Thursday, 30 May 2013

True Romance



Despite initial commercial failure, True Romance’s strong performances and savvy script have made it a cult classic. Written by Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avery before the release of Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino once intended to direct the film too but eventually sold the script after losing interest. Tony Scott took over in the director’s chair and threw out Tarantino’s non-linear storyline in favour of a more traditional linear approach but the bulk of Tarantino’s story remained. The film features a central love story which gets tangled up in the worlds of drugs, organised crime and Hollywood before untangling itself in a hail of bullets following a very Tarantino-esque Mexican Standoff.

The movie is famous for its cast which rivals any in cinema history. Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette star as the young couple who find love at a triple bill Kung Fu movie night but are joined on screen by a vast array of the great and good of their profession. Names and faces recognisable to all include Michael Rapaport, Dennis Hopper, Brad Pitt, Samuel L. Jackson, James Gandolfini, Gary Oldman, Val Kilmer, Chris Penn, Tom Sizemore, Victor Argo and Christopher Walken. I’m struggling to think of any cast which matches the one assembled here and if you have a suggestion, I’d love to hear it.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Destry Rides Again



This 1939 Western is one of several produced around the Destry character of the 1932 novel. This version is only loosely based on the novel though, with many characters and events differing significantly. In the fictional Western town of Bottleneck, saloon owner Kent (Brian Donlevy) reigns supreme. With the help of saloon singer Frenchie (Marlene Dietrich) the town is under his control through fear, intimidation and extortion. A series of Sheriffs come and go with the latest being shot by Kent himself. In order to avoid the unwanted attention of the law, Kent and his Mayor (Samuel S. Hinds) give the job to one of the town’s many drunks, Washington Dimsdale (Charlie Winniger). ‘Wash’ surprises the town though by cleaning up his act and hiring a new Deputy from Montana. The son of a once feared lawman, Destry (James Stewart) turns out to be a disappointment. Against guns and seeming a bit of a wimp, Destry hides behind his polite exterior, a man willing to uphold the law, whatever it takes.

Destry Rides Again pulled me in two directions. Occasionally I thought the film was far too broad and frothy, full of poor jokes and songs but every now and then it surprised me with a cutting line, wonderful metaphor or ferocious fight which gave me the impression of watching two films accidently cut together as one.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Bicycle Thieves



One of, if not the defining masterpieces of Italian neorealism, Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Theives) is the first film I’ve seen in the post war sub genre which emerged from a country on its knees in the wake of a brutal Fascist regime. If there are other films in the movement that are half as good as this one, it won’t be my last dip into the genre. Vittorio De Sica’s film is set on the streets of Rome in 1948. With work scarce and hunger raging, a man tries desperately to secure work in an unfavourable job market. He manages to secure a job with adequate pay as someone who puts up film posters but when a thief steals his bike, something he needs for the job, his family are left penniless and he has to wander the streets, searching for his bike amongst a city of millions.

De Sica used ordinary people in the acting roles but it’s difficult to tell that from the performances. Lead actor Lamberto Maggiorani is superb as the man at his wits end following the crime and his miniature adult son, Enzo Staiola comes close to stealing the whole movie. The situation the family find themselves in makes for compelling viewing and the themes and imagery thrown up by the movie add to its impressive overall effect. I wasn’t surprised to read that in Sight & Sound’s first ‘greatest films of all time’ poll in 1952, Bicycle Thieves was ranked at number one. The most recent poll in 2012 ranked it at number 33 all time and my own algorithmic study ranked it at 35.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Chopper



Chopper, the debut feature from New Zealand born director Andrew Dominik (Jesse James, Killing them Softly) is a semi biographical tale of notorious Australian criminal Mark ‘Chopper’ Read. The story is based on the autobiographic works of Read which when published became best sellers in the author’s home country. A pre title disclaimer makes it clear though that the film is not a biography of the man and that some scenes are invented. Chopper (Eric Bana) made a name for himself as a tough guy-extortionist and boasted to having committed several murders but was never convicted of any. Inside prison he was a vicious inmate, responsible for several brutal assaults, some of which are played out on screen. When out of prison, Chopper has to keep his wits about him and with several contracts out on his life, he becomes ever more paranoid and sadistically violent.

Chopper was the sort of cult film which a lot of people would talk about at school. “Ah, mate. You seen that Chopper? It’s wicked” Because the film was liked by the same sort of people who enjoyed Guy Ritchie and other films I had no interest in, I took their enthusiasm with a pinch of salt. Over a decade later though, I thought I’d give the film ago and when I saw it was on TV one night, I decided to record it. I hadn’t realised how long ago that night was though until I noticed that the ad breaks I was fast-forwarding through were Christmas themed. Today is May the 27th.

