Welcome

Welcome to this blog of my film reviews. Some have been drafted carefully on paper, others I have sat and typed. I'm going to make it clear right now that I don't expect you to agree with my (re)views, or to like my style of writing. However, I want my views to be just out there and open, as a person who wishes to express himself from deep within. Feel free to comment and debate with me, but I do ask that you are civil and not harsh, as any comments which are basically swear words and insults will automatically be deleted. Also any text that is in orange (and often bold) is a Hyperlink to either a source, or a previous post for background reference.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Zoolander


***

Approaching the end of his career, top model Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) can't believe his luck when he is hired by major fashion mogul Mugatu (Will Ferrell). However, it soon transpires that he is being brainwashed in order to kill the Malaysian Prime Minister (Woodrow Asai) at a fashion show.

From start to end this is a colourful film, with bright (albeit garish) costume design, good lighting, and more colours than Photoshop. The dialogue is cheesy, but Stiller and Owen Wilson make it work, strong points being a 'strut off', as the rival models strut their stuff, which is energetic and well timed. The amount of energy coming from the cast is phenomenal, they are putting their all into creating a good piece of comedy. Even Will Ferrell (who I normally haven't got the time of day for) gives an enjoyable performance. There is lots of comic energy and excitement and a lot of comedy comes from the idea that models are props, which is quite well written in places. And through all the petty dialogue and spiteful, rival-filled head-to-head moments we get a reasonably decent insight into how shallow and petty the fashion industry actually is.

The downside, however, is that this film gets way too camp way too often. Most of the characters are overly camp and overly feminine to a very exaggerated and very irritating level. The characters are generally one sided and underdeveloped with little depth and it is as if they are there to just add some more glamour to the film. As for models being props, although it is quite smart comically it ends up falling flat as they are portrayed as being so unintelligent that it actually stops being funny. However, the film has its good comic moments, its energy and its brightness, so it's still worth a viewing at least.


2001.
12.
Stars:
Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Christine Taylor, Will Ferrell, Milla Jovovich, Jerry Stiller, David Duchovny, Jon Voight, Alexander Skarsgard, Woodrow Asai, Andy Dick, Vince Vaughn, Billy Zane.

Teen Choice Award: Choice Hissy Fit (Ben Stiller).
Teen Choice nominations: Choice Movie - Comedy, Choice Actor - Comedy (Ben Stiller).

Sunday, 28 November 2010

In Bruges



****

After accidentally killing a child (Theo Stevenson) on a job, hitman Ray (Colin Farrell) is sent for a break with mentor Ken (Brendan Gleeson) to Bruges. In what he sees as the dullest place on Earth he eventually starts to enjoy it after starting a relationship with Chloe (Clemence Poesy), a beautiful young drug dealer. However, things are set to get bad when Harry (Ralph Fiennes), Ray's boss, comes to Bruges to kill him following the accidental killing of the child.

This film is most definetly a beauty when it comes to art direction and tone, with a consistently dark and tense atmosphere created through a dark and gritty screenplay; but there are also some well-written comic moments, especially in the banter between the Jack-the-Lad Ray and refined Ken, within the first half. The screenplay is quite brash and clearly Writer and Director Martin McDonagh didn't worry about causing offence, a good example being when Ray gets in an argument with a Canadian (presumed American) tourist (Zeljko Ivanek) in a restaurant, and knocks him out, snarling "That's for John Lennon, you Yankie f***ing c**t!" The amount of dialogue that is racially and politically incorrect is vast, to a sickening level, but that doesn't stop this from being a very good film, and only serves to make the screenplay more intense and gritty.

The screenplay, although very strong and meaningful, is really brought to dark and intense life by the superb cast. Farrell makes Ray's inner turmoil over the killing of the child very sincere and heart-wrenching, while Gleeson makes Ken's determination to save Ray very powerful and heartfelt, and the two make a superb double act, especially in the comic banter within the first half. Fiennes makes Harry a vile and vicious cold-blooded killer, full of anger and psychologically complex to a gripping level; and Poesy makes Chloe seriously gorgeous and seductive. Arguably, however, the most memorable performance is that of Jordan Prentice as dwarf actor Jimmy, who makes his character so aggressive and foul-mouthed, and uses the cockiness, rudeness and lack of height to create some great comic relief with his top-notch comic timing and delivery.

All-in-all, the screenplay is very well written, very tense, dark and gripping. However, without the film's superb cast the screenplay would not have come to such excellent life, and the cast work together so well to make this an excellent example of contemporary British cinema.


2008.
18.
Stars:
Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes, Clemence Poesy, Jordan Prentice, Jeremie Renier, Thekla Reuten, Anna Madeley, Zeljko Ivanek, Elizabeth Berrington.

Oscar nomination: Best Screenplay (Martin McDonagh).

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Shrek 2


****

Meeting his new in-laws - King Harold (John Cleese) and Queen Lilian (Julie Andrews) of Far Far Away - for the first time, grumpy ogre Shrek (Mike Myers) makes a poor impression, leading Harold to hire bounty hunter Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) to kill Shrek, which sparks off an unforgettable, life-changing adventure for Shrek, Fiona (Cameron Diaz), Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss.

The film boasts a rich screenplay with lots of excellent humour, which is often farcical in nature thanks to the fast pace and wonderfully over the top creation of it; much verbal humour comes from Donkey, who is just as excitable as ever, and now has a very well written rivalry with Puss for the role of "annoying talking animal", their constant bickering delivered superbly by Murphy and Banderas. The screenplay is also quite deep and thought-provoking. It is not 100% original, due to a key theme being love's true form - the major theme of the 2001 original. However, the idea of giving up on the lifestyle you adore for the woman you love - which here sees Shrek deciding he is happy to become human for Fiona - is new and really makes you think of what true love looks like. It is a deep and well written part of the screenplay, which shows a whole new emotional side to Shrek we previously couldn't imagine, and provides some really moving moments.

As well as wonderful comedy and deep meaning, the screenplay also introduces some excellent new characters to the franchise. As mentioned there is Banderas's superb Puss in Boots. There is also a terrific antagonist in the form of Fairy Godmother (Jennifer Saunders), who is deliciously cold and sadistic, which hilariously contrasts the initially sickly sweet impression the character gives in her first scene, and Saunders brings great energy and enthusiasm to this role, making Godmother such a fun character to watch. Just as fun and memorable is her son, Prince Charming (Rupert Everett). Everett makes Charming such a sly character, who is deliciously camp and hilariously feminine, as well as a real Mummy's Boy, so it is a wonderful twist when he shows his mean, tough side.

Ultimately, the strongest element of this film is the beautiful animation. Filled with a lot of very intricate detail, the animation brings bright, vibrant life to the wonderfully voiced characters, as well as sharp boldness and great majesty to Far Far Away. Duloc was grand in the original, but comparing it to Far Far Away is like comparing Kansas to the Emerald City when watching The Wizard of Oz (1939). In short the animation is bright, colourful, bold and dazzling, and when added to the film's other strong elements this is the third best animated sequel to date after Toy Story 3 (2010) and Toy Story 2 (1999). A must watch and one of DreamWorks's greatest animations!


2004.
U.
Stars:
Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas, Jennifer Saunders, John Cleese, Rupert Everett, Julie Andrews, Conrad Vernon, Cody Cameron, Aron Warner, Christopher Knights, Chris Miller.

Oscar nominations: Best Animated Feature (Andrew Adamson), Best Original Song (Accidentally in Love - Adam Duritz, Charles Gillingham, Jim Bogios, David Immergluck, Matthew Malley, David Bryson, Dan Vickrey).

Into the Wild


*****

The film tells the true story of Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch), who, upon graduation from Emory University in 1990, rejects the materialistic, conventional life he was expected to live and backpacked across North America under the alias "Alexander Supertramp", without even informing his family (William Hurt, Marcia Gay Harden, Jena Malone). Never once writing to his family, the film focuses on the bonds and relationships he makes during his two years on the road, before finally succumbing to starvation in August 1992.

What we are offered is a very powerful emotional journey which will touch the hearts of many. The whole idea that in both the film and real life Supertramp rejected the idea of a materialistic life style is very thought provoking as we all live materialistic lives, where we are constantly buying gadgets, gizmos and vast amounts of home entertainment, and the way he rejects these things really makes you realise that they aren't everything. Each relationship and bond Supertramp made during those two years of backpacking is made in depth and emotional, and this really hits hard as you realise while you watch that the people in your lives are far more important than you give them credit for.
The most moving relationship we are shown is one made with a lonely old man called Ron Franz (Hal Holbrook), who grows so close to Supertramp he asks if he can adopt Supertramp as his grandson. The bond Hirsch and Holbrook create on screen is very deep and powerful, and the emotions shared on screen are very touching, even tear inducing when watched in the right setting.
Holbrook puts his all into creating this bond and it paid off - an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor was his reward. However, from start to finish this is Hirsch's film and it is surprising that he didn't get more recognition for it. Hirsch gives us a truly emotional performance as Supertramp making all his different feelings over what he is doing with his life perfectly stated so none of them threaten to be milked or underdeveloped; and the end of the film is stolen by his powerful performance. The pain, anguish and turmoil Supertramp goes through as he is dying are played so strong and with such raw energy and emotion. We feel the pain Hirsch conveys to us, and this will really make you want to cry as this is a character who we love from start to finish. It is even more upsetting to think that this is how Supertramp died in real life, and although we will never know what truly happened in those final days, if what we are offered is even one-tenth of the real life pain then the tragedy of it will genuinely hit hard.
Supertramp starved to death after mistaking a poisonous plant for an edible one, and being unable to reach civilisation, the poisoning made his body reject food until he died. These final scenes really make you realise that man cannot survive alone in the ideally simplistic life Supertramp tried to live and it is very thought provoking, offering a large amount of perspective.

