Friday, 25 July 2014

Le Week-End
Dir: Roger Michell
2013
****
Roger Michell's Le Week-End is his best film to date, hands down. It's not the easy watch you might think it is from the poster and all the better for it. Ever wondered what those bohemian, free loving, fast living couples, typically seen in 1960s films by Jean-Luc Godard (check the title) and Francois Truffaut would become like in old age. The couples that weren't supposed to stay together but were supposed to be forever free in their sexuality and a slave to no one. Don't get me wrong, this isn't a film about old hippys, more of new thinking intellectuals. It's a tender but brutally honest portrayal of a great love story, desperate, disagreeable and completely hopeless. Set in Paris, the City of Love, Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan play the best screen couple I've seen in cinema for quite a long time.
Oldboy
Dir: Spike Lee
2013
****
When an Asian film such as the original Oldboy gains popularity on a global scale, the Hollywood remake is inevitable. Why make films for the lazy people who can't be bothered to read subtitles? If a film has a good story but doesn't reach full potential then sure, remake away but when it is recognised as a modern classic you leave it alone. To hear that Spike Lee was behind the remake was the real surprise. The fact that it wasn't going to be one of his 'Joints' but merely a 'film' didn't exactly get anyone's hopes up either. We are all agreed that this remake was a needless one but I would argue that it is a good one. The changes are slight but for my money it is still pretty entertaining and the differences are interesting enough to keep me entertained throughout. Of all the Asian films made into Western movies, this was the one that shouldn't have worked but somehow it does. 99 Luftballons' by Nena is a great song, a party classic but so is 99 Red Balloons.
Oldboy
Dir: Park Chan-wook
2003
****
The second but unconnected film in Chan-wook Park's vengeance trilogy is an explosive one to put it lightly. There are so many layers to pull back in this one that you'd be excused for feeling more than a little dizzy before the end. It's a pure mix of the darkest Manga, Park Chan-wook twisted mind and Asian Extreme cinema. The story hooks you in from the outset, shocks you with it's ultra-violence and then deeply disturbs you with it's shocking realisations. Somehow, after all that, there is a beautiful and tender message, albeit soaked in blood. Not for the fainthearted but unmissable for those who want to see something unique and rather special. The direction is unmatched in its violent beauty.


The Wolf of Wall Street
Dir: Martin Scorsese
2013
*****
If you are going to make a film about greed and excess, you've got to use the same levels of greed an excess to match. The Wolf of Wall Street is Martin Scorsese on steroids. He has taken all of the elements people love of each of his films and has put them all in one place. It's part Taxi Driver, a bit Mean Streets, an essence of The Departed, a whole chunk of Goodfellas and a refreshing slice of After Hours about it. I'm afraid it knocks Oliver Stone's Wall Street out of the water somewhat although Wall Street didn't have the same hindsight to be fair. This is the Scorsese/Di Caprio partnership at its best. It's also Thelma Schoonmaker's best work to date although this is the first Scorsese film she hasn't been nominated for, what the hell is that about? The whole production is faultless, the 3 hour run time flies by, it could have been longer to be honest. This is a director, one of the greatest ever, in fine form. If Scorsese has any influence at all in Hollywood then I hope other film makers note the originality, pace, creative indulgence and punchiness and make their films accordingly.

Captain Phillips
Dir: Paul Greengrass
2013
****
Released the same year as A Hijacking, Captain Phillips concentrates on the true story of a Hijacked ship and the rescue mission that followed. Two very different films essentially about the same thing. It's fair to say that Captain Phillips won because it is the big star Hollywood picture but also because Paul Greengrass is the best director working today when it comes to dramatised reconstructions. I would argue that A Hijacking is the better film that takes a more realistic approach and shows all sides of the story but Captain Phillips is the more exciting. The last scene is spectacular though, Tom Hanks has never been as good and I'm not sure Hollywood has ever been so raw.