Stand by Me



Stand by Me, based on a Steven King novella, is a coming of age drama about four young boys who set out one morning in search of a dead body that is rumoured to be lying not far from their small Oregonian town. Over the course of a couple of days they encounter excitement and danger and return as changed people on the cusp of adulthood. The film has a classic charm and easy on the eyes style which rolls slowly out in front of the audience. It takes its time and focuses on the character’s journey and is only lightly interspersed with action. The movie is more dramatic than the more comedic but similarly themed The Goonies and it features more adult language. I believe however that the language realistically captures the way that boys of that age, from that era would have spoken and it doesn’t hold back to make itself available to all ages.

Even though the film is set nearly thirty years before I was born and on an entirely different continent, many of its ideas reminded me of my own childhood. It made me yearn for the days of adventure when a friend would arrive excitedly at my house to announce that he had found a dead cat or that a window was open in a house under construction around the corner. That rush of youthful excitement and danger is something which you don’t experience as an adult and as the film clearly states, your friends at that age are the closest you’ll ever have. The movie made me feel very nostalgic and sad to be sitting on the sofa with grey hairs, thinking about putting a load of washing on rather than throwing on a jacket and running out of the house with reckless abandon.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

A Woman of Paris



Charlie Chaplin’s 1923 film A Woman of Paris is a film full of firsts. It was his first films released by United Artists, the company he had co-founded four years earlier. It was his first dramatic film, featuring no slapstick comedy at all and it was his first film in which he did not star. It was also a film of lasts. After a fruitful eight year relationship, this was Chaplin’s final film to feature Edna Purviance and it was also his last purely dramatic picture. The movie was warmly received by critics who praised its bold themes, underplayed acting and assured direction but for the public it was a different matter. It’s difficult to quantify Chaplin’s appeal and fame for modern audiences but up to that point no person in the movies was paid more. Upon his first return to London after his American success, literally hundreds of thousands of people turned out to welcome him home. It is arguable that no entertainer has ever been as famous as Charlie Chaplin was in the first half of the twentieth century.

So, when audiences eagerly flocked to their cinemas in 1923 for the latest Chaplin feature only to find that the man himself wasn’t on screen, it’s easy to understand their disappointment. Imagine paying for another Pirates of the Caribbean film only to discover that there was no Johnny Depp and no pirates. Now image that the Pirate of the Caribbean films were actually good and you get some understanding of the disappointment audiences must have felt. To his credit, Chaplin did attempt to get word out that this was going to be an atypical film with flyers handed out to the long cinema queues and the film actually opens with a disclaimer stating that “I do not appear in this picture” and that it is intended as a “serious drama”. Had the audience been aware of this before the film opened, their reaction might have been very different but instead it was a commercial failure and wasn’t seen again for over fifty years when Chaplin reissued it with a new, self composed score in what was to be the final piece of work before his death in 1977.

Charlie Chaplin - The United Artist Films and Beyond



Last year I watched and reviewed over forty films made by one of my cinematic heroes, Charlie Chaplin. It’s taken a while but after cataloguing all of his Essanay, Mutual and First National Films, I’ve come back to the tramp to look at the final portion of his career. Even as I write these words I realise how absurd ‘final portion’ sounds as the years I’m looking at cover over four decades and include his first dramatic film, his first talkie and his final British films following his exile from his adopted United States. This period also coincides with what is today, his most iconic era; the fifteen years between 1925’s The Gold Rush and 1940’s The Great Dictator. Despite having been one of the most famous men in the world for over a decade, 1925 marks the beginning of the era which still defines Chaplin’s motion picture career. It was between the years of 1925-40 that he created some of the most essential comedy moments in film history and all but one of his films from this period has been added to the US National Film Registry. For me and indeed many film fans these films are gems but as with many of the silent shorts that I reviewed last year, some of the films surrounding this golden period will be new to me.



Most of the films listed below were produced through United Artists, the company co-founded by Chaplin and fellow stars D.W. Griffith, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks (pictured above). The company is still going strong today but lost its independence in 1967 and is now a subsidiary of MGM. I have, in the past year and a half, reviewed some of the films on this list already but I’ll be watching the rest in order and may decide to re-watch the ones I have seen anyway. As usual you can click on a film’s title to read my full review.


