Friday, 28 February 2014

Nymphomaniac: Volume II
Dir: Lars von Trier
2014
*****
Nymphomaniac, the conclusion. The second part appeals less somewhat (only just) for a few reasons. Manly because it doesn't have that one great scene like the first film had (the first part had several). My favorite scene of the first film is the one involving Uma Thurman's Mrs. H, my only criticism being the casting of Shia LaBeouf and his awful fake British accent. Interestingly, the Mrs. H scene is that of punishment. Joe is punished for her actions, she is ridiculed and made to look foolish by an adult. My favorite scene in the second part is similar but the complete opposite. Joe chooses to be punished, quite severely so, and ridiculed in this case by someone much younger than her. This parallel is the key to the film. Nymphomaniac is all metaphor, none of it is real. Trier takes the ordinary to the extreme to highlight how ridiculous our collective way of thinking often is. It is not about sex. It should be noted that the person our Nymphomaniac is talking to is a-sexual, so we have the perfect balance of ideas and ideals. I'd worry about anyone who thinks this film is either porn or sexy.
Nymphomaniac also signifies something else. I believe Trier is one of the greatest directors/storytellers of all time. All themes covered throughout his films are present in this film. Certain scenes are almost carbon copies. I believe this is intentional. I think this could mark the end of one and the beginning of another chapter in his career. His idea of right often being wrong and our perception of wrong often being right is a fascinating one and he explores it through some of the most striking films ever to have been committed to celluloid. As a film critic I welcome it, as I can write what I like and who is to say I'm wrong. Put that into an everyday context though, look at your life and question everything you see, is everything you know to be everything you think it is or do you take everything for granted? Believe nothing, question everything, opinion can be both fact and incorrect. Try a different cup of Tea for a change.

"A film should be like a stone in your shoe" - Lars von Trier.
Nymphomaniac: Volume I
Dir: Lars von Trier
2014
*****
Nymphomaniac. The synopsis says: A self-diagnosed nymphomaniac recounts her erotic experiences to the man who saved her after a beating. This is essentially what the films are but this is merely the basis for what is an essay on society. Sex is everywhere in society, 'Sex sells' as they say, so it's the perfect focal point to begin the discussion. Everything can be compared to sex and everything comes back to sex. Indeed, we are all here because two people had sex. So when is sex wrong, when are we wrong and why are some of us more wrong than others. Once again, Lars von Trier flips what is regarded as correct on it's head. Triers film are provocative but those who are most offended are generally the ones who are least open to discussion. Nothing is shock for shock sake, everything has a reason. From the outset, a beautiful lit scene of snow falling in silence is followed by the deafening sounds of F├╝hre mich by Ramstein. If it doesn't fit it is because you don't think it does, not because it is fact. I saw this in quite a prestigious London cinema that was full of young trendies and older arty types and judging by their reactions (of laughter during quite serious scenes) I get the feeling that the film with go misunderstood for quite a while. Anti-Christ got awful reviews on release, now it is looked on favorably by critics, I guess it's something to do with Trier, a misconception, maybe we're watching different films as this all seems quite obvious to me. You're enjoyment will depend on how much you want to be challenged during a film and how open to discussion you are. The two films need to be watched back to back to be appreciated fully, the first chapter is about youth, the naive part. The second film is adulthood and self-retribution among other themes.
Good Vibrations
Dir: Lisa Barros D'Sa, Glenn Leyburn
2013
****
When I think of Punk I automatically think of London. If someone were to ask me where else it effected I would probably then say New York, although their scene was very different. Belfast would one of the last places I would think of, despite knowing full well that The Undertones were from there. I guess London (the City in which I reside) is littered somewhat with music shops, venues, studios of historical importance so I have never heard of Good Vibrations, even though it is probably more important than all the London record shops put together (or at least most of them). It's the epitome of what Punk is all about, breaking down barriers and being caught in the middle, so Belfast during the 70s is probably the perfect location in which to show it's power and influence. This is a great alternative music biopic that is historically accurate as well as historically important in modern politics and culture.
Wadjda
Dir: Haifaa al-Mansour
2012
*****
Sometimes the most simplest of things are the most remarkable. Wadjda, a young Girl living in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, wants a Bike so that she can race her friend Abdullah, a Boy she has befriended. There is nothing extraordinary about this situation for most of us, but in Saudi Arabia this isn't as ordinary as it sounds. Religious laws and what is expected from women of all ages are explored here through the eyes of Wadjda, questions are raised but the answers are left to the audience. The symbolism of this simple premise is quite a big deal, never has something so little meant so much. Director Haifaa Al Mansour is the first female to ever make a film in Saudi Arabia and at great risk, for a lot of the film she had to hide in a van and direct via walkie talkie. It is also the first film to be shot entirely in Saudi Arabia, the ban on cinemas effects everyone, so the challenge to Saudi censorship is huge. I deserves all the praise it receives but I have to point out that politics aside, it is still a wonderful film in it's own right.