King & Country
Dir: Joseph Losey
1964
*****
Joseph Losey's 1964 King & Country is a devastating piece of theatre. Adapted from the play Hamp written by John Wilson, director Joseph Losey keeps the story as a piece of theatre and sets the scene behind the characters, rather than sets the characters within the scene or scenario. A young solder is overcome during fighting in the trenches during WW1 and finds himself walking North. He is soon captured and tried for desertion. After 3 years of solid fighting and trench conditions, far longer than any of his superiors, and at the moment of reading a letter from his wife at home informing him that she had left him, Private Hemp (Tom Courtenay in his best role to date) decides the only thing to do was to 'go for a little walk'. Dirk Bogarde plays his martinet officer given the task of defending him in a rag-tag court. Private Hemp's long suffering friends hold a mock court outside, and try a Rat they've found in the corpse of a dead Horse of nibbling the solders ear and general pestilence. The madness is shown in the nerves of the solders and in the decisions of those in charge. King & Country is every bit as good as Paths of Glory and it's about time it received it's due credit as one of the best War films of all time.
The Internship
Dir: Shawn Levy
2013
**
It's fair to say I'm not Shawn Levy's biggest fan, Date Night being the only of his films I enjoyed. I loved Vince Vaughn in his Swingers years but ever since then he's played the same character and Owen Wilson has also lost his way somewhat and is only really good in Wes Anderson movies these days. So, it was nice to see that actually everyone was on good form. Vaughn and Wilson play off each other so much more naturally since the painfully overrated Wedding Crashers and I think this is due to their continuing off camera friendship. The idea is great, even though it verges between being charmless Google advertising to 'Are you sure google want to be associated with this?' territory. When it's good it's good, when it's bad, it's awful. Some of the characters are dreadful and the story-line is up and down like a cookie on a porn site (or so I've heard). Everything good about the message is ruined by either a pointless strip club scene, a man with sexual OAP tendencies or by a Will Ferrell cameo. It started so well, then sank back into the sort of garbage I first feared it would be.
The Way Way Back
Dir: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
2013
****
I hate the phrase 'Coming of age' and I'm a firm believer that not all comedies need a moral message and 'Coming of age' films could do with focusing on normal kids for a change. I admit, I didn't think comedy pair Nat Faxon and Jim Rash were up to the job. I was wrong and I'm ashamed of myself. This is one of my favorite 'Coming of age' films of all time. It's nice to see a film were the parents aren't unbelievable, two-dimensional characters and whereby the child in question isn't secretly special in anyway. The cast is great, Toni Collette is good in everything and Sam Rockwell couldn't be cooler. It's very nice to see Steve Carell in a straight role for a change too, hopefully we see more of this from him and less of his Brick Tamland character. One of the more uplifting films of 2013.
Stand Up Guys
Dir: Fisher Stevens
2012
***
Fisher Stevens's Stand Up Guys seems to have flown straight under the radar. It was poorly advertised and what little publicity I did see was misleading. A real shame because the film is quite good. Not necessarily what you'd expect from an Al Pacino/Christopher Walken/Alan Arkin 'Gangster' collaboration but that's no bad thing. Opportunities are missed and not all of the story, or indeed some of the scenes, work or are as effective as they were meant to be but there is a whole lot of heart in this film that doesn't go unnoticed. It's not just about three old guys complaining about the aging process either, there is depth to the ideas of faith, friendship and trust and not in the bull-shit way you might see in many action/gangster films. The tender moments make the film worth watching for, it gets a little silly towards the end but at least when it's not being sensible it is being fun.
Enough Said
Dir: Nicole Holofcener
2013
*****
I've been a fan of Nicole Holofcener's for quite a while now and for me Enough Said is her best so far. The pairing of Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini was perfect, her sassy confidence and his laid-back and slightly sarcastic demeanor makes for the perfect not-so-perfect coupling. Why isn't Julia Louis-Dreyfus in more films? Much like Nicole Holofcener as a director, she switches from TV to Movie mode effortlessly when many actors/directors can't. It will be remembered for being the late great James Gandolfini's penultimate film, last as leading man but I'm not sure you could ask for a better swansong. Enough Said is well written, brilliantly performed and very very funny. It's convincing as both a comedy and a romance and that hasn't been achieved in Hollywoodland for quite some time in my opinion, certainly not as well. Five stars, as I just can't fault it.
