable build up of waste. While humanity has grown fat and lazy aboard giant space craft the last remaining Wall-E robot is busy on Earth trying to clean up the mess. Wall-E is dedicated but naïve. He takes pride in his work but also has a collection of interesting objects and a passion for the 1969 film Hello Dolly! That film makes him long for company. That company arrives unexpectedly one day in the form of EVE. EVE is a robot sent to earth to search for plant life, something that Wall-E has recently found on the otherwise desolate planet. Wall-E falls instantly in love with EVE and follows her into deep space in an adventure which will impact both them and the remainder of the human race.

I’ll say straight away that I love this film. It is probably my favourite Pixar film which puts it pretty high up my all time list. The animation is extraordinary. In my opinion it is up there with Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs for the best looking computer animated film ever. The thing that stands out most is the way the film uses focus to such great effect. Backgrounds have the look of being in the background and it gives the film great depth of field. The focus also shifts from the foreground to background to give the film an incredibly realistic feel. This realism is heightened as live action is occasionally dropped in. The characters themselves are beautifully designed and animated. Wall-E looks exactly as you’d expect a trash compacting robot to look and has some lovely little details on him. He even has little scratches which look great. EVE looks much more futuristic than Wall-E but has a beautiful design. The man behind the design of the iPad, iPod and iPhone was consulted on her design and she looks as sleek and stylish as Apple’s products (though her battery lasts longer).

As neither Wall-E nor EVE really speaks much, the animators had to make sure they were able to give their characters expression through the use of body language. They well and truly succeeded with this task and both characters have great expression. Both characters use their eyes and the position of their bodies is very important. At no time was I in any doubt as to what the emotion was that a character was trying to convey and their personalities shone through, despite their lack of dialogue. I read that Wall-E was modelled partly on Buster Keaton who despite his stoic and expressionless face could convey great emotion in the silent era. You can see a lot of Keaton (one of my all time favourite film makers) in Wall-E.

The story has two main strands. The first is a sweet and timeless love story which is very charming. The second part of the story turns the camera on the audience and looks at the lifestyle of the West in the early part of the 21st century. It shows us a glimpse as to where we could be heading. There is only one giant corporation and people have become completely reliant on technology. They have also become so fat and lazy that they can no longer walk. The idea that we don’t appreciate what is around us is also hinted at. These themes fall into line with a lot of the messages from modern day ‘family films’ and can be considered a warning to us all. As well as the traditional Hollywood ‘left wing message’, there are also quite a lot of subtle Biblical messages in the film. EVE could be considered as a partner for the lonely Wall-E (Adam) and her guiding of the Axiom towards Earth has some parallels with the end of the Noah myth, I mean ‘story’. The corporation ‘BnL’ could also be seen as a sort of false prophet.

The whole film is incredibly sweet. It is lovely that all Wall-E wants from EVE is to hold her hand and it is touching to watch him attempt to do so. It almost bought a tear to my eye the first time I watched as Wall-E protected EVE from a storm while on Earth and the scene in which the two dance in space is one of the most magical I’ve seen. As well as being a lovely part of the story, it is also the best animated part and at times one of the funniest.

Wall-E is not the funniest of Pixar’s films but still has its funny moments. The character of a robot that follows Wall-E around, cleaning his track marks is very funny and with all Pixar films there are funny lines and incidents dotted throughout. The addition of the broken robots also created some laughs. It might not be Pixar’s funniest but I think that, with the possible exception of Toy Story 3 it is their most emotional and most endearing film to date. Your heart aches when Wall-E thinks he has lost EVE and again when the opposite is believed to be the case. It is testament to the strength of those two character’s love for one another that the fate of humanity plays second fiddle to their story. Wall-E is an absolutely fantastic film which is too good to be just considered as a children’s film. I believe that an adult would get more out of it than a child. It is touching, funny and sweet. And I love it.


Sunday, 15 April 2012

Toy Story 2

"Your not a collectors item... You're a toy!"

Toy Story 2 finds the hero of Toy Story kidnapped by a rare toy collector. Woody (Tom Hanks) is taken from his owner, Andy and kept in a Perspex box ready to be shipped to Japan where he will become an exhibit in a toy museum. In an attempt to rescue Woody, Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), Rex, Slinky, Mr Potato Head and Hamm head out of the safety of Andy’s room and into the open world in order to rescue him. Woody meanwhile has discovered that he was a big hit in the 50s and had his own TV show. He has to decide if his place is back with Andy or with his new Roundup friends.