Nim's Island
Dir: Jennifer Flackett
2008
*
I quite liked the idea of the story and indeed the film started so well with the lovely animated introduction but just seemed to go down-hill from there. Everything was overdone. If it was a cake it would be a cup cake with wedding cake sized icing, sickly, hard to swallow and with very little content. Abigail Breslin was fine, Gerard Butler was quite good in his double role but the supporting cast of exaggerated stereotypes where tiresome and Jodie Foster's performance is probably among the worst I've ever seen. Her attempts at physical comedy made me want to throw things at my television and shout bad words. Not what you want from a 'Family film'. I think the directors (always be weary when there is more than one) had great intentions initially, they just got lazy and went all Hollywood. I'm surprised this got a cinema release and didn't go straight to video.
Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang
Dir: Susanna White
2010
**
Nanny Mcphee and the Big Bang (or Nanny Mcphee returns as it was unimaginatively called in the USA) is much like the first film, Mary Poppins with half the charm and none of the animation. A sweet film, the big selling point really is Nanny McPhee's rule; 'When you need me but do not want me, then I must stay. When you want me but no longer need me, then I have to go' but like I said, Mary Poppins with half the charm. The fantasy element is actually wasted here, the time and location is unknown but it's basically England during WW2. I'm guessing they never divulge the exact date so no one can't point out the various continuity and historical inaccuracies. It shouldn't really matter in a kids film but somehow here it does. Enough now I think, the novelty is over.
Nanny McPhee
Dir: Kirk Jones
2006
***
Although it's not a particularly original story, it is a very sweet and touching children's film. Thompson is brilliant (both as actress and writer) but Angela Lansbury steals the show and I didn't even realise it was her until the end credits! It certainly isn't without it's own magic.
Underworld: Rise of the Lycans
Dir: Patrick Tatopoulos
2009
***
What do you do when you've killed off all the good characters of your franchise, are fresh out of ideas and your leading lady is pregnant? You make a prequel and pretend you're doing something new, even though you spend the last two films telling the exact same story. It's as ridiculous as casting Michael Sheen as a bare-chested action hero (which it also does). Tony Blair fighting vampires does sound good but it really isn't in reality. I'll watch the next one but only because they're going back to story and I'm glutton for punishment.
Underworld: Evolution
Dir: Len Wiseman
2006
***
So that's what the cross between a Werewolf and a Vampire looks like is it? Not what I expected but it's all good. Actually Tony Curran's Marcus looked pretty cool. I'm a bit late to the party with this franchise, I've been wanting to watch for some time though and it feels like it's going to be another Resident Evil as in they're not particularly great films but they are very watchable and generally good fun. There was some pretty cool gore scenes here which made this horror fan happy and overall I think I liked it better than the first. Len Wiseman is a pretty good action director, all credit to him!
Underworld
Dir: Len Wiseman
2003
***
I'd been looking forward to watching Underworld for a while before I finally got round to it. I'm not too disappointed either. It's a Gothic-Matrix really, flash visuals, lots of fighting, lots of shooting. Still, I can't help but think Vampires vs. Werewolves could have been a bit cooler than this. It does bother me though that Vampires are always so wanky in films and why do assassins always wear tight-leather jump-suits or long leather coats, it's not very inconspicuous. It does what it says on the tin and does it well.
The Hangover Part III
Dir: Todd Phillips
2013
*
Where is the Hangover? Seriously, well done for not going with the tired formula of the first two films but you really should have a Hangover in a film based on Hangovers right? The actors look tired, the script is tired and this viewer/reviewer is tired. Zach Galifianakis and Ken Jeong have had their time I feel, I'm not sure they have anything else to give us so I hope they and everyone else involved got paid handsomely for their trouble. If that's not enough, the female equivalent to Zach Galifianakis, Melissa McCarthy, puts in yet another 'Why the hell are you famous?' performance. Real Hangovers are more fun than this.
The Hangover Part II
Dir: Todd Phillips
2011
**
In trying to better the first film, the makers of The Hangover II forgot to inject the element of originality. I'm not saying they haven't been creative, it's just that the whole sequence of events became quite predictable and the shock tactics became a little less shocking each time. The overall story was fine as were the cast but I thought the ending was horrible. I also think Zach Galifianakis shelf-life is nearly up, unless he does something a bit different soon.
