Friday, 27 December 2013

Top Ten 'New to Me' Films of 2013

As my second year of film blogging draws to a close, I thought today was a good day to look back on some of the best films I've seen this year. Ahead of my 'Best of 2013' list which I'll publish in late January on my blog's two year anniversary, the list below is of the top ten 'new to me' films of the year. The list is taken from all of the films I've seen this year for the first time which weren't released in 2013.

Although I've seen a lot fewer films this year than last (278 as of 27th December, compared to over 365 at the same point in 2012), I believe that this list features comparatively better films than last year's

10. Wings 1927. The first winner of what became Best Picture at the Oscars, Wings is a romantic drama that stands the test of time. Engaging leads and technical wizardry made it feel fresher and easier to watch than many films from the same period. Clara Bow's performance and the aerial photography are amongst the many highlights of this late period silent feature.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Easy Rider



I’ve watched a lot of great films for the first time this year and an echelon below Citizen Kane and Man with a Movie Camera is a film like Easy Rider. Written by actors Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper and directed by Hopper it’s a motorcycle road movie about two long haired guys travelling across America, encountering intolerance and hatred. Released in 1969 against the backdrop of the Civil Rights movement, the film chooses to focus on intolerance against the freedom loving hippie movement of the same era but its central characters can be used to denote any group or people that experienced hate and intolerance.

Produced independently and with a budget of around $360,000, the film went on to become a huge mainstream success, creating enormous profits and winning Hopper an award at the Cannes Film Festival. It has since become a classic and a film that opened my eyes to the counter-culture movement of the 1960s, a movement that has traditionally been overlooked by mainstream media. Dennis Hopper said about Easy Rider that the films that were being made at the time weren’t about the America that he saw and he knew and this film is just that. It’s about the America of the youth, the hair, the drugs, the ideals, the freedom and the hatred.

Nebraska



It’s been a few weeks now since I saw Nebraska, Alexander Payne’s monochrome comedy-drama and I didn’t originally intend to write about it. But of all the films I’ve seen in the last couple of months, it’s the one that has stayed with me the longest. Nebraska stars Bruce Dern as Woody, a grouchy old man whose moments of lucidity are swamped by his seemingly frail mind. Woody receives a sweepstakes letter which tells him of a million dollar prize win which he is determined to collect in person. Despite warnings from his family that the prize is bogus, Woody is undeterred and eventually his son David (Will Forte) agrees to drive across country to Lincoln, Nebraska with his father to pick up the winnings. Along the way the pair stops in Woody’s small hometown where he reconnects with the past.

At this late stage in 2013, Nebraska stands as one of the best films I’ve seen all year. It’s an absolute delight, merging neo-realism with caricature in a way that I’ve rarely witnessed before. It manages to be both grounded but quirky, serious and flippant and focuses in the everyday side of America rarely featured in Hollywood films. The characters don’t moan about money while living in mansions or complain about their dream jobs, these are Middle Americans, dealing with normal issues and I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen.

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues



Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy was one of those rarest of comedies, a film that gets funnier the more you watch it and one that has so many quotable lines that you’d laugh yourself silly before running out while reciting them with friends. Like Airplane! and This is Spinal Tap! it was a film that you could introduce to friends and watch them fall in love with and watch on a loop without getting bored. As a nineteen year old in 2004, that’s how my friends and I saw it anyway. In the years since, the film’s star Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) has made occasional appearances in adverts and the like as well as a, let’s be honest, poor and straight to DVD Wake Up Ron Burgundy: The Lost Movie which was compiled using left over footage from the first movie. Now though, nearly a decade later the famous New Team has finally assembled for a much anticipated two hour sequel.

I have an odd love/hate relationship with Will Ferrell. Sometimes he seems like the funniest guy in the world and his comic creations slay me. More than half the time though, he really annoys me. In Anchorman his Ron Burgundy character was always the former of these two Ferrells’ but unfortunately for long periods in Anchorman 2 I found his greatest creation not just annoying but also dull. Annoying and dull are two words that I’d also use to describe the film as a whole. That being said, it is not without its moments and most of these come flying from the gaping mouth of Brick Tamland (Steve Carell), the man who saves the movie.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

The Great Dictator



The Great Dictator saw Charlie Chaplin return to the screen following an absence of four years since 1936’s Modern Times. It also marked his first true talkie, a departure from the silent cinema which had for a time made him the most famous person on the planet. From a script written in 1938-39, The Great Dictator satirised the Fascist regimes of Italy and Germany and in particular the moustache stealing Adolph Hitler. Despite pre-production condemnation from Hollywood and a Hitler appeasing British Government, the film which was financed solely by Chaplin himself became a huge critical and commercial success, no doubt spurred on by its staggered release in 1940-41 by which time Europe and then the whole world was at war.

Chaplin who had by this time become increasingly political in his film making can be considered as somewhat of a visionary in his approach to the film. While writing the script much of the world was seduced by Hitler and saw him and his Nazi Party as the antidote to the spread of Communism. His strong, conservative Germany formed a vital buffer between the Soviet Union and the West and became an important trading partner once again. While many politicians were unable to see beyond Hitler’s immeasurable charisma, Chaplin focussed his film on those in the firing line of Hitler’s new Europe, specifically the Jews.

