Tuesday, 6 November 2012

My Week with Marilyn



In 1956 the world’s most iconic film star, Marilyn Monroe travelled to England to star in a new romantic comedy, The Prince and the Showgirl alongside famed actor/director Sir Laurence Olivier. Throughout an arduous shoot a young man called Colin Clark who joined the production as third AD kept a diary which became the basis of his memoir and this film. The production took place at a difficult time in the lives of both stars and Clark became very close to Monroe in particular, allowing him to present a rare glimpse into the private life of one of Hollywood’s biggest stars.

My Week with Marilyn was generally well received upon its release in 2011 and was nominated for seven BAFTAS and two Oscars. I unfortunately missed it on its theatrical release but felt very happy when I caught up with it on DVD. The film is an enjoyable watch with some occasional dark turns which gives an almost unprecedented look into a brief snippet of the life of one of the world’s original mega stars.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Iron Sky



In 1945 the Nazis went to the Moon, in 2018 they’re coming back. The film with possibly the best tagline of 2012 turns out to be pretty much what I expected, a nice idea which is overstretched, a film which can’t sustain itself for a full 90 minutes and unfortunately a film that isn’t enough fun. In planning and development for around six years, the trailer was first taken to Cannes in 2008 in order to drum up finance and that’s when I first heard about it. After four years of excitement the end product is a little bit of a let down but I have to commend the Finnish film makers for their tenacity and drive.

The plot can be pretty much explained by the tagline but there is a little more to it. The Nazis have been living on the dark side of the Moon since 1945 and are preparing an invasion. When America’s Sarah Palin-esque President (Stephanie Paul) sends a mission to the Moon in order to win an election, the astronauts come across the Nazi Moon base and one of them (Christopher Kirby) is taken in and interrogated. Earthologist (Julia Dietze) takes an interest in the Earth man but her fiancé and future Fuhrer (Gotz Otto) has plans for world domination and leads a small expeditionary force to Earth ahead of the main attack.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Black Book



Paul Verhoeven’s tale of injustice, romance, duplicity and war is one of just a handful of films I’ve watched twice this year. I saw it first in early January and was blown away by the story and acting and jumped at the chance to watch it for a second time. Carice van Houten, best known to English speaking audiences as fiery Priestess Melisandre in Game of Thrones plays a young Jewish woman in hiding from the Nazis in the Dutch countryside towards the end of the Second World War. After her hiding place is destroyed and following a traumatic encounter with the Germans she joins the Dutch resistance, going undercover inside the German Headquarters in The Hague where she agrees to seduce the local commander (Sebastian Koch - The Lives of Others).

Black Book is a fantastic film which is full of moral ambiguity set in a time of deep mistrust and hardship. One of the greatest things about it is that very few characters can be described as good or bad. The vast majority of the large cast of characters lie in a grey area somewhere in between and I think this adds reality to the film. The film bravely suggests that not all Nazis were bad and that not every resistance fighter was good or moral. There is a great deal of anti-Semitism even amongst the so called good guys. It’s an interesting idea which works incredibly well and helps to keep the viewer on their toes.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Shoulder Arms



Set partly amongst the trenches of the First World War, Shoulder Arms was a bold film for Charlie Chaplin to make in 1918 given the wide reaching criticism he received for failing to sign up to fight. He was advised by close friends to abandon the film for something less controversial but Charlie battled on and despite the possible outrage and backlash the film became Chaplin’s most critically acclaimed and financially successful film up to that point, was particularly popular with returning Doughboys and features a couple of scenes which may well be recognisable to people who have never even seen a full Chaplin film.

Charlie plays a young recruit who is sent over to France to join the war. Despite typical problems to begin with he soon discovers that he is a more than competent soldier and after numerous brave exploits ends up in the house of a French woman (Edna Purviance) who tends to his wounds. With the help of his new love and a dear friend from the trenches, Chaplin ends up winning the war for the allies. Or does he?

Monday, 22 October 2012

The Prestige



Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige is a story of obsession and sacrifice and stars Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale as two up and coming magicians whose lives are transformed into an increasingly disastrous struggle of one-upmanship following a tragedy on stage. Each tries to out wit and out trick the other by disrupting each others acts, leading the other down blind alleyways and twisting reality through illusion and showmanship.

Mirroring the rest of Nolan’s filmography, The Prestige is a smart and beautiful film that is full of big ideas, well explored themes and unexpected twists and reveals. Nolan appears to take great delight in playing with his audience and treating them as intelligent equals, almost leading them along with him, through his twisted and mystifying subjects, knowing that by the time they reach the other side they will thank him for it. Nolan’s films are about ideas and he doesn’t shy away from presenting them to the audience without subtlety. Where he is perhaps more subtle is in his delivery which as usual is pitch perfect here.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

The Bond



A half reel propaganda film, funded by and starring Charlie Chaplin, The Bond is a unique film in Chaplin’s cannon in that it is the only film he ever made to be filmed in front of a plain black set. There are just a few dimly lit props littered around the stage alongside the actors, Chaplin regulars Edna Purviance, Albert Austin and Sydney Chaplin. The film depicts several sketches along the theme of bonds, from friendship to marriage to the most important, Liberty Bonds.

Though not in the least bit funny the film is still an interesting watch and Chaplin’s simple to understand depiction of what Bonds actually did would have been seen by millions of people across the world. In a very simple sketch Chaplin offers up his savings to Uncle Sam who in turn gives it to Industry who finally furnishes soldiers with rifles. The idea is simple and easy to understand despite the lack of dialogue. In the final scene, Chaplin uses a large hammer with the words Liberty Bonds engraved on the side to smash the Kaiser into submission, thereby further expressing the idea of the difference the bonds can make.

Chariots of Fire



Winner of Best Picture at the 1981 Oscars, Chariots of Fire is set around the 1924 Paris Olympics and concerns two young British runners who are not only running for themselves and their country but for deeper, more personal reasons. Cambridge Undergraduate Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross) has faced anti-Semitism throughout his life and wants to run and win to put that out of his mind and show he is not deterred by the hateful language and attention he receives. Scottish Christian Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson) is devoutly religious and believes that his speed and determination is a sign from God that he should run. Both runners along with their friends Aubrey Montague (Nicholas Farrell) and Lord Andrew Lindsay (Nigel Havers) enter the Paris Olympics with dreams of winning gold.

