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.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Kill Bill: Volume 2


***

Two of her Death List Five lie dead as Beatrix Kiddo (Uma Thurman) returns to the USA to kill Budd (Michael Madsen), Elle (Daryl Hannah) and Bill (David Carradine) himself. Shocking revelations lie in store however.

This is a controversial statement indeed, but I see this as the film which started the quality of Quentin Tarantino's films flounder, as this film was followed by Death Proof (2007) and Inglourious Basterds (2009). The screenplay is where this film falls short of the quality of previous Tarantino films. It is intense and it is mature, as Beatrix works to find and kill her former allies, while reflecting on her training from years ago. However, it is a rather crammed screenplay, which rushes through some scenes unnecessarily, while making others feel a little dragged out, and even giving some scenes far too abrupt endings, such as Beatrix's fight with Elle.

Regardless of its flaws, however, it is a regularly exhilarating film. The film is beautifully choreographed in the martial arts scenes, the grace and perfection of which is captured wonderfully by Cinematographer Robert Richardson, as the fights unveil on screen. The film also features beautiful mise-en-scene and lighting, a strong example being one where Beatrix is buried alive and tries to break free. The dimly lit space creates a real sense of claustrophobia, heightened by Thurman's strong performance, which works with the mise-en-scene in the escape to create a real feeling of a woman determined. Thurman's performance is strong and determined throughout, and she is well supported, most especially by Carradine, who brings an excellent amount of wisdom and authority to the character, but also successfully creates the character's kind, sympathetic and caring side.

It is by no means great film making, but it is gritty, and sometimes deep, regardless of the flaws in the screenplay. It is just a shame this was the first film by Tarantino to not be worth four stars or more, a rating no Tarantino film has achieved since.

2004.
18.
Stars: Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah, Gordon Liu, Sonny Chiba, Julie Dreyfus, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Perla Haney-Jardine, Chris Nelson, Larry Bishop.

Golden Globe nominations: Best Actress - Drama (Uma Thurman), Best Supporting Actor (David Carradine).

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Paul


***

As two British sci-fi nerds (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) travel across America, they are joined by Alien Paul (Seth Rogen), whom they agree to help get home, which proves harder than initially thought with the government on their back.

Throughout we are offered a witty screenplay, which at no point threatens to be dominated by typical nerdy sci-fi, but rather mocks it - Paul mocks Klingon; and which has numerous neat references to other science-fiction films such as Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), among others; as well as a lot of referencing to science-fiction fandom, with scenes taking place in science-fiction conventions and comic book stores, as well as offering us a stereotypical depiction of a sci-fi nerds yearning to meet sci-fi authors and their obsession with collecting merchandise. The film is also another in which Pegg and Frost prove what a strong comic double act they are, as the pair display a wonderful rapport and one of their typical friendships - banter, a little oneupmanship, some bickering, but at the end of the day are two friends who love each other and would do anything for each other, with this on screen relationship resulting in some references to previous Pegg-Frost comedies Spaced (1999-2001), Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Hot Fuzz (2007).

The film does, however, start to fall short of being a solid sci-fi comedy thanks to the screenplay in places. The film focuses too much on Paul's relationship with Graeme and Clive, which is always entertaining thanks to strong comic rapport, timing and delivery by Pegg, Frost and Rogen, as well as a strong voice performance by Rogen, but as a result the supporting cast generally get a major lack of screentime and development, with the character arc of Jason Bateman's Special Agent Zoil coming to a confusing head, which can only be understood if you think long and hard about previous dialogue; while Sigourney Weaver's main antagonist is heard but not seen until the final 10 minutes, and when she does finally appear her brief, and poorly written - bitchy and slightly goofy - just becomes a disappointment, after we build a picture in our heads of an almost Bond villain, as she is meant to be a genuinely scary woman.

Nevertheless, the film is entertaining and achieved what it set out to - mocking sci-fi with an entertaining screenplay. I will never approve of the way it depicts Christianity, with the only character Christian at the end of the film (John Carroll Lynch) being a shotgun weilding maniac, unwilling to accept things such as modern medicine, and this view, plus how Paul shows the creation of the world just seems a half-hearted attempt to promote Atheism - writers and stars Pegg and Frost both being openly Atheist - and as a Christian I really can't stand this negative portrayal of Christianity.


