Saturday, 25 June 2011

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

Character driven and with a meandering, unhurried pace, this is most definitely not the war epic I had always assumed it to be. Following Roger Livesey’s Clive Candy over a forty year period as he climbs the ranks of the British army, insulting the entire German movement during the Boer War, retiring twice, forming a firm bond with a German officer and three separate relationships, all portrayed by Deborah Kerr. Livesey is excellent, adeptly showing the difficulties Candy faces trying to impose his old school sportsmanship and honourable values on the more modern ideology of total warfare. Admittedly, I would have liked more battle scenes, but this is more than made up for with the absurd comedy of the technicalities and formality of a duel, and the inclusion of Dad’s Army’s Frazer, a young John Laurie.
Choose film 7/10


Back when high school films were about the popular kids, before the likes of American Pie and the Breakfast Club introduced the world to the less mainstream aspects of the educational sub-groups, Grease tells the story of a unexpectedly elongated summer romance threatening the street cred of a popular guy amongst his friends, themselves involved in a fairly tame turf war with a rival gang. As with most musicals, there isn’t enough plot to fill a film if you removed the musical numbers, but most of the cast are perfect (specifically Stockard Channing (Abbey Bartlet!) as bad girl Rizzo and Didi Conn as the more timid Frenchie), and the songs are pretty catchy, most notably Grease Lightning, but the overall message is incredibly dated. Apparently, the best way to keep a guy is to change everything about yourself to exactly how he wants to be, your clothes, appearance, personality, everything. Oh, and the final drive-into-the-sky shot is possibly the cheesiest moment ever committed to film.
Choose life 5/10

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Local Hero

I really wanted to like this more than I did, as Peter Riegert’s Mac is sent from a Texas oil company to smooth over a land deal in Scotland, only to become captivated by the polar opposite way of life and the gaggle of eccentric locals (an African priest, web-footed diver, drunk Russian fisherman and devious, opportunistic landlord/lawyer), but alas I found the whole affair to be rather slow. Burt Lancaster steals the show as Mac’s astronomy obsessed eccentric boss Happer, and a young Peter Capaldi is a million miles away from the Thick of It’s Malcolm Tucker, all nervous laughter and gangling run (surely inspiration for Toy Story’s Woody and his flailing lope), and they did well not depicting the locals as completely ridiculous and twee, but there’s not a lot to really recommend about the film. The business meeting at the start being held in whispers after the manager falls asleep did make me chuckle, and the fickleness of a bosses decision making process hit a chord with my own experiences, so there’s something at least.
Choose life 5/10


A novel concept, portraying war experiences from almost entirely inside a cramped, battered tank, pays off in what should be considered a worthy addition to films about modern warfare. Telling the tale of four Israeli soldiers, a driver, gunman, shell loader and their superior officer, receiving orders only through the radio or brief appearance from their CO and only viewing the outside world through the tank’s turret crosshairs or small, dirty windows, many comparisons have been made to Das Boot (itself shot inside a German submarine, and also appearing on the list). The cast all perform admirably under obviously restrictive conditions, and the camerawork is amazing, each movement of the turret along a jerky linear path, accompanied by the whirr and crunch of the gears, and for such a claustrophobic, poorly illuminated setting it is still always clear what is happening and to whom.
Occasionally the film delves into overly literal imagery, the blood on the hands of the gunman after his failing to fire under order cost a fellow soldier his life, but for the most part this is a well written, finely crafted war picture. Fans of Saving Private Ryan would do well to seek this out.
Choose film 7/10


I’m doing this list for several reasons. Firstly, I want to broaden my cinematic horizons, watching those films I’ve often read about being legendary and must-see, yet never gotten around to actually watching. Secondly, I want to revisit some truly incredible films I’ve not seen recently, or perhaps haven’t watched well enough at this point. Thirdly, I’m shamelessly showcasing my admittedly phenomenal writing talents, to allow the literary world to recoil in shock and awe, ultimately paying me a princely sum for stringing sentences together. Finally, I want to give a second chance to films from the first reason that I have seen previously, but didn’t necessarily ‘get’. And so it is with a heavy heart that I approached Breathless (A Bout de Souffle). I first watched this about 3 years ago, when I first dabbled with Lovefilm. Admittedly, I only half-watched the film (a cardinal sin, especially if a movie is subtitled), but I found it silly, boring, and featuring a deeply unlikable lead character in Jean-Paul Belmondo’s sexist, arrogant, pretentious Michel Poiccard, on the run from the police after stealing a car and shooting a policeman, heading to Paris to collect some money and a girl to take with him to Rome. Regrettably, I found myself agreeing with my earlier judgement, as Poiccard proves continually a chauvinistic and rude kleptomaniac, consistently blaming others and never accepting his fate as being a product of his own irrationally actions. Quotations from his dialogue are probably supposed to be profound and thought-provoking, but under closer scrutiny mean nothing (“I want to become immortal, and then die”). Add to this editing tics such as wholly unnecessary (and nonsensical in the context of the scenes) jump cuts and occasions where characters seem to directly address the camera, then the film shows it is in fact largely over-rated. And I’m sure the main character closing his own eyelids after his inevitable brush with justice is supposed to be cool, in the end it’s just stupid.
Choose life 3/10

