Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Zero Dark Thirty



The follow up to Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar winning The Hurt Locker is Zero Dark Thirty, a film set around the ten year hunt for Osama Bin Laden. Opening with an incredibly visceral, sound only montage of 9/11 telephone recordings in which people are heard calling home and on the phone to the emergency services the film then follows the next ten years in the hunt for 9/11’s orchestrator, Osama Bin Laden. Young CIA Operative Maya (Jessica Chastain) lands in Pakistan to begin work at the US Embassy and various black sites in the area. She witnesses torture first hand and soon picks up a lead which she believes will bring the US to Bin Laden.

The final forty minutes of the movie creates an incredibly realistic reconstruction of the final assault on Bin Laden’s compound and is perhaps the most compelling and seemingly accurate depiction of a black ops mission I’ve ever seen. Tense doesn’t even come close and despite knowledge of how things would pan out I was still glued to the screen with awe but felt repulsed by its realism. The realism actually made me feel uncomfortable and although I think that Zero Dark Thirty is a good film, I didn’t like it.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

The Girl Who Played with Fire



Following hot on the heals of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo the second film in the Millennium trilogy finds our heroine Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) back in Sweden following a year abroad. While she tries to keep a low profile and lives of the wealth accumulated in the first film, journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) is helping a young employee with an exposé of Swedish human trafficking and prostitution which threatens to expose high ranking officials. After three grisly murders the police have Lisbeth as the only suspect but separately she and Blomkvist attempt to prove her innocence.

I’ve never read any of Stieg Larsson’s novels but really enjoyed the first film in the series and to a lesser extent the pointlessAmerican remake. The shock and suspense of the first film feels far away from the sequel which is unremarkable by comparison. The plot is thicker and much more confusing and overall the tension from the first film is greatly diminished.

Pay Day



A Chaplin short made during a lull in production by the former prolific film maker, Pay Day is an above average and clever film that finds Charlie Chaplin as an expert bricklayer on pay day. Following building site shenanigans Chaplin discovers that his pay is short and that his overbearing wife wants more than her share. After managing to hide some from her he heads out for a night on the town.

Chaplin once described Pay Day as the favourite of his short films which is a bold statement as he made over seventy of them. This isn’t my favourite Chaplin short and it is far from his funniest but it’s a very clever film which features some intriguing camera and editing processes and a fine story plus just enough jokes to keep the audience laughing.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Aftershock



In the hours after the 1976 Tangshan earthquake, mother Yuan Ni (Fan Xu) is forced to make a horrific choice between saving either her son (Jiajun Zhang) or daughter (Zi-feng Zhang) from the rubble of their former home. With both children trapped under opposite ends of the same slab of concrete, the rescuers can only get one out alive. After making the hardest choice imaginable, Yuan and her badly injured son leave the city with the rescuers returning three years later to restart their lives. What neither of them know however is that the presumed dead daughter survived and was adopted by two of the soldiers who helped with the rescue effort.

I wasn’t aware of this film until a couple of weeks ago when I was talking about The Impossible at work and The Wizard mentioned to me that the plot sounded remarkably similar to a Chinese film he owned. He lent me the movie and while the two films do share certain thematic similarities, they are very different and excel in different areas. Whereas for me The Impossible’s strongest moments came in the moments of disaster, Aftershock isn’t so strong in those moments but the following hour and a half is very good.

White Heat



James Cagney returns to the genre that gave him his break in White Heat in which he plays a ruthless and brutal gangster and leader of the Cody Jarrett criminal gang. Having robbed a train and leaving a trail of bodies in his wake, Jarrett (Cagney) hands himself in to the law for a lesser charge in order to avoid the gas chamber. To catch him for the train robbery the cops send Hank Fallon (Edmond O’Brien) undercover into the prison to attempt to befriend the fiend and gain vital information and perhaps a confession. When Jarrett breaks out though he takes Fallon with him and the cops begin their chase.



A few years ago White Heat was voted the forth best gangster film of all time by the AFI behind The Godfather I and II and Goodfellas. It was for this reason and my recent discovery of James Cagney that I sought the film out and wasn’t disappointed. The film has certainly aged and isn’t as violent or gruesome as its modern counterparts but a fantastic story and fine acting make it one of the best gangster flicks ever in my opinion.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Lincoln



Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln takes a small chunk of Abraham Lincoln’s remarkable life and brings to the big screen a momentous moment in American history. Set in the early months of 1865 with the Civil War still raging after four years, US President Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis), fresh off the back of a second election win is trying to pass the 13th Amendment to the Constitution which will abolish slavery for good from the United States. The issue, which was one of the reasons America became divided in the first place is just as divisive in the House of Representatives where Lincoln and his Republican Party need a two-thirds majority for the Amendment to pass. Through rhetoric, barter, pleading and persistence, Lincoln and his staff try to sway the votes of twenty lame duck Democrats before the session comes to a close.

Lincoln is a fascinating film which treats its audience as intellectual equals and doesn’t shy away from long passages of legal and political spiel. Having studied Politics and University and with an interest in the American Civil War, the film was always going to grab my attention but even those who know little of the period will find some interest in the deeply woven script and fantastic performances.