The Hangover
Dir: Todd Phillips
2009
***
The Hangover is funny. It made me laugh quite a few times in fact. It isn't, however, as funny as everyone says it is. I thought Zach Galifianakis and Ed Helms were both very good, they obviously have a talent for impromptu comedy but their greatness is often marred by the films unfunny performers, namely Ken Jeong & Rob Riggle. Todd Phillips has grown up as a director but unfortunately there is still a lot of stupid and unfunny 'Frat' humour here that he really needs to rid himself of, without it, The Hangover would have been a much better film.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Shadow Of The Vampire
Dir: E. Elias Merhige
2000
****
Shadow of the Vampire is one of cinemas greatest little quirks. Urban legend has it that actor Max Schreck was in fact a real vampire when he played his role of Count Orlock (Dracula - but they didn't have the rights to call him that as Bram Stockers estate would not allow it). It was said that Schreck and director F.W. Murnau had a secret agreement, Murnau would reward Schreck with a human sacrifice and keep his Vampirism a secret if he would star in what would be the greatest and most realistic vampire movie ever made. As urban legend goes, it's one of the best in the history of cinema. To make it into a film was an act of risky genius. It was well received with critics but not many people went to see it. It made just over £200,000 which in movieland is a disaster. Personally I've not heard many people say nice things about it but now I've seen it I have to disagree. I love the idea and being a fan of the original (and the Herzog remake) I have to say I found it to be a great new chapter in the ongoing development of the original idea. I'm a sucker for films about films but not so much of mixing fantasy and reality. When doing so it is important to do so tastefully, with respect and creatively. Shadow of the Vampire does all that and more and is well worth a watch. Maybe give the original a watch first though for full effect.
I Wanna Hold Your Hand
Dir: Robert Zemeckis
1978
*****
I've said it countless time before and i'm going to say it again. Actually no I'm not. Wait, I can't resist, I'm saying it again, the 70's is the best decade for film. Probably. So how great was it to discover a great film that I'd never heard of! I Wanna Hold Your Hand is Robert 'I made Back to the Future and then made crap 3D cartoons' Zemeckis's debut film....and it's fantastic. Being the 70's and being young and inexperienced he really goes for it. How many teenage girls got injured in the making of this film? Doesn't matter, every bruise, break and ruptured spleen is worth it. Wendie Jo Sperber, rest her soul, performed the one of the funniest roles I've ever enjoyed, her and the brilliant Eddie Deezen were a match made in heaven. Each character holds their own in each given sequence and each sequence is as funny as each other. My wife and I laughed a lot. This isn't a classic! Why the hell not! Forget the Beatles, it's not really about them, unless you like the Beatles then you'll like it too but then every should like this. If you don't like it you must be mad or weird.
Keyhole
Dir: Guy Maddin
2011
***
Ok, so it's the Odyssey but in a house. And they're all dead. Right? Or at least Ulysses is dying? Isn't he? Ok, maybe he just died. Slowly. I don't know. There, I said it. Except I am right, it's all about Ulysses's life but more-so his regrets before dying. Probably. What do you mean you've never heard of Guy Maddin? No, me neither, but apparently he's a big deal. I feel I've been missing out. I like an odd film just as much as the next guy doesn't, so it was fine by me. It's a visual treat and Jason Staczek's amazing soundtrack is hauntingly beautiful. It lost me in the beginning, also a bit at the end and for quite a lot of the middle but it's art, I did art at University so I can say 'I get it'. I have credentials to prove it. Anyway, be gone with you, you cultureless swines, go watch a 'Blockbuster' or something and leave us clever people to our art.
Accepted
Dir: Steve Pink
2006
***
It fails at raising what it thinks is a serious argument and only proves that the minority is actually the majority and who cares anyway. To think that way would be taking it too seriously though and I'm not going to do that. I've wanted to see this film in years as I had heard good things about it from people I don't hate that much. I also wanted to finally see the film that has Jonah Hill dressed up in that Hotdog costume. I liked it, it's silly. It verges on being yet another US college cliche but it is better than most. That's not saying much but it was still enjoyable.
I Am Breathing
Dir: Emma Davie, Morag McKinnon
2013
****
I am Breathing is an important film but above that it is a privilege. It explains the basics of Motor Neurone Disease without going into too much detail, I didn't realise how quickly it can take effect of its victims but otherwise this film is more about the man rather than the illness. I say this film is a privilege because it is about as personal as it gets, Neil Platt lets us into his last days of life without ego or drama but purely as a form of advice, for want of a better word. Good advice from a dying man. That's a beautiful thing. Dying so young of Motor Neurone Disease however is not. Neil Platt faces death with a healthy attitude that isn't for the cameras but is an honest balance of uplifting strength and heartbreaking reality. It's not an easy film to watch but it certainly isn't a hard one either, as we only see what we need to see, the rest is tastefully left for friends and family. It's a powerful and thoughtful film that deserves to be seen. Rest in Piece Neil Platt.