Six of the Best... First Films



Some film directors are able to maintain success over several decades and get bums on seats or haul awards for almost every film. A select few are able to do both. Whether successful or not, every director has to start somewhere. Steven Spielberg started promisingly with Duel in 1971 and Martin Scorsese’s debut Who’s That Knocking at My Door has its charms but neither film set the world alight. Some director’s though burst onto the scene with critically acclaimed works in what is their debut feature. With often minimal experience, little support and tight budgets, several directors have created debut films which astound audiences and critics alike. Here are Six of the Best…

1. Quentin Tarantino – Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Although he had shot the amateur My Best Friend’s Birthday in the mid to late 1980s, Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs was his first real feature. A dialogue driven heist movie, the film was a hit on its initial release and has since gained cult status. Many of the tropes that have come to define the director’s career are evident in the movie and a lot of people, including myself, still consider it amongst his best work. Its bold, violent approach set it apart from the action heavy thrillers of the time and an impeccably neat script not only impressed audiences but also the actor Harvey Keitel who liked it so much that he co-funded, produced and agreed to star in the movie. The direction is slightly more conventional than in his later work but is still recognisably ‘Tarantino’ with long, slow dialogue heavy scenes interspersed with frantic action and innovative camera movement. Reservoir Dogs was released independent of the major studios and as such it afforded the director the freedom rarely found in modern cinema to follow his ideas through to completion unmolested.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Bride of Frankenstein



Bride of Frankenstein is the 1935 sequel to the definitive Frankenstein movie released four years earlier. The story is taken from a subplot of Mary Shelley’s novel though bares only a passing resemblance to the author’s work. The film picks up in the moments after the climax of the first movie in which the monster was seemingly killed in a raging fire. Spoiler alert – he wasn’t. In this movie the monster’s personality grows, he makes friends and becomes restless. As with any man, he wants female companionship and with the help of scientist Doctor Pretorius, he kidnaps his creator’s fianc√©, forcing Doctor, now Baron Frankenstein to create for him a Bride.

I thought that 1931’s Frankenstein was a masterful piece of cinema and rightly held a place in the minds of horror cinema fans over eighty years on from its release. Bride of Frankenstein holds a similar place in cinema history but overall I was disappointed by it. I felt that the plot was slow and clunky and the dialogue and acting was much worse than that of the original film. For fifty minutes I was teetering on the edge of boredom but a final twenty minute flourish, reminiscent of the first movie, helped to save the day.

The Hangover Part III



I seem to be different to everyone else. Not just different like we’re all different but different, different. I don’t think that Peter Kay saying the words ‘garlic’ and ‘bread’ in close proximity is remotely funny yet he has sold more than ten million DVDs in the UK. The phrase ‘Am I bovered’ no matter how cockney’ed up also fails to draw a smile. When The Hangover was released in 2009 I didn’t see it in the cinema but months later I gave into the pressure of everyone telling me it was the best comedy since sliced film and I watched it at home with my girlfriend. I thought it was dreadful. About a year later we ventured to the cinema to see Part II with a large audience. This time it was even worse. I thought it was offensive and not at all funny but was surrounded on all sides by people having the time of their lives. It was with great trepidation then, and immediate regret, that I took a few hours on my day off to see The Hangover Part III and d’you know what? I think it’s the best of the series.

I use the phrase ‘best’ in the same way as one might describe Albert Speer as the best Nazi. Sure he was a Nazi but didn’t he design some lovely buildings? What I’m getting at is that The Hangover Part III is the best of a bad bunch. Once again I might find myself in the minority here and I’m sure the cinemas will be packed for weeks with guffawing humans, rocking back and forth in their seats and looking at each other with mutual recognition that they are part of a group. The third (and hopefully final) instalment of The Hangover series is neither as offensive nor as formulaic as the second film and about as funny as the first. I laughed once and smiled about four or five times.

Natural Born Killers



I didn’t know anything about Natural Born Killers prior to watching it but saw that an angry looking Woody Harrelson was on the blu-ray cover and that was enough to sell it to me. During the frenzied pre credit sequence I thought to myself that it looked like the most Tarantino-esque film I’d ever seen. I didn’t realise at the time of course that the film was actually loosely based on a script written by Quentin Tarantino and that he received a ‘story by’ credit. The script though, was written by director Oliver Stone, Dale Veloz and Richard Rutowski and is set around a manic killing spree. Mickey Knox (Harrelson) and his wife Mallory (Juliette Lewis) travel around the South Western United States, randomly killing seemingly for the pleasure it brings. Both central characters suffered traumatic childhoods but enjoy the fame and notoriety that their actions bring.

