Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Paris, Texas

"You just... disappeared. And now I'm working here. I hear your voice all the time. Every man has your voice"

Four years after going missing Travis Henderson (Harry Dean Stanton) walks out of the vast South Texas desert. After collapsing in a saloon a doctor treats him and discovers his brother’s business card in his wallet. Travis’ brother Walt (Dean Stockwell) flies to Texas to meet his brother and has many questions for him. Travis appears to be mute however and doesn’t eat, sleep or talk for days. When he finally opens his mouth it is revealed that he remembers little about the last four years. Dean takes Travis back to his L.A. home where he and his wife Anne (Aurore Clement) have been looking after Travis’ seven year old son Hunter (Hunter Carson) since Travis’ wife Jane (Nastassja Kinski) left him with them and disappeared herself. Travis has to try and re-assimilate himself back into every day life and reconnect with his young son before setting out to try and find his estranged wife.

In many ways this film reminded me of director Wim Wenders 1976 film Kings of the Road. Both films take place mostly on the road in quiet, almost desolate places with two characters who barely know each other. This film is more about the family unit and loss but is equally as good. The film won the Palme d’Or at Cannes as well as numerous other prizes and it’s fantastic.


Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Alien Resurrection

"What's inside me? What's inside me?!!"

Two hundred years after the events of Alien 3 military scientists create a clone of Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) complete with alien embryo growing inside her. After separating the two, the Ripley clone is kept alive for further study. One of the side effects of the cloning is that Ripley’s DNA has been crossed with that of her alien baby and she now possesses super human strength and acidic blood as well as a kind of telepathic link with the aliens. Meanwhile a group of mercenaries arrive aboard the ship carrying a cargo of kidnapped humans which the scientists implant with alien embryos. Unsurprisingly these aliens escape and run amok on the ship causing its remaining crew to run for their lives.

I was massively disappointed with Alien 3 (although FilmsRruss tells me that the Director’s Cut is much better than the theatrical version I saw) and Alien Resurrection seemed to be going in the same direction. I found the first half really boring and actually fell asleep after about 40 minutes. After I resumed viewing however, I really enjoyed the second half.


Monday, 28 May 2012

Men in Black 3

"Just 'cos you see a black man in a nice car, don't mean it's stolen. I mean this one is..."

Ten years after the disappointing Men in Black 2 and fifteen (really!) years since Men in Black, Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones are donning the black suits and Ray-bans once again. Agent J (Smith) and Agent K (Jones) learn that the alien murdering Boris the Animal (Jermaine Clement) has escaped his maximum security LunarMax prison cell on the Moon, 43 years after K arrested him in Florida. Boris gets hold of a time machine and goes back to 1969 where he murders K. J has trouble understanding what has happened and goes back to 1969 himself where he meets a younger K (Josh Brolin) and the two of them attempt to apprehend Boris before he kills K and sends an army to attack and destroy the Earth.

I’m a big fan of the first Men in Black film and will watch pretty much anything Will Smith is in so I was excited at the prospect of a third instalment of the franchise. Unfortunately I left disappointed. Quality wise this is much closer to Men in Black 2 than Men in Black. My two main problems were that it wasn’t funny enough and that it was really boring. Will Smith is a naturally funny man and has bags of charisma but here his jokes fall flat and he doesn’t seem cool enough. Jermaine Clement, who I travelled over 400 miles round trip to see perform as part of Flight of the Concords was also a little bit disappointing although his accent was very good he was neither funny or scary enough. I only laughed twice and these were both at jokes regarding the differing racial attitudes of the 60s and now. As for the story, yes there are alien bad guys and the threat of the Earth’s destruction and the time travelling stuff was good but I wasn’t gripped.


GB Posters Blog - This is Spinal Tap


GB Posters are having a rock week and asked me to write a rock related blog post. There was only one film that I could write about and that is the masterpiece rockumentary This is Spinal Tap.

Click on the link below to read my Spinal Tap piece and check out GB Posters.
http://www.gbposters.com/blog/blog-spinal-tap

The Champion

Chaplin’s third Essanay picture and he finally appears to have found his feet with the new studio. Chaplin’s tramp, destitute and famished spots a sign offering money to act as a sparring partner. He watches as three men go in before him and return battered and bruised. Chaplin however has a trick up his sleeve or rather in his glove; a lucky horseshoe, which he uses to knock out his larger, more adept opponent. Spotting his potential a trainer prepares the slight Chaplin for a big fight against the champion Bob Uppercut (Bud Jamison) but Chaplin has other things on his mind, namely the trainer’s daughter Edna Purviance.

I was so glad that this film was good. I was really disappointed with Chaplin’s first two Essanay films His New Job and A Night Out. This is a real return to form. The idea was actually taken from a Fred Karno sketch that Chaplin performed before entering the movie industry. Perhaps one of the reasons for the film’s success is that Chaplin knew what he was doing before he went in rather than partially making it up as he went along.



Saturday, 26 May 2012

Moonrise Kingdom

"What kind of bird are you?"