Call Me Kuchu
Dir: Katherine Fairfax, Malika Zouhali-Worrall
2012
*****
Call Me Kuchu is pretty shocking viewing, even if you are a homophobe. Homophobia angers me greatly and there is a lot of it about these days. I don't even like the word as it's not a phobia, it's an ignorance and a hatred. This film is essentially about hate and ignorance. The missionaries who first traveled to Africa those many years ago have got a lot to answer for, it's sickening and shocking to see the hate fueled messages they continue to bring over, all based on inaccurate religious nonsense. Unfortunately this film shows the reality of exactly how dangerous the situation is with heartbreaking consequences. It's horrible to see but it's great that it was all caught on camera as this needs to be seen by all. Documentary film making at its most important. Watch the film and then go online to see what you can do to end this shocking attack on human rites.
The Intruder
Dir: Roger Corman
1962
****
The next time you hear someone say that Roger Corman is a hack then you should point out this film to them (and also the brilliant documentary 'Corman's World' while you're at it). Apart from low budget slashers, fibreglass monster movies and awesome Exploitation films, Corman also made films of great importance and not just important to cinema. The Intruder is a film that challenged the outcry following school desegregation in the South of America in the late 1950s. The decision was very unpopular at the time with the streets awash with anti-black campaigning, violence and racist hatred. It's fair to say the deep south showed its true colours. It is a sad chapter in history in that sense but also an important part of our developing history which will hopefully lead to civil rights for all. Back in 1961 though, tension was still high. Corman made a bold film about the bigotry just 4 years after desegregation which took some guts when you look at the levels of hatred and violent ignorance that stood as a real threat. Thankfully it's a good film too and not just a Nobel attempt. William Shatner is perfect in the role as 'The Intruder', his acting style really helped develop the two-faced charming but hateful character. Could this also be the first real look at the idea of 'The Devil in a suit'? Answers on a postcard history/Cinema experts....
12 Years A Slave
Dir: Steve McQueen
2013
*****
Solomon Northup's story deserves to be told in all it's uncomfortable glory. Steve McQueen understood this and directed a beautiful and harrowing film accordingly. There are many films about slavery but this is the only one I can think of that really tackles the true horror of what it must have been like for slaves at that time. Many had it worse and some of those stories we will never know, it is only thanks to Solomon's strength and intellect do we have this particular account. It's nice to see a film about slavery that isn't apologetic either. Sure, three white men did help Solomon escape slavery - their help should and is acknowledged but for the best part the white man was indeed nothing short of ignorant and cruel. This isn't just another 'White's helping blacks' schmaltzy melodrama. This upsets many and makes them feel uncomfortable. For that reason alone it should be applauded. The direction and performances are both superb, the production, costumes, script and soundtrack are all nothing short of brilliant. A future classic.
The Iceman
Dir: Ariel Vromen
2012
****
The Iceman is a great biopic of Richard Kuklinski. Richard Kuklinski was a contract killer. Now this film is no Leon, in fact it's more of a gangster film by way of serial killer slasher. I think that's what I like about it, it never seems to fit. When it's serious it is serious but then you've got Chris Evans chasing after prostitutes in an ice-cream van and David Schwimmer wearing an ill fitting wig and fake mustache, it is hard to take too seriously. There is horror to the story that comes through but it is the odd, bizarre and utterly unbelievable that really entertains and carries the film above sea level. Michael Shannon was perfect in the lead role, Winona Ryder, Chris Evans, Ray Liotta and David Schwimmer all give good support. I think the film has legs and will gain popularity over time, the initial reaction was unfairly short.
The Place Beyond The Pines
Dir: Derek Cianfrance
2013
*****
The Place Beyond the Pines is a great exit from your typical Hollywood formula. Original and unexpected are two very different things and this film has ample of both in the best possible way. For me this is another example of a new wave of American cinema, I for one welcome its long overdue arrival. It's the ultimate anti-blockbuster/anti-franchise film when you think about it, instead of a story being stretched out in 3 films, you actually get 2 films for the price of one (with a Return of the Jedi conclusion plus the next three films). Derek Cianfrance is another new director to watch out for, he deserves all the praise he's received so far. He deserves praise for the story alone but the direction, editing, soundtrack, performances etc are all top notch too. I think when you've got a story this good people raise their game, let's hope other directors and producers take note. Hollywood needs a revolution and these types of films are leading the way.
