Sunday, 30 December 2012

Pitch Perfect



AAAHHHH! Pitch Perfect is a teen comedy(?) about a ‘alternative girl’ called Beca (Anna Kendrick) who goes to college despite wanting to go straight to L.A. to try and make it as a record producer. She struggles to make friends in her first few weeks so her Dad (who happens to work at the college) tells her if she joins a social group and still hates her first year, he will pay for her to drop out of college and go to L.A. Beca chooses or rather is chosen for an all girl a cappella group called the Bellas. Beca finds that her free spirit and creativity is choked by the fellow Bellas but slowly begins to enjoy her time with the group. Also there’s some boy stuff, a radio station and room mate who is written in an incredibly racist way.



I went into the film with an open mind and thought that the trailer showed potential. There was a funny gag about the fat girl calling herself fat and an awkward scene in the shower. I also think that Anna Kendrick is showing promise as a great actress. Unfortunately the film is less of a let down and more a steaming pile of popularity pandering and obvious conclusions featuring a soundtrack which for a good hour made me hate music.

La Vie en Rose



La Vie en Rose is a 2007 French biopic about the singer Edith Piaf who rose from a street urchin early in the twentieth century to become one of France’s most renowned singers by the mid point of the century. The film charts her battles against stage fright, mafia control, arthritis, morphine addiction and snobbery as she slowly rises to prominence.

I have to admit that I didn’t like the film. I thought it was muddled, over-long and confusing but in amongst the mess was one of the best acting performances I’ve seen in a long time. Marion Cotillard delivers a spell binding performance as the troubled singer and deserves a much better vehicle for her talents. She transforms effortlessly from the young waif to her height in the fifties and on to the broken woman of 1960. Without her stunning performance the film wouldn’t be worth watching, because of it, it is a must see.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale



A couple of Christmases ago I took a punt on a film I knew very little about on a trip to our local, and excellent, Art House Cinema; Cornerhouse in Manchester. The film was Rare Exports and the gamble paid off. Rare Exports is the sort of oddly engaging and original film which only comes around a couple of times a year. The story was daring and unique and the acting, cinematography and direction were all excellent too. Fast forward almost exactly two years and I watched the film for a second time and while I still enjoyed the unusual Fairy tail like story and darkly comic script, some of the shock and awe which accompanied my first viewing had dissipated.

On the Finnish side of the Finland-Russia border, high in the Arctic Circle, a team of foreign scientists and excavators are carrying out experiments on top of a mountain which overlooks a small village home to Pietari (Onni Tommila) and his father Rauno (Jorma Tommila). The head of the excavation one day announces that they have unearthed the largest burial mound on the planet, something which Pietari believes may be the final resting place of Santa Claus, and not the Americanised Coca-cola Santa but the original, child eating Santa. Pietari’s suspicions begin to take further shape when first all the Reindeer are found slaughtered and then the local children begin disappearing.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

The Hunter



The Hunter was a film I began to hear good things about late last spring but was unfortunately unable to find a screening anywhere close to my local area (which happens to be the third largest city in the UK). In the end I probably saved myself a needless trip to the local Art House Cinema as although featuring some decent moments and a good central performance, The Hunter isn’t a film worth writing home about.

A mercenary/hunter (Willem Defoe) is employed by a shady European biotech company to travel to Tasmania and track the illusive, presumed extinct Tasmanian Tiger. The animal, which hasn’t been seen in the wild since 1930 is believed to have had a venom in its bite which was capable of paralysing its prey. The company, Red Leaf, wish to extract that venom for use in their biotechnology business. When he arrives in Tasmania, the hunter stays with a family who have recently experienced loss and attracts the unwanted attention of local loggers who are fearful for their jobs.

Rebecca



Based on a 1938 novel of the same name and Alfred Hitchcock’s first American production, Rebecca also won the famed Director his only Best Picture Oscar. A young woman (Joan Fontaine) meets an aristocratic widower (Laurence Olivier) in Monte Carlo and following a brief romance the two are wed. The woman returns to England and to her husband’s Cornish Estate where she discovers that the spectre of her husband’s late wife still looms large.

It took me a long time to get into Rebecca (that came out wrong). It took me a long time to get into the film (that’s better) and it wasn’t until the last half hour or so that it was able to hold my attention. I found that I had little interest in the plot which unravelled at a fairly measured pace. The final few scenes though were quite spectacular and helped me to forget the unfortunate boredom which I encountered during the first ninety minutes.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Top Ten 'New to me Films' of 2012


2012 has been a good year for me film wise. As I sit here three days before the end of the year I've seen over 365 films, a few poor, many good and some excellent. Before I write my Top 10 of 2012 List (which will appear on my blog's one year anniversary on January 25th 2013) I thought I'd make a list of the best films which were new to me this year. These are the films which I've seen for the first time this year and were released in 2011 or before. So without further delay, here is the Top Ten. Click the title for a full review.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Bridesmaids



I never intended to see Bridesmaids. When I saw the trailers at the cinema I thought to myself that it was a cross between two films I deeply dislike, Sex and the City and The Hangover. How wrong I was. I saw the film at the cinema, in IMAX oddly, and for a second time on TV yesterday and both times I laughed more than enough times to satisfy and on the first viewing at least, really enjoyed the story. The film helped to change the perception of women in comedy and gave several great roles to terrific comic and straight actresses. Written by its star Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo who herself has a brief but funny cameo, the film is about a group of women preparing for a wedding. Annie (Wiig) is going through a sort of third life crisis and feels shunned by her best friend Lillian’s (Maya Rudolph) friendship with a wealthy and beautiful banker Helen (Rose Byrne). Things go from bad to worse for Annie as she loses her job and apartment and reaches rock bottom when her behaviour at a bridal shower loses her her invite to the wedding.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Silver Linings Playbook



Patrick (Bradley Cooper), recently diagnosed with bi-polar is released from a psychiatric hospital eight months after nearly beating a man to death for sleeping with his wife. He arrives home to find that his superstitious father (Robert De Niro) has lost his job and is making money as a bookmaker on American Football games. Patrick is desperate to reconnect with his wife despite their problems and a restraining order and soon falls in with a friend of a friend called Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) who promises to get a letter to Patrick’s wife in exchange for help in a dance competition.