The final tragic blow comes in the final image of the film as we see a real life photo of Supertramp two weeks before he died which was found unprocessed in his camera when his body was found two weeks on by hunters. The last photo ever taken of him provokes the thoughts of the friends and family he left behind and never got to say goodbye to, and the tears will flow.

Ultimately, this film, like Supertramp's story, is a story about how man cannot survive on his own and about just how valuable and important friends, family and good relationships are. Powerfully written and featuring a cast full of actors who give moving performances, the film is one you will never forget, and the ending is one that the box of Kleenex under your bed will never forget.


2007.
15.
Stars:
Emile Hirsch, Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt, Jena Malone, Catherine Keener, Brian Dierker, Vince Vaughn, Zach Galifianakis, Kristen Stewart, Hal Holbrook, Thure Lindhardt, Signe Egholm Olsen.

Oscar nominations: Best Supporting Actor (Hal Holbrook), Best Editing (Jay Cassidy).

Friday, 26 November 2010

How Genres Have Changed Over the Years: Horror

The horror genre is one of the oldest ones, dating back to the early 1920s. From day one to around 1960 horror films were almost always just about your typical horror monsters - Count Dracula, the Frankenstein Monster, Mummies and occasionally zombies - notable such films including Nosferatu (1922), The Phantom of the Opera (1925), Frankenstein (1931), Dracula (1931), Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and The Wolf Man (1941). In the 1950s horror films sometimes had representations of the Cold War and Communism in the underlying themes, notable examples including The Thing from Another World (1951) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956).

By 1960 the Hammer Horrors had become established films and had established Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing as some of the best horror actors in the world. The 1960s also saw a series of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations that established Vincent Price as a truly excellent horror actor. 1960 also saw the sub-genre of psychological horrors take off, with films such as Psycho (1960) and, to a lesser extent, The Birds (1963), and continued as a major sub-genre till the end of the 20th Century, with films such as A Clockwork Orange (1971), Halloween (1978) and The Silence of the Lambs (1991), and its sequels, and The Sixth Sense (1999) - which was combined with supernatural horror (see below) - as well as a number of Stephen King adaptations, such as The Shining (1980) and Misery (1990). Another sub-genre of supernatural horror took off in the 1970s also, with Carrie (1976), a Stephen King based film, and The Omen (1976), which was part psychological horror, part supernatural; and was strongest in the 1980s with films such as Poltergeist (1982) and Child's Play (1988).

Since 1978's Dawn of the Dead horror has been almost always full of gory blood and guts, notable examples being My Bloody Valentine (1981) and Videodrome (1983). Today the whole "gore fest" is what most horror films are, such as the Saw series (2004-2010), the Final Destination series (2000-). Countless remakes of older, classic horrors are also being churned out, such remakes including The Phantom of the Opera (2004) and The Omen (2006). The horror franchise has truly become a joke, with only a couple of really good horror films having been churned out in the last decade, and constant remakings, gore fests, and sequels being churned out. You can tell it's a joke thanks to Matthew Horne and James Corden's Lesbian Vampire Killers (2009), which was clearly taking the mick, and did it successfully, and the Scary Movies (2000-2006) to a less successful degree.

I don't hold high hopes for the future of horror films, but I can always go back and watch some great quality horror films, that will never get old or dull - films such as Nosferatu, The Phantom of the Opera, Frankenstein, Dracula, Freaks (1932), Bride of Frankenstein, Dracula (1958), The Brides of Dracula (1960), Psycho, The Birds, Night of the Living Dead (1968), A Clockwork Orange, The Wicker Man (1973), The Omen, Carrie, Halloween, Dawn of the Dead, The Shining, An American Werewolf in London (1981), Poltergeist, Videodrome, Misery, The Silence of the Lambs, Se7en (1995), Scream (1996) The Sixth Sense, and even Saw.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind



****

After their relationship hits rock bottom Clementine (Kate Winslet) has Joel (Jim Carrey) erased from her memory via "lacuna". Joel decides to get it done too, only to find during the several hour procedure that he is still in love with her and can't bear to forget her.

This film is one of the most interesting and experimental that I have ever seen. It features a non-linear narrative which you really have to be on the ball with in order to keep up. The memories and the erasing of said memories is created in a very experimental and surrealist style, such as picture and sound resolution deteriorating, dimming lighting, time and perspective looping, image and sound distortion, overt disintegration and the forced perspective effect, all of which are combined and edited together to create a creepy, but visually superb wiping effect, which are dark and atmospheric.

The performances are also very good and support the excellent experiments. Carrey gives one of, if not his best, performances to date, making Joel's inner turmoil and fear over the psychological effect of the memory erasing very heartfelt and gripping. Winslet is just as good in a performance that earnt her her fourth Oscar nomination before the age of thirty, making Clementine an emotionally complex and beautiful individual. These two excellent leads are very well supported by co-stars Kirsten Dunst (in the best performance of her career), Elijah Wood (in his first role since 2003's The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King), Tom Wilkinson (yet again showing just how talented he is) and Mark Ruffalo, who provide a great ensemble of supporting actors.

Very experimental, the fact that it is often quite hard to follow by no means stops this from being a strong film with a weird and wonderful screenplay, and an excellent ensemble of deep, powerful performances from the top-notch cast.


2004.
15.
Stars:
Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst, Elijah Wood, Tom Wilkinson, Mark Ruffalo, Jane Adams, David Cross, Deirdre O'Connell, Thomas Jay Ryan, Ryan Whitney.

Oscar: Best Screenplay (Pierre Bismuth, Michel Gondry, Charlie Kaufman).
Oscar nomination: Best Actress (Kate Winslet).

Thursday, 25 November 2010

How Genres Have Changed Over the Years: Science-Fiction

Best known as "sci-fi" the genre really only started and took off in the 1950s, which was the era for low-budget science-fiction films, most of which concerned monsters from outer space, and were very effective despite the lack of funds, such films including The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Kronos (1957), The Fly (1958), Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958) and Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959). They weren't great earners but their low budgets guaranteed large profits.

In the 1970s the genre became a popular one with mega profits. Star Wars (1977), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and Alien (1979) were all huge blockbusters, earning well over $1 billion between them at the box office. They were all hugely eye-catching, used effective special effects and sets, unlike what had been used up until that point and had great characters that everyone fell in love with. In 1982 E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial came out and not only broke box office records, but became the first sci-fi (certainly memorable one) to make the main alien cute, cuddly and friendly and everyone fell in love with the little fella. As before sci-fis only ever seemed to feature aliens, like they seem to have done since. The first notable exception was Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982) which was about robots and made an absolutely brilliant film. This was one rare sci-fi not about aliens, other notable ones from the '80s being The Terminator (1984), Back to the Future (1985) and RoboCop (1987). Since then there's still been very few sci-fis that don't concern aliens, most notable examples being Jurassic Park (1993) and The Matrix (1999).

Since the start of this century sci-fis have been getting churned out rapidly. Not just daft alien films such as The Fourth Kind (2009), and franchises such as Transformers (2007-), but also disappointing remakes, including Planet of the Apes (2001 remake of the 1968 film), The Invasion (2007 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers) and The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008 remake of the classic that got sci-fi on its feet). Sci-fi, however, reached whole new visual standards with Avatar in 2009, which became the most successful film in history grossing over $2.7 billion, and still earning at the box office. Visually it is the most stunning film of all time, however, it lacks a coherently substantial narrative, and could all sci-fis from now on follow in its footsteps in the hope of making vast amounts of money? One really hopes not, although 2010's Inception was brilliant and didn't fall into the Avatar trap.

Today one can not be sure what sci-fi holds in store for the future. For a number of years we've been lucky to get more than two really good sci-fis (not including animated sci-fis) per year. Will the trend of pathetic remakes and sequels continue? Will they make any more sci-fis that aren't about aliens than they do now? Will sci-fis from now on be like Avatar? We will just have to wait and see...

A New Series of Studies in How Genres Have Changed Over the Years

The idea came to me about two and a half weeks ago at my church in Mayfair, London of all places. That sounds weird doesn't it? However, there is a simplish explanation. Congregated on the balcony at the back with a number of other 18 to 25 year olds after the service I began talking with my good friend Phil and a guy called Chris, whom I met for the first time that night. We talked about ourselves, and I talked about my love and passion for film, which prompted both Phil and Chris to ask how different genres had changed and developed over the years, which lead to a ridiculously hardcore discussion to have over tea and Doritoes. This inspired me to blog it, and I'm sorry it's taken so long to begin. The first one I will do later tonight, and it shall be sci-fi, so watch this space!

Ray



****

Covering the course of almost twenty years we see how blind pianist Ray Charles (Jamie Foxx) went from a low-key casual musician to one of the biggest names in piano, as well as his womanizing, his heroin addiction, and how he went clean. In flashback we learn about his childhood and how, at aged 7, Ray (C.J. Sanders) went blind, only a year after younger brother George (Terrone Bell) died in a tragic accident.