Oldboy



Anyone who knows me personally or has read my review of Park Chan-wook’s 2003 revenge thriller Oldboy will be aware that the Korean film is one of my favourite movies of this young century. Its initial success and cult status in the West meant it was only a matter of time before a Hollywood remake reached the cinema. Talk of a Steven Spielberg-Will Smith project came and went and instead, ten years after the original, we’re hit squarely in the face with Spike Lee’s Oldboy, a sanitised and surprisingly safe American version. The film is based on the Korean movie rather than the original Japanese Manga but contains subtle and often baffling differences.

The story is of Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin). Doucett is a man on the verge of losing his job, a man who spends too much time with the bottle and not enough time with his wife and young daughter. Following a heavy night of drinking he awakens in what appears to be a motel room. It soon becomes apparent that his ‘room’ is in fact a cell, a cell in which he will spend the next twenty years of his life locked up for a reason that he cannot fathom. While incarcerated Joe is framed for his wife’s murder and sees his young daughter adopted. Inexplicably after two decades Joe is released and given the task of working out who kept him prisoner and why he was framed for the grizzly murder of his wife.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

The Passion of Joan of Arc



Sometimes it only takes a few frames to realise that you’re in for a treat. This was the case for me with Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1928 masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc. It is however a film that I’d put off watching for a long time. Despite my interest in silent cinema and all the great things I’d read and heard, there was something about what little I knew of the film that put me off. Perhaps it was the subject matter (more on that later) or the idea that it would be a depressing and/or dull watch but either way it took a good five years from my first whiff of the film to actually sitting down to watch it. What a silly boy I was for those five years. Like many other renowned films that I’d put off viewing it is of course a superb movie that features some of the best acting, editing and camera placement I’ve ever seen.

The film tells of the imprisonment, trial and (spoiler) execution of Joan of Arc (Noah’s wife) who claimed divine guidance and lead France to several important military victories during the Hundred Year’s War before being captured by the English and tried for heresy, all by the age of nineteen. The film draws on the five hundred year old transcripts of the trial and indeed original documents form the basis of the script.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Rush



Rush, the latest offering from director Ron Howard, is an exhilarating and dramatic biographical action movie set in the glamorous world of the 1970s Formula One driver. Being a fairly faithful retelling of true events, the movie focuses on the careers of and rivalry between Austria’s Nikki Laura (Daniel Bruhl) and Britain’s James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) in the mid 1970s during which the pair were the cream of the motor racing world. Though the movie begins in 1970, the main thrux of the plot is the 1976 F1 season during which the pair’s rivalry and willingness to put themselves in the path of danger reached an all time high before the season reached a dramatic climax in Japan.     

I need to mention very early on that personally I’m a huge fan of Formula One and have only missed around three races since my first in 1994. I love the history, the strategy and the technology of the sport and would rank it amongst my biggest passions. Because of this I was worried that my judgement of the film would be clouded but I’m confident that the film is good enough that my love of its backdrop hasn’t affected my enjoyment. In many ways the movie reminded me of the sublime BAFTA award winning documentary Senna in that although both movies are about F1 and F1 drivers, they could be about anything. It’s the story and characters who make both films great. They could be set within any discipline.

Monday, 2 September 2013

August 2013 Film Round-up

I stopped reviewing every film I watch towards the end of July and have gone from 30+ to (last month) four reviews a month. While I haven't really missed writing about the movies I've seen, I wanted to make sure I at least wrote something about every single one so that I could keep some sort of fluidity in my blog. So here are my very brief opinions of the films I've seen since I stopped reviewing everything.



July

Rebel Without a Cause

James Dean can’t play a teen. Great acting, interesting, super cool. 8/10



Maniac

Better than the average slasher. Interesting. Far too grizzly for me. 5/10



Double Indemnity

Quintessential Noir. Beautifully made, gripping. 8/10



Frances Ha

A cross between French New Wave and Woody Allen. Annoying at first but I warmed to it. It made me want to live the BoHo life. 7/10



August

Wild Strawberries

Entertaining, funny, charming and sweet. Fantastic story. Original road movie. Better rear projection than Hitchcock ever managed. 8/10


Sunday, 1 September 2013

Jurassic Park



The fact that Jurassic Park is twenty years old makes me feel older than I’d like to think I am. It’s hard to believe that it was two decades ago that a wide eyed seven year old me took a trip to the local cinema for what was only my second cinematic experience at the time. The film was a sensation with children, adults and critics and became the highest grossing movie of all time. Although I loved the film, there was a part of me who secretly hated it as it opened children’s eyes to the dinosaur world, something which I naively thought only I liked. Suddenly all my friends had dinosaur toys too and it annoyed me that they’d stolen my thing. It was the equivalent of that cool, underground band you like appearing on TV and going mainstream. Despite my anger over the film taking dinosaurs mainstream, it was pretty much the best thing my seven year old eyes had ever seen.

