Monday, 28 March 2011

Pixar Day

Had a bit of an accident this morning, got knocked off my bike on the way to work. I’m fine, but my bike’s wrecked, and I was confined to the sofa for the day, and couldn’t think of a better way to cheer myself up than watching nothing but Pixar films, and all off the list!

Kicking the day off is Ratatouille, a film about Remy (Patton Oswalt), a rat with a highly developed sense of taste and a craving for cookery. The film is brilliant for its use of impeccable physical and largely dialogue-free comedy, such as when Remy is darting and diving his way around a kitchen, desperately trying not to be seen making his way to an open window, or the montage of Remy learning to use Linguini, a hapless garbage boy, as a real-life marionette. The movie has two of Pixar's greatest bad guys in the forms of Skinner (Ian Holm) the head chef at Linguini’s restaurant, and Anton Ego, Peter O’Toole imbuing the harsh food critic with his dry, creaky tones, and his character rounded out with his skull-themed typewriter and coffin-shaped office. Ian Holm, Brad Garrett and the rest of the cast gleefully over-egg their French accents, and Jamie Oliver’s cameo as a health inspector is perfect.

Second was Wall-E, about a lone robot cleaning up an Earth where the skyscrapers are dwarfed by towers of waste. The personification of Wall-E, from hanging his tracks up at the end of a day’s work, rocking himself to sleep at night and waking disorientated and low on battery life in the morning are all expertly and hilariously implemented, as is the notion of a robot love story, when Wall-E meets EVE, a futuristic female robot sent to search for sustainable life. The film comes with a message, showing the future mankind is destined for if we continue to abuse our planet and ourselves, depicting future humans as lethargic blobs, floating around on hover chairs, communicating completely digitally and eating lunch... in a cup. I have previously discussed my love of dinosaurs, but here I would like to add robots to the list of things that make me giddier than a small child in a sweet shop, and Wall-E has these by the Waste Allocated Load Lifter. If I could pick any job, past or present to work in, it would have been character designer on Wall-E, hands down, although after my run-in this morning, the film featured far too many robot collisions than I would have liked.

I find the Incredibles, the final Pixar film of the day, to be a little overrated, though by no means unenjoyable. It is often regarded as one of the more superior pictures in their history, yet I prefer almost all of their other films (Cars will not be discussed here). I like the premise, of a family of undercover superheroes being brought out of retirement, find the plot to move along nicely and remain interesting throughout, and enjoy spotting the references and nods to the superhero genre (“You got me monologuing”), but I feel there is something missing, preventing the Incredibles from scaling the heady heights of its brethren. I’m not sure if it’s the fairly flat characters, with Brad Bird’s Gok Wan-esuqe costume designer Edna or Wallace Shawn’s belligerently whiny boss being the only memorable standouts,  or if it’s the lack of humour, when compared to the rest of Pixar’s catalogue, but for me this will always be another film, rather than one I look forward to. Still good fun though.
Ratatouille 9/10 Choose film
Wall-E 10/10 Choose film
The Incredibles 8/10 Choose film

Sunday, 27 March 2011

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

 Benjamin Button is stuck in the shadow of Forrest Gump, a film that has cornered the market on tales of the highlights of a man’s life, and how the world’s history has at times affected it. Button does not do much for itself to help this matter, mirroring Gump on many factors, such as a stint on a boat, involvement in a military conflict, a long lost love. The main difference, and it is one that should have separated Button far more than it did, is that the main character is born an old man, and grows progressively younger, the curious case from the title. Being in the title of the film would lead you to believe that it is this case that the tale would be about, yet it is retained to simply being a plot device, driving the plot rather than being the centre of it. Also, the characters lack of interest in Button’s extraordinary affliction annoyed me intensely, as did the lack of any real explanation as to how such a condition could arise.