From the first moment we are made aware that this is a true story we are about to watch, and within our subconsciences this makes us look at the film differently to how we would if it was another run of the mill blockbuster. For this we sympathize for Ray Charles as we are aware that everything we see on screen happened to him, and the real life turmoil would have been 10 times worse than it is on screen. A lot of biopic films try to evoke feelings of sympathy from their viewers, however, the number that are successful is quite limited. There are a number of ways in which Ray is very successful in creating these feelings within us, but none more so than the fantastic performances from a superb ensemble of actors/actresses.
In a performance that won him Oscar, BAFTA and Golden Globe Awards for Best Actor, Jamie Foxx excells as Ray. In a performance that evokes much poignancy, Foxx makes Ray very deep and very emotionally complex. In what must be one of the hardest performances in years, due mostly to the fact that Foxx had to have his eyes closed whenever filming, even in scenes where Ray wears his signature sunglasses, Foxx is exceptionally convincing, making Ray's womanizing complex, his heroin addiction very chilling, his manner (on stage mostly) charming, and his hate for his lack of sight, racial segregation and his heroin addiction very heartfelt and moving. Truly Foxx earned those awards. Foxx is provided with a great supporting cast, most memorable of all being Sharon Warren, who makes Ray's wife's hate for what her husband's heroin addiction very deep and moving; Kerry Washington, as Ray's mother in flashbacks, who makes the grief over George's death and Ray's going blind very heartfelt and emotional; and Regina King as Ray's mistress on tour, who makes her character very no-nonsense and strong.

Recreating some of Ray's biggest hits, the soundtrack is very catchy and it is very interesting to see how Ray's music developed over the years, and coupled with excellent cinematography that almost recreates some of his concerts from different points of view, and the editing that puts them together, it is very well made and intricate in design. Seeing how Ray developed over the years you feel yourself bonding with the character, feeling his grief and pain, so it is very heartbreaking at the very end of the film, which shows clips of Ray's later life and ending with words coming up saying Ray Charles Robinson 1930-2004, as you almost feel you should grieve for him, even now, pushing seven years after his passing.

Evoking feelings of sympathy and sadness throughout, this is a very heartfelt and powerful biopic with an excellent ensemble and a memorable screenplay, without which the cast couldn't have churned out such excellent performances.


2004.
15.
Stars:
Jamie Foxx, Sharon Warren, Kerry Washington, Regina King, Harry Lennix, Clifton Powell, C.J. Sanders, Bokeem Woodbine, Aunjanue Ellis, Larenz Tate, Curtis Armstrong, Richard Schiff, Terrone Bell, Terrence Dashon Howard, David Krumholtz, Wendell Pierce.

Oscars: Best Actor (Jamie Foxx), Best Sound Mixing (Scott Millan, Greg Orloff, Bob Beemer, Steve Cantamessa).
Oscar nominations: Best Picture (Taylor Hackford, Stuart Benjamin, Howard Baldwin), Best Director (Taylor Hackford), Best Editing (Paul Hirsch), Best Costume Design (Sharen Davis).

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Barbarella



**

Sent into space by the government, astro-navigatrix Barbarella (Jane Fonda) must investigate a potential threat to tranquility and find missing scientist Duran-Duran (Milo O'Shea). She discovers him on Sogo, a distant planet dedicated to evil and pleasure, and it soon becomes clear that her mission is going to be a lot more deadly than anticipated.

The sets may be beautifully created, with a lot of detail going into the creation of another planet, and lots of intricate details, the same going for the makeup that creates Sogo's occupants and makes the seemingly/semi-human characters monstrous and distressing, with a lot less human quality. However, this is all that is worthwhile about the film. The film plods along, relying on special effects too much, with its episodic, linear narrative paced so slowly and dragged out unnecessarily that it is very easy for one to lose their attention. The screenplay is also poorly written and makes the jobs of the actors harder than necessary, which is seen throughout as the performances are mostly very wooden and underdeveloped, as the characters are also wooden and underdeveloped, giving them and the film a rather artificial feel.

The sets may be beautifully designed, but they are fairly flimsy and live up to the reputation old science-fictions had of being wobbly and cheap. The logic of the sets is also very limited as everything the Sogons have looks very advanced and fancy, but yet they want some of the most basic items from Barbarella's ship. Ultimately, however, the film should be looked at as a film that exploits beauty. Jane Fonda was a proper sex symbol forty years ago and the number of scenes where she is nude, or has visible breasts are considerable, and the rest she is scantily clad in. To top that off every time she asks a male for information that could help her, she has to sleep with him to get it. She's just there as eye-candy, although this helped establish Fonda as a major sex symbol. The rest of the characters and their actors, bar Duran-Duran and O'Shea, are also used and exploited as symbols of sex and beauty, none more so than Pygar (John Phillip Law), a blind angel who wears little more than a loincloth that puts all his muscle in clear sight.

Ultimately this is a bland, wooden and poor film, and although Jane Fonda will make the guys' jaws drop as the sexy titular character, it is clearly an exploitation of beauty. One has to feel for Fonda as she turned down the leading roles in the brilliant films Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and Rosemary's Baby (1968) in order to head the cast in this film. Why? Because husband Roger Vadim was the director.


1968.
15.
Stars:
Jane Fonda, John Phillip Law, Anita Pallenberg, Milo O'Shea, Marcel Marceau, David Hemmings, Claude Dauphin, Ugo Tognazzi.

Laurel nomination: Best Female Performance (Jane Fonda).

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Speed


****

After becoming a hero, cop Jack Traven (Keanu Reeves) has to board a bus and make sure it does not go below 50 miles an hour or it will explode after it is rigged by presumed dead bomber and extortionist Howard Payne (Dennis Hopper), who is holding it to ransom. But with the driver (Hawthorne James) wounded, it is up to passenger Annie Porter (Sandra Bullock) to drive it in a frantic journey through Los Angeles.

From start to finish this film is a no-holds, adrenaline fuelled ride. The bus's journey is made so by consistently sharp editing, that shows it to be going as fast as possible, from all kinds of neat shots - from overhead shots from the Police Helicopter to shots of the wheels whizzing down the road - an exhilarating feel which is greatly heightened by the fast, at times gritty soundtrack. We are drawn into this story thanks to its tenseness and exhilarating feel, and with each complication added to the situation that the characters find themselves in we find ourselves on the edge of our seats, as a nagging sense that it may end badly is built up, even though we ultimately know all will work out, we are just drawn in so much.

Ultimately though, the film's stars do an equally good job of drawing us in. Reeves gives an adrenaline fuelled, action packed performance as Jack, giving the character great determination and motivation, and also making him a very level headed and realistic cop. Bullock remains cool as Annie, neither overstating her fear, nor understating it. Hopper, however, is the most memorable, making Payne a very cold hearted and sadistic, almost psychopathic, antagonist, a role he plays skilfully, as he doesn't overexaggerate and make Payne a borderline cartoon villain, and his deliciously cold performance really snares the viewer. Combined with the adrenaline and action, the actors really make this a gripping film, and with these main elements, among others combined this is most definetly a film to watch on the edge of your seat, and one of the stronger films of 1994.


1994.
15.
Stars:
Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, Dennis Hopper, Jeff Daniels, Joe Morton, Richard Lineback, Alan Ruck, Margaret Medina, Hawthorne James, Beth Grant, Glenn Plummer.

Oscars: Best Sound Editing (Stephen Hunter Flick), Best Sound Mixing (Steve Maslow, Bob Beemer, Gregg Landaker, David MacMillan).
Oscar nomination: Best Editing (John Wright).

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Iron Man



****

Billionaire weapons manufacturer Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) is caught in an explosion while visiting troops in Afghanistan, and is kept alive by an electromagnet placed in his chest, after terrorists take him hostage to their cave. After making a metal suit with flamethrowers he escapes and, upon getting home, makes a metallic suit with weapons and jet packs on the feet and becomes the crime fighter Iron Man, taking on terrorists and fighting crime. However, his right hand man (Jeff Bridges) at Stark Industries uses the gadgets to make himself a suit of that kind as well, but is intend on causing death and destruction, all for money.

Explosive and fast-paced, with some seriously impressive aerial scenes that will keep you glued to the screen, as you see it from Stark's perspective, which could induce vertigo for some viewers, and which have some great shots and fast editing, the film is never dull.

The cast, however, carry it from start to finish...
A bit of Hugh Hefner (he womanizes, and flaunts the cash and power), a bit of Dr Frankenstein (a mad scientist), and a lot of James Bond (smart, sharp-witted and charming), Downey Jr makes Stark a powerful and deep character and makes full use of the comical moments, making Stark charming and funny, but deeply serious also. Bridges is your typical Bond villain type antagonist - he seems charming, serious and kind to the characters, yet he is cold, poisonous and very creepy - and Bridges clearly had a lot of fun creating this character, and is very effective. Terrence Howard is very down to Earth and friendly as Lt Colonel James Rhodes, and he is made such a strong no-nonsense kind of guy. And Gwyneth Paltrow is the gorgeous and seductive Miss Moneypenny type character to Stark's empire - beautiful, sharp, on the ball and charming - and Paltrow is wonderful in this role.

A great piece of entertainment, and a very strong superhero film - the best Marvel Comic based superhero film since Spider-Man 2 (2004) - it is powerful, brilliant to watch and carried by a very strong cast.


