Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Quartet
Dir: Dustin Hoffman
2012
***
I suspect Dustin Hoffman got his assistant director to do most of the directing as in the 'blooper reel' it was someone else shouting cut etc. I may be wrong. Anyway, the Quartet of actors are great although it is Billy Connolly and Pauline Collins who are the real ones to watch. The support comes from an array of theatre actors and musicians which was lovely to see, particularly in the end credits. The story is good, although the big Gala climax is a bit of a let down ('Tickets will sell like hot cakes' - only about 50 people in the room). It's nice. I'm afraid nice is probably the only suitable word for it, not that there is anything wrong with nice - far from it. It's just that I think it could have been....nicer!
This is not a Film
Dir: Jafar Panahi, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb
2011
*****
This is not a Film is not a film. The clue is in the title. It is however more important than that, it is an essay on film making and expression, and it is a political reaction to oppression. It may seem like a man pottering around his flat thinking things up and talking to his lawyer but it is so much more than that. Its mundane content is kind of the point. He risked his life making this film, something that us in the West find hard to comprehend or appreciate. It's not art, it's not entertainment, it's a tiny revolution. It should be watched, it's hard to enjoy due to the subject matter and because it's ordinary but the truth is that it is actually extraordinary and should be acknowledged.
Repo Chick
Dir: Alex Cox
2009
***
I liked the way Alex Cox revisits his Repo roots but is this really the evolution of punk? I liked the models etc but at times it looked like a very dodgy kids TV blue screen mess. The ideas were good too, damn right ban golf but it all seems a bit of a mess. Quirky x 100, original and with a great cast especially Jaclyn Jonet, Miguel Sandoval and Rosanna Arquette but I'm not sure I loved it as a film, an interesting idea and experience yes, but not necessarily a great film.
Hideous Kinky
Dir: Gillies MacKinnon
1998
***
I liked the story and thought Kate Winslet was great as always. The Moroccan scenery was beautiful and is what I enjoyed most about the film. The kids I found annoying and I still don't get what Hideous Kinky really is but I thought is was good, if not a little over acted. No that's not right, not over acted, just a bit RADA if you know what I mean.
The Sessions
Dir: Ben Lewin
2012
*****
I thought The Sessions was a fantastic film and a very nice surprise. There are no tricks, no twists or any other nonsense, it is all about the characters. The two leads were brilliant, I'm fast becoming a big fan of John Hawkes and I thought Helen Hunt was extremely brave to take on this character and she did it brilliantly. Don't call it a come back. Director Ben Lewin seems to have found the essence of Mark O'Brien's "On Seeing a Sex Surrogate" and has visualised it in perfect balance. It is both funny, sad and thought provoking. A great film that deserved much more praise than it received.
Trouble with the Curve
Dir: Robert Lorenz
2012
**
Isn't Clint Eastwood getting too old for the 'Isn't Clint Eastwood getting too old for this' genre? Moneyball proved that you could make a baseball film that non-Baseball fans can enjoy and Trouble with the Curve follows suit but it is far from being as good as. Clint Eastwood plays a cliched angry old man/father, Amy Adams works too hard at her job and wants to get close to her father, Justin Timberlake is the funny/good looking suitor, John Goodman is friend with concerns, Matthew Lillard is competitive youngster who 'doesn't know jack' about real Baseball, Robert Patrick is man with big ears (listens but doesn't say anything), George Wyner, Bob Gunton and Jack Gilpin play very busy sexist short-term memory important golf playing partner types and so on and so on. Every character here has been played before, many times by the same actors. It's a nice looking film from many time assistant director/first time director Robert Lorenz but it's schmaltzy, predictable, forgettable and for want of a better word, meh!
FernGully: The Last Rainforest
Dir: Bill Kroyer
1992
***
In retrospect it's not a bad film. Sure its style is a mix of Disney, Warner Brothers and Hanna-Barbera but its songs and message are its own. It was quite a popular subject in the early 90's and I remember much was taught in schools about the rainforest, recycling etc. You can't knock the message, well maybe you can knock the underline spirituality nonsense but the songs are pretty good! A great slice of early 90's animation, I quite enjoyed its simplicity compared to today's 3D wizardry but I'm glad cartoons are a little less serious and play more for laughs like they used to.