I had no interest in seeing Silver Linings Playbook, especially after my girlfriend saw it and gave a one word review of “meh-umm-yeah”. A friend of mine though said it was excellent and it’s popping up in awards nominations and best of lists so I thought I should check it out. If the film gets anywhere near any major awards for anything other than acting, I will be shocked. The film is average at best but flourishes due to some great acting performances which start at the leads and extend right down to the secondary and tertiary characters.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Where the Wild Things Are



A lonely but imaginative boy is fed up with being ignored at home and after an argument with his mother, runs away. He reaches a pond and gets into a small sailing boat. The pond soon becomes a sea and after days afloat he finds himself on an island inhabited with seven giant creatures. Spotting a similarity between himself and the destructive Carol (James Gandolfini) the boy Max (Max Records) soon finds himself in the middle of the group and convinces them he is a King in order to stop them eating him. Each monster is like a version of Max and themes of jealousy, fear, boredom and frustration are the same which trouble pre teen children as they grow up.

I never saw the film on its initial release back in 2009 but had heard some good things about it. A quick search confirms that it appeared on numerous Top 10 lists but for me it isn’t quite that good. I thought the effects and cinematography were excellent and the story had its moments but it was also a little dull in places and the sort of film which I’d rather have watched in my early teens.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

An Unexpected Journey



Around sixty years before the events of The Lord of the Rings trilogy a young Hobbit called Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) was whisked off for what became a life changing adventure. An Unexpected Journey is based on the first few chapters of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit but contains almost all the highlights of the book I read as a teenager. After a tortured pre production that included a change of writer and director, problems with studio financing, the temporary loss of it’s central actor and location issues, An Unexpected Journey is finally here and even for a year which featured the likes of Prometheus, The Dark Knight Rises and So Undercover, this was the film that I’d been looking forward to the most all year. I saw the film close to a week ago now and am only just writing a review. Generally I’ll put pen to paper or rather finger to keyboard within twenty-four hours of seeing a movie but my experience of An Unexpected Journey made me put off writing in the hope of a second viewing. With Christmas around the corner and a trip back to my hometown looming I probably won’t get to see the film again until 2013 but will probably update my review once I have. The reason for wanting to see it again before writing a review is because the impossible happened; I didn’t like it.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Jack Reacher



The popular Jack Reacher series of novels had its film rights snapped up soon after the release of the initial novel in 1997. Fifteen years and seventeen books later, the first film has finally made it to the screen. The ninth book in the series Long Shot forms the basis of the film Jack Reacher. A lone sniper sets up shop in a parking garage before training his sights on people across the river. In quick succession he fires six shots, killing five random people. A trail of clues left at the scene leads to his arrest and after failing to confess he asks the police to get him Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise), an ex Military Policeman and drifter. By the time Reacher gets to the scene of the crime the accused has been beaten into a coma. Believing the culprit is guilty based on a previous encounter; Reacher is nonetheless hired by Defence Lawyer (Rosamund Pike) and begins to uncover a deeper plot.

 I’ve read just one Jack Reacher novel and enjoyed it but not enough to rush out and continue with the series. Even though I’m not a die hard fan I raised my eyebrow at the casting of Tom Cruise as what has become a distinctive and well loved character. Having seen the film, to me the casting now fits perfectly. Cruise may lack the height and physical presence of Reacher but he more than makes up for it in screen presence and overall there are very few areas in which I can fault the film.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre



Often credited as one of the most influential horror movies of the last forty years, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is responsible for creating many elements now frequent in the slasher genre. The film was produced for a budget of less than $300,000 but went on to bring in over £30 million at the box office and has since spawned five sequels or remakes with a sixth scheduled for release in 2013. I saw the 2003 remake when I was about eighteen and remember being nonplussed by its story and violence. My Dad then asked me if I’d seen the original and when I said I wasn’t sure he replied “You’d remember if you’d seen the original.” Well nine years on I’ve now seen the original and despite some good moments and obvious influence it has had on recent horror I fail to see its appeal. I didn’t find it scary or threatening, the story bored me and I was very glad that it was only 84 minutes long.

If you’ve ever seen a slasher film then the premise will sound very familiar. Five friends are travelling through central Texas on their way to a run down house owned by the family of Sally (Marylin Burns) and her brother Franklin (Paul A. Partain). Along the way they pick up a hitchhiker who scares the group, attacks Franklin and flees. Once they reach the homestead the group slowly begin to dwindle as they encounter chainsaw wielding, leather mask wearing neighbour/maniac.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Life of Pi



Life of Pi is based on a 2001 novel of the same name, often thought un-filmable. Taiwanese Director Ang Lee has somehow managed to bring to life an incredibly visceral story and create the most beautiful film I’ve seen all year. The astonishing story makes for a wonderful focus which is given a spectacularly beautiful backdrop, filmed in 3D. For only the second time since the 3D ‘revolution’, (see Hugo 2011) the extra dimension adds to rather than detracts from the story and helps to create a sumptuous world full of incredible sights, great laughs and awful sadness.   

A middle aged Indian man now living in Canada is recounting a fantastical story to a Canadian man who is trying to write a book. The Indian, Pi, tells the writer about his childhood in French India where his father owned a zoo. Pi speaks of his deep and profound religious beliefs and discloses that he has found solace in several major religions, something that he was chastised for by his atheist father. When Pi was around sixteen his family made the decision to emigrate to Canada, sell the zoo’s animals and start afresh. On the voyage through the Indian Ocean their ship was struck by a huge storm from which only four survive. Pi is soon left almost alone with just a Bengal Tiger called Richard Parker for company, adrift on a vast but beautiful Ocean.

