Showing posts with label 7/10. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 7/10. Show all posts

Monday, 19 May 2014

The Two Faces of January



The Two Faces of January is an interesting little film written and directed by Hossein Amini, a man best known for penning the script of Drive. Here Amini delivers another taught script set in early 1960s Greece. American tour guide and part time swindler Rydal (Oscar Isaac) gives tours to unsuspecting travellers in the Greek capital Athens and one day comes across an American couple with whom he strikes up conversation and a brief friendship. The tour guide is charmed by the couple and drawn to their wealth and beauty but when it becomes apparent that the couple aren’t quite as well refined and put together as they first appear, Rydal helps them to evade those hunting them before becoming embroiled in their strange and murky circumstances.

There were two things that attracted me to this movie. The first was the name Amini. I was curious to see the screenwriter’s directorial debut and was interested in his script. The second factor was Viggo Mortensen. At this stage in the actor’s career I feel as though I can pretty much trust that if he’s agreed to be in it, it will be good enough to see. Mortensen does indeed impress and his choice of role is once again solid. The movie is about surface and sheen and the attraction that bright and beautiful things hold while under the surface bubbles something more sinister. There’s an uneasy feeling which envelops the film and it stabs through the false surface from time to time in a wonderfully calm but out of control manner.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

To Catch a Thief



A beautiful if underwhelming film, Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief marked the director’s third and final picture starring Grace Kelly. Joining the actress is another actor in his third Hitchcock movie, Carey Grant. Grant plays John Robie, a once jewel thief turned French Resistance fighter who now retired, tends to his vineyards high above the C├┤te d'Azur. When a series of robberies which display Robie’s hallmarks are committed, the police come looking for the man known as ‘The Cat’ and in order to clear his name, he gets hold of a list of potential targets in the hope of out witting and out manoeuvring the real thief. First on the list are Mrs. Stevens (Jessie Royce Landis) and her daughter Francie (Kelly).

To Catch a Thief lacks some of the dramatic tension and edge of the seat thrills of Hitchcock’s finest films but what it lacks in tautness, it makes up for in other ways. Hitchcock cleverly gets passed the Hays/Breen censors with some fantastic sexual innuendo and half hidden imagery. The romantic side of the plot is much more developed than the dramatic side and Hitch wows his audience with sexual fireworks (literally) and a John Michael Hays script which while leaving little to the imagination, somehow feels clean and moral. Coupled with the spectacular beauty on display, this is a movie which is worth investing time in.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Gangs of New York



It’s been a couple of years since my last viewing of Martin Scorsese’s historical epic, Gangs of New York. It’s a movie I’ve seen several times since I first saw it in 2002 as my first ‘18’ rated movie at the cinema. It’s a film I’ve always had a lot of affection for. I found it strange then that on this particular viewing, the movie had lost a lot of its charm.

Loosely based on the 1928 book of the same name, Gangs of New York is a dirty and blood-soaked account of the various gangs which vied for control over New York City’s Five Points in the middle of the 19th Century. Focussing specifically on two characters, it takes historical context and real names, mixing them into a world of fact and fiction with some glorious set pieces and cinematic design. Having witnessed his father’s death at the hands of Bill ‘the Butcher’ Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis) as a young child, Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo Di Caprio) comes back to the Five Points as an adult to reap revenge. He finds the Points much the same as he left it; a squalid and rat infested mismatch of languages and races, the very thing which Cutting despises about the area in which he is King.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

The Big Sleep



The Big Sleep is a 1946 film noir starring the married couple of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Bogart plays Private Detective Philip Marlowe who is employed by a retired General to help resolve the gambling debts of one of his two attractive daughters. Marlowe soon discovers that there is more at stake than simply some unpaid debts and a confusing and ever deepening plot unfolds, one which contains blackmail, duplicity and murder.