Like Gump, Brad Pitt’s Button is a thoroughly decent man, writing post cards from everywhere he goes and giving away his last life jacket to another man. The CGI and make-up of the aging and de-aging in the film has justifiably received many plaudits, especially for the work on the two leads, Pitt and Cate Blanchett, transforming them from their late teens into their 70s and 80s. The acting too is very well realised, with both leads covering these age breadths admirably. The sepia colour scheme of the earlier years was comforting and fitted the era perfectly, but I feel the piece was too light for David Fincher, more at home in the dark and twisted psyches of more amoral characters.
All in all, Button is an astonishing achievement in CGI, but lacked originality in plotting and execution, borrowing from too many other films (Big Fish’s dying parent recounting an unbelievable story, Jack’s young man in an old body).
6/10 Choose film


As promised, all films watched have now been blogged, and I've even gone back through all the existing ones and given them a rating out of 10, and suggested whether you should watch them (choose film) or not (choose life). Alas, I'm getting a little behind on the list, I think I'm 3 or 4 films back from where I should be at this moment in time, but I'll try and get on top of that. Hopefully I'll cross off at least one, if not two films later today. Easter weekend and the upcoming bank holidays should help out immensely though.

I've been thinking about saving some films for specific events though. Not just the obvious, watching It's A Wonderful Life and Die Hard around Christmas, Halloween on Halloween, but things like having a Star Wars marathon (Episodes 1, 3, 4, 5 & 6 all appear in the list, though annoyingly my favourite is 2) on May the 4th one year (Star Wars day, look it up!), and saving Back to the Future 1 & 2 (I'll probably chuck 3 on the pile as well, it's fun) for October 21st 2015, the day Marty, Doc and Jennifer arrive in the future, just because I'd probably watch those films that day anyway. I may have to think up some more of these...

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Battleship Potemkin

Famous for the pram rolling down a staircase, famously ‘homaged’ (stolen?) by Brian de Palma in the Untouchables and parodied in the Naked Gun series, Battleship Potemkin is a silent film about the crew of a Russian battleship who mutiny over the poor food, ultimately causing a mass revolution. There are certain images from the film that are more well known than the film itself – the meat crawling with maggots, the hordes of people mourning the death of a man “killed for a plate of soup” and of course the Odessa staircase scene, that the rest of the film is lost between these set pieces. I think that there are supposed to be parallels between the plot and the Russian revolution, but I’m afraid I don’t know my Russian history as well as is required to appreciate these, so this went over my head a little.

Choose Life. 5/10

The Terminator

Film night strikes again with the Terminator. This is a film that is so deeply ingrained within popular culture that I cannot remember the first time that I saw it, and probably did not even realise it was my first time then, as the character is so well known, from the way he moves to his handful of lines of dialogue, but I tried to watch it afresh, as though it was 1984 and I’d wandered blindly into a cinema and sat down. The most surprising thing I found was that there is no indication that Schwarzenegger is a cyborg until about 45 minutes into the films, though it is now the most famous aspect of the film. Up until Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) tells Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) that he is a robot sent from the future to kill her, preventing the birth of her son and therefore the revolution against the cyborgs that he will eventually cause, we only assume that Schwarzenegger is just a specially trained, seemingly unstoppable killer, possibly a soldier or hitman of some kind. Yes there are some hints; his stiff-legged walking and even stiffer speech mannerisms, but at the time no-one would have been expecting anything more acting-wise from the former bodybuilder. 

It seems that not just the cyborgs are out to get Sarah either, in fact almost all the machinery in the film is on the brink of turning against humanity, from the police radio or answering machines that lead the terminator to her or the man complaining about his garbage truck in the opening scene, the robot uprising is already upon us. Occasionally the soundtrack jarred with the action though, particularly the awkward synth noises during the motorcycle/car chase, and the effects in places looked a little ropey, but at the time they were incredible, and I don’t intend to belittle them now.

This is a film you can be a fan of without even watching it, so iconic are the scenes, characters and lines that it is ranked up with Star Wars and Indiana Jones for the effect it has had on today’s culture. So if you haven’t seen it because you think you already have, make sure that you do, if only for one of the greatest dead-oh-wait-no-he’s-not bits in cinema history.
Choose Film. 9/10

Un Chien Andalou

Alas, another Luis Bunuel film, however this time thankfully much shorter than L’Age d’Or.