Monday, 10 December 2012

The Muppet Christmas Carol




The first film to be produced following the death of The Muppets creator Jim Henson, The Muppet Christmas Carol was well received upon its release in time for Christmas 1992 and has grown in stature ever since. The film is a fairly faithful retelling of Charles Dickens’ famous novel albeit with Muppets in most of the roles. The central character of Scrooge though is played incredibly straight by Michael Caine. I have a vague recollection of seeing certain scenes but don’t think I ever saw the film as a child. I had been warned that it is impossible to hate the film but if anyone was going to then it would be me. Around this time of year every year my girlfriend will inevitably yell the words “You’re running Christmas for me!” as I moan about decorations, cards, crap TV or buying presents. I am the archetypal Grinch like character, a man who cares nothing for Christmas and even less for Christmas movies. (See my Die Hard rant). It was always unlikely then that The Muppet Christmas Carol would strike a chord with me and as it turns out I didn’t really enjoy it. It is not without its positives though.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

The Kid



Undoubtedly Chaplin’s finest film of the period and one of the highlights of his long career, The Kid was not only his first feature film but also in my opinion his first great work. Produced at a difficult time in the star’s life, The Kid is the first of several Chaplin films which perfectly balanced comedy, drama and pathos. His previous films had often contained at least one of these elements and earlier films such as A Dog's Life and The Immigrant had provided at least two, but for the first time in 1921, despite personal tragedy and pressure from his studio, Chaplin created his first true masterpiece.

Production began in 1919 just ten days after the death of Chaplin’s baby son Norman. Chaplin, who had been struggling creatively, was instantly hit with an idea that was to become The Kid. As his Tramp character Chaplin finds a baby who has been abandoned by a poor single mother (Edna Purviance). The Tramp ends up raising the child alone and when he is around six or seven the child (Jackie Coogan) helps his adoptive father in his window repair business. The father follows the boy around town as the boy breaks windows. Soon after being smashed, the man turns up to repair them. All is well until the boy falls sick and a Doctor realises the Tramp is not the natural father. Soon after Social Services arrive to take the boy from the man in what is one of the most gut wrenchingly moving scenes in cinema history.

Seven Psychopaths



Director Martin McDonaugh’s difficult second album, Seven Psychopaths is the Irish Director’s follow up to the 2008 sleeper hit In Bruges. The massively disjointed plot concerns a screenwriter called Martin (Colin Farrell) and his inability to complete his latest script which he has titled Seven Psychopaths. His writing is hampered by a drink problem and his disruptive friend Billy (Sam Rockwell), a dog kidnapper. One day Billy and his friend Hans (Christopher Walken) kidnap a dog belonging to gangster Charlie Costello (Woody Harrelson). Martin’s script begins to take shape as he encounters more and more psychopaths but the three friends end up on the run while trying to escape the Mob.

I’ve been looking forward to Seven Psychopaths for a long time and when I first saw the trailer a few months back I instantly watched it again because I loved it so much. It’s with a heavy heart then that now having seen the film I have to report that it’s a bit, average. There are some clever ideas in there and some great little vignettes but on the whole there is far too much going on. Several times I thought to myself “That would make a good movie” but then it was dropped instantly. Despite several good performances, some great direction and a few funny moments I left feeling underwhelmed.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Die Hard



One of the most iconic action movies from the decade of the action movie, Die Hard made a movie star of TV actor Bruce Willis and has thus far led to three sequels with a forth on the way. A critical hit upon its release and an enduring cult hit, Die Hard has been immortalised in popular culture thanks to its lone hero central character, gritty action and signature quote “Yippie-ki-yay motherfucker!” Even a quarter of a century on I’m able to watch Die Hard with the same joy and enthusiasm as it was first greeted when I was a mere toddler. The story is simple. New York City Cop John McLane (Bruce Willis) is on his way from New York to L.A to be with his estranged family at Christmas. He is dropped off at his wife’s Christmas party in the Nakatomi Plaza building but soon finds the office has been taken hostage by a group of mostly European terrorists lead by the masterfully camp Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman). With just his wits, a vest and handgun, McLane must take back the building, save his wife and save Christmas.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Pan's Labyrinth

Guillermo del Toro’s dark fairy tale Pan’s Labyrinth has been on my list of films to watch for years and I’ve finally got around to seeing it. I’ve had no excuse as my girlfriend bought it at least two years ago and it has been sitting on my shelf gathering dust ever since. I’ve found that Pan’s Labyrinth is the sort of film that comes up in conversation with people who generally don’t watch films that aren’t in English and won numerous awards upon its release. My girlfriend is a big fan and though I enjoyed the effects and historical side to the story, I wasn’t completely won over by it.

In Fascist Spain a young girl called Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) is forced to leave her home and move to the countryside where he mother’s new husband is beating into submission the remnants of the anti-Fascist rebels. The girl has an affinity for fairytales and soon meets a fairy who takes her into a labyrinth. There she meets a goat like creature called a Fawn who tells her that she is a long lost Princess and must complete three tasks in order to be united with her Royal father. The fairytale is set against the backdrop of a vicious new regime made real by Ofelia’s new stepfather Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez).

Rear Window



Based on Cornell Woolrich’s short story It Must be Murder, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 Mystery film is regarded as one of the Director’s finest. Having broken his leg while away on an assignment, photographer Jeff Jefferies (James Stewart) whiles away the hours watching his neighbours from the window of his apartment. One day he wakes up to discover that a woman across the courtyard is no longer there and her husband is acting suspiciously. With the help of his girlfriend Lisa Freemont (Grace Kelly), Jeff investigates his suspected murder case from the confines of his window side wheelchair.