What started out as a direct to video movie became one of the best loved sequels of all time. I personally don’t think it is as good as the original but I only The Godfather Part II is a better sequel in my opinion. The story is much more sprawling than Toy Story and it encompasses many more locations. The plot is fun and exciting but isn’t as neat as the original film. I like that the plot touches upon how toys feel when they are no longer played with, a theme present in both Toy Story 1 & 2 and the main theme of the third instalment.  It is beefed up by the introduction of some new characters, including Buzz’s nemesis Zurg and Woody’s Roundup Gang; Jessie, Stinky Pete and Bullseye. I found Jessie a bit irritating but liked the additions on the whole. In addition characters from the first instalment are given greater depth, with Slinky’s rear end developing its own character and Rex becoming much more rounded and less one dimensional. While making the original film, Pixar were unable to secure the rights to use Barbie but after the success of that film, Barbie makes an appearance here with obvious product placement.

The animation isn’t notably different from the original but is perhaps more detailed. I don’t think the film is as funny as the original but there are still funny moments. The car chase scene stands out both in terms of humour and action. The addition of a second Buzz presented plenty of laughs and the references to Jurassic Park, Star Wars and James Bond are also enjoyable. The toy’s dreams and fears are explored in greater detail here, something that is seen early on when they panic about being sold in a yard sale.

Overall this is a very good film but is in my view the weakest of the trilogy. That being said, it is still funnier and more action packed than 90% of animations and doesn’t follow the tradition of lazy, cash-in sequel.   


Encounters at the End of the World

Werner Herzog’s 2007 documentary finds him in Antarctica where he meets the people who call the frozen continent their home. Herzog announces at the start that this will not be another film about fluffy penguins but will explore the dreams of the people working in this landscape. The entire film crew consisted of Herzog and Cinematographer Peter Zeitlinger who spent seven weeks on the continent, interviewing the people who live and work there.

Shortly after arriving, Herzog is in full on grumpy mode as he is stuck in the largest settlement on the continent, McMurdo Island. He is shocked to discover that it looks like a dirty construction site, is criss-crossed by JCB diggers and has a bowling alley and an aerobic studio. Herzog makes it clear that he wants to escape the confines of the settlement as soon as possible. 

Herzog meets many different people in his seven weeks on the continent. Some people, like a geologist Herzog meets sound like poets when describing Ice Burgs the size of countries while others are particularly annoying. A survival instructor being the most irritable person Herzog encounters. We meet an array of weird and wonderful characters from an ex banker turned bus driver to a woman with a beard and another woman who travelled through South America in a sewer pipe on the back of a lorry. Their stories and experiences are rife with philosophy and wonder.

"Through our eyes the universe is perceiving itself, and through our ears the universe is listening to its harmonies. We are the witness to which the universe becomes conscious of its glory, of its magnificence."

Herzog’s ability to put into words what he sees is unrivalled and he sounds like a poet when he speaks. His accent along with the way he conveys himself are a joy to listen to. Herzog takes us into the mind of the people he meets and tries to understand why they are here, what bought them here and how they have adapted to their environment. Herzog also tires to get inside the mind of a suicidal penguin in a very funny but odd moving encounter.

Towards the end of the film, Herzog focuses on the future of Antarctica and the future of us as a species; hypothesising that when we are gone a race of alien archaeologists will study our ruined cities and try to understand why we were in the Antarctic. While there they will uncover the only completely intact human settlement, preserved in the ice. It is a unique and vivid Herzogian vision.

As with all Herzog documentaries, I felt that watching it on Blu-Ray on a large TV was sufficient. Herzog captures great beauty in Antarctica but is also unafraid of filming the uglier sides. To me, his documentary makes Antarctica feel a bit like Prague. It is incredibly beautiful but kind of spoiled by Americans. The film features some wonderfully unique and interesting people and I'd have been more than happy to watch at least another half an hour. This is a charming documentary which goes further than the traditional wildlife documentaries you will have seen before and is a joy to watch.    