The Hunt
Dir: Thomas Vinterberg
2012
*****
In the year 2000 a horrible little British tabloid called The News of the World released a list (with pictures) of convicted paedophiles who had failed to sign on the sex offenders register. It is fair to say many of the accompanying photos were not of the greatest quality and lots of innocent people who looked vaguely like them got attacked in the streets. A Doctor who lived locally to me had a brick thrown through the window of his surgery because it had the word Pediatrician on the entrance. People are ignorant. The not so famous as they should be hip-hop duo Dan le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip (check them out) wrote a song called 'Thou shall always kill' that includes the great line "Thou shalt not think any male over the age of 30 that plays with a child that is not their own is a paedophile. Some people are just nice." I agree wholeheartedly. Although I generally don't play with kids that don't belong to me unless I know them, but you catch my drift. Thomas Vinterberg's The Hunt is a frustratingly real film about peoples ignorance, knee-jerk reactions and dangerous gossip. It's frightening to think that this kind of thing happens all the time. It is played out perfectly, well handled and tasteful. Thomas Vinterberg doesn't make many films but when he does they pull no punches. Maybe now Mads Mikkelsen will also get the credit that is well over due. One of the best films of 2012 in my opinion.
Cool Money
Dir: Gary Burns
2005
*
I chanced this one based on good reviews and the fact it's got Margot Kidder in it. She was my first crush. She is also about the only thing I liked about the film as it has 'Made for TV' written all over it. A small budget is wasted on pointless effects when the acting is bad and the great story never reaches its full potential. James Marsters seems to have quite a fan base, I can only imagine they are a bunch of tree huggers as I've never seen a more wooden performance
When Eight Bells Toll
Dir: Etienne Perier
1971
**
When Eight Bells Toll has a great poster, full of promises of action packed...action etc. The truth is that this is more like James Bond on a shoestring. Philip Calvert certainly isn't James Bond anyway, he's more like Bergerac on a rainy day. If you don't understand what I mean by 'like Bergerac on a rainy day' then lucky you, although I did like a bit of John Nettles action on a Tuesday afternoon. He had a great leather jacket if I recall. I digress. When the film is serious it's too serious and when the film is camp and ridiculous it's too camp and ridiculous (if anything ever can be that is). Light relief comes from Robert Morley's pompous 'M' figure and Jack Hakins who plays a Greek art collector Sir Arthur Skouras who is a piano short from being a full blown Liberace tribute act. Everything else is laughable/forgettable/rubbish.
Funny Girl
Dir: William Wyler
1968
****
William Wyler was asked by a friend whether Barbra Streisand had been hard to work with. He replied, "No, not too hard, considering it was the first movie she ever directed." One can only imagine, although it's fairly obvious when watching the film. All power to her. The story couldn't be further from the truth but it is a fantastic musical thanks to Streisand's performance. It is a shame though that Fanny Brice's real story wasn't told, it's a tad disrespectful in that sense although a lot of the nasty stuff is missed out, so maybe she wouldn't have minded. More of her comedy wouldn't have gone a miss but it's hard to complain about such things when it includes some of the greatest musical songs of all time from the classic songwriters Bob Merrill & Jule Styne. All together now 'People....people who need people.....'
Hue and Cry
Dir: Charles Crichton
1947
****
Hue & Cry is much like the adventure books for boys that were popular at the time, with a part Enid Blyton and part comic book (obviously) post war theme. I have many older relatives who say that post war London was great fun and many adventures were had in old bombed out building. This film captures that very well but also appeals to the older viewer thanks to Alastair Sim's character/performance. It's an Ealing comedy but apart from Sim's performance, it's pretty serious and is a rather compelling thriller/mystery/espionage film. Directed by the often overlooked and under-appreciated Charles Crichton whose TV and film work I can't recommend enough.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Dir: Stephan Chbosky
2012
**
I found it very hard to connect with the story, situations or with any of the characters. I had my teenage films, this is this generation's film, I get that but we all go through the same things, nothing has changed that dramatically. So stop listening to our music (get your own), cheer up and stop being so bloody selfish! This is of course the natural reaction of someone who doesn't fully remember what it was like to be that age any more but with the not great memory that I do have, I don't remember it being that bad. 'Serious teen drama' is almost a contradiction in terms, nothing is as serious as it seems to us at that age and to write a book/make a film along those lines is basically the result of an adult making money out of teenagers misery and awkwardness. Do yourselves a favour kids, don't bother with the book or film, call round a friends house and go out and have some fun while you're young and care free. Just make sure you tidy your room first.