It’s 1965 and pre teen pen pals, Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Heyward) agree to run away from home and meet up a year after meeting for the first time. While the two of them head off into the wilderness of Suzy’s twelve mile long home island a search party that includes Island Policeman Bruce Willis, Scout leader Edward Norton, Suzy’s parents Bill Murray and Frances McDormand and Sam’s fellow Scouts set about trying to hunt the eloping children down in the days preceding a huge storm.

I should say from the outset that I am a huge Wes Anderson fan and have absolutely loved all of his films with the exception of Fantastic Mr Fox so I went in expecting great things. My expectations were matched and even perhaps exceeded. I loved this film. Anderson sets up Suzy’s home life in a fantastic opening sequence which features some exquisite tracking shots through the family home. Before anything is said it is already obvious to the audience that Suzy is a loner who longs for something bigger, something more. Her parents do not get on and are never even seen in the same room, let alone talking to each other. She has three younger brothers who appear to get along very well. Her house is large and well furnished, indicating wealth if not happiness. All of this is established in one long sequence of beautiful camera movements which last no longer than a couple of minutes. Sam’s life with his Scout troupe is shown in a similar manner although it soon becomes apparent that he has already escaped in search of his love, Suzy.




The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo

"Why would they remake something when they can just go see the original?" - Niels Arden Oplev

Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is a journalist who works for Millennium Magazine in Sweden. He has recently lost a libel case bought against him by a crooked businessman. Retired businessman Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) asks computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) to do some background research on Blomkvist before asking the journalist to help him uncover the mystery surrounding his niece’s disappearance in the 1960s. Blomkvist accepts the challenge and begins work on a small island inhabited by many of the Vanger family. Salander, after going through unbelievable hardships is eventually tracked down by Blomkvist and agrees to help him with the case. The two of them attempt to get to the bottom of the mystery but end up uncovering much more.

This is a good film but I have many problems with it. The first and most major problem is that there is no reason for its existence. The novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was made into an excellent feature film (review here) in 2009 and this version brings nothing new to the table except that it is in English for all the stupid/lazy tw*ts who can’t be arsed reading subtitles. I do not see the point in making this film other than to fill the pockets of Hollywood and to further dumb down English speaking audiences. It isn’t even as though the Swedish version is difficult to come by. I spotted it in my local HMV for less that £5 just a few days ago. It. Is. Pointless.


Thursday, 24 May 2012

A Night Out

Charlie Chaplin’s second film for Essanay saw him move production to their Californian studios for the first time. Chaplin and Ben Turpin are on a night out and end up getting very drunk. They go to a nice restaurant where they cause trouble for a smartly dressed gentleman. The head waiter arrives and throws the pair out but not before Chaplin has caught sight of the waiter’s girlfriend Edna Purviance. Back at their hotel Chaplin and Turpin bump into Purviance once more and again cause trouble for themselves and get thrown out of their hotel. Onto another hotel and Chaplin alone this time meets Purviance again, but will the waiter get in the way of his affections?

This film is a bit of a mess, though it isn’t easy to say to what extent this is Chaplin’s fault and how much time is to blame. The version I saw seems to have been made up of three or four different copies and as a result it changes from black and white to sepia and back quite often. The editing is also pretty poor, often cutting away in the middle of a gag. The story also makes little sense and Turpin just disappeared altogether half way through the film. Most of the gags are simple door in face or fist in face sort of things which is a shame.




Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Alien 3

"Don't be afraid. I'm part of the family"

Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is back in stasis aboard the Sulaco when a fire causes the escape pod to separate from the ship and she crash lands on Fiorina ‘Fury’ 161, a penal colony inhabited only by men. Ripley’s fellow Aliens survivors all die in the crash, leaving her alone and stranded in the prison. Unfortunately for Ripley and the prisoners, an alien face hugger was on board the pod and has also survived the crash.

While I’ve been watching the Alien franchise for the first time over the last few weeks I’ve been told by numerous people that Alien 3 was by far the weakest of the series. So far, I’d have to agree. The film entered production without a completed script and the messiness of the film is some testament to that. It feels as though the film doesn’t know what it wants to be. It is less scary than even Aliens but has a bit more of a dramatic quality than Alien. The film also appears to introduce a comic element to the series but this fails miserably. The story feels incoherent and the characters are barely written. In both previous instalments the large cast always felt well written and as though they were rounded characters. In Alien 3 the majority of them appear to be just cannon fodder. The only new character that I cared a little about was killed off within the first half.  


Tuesday, 22 May 2012

His New Job

Chaplin’s first Essanay Picture was released in February 1915. Chaplin is at a film studio looking for a job. After several bits of humorous business he is hired as an extra but after being a nuisance on set is instead demoted to Carpenter’s Assistant. Through a mixture of wit and luck, Chaplin regains his position in front of the camera and ends up accidentally wearing the lead actor’s costume. All hell breaks loose when he arrives on set to find Chaplin in his clothes and Chaplin again uses a mixture of wit, luck and this time also violence to continue in his job and get revenge on several characters who had wronged him.

The film marks not only Chaplin’s first film with Essanay but also his first with fellow comic actor Ben Turpin. The two share a couple of great scenes together, the first of which involves a fight to get through a door and is excellent. It’s such a shame that the two actors couldn’t find a way to work together because on screen at least, they made a great partnership. Unfortunately a mixture of Turpin’s impatience with Chaplin’s methodical methods and Chaplin’s jealousy of Turpin’s ability to get laughs, their partnership went no further. 