Twenty years, two sequels and about a dozen viewings later I heard that Universal were bringing Jurassic Park back to the big screen in 3D. Part of that sentence made me very happy but I was rather sceptical about the ‘3D’ element. I was even offered the chance to join a critics screening in New York City of all places, six months ago while on holiday there. I was unfortunately unable to make it though as I’d left my girlfriend shopping somewhere and knowing that she never notices her phone ringing and wouldn’t be able to make it to the theatre in time anyway, I had to decline, something which was deeply disappointing. All was not lost though as although I had to wait nearly half a year, I was eventually able to see the film on one of the largest screens in the country, the IMAX screen in Manchester.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Man with a Movie Camera



Man with a Movie Camera is a 1929 experimental documentary film by Dziga Vertov which upon watching for the first time earlier this week, instantly entered into my top ten films of all time. The film contains no plot, characters or actors and its only discernible arc is the depiction of the passing of a day in Soviet Russia. It captures the essence of life in 1920s Russia thanks to over 1,700 shots and scenes of everyday life as well as the life of machines and industry. The film is famed now, as it was on its initial release, for its revolutionary and still bold editing and filming style. It’s difficult to put into words the wonders contained within this hour and seven minute avant-garde piece but I hope that my brief description will attract new people to it.

The film opens on one of the more surreal shots which pepper the film in amongst the more traditional fare. We see a cameraman setting up his tripod on top of a giant camera which forms the ground upon which he stands. This is the first of many examples of double exposure used in the film and the camera trickery extends to the boundaries of what was possible in the late 1920s over the next hour. I remember watching Buster Keaton’s 1924 movie Sherlock, Jr recently and being enamoured with his mastery of camera slight of hand but Keaton’s noble efforts look like potato prints to Vertov’s Mona Lisa.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Sharknado



Sharknado doesn’t deserve a full review. At a time when I’m only writing reviews for about one film in eight that I watch, I’m not going to spend too much time dissecting the finer points of the plot, acting and direction of this film. The movie is the latest in a long line of terrible B-Movies commissioned by The Syfy Channel and made by The Asylum film studio. The films appear to be title first, plot second affairs which owe a great debt to the B-Movie classics of the 1950s and 60s but lack their antiquated cousins’ charm and ideas. As I can’t be bothered discussing the film in depth I’m just going to write some sentences that come into my head when I think about this ‘film’. In honour of the movie they will make little sense and won’t interest you



It’s rubbish.

The action begins with characters surfing on a beach without waves.

Different beaches are used from shot to shot.

In one early scene, it’s obvious that a pod of dolphins are being filmed instead of sharks.

The Lone Ranger



Something is happening in Hollywood. Something which isn’t new but is becoming more apparent with each passing year. Studios are throwing vast sums of money at films in the hope that the sheer amount of razzmatazz on screen, couple with stars and overblown effects will prize people from their sofas and towards the cinema. The problem with this is that the films are becoming ever more formulaic and uninspiring as studios attempt to attract the maximum number of people to their films. It’s the same with most art forms that the more broad you make your product, the less exciting and unique it will be. Mumford and Sons might outsell Goat but only one of those bands sound like a Saturday night pub band that got too big for their cowboy boots. When I think of the studios that are producing the type of big budget, low risk films I’m discussing here, the one that springs to mind first is Disney.

Disney obviously have a tradition of making family movies and as such you aren’t expecting gore or thrilling twists but they’ve managed to entertain generations of people simultaneously for decades while maintaining their wholesome image. They also have a strong tradition of borrowing stories from other sources but appear to be on a run at the moment of producing the blandest of films which are amongst the most expensive in history. Alice in Wonderland, Oz the Great and Powerful, John Carter and now The Lone Ranger are all films which make use of established, much loved characters in films which Disney have sucked all the life and fun out of. The problem they’re really facing though is that they’re no longer guaranteed $600 million if they plough $250 million into a movie and not only that, the films themselves are dull and don’t even warrant a second viewing.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Belleville Rendez-vous



Belleville Rendez-vous, known as The Triplets of Belleville outside of my native United Kingdom, is a 2003 Oscar nominated animated feature, written and directed by the mastermind behind the similarly styled 2010 Oscar nominated The Illusionist. The film tells the surrealist story of a doting grandma who trains her grandson to compete in the Tour de France before he is kidnapped by the mob. Determined to return him to his native France, she tracks him to Belleville (modelled on New York City) where she and her obese dog befriend the Belleville Triplets, a formerly popular music hall act.

As well as reminding me of director Sylvain Chomet’s quite and masterful feature, The Illusionist, the animation is also reminiscent of classic Disney. The still backdrops and wildly grotesque characters remain faithful to the animation found in the likes of Dumbo or Pinocchio but are darker and drawn with the animator’s tongue firmly in cheek. The animation also displays modern touches but these are counteracted by the wonderfully realised mid twentieth century setting. There are even flairs of psychedelia present and side characters such as an overly foppish waiter and henchmen who seem conjoined at their ridiculously overgrown shoulders wouldn’t look out of place in a dehydrated Yellow Submarine.  The surrealist nature of the animation also extends beyond the character and occasionally creeps into inanimate objects too where it is befitting of the plot.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Announcement - The End of At The Back (As You Know It)

Dear reader,

I've been running this blog for about twenty months now and in that time have written close to 600 films reviews, attracting a number of loyal and occasional readers. I'm immensely grateful for every single visitor I receive, it means the world to me that someone would stop by and read what I think about something I'm passionate about. The problem is, that passion has been fading for some time now and I've reached the point where I no longer wish to continue.

