Monday, 27 July 2015

Inside Out
Dir: Pete Docter
2015
*****
Pixar have always been good. I will admit that I was never into the first Toy Story as much as everyone else as I felt it was emotionally manipulative and an interesting idea was hijacked by a schmaltzy story. The Incredibles was probably the next time they would really attract my attention (although I loved Toy Story 2) and, Cars aside, they've made great film after great film. WALL-E was their first real masterpiece and I didn't think they'd be able to top it, they certainly matched it the following year though with the brilliant Up. With both films they showed that they could effect one's emotions without being manipulative, instead they exercised one's emotions so that the story would have a more universal appeal, which is a very tricky thing to achieve. It feels like the idea comes way before the money with Pixar. Inside Out has commercial endorsement, lots of it but this is the way these days, I'll put that to one side and state that this is the best film Pixar have made so far, the best film of 2015 so far and maybe one of the best films of the millennium so far. If were talking animation, it's up there with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and The Jungle Book. If were talking emotions, it's up there with It's a Wonderful Life. If we're talking intelligent idea, it's up there on it's own. The way Pixar have explained how emotions work is absolutely brilliant. It's an astonishing film, absolutely phenomenal. I came close to crying in Up but managed to hold it back, Inside Out had me crying like it was 1985 in that little cinema in Putney watching E.T. with my Grandma all over again. Again, this wasn't manipulative as it is explained that every emotion is needed, sadness as well as joy. The characters fit each emotion so well, as do the voices chosen for each. This is all done through an absence of stereotype too, there may be a little but once again it is universal. Kid's cartoons aren't supposed to be this astonishing are they? Well it's fair to say that it's not just a kids film, this is very much something that everyone can enjoy, this is often said about films these days but it often doesn't ring true but with Inside Out it really does. It's so creative and also quite educational in many respects (although you might not want to put your kids off by telling them). I urge everyone to go and see it, it's a new favorite of mine for sure and undoubtedly a future classic. If your kids are still into Frozen then maybe Inside Out will help them 'Let it go'!?


Inherent Vice
Dir: Paul Thomas Anderson
2015
***
Paul Thomas Anderson isn't a director I've always enjoyed but over the last few years I've grown to love and appreciate his work more and more. His 2012 film The Master is an absolute masterpiece, so Inherent Vice came with very high expectations, which is probably why a feel slightly let down. It's full of great performances from an array of brilliant actors, not one person has a bad day in the office and  in fact Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin and Katherine Waterston have never been better or made acting look so effortless. I was also very excited and not left disappointed with Martin Short's short performance, I really hope this opens a great many more doors for him as I want to see more of him in mainstream cinema. There are also some absolutely brilliant scenes within the film, Josh Brolin's hard-faced super cop eating Joaquin Phoenix's stash of marijuana being one of my very favorite of the last few years. That is essentially what the film is, a collection of some great scenes sandwiched into a very confusing crime mystery. It's not really a murder film as no one is dead and it's not a whodunnit either, as you're never too sure what the crime actually was in the first place. I'm familiar with Thomas Pynchon's work and this adaptation never really feels like one of his stories. I can't help but think there was development issues here as it's not the well constructed film that Anderson is know for. It's never as good as the sum of its parts, enjoyable to a point but over long, over complicated and just a tiny bit confusing. Three stars for performances and visual flare.

The Bay
Dir: Barry Levinson
2012
**
Barry Levinson and Michael Wallach's celebrated found footage horror; The Bay is a very clever idea and perfect for the horror sub-genre. So it's a terrible shame that it has been filmed in the worst possible way. Barry Levinson is a good director, I can see why he'd want to direct one of his own ideas but I honestly think he should have passed this onto someone else, maybe someone with documentary experience? It should have been terrifying but for the most part it is laughable. The camcorder footage looks too professional and the professional shots look too amateur, the script is so bad it made my skin crawl and the editing is totally overcooked. The acting is non-existent. The story repeats itself far too much, we know what the conclusion is within the first 20 minutes but it is repeated again and again through more and more unconvincing sub-plots. It's tiresome. The repeated times the male scientists makes reference to the female scientist's foreign accent is grating to say the least and made me quite angry towards the seventh time. Great idea, it's just that every component is totally wrong. A huge wasted opportunity by someone who seems not to understand both horror or documentary.