2011.
15.
Stars:
Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Jason Bateman, Bill Hader, Joe Lo Truglio, Sigourney Weaver, Blythe Danner, John Carroll Lynch, Jane Lynch, Mia Stallard, David Koechner, Jesse Plemons, Jeffrey Tambor.

National Movie Award: Comedy.
National Movie Award nominations: Performance of the Year (Simon Pegg), Performance of the Year (Nick Frost).

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Kill Bill: Volume 1


****

After Jackie Brown (1997) acclaimed gangster Director Quentin Tarantino seemed to disappear from public view and Hollywood. However, in 2003 he came back with a bang (or a slash) with this excellent martial arts revenge tale.

The film follows Beatrix Kiddo (Uma Thurman), who wakes up from a four year coma, the lone survivor of a massacre at her wedding rehearsal by the assassins she worked with, with only one thing on her mind - revenge. Beatrix then writes her hit list, containing the names of her Deadly Viper Squad, and their boss and the mastermind behind the massacre - Bill (David Carradine). This leads to her going overseas to receive a new sword and find the members of her hit list in what becomes a series of deadly and bloody events.

Part revenge tale, part martial arts masterpiece, and part bloody slasher (it's Tarantino, there's almost always rivers of blood), this is the last film Tarantino made before he (in my view) went down hill: Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004) being a three star film, which felt rushed and anti-climactic compared to this predecessor; Death Proof (2007) being an altogether sloppy and dragged piece of two star film making; and Inglorious Basterds (2009) being a three star film that felt disjointed, and lost my approval for the rewriting of history - I don't cut any slack for James Cameron and the inaccuracies he brought to screen with Titanic (1997), so I  couldn't in good conscience cut Tarantino any slack.

Cleverly crafted together, Beatrix's emotional arc tells an emotionally driven story of one woman against all odds to avenge. Thurman gives a dynamite performance as this driven, passionate woman, making her hate for her former allies so heartfelt, but also tugs at the heartstrings as she grieves for those who she has lost - especially her (assumably) unborn child. The audience is drawn in by her as we see her fight with passion, and Thurman truly steals the show. Easily her strongest co-star in this installment is Lucy Liu as O-Ren Ishii, who makes the martial arts queen cold-hearted, sinister and very authoritive in a very powerful and attention grabbing performance.

The film is also beautifully choreographed from start to end, but no scene more so than Beatrix's fight with O-Ren's armies, in which she takes out dozens of sword-wielding henchmen. Featuring beautiful cinematography which really captures the beauty and grace of a skilled martial artist, a tense sequence shot in black-and-white, and vivid use of bloody colours, this is possibly the best scene in the entire film, and won't let the viewer's attention quiver for a second.

Visually beautiful, yet gritty, with a dynamite cast cleverly crafted together with a strong narrative, this is one of Tarantino's best films to date - not quite on the same level as Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Pulp Fiction (1994), but still a powerful piece of film making that one won't be forgetting in a hurry.

2003.
18.
Stars: Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, David Carradine, Vivica A. Fox, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah, Julie Dreyfus, Sonny Chiba, Chiaki Kuriyama, Gordon Liu, Michael Parks, James Parks, Michael Bowen, Jun Kunimura, Sakichi Sato.

BAFTA nominations: Best Actress (Uma Thurman), Best Editing (Sally Menke), Best Visual Effects (Tommy Tom, Tam, Kai Kwan, Wai Kit Leung, Wong Hin Leung, Jaco), Best Sound (Michael Minkler, Mark Ulano, Myron Nettinga, Wylie Stateman).

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

The Silent House

La Casa Muda

**

When Laura (Florencia Colluci) and her father (Gustavo Alonso) go to help their friend Nestor (Abel Tripaldi) repair his derelict cottage, they stay the night and Laura ends up trapped in the house with an unseen killer who murders her father, and while investigating discovers some shocking secrets.

Shot in one continuous take the film's narrative is told in real time. Technically this is a good achievement, and one can only accredit how well it is done to Cinematographer Pedro Luque, who uses a handheld camera and walks with the actors, which works very well as we see the entire narrative almost from Laura's perspective, then Nestor's towards the end. On the one hand this could have been done better, as the fact that the Cinematography gets so shaky and even blurry in some sequences does make the narrative feel more like a dream than a horrific true story - the events the film is apparently based on took place over 60 years earlier, but the tale sounds more like a myth than fact.