The Last Stand



Arnold Schwarzenegger always promised that he’d be back and ten years since his last leading role he is, in Kim Ji-woon’s Action movie The Last Stand. For Arnie in front of the screen, little has changed. He may have lost some bulk in certain areas and gained some in others but his strengths and weaknesses remain constant. He remains a compelling screen presence and can still kick ass with the best of them but his acting hasn’t improved. I had no intention of seeing The Last Stand until I found to my surprise that its Director was one of my favourites, Kim Ji-woon, the highly accomplished Korean Director of the Asian-Western The Good, the Bad and the Weird and the grisly I Saw the Devil amongst many others. So, I got up at 8:30am on a Saturday and with my girlfriend away for the weekend, braved the snow and took a bus to our local multiplex. It’s safe to say that Schwarzenegger isn’t the box office draw he once was and there were 329 empty seats in the auditorium. How do I know that? Because I counted them during a first half which is full of needless exposition, crummy dialogue and weak characterisation. Things liven up in the second half but I’d been better off staying in bed.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Even Dwarfs Started Small



The second feature film from acclaimed art-house Director Werner Herzog, 1970’s Even Dwarfs Started Small is an extremely weird metaphor for Western Society set in a world in which everyone is a dwarf. On a remote Mediterranean Island sits an asylum in which the inmates have taken control. With their leader held hostage by the Director inside the building, the inmates cause havoc outside, gleefully smashing windows, killing animals, burning plants, teasing the two blind inmates and abandoning a van which drives around and around in circles.

I’m a big fan of Herzog’s but haven’t enjoyed all of his films. Even Dwarfs Started Small is an example of a film that I did enjoy but I’m not totally sure why. My mouth was agape as the strange actions unfolded and it makes for compelling viewing. The fact that every actor is a dwarf helps to add to the strangeness but even had the actors been of average height, this film would still rank as one of the craziest and unusual films I’ve seen.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Top 10 of 2012


January 25th 2013 marks the one year anniversary of my blog and this felt as good a day as any to publish my Top Ten of 2012. I considered publishing it earlier, to coincide with my Top 10 New to Me Films of 2012, but the extra month gave me a chance to see more of this year’s Oscar frontrunners and also made sense as it brings to a close my first year of blogging. I saw a total of 391 films this year, of which exactly 100 are eligible for last year’s Top 10. To be eligible I had to see it in the cinema sometime between 25/01/12 and 24/01/13. I’m yet to see the likes of Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty so they may be included next year. Also, films such as The Artist and Shame have been discounted as I originally saw them before I started blogging. The ten films are in reverse order and you can click on the title for a full review. After the Top 10 there will also be a list of my girlfriend’s Top 3 and my 5 worst films of 2012 too. Enjoy…

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Cool Hand Luke



Nominated for four Oscars and the winner of one, Cool Hand Luke is an anti-establishment tale of triumph of spirit set in a Florida Prison Camp. Highly decorated but jaded war veteran Lucas Jackson (Paul Newman) is sent to prison for two years after drunkenly destroying parking meters. Life inside the camp is tough but Luke endears himself to his fellow inmates thanks to his ‘never give up’ spirit and lust for life. Following a couple of failed escape attempts though the prison guards come down hard on Luke and life inside begins to take its toll.

I’d never heard of this film before a couple of weeks ago when a friend recommended it and subsequently lent it to me. Grateful as I am, had I never seen it I don’t think I would have been too bothered. For me Cool Hand Luke is a decent prison movie but nothing more. I rarely found the conditions or treatment of Luke to be overly harsh until one scene mid way through and apart from the gruelling work, life inside the jail didn’t seem that bad. What the movie gets across though is a spirit of refusal to give up or bow down which not only sits well with the 1960s period in which it was made and set but also continues to work well today.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Django Unchained



After years of threatening to do so, Quentin Tarantino has finally made his Western, or Southern as he would have it known. Django Unchained takes place in 1858 in Texas and its surrounding states. On the eve of the Civil War and with slavery still thriving in the South, a German Dentist called Dr. King Shultz (Christoph Waltz) comes across a slave he has been looking for called Django (Jamie Foxx). Shultz, a Dentist turned bounty hunter frees Django on the promise that the former slave will help him track down three overseers who Django can recognise. Once the men are dead and Shultz has his bounty, he promises Django $75 dollars and a horse but decides to further help the man when he discovers that his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) has been cruelly separated from her husband and sold to the wicked Calvin Candy (Leonardo DiCaprio).

As with any Tarantino film there have been moths of anticipation for the release of Django Unchained and the fact that it received five Oscar nominations and two Golden Globe wins before it was even released in the UK further heightened my excitement for its arrival. In the end the film doesn’t disappoint. It is a fantastic mix of drama, comedy, cruelty and violence and features a typically excellent screenplay and some terrific performances but a plodding finale and long run time stop it from in my eyes joining the likes of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction at the top of the Director’s cannon.

Pulp Fiction


Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece of postmodern pulp cinema burst off the screen in 1994. His second Directorial film, it was made for just $8 million but went on to take over $200 million at the box office becoming one of the most financially successful independent films of all time and has since become one of the most critically successful films as well. Nominated for seven Oscars and winning one for Best Original Screenplay, Pulp Fiction has found its place in cinema history as one of the greatest cult films of all time and reinvigorated not only the fortunes of some of its cast but made Hollywood sit up and take notice of small time, independent cinema.