Lava
Dir: James Ford Murphy
2014
****
You can't beat a Pixar short. James Ford Murphy's Lava follows a series of brilliantly inventive animations that can often outshine the main features that it precedes. When you breakdown the idea behind Lava, it's completely nuts but somehow Pixar always seem to make the bizarre somewhat normal, fantastic but believable, albeit in a funny kind of way. That's the magic of Pixar. On paper i'm sure the idea of two Volcanoes falling in love would have had even the most open-minded of executives raising an eyebrow but with a story of such purity that is so beautifully animated, with an extremely catchy and effective song, I guess it was a no brainer. 

Tekkonkinkreet
Dir: Michael Arias
2006
***
While I'm not the biggest MANGA fan in the world, I do like the more fantastical animations, Michael Arias's Tekkonkinkreet (steel reinforced concrete) being one of them. I'm always glad when a MANGA story isn't set in a high school too, give me a tale about vigilantism and Yakuza any day. Tekkonkinkreet is pretty out there it has to be said, even for your typical MANGA cartoon. Reality and fantasy have no clear distinction here but both are balanced beautifully. I love the animation, not typical of MANGA, indeed, it's a little bit more European but it works well with the Japanese style City back-drop. My only real grievance with the film is that it doesn't really know how or where to end, I'm afraid the last 20 minutes or so are quite tiresome which is a shame as I've not seen an animation of its kind with the same amount of depth for a long time, if ever (Ghibli aside). I watched the subtitled version and as ever I question the American translation.



Doctor Strange: The Sorcerer Supreme
Dir: Jay Oliva, Frank Paur, Dick Sebast, Patrick Archibald
2007
**
I'm unfamiliar with the Marvel character Doctor Strange and I'm afraid this 2007 animated introduction hasn't exactly stirred my enthusiasm. Whether it's DC or Marvel, I find many of their animated films to be a bit slap-dash and nothing like the comics. This origin story seems original and also fairly familiar at the same time, although the jump from ordinary guy to Superhuman is a bit quick and one of the more unconvincing in the world of superheroes (and that's saying something). I didn't think any of the voices were anything special and I found the animation to be pretty standard. A fairly forgettable cartoon really, I can only hope the live-action version does something completely different.

Friday, 24 July 2015




The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension
Dir: W. D. Richter
1984
****
Earl Mac Rauch and W. D. Richter's inter-dimensional adventure comedy; The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension is an action, sci-fi, music video, Kung-fu, Alien invasion, romantic satire. I think it is safe to say that it is one of a kind. It looks and feels like it was made up as they went along, this isn't the case but it is no surprise that the story is actually made up of several unfinished scripts Earl Mac Rauch had written over the previous 10 years. This explains the many genres explored and the multiple vocations of our protagonist (Rock Star, Neurosurgeon, Physicist, Test Pilot). Some times 'why not' is as good a reason as any and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension proves it. It's almost impossible to keep up with but Peter Weller's straight faced chiseled performance, John Lithgow's manic wire-haired evil scientist act and watching Christopher Lloyd, Vincent Schiavelli and Dan Hedaya running around in lizard in suit costumes (plus the awesome 80's synth soundtrack) make it impossible not to love or look away from. It's a chaotic maddening of ideas that MTV owe a great deal of gratitude, it's nuts and ridiculously enjoyable and quite possibly the ultimate 80's movie.
American Sniper
Dir: Clint Eastwood
2014
**
I remember a family gathering from my childhood where I listened to my Grandfather and Great Uncles talk about various war stories. My Grandfather was in WW1 whereby the others served in WW2. My Grandfather spoke about where he'd been and who he'd met and my Great Uncles would talk about the planes they flew and the comradery they still had for their comrades still alive. I listened in awe of these men whom I highly respected. I then made the mistake of asking if they'd ever killed anyone. My three Great Uncles gave very different responses, one looked at me with suspicion the way the older generation often looks at the younger (silly really as I was 10), one went straight to my father to essentially get me out of the room and the third shouted at me. My Gentle Grandfather took me in the other room and calmly informed me that it was the one thing never discussed or asked and those that do are shunned by the rest and are often found to be untruthful anyway. I'd learnt a valuable lesson. I know solders today who say the same. Maybe it should be spoken about and not bottled in on occasion but essentially what my Grandfather taught me is that it should never be boasted of. So when Navy Seal Chris Kyle was celebrated as someone with the largest kill count I immediately thought about what my Grandfather said. He undoubtedly saved lives, which really should be the focus, but boasting of how many one has killed is never a nice thing but totally open for discussion. This in truth should have been a documentary rather than a Clint Eastwood propaganda exercise. The conclusion of the film, a fascinating part of Chris Kyle's story isn't even explored, which is stupidly frustrating as it could have given a much better understanding of what the film was really all about. The narrative doesn't flow particularly well and things are missed and skipped over, all while far too much is crammed into a short space of time. I'm afraid I think for the first time Clint Eastwood is showing his age, he certainly shouldn't have left the scene with the horribly fake baby in, that scene above all made the film feel as unconvincing as it did. The actors, all of whom are great, didn't seem to have had the guidance they needed from the director, so what should have been a totally original and alternative War film, ended up being a horrible cliched mess. If I see another War film whereby the funeral attendees of a fallen solder jump at the sound of the 21 gun salute, I will scream. It's not all bad but it looks like any other War film, which it really shouldn't have been.