I’ve only seen around half a dozen of Hitchcock’s films but I’ve found that my favourites are those which I have heard nothing about. I was a little bit disappointed by North by Northwest but loved Rope and Shadow of a Doubt. Rear Window falls somewhere in between. I can certainly see why it is considered so great but there are films in the Director’s extensive cannon which are just as if not more impressive.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

A Day's Pleasure



Although often regarded as Chaplin’s least funny First National film, A Day’s Pleasure is a simple but effective two reel comedy which considering the circumstances behind its creation, is something of a triumph. While Chaplin was busy working on his first great film, The Kid, the studio were growing impatient with his lack of output so he hastily put together A Day’s Pleasure, a seventeen minute romp set around a family outing aboard a boat. While the film lacks the sort of story and romance of the films Chaplin was capable of producing at the time, it does feature some clever slapstick and laugh out loud moments.

The movie is notable for two brief cameos. The first is a shot of The Chaplin Studios, seen in the background of the opening scene. Although only briefly glimpsed, you can clearly see its isolation, allowing one to note how L.A has grown over the last ninety years. The second cameo comes from Jackie Coogan, the boy made famous by his heartfelt performance in Chaplin’s next film, The Kid. Coogan is barely seen though and has no role other than to sit in a car and get carried onto the boat by his father. The only other actor to have much of a part is Tom Wilson, a man who appeared in four of Chaplin’s films as well as D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance and Birth of a Nation as well as over two-hundred more. Wilson plays a man with whom Charlie fights following a spousal mix-up. Even Edna Purviance goes without character here, perhaps going to show how rushed the production was.

Crash



A surprise winner of Best Picture at the 78th Academy Awards, Crash features an intertwining narrative set over two days in Los Angeles. Not to be confused with David Cronenberg’s 1996 film of the same name (as I did), the movie features a series of stories, each with a theme of racism. A large ensemble cast that includes the likes of Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Sandra Bullock, Thandie Newton, Brendan Fraser and Terence Howard compete for screen time but each is given just enough to serve their purpose.

I’ve never felt an urge to watch Crash and only really did so as part of my Best Picture Series. While it isn’t a bad film, I’m more than a little surprised it won film’s top award in 2005. Unusually for me I’ve only actually seen one more of the Best Picture nominees from that year, Capote, which itself was fine but not what I’d consider film of the year quality. Crash’s win may come down to the fact that 2004 was a poor year for film as it is one of the weakest Oscar winners I’ve seen so far.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

The Return of the King



The third and final chapter of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Return of the King broke records both financially and critically. It became only the second film to surpass $1 Billion at the box office and received a record equalling eleven Academy Awards having won in every category it was nominated for. It also became only the second sequel to win Best Picture and the first to win when its predecessor hadn’t. Much like The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, I loved the film upon its initial release and also like the first two; my affinity has waned in the subsequent years. Personally I don’t think it is much better than the other two films and have a feeling that its huge awards haul has more to do with the series as a whole than the individual film.

While Frodo, Sam and Gollum edge ever closer to Mordor, Gondor’s capital Minas Tirith comes under attack from an even larger Orc force than was present at the battle of Helms Deep. Gandalf sends word to Rohan and an old alliance is rekindled as the two nations of men stand side by side one final time. Even with help, Gondor looks set to fall unless Aragorn is able to muster fresh troops and Frodo is able to destroy the Ring.

Monday, 3 December 2012

The Two Towers



Following on from 2001’s The Fellowship of the Ring, the second instalment of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy finds the Fellowship disbanded. The plot follows what remains of the party in three separate storylines which barely cross paths. Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas set about trying to find Merry and Pippen while killing as many Orcs as they can along the way. The aforementioned Hobbits meanwhile end up in a strange forest full of giant tree herders known as Ents and Frodo and his companion Sam head on towards Mordor, determined to destroy the One Ring. It isn’t long though before they are joined by another companion, Gollum, the former owner of the ring, a creature torn apart by its power and hold over him.

Much like The Fellowship I loved The Two Towers when I first saw it but as my enjoyment of the first has diminished over time, the same can be said for its sequel, only more so. In terms of how much I enjoy the trilogy, this middle part is my least favourite, though not by much. This instalment also has themes which stretch beyond the reach of Middle Earth such as industrialisation and ecology. It also features a battle which lasts close to forty minutes and is considered by many to be one of the greatest ever committed to the big screen.

The Fellowship of the Ring



In December 2001 the film world was enthralled by the first part of New Zealand Director Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. Not since Cecil B. DeMille’s Biblical epics of the 1950s had filmmaking been seen on such a scale as Jackson’s Fantasy adaptation. Going on to make close to $900 million worldwide and the recipient of four Oscars and five BAFTAS including Best Film, The Fellowship of the Ring helped to shape the way films began to be produced in the early part of cinema’s second century. Shot entirely in the Director’s home nation over several years the Lord of the Rings trilogy soon became one of the most successful and critically acclaimed film trilogies of all time and eleven years ago I thought it was one of the best things I’d ever seen.

Featuring a large ensemble cast the plot of the first film focuses on the grouping of nine individuals who team up to destroy a powerful ring that threatens to destroy peace in Middle Earth. Hobbits Frodo, Samwise, Merry and Pippen join Wizard Gandalf, Dwarf Gimli, Elf Legolas and men Aragorn and Boromir as they set out from the Elven city of Rivendell on a quest to Mordor to ‘cast the ring into the fiery chasm from whence it came.’ Along the way their progress is halted by suspicion, in fighting, and Orcs, a vicious Elf like creature, bred for war.