The Bridge
Dir: Eric Steel
2006
***
The Bridge is quite a ghostly documentary looking at The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. The Golden Gate Bridge has been named as one of the Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers and is regarded globally as one of the most beautiful bridges ever build. It was a sign of prosperity on its completion and has become synonymous with San Francisco and is one of the worlds longest suspension bridges. What many don't know though is that it is the worlds most popular suicide destination. Ethically the film is questionable, as director Eric Steel did not tell the families of victims he interviewed that he would be showing their relatives actual suicides in the film. Effective in the film but at the expense of trust which is probably the golden rule of documentary film making. It is interesting but also haunting at the same time.
Pretty Woman
Dir: Garry Marshall
1990
**
Pretty Woman was never a favourite of mine, wrong target audience, although I enjoyed watching it as an 11 year old for obvious reasons. That said, I feel her bottom stunt double should have had a higher credit than her, Roberts should have been introduced as an 'Also starring...' somewhere after her Leg double but definitely before the cardboard cut-out of Richard Gere. Ok, so it's not realistic but then thinking about it, the last thing we'd want to see is a realistic film about a guy who falls in love with a prostitute, I'm not sure it would be as....glamorous. 
50 First Dates
Dir: Peter Segal
2004
***
If you Ignore Rob Schneider's over the top character and Sean Astin's rather weak acting, 50 First Dates is actually a very sweet and well written romantic comedy. For me to say I actually enjoyed an Adam Sandler film is rare indeed but with the right script and direction I think he can be good. There is a genuine tenderness to the wacky idea and the romance never comes second to the comedy or vice versa. 
Mean Girls
Dir: Mark Waters
2004
***
I quite liked Mean Girls. I'm not just saying that to try to appeal to a young female audience either, I honestly believe it has certain qualities. It's better than most films aimed at young teenage Girls, not that I've seen many mind you. Honest! I loved the scene with the Bus and the performances are actually very good, I even laughed out loud on more than one occasion.
About a Boy
Dir: Chris Weitz
2002
**
Nicholas Hoult was a strange looking child. Didn't he do well though! About a Boy is a gentle drama that gets a little bit serious at times but with a sprinkle of humour for good measure. I've never been a fan of Nick Hornby's books so it's safe to say this was never really going to be my cup of Tea but I found it enjoyable enough. It's a little corny for my liking, I don't know if the books was or not but the film certainly stinks of sentimentality (*shudders). It's the only film that I like Hugh Grant in but don't like Toni Collette in, it's usually the other way round.
Sin City
Dir: Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino, Frank Miller
2005
****
Robert Rodriguez is obviously a fan of Sin City, so much so that he got Frank Miller, it's creator, on board from the very beginning, so it's no surprise that the film captures the feel of the comics perfectly. Robert Rodriguez actually got in trouble with the Directors Guild of America, ultimately leaving the association due to them not accepting Miller as a co-director. It is this passion and understanding of the source material that is at the route of the films success. Rodriguez said himself that it was a "translation, not an adaptation". We comic fans thank him for that. Its one of the only blue screen films I can watch without getting a headache, I'd still much rather read the graphic novels because I'm a purist but this is a great film.
The Matrix Revolutions
Dir: Andy Wachowski & Lana Wachowski
2003
****

For me, this film failed for two big reasons. Firstly, the sad death of Gloria Foster. Nobody could help that, it's just that when a character changes actor, the overall film looses a certain believably. Again, no ones fault, just a pet hate. Secondly, and more importantly, the realisation of Zion being this tribal paradise, full of good looking people, who look far from being repressed, starved or in any kind of danger...and playing drums. Is this the best Zion you've been going on about for two films? It also got a little silly, hard to follow and a bit boring towards the end. It got to the point where I just didn't really care what happened to any of the characters and felt nothing in the final scene that should have filled me with emotion. Maybe I'm just cold blooded (I am) but maybe the Wachowski's just ran out of steam or buckled under the pressure.
The Matrix Reloaded
Dir: Andy Wachowski & Lana Wachowski
2003
***
Now that the Questions 'Is Neo the one?' and 'What the hell is the Matrix?' have been answered, The Matrix story has lost its edge slightly. New characters and new situations are added but I feel they couldn't really improve on the original when it came to originality. The SFX are even more impressive, as are the fight scenes etc but without the big questions, it's just another, albeit above average, action film.
The Matrix
Dir: Andy Wachowski & Lana Wachowski
1999
****
An effective method of measuring the success of a film is to see how many times it has been spoofed. While the world was waiting in anticipation for the brand new Star Wars film, the Wachowski's slipped The Matrix in with very little promotion from what I can remember. It was much better than the new Star Wars film, that's for sure. It is not very often that a truly original film like this comes along, a film where the brilliant ideas are realised to their full potential and then some. It is crammed full of memorable scenes, characters and quotes that it genially is, as overused as term is, a modern classic.