The final straw came this morning after I watched Rebel Without a Cause for the first time. I really enjoyed the film and came to write my review as usual but it didn't feel fun. It felt like a chore and that's not how I want to spend my time. I initially started writing about film as a hobby, and grew to love it over the months but recently my passion has waned and I feel like my writing has become uninteresting and sloppy. I can hardly criticise a film maker for making a film I didn't enjoy if I don't have the ability to sum up what was wrong with it in an interesting and coherent way. My thesaurus is being stretched to breaking point and I feel as though I've run out of things to say.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Dead Man's Shoes



Dead Man’s Shoes is a psychological revenge thriller, co-written and directed by the toast of the British critical community, Shane Meadows. Writing with Paul Fraser and Paddy Considine, who also stars, the film focuses on the return to a small northern town of an ex-soldier who reappears after his little brother is humiliated by a group of local drug dealers. The film opens with little back story and reveals itself through the use of grainy, black and white flashbacks, building a picture of the events which lead up to the current plot as it progresses in ever more violent and sadistic ways. It saves its biggest and best reveal until close to the conclusion in a feat of wonderful storytelling which put a delicious cherry on top of an already appealing cinematic cake.

Although Shane Meadows is considered to be one of the brightest talents in UK cinema, I’ve never really found myself that blown away by his films. I can appreciate his style and especially the way in which he gets his films made but they’ve never done anything for me. This changed with Dead Man’s Shoes and instantly became my favourite film from a director I hadn’t really got until now. Not only do I think it’s one of Meadows’ best but I’m struggling to think of a better independent British film from the past decade too.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

My Life to Live



Having dipped my toe into the murky waters of the French New Wave with Breathless last week, I’m now ankle deep but the water is no clearer. I enjoy exploring new cinematic avenues, whether it be silent comedy, Italian horror or Korean thrillers but I’ve never had so much difficulty in expressing myself with the written word as I’m having while trying to compose my thoughts about the films of Jean-Luc Godard. My Life to Live or Vivre sa vie in its original French is a film in twelve chapters about a young Parisian woman who dreams of becoming an actress but is drawn into prostitution when money becomes ever more illusive. Anna Karina, Godard’s then wife, stars in the central role and puts in a mesmerising performance in a film which I struggled to enjoy but couldn’t take my eyes off.

From what little I’ve seen of Godard’s canon, I think it’s fair to say that he’s a director with an eye for beauty. The images he crates are sumptuous and filled with splendour despite the slightly crinkled, low budget style of film making in which he partakes. Breathless was amongst the best looking films I’ve seen while My Life to Live exerts its beauty in a steadier, more measured manner, lingering on beauty rather than allowing it to rush by. At the centre of all this is Anna Karina herself, a woman whose eyes flash at the screen in such a way as to make her audience melt.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Life is Beautiful



Buongiorno principessa!” Two simple words that bought a huge smile to my face during a film which has more emotional peaks and troughs than a very emotionally peaky troughy thing. Life is Beautiful or La vita è bella in its original Italian is a passionate and multi award winning comedy-drama set in Italy during The Second World War. Its dark themes are counterbalanced with some delightful comedy and a sweet story about a man trying to protect his young son from the harsh realities of the war. Italian Jew Guido (Roberto Benigni – also director) is a wildly imaginative and romantic soul who woos a local woman in amusing and inventive ways. Fast forward a few years and Guido and his wife Dora (Nicoletta Braschi) have a cute little boy called Joshua (Giorgio Cantarini). When Guido and Joshua are taken to a work camp by the Germans, Guido puts in tireless effort to hide the truth from his son, telling him that they are playing a game for points in which the winning team will win a real life tank.

Life is Beautiful really is beautiful in of itself. It’s one of the sweetest films I’ve seen and is amongst many people’s (including my Dad’s and girlfriend’s) favourite films of all time. Not only is it a good-natured story but it’s also very bold. Upon its initial release it faced some criticism for making light of the Holocaust but personally I don’t think it does anything to mock that horrific event or undermine the suffering of the millions who had to endure abysmal treatment under the Nazis and their collaborators. Instead it displays the triumph of human spirit and the deep love of a father for going to great lengths to protect his son.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Enemy of the State



Tony Scott’s 1998 thriller Enemy of the State was the first film I ever bought on DVD. Though that disc has since gone walkabout, I remember going into my local Woolworths to buy a different film (an 18 Certificate whose title I can’t remember) but was told by the lady on the checkout that I didn’t look 18 and had to choose another one. Being around 14 I panicked and grabbed Enemy of the State, attracted by the picture of that guy from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air on the cover. I remember enjoying the film all those years ago and marvelling at how modern it was. Unfortunately it hasn’t aged particularly well.