2008.
12.
Stars:
Robert Downey Jr, Jeff Bridges, Terrence Howard, Gwyneth Paltrow, Paul Bettany, Shaun Toub, Faran Tahir, Clark Gregg, Bill Smitrovich, Leslie Bibb.

Oscar nominations: Best Visual Effects (John Nelson, Ben Snow, Daniel Sudick, Shane Mahan), Best Sound Editing (Frank E. Eulner, Christopher Boyes).

Saturday, 20 November 2010

The Incredibles



****

Fifteen years after the superheroes are forced to hang up the capes and become civilians, the most super of them all Mr Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) begins to do some secret work on the side for an anonymous billionaire employer. However, when said employer is revealed to be Syndrome (Jason Lee), who intends to kill all superheroes then pose as one to sell his gadgets, Mr Incredible, his super family (Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Spencer Fox) and best friend Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) are all thrown into mortal danger as they are the only ones who can stop him.

The film features spectacular animation, with a bold and dazzling blend of many different colours which come together perfectly, without looking garish, and all standing out so brilliantly, especially in the explosively well designed action sequences. The animation also successfully creates features what Director Brad Bird describes as the five most difficult things to animate: humans, fire, water, human hair in the wind and human hair in the water, The latter four look and feel very realistic, while the human characters have a magical feel thanks to the fact they are similar in design to cartoon characters, and not designed to the exact scales of the human body, which is always a refreshing change, good to look at.

The screenplay is also to a very strong standard, featuring well timed and (more importantly) well written moments of comic relief, much of which comes from how Mr Incredible’s super strength causes mishaps. The screenplay gives us a sensitive depiction of family life, with the importance of family right there at the centre, and how of all relationships they are the most important, expressed through some sensitively written relationships, as well as the deep character development which all of the central characters receive. The screenplay also delivers an excellent depiction of family life. Like any couple, Mr Incredible and Elastigirl (when they’re their real identities of Bob and Helen Parr) row, but their love conquers all; while 14-year-old Violet and 10-year-old Dash fight and wind each other up, but when things look dangerous they are hugely protective of each other. And baby Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile, Maeve Andrews) just laughs at the absurdity of it all

The substantially developed characters are all brought to life by a top-notch voice cast. Nelson is bold as Mr Incredible, making him an authorative and strong character, while Hunter makes Elastigirl a very tough, but very loving matriarch of the family. Vowell makes Violet a wonderfully shy and slightly awkward teenager, while Fox makes Dash a loveably cocky kid. Jackson is wonderfully cool as Frozone, while Lee is a wonderfully unhinged villain in the form of Syndrome, and Elizabeth Peña makes Mirage deliciously charming and quite seductive. The most memorable character, however, is Edna, who is made a deliciously over-the-top and boisterous individual, voiced with wonderful energy by Director Brad Bird.

All in all this is a very strong animated feature, which is a wonderful depiction of family love, and is also a very strong superhero film. The film also succeeded in generating a huge fan base, selling vast amounts of merchandise, and the world still greatly desires a sequel.


2004.
U.
Stars:
Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Spencer Fox, Samuel L.Jackson, Jason Lee, Elizabeth Peña, Eli Fucile, Maeve Andrews, Brad Bird, Bud Luckey, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Dominique Louis, Bret Parker.

Oscars: Best Animated Feature (Brad Bird), Best Sound Editing (Randy Thom, Michael Silvers).
Oscar nominations: Best Screenplay (Brad Bird), Best Sound Mixing (Randy Thom, Gary Rizzo, Doc Kane).

The Nutty Professor



***

Fed up of being morbidly obese, scientist Sherman Klump (Eddie Murphy) makes a concoction that turns him into a toned, good-looking man, who tells everyone his name is Buddy Love, but the concoction stops being effective after a couple of hours. However, when Sherman becomes Buddy he goes from a sweet, sensitive, caring guy into a complete and utter womanising a**ehole, and it soon becomes clear that he has to accept himself for who he is and not become Buddy anymore.

This film really is great entertainment. The amount of jokes about fat people and obesity are bam, bam, bam, one after another, and are guaranteed to make you laugh, especially in a hilarious scene of banter between Buddy and insult comic Reggie Warrington (Dave Chappelle), where the two continuously insult each others mothers with a variety of fat gags. The laughter one will release when watching this film will also, very often, from the fact that this film is pure farce. Even when he is the obese Sherman, Murphy is very exaggerated in his gestures and delivery of lines, and as Buddy he creates such an over-the-top character with vast amounts of energy and gusto. The other strong point of the film is the transformations from Sherman to Buddy, and vice versa, which are created with some excellent shots and superb editing, making them so wonderful to look at.

The main downside, however, is the lack of character development. Sherman/Buddy gets plenty of development, which is understandable seeing as he's in pretty much every scene, but the only other character who gets any development is the love interest Carla Purty (Jada Pinkett), while the rest of the characters are there just to be props in a script that scarcely leaves Sherman/Buddy. There are also a couple of poorly written scenes where Buddy eats with his family (all played by Murphy, except his little brother, played by Jamal Mixon), which have no comic dialogue as they all discuss obesity, and the entire scenes seem to be only about the family members breaking wind. These flaws are what prevent this film from getting four stars (from myself at least), but apart from these flaws it is a very entertaining film, and Murphy really shows just how talented he once was at live-action comedy in this.


1996.
12.
Stars:
Eddie Murphy, Jada Pinkett, John Ales, James Coburn, Larry Miller, Dave Chappelle, Jamal Mixon.

Oscar: Best Makeup (Rick Baker, David LeRoy Anderson).

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Quills


*****

Set in the Charenton Asylum in 1793, the film centres around Marquis de Sade (Geoffrey Rush) an author of Erotic literature, and how the numerous attempts to stop him by the Asylum Priest, Abbé du Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix) won't quench his passion for writing erotic literature, and using launderess Madeleine (Kate Winslet) to get it to publishers.

Although the film is very sexual and extremely erotic, it is a film that expresses how as individuals, humans feel the need for freedom to express themselves. Through a screenplay which shows just how sexual and lustful humans are by sinful nature, we have a leading character (played to poetic perfection by Rush), whose ultimate desire is to write freely, without the obstacles society and rules put before him. Through sensitive dialogue and Rush's touching performance we are moved by the character's hate for boundaries and sympathize with his need for literate freedom.

Rush is supported beautifully by Winslet and Phoenix, who in two very underrated performances also express touching needs/desires for freedom. Winslet, in a sensitive and well realized performance, depicts a character who feels the need to be free, but fights it to look after the mother (Billie Whitelaw) that she loves; while a refined Phoenix as Abbé falls in love with Madeleine and has to fight his feelings due to his duty as the Asylum Priest.
The three leads are directed to near-perfection by Philip Kaufman, with a stellar supporting cast who make the Asylum patients truly tragic characters, who have an underlying yearning to live a normal life. And set against a beautifully designed background of Charenton Asylum this gritty and erotic film is very deep, moving and meaningful. A beautiful piece of cinema and and one of the best films of 2000.


2000.
18.
Stars:
Geoffrey Rush, Kate Winslet, Joaquin Phoenix, Michael Caine, Billie Whitelaw, Stephen Marcus, Amelia Warner, Stephen Moyer, Ron Cook, Jane Menelaus, Elizabeth Berrington, Patrick Malahide, Tony Pritchard, Michael Jenn.

Oscar nominations: Best Actor (Geoffrey Rush), Best Art Direction (Martin Childs, Jill Quertier), Best Costume Design (Jacqueline West).

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Finding Nemo


*****

Clownfish and widower/single parent Marlin (Albert Brooks) is horrified when his only child Nemo (Alexander Gould) is taken by a diver (Bill Hunter), and goes on an all out rescue mission with forgetful Blue Tang Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) to get to Sydney and Nemo. Meanwhile, Nemo finds himself in a tank full of other fish in a dentist's office, and soon all the fish in the tank are planning an escape back to the ocean.

From start to finish we are offered a touching film, which has emotional moments and comical moments, and successfully balances the two out. The emotional aspect of the film comes from the beautifully written character of Marlin, and his protective, unconditional love for Nemo.
Through a combination of excellent screen writing and a touching, well thought voice performance from Brooks, Marlin is a character who is kind and caring, and the amount of hurt and fear he feels when Nemo is taken is very moving, and combined with the loving bond the two character share when they are together, we are offered a genuinely moving and realistic father-son relationship.
As for the comedy, the majority of the humour comes from Dory, who suffers short term memory loss, and the comically relaxed fashion with which she seems to approach nearly everything, treating it like a game more than anything else. With some well written farcical misunderstandings, the major comic relief comes from the fact Dory turns out to be a lot more intelligent than she seems - she can read and speak Whale, although so much of the character's comic qualities come from the very energetic and enthusiastic voice performance that DeGeneres brings, and which features perfectly timed and well-delivered comedy.

As for the film's animation we are offered a genuine treat, a rich piece of art work filled with fabulous colours, beautifully animated, and which never threaten to clash or become an eye sore, but come together so beautifully. The ultimate highlight is the underwater lighting effects, especially when a character isn't too far from the surface, in what is a stunning, and wholly realistic contrast. The animation also manages to make the ocean a vast, and incredibly detailed paradise, full of different species of underwater life, all of whom are designed to perfect detail - the vast number of teeth that Bruce the Great White Shark (Barry Humphries) has, the texture of Crush the Sea Turtle's (Andrew Stanton) skin, and the squishiness of the tops of the Jellyfish; and also different types of plant, and unexpected landmarks - such as the dark and eerie sunkern submarine which the sharks call home.