In the Shadow of the Sun
Dir: Harry Freeland
2012
*****
Harry Freeland's In the Shadow of the Sun is an awareness message about a subject many people will find hard to believe exists. In the African country of Tanzania lies a little Island called Ukerewe, Witch Doctors are taking advantage of the ignorant and uneducated (as well as the minority rich) and making them believe that the Bone, flesh and even clothes of an Albino have demonic powers. Their message is that killing an Albino and selling their limbs, bones etc to the rich will not only make you rich but it will bring luck and prosperity to you and your family. It's a tempting proposition to the mass ignorant and highly superstitious. For unknown reasons, the country has many Albinos who over the years have suffered terrible persecution. This films sees two brave and outspoken members of the Albino society educate the surrounding villages despite the grave dangers. A compelling and eye-opening documentary that warrants attention.
You Will Be My Son
Dir: Gilles Legrand
2011
****
You Will Be My Son is a devastating account of obsession and narcissism. Father and Son Vineyard owners, Paul and Martin, struggle with their personal and profession lives with each other as Paul has no faith in his son and Martin knows that he will never live up to his impossible expectations. Niels Aretrup's Paul de Marseul is one of modern cinema's greatest villains. His character is deliciously deplorable, and as the story goes on we see him try to replace his son in every way he can, he becomes even more so hateful and even more compelling. Patrick Chesnais and Nicolas Bridet are both very good in their supporting roles as estate manager and son but I'm afraid Loran Deutsch who plays Martin is the weak link. More than made up for by the brilliant Niels Aretrup's performance and Gilles Legrand glorious direction. A gripping drama worth looking out for.
I Know Where I'm Going!
Dir: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
1945
****
As you'd expect from a Powell & Pressburger film, the script is sharp, witty and sublime. Made between fan favorites One of Our Aircraft Is Missing and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp that came before and Stairway to Heaven, Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes that came in the few years after, I Know Where I'm Going! is slap bang in the middle of what was arguably their most successful run. Although I believe the script and story are just as good, I found the film to be lacking the same effect as the other films. After reading that it was actually filmed in a relatively short amount of time while the pair were waiting for their ordered Colour Camera, it kind of makes sense. I don't want to take anything away from the film but some of the effects aren't as good as you'd expect from the two pioneers. I also found the tone to slip into schmaltzy Hollywood towards the end, when it started out as the polar opposite and intentionally so I thought. Dare I say it was rushed? It's a classic and I love it but when you compare it to their other films, it doesn't come close. They set the standards high, this would be a good introduction to their work.


First Men in the Moon
Dir: Nathan Juran
1964
*****
Nathan Juran's 1964 First Men in the Moon is a glorious film from yesteryear that I love for so many different reasons. I love Sci-fi and Space movies, I've been an avid reader of H.G. Welles since I was a young boy and throw in what I believe are arguably some of Ray Harryhausen's greatest special effects and everybody's favorite Grandpa Lionel Jeffries, and I'm not sure anyone could resist. The science is nonsense but the idea is sound. The beginning sequence was so brilliantly handled and so professionally done, the 'Floating paint' soon becomes something quite unimportant. Not only is this a rather brilliant foresight into Space travel, it is also a very wise cautionary tale for society in general. No First Men in the Moon, no Star Trek nor Wars. Nor would there have been the John Carter books that also inspired almost everything that has come since. It's a great family adventure film which is pretty much ageless, it's funny, intelligent and thoroughly British. Who else could make something so brilliant, silly and fun?


Runner Runner
Dir: Brad Furman
2013
**
Brad Furman's Runner Runner sees Justin Timberlake and Ben Aflleck on full smarm offensive. The film deals with relatively young but mega rich on-line gambling entrepreneur Aflleck defending himself against accusations of fraud from a young, smart, ex-Wall street dealer who lost his entire savings in an on-line poker game. Instead of going to the authorities, Timberlake goes straight to source and ends up with a rather nice job. Cue poor Bond villainesque shenanigans, Cartel nonsense and an unconvincing romance. Instead of character development, director Brad Furman relies solely on good looking extras and an abysmal script. The film does look good and it tackles a seedy world that I dislike immensely but other than that, I didn't much care for it.