The movie is powered along thanks to some great dialogue and obvious chemistry between the two leads. Its plot however is as impenetrable as a Nun’s chastity belt and just gets more and more confusing as it progresses. The story throws out leads and clues which subsequently lead to more leads and clues, many of which ultimately end nowhere. Raymond Chandler, the writer of the novel upon which the film is based, famously stated that not even he could answer some of the questions the plot places in front of the viewer.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Her



Spike Jonze’s Her is a sweet, poignant and yet gently chilling romantic comedy about a man who falls in love with his computer’s operating system. Nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture, it’s been met with critical acclaim. It features a fascinating conceit which is deeply explored and contains some beautiful set and costume design as well as some exceptional performances. Why is it then that I found it as cold as a hibernating laptop?

It’s 2025 and Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is a letter writer in Los Angeles. His marriage has failed and he’s delaying the signing of his divorce papers, holding out for a second chance which he knows is never going to come. Desperately lonely, he’s become a slight recluse, distancing himself from friends while maintaining a false sunny disposition in their company. One day Theodore sports a newly released operating system (OS) in a mall, one which promises to learn and adapt, whose artificial intelligence is designed to be more than a computer but to be a friend. Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) as the OS calls herself, becomes Theodore’ friend and soon, his lover. 

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Wadjda



Wadjda, a German-Saudi Arabian co-production was one of the films I missed last year which I most wanted to catch up with. The first feature film shot entirely in the KSA and the first to be directed by a Saudi woman, Wadjda was a film which I had hoped would wipe away my preconceived ideas about a nation I know little about. Unfortunately it acted to strengthen those ideas and actually add to them. It is however a thought provoking movie with a lot of heart and allows a glimpse behind the curtain and into a rarely seen land.

Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) is a sprightly and industrious eleven year old girl living in Riyadh. It’s her dream to own a green bicycle which she spots in a local shop but more than that, she dreams of the freedom which would accompany owning the bike. Constricted by rules and religion, Wadjda is a rebel, wearing Converse trainers and listening to foreign pop music, she’s often at her School Principle’s office or causing her equally troubled mother concern. In order to earn the money for her prized bicycle, Wadjda enters a Koran reciting competition for which she studies (ahem) religiously.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Making a Living



February 2nd 1914, exactly one hundred years ago today saw the launch of one of the most successful Hollywood careers in history. On this day a century ago, a twenty-four year old Englishman called Charles Spencer Chaplin made his screen debut in a one reel Keystone comedy called Making a Living. Eighteen months later he would arguably become the most famous entertainer on the planet and by his late twenties he was the richest. Being a man for whom Chaplin has a special place in my heart, not to mention a permanent inked place on my arm, today is something special for me and to celebrate I decided to watch his first film exactly a century after its initial release.

Although I’ve reviewed over forty of Chaplin’s films in the past two years on this blog, Making a Living was one that I had never seen. In a way I’m glad that today was the first time I’d seen the short film as there’s something interesting about seeing it for the very first time exactly a hundred years after it was first exhibited. Chaplin plays a charming swindler called Edgar English having not adopted his iconic Tramp costume and persona until his second film, Kid Auto Races at Venice. During the thirteen minute runtime, English has frequent run-ins with Henry Lehrman’s reporter and eventually falls foul of the Keystone Kops, leading to a chaotic and slightly confusing conclusion.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Gone with the Wind



Epic in every conceivable facet, Gone with the Wind is a hugely successful, multi award winning melodrama which sweeps its way through intertwined families of the Old South during The American Civil war and subsequent reconstruction era. Notable in its day for its long pre-production and actual production problems, the film has come to be known as one of the most loved in history. As well as receiving a record ten Oscars, a feat that wasn’t beaten for twenty years, it was also the highest grossing picture of its day and still remains the highest grossing film in history when adjusted for inflation. When released in 1939 it also had the distinction of being the longest American sound film, clocking in at a patience testing 221 minutes, or 234 including overture and intermission.