A Cat In Paris
Dir: Alain Gagnol, Jean-Loup Felicioli
2010
***
An original story and a nice one at that. The animation itself is very French, a bit old school but a welcome style in today's 3D staple. It's not as great as I'd hoped for though, it's not quite for kids and not quite for adults and at times it feels like it should have been a short film or maybe a series but overall I enjoyed it.
Renaissance
Dir: Christian Volckman
2006
***
I'm a big comic/Graphic novel fan, not that you have to be to admire the beautiful animation, so I loved what they did but after a while it does get a little hard to watch. It's a great Dystopian noir concept but the story isn't great. It's got all the ingredients to be something I would absolutely adore but somehow it seems to have fallen flat and it seems others think so too. Maybe as a short film this would have worked better but at 105 minutes it was all a bit too much.
Salute
Dir: Matt Norman
2008
****
Quite a remarkable story about the simplest of gestures that had such a huge impact. The ramifications are quite startling but the heartwarming tale of the 'other' guy, the White guy who didn't salute but gave his full support to the cause is fascinating. This film was made by Peter Norman's family, so it's no surprise that it is mainly about his angle but the facts are explored fully and Tommie Smith & John Carlos have nothing but the nicest things to say about him also. I've seen the image but I never knew the story, the full story and what happened after. It's amazing to see that only just over 10 years ago at the Sydney 2000 Olympics, Peter Norman was still banned from attending, even though one of the main themes in the opening ceremony was an apology and recognition of the native Aboriginals. Says a lot for the so called 'Spirit of the Olympics' but says more so for the simple and symbolic (and more importantly non-aggressive) things we can do to take a stand. A remarkable documentary.
The World's End
Dir: Edgar Wright
2013
***
The World's End marks the end of the Blood and Ice-cream or Cornetto trilogy as it has come to be known. A trilogy of films written, starring and directed by Spaced trio Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright. You know this already though. So, is it as good as Shaun of the Dead and/or Hot Fuzz? Well yes and no. Firstly, you can't beat Shaun of the Dead. Secondly, Hot Fuzz is a little overrated. For me, The World's End is somewhere in the middle. It's a good story with a few laughs and plenty of action but for me it was too much action and not enough laughs. The characters were a little bit too serious for my liking, particularly Simon Pegg's character who verged on annoying and then plain unlikable towards the end. The pub-crawling 5 are the cream of actors working in the UK today, Eddie Marsden, Paddy Considine and Martin Freeman were perfectly cast in their supporting roles but I don't feel they were used enough. The possibilities were huge and while I like the way they kept it thoroughly British, I still think they missed a few tricks. Apocalypse films are tricky buggers when it comes to writing a good end and I'm afraid I'm not sure this one is a winner but overall, I liked it. It reminded me enough of the original TV version of The Hitchhikers Guide of the Galaxy to appreciate and there were enough Spaced/Cornetto trilogy in-jokes to keep me amused.
Hyde park on Hudson
Dir: Roger Michell
2012
***
They could have gone over the top with Hyde park on Hudson but I'm glad they didn't. The humour is subtle and a little infrequent but of the right tone. The performances are good but it is Bill Murray as Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Olivia Colman as The Queen Mum (as she is now known) who really steal the show. How many more great performances by Colman are going to be overlooked? The story doesn't exactly thrill the way you'd expect, it's unbalanced for the most part and I think they should have concentrated with telling the Royal visit story, rather than the affair Roosevelt was having with his cousin. I can't say I was particularly enamoured by Laura Linney's character or performance. It's all a bit of a wasted opportunity really and unfortunately a little dull but it's not all bad, watch it for the performances.
Gangster Squad
Dir: Ruben Fleischer
2013
***
Gangster Squad is cliched, unoriginal, not particularly well written and a bit cartoon like. This is all made up for by the fact that it is lots and lots of fun. The cast is great, Sean Penn standing out as a baddie to remember. I'm the first one to point the finger at inaccuracies and laziness when it comes to script but I just couldn't help but like Gangster Squad. It never tries to be LA Confidential or The Untouchables and to be honest, both those films are a little over rated anyway. It's pure pulp popcorn fun.