Tarantino often makes use of a non linear storyline but here it is not so much non linear as circular. Pulp Fiction features three interconnecting storylines which are sometimes told from different angles and always out of sequence. The effect is that it builds the story as the film progresses in quite a different way to a traditional narrative but one is never lost of confused. The script is amongst the best if not the best I’ve ever seen and is dense, meandering and full of great dialogue and pop culture references. It is a joy to listen to and the tremendous cast deliver each line with great aplomb.

From Dusk till Dawn



Quentin Tarantino scripted and Directed by Robert Rodriguez, From Dusk till Dawn is a genre mashing, deeply violent, sometimes funny crime-horror-drama-comedy that pulls you close with a left jab before knocking you unconscious with a right hook. Two bank robbing brothers (George Clooney & Quentin Tarantino) are on the run in Texas, heading to the Mexican border. Along the way they take a Preacher (Harvey Keitel) and his children (Juliette Lewis & Ernest Liu) hostage in their RV. Once in Mexico the criminals head to a bar where they wait out the night for their connection to take them to a safe house. The bar turns into a blood bath though as the robbers and their captives’ battle to survive an onslaught from ravenous vampires.

Famous for its violence, unusual script and Salma Hayek’s toe whiskey, From Dusk till Dawn is a fast faced, comedic horror which takes the audience by surprise following a Tarantino-esque opening forty-five minutes. Its use of animatronics and physical effects also takes it back to the 1980s and before the use of computer generated special effects. Rodriguez combines the two methods to create some realistic looking creatures but always maintains a slapstick element to the effects and comedy.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

M



Fritz Lang’s first sound film and his penultimate German movie, M is loosely based on a number of serial killers in 1920s Germany. The people of Berlin are in a state of mob like panic as an unknown man is killing little girls in the city. Everyone is a suspect and the police are getting nowhere despite thousands of (conflicting) eye witness testimonies. With unwanted attention falling on the ‘innocent’ criminal fraternity, local crime bosses take it upon themselves to capture the killer and use the large homeless and beggar community as their spies, watching little girls in the hope of discovering the man behind the attacks.



M is often, and rightly, considered as one of the first masterpieces of the sound era. Not only is it a terrific, tense and surprisingly violent film but its use of sound is up there with the best of the period. Realising that sound could be used for more than mere dialogue Lang employs it as part of the plot and has sound off screen along with long periods of silence interrupted by loud noises which together with a deep and complex score and haunting whistle help to make M one of the best of the early talkies. The film also features Lang’s famed use of light and shadow and a fantastic central performance from Peter Lorre.

Tabu



In part homage to F. W. Murnau’s film of the same name, Portuguese melodrama Tabu is a film split into two halves which revolve around a Portuguese woman who grew up in Africa and grew old in Lisbon. Shot on actual film and in a narrow 1.37:1 aspect the film exudes an air of the silent era which is doubled with a second act which features no spoken dialogue. Instead of traditional dialogue or even old style intertitles the audience is treated to a narration from an older version of one of the central characters. The second act isn’t totally silent though as background noise of the African bush can be heard while the characters are muted. It is a brave film making decision but works to great effect. Tabu takes some time to get into and will be an instant turn off to many (including me) but once I got into it and especially once I reached Part 2, I was hooked by its enduring story, picturesque setting and exquisite style.

The film opens with an enigmatic prologue set in Africa and telling the story of star crossed lovers. This beautiful opening also introduces a crocodile which goes on to have further significance later on. Unlike the two main sections of the film, this opening could be timeless. There are hints of an early colonial setting but the way it is filmed gives it an eternal feel.

The Public Enemy



One of the earliest true gangster films, The Public Enemy charts the rise and fall of gangsters Tom Powers (James Cagney) and Matt Doyle (Edward Woods) through the first third of the twentieth century. From street hoodlums tripping up girls in 1909 to prohibition era bootleggers, Powers and Doyle become top dogs in a world of crime, money, women and violence before getting their studio orchestrated comeuppance.

The movie starts with some fantastic streets scenes set in the first few years of the twentieth century. Anyone who has read my reviews of Chaplin films or other early cinema will know what a huge fan I am of seeing these sorts of shots, especially if they’re real. Here they look like sets but are still great. Early on there is a sort of Oliver-Fagan dynamic featuring Putty Nose (Murray Kinnell) as a gangster who employs children to do his thieving. It is soon obvious that he is ripping them off and the two boys strike out on their own. Although the film was produced in the pre-code era the violence is very tame by today’s standards and my DVD copy was rated as PG. The story is the driving force here though and the plot has been repeated numerous times in both versions of Scarface, the similarly titled Public Enemies and countless others.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Boogie Nights



Written and Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master, Punch Drunk Love) Boogie Nights is a story of talent, fame, success and excess set in and around the San Fernando Valley during the late 1970s and early 1980s. The script focuses on the rise and fall of Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg) a young porn star known for his physical similarities to Michael Fassbender. Diggler is spotted while working at a nightclub by famed porn Director Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) and soon becomes a star of the adult entertainment world. With the help of a select crew and actors, Horner attempts to go beyond making pornography and tries to create movies which people will stay to watch when they’ve ‘completed the task in hand’. With the aid of his adept crew (William H. Macy, Philip Seymour Hoffman) and on screen talent (Julianne Moore, Heather Graham, John C. Reilly, Don Cheadle) Horner’s films become actual movies and the stars get rich.