Will Smith plays D.C. Lawyer Robert Dean who becomes embroiled in a conspiracy and high profile assassination following a chance meeting with an old acquaintance from college. Without knowing it, Dean takes into his possession a video tape containing footage of the murder and is tracked by rogue NSA official Thomas Roberts (Jon Voight). With nowhere else to turn, Dean tracks down a shady communications expert called Brill (Gene Hackman) with the hope that he can clear up the mess he finds himself in.

Sabrina



Sabrina is a fairytale love story set around themes of rivalry and class. Sabrina Fairchild (Audrey Hepburn) is a chauffer’s daughter, living on a large Long Island Estate. For some time she’s been in love with the rich and careless David Larrabee (William Holden) who barely notices her. After two years studying in Paris, the grownup Sabrina returns a beautiful and sophisticated woman and David falls in love. The couple’s relationship threatens to derail a big merger for the family company so David’s brother Linus (Humphrey Bogart) decides to woo the girl himself before packing her back off to Paris.

This film is one of several in my girlfriend’s DVD collection that I’ve been meaning to watch for a while. Hepburn is her favourite actress but it was Sabrina I chose over other films because of the male stars. I’ll happily watch anything Bogart and Holden are in but have to say that I was a little disappointed with this film. The stars failed to gel on screen and a little reading tells me that Bogart was unhappy for the duration of the shoot with both director Billy Wilder and his co-star Hepburn who he believed needed too many takes to get her dialogue right. There was better chemistry between Holden and Hepburn which isn’t surprising as the two began a brief affair while shooting the movie.

Breathless



I started to really get into cinema when I was at university after first watching a couple of Martin Scorsese’s early movies. I was dumbstruck by the guerrilla style of Mean Streets and easy flow and strange editing of Taxi Driver as well as the way that both movies captured a time and place which although I’d never personally experienced, felt familiar. In the near decade since then I’ve expanded my cinematic experiences and ventured down many genre avenues, finding much that to like. It’s taken me to my late twenties though to venture towards The French New Wave, a period and collection of film makers who inspired those early Scorsese pictures perhaps more than anything else.

Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless or À bout de souffle in its native France is one of the most famous examples of the New Wave films which steamed across the Atlantic in the late 1950s and into the 60s, influencing the next generation of American directors. The influence follows a similar pattern to British rock music of the period as Godard and his compatriots François Truffaut, Éric Rohmer and others were themselves being influenced by what they saw in American cinema. It’s almost as though the French put their own spin on what they saw in Hollywood and then this was subsequently appropriated and re-Americanised by ‘movie brats’ of the 70s.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

City Lights



In the late 1920s film stars, directors and producers faced a dilemma. 1927’s The Jazz Singer had opened the world’s eyes and ears to the talkies; movies with sound and the revolution had taken off quickly, brushing former silent stars aside and ushering in a new era of spoken dialogue. Arguably the biggest star of the silent era was Charlie Chaplin. His films had been hugely popular in every corner of the globe, from London and Los Angeles to Leningrad and Lahore. His universality came not only from his popular and identifiable Tramp character but because people from any country could understand the language of the film. Each film’s themes and jokes worked in any language and were loved by all.

It was because of The Tramp’s universality as a silent character that caused Chaplin to shun the talkies for a decade after they first became the norm. City Lights was his first film produced after The Jazz Singer and he stuck to his guns, despite outside influence, and kept The Tramp silent. The movie’s opening scene gently mocks the new medium at a statue unveiling. The City Mayor proudly strides to a podium to dedicate a new statue and when he speaks an amusing Donald Duck type noise is emitted from his mouth. His lady wife then takes the stand with similar, higher pitched results. To me this is Chaplin’s way of proving his point to the English speaking world. We can’t understand what the characters are saying so how would his fans in France, Russia or Brazil understand him if he spoke? With this opening scene we not only have our first laugh but also a taste of an ever maturing Chaplin, a man who isn’t afraid to express his opinions on screen.

The World's End



With the final instalment of ‘The Cornetto’ trilogy, writers Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright have bought us a film about what it means to move on and grow up. It’s an apt theme as the film itself is by far the most grown up and mature work the pair have produced so far. Pegg stars as Gary King, a man-child stuck in the past who brings together his childhood friends to attempt a re-enactment of a fateful night over twenty years ago when they tried but failed to complete the ‘Golden Mile’, a twelve stop pub crawl through their home town. Although the friends are unsure, they accompany Gary but what starts as a trip down memory lane, turns into something quite unexpected when it is revealed that the people of Newton Haven have been taken over by an unknown force.

I’m not a huge fan of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, the other films in this loose trilogy but I found them both entertaining. I personally think that The World’s End is the best film of the three but probably isn’t the funniest. It’s a more measured, thought provoking film which strangely evokes parallels in the audience’s lives while providing entertaining moments along the way as well as the odd laugh. Pegg and Wright appear to have recognised that their audience has grown with their films and they suitably include themes which you wouldn’t find in their earlier work. The movie reminded me of Toy Story 3. That film included ideas about ageing and one’s place in the world after the fun and laughter of the first two films. This instalment is pitched in a similar way.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Dinner for Schmucks



Based on a French comedy called Le Dîner de Cons, 2010’s Dinner for Schmucks is a politically incorrect screwball comedy. Featuring likeable leads and an overstretched central idea, the film stars Paul Rudd as ambitious financial executive called Tim Conrad. After impressing his managers, Tim is invited to an exclusive dinner which he hopes will lead to a long overdue promotion. The only catch is that each guest must bring a plus one, chosen for their ability to compete for the prize of ‘biggest loser’. Tim’s in two minds about attending the insensitive dinner but when he literally runs into the sweet but simple squirrel taxidermist Barry Speck (Steve Carell) and thinks to himself, what’s the worst that could happen?