Although recognised upon its release as a critical and commercial success, and despite its place in history well and truly assured, more recent critical reassessments have been less kind, picking up on details which were less consequential in the late 1930s and early 40s. I’d heard both the good and bad second hand but decided to finally set aside many hours on a rainy Sunday and watch it for myself. My opinion of the picture is less favourable than the norm but I’m able to recognise it for its strengths and can’t dispute its historical standing in the medium of film.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Monsieur Verdoux



Released seven years after Chaplin’s last film The Great Dictator, Monsieur Verdoux arrived after yet another turbulent period in the actor/writer/director’s life. Based on an idea by Orson Welles which Chaplin bought from his friend for $5,000 in 1941, the film is loosely based on the life of a famous French bigamist and murderer called Henri Landru. Here Charlie Chaplin plays Henri Verdoux, who after losing his steady job during the Great Depression, marries several wealthy old women before murdering them and stealing from their estates. Chaplin plays Verdoux as a dapper and cunning gentleman. Charming and flirtatious he is an expert salesman - his product, himself. Cleverly he woos unsuspecting women, keeping several on the go at once and when money becomes tight he strikes. Speaking accurately about his work to a neighbour he declares, “Yes I have a job. If I lose one, I can always get another”. It’s this kind of pitch black humour that runs through Chaplin’s darkest film and the same humour that drew mass criticism from journalists and the public alike.

Stepping back in time for just a moment to understand where Chaplin found himself in 1947 it’s not difficult to see why he was given such a hard time in the press. Following several highly public failed marriages, often with women several decades younger than himself, Chaplin found himself in 1943 at the centre of the biggest celebrity scandal since the Arbuckle trials over twenty years earlier. An inspiring actress who Chaplin had privately tutored called Joan Barry had publicly declared the star to be the father of her new born child and a paternity case was played out in the full glare of the media that same year. Although two blood tests proved Chaplin was not the father, the court still ordered him to pay child support and the media backlash was something that Chaplin never really recovered from. Added to this was Chaplin’s refusal to become an American citizen after over thirty years of working in America and suspicions of Communist sympathies in an ever more paranoid and right wing country. So when in 1947 Chaplin released a film that not only did away with his popular Tramp character but also appeared to glamorise murder and polygamy, the knives were out.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Black Sabbath



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



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

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

This Is the End



I was a little worried when I first saw trailers for This is the End as the premise seemed to be remarkably similar to the forthcoming conclusion of the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy, The World’s End. Fortunately though, it appears that the films have very little in common. This is the End is an apocalyptic comedy film written and directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. The pair, who have collaborated in the past with the likes of Superbad and Pineapple Express here deliver a film in which some of the funniest names in Hollywood (and Danny McBride) play versions of themselves during an apocalyptic event.

Rogen meets old friend and actor Jay Baruchel at the airport for one of Jay’s infrequent visits to Tinsletown. Hoping to catch up, Jay instead finds himself at James Franco’s house-warming party where he feels uncomfortable and out of place with fellow actors and celebrities. As he nips out for some cigarettes, Jay bares witness to what at first appears to be an earthquake but soon becomes apparent to be something much more destructive. As the end of the world turns the Hollywood Hills to ash, a few actors are left holed up in James Franco’s house with nothing but a few beers, some drugs and a milky bar to sustain them.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Irreversible



While recently discussing beautiful actresses for last week’s Six of the Best feature, a friend asked if Monica Bellucci was in consideration for inclusion on the list. I had to be honest and say that although I knew the name, I didn’t know what the actress looked like and couldn’t name any of her films. I was told that she was in the film Irreversible, that it was horrible and that I should watch it. Again, like the actress, the film and its notoriety wasn’t unknown to me but I hadn’t seen it. The following discussion was filled with reasons as to why I should and shouldn’t watch it and I agreed with my friend bringing the film to work later in the week. I was warned however that under no circumstances should I watch it with my girlfriend. I was to wait until she was out or away or something, but just not in the house. Now I’ve seen the movie, I’m glad I heeded his advice.