For more Werner Herzog films check out my reviews of Grizzly Man, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Into the Abyss and Aguirre Wrath of God

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Little White Lies

2010’s Little White Lies is a French Comedy-Drama from actor/director Guillaume Canet (Tell No One) and stars an ensemble cast of the great and the good of French cinema in a story about love, friendship and lies.

The film begins in a Paris night club where Ludo (Jean Dujardin – The Artist) is drinking. On his way home his scooter is hit by a lorry and he is left with severe injuries. After visiting him in hospital, his close group of friends decide that they will continue with their yearly tradition of holidaying at hotel owner Max’s (Francois Cluzet – Tell No One) holiday home near Bordeaux in spite of Ludo’s inability to join them. Seven friends set off for two weeks, leaving Ludo in the Paris hospital. There is plenty of eating, drinking and boating but also tension in the group for various reasons, all of which are played out and resolved over the 154 minute run time.

The film features some extraordinarily stereotyped characters. Of the women there is an Earth Mother type (Valérie Bonneton), a free spirit, arty one (Marion Cotillard) and a sexually frustrated wife/mother (Pascale Arbillot). Of the male characters there is the drug taking, party boy (Dujardin), playboy, arrogant actor (Gilles Lellouche – Adele Blanc-sec), the rich obsessive (Cluzet), the neurotic (Laurent Lafitte) and the sexually confused husband (Benoît Magimel). There are some fantastic actors in that bunch and some of them are spectacular in the film but all of the characters are badly drawn and stereotypical.

The story intertwines and proceeds at a steady pace. It is interesting to watch and like being a fly on the wall at an extended middle class dinner party. The film almost invites the audience in as one of the friends and makes you want to be part of the group. There are nice little side stories with each character spending time with each other and each having their own problems and issues, some of which are more volatile than others. The script isn’t particularly funny but the film most definitely is. The humour comes from the awkwardness of certain situations and the actor’s physical reactions to the dialogue, mostly in the form of surprised looks and glaring glances. Every now and then a secondary character will pop in for a few minutes which helps to add to the realism of the story.

The acting is fantastic across the board with Bonneton and Lellouche receiving Cesar nominations for their efforts. Personally I thought that Cluzet stood out more and Cotillard was very understated but fiery when she needed to be. Dujardin is also very good in a smaller role than the others. Either way, the film is an acting master class. One thing that perhaps helped with the acting and also helped to make the film feel so realistic are the actor’s relationships with each other. Cluzet and Bonneton are married, Cotillard is married to the director Canet and Cluzet, Lellouche and Canet worked together on Tell No One. These pre-existing working and personal relationships must have helped the director and cast to feel at ease while working together and it definitely shows up on film. It feels like everyone had fun making the film.   

One thing that nearly ruined the film for me is the music. The choice of music is diabolical. The director has chosen music to intensify the audience’s emotions but in doing so is treating his audience like idiots. Each time there is a sad scene some mushy, American Ballard is played and when we need to be uplifted we get some sort of happy, funky pop. Its shocking how bad the music is and the director might as well have just had flashing red letters on the screen reading ‘LAUGH NOW’ or ‘BE SAD’ at the appropriate moments. I can’t tell you how much this irked me and it honestly came close to ruining an otherwise decent film.

Overall this is an admirable film which features an engaging story and fantastic acting. It is both funny and sad and feels incredibly realistic. It is too long however and makes use of some terrible music.  


Friday, 13 April 2012

The Cabin in the Woods

This is a film that is best seen without hearing anything about it so I will try to keep spoilers separate and in red ink.
The set up is fairly conventional slasher-horror. Five friends, two hot chicks, two football player types and a stoner head off to a cabin in the woods for the weekend to get drunk, get laid and get stoned. As you’d expect something is lucking in the woods and wants to kill them all. They must try to fend off their attacker(s), figure out what’s going on and escape alive.

The film opens a bit unexpectedly with two men in suits talking about a scenario that they are currently dealing with. Then we get to meet the five young people who are at the centre of the story. Apart from occasional cuts back to the scientists who give very little away about what they are doing the action remains conventional as the group set off to the woods. On the way they stop at a scary looking gas station and meet an equally scary, Wrong Turn looking man who insults them and warns them about the Cabin. The group arrive at the cabin and get the feeling that something isn’t right when one of the rooms turns out to contain a two way mirror. And that isn’t the half of it! After a night of drinking they stumble upon the cabin’s cellar and from then on things become very strange indeed.