This is the forth of Director Paul Thomas Anderson’s six feature films I’ve seen and unsurprisingly it is excellent. Anderson creates a wonderfully vivid and detailed world which changes gradually with the story. The characters are well written and the soundtrack is perfectly chosen. Anderson’s films have a tendency to attract awards recognition and even this story of sex, drugs and moustaches picked up three Oscar nominations including nods for Anderson (screenplay) as well as Julianne Moore and Burt Reynolds. In fact Anderson’s six films have thus far picked up seven acting nominations at the Oscars. Here the acting is superb from the top to the bottom of the cast.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

American Beauty



The winner of five Oscars including Best Picture, American Beauty is a film that covers a lot of the problems of Middle America in just two hours. Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) is an average man in an average town, working an average job. Lester is married to the pushy, cold and career driven Carolyn (Annette Bening) and is in the midst of a mid life crisis which is heightened with an infatuation for his daughter Jane’s (Thora Birch) friend Angela (Mena Suvari).

I thought I’d seen the film years ago and remembered the stand out scenes but had forgotten an awful lot of the plot so ended up unsure if I had actually seen it. American Beauty is a fascinating film which cuts to the heart of the suburban American psyche, bringing up some uncomfortable ideas about sexuality, infidelity, violence, mental illness and incest. Despite a compelling story, some very good performances and fine direction I wasn’t always able to get totally on board with it.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Reservoir Dogs



A couple of nights ago I saw an interview with Quentin Tarantino on Film 2013 ahead of the release of his latest picture Django Unchained. The interview touched upon a lot of his films and with each film mentioned I turned to my girlfriend and said “Ooh! I really want to watch that again soon” while turning to my DVD shelf. When Reservoir Dogs was mentioned I looked for my DVD copy and suggested we watched it that night but my girlfriend told me that it was playing for one night only at our local multiplex the next evening. Five minutes later the tickets were booked and my excitement grew as I was getting the chance to see such an iconic film on the big screen, twenty-one years after its release. Reservoir Dogs burst on to the scene in late 1992 and unusually went on to make more money at the UK box office than in the US but following the release of Pulp Fiction two years later became more widely known and is today recognised as one of the greatest independent films of all time as well as one of the greatest debuts by any film maker.

Featuring a lot of the themes which define Tarantino’s filmography such as a non-linear story, extreme violence, pop culture references, rock and pop soundtrack, rich and deeply woven dialogue and a plot based around an accident, Reservoir Dogs takes place before and after an armed robbery orchestrated by Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney) and his son ‘Nice Guy’ Eddie (Chris Penn). We see various meetings and discussions which take place before the heist as the crew is slowly formed but the most famous and memorable scenes take place following the robbery when the various members of the group make their way back to their safe house. The audience never sees the robbery itself but with some of the gang dead and others badly wounded it is soon obvious that something went wrong and that they have a rat in their midst, but who?

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

The Island



I saw The Island a few years ago and noticed that it was on TV again so decided to give it a second watch. It didn’t make a huge impression on me the first time around but I remembered being interested by the opening act and Scarlett Johansson is in it so… I had a vague recollection of her in a tight, white jump suit so had to watch it again. As it transpired I was correct about the costume and Johansson looks incredible. I also correctly remembered the opening half an hour and it was still an interesting concept even though it was slightly diminished due to knowledge of any potential twists. What I’d forgotten though were the seemingly endless car chases and explosions which accompany the second hour of the movie. These were almost unwatchable due to the quick cutting and despite everything going on, felt really boring.

In the years following an untold natural disaster the world has become too contaminated for humans to live outside. The few survivors live in a deeply regulated and controlled facility in which every aspect of their life is measured and organized by those in charge. One of the few survivors is Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan McGregor) who begins asking questions about his surroundings and the rules he is forced to follow. He becomes friendly with Jordan Two Delta (Johansson) who is the winner of a lottery to live out the rest of her life on ‘The Island’ the last uncontaminated place on Earth. Lincoln is worried though that not everything is as it seems and tries looking for answers.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Two Days in New York



The sequel to the 2007 film Two Days in Paris which I never saw, Two Days in New York is a romantic comedy Written, Directed by and starring Julie Delpy. Delpy plays Marion, a middle aged Parisian living in New York City with her boyfriend Mingus (Chris Rock) and her little boy and his young daughter. Their life is generally light and fun until Marion’s family comes to stay for the weekend. Franco-American relations are put to the test over the course of a weekend in which there are arrests, lies, confusion, nudity and mischief.