Charlie Chaplin - The Essanay Films


Just a year after his screen debut and after he had earned his chops with Keystone, Charlie Chaplin had become one of the biggest stars in the new medium of film. After appearing in 36 films for Keystone, Chaplin moved on to the Essanay Film Company having received an offer of $1,250 a week and a promise that he could write and direct all of his own films.

Essanay had been formed in Chicago in 1907 by George K Spoor and Gilbert M Anderson who took their surname initials of S and A to form the name Essanay. Anderson was himself an actor and director and became famous under the pseudonym Broncho Billy. He also had a role in the first ever Western, the now highly regarded The Great Train Robbery. In search of better shooting locations for his Westerns, Anderson travelled with a small crew to California where he eventually set up a studio in Niles, CA. Chaplin shot his first Essanay picture at the Chicago studio but being unimpressed with the conditions subsequently produced the rest of his films at the Niles studio.


In total Chaplin made 14 films for Essanay between February 1915 and May 1916. Although today these films are not generally considered to be amongst his best, they were produced at a time when Chaplin went from being a star to the world’s first movie super star and show the development of his craft. They also introduced Chaplin to Edna Purviance who over a span of eight years appeared in more than thirty of his films. Chaplin’s Essanay films were more coherent and less frenetic than his Keystone pictures and featured greater character development. Not everything was well inside Essanay though. Chaplin had a fraught relationship with fellow Essanay star Ben Turpin and despite working well together on screen; Turpin appeared in only a couple of Chaplin’s films. When Chaplin left the company in 1916 it caused a rift between the two founders and the company eventually collapsed in 1920.

I will be watching each of Chaplin’s Essanay films in order and writing a brief summary and critique which I’ll link to below. Also, The Charlie Chaplin Film Club have also very kindly compiled my reviews here.

1. His New Job  3/5
2. A Night Out 2/5
3. The Champion 4/5
4. In the Park 3/5
5. A Jitney Elopement 4/5
6. The Tramp 4/5
7. By the Sea 2/5
8. Work 2/5
9. A Woman 2/5
10. The Bank 5/5
11. Shanghaied 2/5
12. His Regeneration 2/5
13. A Night in the Show 4/5
14. Burlesque on Carmen 4/5
15. Police 3/5
16. Triple Trouble 1/5

Friday, 18 May 2012

The Expendables

"First of all, I don't feel comfortable talking business with a giant carrying a shotgun"

The Expendables are a group of mercenaries led by Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) who are sent by CIA Operative ‘Church’ (Bruce Willis) to overthrow a Latin American Dictator, General Garza (David Zayas) who is in reality a puppet of ex-CIA man James Munroe (Eric Roberts). Joining Ross on the mission is ex SAS man Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Martial Art expert Yin Yang (Jet Li), sniper Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), weapons specialist Caesar (Terry Crews) and demolitions expert Toll Road (Randy Couture). The team may be a little long in the tooth but they still pack a punch and the fate of a country is in their hands.

I’ve been watching a lot of 80s films recently so it’s quite apt that I’ve watched this which although made in 2010, is well and truly grounded in the 1980s. Most of its stars made their names in the action movies of the period and they are joined by the action heroes of today. It’s an impressive action movie cast, a bit like a corny version of The Avengers only with fewer superpowers and more muscle.


The Raid

"Pulling a trigger is like ordering a takeout"

The Raid/ The Raid: Redemption/ Serbuan maut - Deep inside one of Jakarta’s slums lays an apartment block that is the base of one of Indonesia’s most wanted gangsters, Tama Riyadi (Donny Alamsyah). After being a no go area for the Police for years, they plan a raid to take the gangsters out. Early one morning a 20 man SWAT team descend on the building with the aim of clearing it out once and for all. Amongst the team is rookie cop Rama (Iko Uwais) who has left his heavily pregnant wife at home that morning, possibly for the last time. The SWAT team slowly make their way through the building, taking prisoners as they go before they get to the 6th floor where they are discovered. Soon an army of drug dealers, criminals and gangsters is on top of the small team of Police and what began as a mission to clear the building turns into a battle for survival and escape.

Id’ been looking forward to this film for months, having heard great things from the countries in which it has already been released. I’d heard rumours that it was the best Action film in a long time and having now seen it I have to agree that it probably is. The action is frenetic and features five or six scenes which are equal to the Oldboy corridor scene. That is enough on its own to make a great film but there is also a fairly engaging story of deceit, courage and duty. The story takes a back seat for a lot of the film but there are some nice twists in there. What this film is really about is hitting people, repeatedly and in ever differing ways. Director Gareth Evans cleverly balances the action with several short rest bites in which the audience can regain their breath before throwing another superb fight scene at them.


Aliens

"Get away from her, you bitch!"

After surviving the onslaught of Alien, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) has spent 57 years in stasis, floating aimlessly through space. By chance she is picked up by a salvaging vessel and woken up from her deep sleep. Upon telling her story to the Weyland-Yutani Corporation she is met with scepticism and is reduced to working in a loading dock. Later she is visited by Burke (Paul Reiser) who informs her that Weyland Co has lost contact with colonists on LV-426 and he requests that she returns to the planet with a group of Colonial Marines to discover the fate of the colonists. Ripley reluctantly agrees and joins the expedition only to discover that the aliens have struck again, only this time on a much greater scale.