Irreversible is a movie which wants to make you uncomfortable from the very get go. Its interesting title sequence features back to front wording which seems to slide off the screen as the ‘camera’ rotates like the hand of a clock while pulsating, barely audible noise plays over it. This infrasound has been clinically proven to create anxiety, revulsion and sorrow when played to humans and it successfully created all three in me. The plot uses a non linear narrative to tell of two men who attempt to enact revenge after a rape. Beginning at the end and finishing at the beginning, the film isn’t difficult to understand and it’s much simpler than the likes of Memento. The structure is fascinating and works really well to create at times, tension, panic, worry, and towards the end, a welcome sense of calm coupled with impending dread.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Date Night



Date Night is a film that I didn’t see at the cinema because little about it appealed to me. The premise seemed weak and having yet to discover 30 Rock, I was unaware of female lead Tina Fey. Having recently watched it when it was on television though, I was pleasantly surprised by a film which is much funnier than I had anticipated.

Phil and Claire Foster (Steve Carell and Tina Fey) are your typical middle aged, middle income family, living in suburban America. Their lives are driven by their children and slight financial difficulty which is imposed by the recent recession. Tired of their usual, hastily organised date nights, the couple decide to head into New York City with the hope of snagging a highly sort after table in a swanky Tribeca restaurant. Unable to book under their own name, Phil takes the reservations of another couple who fail to show and their mistaken identity leads them down a path of deception and danger when they discover that a gangster is out for blood.

Date Night is driven by some likeable leads, delivering highly improvised and very funny dialogue around the conceit of a story which is fairly basic but something I haven’t seen before. The movie occasionally runs out of steam and relies on silly action set pieces to reinvigorate the plot but there’s also a lot in the film which is relatable to people who are in long term relationships.

Friday, 14 June 2013

The Gold Rush



Imagine being a big fan of The Beatles who doesn’t like Hey Jude or a car enthusiast that isn’t keen on Ferraris. That’s the situation I find myself in when it comes to The Gold Rush. I’ve never met as big a Charlie Chaplin fan as myself and doubt I ever will. His 1925 film saw the beginning of his golden period, a period which lasted fifteen years before his deportation from the US and witnessed the production of some of his most successful films. Chaplin remarked in his own splendid autobiography that he wanted The Gold Rush to be the film that he was remembered for and to an extent it is. Why is it then that I don’t love his Ferrari, his Hey Jude, his Gold Rush? The Gold Rush was amongst the first Chaplin films I saw and I had high hopes for it. When I was initially discovering Chaplin’s work it was obvious that this was one of his most famous and as a result, surely one of his best. Many people would argue that it is. I was instantly disappointed though with a film that I felt was short of laughter and featuring a plot which I cared little for. The story certainly beats some of his earlier shorts and it’s better written and deeper than say his follow-up The Circus but it doesn’t really do anything for me. It feels like the plot of a short that has been stretched to breaking point and isn’t as sweet, dramatic or sophisticated as the likes of The Kid or City Lights.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

A Room for Romeo Brass



A Room for Romeo Brass is a film which reminded me of several things. The strong accents adopted by the characters reminded me of my time in the East Midlands while at University and Shane Meadows’ gritty, personal, social realist style felt like a re-imagined Ken Loach. The film tells the story of two young boys who meet an older man and start hanging around him while he attempts to get one of the boy’s sisters to go out with him. It’s a simple premise but makes for an absorbing plot thanks to a well written and natural script alongside some fine performances.