Silkwood
Dir: Mike Nichols
1983
****
Mike Nichols's relatively unformuliac approach in telling the true story of Karen Silkwood (played effortlessly by Meryl Streep) really helps the viewer to understand the whole picture and to see her as a person rather than just a conspiracy story. It's a great drama with three big stars but it brings a level of important realism to the newspaper headline. It's hard to imagine the level of incompetence happening these day but I bet it does, they're just a little bit more careful that people don't find out. The insight into how the unions worked back then and how they were ridiculed by some makes for fascinating viewing, especially in this day and age whereby big industries are winning over. Mike Nichols is a director I really admire. His films are never predictable but are instantly recognisable, he's an unsung hero in my opinion.
The Wings of the Dove
Dir: Iain Softley
1997
****
Henry James's 1902 novel is gloriously brought to life by director Iain Softley and by the performances of a more than capable cast. The boredom of the rich bourgeois, the constraints and temptation of a young and kept socialite lady, the obsessions, the passionate love affairs and the want for a meaningful relationship rather than a financially advantageous one. All these subjects and more are beautifully portrayed here and are simply dripping in sensuality and sophistication with a back drop of Venice to boot.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Shanghai Knights
Dir: David Dobkin
2003
*
Everything Tom Dey got right with Shanghai Noon, David Dobkin gets wrong in Shanghai Knights. Apart from the ridiculous and embarrassing historical inaccuracies, Dobkin seems to rely heavily on stereotyping without thought for his audience. Talk about riding on the success of someone else's work. The martial art scenes are overdone and contrived, the 'Buddy' element is lost and the script is nothing short of terrible. There are quite a few telling deleted scenes in the end credits whereby you can see just how uncomfortable Owen Wilson is saying certain lines. It's not funny at all and is far from entertaining. Every scene is a poor copy from other, better films. Why is Aidan Gillen still cast as villains? Why does London look like Mexico? Why did you ruin what could have been a great franchise? It makes Rush Hour 3 look like a masterpiece!
Shanghai Noon
Dir: Tom Dey
2000
***
Shanghai Noon represents the better of the popular American Jackie Chan films of the late 90s/early 00s and it easily the best of his 'Buddy' films. Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson are two of the most likable people in cinema, so there was an element of win/win about this film from the beginning. The story is good, the comedy is funny and the martial arts scenes impressive without being gratuitous. It's nice to see a Buddy film whereby the 'Buddies' actually look like they're friends and here they definitely do. It's a great family adventure film, entertaining and hard to dislike.
MrDeath: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr.
Dir: Errol Morris
1999
****
Fred A. Leuchter, Jr. is the leading expert on Instruments of Capital Punishment. What makes him the leading expert? Easy, he was the only one in his field. He's obviously a very capable engineer with a problem solving brain to match but expert is probably a push. When he was asked by revisionist historian (that's holocaust denier to you and me) Ernst Zundel to investigate what was thought to be the Gas chambers at Auschwitz he caused quite the stir with what he found. Death expert, holocaust denier, egotist, seemingly nice guy...this is Errol Morris documentary making at its finest.
The Debt
Dir: John Madden
2010
***
The Debt is a great little Espionage that spans 30 years. The start of the film sees our three main leads, a trio of Israeli Nazi hunters, carry out a political kidnapping in the late 1960s. Jump to 1997 and we get the sense that the mission didn't go as well as we, and the rest of the world, were lead to believe. It's a slow burner this, but it's all the better for it. I think the younger actors were a little more convincing in their roles but I found the older actors far more watchable. It's a delicate subject and like in all good thriller, not everything is what it seems. I did find that certain key questions, particularly regarding one of the three main characters, remained unanswered to the films disadvantage. Overall it is stylish, well acted and beautifully directed but it's just missing that certain je ne sais quoi that would make it really great, rather than just quite good.
Johnny English Reborn
Dir: Oliver Parker
2011
**
"Make a sequel to the 2003 film Johnny English" shouted no one ever, and yet, 8 years later Johnny English Reborn arrives. To be fair it is ever so slightly better than the first film, this is due to the fact that they've taken advantage of it being a sequel and so have built on the legend, rather than try to tell the same story twice. They've obviously spent a little bit of money on it too and have made it more Bond then Bean. The impressive supporting cast are totally wasted and it's far from Atkinson's best work but it's easy viewing and inoffensive. For the older folk maybe, although everyone likes seeing an elderly women get beaten up, don't they?