Chariots of Fire, though now over thirty years old has recently returned to the spotlight thanks to the 2012 London Olympics. The film’s famous opening has been repeated over and over and was even used as the basis for a comedy skit by Rowan Atkinson during the Opening Ceremony. Vangelis’ famous score also featured during medal ceremonies. I’d never seen the film before today and although I think it was worth seeing, I certainly won’t be in a hurry to watch it again.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Hotel Transylvania

Fed up with being persecuted by humans, Count Dracula (Adam Sandler) decides to build a hotel for monsters that is protected from humanity by haunted forests and zombie filled graveyards. His ulterior motive though is to keep his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) safe and secure and away from anything that can hurt her. Dracula is planning a huge birthday party for Mavis with all of his monster friends in attendance when he is shocked to discover that a human (Andy Samberg) has found the hotel and is threatening to bring his and his daughter’s peaceful existence to an end.


Having been disappointed by ParaNorman and still waiting to see Frankenweenie I went into Hotel Transylvania with some trepidation. This feeling of weariness was heightened by the fact that I deeply dislike the majority of the voice cast. Even so I went in with an open mind and came out the other side thinking, “meh”. Overall I enjoyed the film more than ParaNorman but the initial conceit, which was a very good idea, couldn’t be sustained for ninety minutes. As a result there were large chunks of the film which were quite boring but were occasionally livened up by a decent joke or some attractively busy animation.

Chunking Express



Set deep inside the sprawling and sweaty mega city that is Hong Kong, Chunking Express tells the story of two love sick policemen who have lost love. The first story stars Takeshi Kaneshiro as Cop 223 who was dumped by his girlfriend on April 1st and decides to wait for her to change her mind until his birthday a month later before moving on. At this time he meets a mysterious woman in a blonde wig (Brigitte Lin) who has connections to the underworld. The second story features Tony Leung Chiu-Wai as Cop 663, a man who has recently been dumped by his air hostess girlfriend. He frequents a small food stall called Midnight Express where the quirky and attractive Faye (Faye Wong) works.

At times I struggled to follow the storyline of the film which was a huge problem for me but there is enough to like besides that, that the film was really enjoyable and it features some great cinematography and quirky ideas. I loved the shots of central characters in slow motion with the rest of the world sped up. They looked fantastic and also worked as a metaphor to show the disconnection and loneliness that you can feel in a big city. The locations were also really interesting as I haven’t seen much Hong Kong cinema before; most of the places were new and exciting to watch.

Friday, 19 October 2012

The Rocky Horror Picture Show



I would like, if I may, to take you on a strange journey… The cult hit musical The Rocky Horror Picture Show currently holds the record for the longest running release in cinema history having never been pulled by 20th Century Fox since its release in 1975. Chances are if you are in a large city that you’ll be able to find the film on at a midnight screening sometime in the near future. Though in no way a hit on its release, the film has since made one hundred times its original budget and has become one of the most popular musical films in history and my personal favourite.

Brad Majors (Barry Bostwick) and his new fiancée Janet Weiss (Susan Sarandon) are on their way to visit their old college professor when they break down in the middle of nowhere. Spotting a castle not far away they head off to see if they can use the phone but discover on their arrival that they have turned up on the night of an unusual party hosted by transvestite scientist Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry) to celebrate the birth of a creature that Frank-N-Furter has created in his lab.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

The Damned United



The Damned United is a sports-drama based partly on facts surrounding the meteoric rise and subsequent fall of the outspoken but gifted football manager Brian Clough. We follow Glough (Michael Sheen) back and forth from the late 1960s to 1974 beginning with his and Assistant Manager Peter Taylor’s (Timothy Spall) triumph in taking lowly Derby County from the bottom of the second division to national champions. This remarkable feat is spliced with events several years later when in 1974 Clough, without Taylor as his Assistant, took over the job of managing Leeds Utd, then the dominant force in English football. Clough’s time in charge of the club was to last just 44 days and this film portrays what happened during that turbulent month and a half as well as the years that preceded it.

The accuracy of the film’s ‘facts’ is open for debate with family members and players who knew Clough claiming that the portrayal of events are inaccurate but what can’t be denied is that Michael Sheen pulls off yet another pitch perfect performance in a film that is a fascinating watch for a football fan and a great story for someone who is not.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Led Zeppelin - Celebration Day



On December 10th 2007 the seemingly impossible happened. Led Zeppelin, the world’s original super group and one of the few bands in history who could rival The Beatles for fame and popularity at their height, reformed for a one off concert at London’s O2 Arena for the Ahmet Ertegun Tribute Concert. The show set a world record for ticket demand with over twenty million people (including myself) registering online for a chance of one of the 20,000 tickets. Like close to twenty million others I didn’t get a ticket for a show that myself and other fans had been waiting for, for over twenty five years.

Fast forward nearly five years to October 17th 2012 and the concert was screened for one day worldwide in cinemas ahead of a DVD and Blu Ray release on November 19th. This time demand wasn’t so high and I managed to get two tickets for a screening at my local multiplex. While in no way the same as seeing the band, my favourite of all time, live, the two hours I sat in the cinema were amazing. The band showed that despite having barely played together in thirty years and missing original drummer John Bonham whose death in 1980 was the trigger for the band’s breakup, that they are still able to rock with the best and sounded close to as good as they have on any other live recording I’ve seen.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

The Woman in the Fifth



A writer and University Professor (Ethan Hawke) arrives in Paris with hopes of relocating to the French capital and reconnecting with his estranged daughter. After tracking down his ex wife and child he is shunned by the former and warned to stay away. His ex tries to convince the daughter that her father has been in prison but he claims he was just ill. The writer soon finds himself robbed of all his possessions and manages to secure a small room in a hotel run by a gangster in exchange for acting as a night guard, an ask no questions role. One evening he meets a mysterious widow (Kristen Scott Thomas) and the two begin a strange affair, ruled by her odd request of meeting at 5pm sharp in her 5th arrondissement apartment.