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

They actually got Robert Redford to run along the top of a moving train. How amazing is that? Yes I’m sure these days there are some actors willing to do their own stunts (and by stunts, they are probably referring to such extreme activities as riding a horse) but running along a moving train? Redford probably needs a wheelbarrow with him at all times to carry those balls of his in. It’s this devil-may-care, balls to the wall sensibility that shines through in Butch and Sundance, throwing in any number of cinematic tricks and keeping what stuck, from showing a road trip taking in destinations including New York and South America entirely in photographic stills, to probably the most famous and iconic freeze-frame ending in history. It is this, combined with Redford and Paul Newman’s co-dependent relationship and easy banter, even in the tightest of situations, that makes the film still a genre classic to this day.
Choose film 9/10

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Holy unnecessary statistics, Batman!

Right, finished Portal 2 (single player, alas I don’t have the friends required for the co-op game, any takers apply to the usual address), back to the list. Supreme apologies for the lack of posts of late, I assure you I’ve been watching films, just need to type up my notes.
In the mean time, I’ve looked more deeply into the films on my mission, check out the super-cool graphs! Don’t they prove just how fun and exciting my existence is! You can check out these graphs (of which the seen, rank and rating ones will be updated regularly) on the Stats page, just as soon as I've made it.

Films by country

 Lists the film appears on



Rating given

Seen before


Film by year

Finding Nemo

Taking a simple story, a father searches for his kidnapped son, and although transposing it to tropical fish sounds insane, the concept works, with Albert Brooks overprotective clown fish Marlin travelling to Sydney to rescue his son, who in turn is doing his best to escape the dentist’s fish tank within which he recently became imprisoned. As ever with Pixar, it is the myriad of supporting characters that make the film truly great, here ranging from the cabin fever crazed fish tank gang (voiced by, among others, Willem Dafoe, Stephen Root, Alison Janney and semi-regular collaborator Brad Garrett) to Ellen DeGeneres’ short term memory loss suffering regal tang Dory, probably the most popular and oft-quoted characters from the film.
Pixar rightfully uses the films running time to show off their immense design skills, displaying as many watery environments as possible (sewers, wide open oceans, docks, puddles) and a cornucopia of every widely recognisable aquatic lifeform, including sea turtles, jellyfish, sharks, pelicans, Aardman-inspired seagulls, stingrays, swordfish (fencing with upper class English accents), angler fish, whales and Bostonian lobsters.
It says something of the animating skill of Pixar that they had to degrade the quality of the water in this film, as initial feedback showed it was too realistic. Given enough time, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were able to make a seemingly live action film without anyone noticing.
Choose film 8/10


When an Irish busker, with a heart as battered as the guitar he plays on, and a Czechoslovakian Big Issue seller meet on the streets of Dublin, they each become a catalyst in the others’ lives to set out and change the situations they seem stuck in. Struggling to make ends meet, working low paying jobs (hoover repairman and cleaner) and living either with their father in a small flat or in a block of flats sharing a single television, they each strive for better things, be it a record deal and a reunion with an old flame or a better life for their daughter. Shot on the fly with unrefined camerawork, lighting and staging adds to the realism and overall homemade effect of the film, and the nameless nature of the central couple give them a relatable every-person quality, we all have these reasons, these obstructions in our lives that prevent us from achieving our true goals, but we too can overcome them. The songs are great too, all performed by leads Glen Hansard from Irish group The Frames and Marketa Irglova.
Choose film 6/10

La Belle et la Bete

Beginning with a letter from director Jean Cocteau requesting a suspension of logic and preparation for the fantastical, la Belle et la Bete does not hide the ludicrous and high concept nature of its plot. 45 years before Disney set about with dancing cutlery, this tells the Beauty and the Beast tale slightly more subtly, though elements such as the homing horse, magic mirror and teleportation glove push the early request to its limit. Jean Marais’ make-up and costume, complete with smoking gloves and breathy, rasping growl, is incredible for the time, and the images of the human arm candle holders and faces in the mantelpiece remain vividly in the memory long after the film is over.
Choose film 6/10