All in all this film is beautifully animated, and is a truly touching story about love, loyalty and (in the case of the tank fish and Nemo) a yearning for freedom, and which also manages to get a fine balance between emotional scenes and comic relief.


2003.
U.
Stars:
Albert Brooks, Alexander Gould, Ellen DeGeneres, Willem Dafoe, Geoffrey Rush, Barry Humphries, Andrew Stanton, Bill Hunter, Brad Garrett, Allison Janney, Austin Pendleton, Stephen Root, Vicki Lewis, Joe Ranft, Nicholas Bird, Eric Bana, Bruce Spence, Bob Peterson, Lulu Ebeling, Erik Per Sullivan, Jordan Ranft, Erica Beck, John Ratzenberger.

Oscar: Best Animated Feature (Andrew Stanton).
Oscar nominations: Best Screenplay (Andrew Stanton, Bob Peterson, David Reynolds), Best Sound Editing (Gary Rydstrom, Michael Silvers), Best Original Score (Thomas Newman).

My Neighbor Totoro

Tonari no Totoro



***

While their mother (Sumi Shimamoto, Lea Salonga in the dub) is in hospital Satsuki (Noriko Hadaka, Dakota Fanning in the dub) and Mei (Chika Sakamoto, Elle Fanning in the dub) move with their father (Shigesato Itoi, Timothy Daly in the dub) into a new house by an ancient forest. While exploring Mei discovers three Totoro (Hitoshi Takagi, Frank Welker in the dub) - forest keepers/woodland spirits (solid ones) that appear only to children, and who give the girls an adventure they will never forget.

The magical quality of this film comes from its beautiful traditional anime. Today we are used to anime TV series such as Pokémon (1997-), which, although beautifully designed and created, and good entertainment, is very loud and in-your-face, showing the artistic team are too caught up in creating the wow factor. In design Totoro is traditional, old school anime - simply designed, simply shaded, yet bright and colourful colour schemes that are absolutely beautiful to look at, and make such a refreshing change from the contemporary in-your-face style of modern anime. The film's other interesting factor is that it shows us how people lived in traditional 1950s Japan. How they bathe, clean the house and sit to eat is done in what we would consider such a manual and uncomfortable fashion, and it is just such a cultural feeling watching them live in this way.

The film, however, is dragged down by the screenplay. The action drags along with not that much consistency, going from a family at home to adventures in the forest, which results in attention being more difficult to keep. The characters are also generally one-sided, with Satsuki trying to act like an adult constantly, and Mei always mimicking Satsuki, and this one-sidedness gets dull and irritating, meaning that this fairly flawed screenplay is the film's downfall and, in spite of the beautiful anime and interesting lessons in traditional Japanese culture, stops this film from getting at least four stars from this critic.

However, it is still quite an uplifting, heartwarming adventure, so I would say it is definetly worth a viewing, in spite of its flaws.


1988 (original).
2005 (English dub).
U.
English, dubbed from Japanese.
Stars (original Japanese):
Noriko Hidaka, Chika Sakamoto, Hitoshi Takagi, Shigesato Itoi, Tanie Kitabayashi, Toshiyuki Amagasa, Sumi Shimamoto, Naoko Tatsuka.
Stars (English dub): Dakota Fanning, Elle Fanning, Frank Welker, Timothy Daly, Pat Carroll, Paul Butcher, Lea Salonga.

Mainichi Film Concours: Best Film (Hayao Miyazaki), Ofuji Noburo Award (Hayao Miyazaki).

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban



****

As Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) begin Year Three at Hogwarts, mass murderer Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) escapes from Azkaban prison in order to kill Harry. The Dementors that guard Azkaban are assigned to protect Hogwarts, however, their love for gloom, misery and troubled souls draw them to Harry, putting his life at stake.

The first two films (2001-2) had the family friendly feel associated with the films of Chris Columbus - think Home Alone (1990) and Mrs Doubtfire (1993) - and didn't get dark till the final half hour to forty-five minutes, which was appropriate as the first two books (1997-8) were aimed for 8-13 year olds when JK Rowling wrote them. Like the third book (1999) the film series takes an all-round dark turn with this film, which the rest of the films (2005-2011) would also be given.

Under the direction and design of acclaimed Mexican Auteur Alfonso Cauron, the film is given a very effective gothic design, dimly lit and full of darkness, despair and a theme of death. The Dementors - gliding, tall and black cloaked - stand out as a representation of death, and, in both their design and their hatred for all things good and happy, can be greatly compared to the Grim Reaper. As for Professor Lupin (David Thewlis) - who transforms into a werewolf at every full moon - his gaunt face, scarred and hollowed, shows very effectively how some people's lives can be almost deathly, while his transformation into a werewolf is a genuine masterpiece of editing, thanks to its intricate detail and raw power as a scene.

As with the previous films, the three leads are supported by a most excellent ensemble of British talent. Taking over the role of Professor Dumbledore, following Richard Harris's death in 2002, Sir Michael Gambon brings wisdom and his own type of charm to the role; Robbie Coltrane makes Hagrid both heartbreaking and heartwarming (depending on the scene); Thewlis brings wisdom and authority to the role of Lupin, and makes the fear and hate Lupin feels for his werewolf condition ver heartfelt; Oldman brings deepness and complexity to Sirius, while Alan Rickman is as cold and harsh as ever as Snape; and Emma Thompson is wonderfully melodramatic and over-the-top as Professor Trelawney.

All-in-all, this is a beautifully designed film, that was created so well by Cauron, and thanks to its deliciously dark feel it is, in the view of myself and millions of various critics and viewers, the best Potter film to date.


2004.
PG.
Stars:
Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Michael Gambon, Robbie Coltrane, David Thewlis, Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Maggie Smith, Tom Felton, Timothy Spall, Robert Hardy, Julie Walters, Mark Williams, Dawn French, Richard Griffiths, Fiona Shaw, Pam Ferris, Julie Christie, David Bradley.

Oscar nominations: Best Visual Effects (Tim Burke, Roger Guyett, Bill George, John Richardson), Best Original Score (John Williams).

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets



****

As Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) begins Year Two at Hogwarts, Slytherin's legendary Chamber of Secrets is opened, and the monster within leaves animals, ghosts and Muggle-born students petrified. Determined to find out the identity of Slytherin's heir (the one behind it all), Harry, Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) begin an all-out investigation full of mystery and peril, and climaxing with shocking discoveries and the prospect of almost certain death.

A year older than in the first film, and more experienced as young actors, Radcliffe, Grint and Watson display more confidence in their performances in this film than in its 2001 predecessor, with much more boldness and energy, standing out/being more memorable than a year previously. The supporting cast are also excellent. In the final film completed before his death, Richard Harris brings a strong air of wisdom and authority to the role of Professor Dumbledore; Robbie Coltrane is heartwarmingly gentle and kind as Hagrid; Kenneth Branagh is deliciously over-the-top as the vain Professor Lockhart; Alan Rickman and Jason Isaacs are cold, calculated and menacing as Professor Snape and Lucius Malfoy respectively; and Dame Maggie Smith is firm and authorative, but fair, as Professor McGonagall.

Loyal to the original 1998 novel, the film has a darker feel to it than the original in its grittier narrative, which peaks during the climactic trip into the Chamber of Secrets. The animal skeletons, shed skins of the Basilisk (Slytherin's monster - a snake of at least fifty feet in length) and rats give it a real sense of danger, and makes it feel like such a place of peril and death. The fact that the Chamber is a network of caves and tunnels, hundreds of feet below ground means that everything is grimy, dimly lit and compressed, creating a real feel of doom and gloom, which is only fitting for the dark and suspenseful climax.

The film (like its source material) also plays successfully on man's biggest fear - fear of the unknown - especially if you haven't read the book before (I'd read it five times before seeing it a week into its cinematic release by the way). The fact that we don't learn of the one behind the attacks, or the creature responsible, until the final half hour of two and a half hours, builds up a vast amount of tension throughout, as all you know is that it is a truly terrifying creature as even the spiders and Acromantula (carnivorous spiders, as large as cows) flee from it.

Loyal to the source material, this is a beautifully designed and well-created second installment that fully utilises some of this nation's finest acting talents, and is exhilarating, very entertaining and has some moments which will make you jump, particularly when viewed on a big screen.


2002.
PG.
Stars:
Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Richard Harris, Robbie Coltrane, Kenneth Branagh, Alan Rickman, Jason Isaacs, Maggie Smith, Christian Coulson, Bonnie Wright, Tom Felton, Gemma Jones, Miriam Margolyes, Toby Jones, Robert Hardy, John Cleese, Shirley Henderson, David Bradley, Julie Walters, Mark Williams, Richard Griffiths, Fiona Shaw, Sean Biggerstaff, Hugh Mitchell, Julian Glover, Harry Melling.

BAFTA nominations: Best Visual Effects (Jim Mitchell, Nick Davis, John Richardson, Bill George, Nick Dudman), Best Production Design (Stuart Craig), Best Sound (Randy Thom, Dennis Leonard, John Midgley, Ray Merrin, Graham Daniel, Rick Kline).