Unlike Alien which was a sci-fi/horror, Aliens is more of an action-adventure in the mould of director James Cameron’s recent super hit Terminator and reminded me a little of Predator. In the end the slight genre change had little effect on the final product as the film is in my view very close to as good as the original. The sets look incredible and realistic. I’m a big fan of a well designed and dressed set and those in Aliens are superb. The sets of 80s science fiction movies always look more impressive to me than those of today because you get the feeling that the actors are really there, interacting with their environment as supposed to being stood in front of a green screen and stepping over green boxes. The ships, vehicles, planet and colonist’s HQ all look great. The design of the guns is also very good. They remain grounded in reality but with a slight futuristic edge to them. The effects are a mixed bag with some looking as good as anything today but others looking noticeably aged.


Thursday, 17 May 2012

The Ides of March

"All the reporters love you. Even the reporters that hate you still love you"

The Ides of March is a political thriller set during the Democratic Primary in Ohio in which Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney) is running for the Party’s nomination for President. His team includes Campaign Manager Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and young up and comer Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling). Myers is convinced that Morris is the man to lead the country but receives a tempting job offer from rival Campaign Manager Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti) which opens up a torrent of problems for all involved.

The film is full of twists, turns and surprises and kept me glued throughout its fairly short 101 minutes. Clooney’s Morris felt like a Candidate too good to be true to me, being pro choice, atheist, pro alternative energy and with plans for free college education. He was a candidate with the sort of policies that appealed to me. To be honest, knowing what I do of American Politics, his platform felt a little unrealistic but I’d vote for him. As well as a candidate I was on board with, the film kept my interest up as I never knew which direction it would turn next. It felt like a good episode of The West Wing crossed with a crime mystery.


The Dictator

Admiral General Aladeen (Sasha Baron Cohen) is the dictator of the fictitious North African Republic of Wadiya. After his attempts to build nuclear weapons are announced he is summoned to the UN to explain his and his country’s plans. While in New York he is betrayed and an attempt is made on his life. After escaping he discovers that he has been replaced with a double and finds himself working in a vegan, shared earth coop where he becomes friends with Zoey (Anna Farris). Aladeen uses the coop to try to regain his identity and his grip on power in Wadiya.

For his 4th feature, Baron Cohen has moved away from the mocumentary style for which he has become synonymous and The Dictator is mostly played as a straight forward comedy feature. The character of Aladeen is based on a hodgepodge of various real life dictators and draws from the West’s perceptions of them and their countries. The result is that Aladeen is a racist, sexist, cartoon who while being occasionally funny, generally fails to impress. The humour of the film on the whole failed to resonate with me and the majority of the audience I saw it with, indeed a man on the row in front of me walked out about an hour in having not laughed once.


Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Jeff, Who Lives at Home

Jeff (Jason Segel) is a thirty year old man with a puncheon for the film Signs and lives in his mother Sharon’s (Susan Sarandon) basement. His older brother Pat (Ed Helms) still lives close by with his wife Linda (Judy Greer). He and Linda are in the midst of serious marital problems. One day while she is at work, Sharon asks Jeff to go to the shop to pick up some wood glue. Convinced that the name Kevin is some sort of sign he ill advisedly follows various Kevins’ around the city bumping into his brother along the way.

To me the film was like a cross between a Wes Anderson film and The Office. It has the odd, quirky indie charm of an Anderson picture but the awkward humour and filming style of The Office. Unfortunately it was neither as good as any Wes Anderson film I’ve seen nor The Office. At times it was quite funny but these moments were usually fleeting and there weren’t many of them. The story was reasonably interesting and the film had a sweet ending but it just didn’t mesh together. The whole ‘the Universe will show me the way’ nonsense was really annoying and although the ending was very sweet, it was obvious and annoyed me.


Monday, 14 May 2012

Silent House

Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen) is helping her father (Adam Trese) and uncle (Eric Sheffer Stevens) to renovate the family’s old lakeside house before selling it. It’s a place they have rarely visited in years. Local kids have smashed all the windows and blown the electrics meaning that the boarded up windows let in no light. The only light available is that which comes from a torch or handheld lamp. While in the semi darkness and after her uncle has left for the day, Sarah hears a noise which her father goes to check out. He never returns. Sarah is left alone in the house with someone or something out to get her and her family and no way out.
 
The whole film was shot in such a way as that it looks like one continuous shot. I noticed the odd cut here and there but overall the idea is very successful. It genuinely feels as though Elizabeth Olsen is in the house for 85 minutes, running, hiding from and fighting whatever is after her. Using just one camera, Olsen is on screen for about 84 of the 85 minutes and has to carry the entire film. She does so with great aplomb. The one shot idea isn’t original and indeed the film itself is a remake of a 2010 Uruguayan film but it’s a nice gimmick that is well used.



Norwegian Wood

"What if I can't get wet ever again?"