Much of the action is as you’d expect. There are long periods of quiet and fumbling around in the dark then short, sharp scares. The characters are also what you’d expect, from the slightly slutty blonde, to the funny stoned guy and the shy virgin. The script is funny and isn’t too cheesy.

After the cellar scene the whole genre is subverted. The film draws from the likes of Scream, The Evil Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and even shares themes with The Hunger Games and The Truman Show but is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. Unfortunately the opening titles give away a little too much for my liking but there is still more than enough suspense and intrigue. The film is like a puzzle which the audience has to try to unravel, combining ancient legends and practices with a modern Big Brother style subplot.  

While remaining gory, funny and scary enough to satisfy casual horror fans, there is so much more for the seasoned fan. The twists and reveals are excellent and the film never truly reveals itself until the closing minutes. The very last minute I found a bit poor but up until then, it was excellent. All of the cast are good but I think that Fran Katz stood out as the stoner, funny man who kind of has an inkling as to what is going on. The scientists played by The West Wing’s Bradley Whitford and Six Feet Under’s Richard Jenkins are also excellent. Their dead pan performance gives the film a really creepy edge and they appear to have great chemistry. The script manages to avoid being too cheesy for the most part but it does slip into corny teen horror territory a couple of times. How much of this is intentional or not I don’t know. Josh Whedon and Drew Goddard’s writing and direction will be evident to those who know their work and there is a lot of Buffy in there but with the WTF’s of the likes of Cloverfield and LOST. The special effects are excellent, especially towards the end of the film and there are plenty of surprises right up to the final scene.
The standout scenes take place in the underground complex and are amongst the best I’ve seen in a horror film. It is like having every nightmare and horror movie monster coming at you all at once and is a great sequence that will probably be remembered for a long time. It is a memorable part of the film which I absolutely loved.

This is a really original horror that almost reinvents the genre. There is an awful lot to like about it. It is funny, a little bit scary (though not overly so) and it is very well made by people who obviously know about and love the genre. What people will remember though is the twist and reveals and I’d recommend it to anyone. As well as looking into the traditional horror themes, it also turns the camera on the audience and looks at our relationship with reality television and our desensitisation towards death and violence which I think is an interesting idea.


Thursday, 12 April 2012

The Haunted House

Buster Keaton’s 1921 short stars the actor/director as a New York City bank teller. Keaton being Keaton soon gets into trouble, spilling glue all over the counter and accidentally stopping a robbery before ending up in a haunted house.
The film begins with a shot of 1921 Wall Street. I always like to see exterior shots in silent movies as it’s a rare chance to see the real world as it was back then. The action then goes inside a small bank. One of the funniest moments in this sequence is the sight of a customer with glue on his trousers getting stuck, backside to backside with another bank teller.

The second part of the film takes place in a large house in which counterfeiters have set up shop. This is the funniest part of the film and features a recurring gag about some collapsing stairs which doesn’t get old. The counterfeiters have filled the house with pretend ghosts in order to scare off police and intruders and Keaton finds himself confronted with scare after scare, none of which are really scary but in fact quite funny. We’re talking men with sheets over their heads and others dressed as skeletons. The best part of the second act is two such skeletons who construct a man who appears, through cunning editing to come to life. The film ends with a classic scene which has Keaton receive a blow to the head and climb stairs to heaven. When he gets to the top, the stairs collapse (again) and he plummets into hell. All is well in the end though as when he wakes up in the arms of his love interest.

This isn’t the best Keaton film but I’ve also seen worse. Its well worth checking out and at only 21 minutes won’t take too much time to do so. I laughed about nine or ten times in those 21 minutes which is a very good laugh per minute ratio and much higher than any 21st Century comedy I’ve seen. The film can be watched free on YouTube.  