Monday, 15 November 2010

The Spiderwick Chronicles



***

Following their parents' (Mary-Louise Parker, Andrew McCarthy) split, Mallory (Sarah Bolger), Simon (Freddie Highmore) and Jared (also Highmore) move with their mother into their great-great-uncle Arthur Spiderwick's (David Strathairn) old country house by a magical forest. Roaming, Jared finds Arthur's old research journal and soon homicidal goblins are trying to get their hands on it for their blood-thirsty leader, ogre Mulgarath (Nick Nolte). To protect the book and their lives the siblings go on a dangerous, all-out investigation.

Visually this is a wonderful film. The goblins, fairies and ogres are beautiful in both design and creation, with intricate detail and colourful designs that are stunning to look at and clearly well thought out when created by the art department. The scenes on the griffin's back are also very well created, and you really feel like you are riding the creature, as the scenes are so intricate in flying motions, and the winged creature is made so majestic and beautiful in both design and flight. The film's major drawback, however, is the pacing of the screenplay. The events get the minimal amount of development, with it going from one event to the next with the bare minimum of substance and development, and connection that isn't well thought-out or developed. That comes from the fact that the screenwriters are adapting five books of 100 pages plus into 90 minutes of film, so it's easy to lose focus thanks to these quick transactions.


2008.
PG.
Stars:
Freddie Highmore, Sarah Bolger, Martin Short, Nick Nolte, Mary-Louise Parker, David Strathairn, Joan Plowright, Seth Rogen, Andrew McCarthy, Jordy Bennatar.

Saturn nominations: Best Fantasy Film, Best Performance by a Younger Actor (Freddie Highmore).

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Shrek



*****

Shrek is the first in one of the most successful film franchises of all time, as well as the second computer animation from DreamWorks after Antz (1998).

After fairy tale creatures are dumped on his swamp by Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow), grumpy ogre Shrek (Mike Myers) and a talking Donkey (Eddie Murphy) agree to rescue the beautiful Priness Fiona (Cameron Diaz) from a Dragon (Frank Welker) guarded tower for Farquaad in order to get his land back. However, matters are further complicated when Shrek falls in love with Fiona, and vice versa. And the princess also has a secret of her own...

Firstly, let's look at the animation. It is outstanding, no doubt about it. Everything is really bright, vivid and colourful, as well as intricately designed and detailed that give the characters such a real human quality. There are absolutely no weak points at all, everything was clearly created over a large amount of time to look as perfect as possible, and it is all so beautiful to look at.

Secondly, let's look at the characters and the superb vocal performances. Shrek is truly brought to life by Myers, who makes the grumpy ogre feel so realistic, and only strengthens this with the use of a Scots accent, that makes the character only more comical. And the characters struggle with his emotions in the final twenty minutes or so is very heartfelt and powerful. Murphy is comic gold as the talking donkey (simply called Donkey), bringing excellent comic timing and delivery to the character, through vast amounts of energy and gusto, making Donkey hilarious and sincere. Diaz makes Fiona a fiesty, no-nonsense type of girl, who is charming and gorgeous, as well as deep and complex. Lithgow makes Farquaad such the perfect creep and so deliciously sleezy, and some great gags come from the fact he is scarcely four feet tall. These wonderful characters are also supported by a great ensemble of supporting characters, almost all of whom are your typical fairy tale characters - Gingerbread Man (Conrad Vernon), Magic Mirror (Chris Miller), Pinocchio (Cody Cameron), Three Little Pigs (also Cameron), Three Blind Mice (Christopher Knights, Simon J. Smith, Jerome De Guzman), and the cross-dressing Big Bad Wolf (Aron Warner) from Little Red Riding Hood - all of whom, although getting very little screen time, have very comical appearances and are instantly memorable.

Finally, let's look at the screenplay. It is wonderful. There is a gag a minute, both verbal and physical, some of which are more sophisticated, but that are all ultimately farcical, full of slapstick and innuendos. The characters (certainly the four leads) get vast amounts of development, which makes them very substantial and coherently engaging, as well as hilarious due to the amount of gags which they are given. And despite the film's medieval setting, everything medieval is given a contemporary twist that make both great gags and interesting components. Combine the screenplay with the above mentioned elements of animation and characters, and you have a very substantial, coherently entertaining and powerful film, making Shrek one of the only computer animated features to rival the overall quality of Pixar films.


2001.
U.
Stars:
Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, John Lithgow, Conrad Vernon, Chris Miller, Cody Cameron, Christopher Knights, Aron Warner, Jim Cummings, Jerome De Guzman, Vincent Cassel.

Oscar: Best Animated Feature (Aron Warner).
Oscar nomination: Best Adapted Screenplay (Ted Elliot, Terry Rossio, Joe Stillman, Roger S.H. Schulman).

Monsters, Inc.


*****

You remember how when you were a kid you thought monsters hid in the closet? Well, you were right! But did you know that they're easily as scared of us as we are of them, if not more so? So when Top Scarer Sulley (John Goodman) and his best pal Mike (Billy Crystal) accidentally let a human child (Mary Gibbs) into the Monster World it is a desperate race to get her back to safety, after it transpires that Sulley's rival Randall (Steve Buscemi) intends to kidnap her.

The concept that the monsters we all feared at the age of five are (if anything) more afraid of us than we of them is a stroke of genius in my view, as it is just something you would never think of, as during childhood you saw only from your perspective - that of a little kid who can't understand why the monsters won't let you sleep. But to see it from the monsters' perspective that it must be done in order to fuel the city they live in brings a whole new way of looking at those days of fear, and I'm sure it must have made little kids afraid of monsters all over the world sigh with relief.
As for the pacing of the film, the screenplay works it perfectly as there is always something exciting happening which keeps the action flowing and the attention firm on the film, such moments including Boo scaring the lives out of all the monsters in a restaurant, which is fast-paced, but none more so than the climactic chase (Randall chasing Sulley, Mike and Boo) through the door vault that contains millions of doors leading to different parts of the world, which is sharp and well-edited, as well as such a visual treat with lots of quick pacing that you will be unable to come away from it.
The film also gets in a lot of physical comedy, particularly when it comes to the number of accidents Mike has, which are nicely overexaggerated, and the way Randall manages to get around easily using his chameleon like body, which is made a slick and well-controlled idea. A lot of verbal comedy comes too, especially in the banter between Sulley and Mike, but even more so in Boo, who despite being a 2-year-old who doesn't have a big vocabulary, it is clear that she is the boss, despite being too excited and happy to realise it. And this is also the first Pixar film to offer us toilet humour. Literally, Mike falls in the toilet when hiding from Randall. The thought of Pixar toilet humour is such a horrifying concept, as you could never see Pixar lowering themselves so. But it is the first time and it is giving a very amusing set up, although Boo's reaction of "Eww" is what makes you laugh, as it is such a contrast to how she normally speaks.

The screenplay also offers us some very well developed, strong characters, who are brought to superb life by a stellar voice cast. Goodman makes Sulley so warm-hearted and soft, which is a hilarious twist to the character as he is meant to be the scariest monster in Monstropolis. Buscemi makes Randall a very sly and cunning monster, while James Coburn brings great wisdom and authority, as well as a dark side to Sulley and Randall's ancient boss Waternoose. The two most memorable though, are Gibbs's Boo, whose voice they created by following Gibbs around the studio with a microphonic recorder, and which really makes the character a 100% authentic child character; and Crystal, who makes Mike deliciously over the top, by pouring out absolute bags of wonderful energy, and providing a unique voice that makes the character sound as quirky as he is. And these characters of Sulley, Mike and Boo also work well together to create true poignancy towards the end when their adventure comes to a close, the heartbreaking scene becoming one of Pixar's most poignant to date thanks to the sensitively written dialogue, and the emotional tune played on the piano.

However, let us not forget the beautiful and well defined animation, without which this film would have been impossible to make, which has been the case with every Pixar film. The world of Monstropolis is full of vibrant colours and characters, animating numerous background monsters of different shapes, sizes and colours, which come together like a beautiful painting. And as for the inside of the factory, well, the chase through the door vault was exceptional animation, with almost each door unique and the same size as the others, and all being animated in such detail that it really does become a maze where everything gets lost as it mixes together. The most exceptional piece of the animation in this film though, which had never been done in a computer animation before, is the animation of Sulley's fur. With some three million individual strands on his body, each individual one is given its own unique life - when caught in the wind each strand has its own fluid movement - and it is a creation the animation team spent hundreds of hours on. All that effort truly paid off as it is a spectacular creation that will leave you in awe.

True effort went into making this film, which is funny, exciting and powerful throughout. One of the best Pixar films to date, and one of the best films of 2001 - certainly the best animation of 2001 at least - this is a wonderful film for the whole family, and is one you shall never forget.


2001.
U.
Stars:
John Goodman, Billy Crystal, Steve Buscemi, Mary Gibbs, James Coburn, Jennifer Tilly, Bob Peterson, Frank Oz, John Ratzenberger, Dan Gerson, Bonnie Hunt, Samuel Lord Black.

Oscar: Best Original Song (If I Didn't Have You - Randy Newman).
Oscar nominations: Best Animated Feature (Pete Docter, John Lasseter), Best Sound Editing (Gary Rydstrom, Michael Silvers), Best Original Score (Randy Newman).