This is a film with a lot of build up and minimal payoff. I spent seventy five minutes waiting for the reveal in an ever increasingly bizarre film but it never came. It’s very difficult to discuss the film without spoilers so I’ll write what I thought and then present my opinions at the bottom of the page in case anyone doesn’t want any spoilers.

Monday, 15 October 2012

A Dog's Life



Charlie Chaplin’s first short for First National Pictures was released in April 1918, six months after his final film for Mutual. Chaplin in his Tramp character befriends a local mongrel dog called Scraps and together they go about causing mischief and mayhem. Later, Scraps comes to the aid of the Tramp when he gets into trouble with some thugs and helps his master set up a new life for himself and his new lady friend, a bar singer (Edna Purviance).

What was immediately obvious about this opening First National film was its quality. The sets, costume and story are all far superior to pretty much anything seen in a Chaplin film before. The sets especially look as though they may well have been real streets. There is a much more rounded story which incorporates comedy as one aspect rather than relying solely on kicks up the backside or doffing caps to curbs. The film is still funny but this isn’t one of Chaplin’s finest works. What it is though is one of his finest stories to date and overall one of his best short films.

Charlie Chaplin - The First National Films



Having ended his contract with the Mutual Film Corporation amicably, Charlie Chaplin signed the world’s first One Million Dollar movie contract in June 1918. This contract gave him total control over production for a return of eight films. Chaplin decided to build a new studio off Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. The famous Chaplin Studios were designed in the style of English country cottages and contained everything Chaplin would need to develop, film and cut his movies. Chaplin eventually sold the studios in 1953 and they are now owned by Jim Henson Company.

Chaplin began work on his first film for First National in early 1918 and A Dog’s Life was released in April. Over the next four years Chaplin shot eight films at his new studio for First National during one of the most turbulent times of his career. In September 1918 he married the seventeen year old actress Mildred Harris in what was and still is a highly controversial marriage. Harris lied to Chaplin about being pregnant and the marriage ended in a messy divorce in 1920. During the same period the star became frustrated with First National’s impatience and lack of concern for quality and in 1919, while still under contract with First National created United Artists with fellow actors and directors Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and D. W. Griffith. The venture which was self funded and offered the Hollywood stars the chance to work freely and independently although Chaplin himself didn’t make a film with the company until 1922 as he was still under contract with First National.

Ruby Sparks



Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano) is still living off the success of his first novel which was published when he was still in his teens. Ten years on he is struggling to write despite having no friends to distract him. In an attempt to help him open up his shrink (Elliot Gould) tells him to write a few pages about whatever comes to mind. After waking from a recurring dream about an enchanting woman, Calvin finds that he can’t stop writing. His writing comes to a halt though one morning when he wakes up to find his literary creation Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan) is alive and in his kitchen making eggs. Has he gone insane or has his character really jumped off the page and into his life?

The trailer for Ruby Sparks was excellent and I was really looking forward to the film. It had the sort of buzz that accompanied Little Miss Sunshine and looked to be a quirky and funny indie comedy of the sort that I’m very fond of. Now I’ve seen the film I can attest that the trailer is even better that I thought as it trails a film which doesn’t quite live up to the advert and certainly isn’t as funny as advertised.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Hamlet



Based on one of William Shakespeare’s most famous plays, 1948’s Hamlet was Directed by and starred Laurence Olivier. The film became somewhat of a Marmite film, winning four Oscars including Best Picture but being criticized by some for leaving out vital aspects and characters from Shakespeare’s text. I had never seen a production of Hamlet until today but despite being forced to read Shakespeare at school in the most uninspiring ways possible, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the several plays I’ve seen as an adult. I am in no way an expert on the bard but what I’ve seen, I’ve loved. It’s with a heavy heart then that I have to report that I did not enjoy Olivier’s interpretation of Hamlet and found it to be one of the dullest movie watching experiences of my year so far.

I’d class Hamlet as a good film which I did not enjoy, much as The Expendables is a bad film which I did enjoy. One of the difficulties when one is watching a Shakespeare play or film is the language barrier. Written in four hundred year old English, the words and phrases are very different to my modern mother tongue and it can be difficult to extract the meaning from the text. I’ve never really struggled before with the likes of Richard III, Romeo and Juliet, Coriolanus and Much Ado About Nothing but here much of the language washed over me. I think this was because of two things. Firstly I wasn’t interested and secondly the actor’s voices reverberated around the sound stage causing echoes which bumped into the following words.

On the Waterfront



The winner of the Best Picture Oscar in 1954, On the Waterfront is a crime drama about urban violence and corruption amongst longshoremen in the New York docks. Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) is a former prize fighter turned longshoreman with links to mob connected union boss Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb). After the death of a dock worker in suspicious circumstances, his sister (Eva Marie Saint) begins sniffing around and becomes involved with Terry which causes him to be torn between two worlds and right and wrong.

The film was nominated for an impressive twelve Academy Awards, winning eight including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Brando) and Best Supporting Actress (Saint). With eight wins it joined Gone with the Wind and From here to Eternity as the most highly decorated films in history at that time. The film itself was a fairly low budget expose of the corrupt underworld of the New York docks and bought to light the now common themes of mob racketeering and deaf and dumb police cooperation.

Friday, 12 October 2012

The Perks of Being a Wallflower



I saw this film a little by accident and although I wasn’t as impressed with it as some others, I’m glad I saw it. We went to the cinema to see Liberal Arts but after just five days on release, it had been pulled by my local multiplex so we chose Wallflower instead. Charlie (Logan Lerman) is nervous about starting his first day of High School and is already counting down the days until he can graduate. He is smart and shy and has had a tumultuous twelve months which only added to an already painful life. On his first day he manages to avoid trouble but makes just one friend, his English teacher (Paul Rudd) who spots something in Charlie and gives him extra work to do at home. A few weeks into the school year though Charlie starts to become friendly with step siblings Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson) which leads to a year of ups and downs on his road to manhood.