One of the few things I have in common with Rachel Green from Friends is I have a thing about eyes. I don’t like people touching them, sticking things into them or anything like that. This has lessened since I’ve started wearing contact lenses, but still the infamous opening shot, of a man slitting open a woman’s eye with a razor, is entirely unnecessary, included merely for shock value and nothing else. The cut to a full moon being ‘slit’ by a thin passing cloud was well used, and I feel that should have been enough to imply to action of slitting, but I suppose without the shot, the film would not be as well known, and may not even appear on this list. The rest of the film is as much a senseless mish-mash as anything Bunuel and Dali have made, with ants crawling from an open wound, a disembodied hand being poked with a stick and a man dragging two pianos carrying dead horses and some strung up pilgrims, so nothing too weird this time. I’m not looking forward to the other Bunuel films on the list, that’s for certain.

Choose Life. Never stop choosing life. 3/10


Unbreakable is essentially an anti-superhero movie, taking many of the genres staples and applying them to a real-life thriller, years before Christopher Nolan rebooted the Batman franchise with his realistic and plausible worldview. The hero, David Dunn (Bruce Willis) has alliterative initials (Bruce Banner/Peter Parker/Clark Kent), wears a hooded cloak and has a penchant for posing in the rain with a bright light behind him, illuminating a stark silhouette on the screen, yet unlike most comic book heroes, when he tries to chat up a girl (after slyly removing his wedding ring) the attempt fails. That never happened to Tony Stark.  The film is even shot like a comic book, with the aforementioned chat up routine swaying from person to person between seats on a train, and many scenes utilising one bright colour, such a bright orange boiler suit, contrasting against the surrounding dreary muted blacks, browns and greys.
The plot concerns Dunn’s lone, unscathed survival from a horrific train wreck, and his subsequent meeting with Samuel L. Jackson’s Elijah Price, known as the Glass Man due to the brittle nature of his skeleton. Being a Shyamalan film, there is a twist in the tale, and a satisfying one it is too, something hinted at when, as a boy, Price’s mother gives him a comic book, telling him “They say this one has a surprise ending.” This is also a rarity, in that it is a comic book movie, where one of the main characters is obsessed with comic books. The film rewards repeat viewings, as you can see how everything clicks into place with the characters in their respective key roles, and how they play to the genre stereotypes.
Choose Film. 7/10

Thursday, 24 March 2011


My God I'm getting bad at this, haven't posted in almost a week, sorry, life's been winning lately. Promise, there'll be a few posts coming this weekend (I've watched Unbreakable, Un Chien Andalou, The Terminator and Battleship Potemkin, but yet to post), and I'm also going to go back through the films I've already watched and add a little rating of 'Choose Film' or 'Choose Life' as to whether you should watch them or not. But right now I've got to go to sleep, got work in the morning. Night.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Portal 2

Let's take a moment to stop watching films off the life-impeding list, and talk about video games. Although I don't get to play on the PS3 as often as I'd like, when I do I like nothing better than to settle down with a bout of Portal (or Half Life 2) widely believed to be one of the greatest computer games of all time. A sequel has been supposedly in development for many, many agonising years, and now it would appear that a release date has been set. "But wait!" I hear you cry, "surely this is a blog about films? I mean, the blog has the word 'film' in it, and every post to date has mentionned nothing but them!" and yes, I would admit that you are correct, but I feel this post complies within these rules, as recently it was announced that Portal 2 will feature the voiceovers of both Stephen Merchant and, epicly, J.K. Simmons, one of my favourite character actors, of whom I have been a fan from his work in the Spiderman films and the work of Jason Reitman (Thank You For Smoking, Juno, Up In the Air). Upon it's release (April this year, but I think that's just in America) you can expect my Challenge watching to decrease for a little while, but fear not, I shall do my best to keep watching and letting you know if they're any good or not, as well as probably updating you on the hopefully-awesome game.

The Pianist

The Pianist tells the story of Wladyslaw Spzilman (Adrien Brody), a Polish Jewish pianist during the years of the Nazi regime. He and his family are forced to move to a small flat in a poor area behind a wall, forced to walk in the street and dance for the amusement of the Nazis. When his family are taken away to a concentration camp, Spzilman manages to escape and must live as a fugitive in a society refusing to accept Jews as real people.
This is not an enjoyable film. The first half especially, where we see the horrifying hardships bestowed upon the Jewish people will shock and appal everyone. The moment when a wheelchair-bound man is thrown to his death from a balcony for not standing up is excruciating, and Roman Polanski’s camerawork is unflinching, showing you everything that he himself went through as a child. Brody’s restrained performance, rarely off the screen, carries the picture, showing Spzilman as a man not intent on fighting back, just surviving. It must be remembered that, throughout all the suffering he endures, he is one of the lucky ones, able to survive with the help of people on the outside.