Set in 1960s Japan, Norwegian Wood (Noruwei no mori) is a film about depression, loss and sexuality. After his best friend Kizuki commits suicide aged 17, Watanabe (Ken-ichi Matsuyama) moves to Tokyo and enrols at University in an attempt to escape the depressing nature of his home town. By chance one day he meets his dead friend’s ex-girlfriend Naoko (Rinko Kikuchi) and the two begin a loving but strained relationship. Naoko has never truly got over the death of Kizuki and one day disappears, eventually turning up in a sanatorium deep in the forest. Watanabe tries to maintain both a friendly and sexual relationship with the depressed Naoko but this is made difficult by her mental state and the introduction of the outgoing and self confident Midori (Kiko Mizuhara) who vies for Watanabe’s affections.


GB Posters Blog - Predator

I've been asked to write occasional blogs for 'The UK's number one poster site', GB Posters on a freelance basis and below is the link to my first one - Predator.

http://www.gbposters.com/blog/guest-blog-classic-film-review-predator

Piranha 3DD

A sequel to 2010’s surprise hit Piranha 3D stars an ensemble cast of large breasted girls and handsome men plus a few D List comedy actors and well known faces in a battle of fish vs man. The action is transported to a water park in Arizona where sleazy Chet (David Koechner – Anchorman) has made some changes to his late wife’s park. These include hiring strippers as lifeguards and the use of a dodgy water supply. His daughter in law Maddy (Danielle Panabaker) is home for the summer and shocked at the changes. With rumour of Piranha on the prowl she tries to close the park but finds that she is already too late.

I really enjoyed Piranha 3D. It took me completely by surprise and was funny, rude and ridiculous. Piranha 3DD has all the same ingredients but has added more rude and ridiculous and toned down the funny. The result is pretty much the same film as the original but has lost what made it unique as it’s all been seen before. There is nothing new and the ‘story’ isn’t progressed but it has the odd moment which made me smile and plenty which made me cringe.


Sunday, 13 May 2012

Dark Shadows

"Tell me, future dweller, what is the year?"

Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) is the son of a wealthy English family who move to Maine, USA in the late 18th Century. After spurning the affections of servant/secret with, Angelique (Eva Green) he falls in love with local girl Josette (Bella Heathcote). Angelique, unable to bear seeing someone else with Barnabas, kills his parents and Josette and turns Barnabas into a vampire. 200 years later it’s 1972 and Barnabas is unearthed from a coffin which the townsfolk placed him in and attempts to reconnect with his living family and rebuild the great Collins name.    

Tim Burton appears to be on a bad run at the moment. His last two films 9 and Alice in Wonderland were critical failures though Alice proved to be extremely popular at the box office. It is my feeling that Burton is currently favouring style over substance and that is evident in his latest offering. Tim Burton has no trouble creating beautifully odd looking sets, characters and films but it is one thing to make a film that ‘looks Tim Burton’ and another to make a film that is any good. The film has all the gothic grace of Tim Burton’s finest and he manages to meld this with a 70s look which works quite well. Details of both periods look great and work well together. The set dressing, clothes and music are all spot on. Where the film falls down is in the plot.


Friday, 11 May 2012

The American Friend

"He'll never bring The Beatles back to Hamburg"

Loosely based on the novel Ripley’s Game and made by German Director Wim Wenders under the title Der amerikanische Freund the film stars Bruno Ganz (Downfall, Unknown) as Jonathan, a picture framer with a terminal blood disease. Jonathan meets a wealthy American Tom Ripley (Dennis Hopper) who deals in art forgery. Jonathan, knowing what Tom does wants nothing to do with the American and initially refuses to shake his hand. Later, Tom is approached by a French criminal named Raoul (Gerard Blain) who asks Tom if he is willing to commit a murder against a rival gangster. Tom refuses but suggests Jonathan as he has no connections and may be willing to do the job for money so that he has something to leave his wife (Lisa Kreuzer - Kings of the Road) and young son after his imminent death. Jonathan reluctantly agrees after being manipulated by the criminals but his actions set him and Tom on a path towards destruction.



Thursday, 10 May 2012

12 Angry Men

"Prejudice always obscures the truth"

1957 – New York. A Jury of twelve men have finished hearing the trial of a young immigrant man accused of murdering his father by stabbing him to death. After a brief vote in a sweltering deliberation room the vote is 11/1 in favour of a guilty verdict. The jury have been informed by the Judge that they must reach a unanimous decision. Voices are raised and tempers fray as the twelve men debate the case that could send a man to the Electric Chair.

This film has one of the most compelling stories I have ever seen. I couldn’t take my eyes off it for a minute. I was afraid of blinking or turning my head to check the time in case I missed a vital detail. This really is masterful story telling. In the beginning it is just Henry Fonda’s ‘Juror number 8’ character who votes not guilty but as the film progresses he and others question statements and evidence until more and more of the jurors have doubts. It is fairly obvious from early on what the outcome is going to be but that doesn’t matter. How they reach the decision is fascinating.