Welcome to the Punch
Dir: Eran Creevy
2013
**
Welcome to the Punch has a great cast but unfortunately no one in particular gives a great performance except for maybe Johnny Harris. If only they had spent more time writing a good script for all the great and unused actors instead of messing about with bleak, slightly modern looking locations around London it could have been something worthwhile. The fact that they cut and copied so many famous parts of London annoyed me. Eran Creevy has said in interviews that he wanted to do a London film, in and around the City itself but all we get is crappy office buildings and industrial estates with a fake Canary wharf background. There are a couple of great scenes, notably the one with the brilliant (but underused) Ruth Sheen and the music and sound is amazing. Apart from that, it's forgettable and amateurish. Amateurish with fancy cameras and a great cast wasted. A real shame, this country needs to make some decent films quick!
Internal Affairs
Dir: Mike Figgis
1990
****
Warning: This film contains some of the cheesiest 80's (Okay, Okay, early 90's) scenes of all time. The film oozes 80's style/acting/nonsense. It's dated badly but only depending on how nostalgic you are for that era, personally this was like taking a trip on a time machine. I watched it late at night with the lights off, with the street lamp shining through the gaps in the Venetian blinds. If my wife would have let me smoke in the house I would have sat there in a whirlwind of dancing cigarette smoke, taking the occasional sip of cheap whiskey (from the bottle). Ahhh what great days. They don't make films like this anymore, probably for the best but you can't beat a moody Andy Garcia, an evil Richard Gere, a lesbian Laurie Metcalf and a... well, Nancy Travis in general. Electric drum solo please.....
Avalanche Express
Dir: Mark Robson
1979
**
An unfortunate last film for great director Mark Robson and indeed actor Robert Shaw. I like a good cold war drama, and Avalanche Express had all the right ingredients, they just weren't necessarily added in the correct order. It gets a little bit confusing somewhere in the middle just after the climax of the film (that happens about an hour too early). I think I enjoyed the parts I did for all the wrong reasons but then this was one of those films that came just as audiences where bored of this style of film and were looking at a different genre and a different way of film making. It's not quite a last of the greats but it does represent a sad end to a much loved type of film.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Dir: Michael Apted
2010
***
Once again, this is a pretty good adaptation of a very tricky book to make into a film. I remember this being one of my favourites of the 7 books and I'm glad they did a lot of the The Dawn Treader scenes properly. The special effects are by far the best reason to watch, the not too much but not to little approach really pays off. My only grievance is Will Poulter. I remember when he first turned up on British TV and I thought he was funny and impressive for a young lad his age. I now just find him annoying beyond belief. Anyway, the ending was handled really well and I'm actually a little sad that it looks like this is the end. The other books where never a favourite as a child but it would be nice to see someone have a go at them. A financial risk too far no doubt.
The Chronicles of NarniaPrince Caspian
Dir: Andrew Adamson
2008
***
An improvement to the last film but then The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe has been done to death and it's nice to see the next chapter brought to life. It's better than I expected but it still lacks the excitement I experienced when reading the book in my youth. I did like the effects though, the Ice Queen scene in particular and my absolute favorite Reepicheep. How many scenes can you see that seem to have influenced the Harry Potter books?
The Chronicles of NarniaThe Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Dir: Andrew Adamson
2005
**
I loved the books as a child and I have seen many versions of TLTWATW. The BBC version in the late 80's was particularly memorable and unfortunately, seems to have been the source materiel for this version, rather than the book itself (although it doesn't wander too far). I personally would have preferred them to have kept it Chronological and started with my favourite, The Magician's Nephew. I'm guessing that would have been a financial risk though but that seems to be the problem. No risk has been taken and so it feels like something we've seen before. It's not bad but it certainly isn't the version to end all versions, not that that is such a bad thing though. Santa giving young children knives is my favourite part, brilliant.
Hooper
Dir: Hal Needham
1978
****
Fueled on high-testosterone, beer and pride, this Smokey and the Bandit side-step is a mix of cheese, action, unnecessary violence and irresponsible stunts. They don't make these types of films anymore, mainly because assaulting policemen, drink driving and head-butting fruit-machines is now generally frowned upon and rules of averages say if they'd carry on much longer people would die and at best loose limbs, but it doesn't half make me wish I could be a grown up for just one day in 1978. Where are you Burt Reynolds, the world needs more of you!