I never saw the original film but it didn’t matter. There was a very brief thirty second synopsis at the beginning but to be honest I wasn’t really paying attention to it and I never felt out of the loop. The film’s great strength lies in its tight and sharp script which is one of the best I’ve seen in a while. It often feels like a cross between Woody Allen at his height and a French Wes Anderson and was right up my street. Coming a close second to the script were the performances which were without exception, superbly judged.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Milk



Milk is an Oscar winning political biography of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in American history. The story begins in New York City in 1970 when the soon to be forty year old Harvey Milk (Sean Penn) meets a younger man Scott Smith (James Franco) on the subway. The two become lovers and with Milk wanting to make something of his life the two men move to San Francisco where they eventually open a camera shop in the Castro neighbourhood which is slowly becoming more and more homosexual friendly. Over the years Milk begins campaigning for equal rights for homosexuals before running for office multiple times. Milk tells the story of his struggle for office, recognition and respect from his fortieth birthday to untimely death eight years later.

Milk has for a few years been one of those films which I wanted to see, but just hadn’t got around to. It turned out to be pretty much the film I expected it to. It made me angry, I was interested and engaged and occasionally enraged. Sean Penn’s performance was excellent too and I’m not surprised that it along with the subject matter won him an Oscar. For me the film accomplished exactly what it set out to. It educated me.

Mirror Mirror



Based on the Grimm fairytale Snow White, Mirror Mirror is an uninspiring and unoriginal 2012 retelling starring Lilly Collins as Snow White and Julie Roberts as the Wicked Queen. The story differs slightly from the original fairytale in that it makes Snow more of a feminist hero in keeping with modern studio tastes. Otherwise it is fairly similar to the story that everyone knows. The film came out just a couple of months before another disastrous retelling of the same story, Snow White and the Huntsman and although I didn’t hate this version as much I certainly didn’t like it.

The best thing that Mirror Mirror has going for it are its lavish costumes and indeed the film has now been nominated for an Academy Award in that category joining the likes of W.E. and Transformers: Dark of the Moon as unlikely and infuriating recent recipients of Oscar nominations in technical categories. Mirror Mirror attempts a lighter tone than Huntsman but the comedy failed to raise a smile from my jaded face. The film is in the end an overly expensive rehashing of a story which has been told better in the past.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Les Misérables



Based on the musical of the same name which itself was based on a French novel, Les Misérables is a musical film Directed by Academy Award winning Director Tom Hooper. A large ensemble cast star in a tale set over several decades during a period of multiple French Revolutions. Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is released from prison twenty years after stealing some bread. Placed on parole for the rest of his life he eventually skips it and starts anew. Over the years he is mercilessly chased by Prison Guard turned Police officer Javert (Russell Crowe). Set against the backdrop of social inequity and extreme poverty the plot intertwines a love story featuring idealistic reformist Marius (Eddie Redmayne) and the illegitimate daughter of Prostitute Fantine (Anne Hathaway), Cosette (Amanda Seyfried).

The mass excitement at the release of Les Misérables caused a huge traffic jam outside my local cinema today on what is by far the busiest day I’ve seen in my four years using it. The film has just been nominated for eight Oscars and nine Baftas and in my opinion is in no way a perfect movie but deserves its plaudits. The film has an intense beginning and a slight lull in the middle before ending on a huge and powerful high which caused tears from many and in a first for me, the audience burst into applause. That is something which rarely if ever happens in a UK Cinema.

Gangster Squad



It’s nearly Christmas. You’re really excited and have been waiting for ages. You think that your parents have got you an amazing LEGO Castle with some of your favourite minifigures. Every time you go to the cinema your parents show you a little sneak peek at a couple of the best looking bricks. You can’t contain your excitement. Then some idiot shoots a load of people in the LEGO factory and Santa puts Christmas back. The Castle you are told needs some tweaking. You wait and wait, still excited. The day finally arrives. You rush to the cinema to open your Christmas Present and… wait. It’s not the amazing LEGO Castle at all but some cheap imitation. Your Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone minifigures are there and there’s even one that looks a bit like Sean Penn, it looks great too but it isn’t what you were hoping for.



Originally slated for release in autumn 2012 Gangster Squad was put back following the tragic Aurora shooting in Colorado. After some reshoots to remove a pivotal cinema shoot up the film was released in the UK in January 2013. I’d been really looking forward to it since early 2012 but my anticipation was never going to be met. The film tells the real life story of The Gangster Squad, a small Police Unit given free reign to catch L.A. Gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). Sergeant O’Mara (Josh Brolin) brings together a crack squad of rough, strong and smart Police to meet Cohen on his own terms and free L.A. from his grasp.

Death Proof



Originally released in the US as one half of an exploitation double feature with Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror under the name Grindhouse, Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof was released in the UK as a single feature. The film is a pastiche of the sort of cheap, exploitative thrillers that found their way into certain cinemas before the advent of home video in the 1980s. Tarantino purposely damaged the film stock causing rips, jumps and scratches to make it look more like the kind of 1970s film that he was recreating. The film also makes great use of cars and music from the era to further recreate the 1970s feel.



Death Proof is neatly split into two halves with both revolving around a deranged movie stuntman called Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell). Mike appears to take joy in stalking small groups of women, following them in his ‘Death Proof’ stunt car before crashing into them. We see this take place twice but with very different results. In the first instance Mike gets to know his potential victims in a bar in Austin, Texas first whereas in the second half his appearance is more of a surprise and fuels a revenge filled final few minutes. I thought Death Proof was ok and with any Tarantino release there is a lot to like but for me there are vast swathes of dull, un-Tarantino like dialogue and it sits towards the bottom of his filmography in terms of how much I liked it and how likely I am to watch it again.