Red Dawn
Dir: Dan Bradley
2012
*
Of all the films to remake, this is has to be the stupidest. First off though, I do not believe, like John Milius, that Dan Bradley is a right-wing devil. He's not, he's a stunt man. The original Red Dawn was once described as the most violent film ever made and it's certainly action packed. It's also got a reputation so as a first time director I can see why he would take the risk on it but it was still going to be a long shot. It's just as ridiculous in many respects as the first one but with hindsight, it's even more ridiculous. It's a film that is full of an uneasy and unjustified rage. Seriously, what have North Korea ever done to America? It's the worst kind of scaremongering and the blind patriotism message doesn't sit well with me at all. The Operation to capture Saddam Hussein was named Red Dawn after the first film so I can't help but look at the people who fought back at those solders, there and in all the other wars where America, Britain and their allies have invaded - in this case, illegally (I'm really not talking about Al-Quidea or ISIS folks, although they suffer the same brainwashing as any blind patriot). Red Dawn shows how it's patriotic, heroic and totally understandable to defend your own home and people when under attack, but before we all start asking God to bless our great nations, we should remember that this is a very real situation happening overseas and we are often the invaders. All the great war films made are anti-war films. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth when all is see in Red Dawn is glorification. Apart from the impossibility of the situation and the political issue, Josh Peck ain't no Charlie Sheen. The cast are fairly cardboard and I wonder just how Chris Hemsworth got involved with it. It's like we've learnt nothing.
Red Dawn
Dir: John Milius
1984
**
When I was a kid watching red Dawn I thought it was the coolest thing ever. That worries me somewhat now that I think about it as an adult. John Milius was and is very childlike in many respects, his films are all fantasies that most 10 year old boys can relate to. There are lots of things going on with Red Dawn but probably less than is usually discussed. Before anything, I believe the scenario is what came first, Milius and Kevin Reynolds are a couple of 'Wouldn't it be cool if...' writers before they are political speakers. However, Milius is well known to be pretty right-wing (although he claims he's a new-age hippy at heart) and the film can't hide from the fact that it's an overblown and fairly ridiculous piece of patriotic cold war propaganda. The problem with blind patriotism is that often very little thinking is involved. There is more to it than pointing a gun at who you are told the enemy is and pulling the trigger. Putting aside how ridiculous Russia invading America is, the film is riddled with NRA references but then also, the Russians are forcing captured Americans to watch Sergei Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky - a very famous anti-Nazi film. Maybe it's more obvious now but when watching the brilliant documentary Milius you'll see that he did loose many friends and much work because of it. I don't think Milius is a right-wing devil though, I see Red Dawn as more of a war-porn movie from before the phrase was coined. Kids like playing solder, Red Dawn takes it one step further but for me the film was about Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen looking cool and being heroic, it's sad to see how seriously it was taken by some, indeed the operation to capture Saddam Hussein was called Operation Red Dawn and the team called themselves the Wolverines like in the film. An illegal War operation on a country that posed no threat. The irony is somewhat unnerving.
Women of Valor
Dir: Buzz Kulik
1986
*
I'm sure intentions were pure with 1986's Women of Valor but the final result is an unfortunate and rather insulting mess. The most obvious issue is that none of it looks like it was in the 1940's. It looks like the 80's, the decade in which it was made. The lead actresses look like 1980's actresses. When telling a story about Prisoners of War, fictional as well as factual, it needs to be handled delicately and with utmost respect, Buzz Kulik's film trundles along clumsily, knocking vases off the shelves and leaving muddy footprints on the carpet. There is absolutely no sense of realism, the acting is crummy and the script is awful. This is how the term 'Made for TV' got it's negative connotations. I suppose at the very least no actual person was slandered in the film but how they could make a film about remembrance and it only being memorable because of how bad it is, makes you wonder what was going through peoples minds when making it an who on earth let it happen and even paid for it.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