Despite being a fan of pretty much everyone in front of the camera in this movie, it passed me by until now. I remember its release but the trailers and reviews did nothing to pull me to the cinema. It’s not a film I’m gutted to have missed three years ago but I came out the other side thinking that it was an average comedy which was short on laughs and story but enjoyable nonetheless.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Six of the Best... Pixar Features



With the recent release of the, lets be honest, disappointing Monsters University, I thought it was a good time to bring you my Six of the Best… Pixar Features. Disney Pixar has been my favourite film studio for about five or six years, since it suddenly dawned on me that all of the great animation I was seeing was from the same imaginative studio. I’ll make it clear right now that this list has one major fault and that is that of fourteen feature films to date, I’ve only seen twelve. The ones I’m missing are Monsters. Inc and Cars 2. I fully expect from what I’ve read that one of those films would be in this list. I’m also pretty sure that one of them would be absent. So, just to clarify, I except that this list is perhaps not a true reflection of the studio’s output but I’ve seen the other films at least once and in some cases several times.

For a change, this list won’t just be a list of six but I’ll order them. My favourite film will be at number one (as ordering is traditionally written). So without further ado, here are my personal Six of the Best… Pixar Features.

The Edukators



The Edukators is a sociological thriller about three young anti-capitalists who get in way over their heads after a botched break-in. Peter (Stipe Erceg) and Jan (Daniel Brühl) are a pair of idealistic young wannabe revolutionaries, living in near squalor in the centre of Berlin. In the evenings they scope out large houses in the suburbs which they break into. Rather than stealing what they find inside, the pair instead moves the furniture and expensive consumer items around, messing with the minds of the rich inhabitants and leaving a note saying something along the lines of “Your days of plenty are coming to an end”. They call themselves ‘The Edukators’. With Peter in Barcelona, Jan becomes friendlier with Peter’s girlfriend Jule (Julia Jentsch) after the pair had previously been rather standoffish with each other. Jule explains how her life is being ruined by a debt owed to a rich man following a car crash and Jan decides to do something about it, bringing Jule into ‘The Edukators’ without Peter’s knowledge.

The Edukators is a fascinating thriller which bought out the old Commie in me. I was on the group’s side, finding myself nodding along to their rants about consumerism and third world debt while I sat on my leather sofa, watching my flat screen TV. The film bought out something in me which I’ve lost in recent years, my youthful anger at the world. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still angry but these days my anger is focussed at religion and stupidity rather than poverty and injustice. This movie bought that back.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Before Sunset



I can’t imagine having to wait nine years for Before Sunset to come around. Released nearly a decade after Before Sunrise, a film with a remarkable and original will they/won’t they conclusion, the film picks up the lives of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy) after their one night romance in Vienna in 1995. It should be noted before I go on that this review may well contain spoilers for Before Sunrise so if you haven’t seen that movie yet, beware. I saw Before Sunrise earlier today and the hour long wait between films felt like a lifetime to me, so engrossed in the character’s stories was I. I can’t believe that there are people who had to endure nine years of not knowing what happened after Céline and Jesse went their separate ways.

The film opens in a Parisian book shop where Jesse, now an author is answering questions about his latest book. Towards the end of the interview he notices Céline standing in the corner and instantly loses his train of thought. He manages to sneak away for a coffee with his former fling before a 7:30 pm deadline to catch a flight. It’s on the way to the café that we the audience have our hearts broken. The pair didn’t meet in Vienna six months after the end of the first film. They in fact haven’t seen each other since that magical night nine years ago.

Before Sunrise



A chance meeting aboard a train from Budapest to Paris results in a wonderfully constructed whirlwind romance for two strangers. Jesse (Ethan Hawke) is travelling alone through Europe when he begins talking to the pretty French lady across the isle from him. That woman is Céline (Julie Delpy) who is on her way back to Paris after visiting her grandmother in the Hungarian capital. They strike up a friendly conversation which continues in the dining car before Jesse’s stop in Vienna approaches. Sensing a connection he suggests that Céline disembarks with him to continue their discussion. She impulsively agrees and the duo spends the night wandering Vienna together.

Before Sunrise lacks any sort of plot but is nevertheless beautifully written and structured. I never once wished for something to happen besides the continuing conversation and discovery. The dialogue is deeply woven and superbly delivered by two actors on top form. Their connection seems so real that it’s hard to believe that the actors themselves didn’t end up together. Nothing is forced and the conversations meander naturally while at all times remaining high brow and intellectually stimulating. Occasionally there is a lull in the engagement I had with the dialogue but this still works as it’s how one would react when listening to any long conversation.