The Front Line



Set mostly amid the 1953 Korean War ceasefire negotiations, The Front Line (고지전) stars Shin Ha-kyun as First Lieutenant Kang from Military Intelligence. Kang is sent to the Front Line to investigate the suspicious death of a Captain and to intercept any North Korean mail that is being sent through the Southern Postal Service. When Kang arrives at the front he discovers a comrade he though was long dead is in fact alive and well. Lieutenant Kim (Go Soo) is found serving in the same regiment as Kang is forced to investigate and finds life on the Front Line even harsher than he imagined. In the midst of his investigation the war is still raging on as both sides attempt to capture an important hilltop.

South Korea has produced many excellent War Movies over the last decade or so but despite some great scenes and cinematography I wasn’t able to fully get on board with this one. That being said there is a lot to like about the film and it won four Grand Bell Awards in 2011 including Best Film. I found that throughout the film I was interested in the story but not the characters.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Sightseers



Sightseers is a black comedy from micro budget Director Ben Wheatley. Written by and starring Steve Oram and Alice Lowe, the film follows a couple on a caravanning holiday around the rural areas of Northern England. Chris is interesting in finding his verve while he attempts to write a book and brings his girlfriend Tina along as his muse. Tina has a co dependant relationship with her elderly mother who blames her for killing their dog Poppy a year earlier. Despite her mother’s best efforts to stop her, Tina travels with Chris visiting such wonders as The Lakeland Pencil Museum and Crich Tramway Museum. The trip faces problems though as both Tina and Chris can’t help murdering people they meet who annoy or look down on them

I saw Director Wheatley’s critical hit Kill List last year and hated it. Its violence made me nauseous and my girlfriend wanted to walk out, as many others in our screening did. Despite this I went along to Wheatley’s latest (minus my girlfriend who refused), hoping to give the Director another chance. He is a darling of the British film industry at the moment with every professional critic seemingly in love with his violent microcosmic filmmaking that depicts every day British life in extraordinary ways. In the end I’m glad I caught Sightseers. It’s a very funny and odd story that features some stunning scenery and two well measured comedic performances.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Punch Drunk Love



Paul Thomas Anderson’s third film and his shortest by some mark is Punch Drunk Love, a fantastically extrovert romantic comedy which combines shades of Coen-esque humour and dare I say Lynch-ian motifs of magical realism and dual personality. The film is unlike any romantic comedy I’ve seen before and personally I prefer it to the likes of There Will be Blood and The Master for which the Director is better known.

Although the plot is often a bit thin and sometimes incidental it concerns a lonely and occasionally awkward man called Barry (Adam Sandler) who owns a small business that sells novelty toilet plungers. Barry has the misfortune of having seven sisters, a situation which emasculates him and causes him no end of hassle and grief. One day while at work Barry witnesses a horrific car accident and suddenly ends up with a harmonium. That same day he also meets a pretty girl called Lena (Emily Watson). Sometime later, while lonely, Barry calls a premium rate sex line, a move which brings about a lot more pain and hassle than even seven sisters can muster.

Airplane



The second spoof film from frequent collaborators Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker is probably their most famous and most successful. Parodying the disaster movies of the previous twenty years and using 1957s Zero Hour! as its basis, Airplane! is frequently mentioned amongst the top comedies of all time. When both pilots become ill on a flight from Los Angeles to Chicago there is only one man (Robert Hays) aboard who can land the plane. He though is an ex-Military Pilot who has never recovered from his wartime experiences and is only on board to try and save his relationship with his Stewardess girlfriend (Julie Hagerty).  

I saw Airplane! a long time ago and had remembered bits and pieces but I enjoyed it a lot more on this viewing. The film is packed full of jokes but having watched it alone I subsequently wish I’d watched it with others.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

A Trip to the Moon



You may notice the tag line at the top of this page reads ‘Reviewing 100 Years of Film’; well I’m going back even further here with Georges Melies fantastic Le Voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon). The most famous of Melies many hundreds of short films, A Trip to the Moon is loosely based on two popular turn of the century novels, From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne and The First Men in the Moon by H. G. Wells. At a meeting of astronomers, one man proposes a trip to the Moon. Despite some discord among the members, five people agree to travel with the man and launch from a giant gun inside a bullet shaped rocket. When they get to the Moon they witness incredible celestial sights from its surface before encountering aliens who ‘take them to their leader’.

Despite looking fairly primitive now one hundred and ten years after its release, A Trip to the Moon was, for its time, incredibly advanced both in story and execution and is considered as the first Science Fiction film ever to be produced. The film features some incredible animation which is mixed with physical props, effects and editing to create a surreal vision of the Moon over sixty-five years before man ever set foot upon its surface.

Chinatown



Loosely based around the California water wars, Roman Polanski’s final American film stars Jack Nicholson as Private Investigator Jake Gittes. Gittes is hired by a woman claiming to be the wife of the chief engineer of Los Angeles Water and Power as she believes her husband is having an affair. Gittes uncovers the alleged affair which opens up a twisting tale of deception, double crossing, profiteering and murder. Often sited as one of the greatest Neo-Noir and mystery films of all time, it helped to cement Jack Nicholson’s status as an A List star and nearly forty years on still has a timeless feel and wonderfully layered curiosity about it.

Although I thought Chinatown was an excellent film I found myself zoning in and out of it as I watched. I don’t know why though as there is very little I didn’t like and I think this says more about my frame of mind at the time than the film itself. Despite my concentration waning, I noted several wonderful things about Polanski’s classic Noir gem.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Schindler's List



As the Germans are relocating the city’s Jews into a self contained ghetto, Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) arrives in Krakow to make his fortune from war profiteering. Having lavished gifts and charm on the ruling Nazis, Schindler persuades the influential Jewish accountant Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley) to oversee his business of manufacturing mess kits. By hiring Jews, Schindler has a seemingly ever lasting supply of cheap/free labour and gets rich quick but his attitude towards the treatment of the Jews changes when he witnesses the clearing of the ghetto. While before he turned a blind eye, he soon became more interested in the plight of his workers until finally trying to save over a thousand from certain death at great cost and risk to himself.