I’d describe The Perks of Being a Wallflower as a grower, not a shower. I found the opening few minutes difficult to enjoy and had little to relate to the main characters but as it opened up it really grew on me and I found it charming. It’s as good a High School film as I’ve seen this year and contains some nice messages and great performances.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

The Adventurer



Chaplin’s final film in his Mutual contract and marking the end of a brief but fruitful relationship is The Adventurer. A convict (Chaplin) is on the run from Prison Guards on the coast when he hears the sounds of people crying out for help. He comes across three people who are drowning having fallen off a nearby pier and saves each of them one by one. One of the people he saves is an attractive young woman (Edna Purviance) who invites the man back to her house to rest without knowing his past. As the two begin to get on very well, the convict’s past catches up with him thanks to the persistence of the young girl’s suitor (Eric Campbell).

Chaplin’s final outing for Mutual is a more than decent short which features some genuinely laugh out loud moments in addition to a well tailored story and plenty of trademark slapstick. What makes it stand out for me though is not only was it the last film Chaplin made for the Mutual Corporation but it was also his last to feature regular adversary Eric Campbell who tragically died just a couple of months after the film’s release in a drink driving accident. Chaplin and Campbell were very close friends, living next door to one another when the latter died and Chaplin never again cast a regular actor to play his antagonist.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Contraband



A remake of the Icelandic film Reykjavik-Rotterdam and Directed by the star of the original, Baltasar Kormakur, Contraband is a middle of the road action-thriller starring Mark Wahlberg as a former smuggler who is forced to take on one final job to save the life of his wife’s brother. Featuring a more than talented cast and a couple of nice reveals, Contraband occasionally rises above the milieu of generic thrillers but overall lands back in amongst its fellows with a script that contains little real action and few thrills.

Whenever I see the names Giovanni Ribisi or Ben Foster appear in opening credits I always sit up and take notice as for my money they are two of the best actors working in Hollywood today. To have them both in the same film is some coup. Wahlberg is an actor who occasionally impresses me but pretty much phones in his performance here and his wife, played by Kate Beckinsale is merely a plot device and has no meaningful role or lines. The same can be said for the talented Lukas Haas who is given little chance to shine.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

My Fair Lady



The winner of eight Academy Awards including the coveted Best Picture, My Fair Lady is based on the stage musical of the same name and tells the story of a young working class flower seller called Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn) who is taken in by an arrogant phonetics Professor Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) who bets that he can transform the young woman’s gutter mouth and slovenly demeanour into that of a lady who could pass for Aristocracy under close inspection in just six months. The film can rightly be called a classic and contains some of the most recognisable songs in all of musical cinema.

The film is lavishly designed and very well made, featuring some incredible sets which have such a realistic look that I wasn’t totally convinced they weren’t real, despite being more than familiar with some of the locations. The entire film was shot in California but creates a vision of London as real as I’ve seen in any American film. And not a single shot of Big Ben or a ‘London, England’ caption. Bliss. It is also a very well acted film on the whole with just one exception. Rex Harrison won a more than deserved Oscar for his performance and Stanley Holloway and Gladys Cooper were also recognised with deserved nominations but the actor who lets the film down is its lead, Audrey Hepburn.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

No Country for Old Men



A film that is difficult to place into just one particular genre, 2007s No Country for Old Men saw the Coen brothers win their first and perhaps long overdue Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director. In a year for which its main rival was the equally nihilistic and violent There Will Be Blood the Coen’s film won a total of four Oscars and three BAFTAS. Set in the West Texas desert in the early 1980s the film is based on the novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy and tells the story of a man (Josh Brolin) who chances upon the aftermath of a drug deal gone wrong and finds $2 million just waiting to be taken. He is chased by the vicious and merciless hit man Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) who is hired to get the money back. Both are in turn hunted down by local Sheriff Ed Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) who despite in being way over his head maintains a calm exterior in the face of the task in front of him. No Country for Old Men is the sort of film that I’d be happy to watch every five years or so but wouldn’t want to see it any more often than that. It is a supremely made movie which features some stunning performances and an interesting story but I found myself drifting more and more as it went on.

Platoon



Platoon takes us through a tour of the Vietnam War through the eyes of the fresh and idealistic young volunteer Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen). We follow Taylor from his first day in Nam to his final battle accompanied by voice-over which expresses his thoughts, worries and ideas. The film appears to accurately portray the day-to-day life of a soldier in the jungle and promotes the views of the monotonous nature of infantry warfare which is punctuated by moments of extreme violence. Platoon creates an environment for its cast whereby the characters fear not only the Vietcong and jungle but also each other as tensions and rivalries run high and suspicion spreads like wildfire. Personally I think it is one of the finest war movies ever made and it went on to win four Oscars including Best Director and Best Picture at the 59th Academy Awards.  

Friday, 5 October 2012

A History of Violence



I first saw A History of Violence at the cinema in 2005. This wasn’t because it was the latest David Cronenberg film but was rather because the nineteen year old me thought it would be cool to see the new film “with that Lord of the Rings guy in it”. I’ve changed substantially in the last seven years and have since grown to love film but for me what was great about the film on my first naive viewing is still great but unfortunately what is poor, remains so.  The film was released to universal critical acclaim but for me at least it is nowhere close to Cronenberg’s best work.

Tom Stall (That guy off of The Lord of the Rings) is a mild mannered diner owner in a small town in Indiana. He has close ties to the community and a loving family which includes his wife (Maria Bello), son (Ashton Holmes) and young daughter (Heidi Hayes). One day two crooks come to town and try to rob Tom’s diner but after fending them off in an act of self defence Tom gains a little local celebrity. This attracts the attentions of East Coast gangster Carl Fogarty (Ed Harri) who seems convinced that quiet, shy Tom is a former gangster called Joey.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

The Cure



An improvement on the comedy of Easy Street but a film with much more of a slapstick nature, The Cure finds Charlie Chaplin playing an inebriate who checks into a health spa in order to get sober. His huge suitcase though is full to bursting with bottles of liquor which find their way into the health spa’s well with disastrous consequences. Along the way Chaplin befriends Edna Purviance after saving her from the clutches of the wicked Eric Campbell.    