War of the Worlds
Dir: Steven Spielberg
2005
**
The first album I ever bought was Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds. The first TV program I remember ever being thrilled and scared witless by was The Tripods (A great little low budget BBC drama series that aired between 84-85 that was heavily inspired by The War of the Worlds). I used to love watching the 1953 version as a child (but always from behind the sofa) and I also loved H.G. Wells's book and I mean love! Apprehensive I may have been but an updated adaptation of the story was okay by me. I honestly thought that Steven Spielberg would have been perfect as director but how wrong I was. They had to update the story, I knew this, but the changes are far too big. The SFX are amazing, they really are, but the story is terrible in comparison. The source material has been completely misunderstood and while this was always going to be a blockbuster, it shouldn't have been treated as one, it should have been an intelligent drama with spectacular SFX rather than all out action. The original book was written as a reaction to Wells's feeling (mainly those of shame) towards Colonialism and imperialism, something the British empire was aggressively pursuing at the time. This of course needed to be updated but because 9/11 had only recently happened, the ideas took a very different road. The references to 9/11 are notable as is the patriotic view-point of the hurt and angry American. This only makes the adaptation even more distorted from the source material, apart from the name it bares little resemblance and that is somewhat of a pet hate for me and a big reason as to why I disliked it. I don't like the religious message of the 50's version and I can't say I feel much better about this 'patriotic' version. Also, the idea that they are in the ground and have been for many centuries is a fairly ridiculous idea and I'm shocked it made it into the final script.
Kill Bill Vol.2
Dir: Quentin Tarantino
2004
****
Kill Bill Vol.2 is far superior to the first in my opinion. The action/Martial arts sequences are less but more concise, the script is far more intelligently written and the performances are twice as good. There are aspects of the franchise that annoy me still; Who cares what her name is for instance, I remember the buzz at the time, everyone was speculating what the brides name was like it was something important. The random type that would randomly show up on screen, the 'Gargantuan' speech, the pedantic tenancies of the characters...the list goes on. These are Tarantinoisums that I'm not sure I will ever appreciate. That said, I thought the unexpectedly subtle approach to the sequel compared to the somewhat raucous first film showed a maturity to QT's work that I really liked. It looked like it was going to be a predictable affair but it was anything but and that kept it fresh.
Kill Bill Vol.1
Dir: Quentin Tarantino
2003
***
What I really like best about Kill Bill Vol.1 and indeed most of Quentin Tarantino's films is the editing. The non-linear narrative is also something that he excels at, no more so than in the Kill Bill films. Visually, the film is stunning, each episode a contrast to the next. However, it's this contrast that raises other questions. Can Tarantino do anything original? Nearly every aspect of the film is either a 'homage' or borrowed material. Some of it is down-right plagiarism but most of these ideas are either owned by large companies that don't know they own them (typically insurance companies who buy-out small film companies once they go bankrupt). These films are generally old and forgotten, if ever seen at all. Some of the directors/actors are long gone too, so not much risk of being called into the courts. Most owners/film makers decide to take the easier and more profitable path and cash in on QT's success and label it 'The film that inspired QT's...' Did you know that the character Elle Driver is based on a Swedish porn actress with one eye who used to let men, ahem, do things to her empty socket? Seriously, everything about Kill Bill is a copy but to be fair, it's almost always an improvement. 

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Whiskey Galore
Dir: Alexander Mackendrick
1949
****
When ever I think about Whisky Galore I can't help but remember the very funny spoof sketch from the very funny Comedy sketch show, The Fast Show. Instead of Whisky, the sketch shows the locals enjoying tons of cocaine that are washed up in a shipwreck. It's all very funny. Thanks probably because the original film is funny, thus deserving a affectionate spoof. It's a bit of a British classic but I'm not too sure it's traveled much which is a shame. It's a very sweet, funny and charming film full of great characters and warm laughs. To be enjoyed with a glass of single malt for sure.
Kind Hearts and Coronets
Dir: Robert Hamer
1949
*****
In my opinion Ealing Comedies really took off after the release of Kind Hearts and Coronets. Dennis Price's narration is enough to suck you in from the start, his voice being perfectly pitched and hypnotic. His performance is brilliant although it is Alec Guinness's eight performances that the film is most remembered for, each one being as equally good. Robert Hamer had a short career due to dying relatively young, his films have really stood the test of time but are to this day sadly forgotten. Rectify this people! Kind Hearts and Coronets being the perfect starting point.