Undoubtedly one of the most powerful and films of the last twenty years, Schindler’s List has become the foremost film for telling the story of humanities darkest and most irrepressible days. Despite incredibly moving films such as The Pianist and Life is Beautiful, Schindler’s List stands alone at the top as not only a moving and distressing portrayal of humanity at its worst and best but also as a sublime exercise of film making. For me Schindler’s List of one of the rarest of films for which I have no criticism whatsoever. I can’t think of a single shot, line or movement which could be improved.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

The Master



Second World War veteran Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is struggling to get to grips with civilian life five years after the end of the war. Obsessed with sex and with a severe drink problem he stows aboard a boat after leaving yet another job. The boat he is on is home to a party being thrown by Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Dodd known as The Master takes an interest in the wondering mind of Freddie and introduces him to ‘The Cause’, a philosophical group that Dodd controls. The Master attempts to control Freddie’s drink problem and bring him deeper into his inner circle, often against the wishes of those closest to him.

I’d been looking forward to The Master for months having heard great things from festivals and then its US release. I feel really disappointed then that I walked out of the cinema feeling tired and underwhelmed. Despite many positives the film went nowhere and felt slow and dull.

Spirited Away



Often regarded as one of the greatest animated films of all time and Japan’s highest grossing film in history at the time of its release, Spirited Away is an animated adventure, written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Ten year old Chihiro is travelling with her parents to their new house when her father takes a wrong turn that leads to what looks like an abandoned Amusement Park. Though scared, Chihiro follows her parents who find the Park deserted but discover food has been left out. As the parents begin to tuck in Chihiro looks around and discovers a Bath House where she meets Haku, a boy who tells her to get back across the river before sunset. As she returns to her parents she discovers they have been turned into pigs and she is stuck in a strange world of spirits where her kind is not welcome.

Spirited Away reminded me of some of the great children’s adventures such as The Goonies or Labyrinth but also features the kind of animation that reminded me of my childhood. The hand drawn style is reminiscent of classic Disney but also of the cartoons that I was bought up on in the late 80s and early 90s. It doesn’t appear to be pushing any boundaries but is deceptively deep and beautiful.

The Iron Lady



Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (Meryl Streep) now in her eighties is struggling with dementia and has difficulty distinguishing the past from the present. As she potters around her home she tries to place herself but continues to struggle with the reality that her husband Dennis (Jim Broadbent) has passed away. As Thatcher attempts to come to terms with her loss she slips back into the past, remembering her lower middle-class youth and subsequent rise to becoming the world’s most powerful woman. With Dennis by her side she finds it difficult to let go of the past and realise that she no longer has the power she once had. As an ageing woman she realises that she has virtually no power at all, not even over her own life.

I have really mixed feelings about The Iron Lady. On the one hand it features a career defining performance from someone who is already one of the most distinguished actresses in history but on the other hand it is a biopic about one of the most divisive people in recent history that somehow manages to treat a neutral line. There is surely no one in Britain who has neutral feelings towards the former Prime Minister. People either love her or loathe her yet the film appears to brush over both the best and worst of her character and time in office, leaving a fairly mundane story in its wake.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

End of Watch



LAPD Officers Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Pena) patrol one of the most crime ridden areas of Los Angeles; South Central. Their close relationship and dedication to their job runs in parallel with Taylor’s fondness for filming everything they do on the beat. Cameras are attached to the Officer’s uniforms, car and Taylor even uses a handheld camera when investigating a crime scene or just driving around. When a couple of busts seem to share a link with some highly decorated or ‘blinged out’ weapons, Taylor suggests the pair carry out some detective work which gets them embroiled in a war with a Mexican drug cartel.

Although full of many of the usual buddy cop clichés and with problems around the filming style detracting from the drama, End of Watch is an above average Action-Drama which combines a great central relationship, two good performances and a gritty realism. Its main selling point though is the found footage style which is where the film occasionally fails.

Your Sister's Sister



Filmed over just twelve days and largely improvised, Your Sister’s Sister stars Mark Duplass as Jack, a man struggling to function a year on from the untimely death of his much loved brother. Jack’s best friend and brother’s ex-girlfriend Iris (Emily Blunt) offers to let Jack stay at her father’s secluded cabin to help clear his head. When he arrives he finds that the cabin is already occupied by Iris’ sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt), a lesbian who has just ended a seven year relationship. Mark and Hannah get to know each other and a bottle of tequila later end up in bed together. When Iris unexpectedly arrives early the next morning a barrage of secrets, lies and half truths comes her way as the other two try to hide what happened the night before.

For a film with a budget which wouldn’t cover Twilight's glitter funds, Your Sister’s Sister looks great. Occasionally you can tell that it was done on the cheap but it never matters. The improvised script and three superb performances help to give the film a realism which propels the drama and comedy forward towards a crescendo, a turning point from which there is no way back. The film’s great selling point though is its story.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Amour



Winner of the 2012 Palme d’Or at Cannes and with plenty more awards to come in the coming months, Austrian Director Michael Haneke’s film Amour is a story about enduring love. Georges (Jean-Loius Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) are retired music teachers, living alone in their eighties in their spacious Parisian apartment. Cultured and very much in love, their relationship comes under the ultimate test when Anne suffers a stroke. Georges does his best to care for Anne who begins spiralling further and further into ill health. Against the advice of nurses and the couple’s daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert), Georges refuses to hospitalise his ailing wife and chooses to carry the burden of her care on his aging hips.

Although Amour lacks the malevolence and hard edged cruelty of some of the Director’s best known work, it is still a film which has the ability to shock. Uncharacteristically for Haneke it is also an extremely beautiful tale but also happens to be the most depressing film I’ve ever seen. I have rarely left a cinema feeling so low or despondent and it wasn’t until I was on my way home that the film’s greatness managed to shine through the dismal but ultimately beautiful plot.       