Choose film 8/10

Thursday, 17 March 2011

L'Age d'Or

You know the feeling, you’re trying to plan a party, deciding whether to have six singers in front of a microphone or 60 singers 10 kilometres away, when you go upstairs and there’s a cow in your bed. Just an everyday occurrence, I know, but still a little annoying. And then during your party, the man you so desperately want to be with (seemingly John Lithgow doing a Dick Dastardly impersonation) is prevented from being with you, by a woman who spills his drink of him and a man shooting a small boy several times outside. Finally, the two of you are able to sneak off and suck each other’s hand whilst rolling around in the gravel, but all he seems interested in is a statue’s foot, so obviously when he’s called away to scream at the Minister of the Interior, you suck said stony appendage until he returns, when you rejoice about having killed your children. And of course, when the orchestra conductor interrupts you while clutching at his head, your man storms off to shred your pillows, and throw them, along with a burning tree, various items of furniture including a full scale wooden giraffe, and possibly the Pope out of a window.
And then, wouldn’t you know it, Jesus and his mates are only having an orgy in the mountains somewhere. Not to mention the man kicking a violin along the street, another man walking with a rock on his head, past a statue of a similarly be-hatted fellow, and a short documentary about scorpions. Honestly, what is a girl to do? If all this sounds fairly run of the mill, congratulations, your Luis Bunuel, or you’ve just escaped from an institution, and are looking for a way out of your straight jacket. This film is nuts.

Choose life 3/10

The Great Train Robbery (1903!)

I had a productive lunch break at work today, managed to find The Great Train Robbery on Google Video. Although it was silent, juddery and of poor production quality, I was very impressed with what was capable of being produced 108 years ago, as the film involved explosives, gun fights, stunts on a moving train, a large crowd scene, horseriding, and a gun fight on horseback, all in the space of 12 minutes. That’s more action than a modern day Mike Leigh film. Some of the acting, especially when people were shot, was unintentionally hilarious, with their over-the-top melodramatic deaths. I was also unsure of the final shot, of a man looking into the camera and firing his gun several times. I thought it might have been a scare tactic, trying to emulate the supposed reaction to the first film ever shown in a cinema, Arrival of Train at Station, when apparently the audience were so concerned that the footage of a train arriving at a station was in fact a real train coming towards them that they fled the cinema in terror.

Choose film 7/10

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Ocean's Eleven

Sneaking its way onto the list at number 500 of Empire’s top 500 films is the 2001 remake of Ocean’s Eleven, one of the few remakes on the list to surpass its original. This film relies on the complexity of the genius heist plot and the easy camaraderie and star wattage of its leads to create an enjoyable and cerebral popcorn flick. But as usual it’s the small moments of humour that meant the most to me, especially how the story and characters play with the real-life personas of the actors playing them. For example, at the beginning of the film Brad Pitt’s Rusty Ryan and George Clooney’s Danny Ocean are teaching ‘movie stars’ how to play poker. The so-called stars they are schooling include small screen heartthrobs Topher Grace (That 70s Show,) Joshua Jackson (Dawson’s Creek) and Holly Marie Combs (Charmed), each playing themselves, and here dubbed as major movie stars, being photographed by the paparazzi whilst Pitt and Clooney, at the time two of the most famous faces in the world, are ignored by everyone. Another parallel is Pitt and Clooney’s teaching of Matt Damon’s rookie conman Linus Caldwell, in a sense showing Pitt and Clooney teaching Damon how to become a star as renowned as them, with Damon continuing his meteoric rise to fame with the Ocean’s Eleven, arguably reaching the same level as Pitt and Clooney. Finally, Pitt’s performance as a fake doctor parodies Clooney’s stint on ER, especially his flamboyant overacting.