The film is spliced together in a fairly linear structure but has the overarching look of a collage. A multitude of camera angles, effects and styles are used and the estimated 3,000 cuts necessary to piece everything together took around eleven months to edit. Camera angles and shooting styles will change from second to second in what feels like a psychedelic whirlwind. The effect is that Stone creates a movie that seems to surround you on all sides rather than emanate from the TV screen and it keeps you both off balance and highly entertained throughout.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

The Idiots



Lars von Trier’s The Idiots is my first encounter with a Dogme 95 film. Dogme 95 was an avant-garde filmmaking movement, begun in 1995 that saw a group of Danish directors release a manifesto of rules by which their films would be produced. The basis of the rules were to strip filmmaking back to its traditional values of story, acting and theme and forbade the likes of artificial lighting, music, additional props and special effects and had specific rules based around how and where a film was shot. The minimalist and realist films which were created saw their director go uncredited and often their cast and crew unpaid. The Idiots was von Trier’s first Dogme film and the second overall.

Perhaps somewhat predictably for Lars von Trier, The Idiots is a film that was marred in controversy. The controversy came from two aspects of the film. The first was the plot which revolves around a group of anti-bourgeois Danes who sometimes pretend to have mental disabilities in public. They refer to this as ‘spassing’ and are often both convincing and cruel in their depictions. The second controversial aspect of the movie is the graphic sex and nudity. For a director whose next film is to be called Nymphomaniac, this might not be surprising but The Idiots contains scenes of both male arousal and full vaginal intercourse, the likes of which I’ve never seen in a narrative film.

Monday, 20 May 2013

The Great Gatsby


Sited by many as one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is a book that I have never read. As a result this review will be based purely on the Baz Lehrmann film and not informed in any way, shape or form by the source text. Lehrmann is a director who I generally have little time for. His in your face, ultra heightened fantasy style is not normally to my liking but a film set amongst the excess of post war, roaring 20s is the sort of project which may perfectly suit his visual eye. With The Great Gatsby, Lehrmann creates a film which is full of cinematic choices which are both at the same time wrong and fitting and while I don’t necessarily agree with all (or in fact most of his choices), he has created a film which sets itself apart from the competition and is both bold and exciting.



Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) is a graduate of Yale University who moves to New York’s Long Island, home of the rich and famous, with the hopes of making his fortune in the blossoming stock market on Wall Street, twenty miles to the west. Carraway’s neighbour is an enigmatic figure called Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), a man who few know or have even met, yet a man whose name and lavish parties are known by everyone from Senators to starlets to smugglers. Gatsby befriends his neighbour but remains somewhat aloof until one day when the rich inscrutable Gatsby requests help in setting up a meeting between himself and Carraway’s beautiful but married cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan), a woman not unknown to Gatsby.

Man on Fire



Midway through watching Man on Fire last night I wanted to look something up about it so paused it and put a search into Google. One of the top results was its IMDb score which was a very impressive 7.7/10. Now the IMDb is a great resource but its rating system is susceptible to the whims of the masses and as a result, many films which don’t deserve them get high scores. On a related note, Star Trek into Darkness just yesterday crept into the IMDb Top 250, perfectly illustrating my point. For me Man on Fire is another example of this sort of overly hyped mass critical reception. While at its heart there is a great revenge story, it is surrounded my poor musical choices and cinematography which is so ill judged that it made concentrating on and enjoying the movie close to impossible.

Mexico City is one of the kidnapping capitals of the world and to protect his daughter (Dakota Fanning), businessman Samuel Ramos (Marc Anthony) hires a bodyguard to protect her when she’s out of their home. The bodyguard is former Marine and covert-ops officer John Creasy (Denzel Washington), a man with a drink problem and issues connecting with other people. Unsurprisingly the child is kidnapped and in the ensuing fire fight, Creasy is seriously wounded. When on the mend, though still critically ill, Creasy takes it on himself to track down the girl’s kidnappers and on a revenge/killing spree gets closer and closer to ‘the voice’ a master kidnapper, responsible for the taking and murder of several children.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Six of the Best... Films I Should Like More But Don't



How many times have you faced someone whose mouth is agape before the words “You don’t like…?” are shot from their mouth, roaring towards your opinions like a bullet to the side of a large barn door. You attempt to justify your opinion but you get a shake of the head in return. After a while you begin to make concessions. You stutter that “It’s not as bad as…” or “I didn’t hate it.” But it’s no good. That person now looks at you like you are something brown and stinky on the bottom of their shoe. I get this look often and not just because of my personality. Just as there are films which you may be embarrassed to like, there are others which you are embarrassed that you don’t like. While I don’t dislike any of the films below, I don’t like them as much as ‘society’ tells me I should. I expect ‘society’ will now also hate me for the opinions I’m about to express below, but anyway here are Six of the Best Films I Should Like More But Don’t.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Searching for Sugar Man



A couple of times a year, a documentary feature will break through from the restraints of modern, multiplex, big budget cinema and find a way onto our screens. Generally though, because of availability, documentaries find a home on DVD and this is the medium in which I saw Searching for Sugar Man, the latest documentary to win an Oscar. It was precisely lack of availability which meant I had to wait so long to see the film but now I have, I can join in with the many who rate it so highly. Directed by first timer Malik Bendjelloul and produced by Simon Chinn, the producer of the heart-pounding Man on Wire, Searching for Sugar Man is a seemingly implausible tale of the search for a forgotten musician.