Monday, 19 November 2012

Sons of the Desert



A colleague of mine, knowing about my love of Buster Keaton and especially Charlie Chaplin asked what I thought of Laurel and Hardy. I had to admit to him that I’d never actually seen one of their films and he helped to rectify that by lending my Sons of the Desert, a film which he told me was one of their most accessible. Laurel and Hardy make a pledge that they will go to the Sons of the Desert Convention in Chicago but have trouble convincing their wives to let them go. After sweet talking fails to work they resort to deception but trouble is waiting for them when they get back home.

For my first Laurel and Hardy film I was mildly impressed but not left with an urge to see more of their work straight away. I enjoyed the story and the characters are great but I didn’t laugh that much. Rather, I had a satisfied smile on my face which only broke into laughter on a couple of occasions. The naughty little boy act was quite fun and Oliver Hardy’s looks to camera were something that seemed familiar to me despite never seeing one of his films before.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn -Part 1



The penultimate film in the inexplicably popular Twilight series is probably the worst to date. Having avoided the hordes of mindless team whatever fans on its initial release I finally persuaded myself to sit down and watch the DVD twelve months on. I was unable to get through it in one sitting. The plot is one of the least tortuous and most dull affairs I’ve ever seen. Bella (Kristen Stewart) is marrying Edward (R-Patzzz), much to the distain of Jacob (Taylor Lautner) who shows his anger by ripping off his shirt less than five seconds into the film. Following their seemingly real time marriage which feels longer than most actual weddings I’ve been to, the happy couple go on their honeymoon, first passing through Rio, full of stereotypical dancing Brazilians before ending up on a secluded island. Edward is worrying about hurting Bella during consummation and through a vomit inducing sex montage; they finally consummate their love after all these years. But uhoh!! They must have skipped sex education class as Bella ends up with a baby up all inside her belly. How this happens is beyond me as the father is dead. I was under the impression that dead people had no living cells but somehow Edward’s sperm are alive. Anyway, the baby starts trying to kill Bella and lots of people attempt to save her, despite the fact that she’s one of the least likeable characters in cinema history.

Jab Tak Hai Jaan



My second Bollywood film and first at the cinema, Jab Tak Hai Jaan holds special significance for the Indian film industry as its famed Director Yash Chopra who won four Filmfare Best Director awards during his career, died just a couple of weeks before the film’s premier on 21st October 2012.  There are dedications to him both before and after the film which show a vibrant and seemingly healthy 80 year old Director behind the scenes, crafting both a film and friendships. His final film is a romantic drama about a poor Indian living in London called Samar (Shahrukh Kahn) who falls in love with a rich girl called Meera (Katrina Kaif). The story is told over ten years and at times feels as though it is in real time but is told through a young wannabe Journalist called Akira (Anushka Sharma) who comes across a journal detailing a fascinating story of love and heartbreak. The journal belongs to Samar, now ten years older and a commander in the Indian Army Bomb Disposal unit. Akira takes an interest Samar’s story as well as the man himself.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Sunnyside



When a workshy farmhand (Charlie Chaplin) misplaces a herd of cows the local town of Sunnyside suffers the consequences. The young farmhand has even more trouble on his hands when a well to do city boy (Tom Terriss) arrives in town and has his eyes firmly set on the hand’s girl (Edna Purviance). Chaplin’s forth film for First National was preceded by the hugely successful Shoulder Arms and proved to be one of his least successful of the period. Despite this the film holds up fairly well today and has a first act which is of some note. Unfortunately though the film misses a step with the introduction of the romantic plot from which it never truly recovers.

The first thing I noticed about the film is that unlike almost every Chaplin film to come before, there was an actor on second billing. Most of Chaplin’s early title cards read something along the line of “Charles Chaplin in…” or “….. with Charlie Chaplin” but Sunnyside reads “Charlie Chaplin in Sunnyside with Edna Purviance”. I don’t recall seeing another actor’s name so prominently placed on a title card before this film and it perhaps shows Chaplin’s ever increasing belief in his leading lady as an actress. As it turns out, Purviance’s role isn’t really much larger than in the likes of Burlesque on Carmen, The Vagabond or A Dog's Life but it feels like she is the focus of attention for a larger part of the film.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Groundhog Day



When arrogant TV weatherman Phil Connors (Bin Murray) travels to the small town of Punxsutawney for the yearly Groundhog Day celebrations he wants the day to go as quickly as possible. Feeling the job is beneath him he is looking forward to a quick piece to camera before heading back to Pittsburgh. Unfortunately for Phil his miserable day in the small town lasts a lot longer than expected as when he wakes up the following morning he discovers that it is Groundhog Day all over again. Phil keeps experiencing the same day over and over desperate for a way to see a tomorrow which seems as though it will never come.

I first saw Groundhog Day about fifteen years ago and have watched it everyday since. In 2006 it was added to the US Nation Film Registry and I’m not surprised. As well as being a family favourite it can also be watched on a different level and raises questions about ones purpose or meaning in life as well as exploring the mental issues around repetition and the feeling of being trapped or held by something beyond your control. Although Connors is trapped by some sort of paranormal force the film could be seen as an analogy for the trappings of poverty and even touches on that aspect in a literal way with a brief inclusion of a couple of drunk characters. Even if you don’t want to read into the film in any great detail, it is still enormously entertaining and ironically the sort of film that you can watch again and again.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Argo



Shedding light on the incredible true events of the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis, Director Ben Affleck stars as CIA evacuation specialist Tony Mendez. After the US Embassy in Tehran is stormed by Militants in 1979 and more than fifty staff are taken hostage, six manage to escape into the custody of the Canadian Ambassador where they remain hidden for weeks while the State Department and CIA try to figure out a way of extracting them from the most watched and most anti-American city in the world. Mendez has the idea of creating a fake movie and giving himself and the six hidden embassy staff fake identities as Producers, Scriptwriters and the like, on a location scouting assignment before simply flying out of the country. The idea is met with scepticism by the CIA and State Department as well as the hidden six but with no other viable options, Mendez is given the green light.