The film sees the big screen debut of Paddy Considine, an actor who has since worked with Shane Meadows on several occasions and has cemented himself as one of Britain’s most exciting acting talents. Not only has Considine had mainstream success in The Bourne franchise but also directed the multi award winning Tyrannosaur in 2011. Acting alongside the talented Considine is another frequent Meadows collaborator, Andrew Shim, who plays the title role of Romeo. The movie is driven by Considine though, through the early stages of exploratory and slightly comedic development, towards the latter stages in which the character and film become much darker, Considine is a magnetic and welcome presence on the screen.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

The Iceman



Between 1948 and 1986, New Jersey Mafia hitman Richard Kuklinski is said to have killed somewhere between one hundred and two hundred and fifty men. Having committed his first murder when in his middle teens, Kuklinski eventually gravitated towards the world of organised crime and for several decades worked as a contract killer for the DeCavalcante crime family based in Newark, New Jersey. He did all of this while posing to his family as a successful currency broker. The Iceman is Israeli director Ariel Vromen’s biopic thriller of the ice cold killer, based on interviews with the man himself. It stars an in form (when is he not?) Michael Shannon in the lead role.

The Iceman is a film that I’ve been hotly anticipating for some time. I have an interest in the history of the Cosa Nostra and find that it often forms the basis of excellent movies. Although this is an above average film and features several great moments, it won’t go down with the likes of The Godfather, GoodFellas or even Donnie Brasco in the annals of the great mafia movies. I expect there will be many comparisons drawn to Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece of the genre in particular but unfortunately, despite a fantastic basis for a story, the film is like a skimming stone. It skips along the surface without delving into the murky deep beneath the surface.

Friday, 7 June 2013

The Invisible Man



“He’s invisible, and mad!” Those four short words from the classic Universal horror The Invisible Man sum up the film more than any plot synopsis ever could. Directed by James Whale in between 1931’s Frankenstein and 1935’s Brideof Frankenstein, the movie is often overshadowed by its monstrous companions but The Invisible Man should not be overlooked. The movie features some astounding and groundbreaking special effects which seem years ahead of their time. These are combined with H.G. Wells’ classic story to form a memorable if not at times slightly formulaic horror movie.



Production on The Invisible Man was fraught with difficulty and set backs and the story went through several incarnations before it was decided to follow Wells’ own novel closely. Alternative versions featured invisible rats or even foregoing Wells’ novel altogether but it was finally decided to use the source text much more closely than originally intended. Casting for the central role was also difficult with a number of actors including Whale favourites Boris Karloff and Colin Clive coming and going before an unknown English stage actor was given the part on the merit of a rather disastrous screen test. Claude Rains had just one Hollywood screen test, years before the film was made and it didn’t go particularly well. It was said that his acting was stiff but forced and the test lead nowhere. When James Whale was looking for an actor whose voice would be doing the acting though, Rains’ test screamed out to him and he was offered the part.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Blazing Saddles



Blazing Saddles is a 1974 satirical Western-Comedy written and directed by Mel Brooks. One of Brooks’ many parody films, Blazing Saddles was a huge box office hit, becoming only the tenth film in history to pass the $100 million mark upon its release. It opened to mixed reviews but is now generally regarded as a classic. The film takes place in the Old West in 1874 where the peaceful town of Rock Ridge is under siege from a crocked State Attorney General (Harvey Korman) who wants to clear the town in order to build his new railroad through it. The local townsfolk decide to send for a Sheriff and the Governor (who is under the control of the Attorney General) sends a black man (Cleavon Little) in the hope that his presence in the little, all while town will send the residents fleeing faster than any gun slinging cowboy could.

Like most people, I have seen Blazing Saddles before. It’s one of those films that you’ve probably seen bits of, even if you’ve never heard of it. The beans scene for instance will be instantly recognisable to everyone. The one and only time that I saw the film before today was probably about fifteen years ago, before my voice (and other things) had dropped. I remember laughing a lot at the film and thought I was well over due a second watch. Disappointingly I didn’t laugh much this time. I chuckled occasionally and liked the whole idea of the film but much of the humour either went over my head or under my nose.

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.