Friday, 11 January 2013

L.A. Confidential



Intertwining the stories and cases of three LA Cops while also managing to focus on both the glamour and seedier side of 1950s L.A., L.A. Confidential is a fantastic and gripping neo-Noir thriller set towards the end of Hollywood’s Golden Age. With Micky Cohen in jail, L.A. finds itself free of Organised Crime and the LAPD wants to keep it that way. On the front line are three very different Detectives; the brutish Bud White (Russell Crowe), book smart and career orientated Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) and Jack ‘Hollywood Jack’ Vincennes (Kevin Spacey). The three inhabit different worlds within the same department and a run in between White and Exley causes mass tension amongst the whole of the force. A murder at the Night Owl Café one evening sparks an investigation which involves all three officers, corruption, racism, organised crime, prostitution, glitz, glamour and grime.

I saw L.A. Confidential several years ago and it didn’t really have an impact on me. I can only assume I saw it too young because yesterday I saw it again and thought it was spectacular. Director Curtis Hansen and Cinematographer Dante Spinotti create a realistic version of L.A. full of bright, soft light and period detail but the film avoids going for an all out Noir feel and incorporates more of a modern feel in amongst its 50s setting. The setting and fantastic design are a mere backdrop however for what is essentially a character study. The film may look beautiful but it is in its characters where it truly shines.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

W.E.



W.E. or Wallace and Edward or Woefully Excruciating, What Ever, Without Evidence, Worse than Empty, Withering Exacerbation or Wasteful and Erroneous is a film by Madonna that desperately seeks parallels between a modern day love story and that of Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII. It’s rubbish, like really rubbish.



In 1998 a lonely wife called Wally (seriously, Wally) (Abbie Cornish) is obsessing over the life of Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough) the woman behind the sensation of the century who met, fell in love with and married King Edward VIII of England. Simpson was not only a colonial commoner but was also twice divorced and it was inconceivable that a woman of her standing could marry a Royal let alone the man that would become King. This film tracks Wallis and Edwards’s love affair and the controversy it created while drawing comparisons to a modern day tale of love, suffering and redemption. And did I mention it’s rubbish?

2013 BAFTA Awards Thoughts and Predictions

Early this morning the nominations for the 66th British Academy Film Awards (BAFTAS) were announced. Recently my thought had been turned towards the Oscars for Film Actually's Oscar Prediction Competition (my predictions here) and I'd almost forgotten about my own country's premier film awards. While there are a few more British films that you'd expect in the Oscar nominations the US still dominates. Lincoln leads all films with 11 nominations, followed by Life of Pi and Les Miserables with 9. Skyfall holds up the British end with 8 but fails to make the Best Film list. The nominations are listed below. I'll predict the winner (in bold) and below list my thoughts and who I'd like to or think deserves to win. You can click on the title for my full review.

Although Lincoln leads the nominations my predictions have Life of Pi as the big winner with 6 wins followed by Anna Karenina with 3 and Lincoln, Amour and Zero Dark Thirty with 2 apiece. The awards will be handed out on February 10th 2013. 
 


No real surprises here although Skyfall misses out on Bond’s best chance ever for a Best Film nomination. These five seem to be the ones that are cropping up on every awards list around. Personally I’d like to see Life of Pi win but my prediction is Lincoln.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Eyes Wide Shut



Completed mere days before his death in 1999, Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut is an erotically charged thriller starring the then married Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. Based on the 1926 novella Dream Story by Austrian writer Arthur Schnitzler the plot revolves around a rich New York City doctor Dr. William ‘Bill’ Harford (Cruise) and his wife Alice (Kidman) during a tumultuous few days in their marriage. The sexually charged Bill is accused of flirting and wanting to make love to women at a party and to his patients by his jealous and paranoid wife who then gets upset when her husband tells her that he isn’t the jealous type and trusts her implicitly. She drops a bombshell on Bill who then receives a call to attend to a patient. During the night Bill ventures into the city on a journey of sexual discovery and mystery which leaves him worried for his safety.

Eyes Wide Shut is split into two distinct halves, the first of which is an often explicit tale of sex, debauchery and passion. The second half mostly drops the erotic nature of the story in favour of all out thriller. Both halves were massively tense but equally enjoyable. I thought the film was fantastic and although it could be argued that in the hands of a lesser director and without the A List cast this would end up as a straight to video release, in the capable hands of Kubrick it is a taut and creeping film which I couldn’t take my eyes off.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Angels with Dirty Faces



Angels with Dirty Faces is a Hays Code era gangster film which stars James Cagney as Rocky Sullivan, a notorious gangster with a good side. Rocky grew up what appears to be the Lower East Side with his friend Jerry (Pat O’Brien) getting up to all sorts of misdemeanours and petty crime. One day the boys are being chased through a train yard when Jerry slips and falls in front of a moving train. Rocky saves his friend but as the boys make their escape Rocky is caught and sent to reform school which leads to a life of crime. Years later Jerry is a Priest and having been released from a stint in jail Rocky returns to the old neighbourhood to claim his share of loot from his crooked lawyer Frazier (Humphrey Bogart) but Frazier ain’t taking too kindly to Rocky walking back up in here, you get me, you mutz.