The Fly

"Your stocking has just been, teleported"

Eccentric scientist Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) meets journalist Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis) at a party. Attempting to impress her he shows off his latest invention, a teleportation device. Suitably impressed she shares the idea with her editor and ex-lover Stathis Borans (John Getz) who thinks the whole thing is a windup. After convincing Veronica not to run a story as the device is not yet complete the two enter into a relationship. One night after discovering that Veronica and Stathis are ex-lovers, Brundle gets drunk and decides to step into the machine. What he doesn’t realise is that a fly is also in the teleporter and when he and the fly are teleported they are merged at a molecular-genetic level. Over the coming months Brundle transforms into a human-fly hybrid which he names ‘Brundlefly’.

The film opens with the orchestral boom of a 1950’s B-Movie in perhaps a nod to the original film upon which it is loosely based. The film retains very little of the original and is much more a metaphor for disease and the process of aging than the original. In my opinion the film owes as much a debt to Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis as it does to the 1958 version. The film is also thematically very similar to Italian Giallo Horror, especially in its depictions of madness and alienation.


Mean Streets

"Yeah"
"Ey?'"
"Eyy"

Generally regarded as Martin Scorsese’s first great film and the third in my Scorsese in Sequence feature, Mean Streets is perhaps Scorsese’s most personal film to date. Centred in Manhattan’s Little Italy neighbourhood that Scorsese grew up, in the film charts the day to day lives of a group of young Italian American men. Charlie (Harvey Keitel) is a semi connected guy who works for his uncle, a local mafia boss but dreams of running a restaurant. He feels responsible for his no good friend Johnny Boy (Robert DeNiro) who owes everyone in the neighbourhood money and has no intention of paying it back. Michael (Richard Romanus) is a loan shark who Johnny Boy owes a huge debt to. Johnny Boy tries to avoid the people he owes but this becomes difficult as both he and Michael frequent Tony’s (David Proval) bar.



Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Kings of the Road

“The Yanks have colonized our subconscious"

Bruno (Rudiger Vogler) is a Cinema projector repair man who travels from town to town along the West and East German border repairing old cinema projectors. One day while shaving by the side of a road, a man drives his car at high speed into a lake, gets out and walks over to Bruno. Bruno, not knowing what else to do laughs at the man and offers him some clean clothes. The man, Robert (Hanns Zischler) hitchhikes with Bruno from town to town beginning a strange and often uneasy friendship.

The film has several themes which jump out at you and are present throughout. The first is a love of cinema and anger at what has become of the small German cinema. Most of the cinemas that Bruno visits are either badly run, have been turned into porn theatres or are closed altogether. This is director Wim Wenders way of showing viewers what is happening to small cinemas. It is a problem which over thirty years later is still present in my own country. Occasionally Bruno will come across a small, old theatre run by an ex Nazi that is run with care and dedication. A place where old, noisy machines are used by artisan projectionists to show the great classics of the 50s and 60s but generally he deals with people who have no interest in film or it’s proper projection. This film is very much a love letter to film.




Sunday, 6 May 2012

Kingdom of Heaven

"I once fought two days with an arrow through my testicle"

Ridley Scott directs an all star cast in a story about the Crusades and in particular the 12th Century battles in which Muslims attempted to recapture the city of Jerusalem from the Christians. Balian (Orlando Bloom) is a blacksmith in rural France. A Knight (Liam Neeson) visits him and informs him that he is his father. After Balian kills a Priest who mocks his dead wife, Balian is given the chance to join the Crusades in the Middle East. While there he learns the ins and out of the Politics and Religion of the region and ends up in a prominent position in the defence of the Holy city of Jerusalem against a Muslim invasion.

This was the second Ridley Scott film I watched today having watched Alien for the first time this morning. Kingdom of Heaven is not anywhere near as good as that. The first thing I’ll say is that the sets looked sumptuous and were well dressed. The costume also looked good and the special effects were on the whole excellent, despite the odd dodgy shot. The acting was also generally quite good. Charisma vacuum Orlando Bloom was actually alright but still far from the screen presence that a role like this requires. He is joined by a fantastic cast which includes Eva Green, Jeremy Irons, David Thewlis, Brendan Gleeson, Michael Sheen, Ghassan Massoud and an almost unrecognisable Edward Norton. Had I not looked at the cast beforehand I honestly wouldn’t have known he was in the film. Marton Csokas was a bit of a let down on the acting front.


Alien

"I got you, you son of a bitch!"

With Prometheus just a couple of weeks away I thought it was about time I filled one of the most unforgivable gaps in my film history and finally watch Alien. The crew of the Nostromo are in stasis on a return trip to Earth, carrying a cargo of mineral ore. They are awakened early by the ship’s computer as it has intercepted a transmission for a nearby planetoid. Upon investigation, crew member Kane (John Hurt) discovers what appear to be eggs inside an unidentified ship. A life form hatches out of one of the eggs and attaches itself to his face. Returning to the Nostromo the crew try to detach the creature from Kane’s face but with no success. A short time later the creature removes itself from Kane and the crew find it dead. While preparing to go back into stasis for the return to Earth something extraordinary happens that unleashes an even greater threat to the ship and the crew.