Saturday, 13 November 2010

The Poseidon Adventure



****

It's New Year and S.S. Poseidon is making her final voyage. However, minutes after the clocks chime midnight a tsunami capsizes the ships, killing dozens of crew and passengers. Nine survivors (Gene Hackman, Jack Albertson, Red Buttons, Carol Lynley, Shelley Winters, Eric Shea, Pamela Sue Martin, Stella Stevens, Roddy McDowall) are lead by Reverend Scott (Gene Hackman), through an upside down maze to reach the engine room where (theoretically) they can get out and find fresh air and freedom - yes the capsized boat still bobs on the surface. With rising waters, explosions, flames and bodies everywhere, their escape attempt is filled with pain, panic, peril, danger and death.

The majority of ocean-set disaster films concern a sinking ship with those aboard trying to escape before it goes under. The Poseidon Adventure may concern people trying to escape, while dead lie or float everywhere, yet the ship has not gone under. And unlike most films where the survivors get on and work together to escape, the survivors here struggle with both, making escape seem even harder, and causing more and more tension to build up.

The two main leads - Hackman and Borgnine - play perfectly mismatched characters. Hackman's preacher is a level-headed man, thinking logically to escape, and Hackman makes his strength, courage and determination to save as many as possible very heartfelt and powerful. Borgnine's Police Officer is brawn over brains, desperate to survive, and hates having a Preacher dictate to him and undermime his authority, with Borgnine's performance being confident and strong. The remaining eight provide great support - their journies and emotions portrayed in a collection of really heartfelt, thoughtful and confident performances.

The films boasts superb effects also, especially for the 1970s. The moment the tsunami hits and capsizes the ship will make your heart pound, and your attention impossible to draw away, thanks to its raw power and impact as a moment. From there the effects remain strong, with your heart racing as water levels rise, your body shaking as explosions happen, and your stomach churning as people perish in water or fire.

All in all this is a thrilling, suspenseful and well-written film that features superb effects, and is ultimately carried by its excellent cast, who give coherently emotion, heartfelt and confident performances.


1972.
PG.
Stars:
Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Red Buttons, Jack Albertson, Carol Lynley, Shelley Winters, Eric Shea, Pamela Sue Martin, Stella Stevens, Roddy McDowall, Arthur O'Connell, Leslie Nielsen, Byron Webster, Fred Sadoff, Jan Arvan, Sheila Mathews, John Crawford, Erik L. Nelson.

Oscars: Best Visual Effects (L.B. Abbott, A.D. Flowers), Best Original Song (The Morning After - Al Kasha, Joel Hirschhorn).
Oscar nominations: Best Supporting Actress (Shelley Winters), Best Art Direction (William J. Creber, Raphael Bretton), Best Cinematography (Harold E. Stine), Best Editing (Harold F. Kress), Best Sound Mixing (Theodore Soderberg, Herman Lewis), Best Original Score (John Williams), Best Costume Design (Paul Zastupnevich).

Friday, 12 November 2010

The Omen



****

When his newborn son dies US Ambassador Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck) is persuaded to adopt a newborn baby who's mother died in childbirth. Five years later, while living in Fulham, England, mysterious deaths and strange happenings begin, and with help from photogapher Keith Jennings (David Warner), Robert discovers that his adopted son Damien (Harvey Stephens) is in fact the Antichrist, son of Satan himself, come to cause death, destruction and misery on the Earth in human form.

The film is not you're typical monster horror, such as Dracula (1931) or Frankenstein (1931), nor is it a gore fest like My Bloody Valentine (1981) or Videodrome (1983), even though it has elements of both depicted low key. It is, in fact, both a psychological horror, like A Clockwork Orange (1971) or The Shining (1980), and a supernatural horror, like Poltergeist (1982) and Child's Play (1988). The psychological horror side comes from the fact that the psychology behind Damien is absolutely horrific and is enough to give grown men nightmares - it has apparently! The supernatural side comes from the fact we are talking about the devil here, the spawn of Satan himself. This isn't a human monster, and supernatural can cover almost anything that isn't human and can't be explained by science.

What makes this such a horrific and creepy film to watch is the fact it constantly makes you think that if/when the Antichrist comes in that human form he could have taken the form of something as small and innocent as a five-year-old child. Damien looks so innocent, with a chirpy, slightly chubby face, big brown eyes and curly hair, and once it has been established that he is the Antichrist, you will be on the edge of your seat, with a creeping sense of dread and nerves cutting through you like ice, as by the end he has become a truly creepy little boy. The final shot of the film is set at his parents' burial, and (breaking the fourth wall) he turns to look at the camera, with eyes full of cold malice, that had developed in the film's second half, and gives a smile to the camera - a smile that will send the shivers down your spine and make your blood run cold without fail.

If that wasn't creepy enough then the film's score serves to only make it more so, with an eerie soundtrack filled with violins and organs screeching, and causing the hairs on the back of the neck to stand on end. The foretelling of the Antichrist is from Revelation 13 in The New Testament, even foretelling of the 666 birthmark. As a Protestant I am not too full of worry about it, admittedly, as I know that God will conquer the devil, and if/when it does happen I will (hopefully) be long dead - due to the 666 I doubt it will happen before 2106, so if I am still alive I will be about to turn 114. However, no matter what your religious views are and no matter what your view concerning the existence of the devil, one thing can't be denied, and that is that this is a really effective and creepy horror film, and is very well made. Definetly not one to watch just before bed.


1976.
15.
Stars:
Harvey Stephens, Gregory Peck, David Warner, Billie Whitelaw, Lee Remick, Patrick Troughton, Martin Benson, Holly Palance.

Oscar: Best Original Score (Jerry Goldsmith).
Oscar nomination: Best Original Song (Ave Satani - Jerry Goldsmith).

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Sister Act



****

After witnessing her rich gangster lover (Harvey Keitel) kill a man (Max Grodenchik), singer Deloris (Whoopi Goldberg) is placed in a Convent by Witness Protection, where she struggles to fit in and live an appropriate lifestyle, while Vince puts out a $250k reward for her being found. Deloris, however, fully utilises her talent and transforms the struggling choir into an outstanding ensemble of singers and leads them out to hep and preach on the streets, making the struggling church famous and popular.

A hugely entertaining and very well-made film, Sister Act is filled with excellent verbal gags, brought to hilarious life by excellent comic timing, delivery and expression from the entire cast. The hymns/songs are made so catchy and are so well delivered that one just feels the need to start clapping and singing along, and it is clear that vast amounts of rehearsal and effort went into creating those superb scenes.

In spite of this, however, the film is carried by its stars. Goldberg makes Deloris loud, brash and altogether scene-stealing thanks to excellent comic timing and delivery. Maggie Smith is firm, frank and unafraid to make herself/her views heard as the Supreme Nun. And - as he did later on in Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Pulp Fiction (1994) - Keitel creates such a cold, ruthless and bone-chilling gangster. Add a top-notch supporting cast (that includes Bill Nunn, Kathy Najimy, Wendy Makkena, Mary Wickes, Joseph Maher, Robert Miranda, Richard Portnow, Guy Boyd, Jim Beaver and Rose Parenti) and you have some truly wonderful entertainment and a well-created and well-scripted film on your hands that you will simply fall in love with.


1992.
PG.
Stars:
Whoopi Goldberg, Maggie Smith, Harvey Keitel, Bill Nunn, Kathy Najimy, Wendy Makkena, Mary Wickes, Joseph Maher, Robert Miranda, Richard Portnow, Guy Boyd, Jim Beaver, Rose Parenti.

Golden Globe nominations: Best Motion Picture - Comedy/Musical, Best Actress in a Comedy/Musical (Whoopi Goldberg).

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Bride of Frankenstein



*****

Released four years after James Whale's Frankenstein (1931) - which, admittedly, I have not seen yet - the film picks up exactly where its predeccesor left off. The Monster (Boris Karloff) survives the burning windmill and is soon roaming wild in the countryside, trying to prove he is not a cold-blooded killer, while escaping a vigilante mob. Meanwhile, Dr Frankenstein (Colin Clive) is forced against his will to once again create life in the form of a bride (Elsa Lanchester) for his monster, by his old tutor Dr Pretorious (Ernest Thesiger).

This time, Karloff creates within the Monster a gentle, loving soul, who only attacks out of fear and the need to defend himself. Trapped in a body he hates, and that everyone fears (his own 'Bride' screams in fear and hysterics when they first meet), Karloff creates a performance full of pathos. The Monster's need to be loved and prove he isn't a cold-blooded killer is so heartfelt and full of pathos that fearing this 'Monster' is impossible. The friendship he develops with an old, blind hermit (O.P. Heggie) halfway through the film is so heartwarming, as both are overjoyed to have found a friend at last; and amusing, as the hermit not only teaches him some basic speech, but how to smoke cigars and appreciate wine also; thanks to two very heartfelt performances, a real sense of chemistry and bond between the two, and excellent comic timing and expression on Karloff's part.

The rest of the cast is also excellent. Clive is such a driven scientist and makes Frankenstein's determination to never again create life (until he has no other choice) so powerful, and the character's regret and upset over the previous film's tragic events so deep and meaningful. Thesiger makes Pretorious an almost real evil scientist, so convincing and spine-tingling. Another really memorable cast member is Una O'Connor as Frankenstein's sharp-tongued maid, who is unafraid to speak her mind, thanks to O'Connor's top-notch comic timing and delivery.

As for the film's artistic quality, Karloff's Monster retains that beautifully and intricately designed makeup, that is so eye-catching, and which the Monster wouldn't be the same without. Pretorious's lab is designed to look like the perfect lair for an evil/mad scientist, in that signature style, which has been reused in numerous monster/horror films since - most recently in Van Helsing (2004). The titular Bride's design - human except for tall black hair with large white streaks - has since become so iconic that even online game Farmville featured it in their Exclusive Halloween Decorations last month.