Choose film 7/10

The Killing Fields

OK, I'm going to try and post a little more frequently now, instead of allowing a stock pile of watched films to be reviewed en masse at the weekends. I'm thinking maybe if I watch a film, I post about it the same day. Sound good? Awesome. I've checked my stats, and I'm a few films behind where I should be (I just made a graph, how I love Excel!), so I need to step this up a little. Also, I've had a check on LoveFilm, for when I eventually join, and there's quite a few films I'm going to have difficulty getting hold of as they're not available for rental, but we'll cross that bridge another day.

I've just watched The Killing Fields, a film in two halves that deals with Sydney, a reporter for the New York Times (Sam Waterston) stationed in Cambodia, and his interpreter/assistant/friend Dith Pran (Dr. Haing S. Ngor). During the troubles in Cambodia, Sydney and his fellow reporters (including John Malkovich) are taken capture by the Cambodians. If not for Pran, they would surely have been killed, so when the reporters are evacuated and Pran is unable to leave, Sydney does all he can to help his friend escape.

The first half deals with the turmoils suffered by the reporters, whilst the second shows Pran's escape from the concentration camp he is imprisoned within. The film was good, if not necessarily enjoyable due to the subject matter, and I especially liked the scenes of the reporters trying to create a fake passport to let Pran leave the country.

Choose life 7/10


Written by and starring Sylvester Stallone, Rocky tells the story of Rocky Balboa, a small-time boxer working as an enforcer for a loan shark to make ends meet, and clumsily wooing his friends sister, a shop assistant at a pet store. Rocky is given a shot at the big time by superstar world heavyweight champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), Rocky exact opposite in a man seemingly with everything. Rocky won the Oscar for best picture in 1977, beating such classics as Taxi Driver, All the President’s Men and Network, yet I am at a loss for why. Yes, it is enjoyable, with some great dialogue (“It’s Thanksgiving” “Yeah to you, but to me it’s Thursday”) but the acting is mostly passable and the story derivative, but it did birth the training montage, now a staple of any sports movie.

Choose life 6/10

Monday, 14 March 2011

Forrest Gump

Forrest Gump is built on one man’s incredible journey through the key moments of recent American history, from landmark events like the Vietnam war and the Watergate scandal, to key figures of pop culture including Elvis Presley, John Lennon and several presidents. The seamless integration of Gump into archive footage subtly shows director Robert Zemeckis’ expansion on the technology he developed in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and the soundtrack is suitable epic too, especially during the war sequences. As with most films I’m very familiar with, it’s the small touches I like the most, for example the way Gump’s eyes are shut in every photo he’s in, including the lifesize cardboard cutouts used for advertising ping pong bats. Also, the way Zemeckis makes life harder for himself is admirable, such as the shot panning up from [spoiler] Lt. Dan’s new prosthetic leg to his face could have been accomplished much more easily by simply cutting from the leg to his face, yet instead complex CGI is used to mimic the leg on Gary Sinise’s body. Tom Hanks is of course the heart and soul of the film, fully rounding his simple Gump with only admirable qualities, producing a truly heartbreaking performance at times.

Choose film 9/10


Shot completely in a documentary style, complete with narration and interviews with those involved, Zelig tells the story of a man with the ability to transform his appearance, personality and skillset to those around him as a chameleonic defence mechanism. I knew a little of the plot before watching the film, but I found the documentary style to be refreshing, especially the way it limited the lead performances of Woody Allen as Zelig and Mia Farrow as the doctor who falls for him to audio footage, archived interviews and media clips. The film is littered with Allen’s trademark humour and surreal style, and I found the use of different styles of camera to reflect the purpose and technology behind the footage.

Choose life 6/10

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Rain Man

Rain Man usually, and justifiably, receives plaudits for Dustin Hoffman’s performance as the autistic Raymond Babbitt, a role for which Hoffman won his second Oscar (after Kramer vs. Kramer), but it is the performance of Charlie Babbitt by Tom Cruise that should receive accolades too. His Charlie is wound up a little too tightly by the wishes of his recently deceased father to leave his fortune to Charlie’s brother Raymond, a brother Charlie didn’t know he had. He’s angry at his father, angry at his brother, and everyone around him as he struggles to come to terms with the aftermath of his father’s death. I don’t mean to underrate Hoffman’s performance at all, his is the stronger of the two, and it is the little moments that make it so, such as the moment of childlike confusion on the escalator.