I Think We're Alone Now
Dir: Sean Donnelly
2008
**
I think We're Alone Now is an uncomfortable fly-on-the-wall documentary that is hard to watch but impossible to look away from. It's the sensationalist method in which the film is produced that makes and breaks the film. The two people featured are interesting people with very different mental health issues. These mental health issues are touched upon but poorly represented and badly explained. Both Jeff Turner and Kelly McCormick are willing participants but both are taken advantage of in the name of entertainment. 80s pop favorite Tiffany is a good sport but I got the impression she was also taken advantage of somewhat which I'm afraid takes away credibility from the overall package. I'm not sure I'm even comfortable referring to it as a documentary and the issue of stalkers should have been better handled.
High Noon
Dir: Fred Zinnemann
1952
*****
As influential and highly praised High Noon is in the genre, it's never really been copied or imitated, in fact Westerns since have shied away from its overall feel and idea. That's because Westerns represent capitalism. It's mostly why they are full of villains, ownership and an every man for himself attitude. High Noon is a liberal allegory for blacklisting, McCarthy's red-baiting being at the forefront of the swipe. Many top names declined the leading role due to it's political undertones, many didn't get the chance because they were grey listed but it seemed fitting that active liberal Cooper got the part. The fact that John Wayne hated it so much makes me love it even more, it really is the Western for people who don't like Westerns. John Wayne was a fool. Makes you wonder if being un-American is to be American or if being American is un-American. Either way, John Wayne was an ass. Politics aside, the picture is beautiful, with a lighter than usual tint added for maximum effect. What a cast too, it's a who's who of Hollywood's most overlooked actors of the 1950s.
The Rare Breed
Dir: Andrew McLaglen
1966
***
I quite like The Rare Breed as it is an odd but successful combination of shared British and American mannerisms. On one side you have the naive arrogance and charmingly full-hardy attitude of the British elite and the brash stubbornness and blind faith of the old West, neither was ever very good at being told what could and couldn't be done and so they got on and did what ever it is they wanted, regardless. They succeeded too. Also, I really like Maureen O'Hara's sass, Brian Keith over-acting, James Stewart's voice and furry Cows. The overlooked alternative western.
Party Girl
Dir: Nicholas Ray
1958
****
Even in 1958, the style of acting and melodrama in Party Girl was outdated. So too were the dance numbers, the over-reactions and overall look of the film. I think this is intentional, it is Nicholas Ray after all. The characters aren't as two dimensional as they are in many of the older gangster films and there is a very dark undertone to the whole production. Our hero is morally questionable from the start and this plays through the entire film. It's a sugar-coated look at the depths of human empathy, selfishness and moral judgement but it never disguises the fact that this is what it is about. The sugar coating is to lure you in, sweet then sour, what the taste that is left in your mouth is is up to you. Robert Taylor, Cyd Charisse and Lee J Cobb are perfect in their respective performances.
The Exiles
Dir: Kent MacKenzie
1961
****
Watching The Exiles is like watching the death of an ancient culture. What the European settlers and subsequent generations have done to the native American is horrific but the fact that so many of the indigenous people have now turned their backs to their culture is heartbreaking. The Exiles shows the bright lights that lead the youth away from the reservations and the harsh reality that they will never fit in but can never go back. A lost generation in the flesh with dreams of a new America but with traditions in their blood that they will never be able to shake off, a small society at war with themselves. Bleak in content but beautiful visually. An important insight and a slice of modern American history.
Red Sonja
Dir: Richard Fleischer
1985
***
After the success of the Conan films the genre really took off but no film ever matched John Milius passionate Conan. Richard Fleischer directed the sequel, kept Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sandahl Bergman in the production as different characters and hoped everyone would get behind it. It's fun for sure. It also has a big Asian influence about it, Babycart among many other films come to mind. I think that is why it's enjoyable, it's stolen loads of great scenes from other great films; The water creature was from Star Wars for example, just elaborated. To be fair most of Star Wars was stolen, again from Asian films so I guess at best Red Sonja is a good example of fantasy/action film evolution. Lets not take it that seriously though, it's classic 80's fantasy cheese. We all fancied Brigitte Nielsen as Red Sonja, any guy that tells you he didn't is lying.
Two Way Stretch
Dir: Robert Day
1960
****
Classic British comedy starring the much loved (and greatly missed in most cases) Peter Sellers, Wilfrid Hyde-White, David Lodge, Bernard Cribbins, Maurice Denham and Lionel Jeffries. Definitely an influence to the long running popular British TV series Porridge and any other prison comedy for that matter - I'm sure Bruce Jay Friedman and Sidney Poitier must have watched it before making Stir Crazy and Arthur Hiller definitely did as he pretty much used the idea in his 1990 film 'Taking care of business'. Three lovable convict escape prison for one night to commit the perfect crime, a great idea in itself but made one hundred times better (funnier) by the absolutely killer script. From the offset when the Guard comes to see the inmates, knocks on the door and hears the reply "Come in, it's open" it had me chuckling. Great British classic comedy.