Sixto Rodriguez was a man who released two folk-rock albums in the early 1970s and then disappeared. The albums bombed in the US and Rodriguez’s label estimated, somewhat mean spiritedly, that his records sold around six copies. The rumour was that the singer had committed suicide on stage after the failure of his music career but what he could have never known was that he was huge in Apartheid era South Africa. Although the South Africans knew little to nothing about the singer, to them he was as popular as Elvis or The Beatles and a South African journalist set out in the mid 1990s to discover what exactly did happen to the mysterious singer.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

500 reviews, the story so far

I wrote my first ever film review on January 25th 2012 and 477 days later I've just written my 500th. I thought I'd celebrate my little benchmark with a look back at my first 500 reviews through some stats and graphs. I was interested to see a breakdown of the films I've seen in the last year and four months and chose three areas to look at. You can find all 500 film reviews so far on my A-Z page.

The first area I looked at was the number of films I've watched per decade. My tag line is 'Reviewing 100 Years of Film' and this graph shows that is the case and more. The earliest movie I've reviewed so far was A Trip to the Moon from 1902 and as of mid April 2013, I've reviewed 31 from the current year. Although the vast majority of films I've reviewed have been new or recent releases, there's a nice spread throughout the twentieth and early twenty-first century.

The second area I looked at was film by genre. I've always said that I have no favourite genre and go for a film based on how good it is, rather than what genre it falls into. Many of the films I've reviewed can be classed as being in multiple genres but so far the most popular by far are drama and comedy. I try to watch films from as many genres as possible though and again here there is a good spread from differing genres. To simplify the graph slightly I put a lot of genres such as biopic, gangster and musical into the 'other' category. 


The final thing I looked it was my grading. I give films a mark out of ten based on my enjoyment, the film making craft, acting, writing etc and despite the ongoing joke at work that I give every film 6/10, my most frequent grading is 7-8/10. The reason this is above average is because I generally choose a film based on whether I think I'll like it. Because of this I'm invariably going to watch more 10/10 than 1/10 films. Although I think I can sometimes be a bit easy on poor films, I've still watched my fair share of stinkers as well as some of the best movies ever made.

So that's my first 500 reviews in very geeky graph form. Here's to the next 500...

The Maltese Falcon



Generally regarded as the first example of film noir, The Maltese Falcon is a slick and engaging thriller set in San Fransisco. The low key lighting and interesting camera angles add to a thrilling story which focuses on the search for a 16th Century statue. The valuable gold statue was stolen long ago and has been hunted for years. Its location has finally been tracked to California where several people are working to discover its exact location. Private Detective Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) becomes entangled in the search along with three unscrupulous hunters, each of whom is out to outsmart and outwit the others. With several murders on the books and a number of motives and suspects, Spade is tasked with not only helping to solve the mysteries but also clearing his own name.

I’d been looking forward to watching The Maltese Falcon for a long time and had long heard about how good it was. I’m sad to report then that the movie failed to live up to my raised expectations despite some genuinely inventive story and film making craft. Although I wasn’t as disappointed as when I watched a couple of other classics (Vertigo), I failed to be entranced by the movie and wavered between gripped astonishment, dull boredom and everywhere in between.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Dead Ringers



I watch David Cronenberg films for one reason and that is to have my eyes opened. Whether it is through the gore of an early film like Scanners or the beauty of a more recent movie like A Dangerous Method, his visuals are always striking and his themes, challenging. Few film makers can claim to have been as influential as Cronenberg while also avoiding the trappings of mainstream Hollywood and whatever he turns his attention to, something weird and unique will invariably be formed. Dead Ringers is his 1988 film which looks at the connection that twins share; biologically, mentally and physically. It straddles the gap between body horror and beautiful cinematography but was made firmly during his body horror era. For the director it is a somewhat restrained film but one which runs deep with ideas although doesn’t boil over into all out gore.