Choose film 6/10

Paths of Glory

Paths of Glory emphasises the differences between the high ranking officers and the lowly privates during the first world war, as after a failed advance, the general in charge demands three soldiers to be made an example of, via a firing squad. The general assumes cowardice on behalf of the men, yet each of the men chosen has a valid reason for retreat, be it finding themselves alone against an insurmountable challenge, being ordered not to by their superior or being knocked unconscious during the advance.
The film is part war, part courtroom drama, as Kirk Douglas attempts to defend the three against their charges. There were some good shots, such as the tracking shots through the trenches, that I feel would have benefited from being single continuous takes, although perhaps budgetary conditions and the technology available at the time limited this. The final scene, as Douglas stands outside watching the troops leer at a female German singer, makes us think who is worse, the generals more than happy to fire upon their own men to make them attack, or the soldiers themselves, reduced to their base urges in the face of death.

Choose film 7/10

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Jurassic Park

Last week some friends and I started a Movie Night, an event that will hopefully become a regular occurrence, and should allow me to keep crossing off films, whilst also achieve something approaching a social life. We kicked off the soon-to-be tradition with a film that means a great deal to me, Jurassic Park. I have previously waxed lyrical about the virtues of this cinematic landmark, or rather the shortcomings of the third film in the series, but I’ll try not to repeat myself too much.

The plot, and I really hope that none of you need to know this, although one of the attendees at the movie night admitted ashamedly that this was his first ever viewing of Jurassic Park, concerns a group of people traveling to an island where an eccentric (you can’t be mad if you’re rich) scientist (Richard Attenborough) has discovered a way of cloning dinosaurs from DNA found in mosquitoes frozen in amber. Inevitably, not all goes to plan, and there’s much merriment to be had in the dinos vs. people aftermath.

Jurassic Park is a masterclass in efficient film-making, showing a lot with a little. This is shown early on, when an early velociraptor encounter is terrifying, yet only a couple of close-ups of the raptors eyes are seen. Shaking leaves, haunting sound effects and shots from the dinosaurs own point-of-view are enough to believe the presence of this creature. When shown, the Stan Winston-created dinosaur models and ILM-rendered CGI are on the whole impeccable and, even though they are obviously fake (obvious for lack of plausibility, not quality) the illusion is so well realised that you almost believe.

As with most Spielberg classics, the key is in casting ordinary, relatable characters in extraordinary situations. In this case, Sam Neill’s Dr. Alan Grant has a well rounded persona, a palaeontologist stuck firmly in the past, unable to touch a computer without breaking it and loathing children. Just watch him trying to let go of Lex’s hand after he helps her up, or how he probably scars a child for life with his raptor story at the start of the film. He is ably supported by Attenborough’s scientist and Laura Dern as a paleobotanist, as well as Jeff Goldblum’s excellent interpretation of rock-star chaotician Dr. Ian Malcolm, although I never really understood why he was invited onto the island. Wayne Knight’s Newman-esque bad guy (does he play anyone else? But then why should he, he’s so good at it) is also a joy to behold, especially his childlike glee at the Bond-style gadgetry he’s provided with to steal dinosaur embryos, causing the chaos that ensues.

We’re introduced to the dinosaurs gently, first meeting the gentle herbivores and baby dinosaurs, before building up to the more threatening velociraptors and tyrannosaurus rex. The plot is largely dealt with in the first half of the film, leading for the remainder to be made up of unforgettable set pieces, such as the electric fence, or raptor encounter in the kitchen. Greatest of all though must be the introduction of the T-rex. I don’t think I’ve ever seen ripples forming in a glass of water since without being concerned there is a giant dinosaur about to attack me.

It’s not just a monster disaster movie though, as there are genuinely hilarious moments of comedy (the blink and you’ll miss it rear view mirror gag is comic perfection), and the scenes are pitched perfectly, with the T-rex car chase immediately calmed by a gentler encounter with a herd of brachiosaurs. All in all, this is an example of movie perfection, and I look forward to enjoying it many more times in the future.