However, with the narrative being told in real time the film ends up suffering the same problem as Alfred Hitchcock's Rope did 62 years earlier, as the screenplay becomes dragged out and filled up with some very slow moving and pointless scenes, which like some of the scenes in Rope, were most likely only written so that the film would get a reasonable running time. What starts off with the potential to be quite a tense and gritty horror - thanks to a reasonably tense score composed by Hernán González, and a house that is designed to look like your typical haunted house - ends up just becoming another low budget attempt at a frightener which doesn't frighten that much as Fragile (2005) and Furnace (2006) were before it.
The number of scenes which are pointless and poorly paced result in the film becoming more of a boar than a frightener, and with the number of anti-climactic scenes one just ends up not taking the film at all seriously, and becomes very conscious of its faults. As for the film's twist at the end, it is so poorly written, and not well realized, with so little of the film's running time dedicated to it that by the time it is done it is simply a poor ending to a ridiculous story.

A promise of technical achievement, this film has not much more going for it, and half the film ends up being Laura creeping or running around in hysterics, in what becomes a fairly ridiculous and very flawed piece of film making, although it is fair to say that it is the best that could be done with its low independent budget.


2010.
15.
Spanish with Subtitles.
Stars: Florencia Colluci, Abel Tripaldi, Gustavo Alonso, María Salazar.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Titanic Honour and Glory Exhibition


Three weeks ago I went down to Chatham Dockyards to see the travelling Titanic Honour and Glory Exhibition. The Exhibition is a very moving one and a very historical one also, featuring artefacts from the debris field, personal possessions of passengers and crew now long deceased, newspaper articles from the day of the sinking, and articles concerning the enquiries in subsequent weeks. As well as this there were many statistics, details of theories, lists of those on board - both survivors and those lost - and a short film about sister ship RMS Olympic (review here), as well as items from sister ships Olympic and Britannic.

The Exhibition also features props and costumes from the 1997 film. As the latest in a longish line of Titanic researchers I lost respect for James Cameron as (particularly in the depiction of First Officer Murdoch) he showed some fair disregard for historical accuracy. However, I will give him his dues as he very well depicted the contrast between the social classes, and also the fear and panic in the final minutes, as well as doing a terrific job with the ship's final minutes. What the film also did was get a whole new generation interested in the ship. At Titanic Exhibitions one wonders how many there have genuine interest, or are there due to their love for the film, but at the end of the day Titanic is the most famous shipwreck in history, and is one of those stories almost the entire world are aware of one way or another. Here are some snaps of the film's props and costumes I got...

A lifebelt 
 Rose's note to Cal
 One of Rose's many fine dresses and one of Cal's tuxedos
 First class Dining Room chair
 Jack's signature semi-scruffy attire and one of Rose's dresses
 Various small props that cameod in the film
 The Heart of the Ocean necklace
 The famous drawing that led the character of Rose to return to Titanic 84 years on
Bernard Hill signed photo, next to a photo of him as Captain Smith


Also at Chatham Dockyards is the miniature of the submarine in Bond film The World is Not Enough (1999), which was used for the exterior shots (and yes, the scribe on the sign got the year of the film's distribution wrong)...


Friday, 16 September 2011

The Blind Side


***

The film tells the true story of Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron), a homeless youth taken in by wealthy Christian interior designer Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock), who treats him as a son, helping his school grades go up and helping him channel his attention and size into becoming an incredibly talented and powerful football player.

The film is a quite sensitive story that is as much Michael's as it is Leigh Anne's, and which demonstrates the contrast between the rich and the poor, as well as the deep importance that love and strong relationships truly have. Michael's story in both real life and the film is a typical, yet moving rags to riches type story, albeit it is one that involves help from a person willing to make the effort, unlike the rags to riches of Slumdog Millionaire (2008), and is quite moving as Aaron beautifully depicts the nervousness and shyness of one whom has been opressed his entire life, through wonderful facial expressions. Leigh Anne's true story depicts a woman who is desperate to help Michael become the best he can be, through a combination of maternal love and instinct, her Christian duty, and her belief that everyone deserves a chance in life, in a fantastic Oscar-winning performance from Bullock that is packed full of heartfelt emotion.
The idea of how Leigh Anne's views that everyone deserves an equal chance in life threatens to get self-contradicted though, when Leigh Anne goes to the hood, and makes it clear to the ridiculously stereotypical hoodies that effectively they are worth next to nothing and deserve the life they have, which also contradicts the fact that as a Christian she surely believes we are all equal in the eyes of God, and made in his image as I do, although one could argue that these hoodies have got to the point where they aren't going to get anywhere in life and are unable to do anything about it - early 20s, no qualifications, no prospects. As for the idea of family love and the importance of it, this is so clear in Michael and the relationships he has with Leigh Anne, her husband Sean (Tim McGraw) and her kids Collins (Lily Collins) and SJ (Jae Head), all of which are loving and protective, as well as successful in building Michael's confidence, and realising that he has a talent which he excels in, and which are created perfectly by the cast who really click and display a great on screen bond.