This is a short that is packed full of gags, some of which are a little repetitive but many hit the nail on the head. It also features a larger role for Chaplin regular John Rand who appears in most of Chaplin’s Mutual Films but usually just has a walk on role. In The Cure he has almost as much screen time as Campbell and Purviance but doesn’t make as much of an impact on the film as Chaplin’s two main collaborators. The story is tight but not wide reaching and is a lot more basic than many of the films from the same period, but what it lacks in story it makes up for with laughs. Chaplin’s dizziness following his turn in the revolving door also gave him the same symptoms as he showed nearly twenty years later in Modern Times when he ‘took’ cocaine. His walk and spinning was almost identical and equally amusing.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

The Intouchables



Last year’s French award baiting, box office smash hit, The Intouchables known in the UK as Untouchable finally gets a release in the UK, a full year later than in its home country and my was it worth the wait. The film broke box office records in France, becoming the 2nd highest grossing French film of all time after just nine weeks at the box office and has gone on to gross  €277 million worldwide from a budget of just €9.5 million. I’d heard very good things from the countries that had been lucky enough to get the film within a year of its release but I wasn’t expecting to enjoy the film quite as much as I did. It’s been a very good month for film with the likes of Anna Karenina, Looper and then Holy Motors all edging into my current 2012 Top 10 list but I think at the moment Untouchable is beating them all with it’s surprisingly frank and extremely funny portrayal of a young French-Senegalese man’s (Omar Sy) struggle in taking on the role of full time carer for a paralysed millionaire (François Cluzet).

Casablanca



Although relatively popular and well received when released in the summer of 1942 due in part to events in North Africa at the time, Casablanca has since risen to be one of the most critically acclaimed and well though of films in history. It currently ranks number 23 on the IMDb’s Top 250, number 3 on the AFI’s 100 Movies and is one of Hollywood’s most loved romantic melodramas. The film is also one of the most quoted films of all time too with quotes such as “We’ll always have Paris”, “Here’s looking at you, kid” and the often misquoted “Play it Sam. Play As Time Goes By” being well known to people who have never even seen the film. Until today I was one of those people and like hundreds of other classic films it was on my list of must sees for a long time. Now it’s off that list and I’m glad of it. Although I wouldn’t personally put it towards the top of my favourite films of all time it is certainly a wonderfully taught and romantic drama which successfully mixes the geo-political problems of the age with a fine romantic story which remains eternal to this day.

The plot is set in the Moroccan city of Casablanca on the route of a great refugee trail from Nazi occupied Europe towards America. Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) is a cynical and politically non aligned bar owner based in Casablanca whose neutrality is put to the test when an old flame unexpectedly appears back in his life.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Holy Motors



Holy Motors must be the strangest, maddest and most bizarre film I’ve seen since at least Love Exposure and possibly ever. In a statement about the nature of both acting and the digitalisation of the world, Leos Carax’s film stars Denis Lavant as a man who travels through Paris in a white limousine that is driven by Edith Scob. Along the way he stops for various ‘appointments’ for which he adopts an entirely different character complete with makeup, mannerisms and speech. Throughout the course of the day he becomes a beggar woman, motion capture artist, assassin, disappointed father plus many more.

The film’s message or statement is open for interpretation and after telling my girlfriend what I though I asked her the same, to which she replied “I thought it was about weird stuff”. The film is enjoyable however you view it and whether or not you read into any hidden messages or not. The themes that I personally believe the film is tackling may be totally different to the person next to me but it doesn’t matter. Holy Motors is a thrilling, darkly comic and bonkers film that is worth tracking down.

Easy Street



Charlie Chaplin as his Tramp character is asleep outside a Mission, close to the danger filled and lawless Easy Street. After being partially reformed by the Mission where he meets a beautiful young woman (Edna Purviance), the Tramp decides to join the Police and is immediately sent out on the beat to Easy Street, a road from where Police return battered and bruised. Through luck and wit the new Policeman tries to reform the street and return it to the local residents.

Comedy wise this is probably the most disappointing of Chaplin’s Mutual Films that I’ve seen so far. In the entire film I only laughed out loud once and generally there were very few funny moments anywhere. What the film does contain though is another tender story about overcoming the odds, hard work, temperance and love which is something that Chaplin was becoming the master of at this stage of his career.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Memento



Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) is a man who suffers from anterograde amnesia from a knock to the head on the same night that his wife was killed. The affliction means that although he can remember things from before that night, he is unable to store any new information for more than just a couple of minutes. His lack of short term memory causes huge problems for Leonard, especially as he is in the middle of a man hunt to track down his wife’s killer. In his pursuit Leonard is aided or hindered (he’s not quite sure) by a man named Teddy (Joe Pantoliano) and a woman called Natalie (Carri-Anne Moss). All Leonard has to rely on are photos with notes written by himself and tattoos drawn all over his body which point to clues and reminders.

I shouldn’t be surprised that Memento is completely mad, difficult to follow and ingenious all at once as Director Christopher Nolan has since followed it up with the likes of Inception as well as his multi-billion dollar Dark Knight franchise. As twisted and confusing as Inception was though it has nothing on Memento which is presented in two separate but ultimately converging narratives. The first is filmed in black and white and is presented in a traditional linear way with scene following scene until the finale. The second and certainly more unique narrative strand is in colour and opens with the film’s finale before working its way back to the opening. The result is an incredibly complex and often frustrating plot which can leave you with more questions than answers.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Forgetting Sarah Marshall



Produced by go to comedy guy Judd Apatow and written by lead actor Jason Segel, Forgetting Sarah Marshall is a comedy that I was never in much of a rush to see. I vaguely remember it being around in 2008 but it didn’t entice me to the cinema. I’ve since become more familiar with Segel’s films and when someone at work offered to lend me the DVD I thought why not? I’m glad I did borrow it as it’s a remarkable romantic comedy that completely surprised me with its extremely funny script, well drawn characters and endearing storyline.  