The Bling Ring



Between 2008 and 2009 a group of mostly privileged, celebrity obsessed teenagers burgled the homes of several celebrities, making off with over $3 million in jewellery, clothes, bags and other designer accessories. The group coined ‘The Bling Ring’ were the subject of a Vanity Fair article which forms the basis of this film from director Sofia Coppola. The film focuses on the acts of burglary, what the teens wanted, what they got and some of the consequences they faced when eventually discovered.

To me the premise sounded interesting. I had no prior knowledge of the robberies and hadn’t heard of the group until I began seeing trailers for the film. It looked to be a satire on obsession with fame and greed and reminded me a little of the similar but deeply flawed Spring Breakers. This film annoyed me even more than that. I should state right here that I abhor the fame hungry, greed inspired culture that some teenagers aspire to be a part of. My girlfriend occasionally (often) puts on programmes like The Hills or E! News and they make me so angry that I have to leave the room. There are few people on the planet I despise more than those who seek fame and fortune without the talent to deserve it. This film focuses on exactly those kinds of people and appears to glorify their actions.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Monsters University



Seeing Monsters University puts me in the strange situation of seeing a sequel (or prequel in this case) before the original movie. Like a lot of people I’m a huge Pixar fan but 2001’s Monsters. Inc is one of two Pixar features which I haven’t got around to seeing yet. The central characters Mike and Sully are so well known though that I didn’t think my ignorance of the first movie would hamper my enjoyment of this one. Thankfully it didn’t. Pixar managed to hamper it all by themselves.

Monsters University takes us back to our central character’s college days where they first meet on the campus of the University of the movie’s title. The ambitious and book smart Mike (Billy Crystal) initially doesn’t get along with the confident and naturally scary Sully (John Goodman) and their falling out leads to their expulsion from Scare 101. The pair discovers that their only way back onto the course is to enter and win the University’s Scare Games. To do this they must join a fraternity but the only one that will accept them is a group of no-hopers. Will they be able to shape themselves and their team into first class scarers or will their dream of turning professional be lost?

Pacific Rim



Pacific Rim states early that we always expected extra-terrestrial life to come from above, in reality it came from beneath our feet. Following the opening of a giant crevasse, deep under the Pacific Ocean, a series of monsters christened Kaiju began attacking costal cities, flattening them and killing tens of thousands. To halt the unexpected onslaught the world put aside its differences and initiated the Jaeger programme which constructed giant robots used as weapons to defend humanity from the alien invasion. The Jaegars are piloted by two individuals who have their minds interlocked, each controlling one hemisphere of the Jaegar’s brain. Slowly, we turned the tide of the battle.

When I first heard about Pacific Rim and more importantly who was directing it, I was filled with excitement. Vague but tantalising descriptions of giant monsters battling human built robots across the planet sounded like an epic idea for a blockbuster but it also sounded dangerously familiar. When I think of giant robots I think of Michael Bay and those two words aren’t the sort to get me excited about a film. Thankfully the director’s evident love of the monsters and genre and attention to detail in the huge fight scenes raise this movie above the normal smashy, smashy, what’s going on type of summer Blockbuster.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Black Sabbath



Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath (titled I tre volti della paura in his native Italian) is a trilogy of short horror films, presented as a single feature. There is nothing to tie the three films together aside from being bookended by a rather funny and tongue in cheek Boris Karloff who also appears in the middle film. Like much of Bava’s work the film’s original Italian version differs greatly from the more widely seen American release and there’s a fantastic comparison feature on DVD releases which highlights the differences in score, props, dialogue and even ordering of the film. Personally I chose the Italian version to watch.



The Italian version is a little gorier and features a lesbian subplot which is absent from the American release. Bava’s choice to package the films in one feature at first feels strange but to be honest, I don’t think any of the stories could have been successfully stretched to make a feature in their own right and it gives a chance for some terrific tales to get a release.  

Thursday, 11 July 2013

The Night of the Hunter



1955’s The Night of the Hunter was the first and sadly last film to be directed by famed theatre and screen actor Charles Laughton. Though panned by audiences and critics on its theatrical release, the film has grown in statue over the years and is now widely regarded as a great work. Featuring expressionistic touches and unsettling themes, the film stands apart from the safer, noir tinted thrillers of its day. The plot features a villain so wicked that he scared me, an adult used to modern horror, nearly sixty years after he first appeared.

Robert Mitchum plays Reverend Harry Powell; a preacher turned serial killer who learns of a hidden fortune. While in prison on a minor charge, Powell shares a cell with Ben Harper (Peter Graves), a man serving a long sentence for robbery and murder. Before his arrest, Harper was able to hide his loot of $10,000, telling his children but no one else where the money was. Powell is able to track down the fatherless family and attempts to get the secret from the children while hiding his intent behind his squeaky clean, ministerial front.

Persona



Persona is the sort of film that I struggle to review. When thinking about the movie today, all I could really say was that it was a bit odd but I really liked it. I could probably end my review there. Persona is an example of a film that tests my limited film knowledge and both my powers to describe, compare and contrast. I might as well start somewhere. I’ve been reviewing films as an amateur and very occasionally professional for a little over eighteen months. I’ve been a real life human person for over twenty-seven years. Despite all those months and years, Persona is the first Ingmar Bergman film I’ve seen. There are a couple of his films which I’ve been waiting for my online DVD subscription service to send me but Persona was lent to me by a friend and broke by Bergman cherry.