My first thoughts were that the Nostromo reminded me of so much I’ve seen already. It is obvious how much influence the film has had on subsequent science fiction. The living quarters reminded me of the film Moon and in just about every other scene I said to myself “That’s just like Red Dwarf”. Everything about the film’s design was excellent. The ship felt large and real and the creature design was incredible. Considering the film is now over thirty years old, the latex or prosthetics that were used looked really good. Even now. Obviously some aspects of the film have aged noticeably. The computers for instance look as old as they are. This isn’t a major problem though as anything older than about five years or without a touch screen looks aged.


Saturday, 5 May 2012

Beastly

Never before has a film had such an apt title. Kyle (Alex Pettyfer) is a rich, popular, good looking, arrogant cock hole who is running for some sort of Environmental Office thing at school. After constantly insulting fellow classmate and secret witch Kendra (Mary-Kate Olsen) she puts a spell on him which makes him ugly. He has one year to make someone fall in love with him or he will stay ugly for life. Forced to live alone in a huge house which his father buys for him, he has only a maid (Lisa Gay Hamilton) and private tutor (Neil Patrick Harris) for company until he falls for ex classmate Lindy (Vanessa Hudgens) and moves her into his house. Will she fall in love with him within the year, despite his disfigured face? Will he learn that there is more to life than looks?

Boxcar Bertha

Martin Scorsese’s second picture and the second in my Scorsese in Sequence feature is Boxcar Bertha. Bertha Thompson (Barbara Hershey) is a young woman whose father dies in an aircraft accident. With no money and no home she travels around the Depression hit South aboard railway boxcars. Along the way she meets ‘Big’ Bill Shelly (David Carradine), a Union Man and suspected Communist. The two of them begin a relationship and along with Yankee, Rake Brown (Barry Primus) and ‘negro’, Von Morton (Bernie Casey) take to robbing trains as a means of surviving.

This is unlike most other Scorsese films. It is the only one to feature a woman in the central role and one of only a handful set outside of the East Coast. As a result it feels amongst the least Scorsese-esque of his films. The direction is fairly straightforward. There are no trademark long tracking shots, very little popular music and cutting is slow and traditional. One area in which Scorsese does stick to type is with Bertha’s moral ambiguity. At the beginning she is a sweet young girl but towards the end she is a woman who will do anything it takes to survive and appears to enjoy the wilder side of life. The film also contains Scorsese’s trademark violence, especially in an unexpectedly brutal final scene.




American Pie 2

"This one time, at Band Camp..."

Coming two years after the successful American Pie, American Pie 2 finds friends Jim, Finch, Oz, Kevin and Stifler coming to the end of their first year of college. Little seems to have changed for the group as they’re still battling to get laid. Some have been successful with this but others have not. After returning home they find life strange. Kevin talks to his older brother who suggests that they rent a beach house by the lake for the summer and throw a huge party to attract women. Meanwhile, Jim finds out that ‘the one who got away’, Nadia is going to stop by at the end of summer and searches out band geek Michelle to teach him the art of seducing and satisfying a woman.

As I mentioned in my review of American Pie, I used to love these movies. In 2001 an even larger group of friends than for the first went to our local two screen cinema to enjoy a second slice of pie. We were howling with laughter at the events we saw in front of us. Eleven years and about 6-7 viewings later and the film has definitely lost its edge. I hadn’t realised how few laughs there were in the film. It isn’t even as funny as the recent Amercian Reunion.


Friday, 4 May 2012

The Lincoln Lawyer

Successful LA defence attorney Mickey Haller (Matthew ‘Mahogany’ McConaughey)  lands a career case, the defence of a young millionaire playboy Louis Roulet (Ryan Philippe) who has been accused of attacking and beating high class prostitute Regina Campo (Margarita Levieva). Roulet claims his innocence and argues that he’s being set up. The film follows the case as twist follows twist, right up to the very end.

I’ve never been that into courtroom dramas (unless Fangshaw Standon is presiding/providing) but this one kept me interested for most of the time although to be honest I was never invested enough in the characters to really care which way the film came down on. I mainly kept with it just so I could find out at the end. After the initial twist, it is fairly obvious how things are going to go and it’s just a matter of how and when. Various side stories intertwine to create a deeper more complex story and this generally works well but Haller’s ex wife and child were only really there for one reason late on and felt a bit ignored. Calling the film The Lincoln Lawyer seemed like a bit of a stretch. Unless I’m missing something it is because Haller owns a Lincoln and drives from one place to another in it. I think he works in it once but it seems a bit flimsy to name an entire film after the car that the protagonist drives. The car didn’t play that big a role in the film.



Thursday, 3 May 2012

American Reunion

"Check it out, Vagina Shark!"

Thirteen years after graduating high school, friends Jim (Jason Biggs), Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas), Oz (Chris Klein), Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) and Stifler (Seann William Scott) all end up back in their home town of East Great Falls for their High School Reunion. The plot centres around Jim and Michelle’s (Alyson Hannigan) stuttering marriage and on Stifler’s inability to grow up. Apart from that there are numerous side stories regarding every main character including Jim’s Dad’s (Eugene Levy) loneliness after the death of his wife and various old feelings returning.