The Man Whose Mind Exploded
Dir: Toby Amies
2012
****
The Man Whose Mind Exploded sounds a bit sensationalist but this documentary is certainly not without a bang. Toby Amies (or Toby Jug as he's fondly referred to in the film) befriends his subject, the colourful eccentric Drako Oho Zarharzar to the point that the margins of reality are somewhat blurred, it changes in both mood and direction but certainly doesn't suffer because of it. Far from it, it's this rather honest approach that makes the film the delight that it is. Drako Oho Zarharzar is a fascinating character for sure but he is also very vulnerable. Due to a couple of severe head traumas his short term memory has been almost totally destroyed, it is only his absolute trust in everyone and anyone that he lets Toby Amies back time and time again to continue filming him. His long term memory is a little better and he takes great pleasure in telling stories of sexual exploits, his childhood travels and the time he posed for Salvador Dali. Amies grows ever more into a carer and friend for Drako more than documentarian as he becomes more and more frustrated with the squalor he lives in (decorated by pictures of many a penis) and the lack of interest he shows in his own physical well-being. The interviews with family members helps to paint the picture of the man he was before his accidents and we can clearly see who he has become for ourselves but the most interesting aspect of the whole production comes when Drako, who doesn't always convince us he knows what is happening at any given moment, openly states that Amies is using him for his own gain. It's a startling moment, even more so when he states that it's fine by him because he likes to be used. I have the utmost respect for Amies for keeping this bit of film in when I'm sure many people wouldn't. He openly discusses it with Drako too, asking what his family would say about certain things and he is instructed to leave it all in when he really wouldn't have had to. Simple but fascinating and one of the most 'real' documentaries I think I've ever seen.

Un Chien Andalou
Dir: Luis Buñuel, Salvador Dalí
1929
*****
Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí's collaborative short piece is pure celluloid art. Dali & Bunuel collaborated to create one of cinemas greatest experimental films. The scene with the eye ball and the moon is what people remember when discussing the film, unfortunately it is often focused on the ridiculous question on whether it was 'real' which is totally missing the pure brilliance of the scene and it's editing. It's provocative and contradictory in it's structure, giving the illusion of plot and narrative. It is easy to wax lyrical about the film but the truth of the matter is that it is basically a merger of two dreams, one that Buñuel had (Slicing the moon in half) and one that Dalí had (Ants crawling on a hand). It has appeared on 'most shocking films of all time' lists since it was made and will continue to do so I'm sure but there is more to it. Un Chien Andalou is the birth of independent film, a deconstruction of the formula used until that point and in many respects, the template to the music video. An amazing film which I love but it doesn't deserve the attention it gets when Jean Cocteau's 1930 Blood of a Poet is so often overlooked.