Assassination of a High School President
Dir: Brett Simon
2009
*
Assassination of a High School President displays the worst attempt at satire I have ever seen. It's suppose to be a noir style alternative high-school comedy and it fails miserably in each and every way. The Big Heat it ain't! It is predictable, cliched, poorly written, has the worst script I've heard for many years and has performances to match. The DVD cover on the version I watched shows Bruce Willis holding a gun. At no point during the movie did Bruce Willis hold a gun. Just goes to show how desperate the producers are to get people to watch this worthless and utterly awful film.

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters
Dir: Tommy Wirkola
2013
***
It seems I'm in the minority yet again, as I found Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters to be a pretty good film. I thought it had a Sam Raimi/Buffy feel to it, am I alone? I thought Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton were great in the title roles, Famke Janssen was a great baddie and Peter Stormare was a nice addition but would have liked to have seen more from him. The Witches were awesome. Scary, classic but with a modern and fresh twist. I really don't understand the hate for this film, it was never going to be a bloody Oscar winning masterpiece? It ticks all the boxes it promised, it's gory, a bit scary and it kicks bottom in all the right places. I thought it was great fun! Personally I'd love to see more, especially with the team of four left in the end. Please?
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Dir: Timur Bekmambetov
2012
***
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is not good enough to be taken seriously and a bit too good to label as a B-movie. It should, in my opinion, be regarded as a really good big budget B-movie. Take it for what it is and what it always set out to do and you cannot fault it. If the idea got you excited then I think you'll probably enjoy it. It's better than Van Helsing anyway. The only thing I didn't like was the inclusion of Lincoln's son dying of a Vampire bite instead of the truth that he actually died of typhoid. It just didn't sit well with me, his other son's aren't in the film, why include the first one that died? Bad taste aside, I liked it for all its B-movie goodness.
What's Up, Tiger Lily?
Dir: Woody AllenSenkichi Taniguchi
1966
***
What's Up, Tiger Lily? is a great idea and pretty ahead of its time. It does start a bit slow and the original film looks as if it was probably a bit of a farce anyway, so spoofing it wasn't as clever as all that after all. It is Allen's injection of signature comedy that really works, it's mildly amusing throughout with a couple of real laugh out loud moments. It's these laugh out loud moments that make up for the quieter scenes and makes it well worth a watch. The voice over's are consistently brilliant.
Terri
Dir: Azazel Jacobs
2011
****
If you don't like the sound of a film being a 'Sundance hit' then look away now. If however you like a good American Indie then come right in. It's simple, slow-paced, amusing and touching. The writing is suitably subtle and the performances are very good. Newcomer Jacob Wysocki plays the title role exceptionally well and John C. Reilly exercises his acting chops. I really wish he'd stop doing crappy comedies with Will Ferrell, he's a much better actor than that. Bridger Zadina is another young actor to look out for, here he is a pure mix of a number of John Hughes characters and a bad Edward Furlong. It's a good film.
Parental Guidance
Dir: Andy Fickman
2012
***
Parental Guidance is surprisingly not crap. The only way I can describe it is that it's essentially an 80's film made in 2012. It is honestly a joy to see Billy Crystal and Bette Midler acting together in these roles, just when you think you can see a cliche coming, it diverts and turns into something different. Sure, there are elements that we've all seen before but it does it differently, instantly feeling like it is something fresh. All that seems schmaltzy preaching actually turns out to be valid advice, things get over the top but come right back down to earth but without the bump. I liked it anyway and so will your Mum no doubt.
A Field in England
Dir: Ben Wheatley
2013
*****
Ben Wheatley once again gives us something new, albeit influenced by classic British film making. Five men in a field with a bit of smoke seems a bit too simple given that it is supposed to be during a huge battle but it works really well. With Reece Shearsmith and Julian Barratt in the cast I was expecting a comedy, and it sort of was, but not really in League of Gentlemen way and certainly not in a Mighty Boosh way (none UK residence might want to google both of those). It is funny, scary, surreal and eerie. It premiered on TV, DVD and Cinema simultaneously which was an odd choice (how did it make money?) but then this film has odd written all over it. The performances are brilliant, the cinematography is brilliant, the story is brilliant and the script is brilliant. Probably a future classic but will divide audiences in half for sure.