The film features a great central performance from Cagney as well as some brilliant set design and cracking dialogue. It feels a little diluted when compared to earlier pre-Code films but you get the picture of the world in which the characters are living. What is obvious although sometimes too obvious is the message. Sometimes it’s not who you are but where you are that makes you and the film’s black and white telling of this idea is laid out very clearly.

The Wizard of Oz



Now. I’m not going to sit here and say that The Wizard of Oz isn’t a good film because it is. It was ahead of it’s time technically and the Technicolor still looks magnificent after seventy years but The Wizard of Oz isn’t a great film. The story is so weak it is almost homeopathic and it also ranks as amongst the most annoying films I’ve ever seen. I seem to have a habit of slating films which other people love (see The Lion King, North by Northwest, BladeRunner) but I’m not doing it to be contentious. I personally think The Wizard of Oz is overrated and when you really watch it rather than just look at it, you start to notice all sorts of problems and plot holes.



Everyone knows the story. It is ingrained in our psyches and phrases such as “We’re not in Kansas anymore”, “Ding dong, the witch is dead” and “Fly my pretties” are sentences which are quoted in every day language. Similarly the characters are so well known that even if I described them as the green one, the hay bail, the robot or the furry thirties gangster, you’d know instantly who I was talking about. The Wizard of Oz is just something that we know inside out whether we’ve never seen it or have seen it a hundred times. But just because something is well known, it doesn’t mean it is good. After all, we all know who Hitler was and he wasn’t very nice at all.

2013 Oscar Nomination Predictions

I'd been planning a short post in January about my Oscar predictions but Film Actually is running a nominations contest which I thought I'd join. What will become immediately obvious to UK readers is that I'm writing this on January 6th, four days before the nominations are announced but up to a month before front runners such as Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty, Les Miserables and Django Unchained are released in the UK. Therefore a lot of my predictions will be based around guess work or what I'm hearing about those films from the States. I may do another predictions post once the nominations are announced. Until then, here are my 2013 Oscar Nomination Predictions for future generations to laugh at. Click on the titles to read my review.

Most predicted nominations Lincoln (11), Life of Pi (9), Zero Dark Thirty (8), Django Unchained (7), Skyfall and Les Miserables (6), Argo (5), Amour (4).

Additional 12/01/13. Once the nominations were announced I worked out that I predicted 74% of the nominations correctly. 

BEST PICTURE
Argo
Lincoln
Zero Dark Thirty
Life of Pi
Les Miserables
Django Unchained

BEST DIRECTOR
Steven Spielberg - Lincoln
Kathryn Bigelow - Zero Dark Thirty
Ang Lee - Life of Pi
Ben Affleck - Argo
Michael Haneke - Amour

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Berberian Sound Studio



An homage to Italian giallo horror films and the mechanics of cinema itself, Berberian Sound Studio stars Toby Jones as Gilderoy, a shy Englishman who gets a job as a Foley artist on the 1970s Italian film The Equestrian Vortex, an giallo horror with typical themes of Satanism and extreme violence. Gilderoy, man more at home capturing the sounds of the English countryside, is like a fish out of water and struggles to get to grips with the Italian way of film making as well as the horrific violence on screen. Set inside a claustrophobic sound studio, the film follows Gilderoy as he slowly becomes more and more dishevelled while trying his best to create the sound to accompany the terrifying visuals, none of which are ever seen on screen.



The film reaches a critical point around seventy minutes in from where everything goes a little strange. It can be described as being without plot and its ending is confusing to say the least. The preceding hour though is amongst the best I’ve seen from a 2012 film and up until the final third it was well inside my top 10 of the year. What is good is that prior knowledge of giallo isn’t necessary in order to enjoy it. I’ve only seen one giallo film in the last year, Dario Argento’s Tenebrae, and know very little about the genre but still really liked the film.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Blade Runner


Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner has appeared on All Time lists in Empire, Total Film, Sight and Sound, Time Magazine and countless others, both professional and amateur. It is generally regarded as one of the greatest Science Fiction movies of all time but here’s where I’m going to start making people angry. I don’t think it is. I’ve seen the film twice now and on my first viewing thought it not only wasn’t the greatest Sci-Fi ever but was just average. Yesterday on my second viewing I enjoyed it more than my first but I’m yet to join the millions who rank it as one of the best films ever. For me it is too slow and not very interesting. There’s obviously a lot to like but best ever? Nope.

It’s Los Angeles 2019 and humanoid replicants have been outlawed on Earth. The machines were designed as slave labour to perform menial tasks on the off world colonies but following an uprising, Blade Runners were hired to track down and ‘retire’ (kill) all Earth dwelling replicants. Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is a former Blade Runner who is convinced to return to the job to track down several Nexus 6 replicants who have returned to Earth illegally, intent on extending their built in four year lifespan.