Peter Bretter (Jason Segel) is a fairly successful TV Composer who is in a five year relationship with the actress Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell). One day and almost out of the blue Sarah tells Peter that she is ending their relationship and leaves him. Depressed and heartbroken Peter decides to go away for a few days and heads to Hawaii where, yup, you’ve guessed it, Sarah is also staying with her new rock star boyfriend Aldous Snow (Russell Brand). Feeling even more depressed than he was back in L.A, Peter attempts to at least try and forget Sarah and is helped by the hotel staff which includes the attractive concierge Rachel (Mila Kunis).

Thursday, 27 September 2012

The Big Lebowski



After a case of mistaken identity Jeff ‘The Dude’ Lebowski (Jeff Bridges), an unemployed Los Angeles based slacker seeks out his millionaire namesake in order to complain about the mistreatment he received by mistake. The meeting is followed the next day by a call from the millionaire saying that his young, trophy wife has been kidnapped and he wants The Dude to be the bagman; delivering the money to the kidnappers. This sets off a chain of events which leaves The Dude bewildered and confused and all on the eve of his bowling league semi-finals.

The Big Lebowski is one of the hundreds of films which I’ve wanted to see for a long time and I’m happy I’ve finally sat down to watch it. I’m a fan of the Coen brothers’ work having really enjoyed seven of the eight of their films I’ve seen previously. This is most definitely joining those other seven and avoids being plonked in the bargain bin next to The Ladykillers. It’s packed full of great Coen dialogue and fantastical situations, all bought together with a great cast who are all on sparkling form.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

The Lion King



A few months ago I took part in a blogathon/questionnaire type thing in which one of the questions was ‘Which ten classic movies haven’t you seen?’ Among my answers were the likes of Citizen Cane, Casablanca and North by Northwest (which I’ve since seen) but by far the biggest response to this question came from people who couldn’t believe that I hadn’t seen The Lion King. So when a friend at work (who was equally shocked) offered to lend me a shiny Blu-Ray copy I had to take it and give it a go.

Mixing a coming of age story, Hamlet, Bambi, parts of Genesis (the ridiculous stories, not band) and anthropomorphic animals, The Lion King is about a young Lion called Simba who was set to ascend the throne after the death of his father but was halted by his evil Uncle Scar. Wandering for years in the wilderness he learns about the world with the help of a Warthog named Pumbaa and a Meerkat called Timon before rising to the challenge of deposing his wicked Uncle.

The Lost World: Jurassic Park



As soon as I hear the opening notes of John Williams’ iconic Jurassic Park score I can’t help but smile and be transported back to the mid 1990s and to a time when Jurassic Park was pretty much all the boys my age would talk and think about. I experienced the Jurassic Park smile recently when I re-watched the sequel to the 1993 film for what must be at least the eighth time. The smile stuck with me for the opening hour and a half as I reminisced about when I’d first seen the film and remembered what was coming next. Some of the things that made this sequel good are still evident but unfortunately so are the aspects that made it bad.

Four years on from the Jurassic Park Incident as it is now know, John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) is assembling a team to explore, catalogue and protect the Dinosaur inhabitants of a second island, close to the original known as Site B. For this mission he recruits a reluctant Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), a man who has been publicly and academically chastised for talking about the Jurassic Park Incident. Malcolm is understandably hesitant about mixing with Dinosaurs again until he learns that his girlfriend Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore) is already on the island. So, he travels to the island along with equipment specialist Eddie (Richard Schiff), photographer Nick (Vince Vaughn) and a stowaway to rescue Sarah but not only come up against Dinosaurs but the InGen Corporation who want to further exploit the animals for profit.  

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Looper



I was lucky enough to get to a preview screening of Looper a full five days before its UK and USA release and boy was it worth getting in early. Looper is a smart and twisting Science Fiction thriller which plays with the ideas and rules of time travel to create a tense film which leads you down unexpected alleys, confounding your ideas and expectations.

It’s 2042 and in thirty years time travel will be invented. Although immediately outlawed the machines are used by the mob to send people back in time for execution thus destroying all evidence of murder. The people who carry out the killing are called Loopers. One of these Loopers is Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who conducts his job with the utmost professionalism despite a few personal issues. One day though to his shock, he looks up at the tarpaulin ready for the arrival of his next victim when the man who appears in front of him is the older version of himself (Bruce Willis).

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Killing Them Softly



In a rare switch around audiences in the UK, including myself are able to see a new release a full two months ahead of our cousins across the water. The release in the States has been put back for a couple of reasons including to increase its chance of awards success early next year. If this film is even in contention for major awards then I’ll eat my shoe (providing ‘my shoe’ is actually a veggie burger or similar). The film is nowhere near good enough to be in contention for awards and I have a hard time calling it good.

Two men, Frankie and Russell (Scoot McNairy – Monsters and Ben Mendelsohn – Animal Kingdom) rip off a card game run by small time gangster Markie (Ray Liotta) having been tipped off by Johnny (Vincent Curatola – The Sopranos). The heat is soon on them though and Frankie, Russell, Johnny and Markie come under the suspicion local hit man Jackie (Brad Pitt) who also brings down aging hit man Mickey (James Gandolfini) to help out.

Brick



I usually write a review almost immediately after seeing a film and due to time constraints generally write just one draft. Thankfully I’ve waited until the following morning to write something about Brick as the extra few hours has allowed me to work it around in my head and appreciate some of the finer details of the film which last night I just thought were confusing and dull.

High School student Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a bit of a loner these days after breaking up with his girlfriend Emily (Emilie de Ravin) and reporting his friend to the School’s Vice Principle. Brendan receives an unexpected and garbled phone call from Emily who talks about items such as a brick and a pin and something about Frisco before abruptly hanging up. Concerned for her safety Brendan goes about tracking her down but finds he is too late to help so then sets out to discover what the pin is, who or what is Frisco and what it all has to do with Emily and a brick.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

A Lonely Place to Die



A group of five friends are on holiday, hiking and climbing around the remote mountains of Northern Scotland when they chance upon a strange noise. Tracking it down they discover a pipe sticking out of the ground and what appears to be a girl trapped in a box underground. After setting her free they begin their trek to the nearest town to report a kidnapping but are chased every step of the way by the shady men who put the girl in the hole in the first place.