The whole cast of the original movie have returned and there are even cameos from the likes of The Sherminator and the Milf Guys. Most of the cameos are welcome and either bring closure to their story or a bit of humour but Shannon Elizabeth’s Nadia made a brief and unremarkable appearance. I especially enjoyed the Milf Guys small subplot and their closing dialogue.  The film has found a way to bring together all the pieces from the original trilogy and ties them off well. There are still some big surprises (“Milf! Milf!), some upsets and even a couple of new characters but the film is at its best when the guys are together being themselves and in particular one scene featuring Stifler and Jim’s Dad. It was also nice to see Stifler’s Mom (Jennifer Coolidge) and Jim’s Dad get some screen time together as they have been so successful in the past in many of Christopher Guest’s movies.



The Day the Earth Stood Still

"They're here! They're here! They've landed!"

It’s 1951 and an extraterrestrial flying saucer is tracked around the Earth before it lands in Washington. A spaceman, Klaatu (Michael Rennie) and a robot step out and are immediately shot by the US Army. After recovering very quickly, the spaceman asks a Presidential aid for permission to speak to all world leaders as he brings a vitally important message. His request is denied due to the political climate and he escapes and tries to study Earth’s inhabitants while staying at a Washington Guest House, becoming friendly with residents Helen (Patricia Neal) and her son Bobby (Billy Gray). The spaceman contacts a scientist (Sam Jaffe) and persuades him to gather the scientific community to listen to his warning. In order to get the attention of the world’s population, the Spaceman turns off all of the world’s electricity for thirty minutes.

This is very much a film of its time. Its overriding theme of Cold War tensions is now part of history and its religious themes have much less importance today. The fact that an alien has travelled millions of miles to warn humanity about its own as well as the Universe’s destruction must have been a major talking point back in 1951. The idea that the alien could also be viewed as Jesus takes the warning even further. The film delivers a stern but important message about what a threat we can be to ourselves. The fact that the film came just six years after the world’s most bloody war is no coincidence either.


Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Tucker & Dale vs Evil

A group of typical college students are on their way through the isolated West Virginian wilderness when they come across a couple of Red Necks. Afraid, they scarper and set up camp near a lake. The Red Necks, Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) have recently bought an old cabin and are in the area to do some fishing and maintenance. That night the kids go skinny dipping and one of them (Katrina Bowden) falls in banging her head. Dale and Tucker come to her rescue and pull her aboard their boat. The other kids see this and believe she is being kidnapped and formulate a plan to get her back and enact their revenge.

The film is a nice twist and reverse of the classic kids in the woods surrounded by hillbillies film but is unfortunately usurped in its originality by The Cabin in the Woods. The idea itself is clever and interesting, it’s nice to have a look at the oftold story from the hillbilly perspective but after forty minutes I’d had enough. I laughed a couple of times in the opening minutes but overall found the film unfunny and boring. After the opening twist there is little else of interest and the plot becomes predictable and dull.




Iron Man

"Give me a scotch. I'm starving"

The first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe stars Robert Downey Jr as billionaire playboy/weapons developer Tony Stark. Stark is presenting his latest weapon to the Military in Afghanistan when his convey comes under attack. Stark is critically wounded in the attack and while imprisoned by terrorists, fellow prisoner Yinsen (Shaun Toub) fits an electromagnet into his chest in order to keep shrapnel out of his heart. Ordered to build a sophisticated missile by their captors, instead the prisoners go about building an Iron suit which Stark uses to escape. Excited by the new technology Stark begins to develop the suit further but other parties are also interested in the idea.

Tony Stark is a character that Robert Downey Jr was born to play. After several years on the edges of Hollywood the role put him back front and centre and rejuvenated his flailing career. Stark and Downey have very similar traits and it feels as though Downey is enjoying the role. Paul Bettany is well cast as the voice of JARVIS, Stark’s computer. He comes across as robotic but with just a hint of humanity and emotion. Gwyneth Paltrow is also well cast as Stark’s assistant Pepper Potts. She is sexy enough when she needs to be but you can understand to some extent why Stark hasn’t noticed her in that way. Their relationship is also very fun to watch and somewhat like a toddler and mother. It’s entertaining to watch her attempt to keep Stark in line and out of trouble.


Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Another Earth

Rhonda (Brit Marling), a bright and ambitious seventeen year old who has recently been accepted into MIT is driving home one night from a party when she hears an announcement on the radio stating that a planet has been discovered close to our own. The DJ tells his listeners to look up into the sky in search of the pale blue dot. Rhonda is mesmerized by the sight and takes her eyes off the road causing a collision which kills a woman and her son and leaves the father, John (William Mapother) in a coma. Four years later Rhonda is released from prison and gets a cleaning job at a high school. She wants to contact the man whose family she killed and apologise but loses her nerve and instead says she can clean his house. The film charts their relationship as Another Earth draws slowly closer to their own.

The film cost just $200,000 and while being remarkably well made and cast for that amount does look a little rough and cheap. This is not to the film’s detriment though as I don’t think that a shiny or glossy looking film would have worked quite so well. The science behind the story is fairly credible and as someone who is fascinated by astronomy, it had me going along with it. Although problems such as tides and light were ignored by the film makers, I didn’t let them distract me. There will be obvious comparisons to Lars von Trier’s Melancholia but they are mostly misplaced. The film lacks the sense of impending doom and instead views the second Earth as a chance for redemption and opportunity.