Choose film 10/10

In a Lonely Place

There's only so much planning I can do towards what I'm going to watch when, but in the end a lot of this challenge will be left up to fate, when I come across films to watch, what films are available to rent, and if some are shown on television. Last Sunday, fate dealt me a kind hand when, after Something for the Weekend, the gods of weekend TV saw fit to show In a Lonely Place at a time when I had nothing else planned. And so, without any planning or preparation, another film has been crossed off.

In a Lonely Place sees Humphrey Bogart play with his romantic persona as Dixon Steele, a thriller writer suspected of murder after he invites a girl back to his apartment to hear a story idea, and the next morning she is found dead. Steele is known to have a temper, and is prone to violent outbursts, and Bogart plays this barely-suppressed rage masterfully. The scene where he describes how he thinks the murder took place is gripping.

I liked the way we are kept unsure for most of the film as to whether Steele is guilty of the crime. We assume he's innocent, but he very easily couldn't be, a feeling shared by his neighbour, drawn close to Steele during the investigation.

Choose film 6/10


I’ve been putting this off for a while. I can quite easily sit down any time and watch a long film, or a documentary, a film about sport (not massively into sport), a very old film or a foreign film, but an old (1938), long (3 ½ hours) documentary about the 1936 Berlin Olympics? That’s a tough sell. I mean, I don’t care about next year’s Olympics, when some of the events will be taking place not far from where I’m typing, let alone ones that happened almost 75 years ago.
The film is essentially just a retelling of the Olympics, showing the events and then revealing the winner, with occasionally shots of the commentators, crowds or photographers. Some tension is brought around from some of the closer run events, such as the men’s pole vault going on into the night, and there’s a collection of clips of people falling off horses that I felt would have been vastly improved with a Harry Hill voiceover.

Choose life 1/10

Monday, 7 March 2011

Second Chance: The Bodyguard

Previously, I only knew of The Bodyguard as the Kevin Costner-Whitney Houston film, one of my Dad’s guilty pleasures that he can almost quote word for word. I’d never had much desire to see it, as I’m not a huge fan of either of the stars, and thought that the plot seemed incredibly straightforward and obvious. Man-with-a-past (Costner) is forced by circumstances to guard woman-with-a-diva-complex (Houston). Initially, the pair hate one another, until he saves her life and she shows him who she is inside. Eventually, they fall in love, possibly after someone dies. I was not disappointed. 
The film mostly annoyed me for how blatantly it is trying to set up an acting career for Houston. Her character, Rachel Marron, is a famous actress, trying to launch a music career by singing in a film, just as Houston is trying to launch an acting career by appearing in a film in which she performs most of the soundtrack. The main drawback to the launching of Houston’s film career though, is that in the Bodyguard she does no acting, whatsoever, as the ‘character’ she plays is herself, the diva with the overstuffed ego, blissfully unaware of anyone but herself.

Choose life 3/10

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

The second pirates film is not as good as the first, but is still thoroughly entertaining, and features several enjoyable set pieces, not least of which is the three-way swordfight between Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom and Jack Davenport (who really should be in more films). This is probably my highlight of the trilogy, especially once the giant wheel comes into play.
The special effects are stepped up from the first film, with Davy Jones and his crew looking exceptional, with the many hours of work involved being well worth the effort. Still, the cliffhanger endings do make this seem more of a set-up for the trilogy closer.

Choose life 6/10

Scarface (1932)

I’ve seen Brian De Palma’s 1983 Scarface a couple of times, and have never fully understood why it is as revered as it is. I’m not saying it’s a bad film, I just don’t think it’s that great, but more on this another day, for that too is on the list. No, today I’m here to discuss the 1932 original, in my opinion somewhat superior to its remake. The story tells the tale of a young gangster rising up through the mob ranks, and the effect it has on those closest to him. There is far more comedy in this version than the remake, mostly from the dialogue (“I was kissin’” “I don’t like it” “You’re missin’ lots of fun”) and from the bumbling, illiterate secretary and his endeavours to use a telephone.
Technically, there are some creative shots, such as a machine gun shooting away the calendar pages to show both the course of time and the violent acts that take place during it, and the scene of a mass execution being shown only in silhouette. I very much enjoyed this film, and hope to find many more like it as I journey through the list.
Choose film 8/10