The film begins with a wondrous and surrealist section of flashing images which are spliced into footage of a boy, stood alone in a room. The boy eventually turns to a book which is pretty much the only item in the brightly lit, sparsely decorated room. The boy, the book as well as the images appear at first to be a random assortment of things but eventually at least some of the images can be viewed as pointers for the story that is to follow. Others, like the often cut image of an erect penis are harder (ahem) to explain.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Deliverance



Nominated for three Academy Awards, 1972’s Deliverance is an influential thriller set along the Chattooga River in Georgia. For men from Atlanta set off into the wilderness to take a canoe trip down a portion of river which is soon to be hundreds of feet below a newly dammed lake. Their trip takes a decidedly and unexpectedly dangerous turn when some of the locals take a disliking to the party. Famous for a distressing scene of rape, the movie is much harder than I expected and must have rattled censors forty years ago. As well as the distress caused by these and other scenes, there is also great beauty to be found in the landscape and it’s captured wonderfully by Director John Boorman.

The movie features what we’d consider today to be an all-star cast with Hollywood heavyweights Jon Voight and Burt Reynolds leading the cast. Ned Beatty makes his screen debut alongside Ronny Cox, also a first time screen actor here. The acting is great throughout and the characters are well defined from the start. From the very first scene the audience is made aware of exactly who is who and what their main traits are. This helps to get the film off to a good start as well as easing the audience in.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Primer



It’s rare that one gets to see a film that cost $7,000 but that’s precisely what Primer cost to make. Primer is a high concept science fiction drama that is heavy on ideas and doesn’t pander to the mainstream. Using technical dialogue and realistic sounding science, the movie doesn’t make any attempt to open itself up to the masses or explain itself in layman’s terms. As a result, Primer is a film that is at times impossible to follow but when it’s at its best, it’s a film that opens up some and explores some fascinating ideas about causality, fate, consequence and friendship. Shane Carruth acts almost as a one man crew with credits as actor, writer, director, producer, editor and composer.

The plot focuses on the efforts of four engineers who work for a large corporation but on the side produce circuit boards which fund their own inventions. Two of the men break off and develop a strange machine for which a purpose is difficult to ascertain. After some preliminary tests they discover that a watch placed inside the machine appears to come out with much more time passing than on the outside. Wary of the concept and implications of their machine, they keep it a secret but slowly begin to experiment with its possibilities with strict instructions that causality must not be affected.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

A Field in England



The latest offering from the darling of the British critical community Ben Wheatley, A Field in England is a psychological-historical drama set during the Civil War. An example of a growing trend, the film was released simultaneously in cinemas as well as on DVD, download and on TV. This multi-platform release meant that on 5th July there was no excuse as to why anyone couldn’t see it. Personally, I watched it on the free-to-air Film 4, the film’s primary funder.

The movie blends genres and styles but features a pleasing cinematographic style which oozes confidence. The choice to film in black and white feels at first to be a misjudgement but as it progresses; the beauty of the monochrome is exposed. There are some stunning landscapes and close-ups captured which juxtapose the attractive, relaxed landscape with the anguish and torment of the characters. Those characters suffer from little development and much confusion but are lit and filmed with utmost care and professionalism.

The East



I’ve been writing little film reviews on this blog for about eighteen months now. I’ve almost always written a review within twenty-four hours or so of watching a movie but I saw The East nearly a week ago. Whether due my brief illness, boredom of writing or lack of interest in the film I can’t say, though I think all three contributed. The trailer for The East was one of the best I’ve seen in recent months. It gave little away and felt edgy and interesting. The film however doesn’t live up to the trailer. I’m a big fan of Brit Marling and thought that her writing and acting in Another Earth were superb. Here she crafts a script which is full of intrigue and expectation but fails to get to the heart of the issues that she is focussing her attention on.

I won’t go into much detail about the plot as some of the characters differ significantly from what I was expecting. All I will say is that there is a group calling themselves The East. They’re environmental terrorists (or freedom fighters depending on your perspective) who use tactics which can be best described as being ‘morally grey’ to right the wrongs done by large corporations. Brit Marling plays a member of The East but begins to question the morals of both sides as she uncovers more about The East, the corporations and herself.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

McCullin



McCullin is a little seen documentary about the life of famed photojournalist Donald McCullin. Nominated for two BAFTA awards, the film charts the career of its subject from his humble beginnings in poverty ridden Finsbury Park, London in the late 1950s, through his many and varied warzone assignments and towards his later, peaceful retirement. The documentary is narrated by and features extended interviews with the man himself and gives great insight into the reasons behind his adventures as well as descriptions of often horrific events and how he composed some of his most famous photographs.

For several years Don McCullin has been my favourite photographer having stumbled upon an exhibition of his war photography at the National Media Museum in Bradford. I’ve since been to another of his exhibitions in Manchester and one of his many photographic books became my most expensive book purchase ever at the second exhibition. I’d been looking forward to seeing the film since its original release and was thrilled to find it on television late last night as part of The BBC’s Insight series.