Despite co-writing Good Will Hunting with Matt Damon in the mid 90s, Ben Affleck soon became known for his celebrity relationships and mediocre performances in overblown and critically disappointing films such as Pearl Harbor and Armageddon. It came as a surprise to many then that Affleck’s Directorial debut Gone Baby Gone was as good as it was and he then followed this up with another critical success The Town in 2010. With Argo, Affleck is now three for three and seems to be going from strength to strength as a Director.

Rust and Bone



Rust and Bone or De rouille et d'os in its original French title is a 2012 melodrama staring Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts. An unemployed man moves from Belgium to the south of France with his five year old son in search of a better life. Finding nothing but poverty and overly macho, short term jobs he meets a Killer Whale trainer who has become involved in a fight outside a nightclub he is working at. Months later she calls him while depressed while she is recovering from a severe injury sustained while working with the whales. The two strike up a complex friendship with each helping the other out of the rut they find their lives in.

Rust and Bone features a couple of extremely proficient performances, some wonderful cinematography, a tough story and excellent soundtrack but is not an easy watch. There are moments of extreme violence and heartache which will make the audience recoil in their seat and don’t go in expecting a traditional French love story because you won’t find it here.

Frankenweenie



The third in a triumvirate of late summer/early autumn horror animations and the most hotly anticipated in my eyes, Frankenweenie is a feature length remake of the short film that Director Tim Burton made while working for Disney that got him fired twenty-eight years ago. Over a quarter of a century later and with a back catalogue of hits under his belt, Disney invited Burton to remake his short for them. A homage to early talkie Hollywood horror and filmed in black and white stop motion, Frankenweenie is the story of a young boy called Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan) who loses his only childhood friend, his dog Sparky. Whilst in science class and having seen a dead frog have his legs manipulated by electricity, Victor gets the idea to try the same thing with his deceased dog and is successful in reanimating Sparky. Although he tries to keep it a secret it isn’t long before other children from school find out and blackmail Victor into helping them to do the same thing. The results of their experiments though are much less successful and lead to a horde of rampaging monsters that threaten the town.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Skyfall



Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first James Bond film, Skyfall, the 23rd screen outing for 007 sees Bond tackle the threat of cyber terrorism in a modern world which is very different to that which he first traversed half a century ago. The film, which I’ll open by saying is a lot better than the previous effort Thingy of Whatsit is a return to form for the series and puts Bond back in its place at the centre of the action thriller genre. Having lost a file containing the names of undercover agents, Bond (Daniel Craig) chases down the culprit only to be halted by MI6. Presumed dead, 007 begins to rot while MI6 comes under attack from a man with a score to settle with M (Judi Dench).

The film finds many parallels with its, Britain’s, MI6’s and indeed its central character’s place in the world. They all appear to be past their best, living in a world that has moved on, leaving them behind. Britain, a hundred years past its prime is being kept safe by MI6 whose field agents appear ill equipped to deal with the modern threats of hidden terrorists who wear no uniform and report to no country. Indeed the west itself appears to be losing its grip on the world and this is tackled with the appearance of Shanghai, perhaps this century’s New York. The motif goes further, examining the likes of M and Bond themselves and challenging them to prove that they are still relevant in the twenty-first century.

Top Secret



Part of the 80s onslaught of spoof and parody movies, Top Secret was written and Directed by Jim Abrahams and David and Jerry Zucker, the men behind the likes of Airplane!, the Naked Gun series, Hot Shots! and latter Scary Movie titles. Top Secret is primarily a spoof of Elvis’ movies and the stereotypes of East Germany, mixed with a little bit of World War Two. Nick Rivers (Val Kilmer in his first screen lead) is an American pop star with a stereotypical late 50s sound. He is invited to East Germany as part of a cultural event but soon becomes involved with a beautiful woman (Lucy Gutteridge) who is in turn trying to rescue her father (Michael Gough) from an East German Prison with the help of the French Resistance. Rivers soon becomes imbedded in the Resistance and uses his wit, charm and good looks to help save the day.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

The Room

In 2003 an unknown filmmaker called Tommy Wiseau wrote, produced, directed and stared in the independent film The Room. Although thousands of independent movies are released every year, Tommy’s was different. The Room was perhaps the worst film ever made and has since gained cult status, growing with popularity all the time as it is discovered by new people. If you search for The Room on YouTube you will find clips with views in their millions and about two years after first being told about the film, I finally watched the entire thing today. Although I’d seen the clips and had heard the stories, nothing could quite prepare me for the ninety-nine minutes I saw. I have never seen a film that was as bad as The Room but I have seen plenty which I have enjoyed less and although billed as a drama, I laughed as much as I have during any film this year.


The plot centres around three people in a love triangle. Johnny (Tommy Wiseau) is a fairly successful banker living with his fiancé Lisa (Juliette Danielle) who is a bit of a bitch. Jonny piles his unusual love on her and they seem very happy together but she has eyes for his best friend Mark (Greg Sestero). Lisa begins an affair with Mark who is at first worried about destroying his friendship with Johnny but soon finds Lisa too irresistible to ignore. Lisa’s mother get’s cancer but this is swiftly ignored and never mentioned again. Johnny begins to get depressed and becomes even more incoherent that usual. Then he pets a dog and plays football in a tuxedo. Mark becomes increasingly agitated and as a result his beard sometimes disappears only to come back in the next scene. The film comes to a head at Johnny’s birthday party where Lisa invites all of Johnny’s friends. Johnny tells her that this was a good idea but is still suspicious about his fiancé and best friend…