Elliot and Beverly Mantle (Jeremy Irons) are brilliant gynaecologists and identical twins. Working out of their Toronto office, the two men specialise in fertility and their methods are both effective but daring. The twin’s lives are blurred by their frequent interchanging. The two impersonate each other at dinners, awards ceremonies and even with women. Early on in the film, the brothers begin to share the life of an actress called Claire Niveau (Genevi√®ve Bujold) and when the quieter Beverly begins to fall for her, his more aggressive brother Elliot suspects that her presence is harming their relationship.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Six of the Best... Actors Who Died Too Young



Highlander, Dorian Gray, Interview with a Vampire… There are plenty of movies that feature themes of eternal youth or everlasting life but unfortunately they’re fantasy. People are born, they live and then they die. Although we can extend the middle part of that previous sentence through medicine, we can’t remove the final part altogether. While many of us will live to reach a ripe old age,  grumpily hating the world that has left us behind, sadly some people die in their prime. In this week’s Six of the Best I’m looking at six of the best actors who died too young. Although these actors died in their heyday or at the peak of their careers, their death has in many cases bought them an almost everlasting, close to immortal status which their names may have lacked had they lived to grow old, thus granting eternal youth. So here are Six of the Best… Actors Who Died Too Young. Let me know who you would have included.



1. Rudolph Vantentino. (Died in 1926 – aged 31)

The world has largely forgotten cinema’s first male sex symbol. The Italian born actor appeared in close to forty films between 1914 and 1926 including The Sheik and The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in 1921. His death at the age of thirty-one caused mass hysteria among his female fans to whom he was affectionately known as the ‘Latin Lover’. Valentino’s life has been the subject of several films but his popularity has been overshadowed by those whose careers continued on into the late 20s and early sound era.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness



After the success of 2009’s Star Trek and with a large and loyal fan base waiting eagerly, there was no doubt that another Star Trek film would follow the recent reboot. The film picks off pretty much where the first one left off, thematically and cast wise at least and finds the crew of the USS Enterprise on a previously unexplored planet, attempting to save a primitive civilisation. Several set pieces and un-followed directives later and Captain J.T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is stripped of his captaincy while his first officer Spock (Zachary Quinto) is reassigned. When a rogue officer attacks Starfleet in London, Kirk is given command once more and tasked with tracking the extremely dangerous Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch) to the Klingon home planet and ordered by his superiors to set phasers to kill.

For about an hour I was really enjoying this second updated Star Trek movie and had few complaints but into the second hour the plot begins to sag and then fall away completely. There is a set piece, which is also in the trailer, and shows the Enterprise hurtling to Earth in an uncontrollable spin. For me this was an apt metaphor for the film as a whole following a second act reveal. Up until that point I was engaged and intrigued but once the torpedo truth was made known, the film hit a brick wall and relied on admittedly excellent special effects and action set pieces to see it to its soppy conclusion.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

The Conversation



In between making two of the most heralded films of all time in 1972 and 1974, writer/director Francis Ford Coppola made another film. That film won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and was nominated for three Academy Awards including Best Picture. That film was The Conversation. A taught psychological thriller, The Conversation isn’t as grand in scale or as epic in scope at The Godfather movies by which it is sandwiched but it’s a deeply intriguing look inside the world of audio espionage and the consequences of it. Gene Hackman leads a terrific cast as Harry Caul, a surveillance expert who has second thoughts about handing in his latest recordings for fear that those he has recorded will be killed, a repeat of a previous job which still haunts him years later.

The film opens onto a magnificent scene which forms the basis of the whole movie. Initially shot from high up on a rooftop the camera details a large plaza in which hundreds of people are milling about, talking and eating lunch, people watching or simply passing through. The shot is alive with detail and beautifully constructed but as the camera slowly zooms in you begin to focus your attention on a mime. Eventually the mime starts to copy a man drinking a cup of coffee. That man is Harry Caul (Hackman). Caul is in the plaza spying a young couple who are slowly circling, deep in conversation. Once at ground level the camera cuts to several other angles, showing the other members of Caul’s team hard at work, attempting to record the conversation. I have seen few better opening sequences than the one detailed above. It’s slow to build, intriguing, interesting and opens up several possibilities for how to proceed.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Black Sunday



Black Sunday, also known as The Mask of Satan or La maschera del dominio in some territories is a 1960 Italian horror movie about a beautiful vampire-witch who is given new life two hundred years after her brutal murder. The movie opens with a horrific scene in which the witch, Asa Vajda (Barbara Steele) is put to death at the stake with a spiked, iron mask hammered onto her face. Blood splatters through the mask’s holes and drips down the woman’s body in a scene which would still shock if released today. For 1960s though, the same year that Alfred Hitchcock got into trouble for showing a toilet flushing in Psycho, its effect must have been extraordinary. The movie continues the trend of shocking throughout its 90 minute runtime but doesn’t simply rely on it. Black Sunday, despite its surprising gore, is a well made film which looks and sounds great and has a very good story at its centre.