Battleship is loosely based on the board game Battlships and stars Taylor Kitsch as an unlikely hero in a battle between the US Navy and alien invaders. We see Kitsch at the beginning of the film in a bar being told he has to think about his future. He is 26 and without a job, living on the sofa of his Naval Officer brother’s house. He is reckless and seemingly lacks direction. Then suddenly he is a Lieutenant in the US Navy and in charge of the weapons or something on the USS John Paul Jones (which isn’t named after the Led Zeppelin bassist unfortunately). While out on manoeuvres with an international fleet off the coast of Hawaii, Kitsch (and Rihanna…sigh…) are sent to investigate a crashed UFO somewhere in the Ocean. It transpires that five alien ships have been dispatched to Earth after a transmission to their home planet. After travelling though millions of miles of space, one ship inexplicably hits a satellite in Earth’s orbit, while the other four plunge into the Pacific Ocean. Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson) orders a warning shot which starts a battle. A battle with ships.

I was sceptical going in about how a film could be made based on a game I used to play with my dad using two pens and a maths exercise book. For about five minutes, two thirds in, the film succeeds in making a film like the game. This sequence is also exciting and interesting. For the rest of the film, bar the odd overhead shot of ships in formation, it might as well have been any old Naval action movie.

There is so much wrong with this movie that I could go on for pages but I’ll try and keep it brief. Firstly, the dialogue is atrocious. It’s like it was written by a teenager who has seen two action movies. It is so cheesy that it is actually funny. Secondly, the acting is really bad. Good actors such as Neeson and Alexander Skarsgard have no more than fifteen minutes of screen time between them and instead we are left with Rihanna who mainly sits by a computer and says “Yes Sir!” I’m pleased that she didn’t take the Britney Spears Crossroads route into acting but she hardly sets the world alight and her casting is an obvious attempt to draw in people who wouldn’t see the movie without her in it. Brooklyn Decker spends most of the film standing on a mountain with a legless man, looking confused but pretty. This is apart from one scene in which she is somehow channels Colin McRae and becomes a rally driver. She is nothing more than eye candy here. After the critical and commercial failure of John Carter, Taylor Kitsch again fails to impress and lacks the charisma to carry the film. I personally think that Skarsgard would have been a better choice for the role. He completely outclasses Kitsch in their scenes together and has bags of charisma.  The whole film is played far too straight. It is always so serious. Blockbusters used to be fun and this definitely isn’t.

Much of the film is stupid and makes no sense. After an alien craft destroys a 7,000 tonne Cruiser, a mile away, it then fails to blow up a rubber dinghy carrying Kitsch and Rihanna which is ten feet from its hull. Also, after a ship has been destroyed with tremendous loss of life, someone asks Kitsch if everyone is ok to which he replies “Yes!” What he meant to say is “Well I’m fine, Rihanna’s fine and the Japanese guys alright too”. The entire plot is as full of holes as the destroyed Cruiser while the obvious product placement will have you stopping by Subway on your way home to pick up a Coke Zero. One thing that really annoyed me was the constant robotic/electronic noises which permeate the whole film. They are present in most sci-fi action films but just sound ridiculous. The film’s ending is ridiculous too.

The next paragraph contains spoilers.

After aliens have destroyed all of the modern ships, Kitsch et al find the 70 year old museum ship the USS Missouri and along with about five shells and a crew of pensioners manage to defeat the aliens when 21st Century technology has failed! Its admirable that the film makers used real WWII Veterans but their inclusion helps to pile on the cheesiness.  

Spoilers over. 

On the plus side, some of the GCI is good. The design of the alien ships and particularly the aliens themselves were excellent. A lot of though had gone into what they looked like and why and they were very believable. Another aspect I liked was that the aliens are never the aggressors. This also felt realistic and believable. If we went to a new world, we wouldn’t go in all guns blazing Independence Day style but would identify targets and differentiate between friend and foe. At the beginning of the film I thought that maybe this would be a rare Blockbuster in which the USA doesn’t go it alone but apart from a token Japanese guy, the excellent Tadanobu Asano (Zatoichi) this turned out to be the case.

The message the film delivers is commendable but is unfortunately lost in the explosions. The film is trying to tell us that sometimes the old ways are better and that we shouldn’t rely too heavily on technology but the way it tells you is ridiculous and laughable. On the whole the film is a massive disappointment. It is too long, it takes itself far too seriously, is no fun and features terrible acting and dialogue. The relationships feel false and while you’d expect a side of cheese, here it is served as the main course. If you want to watch Transformers on water then this is for you but if you want something more you need look elsewhere.