I have a vague recollection of the film’s title and my girlfriend assures me that we wanted to see it so she borrowed it from a friend. I wish she hadn’t bothered. The plot is ok but doesn’t go deep enough and the acting and dialogue seem like they were done by people who understood the concept but had never actually seen it practiced.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind


Steven Spielberg’s 1977 Science Fiction drama remains today one of the most highly decorated and successful Sci-Fi films of all time, garnering eight Oscar nominations and two wins for cinematography and sound editing. The film was also nominated for nine BAFTAS and four Golden Globes. I’d been looking forward to seeing it for a long time and when I noticed it was on offer on Blu-Ray at HMV I jumped at the chance to buy it. As is often the case when you hear so much positivity about a film before you see it, Close Encounters didn’t live up to my expectations but is still a very good film with obvious influences on the last thirty-five years of Science Fiction.

While investigating a large scale power cut, electrician Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) has a close encounter with what appears to be a UFO. As he follows the flashing lights in the sky he comes across others who have spotted the phenomenon including single mother Jillian (Melinda Dillon) and her young son Barry. Their claims are met with scepticism but neither can get the image of a mountain out of their head and when they discover what the image is, feel uncontrollably drawn towards it. Meanwhile Scientists are working on linguistic and musical possibilities in case aliens ever make themselves known to humanity.  

Friday, 21 September 2012

Fantastic Mr. Fox


When I first saw Fantastic Mr. Fox at the cinema in 2009 I fell asleep. I think this is the only time I’ve ever slept through a film and although there were mitigating circumstances I still feel bad as Wes Anderson is one of my favourite Directors. I’ve loved all of his pre Mr. Fox films and Moonrise Kingdom is one of my favourite films of 2012 so far. One of the reasons I fell asleep three years ago was because I was bored by the film but due to my love of Anderson’s work I felt the need to go back and reassess it. Unfortunately my first viewing experience was very similar to my second; the film bored me and I consider it Anderson’s worst film by quite some distance.

Based on Roald Dahl’s book of the same name the plot centres upon a fox (George Clooney) who despite promising his wife (Meryl Streep) that he would stop killing farmer’s chickens for a living, can’t resist one final spree in which he goes for three local farms, run by the meanest farmers around.


Wednesday, 19 September 2012

My Name is Khan


My Name is Khan is a film that comes tantalisingly close to perfection but misses out due to a mixture of a disappointing third act over simplified view of the world. Nevertheless it is an excellent film, telling the story of a pre and post-9/11 world through the eyes of Indian’s living in America.

Rizwan Khan (Shahrukh Khan) is a mildly autistic Muslim man who moves to America after the death of his mother in India. There, he meets and falls in love with a Hindu woman Mandira (Kajol) who works as a successful hairdresser in San Francisco. The film is split into three very distinct acts with the first being an often light hearted, cute and funny look at romance, tolerance and love. Khan says that the western world views history in two epochs; BC and AD but he would add a third, 9/11. Following 9/11 the lives of the Indian characters, whether Sikh, Hindu or Muslim change for the worse as racial profiling, racist attacks and xenophobia takes hold thanks to the anti-Muslim hysteria of the post-9/11 world. There is an appalling tragedy around the halfway mark which sets up the third act in which Khan travels America to meet the President and tell him “My name is Khan and I am not a terrorist”.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Amores Perros


The first film in Director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s ‘death’ trilogy (followed by 21 Grams and Babel) is a sombre and at times difficult to watch drama set in Mexico City around the themes of class, loyalty and cruelty. The film is constructed via three interlocking stories which come together by means of a car crash. The film is non-linear and dips from one story to the next, slowly building up a picture as to how and where each character fits into the wider story.

Octavio (Gael Garcia Bernal) uses his brother’s dog to make money in organised dog fights and is in love with his brother’s pregnant wife Susana (Vanessa Bauche). One day he and a friend are being chased by crooks when he crashes his car into another, being driven by the model and actress Valeria (Goya Toledo) who is in the midst of an affair with Daniel (Alvaro Guerrero), a married magazine publisher. At the scene of the crash is a down and out, vagrant man ‘El Chivo’ (Emilio Echevarria) who pushes a scrap metal cart around but hides a deeply hidden and cheerless past. The three strands only come together for the car crash scene, colliding like three marbles before being spun into differing trajectories. The film had me gripped from start to finish but left me wanting more from at least two of the three strands.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

God Bless America


Once every few years a film will come along that feels as though it was made just for you. If you’ve seen God Bless America then I hope that you enjoyed it but I must tell you now, this film was made exclusively for me. Seriously, writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait must have snuck into my room one night with some sort of brain scanner and lifted the idea from this movie from my head. I’ve had numerous conversations with my girlfriend about the wonders of living in a world where you could just choose people who annoy or anger you to stop existing. I wouldn’t like to ever kill someone but it would be lovely if there was some switch that when flicked could just transport all of the mean, cruel, talentless, waster dickheads to some far away island where they could live out their lives without being of bother to the people whose lives they make a misery.

God Bless America takes some of my darkest thoughts, blows them up and adds some violence and a coherent story to make a fantastic satire of modern Western Civilisation. Frank Murdoch (Joel Murray) is a middle aged man who is annoyed by his neighbours and sickened by the putridness of society. After losing his job and being diagnosed with a brain tumour he decides enough is enough and travels to Virginia where he kills an obnoxious teenage girl who was the ‘star’ of a particularly blood pressure raising episode of My Super Sweet 16. A classmate of the girl called Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr) sees the murder and persuades Frank to take her on a killing spree, shooting those who spread hatred and fear and people who are repellent, abhorrent or disrespectful.  