The Rawhide Years
Dir: Rudolph Mate
1955
***
An overlooked buddy Western that I can't help but think influenced some of the best loved films and TV shows in the genres, such as Maverick and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I watched it for Cinephile Crocodile favorite Tony Curtis but it's fair to say that Arthur Kennedy steals the show. Kennedy worked the Westerns throughout his career and is mostly, and quite unfairly, forgotten these days. I can only imagine it was his accent that prevented Curtis from doing more Westerns as his acting actually suited the genre quite well. It's easy to see why The Rawhide Years is thought of as a B-Western, it's nothing to do with Rawhide and obviously chose the name for familiarity reasons. It's quality performances, sharp dialogue and Wild West spirit have been terribly misjudged, as had Rudolph Mate as a director.
Play Misty for Me
Dir: Clint Eastwood
1971
***
Clint Eastwood's directional debut should have been all about him really but he shows great generosity by making this Jessica Walters's film. I don't really believe for a second he was being generous, he was out-acted fair and square. His direction is pretty good though, particularly for a debut. I'm not sure he improved as a directer until relatively recently, far later in his career. His acting remains the same though and I'm afraid I regard him as one of the most overrated actors of all time. All that aside, Play Misty for Me is an example of great 1970's thrillers. Its influence is obvious but for my money Jessica Walters's obsessive stalker remains the best and most terrifying.
The Bedford Incident
Dir: James B. Harris
1965
***
James B. Harris's 1965 Cold War drama The Bedford Incident is a masterclass in script and performance. Sidney Poitier plays an investigative reporter, keen to know more about the mysterious Captain Eric Finlander who's reputation as one of the best Captains in the Navy but who has been refused Admiralty on several attempts. Richard Widmark's performance as Captain Eric Finlander is suitably chilling and obsessive. It's nice to see a film whereby Sidney Poitier's skin colour isn't the focal point, indeed it's never even mentioned. This is very much about the politics of the Cold War. The power lust, the blood thirst and all the paranoia that comes with it is explored brilliantly by a cutting edge script. The only problem is the direction. It's shot in a grainy Black and White which is both unnecessarily and distracting. The film is overlong which doesn't really help what should have been a more climactic ending, instead the film ends abruptly and without full effect. As much as like it, it's not without its flaws and it is one of the few films I would want to see a remake of.
The Armstrong Lie
Dir: Alex Gibney
2013
**
Alex Gibney is a great documentary director. Every film I've seen of his has been informative and entertaining in equal measure, whether or not I was interested or even aware of the source material, more often than not I soon was thanks to him. Well, until now anyway. I don't know much about professional Cycling but I know Lance Armstrong is synonymous in the world of two wheels. I know he's struggled in his career, is (was) highly regarded and I also know he took performance enhancing drugs. I had hoped to have learned a little more than that during the 2 hour long film but I didn't. I can't help but compare this documentary to James Erskine's Pantani: The Accidental Death of a Cyclist. It was far more compelling, told me something about someone and a subject I didn't already know about and without it I probably wouldn't have understood half or the Armstrong Documentary. The archive footage wasn't particularly interesting and the interviews with the man himself were nothing short of dull. After 2 hours I felt like I'd cycled the Tour De France; elated that it was over and completely exhausted. For the hard core only.
Houseguest
Dir: Randall Miller
1995
*
A likable but loud Black man somehow ends up faking the identity of a learned Dentist and spends a week with a polite White Family. During this week he gets the anally-retentive White folks to loosen up a bit by making them dance and eat meat. Even in 1995, it's hard to imagine who thought this was a good idea, who green lit it and who honestly thought it would make money? I actually quite like Sinbad and I miss the great Phil Hartman but with a story and script this bad it is easy to see why the former hasn't worked much since. I can only recommend this film to people with the lowest of expectations.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Blitz
Dir: Elliott Lester
2011
**
Blitz explores the stereotype and myth of a South London that doesn't actually exist and does so fairly badly. Jason Statham plays a character that is a cross between someone Sylvester Stallone would have played in the 80's and a exaggeration of every other role he's ever had combined. I think the dialogue was written on the spot. By a 12 year old. Paddy Considine plays his new partner, a Gay policeman who is gay for absolutely no reason, considering the amount of times we are reminded. Aidan Gillen once again plays the least convincing villain of all time, a 'Cop killer' who seems to have the ability to fly, pass through walls and bend time. Or is that just the continuity department slipping up for the hundredth time? It's corny, unbelievable, stupid and a bit tired.