Safety Not Guaranteed



The latest film from the Duplass brothers is Safety Not Guaranteed, a film about a sad young magazine intern (Aubrey Plaza) who joins her boss (Jake Johnson) and fellow intern (Karen Soni) in tracking down a man who has left an advert in a local newspaper. The ad reads: “Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. P.O. Box 91 Ocean View, WA 99393. You'll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.” Intrigued and hoping to discover a crazy man worth writing a story about, the three of them set off from Seattle to Ocean View to track the man down. They find Kenneth (Mark Duplass), a paranoid man who believes the Government are following him. Slowly Kenneth begins to accept Darius (Plaza) into his plans but is he crazy or is he on to something?



I was recommended this film by Malone on Movies and had heard very little about it beforehand. Just this morning I saw it was on The Vern's worst of 2012 list which made me worried. What also worried me was my total lack of interest in Jeff Who Lives at Home, a film I really disliked. I have really enjoyed the Duplass’ work in the past though and to be fair this film was written by newcomer Derek Connolly and directed by Colin Trevorrow but retains a lot of the quirky plotting, expert dialogue and unusual situations which has made some of the Duplass’ work great.

The Idle Class



Arriving on the back of his first great film The Kid, Charlie Chaplin’s The Idle Class feels weak and thin in comparison. The writer in Chaplin was struggling for ideas before he got the spark for The Kid and it almost feels as though he is back to square one while writing the two reel The Idle Class. A Tramp (Chaplin) gets off a train, and not how you’d expect him to, before heading for a day at the golf course. Meanwhile a wealthy wife (Edna Purviance) also disembarks expecting her well to do husband (also Chaplin) to meet her at the station but he is drunk at home. Following some hi jinks at the golf course there is a case of mistaken identity at a ball at which Edna takes the Tramp for her husband.



For me The Idle Class lacks the depth which made The Kid great and also lacks the direction and laughs that are found in the likes of A Dog's Life or Shoulder Arms. It occasionally takes a more dramatic route but this often fails to match even Sunnyside for dramatic narrative. The film is saved by a middle act on the golf course which is brilliantly inventive and funny but is unfortunately bookended by a beginning and end which did little for me.  

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

The Impossible



Man, I wish I was a heart string salesman. Sales will be going through the roof after the two hours of tugging and eventual breaking of heart strings due to the release of The Impossible. A Spanish production and based on a real life Spanish family’s experiences, The Impossible stars Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor as the husband and wife of a family caught up in the Boxing Day Tsunami that struck South East Asia in 2004. While on holiday the Tsunami hits the Thai beach resort that the family are staying at, separating Wife Maria (Watts) and eldest son Lucas (Tom Holland) from Husband Henry (McGregor) and youngest sons Thomas and Simon (Samuel Joslin and Oaklee Pendergast). With Maria seriously injured and little help at hand, the family struggle to survive in the most unimaginable conditions.

I have mixed feelings about The Impossible. On the one hand it is an expertly made film which brings a terrible tragedy to the big screen but on the other hand that tragedy is still fresh in the memory and the lengths to which the movie tugs at the audience’s emotions feel cheap and unnecessary. Although I’m sure it will be well received by critics, I have my reservations and my girlfriend downright disliked it.

The Girl



The Girl is a TV movie about the three year working relationship between Alfred Hitchcock (Toby Jones) and his two time leading lady Tippi Hedren (Sienna Miller) star of TheBirds and Marnie. The plot, which has been widely criticised by people who knew the great Director, focuses on his attraction towards his starlet and her rebuff of his advances. Much like a great Hitchcock thriller the film takes a dark turn as Hitch forces Hedren to go through arduous scenes over and over again and puts her in compromising positions sexually.



I’m a fairly new convert to Hitchcock having seen seven of his films in the last year, all for the first time. The Birds is one of the few Hitchcock movies I had seen before I began blogging but not for a long time. It’s been on my list to watch for a few months but I hadn’t got around to it yet and this put me in a quandary; what to watch first? I decided to watch The Girl before re-watching The Birds but now I’m slightly fearful that its portrayal of the Director may put me off the film and perhaps Hitchcock in general.

Rescued by Rover



Rescued by Rover is a 1905 film which along with the likes of The Great Train Robbery (1903) helped to bridge the gap between films that were a mere curiosity or fairground attraction towards the narrative structure which dominated the following century and continues today. The film makes use of the recent invention of the cut or edit to slice together the action surrounding a baby which is kidnapped by a beggar woman. It mostly follows a dog as it seeks out the missing child to alert its owner, the baby’s father. Although by today’s standards the plot is fairly predictable and quite repetitive, for the time it was groundbreaking. Just five years earlier the Hepworth Manufacturing Company was producing films which although interesting were single shot amusements, now in 1905 they had produced a proper narrative film which is much more coherent than any contemporary film I’ve seen so far.

There are several areas in which this film is inventive or pioneering. The first is perhaps the most important. Rescued by Rover was the first film to ever feature paid actors. Before this time roles were filled by the crew, friends or sometimes passers by. Here though two actors, one of which was May Clark, are employed in a cast which also features Director Cecil Hepworth’s wife, child, dog as well as himself. The film is also noted as being the first to create an animal star. The dog, Blair, became famous for several years following the film’s release and is also one of the best trained I’ve seen on screen.