The film was directed by Mario Bava in what was technically his debut feature. Previously a cinematographer, he had unofficially completed several films as a director but was always uncredited as he took over from directors who left the films they were helming. His background as a cinematographer helped here to blend beauty and gore and produce a film whose reputation stands out against the plethora of similar films from its period.

The Ultimate Greatest Films of All Time #34th-76th

For the last couple of months I've been compiling a greatest film list based on other greatest film lists. Here are the results of the films from 34th to 76th. Check back soon for 1st to 33rd. If you want to know how I got the results, click here. You can click on a film title for my review.

Night at the Museum



The perfect family film for a Bank Holiday Monday morning, Night at the Museum is a film in which history comes to life. Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) is divorced and unable to hold down a steady job in New York City. His ex-wife believes that the constant uprooting is affecting their ten year old son and pleads with him to settle down and get a steady job. Larry takes a job at the Museum of Natural History as a night watchman but soon discovers that the job is much harder than advertised as the exhibits literally come to life after dark.

I’ve seen this film a few times now but I’m not really sure why. It’s quite fun and passes a couple of hours but it’s by no stretch of the imagination, a classic. Night at the Museum is one of those films that you can put on and turn off the brain, allowing the noises and images to wash over you as your eyes glaze over. What it offers is silly fun and a treat for kids. Unfortunately I watched it alone, in my pyjamas.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

The Ultimate Greatest Films of All Time #77th-115th

After weeks of work, the first part of my Ultimate Greatest Movies of All Time list is ready. I used several lists to calculate the best movies ever and over the next few days I'll be publishing the results. This first part includes the films ranked 77th-115th. The films placed above these will be published in the coming days. To see how I completed the list, click here. You can click on a film's title to read my review of it.

Six of the Best... Marvel Films



Marvel Studios have been responsible for creating some of the biggest box office draws in recent years with their variety of super hero movies taking over from the action movies that preceded them as some of the highest earning films in the world. Beginning as Marvel Films in the early 1990s, the studio originally turned their comic book properties into animated cartoons and with the likes of Spider-Man and the X-Men they created popular and long running animated series. The studio began venturing into movies in the late 1990s with co-productions alongside large studios and began going it alone in 2008. Here are Six of the Best…

6. Spider-Man 2 (2004). The best of the Sam Raimi trilogy, Spider-Man 2 contained some decent CGI and great stunt work as well as a deeper, more emotional story than the first movie. It’s funny and the ‘spidey cam’ looks great. It’s just a shame that Raimi went on to ruin all the good work in his third movie.

The Greatest Films of All Time #1-33

For the last couple of months I've been combining top movie lists to find out once and for all what the best movies ever made are. You can read about the process here and a full list of 742 films in contention will be released later but here is the top 33 in ascending order.

All the President's Men



This 1976 political thriller is based on the book of the same name by Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. It stars Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as the two reporters who were responsible for uncovering the facts of the Watergate Scandal which ultimately led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1974. Nominated for eight Academy Awards it won three and is often regarded as one of the best political thrillers of all time.

The movie manages to capture the sense of urgency, frustration and fear that must be present inside a major newspaper office as its staff are working on a sensitive story such as the one depicted here. It portrays journalistic workings in what appears to be an accurate way and follows the story from beginning to, not quite the end, but a satisfactorily conclusion. The central partnership is strong and ebbs and flows from distrust to jealousy to solid teamwork and mutual admiration and respect. The film also gets to the heart of the Watergate Scandal, introducing a lot of characters who would otherwise have been lost in history.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Citizen Kane



If you were to talk about the best video game ever made, you might describe it as ‘The Citizen Kane of video games’. You might describe New York City as ‘The Citizen Kane of cities’. Personally I mentioned in my review of The Room that it’s known as ‘The Citizen Kane of bad movies’ Citizen Kane has come to be used as a bench mark for all that is great. The best of the best. The top ‘thing’ in any particular field. This of course arose due to the 1941 films’ long held standing of being the greatest motion picture ever made. For fifty years it topped Sight and Sound’s poll of the ten best movies of all time, it is listed as the AFI’s top movie and is currently battling for top spot with one other on my Ultimate Greatest Films of All Time list which is under construction at time of writing.