Bad Day at Black Rock
Dir: John Sturges
1955
*****
John Sturges's 1955 Bad Day at Black Rock is a very different Western. Made slap bang in the middle of the Westerns golden decade, it's contemporaries are among some the greatest of the genre. Bad Day at Black Rock stands out from the rest dramatically. It's filmed in rich technicolor, is a contemporary tale and adopts a noir style that was more commonly used in gangster movies and arty thrillers. Simple and stylish, with powerful performances and a boldness that was unique. The movie sent out quite a political and social message in a time where there was much disruption and injustice but not a lot of talk about it. With the back-drop of the changing West, it tackled small town thinking on a nationwide scale. Spencer Tracy's John J. MacReedy is one of the greatest characters in cinema and Robert Ryan's Reno Smith is one of the most villainous of villains. John Sturges's direction is nothing short of perfection.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

The Fifth Estate
Dir: Bill Condon
2013
**
Everything you need or want to know about Julian Assange and WikiLeaks is documented thoroughly in Alex Gibney's We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks. If you want to know half of the story, complete with distracting special effects, unhelpful analogies and dodgy wigs then you should watch Bill Condon's The Fifth Estate. Benedict Cumberbatch proves he's not infallible (although no one noticed) and Daniel Brühl shows he's one of the best actors working today (again, no one seems to have noticed). It was interesting to see more from the Guardian's perspective but key people are left out of the story and key moments are ignored altogether. I do not think it is necessary to watch both films so i would recommend We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks only. Shame though, as the supporting cast of Laura Linney, Anthony Mackie, David Thewlis and Peter Capaldi is great.
Out of the Furnace
Dir: Scott Cooper
2013
****
Scott Cooper's Out of the Furnace relies a little too heavy on stereotypes and the odd cliche but the character driven performances make it a worthwhile watch. It would probably loose every game of poker it played but it more than makes up for this in mood and grittiness. It's everything you want from a ballsy American drama. It's an age old story, Hollywood was built on it, Out of the Furnace is the retelling of countless classic westerns, classic War films and Noir thrillers of the 1940's. Fate, circumstance,  justice ...and the American way. You say predictable, I say American classic in a new suit.
Moonfleet
Dir: Fritz Lang
1955
***
Fritz Lang's Moonfleet is beautifully shot and unnervingly eerie. The townsfolk's wretched faces, the piecing eyes of the graveside statue and the bleak undertones of life in the secretive coastal village are all fantastically handled and another example of Lang's visual mastery. However, the story is overcooked. The ending is predictable within the first five minutes. The script goes from brilliant to laughable depending on the actor and I'm afraid half way through the film the story looses steam and stagnates somewhat. Occasionally the film pics up, whenever Jon Whiteley states that Jeremy Fox is 'My friend', your anticipation of the conclusion bubbles high but without any real character development it's all a bit too hard to take seriously. There isn't enough George Sanders screen-time either, although the jump of temperament from his character from first scene to second scene is a fine example as to what is wrong with the film in general, so it's probably not surprising he's used sporadically.
Les Invisibles
Dir: Sébastien Lifshitz
2012
***
Sébastien Lifshitz's documentary is sold as a film about the difficulties and hardships that several elderly homosexual men and women encountered when they chose to live openly in France at a time when society rejected them. I was expecting some serious stories to be honest, some defiance in the face of adversity. This wasn't really the case. The people interviewed were interesting people who did go through hardships but on the whole there isn't anything that remarkable about them. Is this for people who will be shocked to find that old people can be homosexual too, because if this is the target audience, I'm not sure they'd watch it in the first place. I'm afraid I can't really see the point. I like listening to older people though, so i enjoyed it, I'm just not sure what it was trying to say or if it succeeded in doing so. I'm afraid the nonsense 'Walls remember' scene did damage to the film's overall charm in my opinion but not enough for me not to recommend.