Lincoln
Dir: Steven Spielberg
2012
***
Being English and therefore having a British education, I know very little about Lincoln other than he freed the slaves, wore a top hat and got shot in a theatre. So I was happy for the education this film bought. However, after reading up about Lincoln (I always read up about the film I've just watched) I found there to be loads of mistakes throughout. Sometimes these mistakes don't matter but when they are on purpose in order to make the story more entertaining, I don't respect them. Fact or fiction though, it was still an education and the performances, particularly Daniel Day-Lewis's, were brilliant. I enjoyed it and actually to be fair, it was fairly light on the schmaltz.
The Informers
Dir: Gregor Jordan
2008
**
In showing us the emptiness of wealth without importance, the sickness of Californian rich-kid nihilism and 1980's abundance in general, the film succeeds. Unfortunately, and as good as the book might be, no one really wants to watch that kind of thing for 98 long minutes. Making a film about people we are not supposed to like is tricky business, both Spring Breakers and The Bling Ring failed in this a couple of years after The Informers, both were technically good films but without warmth from the audience both were badly received. So is it a bad film if it is actually achieving what it sets out to do? Well yes, because no matter what the film is about, if it doesn't hold the attention of the audience then it is a failure and that is the big problem with The Informers. That'll teach us for not reading the book first I guess!

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Dir: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
2014
****
Captain America has never been a comic book character that has ever really appealed to me. This is mainly because I'm not American. I'm not anti-America, I just wonder how many American boys read Captain Britain? And yes, Captain Britain does exist, he is even a member of The Avengers but I'm not going into that now. It is fair to say that Captain America was always going to have less global success than the other Marvel Avengers. Marvel know this and so they upped the game accordingly. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is more a Nick Fury/Black Widow/Captain America film to be fair as the other two Avengers get just as much screen time but it works to the film's advantage. If you're one of the few people who are watching Marvel's TV series Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D then your enjoyment will be even more enhanced. It's rare that a franchise actually gets better with each film but that is exactly what is happening here and long may it continue. The Winter Soldier is action packed but it does stop occasionally for a bit of intelligent story telling, with some strong performances and very interesting ideas. It's more than just a diet version of a Avengers film, it's a bit like a time-travel movie in many respects and fans of the original Captain America comics of the golden age should be more than happy with the story. Superhero films really aren't supposed to be this good, you have to thank Chris Nolan for that in some respects but Kevin Feige, Joss Whedon, the Russo Brothers and the Marvel team clearly know what they're doing. Favorite scene: Jenny Agutter kicking ass!
Captain America: The First Avenger
Dir: Joe Johnston
2011
***
I'll be honest with you, I've always been more of a DC nerd but I have to say, I, like the rest of the world, really enjoyed the build up to the first Avengers film and the continuing exploits of the franchise. The Incredible Hulk was pretty good, Iron Man was something else and really did launch the franchise. Thor was always going to be a tricky one to bring into the world but they managed quite brilliantly and now we have Captain America and it is....fine. Not great, but still pretty good. They have kept pretty faithful to the origins, as they should, but that can often be a curse to the modern Superhero movie and is something film makers often get wrong. This isn't the case here, i'm not sure they could have done a better job, it's just that we know the story already. The cast were impressive, Chris Evans is perfect for the role (and makes sure that his Fantastic 4 franchise is over as a bonus), Hayley Atwell is a fantastic Peggy Carter, Sebastian Stan a surprising Bucky and Hugo Weaving show why he has become the go-to guy when you want a colourful villain (although he apparently hated ever minute of it). Tommy Lee Jones adds a certain something in his role as Colonel Chester Phillips, Dominic Cooper makes a fine young Howard Stark, Stanley Tucci and Toby Jones play a couple of brilliant supporting character and the appearance of  Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury ties the film up quite nicely. It's an all round does-exactly-what-it-says-on-the-tin action/adventure/superhero film; innocent fun and entertaining enough but a little bit 'colour by numbers'. It will never match the Bale/Nolan Batman films or the old Christopher Reeve Superman films but then nothing ever will in my mind. It goes without saying that it knocks the socks of the 70's version and the one from 1990 that we just don't talk about.