Hannah and Her Sisters


In typical Woody Allen fashion, Hannah and Her Sisters is a comedy-drama that intertwines several stories from a large cast. The plot centres around three sisters and their often interconnecting relationships. Hannah (Mia Farrow) is a successful Actress and married to financial advisor Elliot (Michael Caine) who in turn is infatuated with Hannah’s sister, Lee (Barbara Hershey). Lee is in a relationship with a reclusive artist named Frederick (Max von Sydow) but begins to realise that she too has feelings for Elliot. The third sister Holly (Dianne Wiest) is an unsuccessful Actress who is recovering from a cocaine addiction. The final piece of the jigsaw is a hypochondriac TV Producer and Hannah’s ex-husband Mickey (Woody Allen) whose philosophy on life changes as the plot progresses due to the sudden realisation that he will one day die.

The film is set over a two year period but also contains flashbacks to times before the narrative began to contextualise certain relationships. Voice over from several of the actors provide the audience with access to the characters inner thoughts as the merry go round of associations and affairs slowly unfolds. The film is witty and sometimes interesting but for a fairly short film, it felt long and sometimes tedious.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Premium Rush


New York City bicycle courier Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is at the end of a tough day dodging traffic and delivering packages across the length and breadth of Manhattan when he gets one last call. Wilee has to pick up an envelope from a college campus Uptown and deliver it to Chinatown by 7pm but is soon approached by a debt ridden, crocked cop (Michael Shannon) who tries to take the package off his hands. Sensing something isn’t right; Wilee takes off at high speed which brings about a two hour chase across the Borough and ends up involving Wilee’s ex girlfriend Vanessa (Dania Ramirez), love rival Manny (Wole Parks) and luckless bike cop (Christopher Place).

For a film about a bike messenger trying to deliver an envelope, Premium Rush is a lot of fun. The action is fast paced and well shot and the acting good and sometimes great. The plot is a little uninvolving but plays second fiddle to the high speed bike action.

ParaNorman


Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee – The Road) is an eleven year old boy living in a small Massachusetts town famous for hanging a Witch three hundred years ago. Norman is unpopular at home and ridiculed at school because he believes that he can talk to ghosts. After being approached by a creepy old man about averting the ‘curse of the Witch’, Norman accidentally raises a horde of zombies from their graves before enlisting their help along with that of his sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick), friend Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), Jock Mitch (Casey Affleck) and school bully Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse)in sending the Witch back to her grave.

The first of three hotly anticipated horror/comedy/stop motion kids films we’ll see in the coming weeks and coming three years after Laika’s success with Coraline, ParaNorman begins with a flourish which sets it up to be an interesting and funny family film. Unfortunately it runs out of steam after about fifty minutes when the jokes dry up and the predictable plot takes over from what had been a fun, film which takes a surprisingly candid look at death.

Dredd


In Mega-City One, a dystopian metropolis of 800 million people which stretches from Boston to Washington DC, justice is dealt out by the Judges of the Justice Department. These lone law enforcement agents act as Judge, Jury and Executioner in a violent and crime ridden world. One of these Judges is Dredd (Karl Urban) who takes out a rookie (Olivia Thirlby) for a final evaluation before a decision is made about making her a full time Judge. The rookie Anderson has so far been unremarkable in training but is the most powerful psychic anyone at the Department has seen. On their first assignment together the two Judges end up in a two hundred story apartment block the size of a small city which is locked down by ex-prostitute turned drug baron Ma-Ma (Lena Headley).

I’ve never read a Dredd comic and was fortunate enough never to see the 1995 Danny Cannon/Sylvester Stallone adaptation so went in completely cold to the story and characters. I understood that there was some sort of big deal about not taking Dredd’s helmet off but that was about it. I also understand that it’s one of the UK’s biggest and best known comics so it’s with great pleasure to report that in a summer of incredible comic book adaptations that Dredd is able to mix it up with the American behemoths and come out the other side as a really solid action movie which mixes the best of the 1980s with a modern twist.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Love Exposure


One of the longest, strangest and best films I’ve ever seen, Love Exposure is a four hour long Japanese epic written and directed by acclaimed director Shion Sono which tackles themes such as love, lust, religion, the family unit, loss and…um… up skirt photography.

Rather than a plot summery, here is a brief outline of the five main characters. Hopefully it will put across the magnificent uniqueness of this fantastic film.

Yu Honda (Takahiro Nishijima) is a seventeen year old Priest’s son. Following sorrow in his father’s life, the Priest only allows Yu to see him during confession. Yu ends up desperately searching for Sins to commit so that he can tell his father and drifts into the world of up skirt photography which he becomes a master of due to his martial arts skills. After loosing a bet regarding who has the best photo, his friends dare him to dress up as a woman and find a girl to kiss. He comes across a young woman called Yoko who he instantly knows is his ‘Mary’. The only problem is that when they meet, he is in drag as ‘Miss Scorpion’…
Yoko (Hikari Mitsushima) is the same age as Yu and lives with her father’s ex lover Kaori. Her father abused her as a child and as a result she hates all men. One day she is confronted and attacked by a group of men but saved when a strange woman called Miss Scorpion comes to her rescue. She falls instantly in love but at the same time is forced to move in with Kaori’s new lover and his son, Yu who she hates with a passion.
Kaori (Makiko Watanabe) is an early middle aged woman who has spent her life going from one man to another. Along the way she has picked up the daughter of one of these men, Yoko. The two of them bonded as friends and now wherever Kaori goes, Yoko follows. Depressed one day, Kaori finds herself in a Church where she forces herself on the Priest.
Tetsu Honda (Atsuro Watabe) is a Priest, widower and father to Yu. Conflicted between his faith and love of a new woman he starts putting pressure on his son to Sin before eventually disowning him altogether when it becomes clear that his Sins have got out of hand. Along with Kaori and Yoko, he is indoctrinated into a cult called the Zero Church by…
Aya Koike (Sakura Ando) is a member of the Zero Church Cult who indoctrinate families into their circle. Like Yoko she too was abused by her father but instead of escaping, chopped off his penis when he was asleep. Aya turns her attention to Yu and his family when she sees an opportunity to indoctrinate them.