Pirates of the Caribbean: the Curse of the Black Pearl

The original Pirates of the Caribbean film, the greatest ever made best on a theme park ride, is tremendous family-friendly fun, especially in its first half. It loses its way towards the end of the second reel, as the plot becomes inundated with various bluffs and double crosses, although in a film about pirates this is only to be expected. The CGI is excellent and well used, as is the comic relief, mainly provided by Lee Arenberg and Mackenzie Crook, surely the closest any human being can get to being a scarecrow without an awful lot of hay. Geoffrey Rush could well have been cast as villain Barbossa on the strength of his piratical laugh alone, and for that deserves at least a mention.

Choose film 7/10

Thursday, 3 March 2011


I live my life by a predetermined set of rules. These rules are not written down, and they are frequently adapted to however I fancy, but one rule that remains is that a film cannot be added to a list of favourites until at least 6 months after its release, and at least two viewings. Upon its release many people of a relevant age, including several acquaintances of mine against my frequently versed opinions, elected Juno to the hallowed status of their favourite films, thereby explaining it's presence upon the list.
Ah, Juno, yes, you won the Oscar for best original screenplay, but really, did you deserve it? Although witty and endlessly quotable (“Honest to blog”, “Your eggo is preggo”), the main character is very unlikable and rude. Yes, she’s supposed to be a teenager, so these characteristics are entirely suitable, but I find her to be very annoying, although I’m sure she wouldn’t mind that at all.

Choose life 5/10

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Au Hasard Balthazar

Au Hasard Balthazar is the kind of film that just couldn’t be made today, at least not with the same result. Today, it would most likely be made by Dreamworks, telling the tale of a morose animated donkey, voiced by Christopher Plummer, as he sets out an epic journey to be reunited with the family he’s worked for his entire life. Along the way, he learns lessons about friendship not judging by appearances, with the help of a lazy squirrel (Kathy Bates) a know-it-all platypus (Jemaine Clement) and a wise-cracking raccoon (Cuba Gooding Jr.).
As it is, Balthazar is a tale of the life of a donkey, from children’s plaything, through toiling away for various family’s, finding fame in a circus and finally, tragically, used for drug trafficking. It took me two attempts to watch this film, as after the first viewing I did not fully comprehend the cause of the mass adulation poured upon the picture, although I was quite tired and may have drifted off a couple of times, as it’s not necessarily the most captivating of films. That said, on the second viewing I more greatly understood the reasons for the various plot jumps, as for the most part the film is shot from the viewpoint, and therefore the understanding, of Balthazar himself, thereby it would not always be clear as to why some characters behave the way they do.

Choose life 4/10


L’Avventura reminded me a lot of Hitchcock’s Psycho, released the same year, in that the first segment set’s the plot up to follow the female lead, only to have her disappear from the screen, never to be seen again before the halfway mark. In this instance, the plot concerns a young woman who, whilst holidaying on an island with her friends, goes missing, causing her best friend and her lover to search for her. When compared to more modern day missing-person films, such as Ben Affleck’s excellent Gone Baby Gone, the plot tends to meander a bit, with the supporting characters not seeming to care about the fate of the missing girl.
I was also reminded slightly of Polanski’s the Tenant, in which a man moves into a new apartment, only to slowly turn into the apartment’s previous occupant, as the missing girl’s best friend seems to inhabit the life of her missing mate, becoming closer with her former lover during the search. It almost seems like this was the plan of the missing girl, setting up the transformation by giving the friend some of her clothes before she goes missing. This all seems an improvement for the friend, and indeed for the life she inhabits, as she seems much happier within it than her predecessor. This is most clearly seen by comparing the almost identical shots of the original girl kissing her lover, and how little emotion she shows during this, contrasting with her friend kissing him much more passionately later in the film. There are other parallels between the two ends of the film, such as the friend being initially concerned at the girl’s disappearance, only to end up more concerned that she has returned to claim her life back.

Choose film 7/10