The Hunger Games:Catching Fire
Dir: Francis Lawrence
2013
***
I'm afraid I still don't get what all the fuss is about. A plethora of great actors but with no really good performance. I liked the political side of the story but I preferred it when it was originally conceived in George Orwell's 1984. It makes me worried that kids are reading Suzanne Collins's books over Orwell's, when they are poor imitations. I'm not knocking The Hunger Games but compared to Orwell they are inferior in every way and that is the truth kids. This sequel is a long winded copy of the first film which in turn was a copy of Battle Royale. Catching Fire is a much better film than Battle Royale II and is far more interesting than the first Hunger Games film but it does not deserve the praise it has received. It's watchable, even enjoyable to a certain extent but I very much doubt I will watch it ever again and really can't see it as a future classic.
The Hunger Games
Dir: Gary Ross
2012
***
have not read the book. 65 million people can't be wrong though can they? Well yes, they can, when all 65 million of them are either 12 year olds or adults who really should be reading adult books. Okay, without wanting to sound like a grumpy old man (which I find hard not to do) this film is based on a book that is in that new category that I loath more than anything; 'Young Adult'. Basically, copy a story from a 'Real Adult' book, swap the adults for kids, make it in to a series and there you have it, a success, because kids will buy into anything these days. I was reading Charles Dickens when I was a 'Young Adult' and loving every minute of it. I digress. I didn't hate The Hunger Games, I just prefer the films it has blatantly ripped off, The Running Man and Battle Royale to name but a few. Unlike in the films it does rip off, the reasons the children are sacrificed the way they are is pretty far fetched and thin on the ground, another sign that this is the biggest theft in the entertainment business today. The film itself is okay, I like Jennifer Lawrence and even though I love Battle Royale, at least the hunger games doesn't have all the silly high-school romances and over acting love sick school boys, but I again digress, it's an okay film but it does leave me wondering, Is this really what all the fuss is about?
Planes
Dir: Klay Hall
2013
**
Apart from the fact that it is a carbon copy of the film is it a spin off of (and nearly every animated film released by either Pixar or Dreamworks in the last 10 years for that matter) and apart from the fact its anti-corporate message is somewhat lost due to the fact it is made by a big fat greedy corporation, there is very little wrong with Planes. I wonder if Peter Maddocks (Jimbo and the Jet Set - google it) will sue? The Duchess of York (Budgie the Little Helicopter - again, google it) might even be able to grab a few pennies. Although good luck against Disney!
Diary of a Wimpy KidRodrick Rules
Dir: David Bowers
2011
**
I caught the first one by chance, otherwise I probably wouldn't have watched it. I certainly wouldn't have watched the sequel unless I enjoyed it so here we are. Since viewing and reviewing the first film I have discovered the comics that they are based on which might have lowered my appreciation of the film somewhat. The comic is simple and funny and pretty deadpan. I don't get that level of deadpan in the movie at all, in fact it is almost a sickly-sweat opposite. It's still likable but this sequel less so. The magic of the first seems to have extinguished somewhat after the success of the first, maybe they made it too soon or maybe new director David Bowers just didn't understand it as much as Thor Freudenthal did. Maybe it's because I didn't watch it on a Airplane on my way to somewhere sunny, it is entirely possible.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Dir: Thor Freudenthal
2010
***
Diary of a Wimpy Kid is not a film I would have ordinarily sought out but I was on a budget Airplane, so I checked it out due to lack of choice. Diary of a wimpy kid is really just for kids but it was enjoyable enough, in fact the three young lead actors did a fine job. I'd be happy for my kids to watch it, it's no worse than most of the stuff on kids TV and that is not something I've said for a long time reviewing films. It's a little cliched here and there as most of the situations are far from original but there is something quite likable about it all the same. Maybe it's because I was on a Airplane towards my holiday destination as apposed to on my way back home but I quite liked it.