To my great shame I’d never seen the movie until today. I’m twenty-seven, have been interested in film for nearly a decade and have been writing about the medium for over a year yet I’d never seen the ‘greatest of them all’. If I’m honest I can’t put my finger on why. The movie wasn’t difficult to track down; I have no issue with the black and white, the time period or the subject matter. I think I’ve narrowed down my reasons to two things. The first is the title. Citizen Kane doesn’t do anything for me and as titles go I don’t think it’s particularly strong but I think the main reason was that I was afraid of disappointment. So many times since I began to write my thoughts on film I have been let down and then let down my readers when I didn’t get or didn’t like classic, highly rated films. I think The Lion King is poor, I gave North by Northwest 6/10 and much of 8 ½ was lost on me. It was with great trepidation then that I recently took the plunge and bought Citizen Kane on Blu-ray. And was I disappointed? The short answer to that question is, no. A slightly longer answer is No, I wasn’t and for a longer answer still, you can read the next 1,110 words.

Bullitt



When a defecting Chicago Mobster arrives in San Fransisco ahead of a Senate Sub Committee hearing on Organised Crime, the SFPD are tasked with providing around the clock protection in his cheap boarding house. When hitmen burst in, shooting and seriously wounding a police officer and the mobster turned witness, Lieutenant Frank Bullitt (Steve McQueen) and Sergeant Dalgetti (Don Gordon) pick up the trail to hunt down the murders while uncovering a deeper plot. Their progress is hindered by the ambitious politician Walter Chalmers (Robert Vaughn) who wants the witness back on the stand and blames Bullitt for the attack.

Bullitt is one of those classic, cool 60s movies which I’ve always wanted to see but never got around to doing so until now. I was aware of the famous car chase and that Steve McQueen was meant to have given one of his trademark edgy, cooler than ice performances but I knew little else. As well as the above, the film has a lot to offer the viewer from a fantastic score to impressive cinematography but I was never engaged in the storyline.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Young Frankenstein



When people look back at the films they remember fondly from their childhood, they often remember them through rose tinted spectacles. When I saw The Lion King last year and rated it 6/10 I was given disapproving looks from those who saw it when they were children. One of the films I remember fondly from my childhood is Young Frankenstein. I saw it several times when I was young as it was one of the few VHS movies my parents owned at the time. I haven’t seen the film for about thirteen or so years and while I remembered lots of it, there was much which I’d forgotten or had gone over my head as a child. I’m able to appreciate the film more as an adult and understand the subtle performance of Marty Feldman, get more of the horror in jokes and laugh at the racier stuff which was once lost on me. Young Frankenstein isn’t as good as I remembered, it’s better.

The film came about after an idea Gene Wilder had while filming Blazing Saddles with Mel Brooks. Wilder thought that it would be funny to create a distant relative of the Frankenstein family who wanted nothing to do with the rest of the family and their infamous experiments. The film was put into production shortly after Saddles wrapped and the plot took from the early Frankenstein movies of the 1930s as well as borrowed affectionately from the horror genre and classic comedy. Dr. Fredrick Frankenstein (Wilder) is a brilliant American physician/lecturer who discovers that he has inherited the family’s old world estate. He travels to Transylvania where his grandfather’s experiments get the better of his curious mind.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Frankenstein





1931’s Frankenstein remains after more than eighty years, one of the most recognisable, influential and respected horror movies of all time. While it may do little for the gore hungry Saw generation, to those of us who appreciate the art of film, it stands up against the test of time and despite numerous subsequent attempts at the iconic story, this version will undoubtedly be the one you have in your head. From the imposing gothic architecture and magnificent use of shadow to the distinctive and now ‘go to’ flat head, Frankenstein is a movie which many of us will know before even seeing it in full.

The plot is taken from Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel of the same name and should be known by anyone with at least one functioning sense. The story and its characters are some of the most iconic and recognisable not only in horror history but also literary history and the tale has been repeated and twisted in everything from Mel Brook’s spoof Young Frankenstein to TV classic The Munsters to the recent animated film Frankenweenie and has influenced countless books, TV shows and movies. This adaptation is relatively faithful version of the timeless original text.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Notorious



Set and made in the months following the end of the Second World War, Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious is an espionage thriller set mainly in Brazil. The film features a more romantic plot than many of the director’s previous films and includes a couple of great performances from its leads Carey Grant and Ingrid Bergman. Alicia Huberman (Bergman) is the daughter of a convicted Nazi spy and is enlisted by her adopted United States to counter spy on Nazi activities in South America. Her handler and government agent T. R. Devlin (Grant) falls for his charge and jealousy ensues when Huberman goes to romantic lengths to infiltrate the Nazi group.



At its best, Notorious matches the tension and drama of any Hitchcock movie but there are large swathes which I found uninteresting. Unlike some of Hitchcock’s best which are tense and exciting from start to finish, Notorious ebbs and flows from extreme brilliance to mere average but overall is a very well made and intriguing film.