Catwoman
Dir: Pitof
2004
*
Catwoman is a sultry, sexy and above all cool character...except in this film. It is as awful as everyone says it is. I wonder how much screen time the real Halle Berry actually has because most of the film seems to be of a poorly animated bobble-headed cartoon of her. Compare it to Nolan's Batman films and obviously it fails miserably, compare it to a piece of rotting cat food and still it doesn't compete. Avoid, even and especially if your a Batman fan as it has absolutely nothing to do with him or any other DC character from what I can tell. When you think of all the great comics they could have used as source material (Her Sister's Keeper, The Cat File or the brilliant When in Rome) you have to wonder why they chose this mess of a story.
The White Ribbon
Dir: Michael Haneke
2009
*****
Typically in Michael Haneke's films the importance is not who but why. Dissect and you will find the answer and nobody does cinematic autopsies like Haneke. I though The White Ribbon was excellent, it's not my favourite of his, but I would argue however that it is his greatest achievement as a director to this point, indeed, he betters himself with each new film. The black and white cinematography is sublime, the performances powerful and the steady pace and slightly different editing approach were perfect. I think the Palme D'Or was well deserved, although he still remains the most love/hate director working today it seems. For what it's worth, I very much love his work.


Bram Stoker's Dracula
Dir: Francis Ford Coppola
1992
****
I saw Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 hit Bram Stoker's Dracula when it first came out and liked it a lot but there were always aspects of it that bothered me. I re-watched it again recently and unlike most, I actually like it more than I did back then in 1992. Sure it's a bit camp, some of the acting is questionable and it looks a little dated, which is not necessarily a bad thing, no CGI is a welcome relief these days, although the street scene in 1897s London infuriated me with it's total architectural inaccuracies but I digress, the symbolism used, which was integral in it reaching it's now cult status, was meticulously clever, even though it was influenced greatly by the Dracula directors F.W. Murnau, Tod Browning and Roy Ward Baker, I believe Coppola tapped into Stoker's novel in a way that no film maker had done before. Gary Oldman was the perfect choice of actor, it's hard to watch any other actor in the role since his performance, indeed, no other Dracula film has been as popular since which is the sign that maybe, between Murnau, Browning, Baker and Coppola (not forgetting Herzog), the definitive story has been told.
All the King's Men
Dir: Steven Zaillian
2006
****
I had been meaning to see Robert Rossen's original All the Kings Men for a while but somehow I managed to see Steven Zaillian's version first. In my humble opinion it is as good as the original, a relief when watching any remake although it's a very different film. The acting by the more than capable cast was impressive and I thought the story flowed so well with the odd on/off narrative from Jude Law's character. I thought it was a good choice as it could have very easily been just another cliched and predictable political drama that has been made time and time again. It's not a perfect film by any stretch but there is something quite pleasing about its imperfections and quirks. At the very least it is very watchable, I'm slightly confused by the very low ratings it has been given upon release, I can only conclude that people actually like watching the same film over and over or that they preferred the original.
Reefer Madness (AKA Tell Your Children, The Burning Question, Dope Addict, Doped Youth, Love Madness)
Dir: Louis J. Gasnier
1936
**
Louis J. Gasnier's now cult classic Reefer Madness is just an old propaganda film from 1930's America. Yes they got it wrong, and maybe it's funny to watch when you're having a smoke of the green stuff but at the end of the day its actually quite dull to watch with only very fleeting moments of unintentional humour. It's cult status bemuses me somewhat, indeed, in this day and age whereby funny videos are shared on the internet all the time, Reefer Madness would be given minimal attention which I'm afraid it actually deserves. Students will still have the poster up for many years to come though (although I bet only half of them have seen it or have ever had a joint). Funny for about 10 minutes and is an interesting document of a 1930's republican viewpoint but nothing more.
Bridesmaids
Dir: Paul Feig
2011
**
For all the hype Bridesmaids received I was really expecting more. It's not a bad film, Kristen Wiig was good, the 'food poisoning' scene was very funny and it was great to see Chris O'Dowd in a big role and he did a great job too. It's just that I hated Rebel Wilson and Melissa McCarthy so much, I found them both painfully unfunny and it really took away a lot of the enjoyment for me. I don't really see this is a 'chick-flick' and I don't share the view that this is 'The first funny all female film' I just see it as a very average comedy that had huge potential but was ruined by some very obvious and unfunny attempts at comedy. This isn't a fat thing or a sexist thing either, quite how Melissa McCarthy was nominated for an Oscar for this performance is beyond me.