Elysium

Dir: Neill Blomkamp
2013
****
I'm not sure how much longer Neill Blomkamp can deny that his films aren't about segregation but I'm not sure why he has to answer anyway, as it's seems perfectly obvious that District 9 and Elysium are and what is wrong with that? The sad truth is that any film maker who makes political statements in their work will come under pressure of scrutiny and judged on a level that is often unfair. I wonder whether it is this political talk that was responsible for the fact Elysium was critically panned on release or because it is essentially the same story as District 9 albeit without the cool looking Aliens. It's not perfect and no, it's not as good as District 9 but when reviewing it purely on its own merit I can't really knock it. The idea is sound and the effects are amazing, the sudo-science let it down as do some of the performances but on the whole I think it has been unfairly overlooked as one of 2013's better films.

The Shooting Party

Dir: Alan Bridges
1985
****
The Shooting Party is a thoughtful look at the British class system seen through a weekend of competitive pheasant shooting. There are the Shooters, the Beaters, the activists and of course the pheasants themselves. It's a beautifully written film the script being sharp as a knife but also subtle in its delivery. It's a very well thought out metaphor which reaches it's brilliant but poignant climax with the start of the 1st World War where we learn that while every man might not be born equal, they do die so. The performances are of the highest quality from greats such as Edward Fox, Rupert Frazer, Cheryl Campbell, Gordon Jackson, the wonderful John Gielgud and the great James Mason, in what what turn out to be his last performance.
Turbo
Dir: David Soren
2013
**
Turbo is nonsense but it's likable enough for you not to want to go into the Garden with a bag of Salt. Turbo, a young Snail, dreams of becoming an Indy 500 champion and thanks to the miracle of bad science and the fact that somehow Mexicans speak Snail, he gets his chance. I like silly, so I have no problem with any of that, it's just the continuous message that these films like to dictate to our children that no matter how ridiculous your dream may seem, anything is achievable if you have faith, commitment, passion and belief in yourself. So enjoy with your kids but just make sure they don't jump out of the upstairs window with tea towels wrapped around their necks afterwards.
Victim
Dir: Basil Dearden
1961
*****
Victim is of huge cultural importance because at the time (1961) it made a shocking revelation; Homosexuals are normal. Shocking I know but sadly for the time this was something that was generally thought and was supported by the fact that it was in fact illegal to partake in acts of Homosexuality. We've come a long way from that but there is still a long way to go. Although Victim doesn't feel like it's about homosexuality as such, and the reason why it didn't actually cause much of a stir in the UK was because the message was somewhat hidden in the overall story of bribery and revenge. It is a beautifully shot noir thriller, full of suspense and drama but it is also a very accurate and successful representation of how Homosexuals lived (in fear) and how they were viewed. It's a fascinating slice of history and a brilliant bit of film making. My favorite characters by far were the two partners P.H. and Micky, whose deadpan banter work as perfect and subtle narration at each chapter of the story. Milestone cinema, suitably subtle and ripe for discussion. This film deserves to be revisited and/or discovered by a new generation.

Monday, 28 April 2014

We Have a Pope (AKA Habemus Papam)
Dir: Nanni Moretti
2011
****
A wonderfully wry but intelligent satire that asks very valid questions. This is not the cheap 'Pope sees Therapist comedy' that it may appear to be, that synopsis is just there to lure the people in (or was put there by people who have not seen or understand the film). What it is is a very clever analysis on the role of a Pope and questions whether any man can really claim to be 'God's right hand man on Earth'. The structure of the Church and the secrecy of the Vatican are also explored but director/writer/actor Nanni Morett never once pokes fun or insults the Catholic Church. Instead he leads us through a slightly absurd world putting the Vatican into perspective and reveals (for me at least) that all men are equal and so are their contradictions.
Hoffa
Dir: Danny DeVito
1992
*****
It's sad that most people remember Jack Nicholson's performance in A Few Good Men (made around the same time) over his performance in Hoffa. I don't quite understand it. Jack Nicholson's performance in Hoffa is one of the best of his career. Supposedly Danny DeVito sunk most of his money into making Hoffa and money well spent it was too, maybe not for return but this is an American classic. Both Oliver Stone and Barry Levinson passed when offered to direct but in my mind DeVito's direction was better than a lot of their collective work. The speculative ending was also very well handled in what is essentially still and open case. It isn't perfect but it's better then most things Scorsese, Stone, Levinson and countless others have done this millennium and it deserves credit.