Truly this film is not only a piece of art, but an all-time classic film (in my view at least). Beautifully designed and intricately created from start to finish, it is a tragic, yet heartwarming story that managed to spawn a sequel (Son of Frankenstein) in 1939, and has an indescribable essence/feel to it, that I doubt any other Frankenstein film ever has or ever will capture.


1935.
PG.
Stars:
Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Ernest Thesiger, Valerie Hobson, Elsa Lanchester, Una O'Connor, O.P. Heggie, Dwight Frye, Ted Billings, Douglas Walton, Gavin Gordon, Reginald Barlow, Mary Gordon, Lucian Privell, E.E. Clive.

Oscar nomination: Best Sound Mixing (Gilbert Kurland).

Dawn of the Dead



****

A zombie apocalypse is sweeping the US and four people (Ken Foree, Gaylen Ross, David Emge, Scott H. Reiniger) hold out in a large half of the mall, locking themselves in with months worth of food, water, cleansing products, et cetera, and armed with vast amounts of guns and bullets. Their hold out won't be smooth sailing though, as the number of hungry zombies grows daily, and eventually a biker gang led by Blades (Tom Savini) decide to take the mall by force.

Unlike Night of the Living Dead (this film's 1968 predecessor), George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead was Hollywood funded and shot in Technicolour, and the fact it was shot in Technicolour is what makes the images so memorable, with the chalk white faces of the zombies greatly standing out, and all the bright, gory vividness of the bright red blood being so eye-catching, which is wierd when you take into account that this is an absolute gore-fest of a horror film.

Thanks to both the budget and people's expectations of what zombies' physical movement should be like, the zombies' actors are so convincing, walking around so slowly and meaninglessly, and with such perfect blank and gormless facial expressions, it is actually rather spooky and worrying. And there never is a dull moment either, with so many gunshots, fast-paced scenes in/on trucks and motorbikes, and brutal, gory zombie slaughters, that make this such an enjoyable, somehow; and the humans' determination, tactics and desperate bids for survival will make you desperate to keep watching as their story is just so absorbing.

Well-edited, engaging and featuring lots of vivid makeup and slick set pieces, as well as plenty of gore, Dawn is such a gritty, yet engrossing, film to watch and is just as good as its predecessor, although it feels a lot different due to it not being an independent film.


1978.
18.
Stars:
Ken Foree, Gaylen Ross, David Emge, Scott H. Reiniger, David Crawford, David Early, Richard France, Howard Smith, Tom Savini, Daniel Dietrich, Jim Baffico.

Saturn nomination: Best Make-Up (Tom Savini).

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone



****

Ten years after the murder of his parents (Adrian Rawlins, Geraldine Somerville), Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) learns he is a famous wizard and begins at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. There he quickly becomes a popular student, and best friends with Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson). However, mysterious events connect together to propose a threat to the Wizarding World and the three friends go on an all-out investigation to stop a catastrophe from happening.

After four years as bestsellers under its belt, it came as no surprise that JK Rowling's beloved fantasy series was adapted for the big screen, before the last three books - The Order of the Phoenix (2003), The Half-Blood Prince (2005) and The Deathly Hallows (2007) - were even published. More surprising is the fact that it became the highest grossing film series of all time, after the release of the first six installments (2001-9), even outgrossing James Bond (1962-) and Star Wars (1977-2005). To have achieved this the series would have had to have started out strongly, and by heck it does.

Hogwarts is brought to life with such glory - the castle being colossal and rightfully dominating, a jaw-dropper of an ancient architectural masterpiece; the lake, the fields and the background mountains are vast and stunning landscapes; the Quidditch pitch feels like such a grand stadium; and the Forbidden Forest is dark and creepy. The Wizarding World is bright and colourful, with all of the Wizarding tools, clothing and, of course, Diagon Alley, made so eye-catching and beautiful to look at, thanks to vast amounts of bright and careful detail.

Very loyal to the source material (first published 1997), the film is carried, not just by the three leads, but by the supporting characters, brought to life by superb British talent. The late Richard Harris is wise and powerful as Professor Dumbledore, the Headmaster; Robbie Coltrane is heartwarmingly gentle and kind as Gamekeeper Rubeus Hagrid; Alan Rickman makes Potions Master, Professor Snape, cold and spiteful; Dame Maggie Smith is both strict and caring as Harry's Head of House, Professor McGonagall; and Ian Hart makes secondary antagonist, Professor Quirrell, a nervous, yet determined, deep and complex individual.

All-in-all this film is a heartfelt, beautifully designed and choreographed, loyal and visually stunning start to the biggest film series to date, fully utilising some of this nation's finest acting talent, and making a film that the whole family will really enjoy.


2001.
PG.
Stars:
Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Richard Harris, Robbie Coltrane, Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Ian Hart, Richard Griffiths, Fiona Shaw, Warwick Davis, John Hurt, John Cleese, Tom Felton, Sean Biggerstaff, David Bradley, Zoe Wanamaker, Matthew Lewis, Harry Melling, Leslie Phillips.

Oscar nominations: Best Art Direction (Stuart Craig, Stephanie McMillan), Best Costume Design (Judianna Makovsky), Best Original Score (John Williams).

Monday, 8 November 2010

Night of the Living Dead



****

As a zombie apocalypse starts to sweep the US, seven people (Duane Jones, Judith O'Dea, Karl Hardman, Marilyn Eastman, Keith Wayne, Judith Ridley, Kyra Schon) take refuge in an abandoned house in the middle of nowhere, where they fight off the reanimated bodies of the unburied/uncremated dead in a desperate bid for survival.

Night is Director George A. Romero's first film, and ever since then the genre of zombie films has been a popular one - most recently with 28 Days Later (2002); Shaun of the Dead (2004), a comedy spoof of Romero's Living Dead Saga; and Zombieland (2009) - and is a low budget independent film shot in black-and-white.

Although, particularly in the first half hour, there are long periods of silence, the film isn't at all dull. There is always some form of zombie-related action happening in the film and the silence is an eerie kind as you wait to see what happens next in this almost hopeless bid for survival during a zombie apocalypse, with the fact that it is shot in black-and-white only enhancing this eerie and creepy feeling.

The group of humans holding up in the house, while learning what's happening/what to do via television and radio, are a really mismatched group. Ben (Jones) is determined to survive and thinks logically during the hold out. Barbra (O'Dea) is in huge shock after witnessing a zombie (Bill Heinzman) kill her brother (Rusell Streiner). Out of fear and the fact nobody will pay any attention to his attempts at leadership, Harry (Hardman) doesn't think with his head, while wife Helen (Eastman) just wants to protect their daughter (Schon), who is at death's door after being bitten by a zombie. Tommy (Wayne) and his wife Judy (Ridley) support Ben fully as they feel he has a logical plan that will work and they are too desperate for survival to discredit it. With this bizarre and ridiculous mismatching you know that things aren't going to work out easily, if at all. Their arguments/debates build up tension in the film, and their will/desperation to survive truly carries it.

Opening the door for hundreds of zombie films, and starting a successful career for Romero, this is a chillingly powerful, deep and complex horror film, and an excellent example of just how good independent films can truly be.


1968.
15.
Stars:
Duane Jones, Judith O'Dea, Karl Hardman, Marilyn Eastman, Keith Wayne, Judith Ridley, Kyra Schon, Charles Craig, George Kosana, Rusell Streiner, Bill Heinzman.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Educating Rita



****

Desperate to better herself, working class Liverpudlian Rita (Julie Walters) attends the local Open University where she studies Literature under the tutelage of Dr Frank Bryant (Michael Caine), an alcoholic who has lost all passion for teaching the subject until she comes into his life and brightens it up.

Originally a West End play, Educating Rita has to be one of the finest British films of the early '80s. Julie Walters is perfect as Rita, making her a passionate driven character, and bringing great comic timing and delivery to the character's frankness and self-expressiveness, making her comic gold. Michael Caine is equally perfectly cast as Frank, making him a very deep, witty character and creating such a convincing drunk that you actually wonder if Caine turned up drunk on set (he didn't by the way, he's just a ridiculously convincing actor). Together these two marvellous performers create such a beautiful on-screen relationship, full of banter, wit, and vast amounts of chemistry, creating a relationship where even their screaming matches are a delight to watch.

As for Willy Russell's screenplay, it does what so many old comedies - Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), Some Like it Hot (1958) - does, it brings sophistication to the wit, the banter, and, of course, the characters, creating such a charming and pleasurable feel to it all. This charm and wit makes it such a lovely, irresistable comedy that one just falls in love with it instantainously, and can't help but feel charmed by Caine and Walters thanks to their dialogue. A classy screenplay of comedy, for which Russell truly deservedly earned his Oscar nomination.

A really heartfelt and profound comedy, and an excellent example of how British humour differs from the over-the-top farcical kind that Hollywood has provided in almost all their comedies since 1980, this is a charming must-watch which I would recommend to anyone.


1983.
15.
Stars:
Julie Walters, Michael Caine, Michael Williams, Maureen Lipman, Jeananne Crowley, Malcolm Douglas, Godfrey Quigley, Dearbhla Molloy.

Oscar nominations: Best Actor (Michael Caine), Best Actress (Julie Walters), Best Adapted Screenplay (Willy Russell).