Non-Stop
Dir: Jaume Collet-Serra
2014
****
I can't say I'm a big fan of these current Liam Neeson action films. They're becoming a little bit samey. Non-Stop is set on an airplane, is a mix up of Hitchcock and Agatha Christie (see Ten Little Indians), has text messages pop up on screen and has the lead man as a washed up alcoholic 'washed up' ex-Cop. Sounds dreadful doesn't it? Well, rather surprisingly it isn't! The rather formulaic formula suddenly works. Okay, so there are a few cliches that you really will need to try to ignore to achieve full entertainment but it's actually really good. It's an unpredictable 'Who done it', is quite clever and is generally entertaining throughout.  Just enough to make it a four star film over three stars and certainly two more stars than I thought I would be giving it.
The Hawk Is Dying
Dir: Julian Goldberger
2006
*****
Not much has been written about Julian Goldberger's 2006 film The Hawk Is Dying but then not many people saw it. What is written isn't particularly positive which puzzles and frustrates me in equal measure. Paul Giamatti gives the best performance of his career and possibly the best performance of 2006. His performance completely absorbs the audience into following him and highlighting aspects of his character and the overall message, that I think many people missed. Giamatti plays George, a man who we are told finds it extremely hard to express his emotions. When his nephew dies unexpectedly, he goes into an obsessive meltdown while his family and friends watch on worriedly. The point of the film isn't how unnatural or stunted George is, it is how unnatural everyone else is in displaying (or not displaying) their grief. The film very cleverly and very subtly shows us the madness in others while we follow what we are told is mad but in truth is nothing more than natural. It's heaped in symbolism but never preaches or pretends to be anything more than it is. In my opinion, it's one of the best films of the decade and hopefully in time more people will agree with me. Crash won the Oscar in 2006 for best picture, Giamatti was nominated for best supporting actor for his role in Cinderella Man and Michelle Williams for hers in Brokeback Mountain. They should have all won for The Hawk Is Dying.


Stalag 17
Dir: Billy Wilder
1953
*****
A comedy thriller set in a POW camp? Only the mighty Billy Wilder could pull off such an idea. As funny as the film is, and it is very funny, it never once takes away how hard the conditions were in the POW camps during the Second World War. It's a bit of an Agatha Christie 'Who done it', with deadpan satire (provided by the great William Holden) with a splash of humour that I can only compare to Robert Altman's MASH, a film that was very obviously inspired by it. The thriller element of the film is handled perfectly, the espionage and hidden messages within the POW camp were fascinating and I still hadn't guessed who the villain was until it was reveled. The performances are wonderful, William Holden is superb but the supporting cast of comedians is where the real strength lies. The Hitler impersonation scene is one of the funniest moments in cinema ever made, it's hard to imagine that some of the actors would have fought in the war and that the war only ended 9 years before the film was released. One of the most intelligent but funny war films of all time.

Monday, 21 July 2014

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
Dir: John Ford
1962
*****
Everyone has their favorite Western and everyone has their favorite Western actor. Stars, John Wayne and James Steward are probably the best loved in the genre but who is favorite? It's a very close call, so when John Ford got both actors to star in his 1962 film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance it proved to be very successful indeed. Personally, it's James Steward for me every time but seeing both actors act together still seems like a treat to me. Throw in the likes of Lee Marvin and Edmond O'Brien and you've got a recipe for success. The story, essentially one long flashback is as about as 'Western' as it gets. Fighting, shooting, competing for the love of one girl, sacrifice, dignity and honour. Gritty, gripping and with an intelligent message that puts it above many of the others in it's genre.
King Kong
Dir: John Guillermin
1976
****
John Guillermin's 1976 remake of the classic King Kong story was a cinematic project of epic proportions. It's fair to say that John Guillermin's vision and enthusiastic approach was not shared by all. It wasn't popular on release and is regarded as a major flop. However, decades of subsequent film fans have sought out the film and have adopted it as a bit of a cult classic. It is a great film! Okay, so not great in the classical sense, there is a strong element of so bad it's good about it but it isn't without its credit. The modern reworking of the story is actually pretty good, already dated but an influence to a few monster movies I can think of that have come since. King Kong 1976 is a mix of great ambition, creativity on a small budget and the wonder that is the 70's disaster film. Throw in a great cast and giant charismatic monkey and you're in business. Carlo Rambaldi's special effects are still impressive today, it's worth watching just for his legendary work. The last scene of Kong climbing New York's World Trade Center has become quite poignant now, it certainly reminds the viewer of what seemed like simpler times, and from a cinephiles view, certainly happier times. I love the 70s.