The Quiller Memorandum
Dir: Michael Anderson
1966
***
Often lazily and unfairly compared to the Bond films, The Quiller Memorandum is a very different kind of Spy film. Twenty years after the end of the Second World War, Elleston Trevor's novel suggests the Nazis are attempting a come back although this time they are integrated deep in society and no longer wave flags or wear uniforms. The phrase 'Trust no one' is overused now but back in 1966 it was still a fresh concept but one can't help but look back on this film in retrospect and guess immediately who should and shouldn't be trusted. So it's a little dated, the villains do have a whiff of 'Bond villainy' about them and it's a bit predictable but George Segal, Alec Guinness and Max Von Sydow are all brilliant in their roles and it is still refreshing to see a spy who isn't either jumping off trains or wrestling sharks, indeed Quiller doesn't once fire a gun, giving this an instant intelligent feel about it that all spy films should probably have.
From Up on Poppy Hill
Dir: Gorō Miyazaki
2011
***
From Up on Poppy Hill is a sweet and more straight-laced Studio Ghibli film that follows the likes of Only Yesterday and Whisper of the Heart in temperament and style. Personally I like the Ghibli films that are based on Japanese folk law that have talking animals and bonkers characters but I do like them both. This is only Gorō Miyazaki's second Ghibli feature, his first being one of my least favorites; Tales From Earthsea. He has big shoes to fill but I think he'll do well as his Father's replacement. From Up on Poppy Hill is just as uplifting as you'd expect from the studio, I was concerned when the unexpected issue of incest popped up but rest assured, in Ghibli you can trust. Hayao Miyazaki co-wrote the script and is influence in the project is clear, not that everything Ghibli has to be all about him but I think above all else, he gets the serious issues right. Miyazaki takes influence from the films of the great Yasujirô Ozu and also of his own past, his father's involvement in the war and his own accounts of student activism. I'm sure it was quite special to see his own son take on what I'm sure was an important film for him. It's almost a total mix of Only Yesterday and Whisper of the Heart, dealing with war, it's aftermath and nostalgia although I don't think it has the impact of either. The animation is stunning as always, I loved the music and the story, there was just something not quite Ghibli about it. Maybe it's because the story has its roots in a MANGA story that was the problem but it didn't hold me as much as their films usually do. Still, their lesser films are still much better then most people's and From Up on Poppy Hill is still a wonderful addition to the studios collection.
Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky
Dir: Jan Kounen
2009
**
Jan Kounen's Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky is absolutely dripping in chic and quite rightly so. Any biopic about Coco Chanel should have the same level of style and elegance as she did. That said, the film is generally style over substance. Anna Mouglalis is compelling and appropriately dour as Chanel and Mads Mikkelsen manages to emote a thousand emotions with the tightening of a single facial muscle but there is a lifelessness to the overall film that comes down to the fact that no one really knows anything about the affair and so there isn't that much to say on the matter. The film wanders dangerously into hearsay and seems at a loss most of the time as to what it should be and so just sits there and looks pretty. A subtle critique on the Queen of chic maybe, but more likely a result of a great visual director in need of a better scriptwriter.
The Stone Roses - Made Of Stone
Dir: Shane Meadows
2013
****
I didn't know I liked The Stone Roses until I saw this film and now I think I love them. I would argue that it is down to Shane Meadows's talented documentary making skills and the bands catalog of great songs though and not my fickle nature. This is very much a document of what The Stone Roses are today though, an all access biography of the band can't come for another 20 years or so really and fans should be warned that all those closely guarded secrets are still very much closely guarded. Shane Meadows rightfully steps away when the band encounter familiar problems in their comeback tour although it does feel frustrating that a documentary doesn't document and that it also feels like a bit of shameless self promotion. It makes for a great watch though and the magic that the band possess is undeniable, I look forward to more music and the sequel in about 20 years time.