Michael Dorsey (Dustin Hoffman) is an actor in New York who, though talented and passionate about his work, finds himself unable to land a role due to age and physical limitations (I can be taller!) and a bad reputation for thinking too much about a character and arguing with the director. When he learns of an upcoming part on hospital soap opera Southwest General he makes sure he gets the gig, regardless of the fact that the character is female. This simple premise, man pretends to be a woman to get a job, would these days be most likely given to the likes of Eddie Murphy or Adam Sandler, played entirely for gross-out laughs and hopefully tanking at the box office, but fortunately in 1982 Hoffman plays the part(s) relatively straight, giving arguably a career best turn in a body of work hardly lacking in expertise.
Hoffman is disturbingly convincing as Dorsey’s alter ego Dorothy Michaels, and the scenes where he transforms his appearance are at times uncomfortable to watch. George Gaynes and Bill Murray do their best to steal the show, respectively as a lecherous autocue-reading lead actor and Dorsey’s sardonic flatmate Jeff (You slut!) but it is Hoffman’s film, and nothing can detract from his central performance.
Choose film 7/10

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Chicken Run

The Great Escape, with chickens! For Aardman’s first feature length picture, Nick Park and his team borrowed heavily from a British classic, with the Hilts-esque Ginger (Julia Sawalha) and her Scottish accomplice Mac (thankfully not shot up against the fences) leading a brood of chickens to freedom after their tyrannical farmers make a switch from eggs to chicken pies. The parallels run deep, from the multiple escape attempts using homemade and stolen tools to a heavy American influence courtesy of Mel Gibson’s circus cockerel Rocky Rhodes, although I very much doubt that this was based on a true story. Other elements, from a Flight of the Phoenix inspired mechanical plane to a Raiders style hat gag (by law, every film featuring a vertically closing door must feature the hero sliding under it to safety, before reaching back to retrieve their fallen hat) all add to the fun, but I was annoyed at the farmers complete lack of concern that, not only were their hens wearing hats and scarves, but one of them was wearing glasses. Timothy Spall and Phil Daniel’s east end spiv rats were excellent additions too.
Choose film 7/10

King Kong (2005)

 A lot of people dislike Peter Jackson’s remake of 1933’s King Kong, made simply because the original is one of Jackson’s own favourite films, but once you get past the overlong New York-set character establishing and the woeful miscasting of Jack Black as movie producer Carl Denham, what’s left is an entertaining and well realised modern retelling of a well known story with a renowned ending known to all, whether they’ve seen the films or not. Aside from Black, it is this sense of inevitability that lets the film down. We all know going in that at some point a giant gorilla is going to capture, then fall for aspiring actress Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts, doing the best she can as essentially a scream on legs), before being captured himself, shipped to New York and thrown on stage as the latest attraction, ultimately forcing him to escape and take a fateful climb atop the Empire State Building, ultimately being killed not by machine gun-toting bi-planes, but by the bright, bloody blade of beauty. I’m not suggesting for a moment that the ending should have been changed, maybe with Kong swimming back to Skull Island with Ann perched on his head, or perhaps the NY locals gradually accepting Kong for who he is, eventually electing him mayor, paving the way for a comedy-heavy sequel, seeing Ann escorting Kong to various prestigious events, climaxing in an unveiling at the Smithsonian, where confronting a T-Rex skeleton brings back too many memories for the now refined ape, causing him to rip off his custom made tuxedo (with comically oversized and troublesome bowtie), break the skeletons jaw and finally settle down in an overgrown corner of Central Park, or in an enclosure at San Diego Zoo. No, the story was rightfully left intact, if a little extended in places, and mercifully the 1930s setting was also maintained, moving it all to the modern day could have ruined this movie.
As for Black, I’m not sure who could have replaced him as the egotistical, deceitful, driven moviemaker, but I think an older actor could have lent a little gravitas to the role, and since watching Midnight Run I’ve wanted to recast everyone with Charles Grodin, so I’m going to go with him.
The film doesn’t really get going until the approach to the island, with Jackson using some innovative effects and camerawork (the screaming rocks and the shot of Jamie Bell being flung around in the crow’s nest are particular highlights), but the best parts, in my opinion, involve the creatures of the island. Populated with dinosaurs, creepy-crawlies the size of caravans and creatures that are essentially giant penises with teeth and a penchant for human limbs, it’s not exactly an ideal holiday destination, but the respective battles and chases involving these beasties are the most entertaining and thrilling sequences in the film, the CGI is impeccable if a little soulless at times. Kong’s fight against three Tyrannosaurs over Ann is beautifully choreographed, and worth the three hour runtime alone.
There’s also some nice in-jokes (Denham can’t cast Fay Wray in his picture, as she’s shooting a rival film at RKO with Merian C. Cooper, that’ll be the original Kong then), and the interpretation of Kong is astounding, with Andy Serkis using his motion capture skills seen as Gollum to great effect, soon to be used again in Jackson and Spielberg’s Tintin, and the absurdly named Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
Choose film 7/10