Funny Face
Dir: Stanley Donen
1957
*****
Funny Face is probably the ultimate modern musical. It's been a huge influence on the genre and has also influenced a couple of non-musicals. The bohemian Cinderella story maybe a bit shaky at times but the choreography, costumes, make-up, profs, locations and overall beautiful direction are second to none. That's before you get to the brilliant music numbers and the fantastic performances. Fred Astaire is on full charm offensive, at first the obvious age gap between he and Audrey Hepburn makes for uneasy viewing but this doesn't last thanks to her maturity and his childishness. Audrey Hepburn is drop dead beautiful, far from the 'Funny Face' she's supposed to be but when compared to the magazine model of the day, she did have something of a revolutionary style about her. Both are sublime and the dance numbers they have together are among the best committed to film. However, it is Kay Thompson as the pushy yet over the top Maggie Prescott who really steals the show and makes the film 'one of the best'. Her performance is hilarious and she keeps up effortlessly when it comes to the singing and dancing scenes too. Why she appeared in very few films after is a mystery and a tragedy. Funny Face was so cutting edge for its time, I'm not sure why it isn't mentioned more when people talk of shifts in style and analyse decades in film. Funny Face has everything a great film needs and is in my opinion one of the quintessential films of the 1950's.
Paradise: Hope
Dir: Ulrich Seidl
2013
****
Ulrich Seidl's Paradise Trilogy, based on the theological virtues of Love, Faith and Hope, revolve around three related women, each of which have their own film. The ideology of the three virtues being paradise are each delivered with a dry but humorous twist and with contemporary themes. Love saw Teresa travel to Kenya as a sex tourist during her vacation while in Faith, her sister Anna Maria decides to stay at home and do missionary work to save the souls of Austria. Hope sees Melanie (Teresa's daughter, Anna Maria's Niece) carted off against her will to fat camp during her school holidays. The irony that her mother is fairly overweight isn't lost on those that have watched the first two films. Melanie is a typically unmotivated late teen who fits in well with the others in the camp. Their days include hours of monotonous exercise and outdated motivational tasks. The kids scoff their faces with hidden chocolate in the evenings and start to misbehave the more and more the confidence tasks they endure. This is a brilliantly observed and socially overlooked aspect of certain methods of education. This takes an uncomfortable and unexpected turn as the young overweight Melanie flirts with the camp doctor who obviously has a taste for the young and vulnerable. Hope is sickly sweet but is a fascinating companion piece to the first film, with the second film somehow out of place in the trilogy. I'm a fan of dark humour and pushing the boundaries, Hope came uncomfortably close to my limit but makes some valid points and asks interesting question of ourselves. A real one off trilogy worth investigating.
Paradise: Faith
Dir: Ulrich Seidl
2012
****
Ulrich Seidl's Paradise Trilogy, based on the theological virtues of Love, Faith and Hope, revolve around three related women, each of which have their own film. The ideology of the three virtues being paradise are each delivered with a dry but humorous twist and with contemporary themes. Faith sees Anna Maria, sister of Teresa and Aunt of Melanie (both of who are explored further in the 1st and 3rd parts of the trilogy respectively) continue her missionary work during her annual leave as a clinic technician. Ulrich Seidl has a history of exploring aspects of religion in his films and seems to have issue with Catholicism especially. It's not really just a simple swipe at Christianity though but more of a exploration of a missionary and the idea behind being one. Seidl explores the hardship and punishment people inflict on themselves in the name of their faith and the hypocrisies that can often surface in doing so. The film crawls at a snails pace but this is more than made up for in the second half when the pace picks up and things get pretty dark. All three films are beautifully composed but this one is extra special in that there is no location other than Anna Maria's house. Seidl find the beauty, horror and humour and the ordinary and mundane.