Kill List
Dir: Ben Wheatley
2012
***
Absurdly over-hyped by film-folk, I can't believe Total film magazine gave it 5 stars (actually, I can). Ben Wheatley has talent and knows his stuff but I can't help but think he got this one wrong. It is full of suspense and it has it's powerful moments of uncomfortable intensity which I won't deny are very well done, it's just that in the end what you essentially have is a Brit Gangster film vs. Brit 70's horror, filmed in a Dogme style without being as good as any of that might sound. I understand the conclusion as well, I realise the situation - I just didn't think it was particularly clever and the build up only added to the feeling of being let down in the end. Michael Smiley was good though, he will always be Tyres O'Flaherty to me though.


The Losers
Dir: Sylvain White
2010
****
I'm a big fan of Vertigo comics but The Losers is one of theirs that seems to have passed me by. I can see how it probably works as a comic though, the humour and action is there but also the edginess that makes Vertigo so good. The cast are likable and the pace, action etc was always consistently entertaining. I couldn't quite believe that was Jason Patric as the bad guy though, what a great villain he's become! Overall, pretty good and lots of fun A sequel and even a series of films would be very agreeable in my opinion. I would love to see more Vertigo comic adaptations in the future, The Invisibles, DMZ and Transmetropolitan would make awesome films, although a TV series of each might work better.
Le beau mariage (A Good Marriage)
Dir: Éric Rohmer
1982
**
I think the big problem with this instalment (the 2nd) of Éric Rohmer's Comedies et Proverbes is that it isn't particularly funny. Beatrice Romand was much more likable as a child, I found her character to be really quite annoying, perhaps this was intentional, but for all the comparisons made between Rohmer and the films of Chabrol, at least Chabrol had the decency of killing off half of his cast - something that would have improved Le Beau Mariage quite considerably. There is a distinct 1980's thing that I like about the film but nostalgia aside, it's a big disappointment.
One Day in September
Dir: Kevin Macdonald 
1999
*****
One day in September is gripping, intense and pretty astonishing. I thought I knew all there was to know about the '72 Munich Olympics disaster but I hadn't realised just how chaotic and dumbfounding it really was. This documentary tells you everything you need to know, with a thorough collection of TV clips, photos and interviews with people who were there, including an exclusive with the last surviving terrorist. See this if you enjoyed Bus 174, it works as a great companion piece to the also very excellent Munich. Documentaries don't get much better and Kevin Macdonald is fast becoming one of the best documentary film makers working today.
Ghosts of Girlfriends Past
Dir: Mark Waters
2009
*
Mark Waters' 2009 romantic comedy Ghosts of Girlfriends Past is a dreadful film that is a good example of the worst of Hollywood and how brain-dead ideas can still get the green light. It will also have Charles Dickins spinning in his grave no doubt. How can you even have Ghosts of people who aren't even dead yet? There have been some pretty bad reworkings of a Christmas Carol but this has to be the very worst by far. There is nothing good about this film whatsoever, it's insulting to all who watch it. It's been pointed out to me in the past when discussing this film that it isn't meant for me, it is a chick flick but unless you are a stupid women with very little self respect that doesn't mean anything to me.


Rebel Without a Cause
Dir: Nicholas Ray
1955
****
While Rebel without a cause is not the best film on the subject of 1950's post-war juvenile delinquency, it's certainly not the worst, it's just the most mainstream and that is why the message got across and hit the right nerves with the public. It was an important movie of its time but it's relevance has been lost somewhat. I love it visually, I love the 50's, I love James Dean and it's one of the first real film for the adolescent. I'm a huge Nicholas Ray fan but the story is somewhat flawed and unfortunately a little dated, especially when you compare it to his other great films, 1956's Bigger Than Life in particular, which owes a debt to Rebel Without a Cause in that respect. I suppose you could argue that in many ways it has stood the test of time but I would counter-argue that it is for all the wrong reasons. It's a beautifully directed film and I love Jim Backus, I give it 4 stars but not for the reasons it's usually regarded for.
Roman Holiday
Dir: William Wyler
1953
*****
Roman Holiday isn't without it faults but each one of them is completely forgivable. William Wyler's classic is a beautiful romance from a golden age of film making. Interestingly, this film led the way for film to be filmed on location rather than in the studio which makes it quite important in the history of cinema. Audrey Hepburn is a goddess, I never tire of watching her films. Rome and its people are also a big part of what makes this film great and I could watch it over and over and never get tired. Beautiful and really very funny too, with a killer script with performances to match.