Although the film displays successfully the competitiveness of football, the film does however, understate just how brutal it can be, with the only example of true brute force in the game being displayed when Michael takes down his opponents with raw power. These moments really display just how brutal a game can be when you have at least 130 kilos of almost solid muscle playing, however, the rest of the players seem so easy to take down, and it does not feel at all natural, rather quite rehearsed instead, which does not make successful on screen football.

The film's other big issue is the screenplay. Although it is quite sensitive in places, as mentioned above, it does get quite underdeveloped and not that grown up in places. For example, the hoodies are all stereotypes - listen to loud rap music, swear and use slang, drink, give death threats and in one case are single teenage parents, and although the real Michael Oher may have come from a ghetto like this, one feels that it is too much of a stereotypical class difference between the Tuohys and hoodies. The other problem is the film's pacing, as one minute it is family life, the next sorting Michael's school work out, the next a football game and with trips to the ghetto coming in at various points, and the film jumps from one of these events to the next with many of them receiving little development and also dialogue that is not as powerful as one would expect when one considers the themes of the film.

For myself, however, another issue with the film is that the themes of Christianity are quite underdeveloped. In terms of a Christian household, the only signs one sees are the fact that they say Grace before Thanksgiving dinner and the kids going to a Christian school. In the film both teachers at the school and Leigh Anne talk about their moral Christian duty, which is all well and good to a certain extent, but one would expect a lot more reference to the life of Christ and the words of the Bible when explaining why they do their deeds, seeing as they have been Christians for a number of years. The other problem is how Leigh Anne's narration closes as she thanks God for Michael (SPOILER ALERT) getting into college and then also thanks Lawrence Taylor. Now, would a practicing Christian who raises her kids as Christian really thank Lawrence Taylor almost as much as she would thank God. Really? Would she? I'm certainly not convinced, and it does make for a poor final line to the film.

Sensitive the film is, and moving in places as well, but it is a rather flawed film indeed, and also understates the theme of Christianity that is meant to be an important part of the film. It's a reasonable film, but it is not brilliant, not by a long shot, despite the fact it has a strong cast lead by Aaron and Bullock.


2009.
12.
Stars: Quinton Aaron, Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw, Lily Collins, Jae Head, Ray McKinnon, Kathy Bates, Kim Dickens, Adriane Lenox.

Oscar: Best Actress (Sandra Bullock).
Oscar nomination: Best Picture (Gil Netter, Andrew A. Kosove, Broderick Johnson).

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

An Example of how Creating/Designing a Live-Action Sequence is not that Different from an Animated Sequence

This is by no means a brilliant example of how the two aren't that different, but here's a scene from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010) in the various stages of its design and creation...





As you can see Step 1 is a pen on paper sketch; Step 2 is a more artistic, painted image; Step 3 is on the basic set with the green-screen; Step 4 is the final finished, post-CGI image.

Here is the creation of a sequence from Toy Story 3 (2010)...






Step 1 is a pen on paper sketch; Step 2 a chalk design; Step 3 a basic Computer Animation; Step 4 more details are added; Step 5 the final image.

Ironically the final image is one created for promotion, while the one used in the film changed the positions of several characters, most notably Woody. Anyway, that's a trivial matter. The point is that there are several stages to creating a sequence in a live-action and in an animation, and each one is more detailed and creates a strong final image - the Harry Potter one a strong piece of editing and CGI, the Toy Story 3  one being a very detailed piece of animation.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

The Lady from Shanghai


***

When Michael O'Hara (Orson Welles) meets Elsa (Rita Hayworh) the two fall for each other, and Michael begins working for her rich Attorney husband, Arthur (Everett Sloane). Later, Michael is framed for a murder he didn't commit, and while Arthur prepares a defence, the real killer is a lot nearer than expected.

Technically the film is very strong, with some wonderful background settings for the plottings of murder - isolated on a yacht or a beach; a beautifully designed location for Michael to hide after fleeing from court - a theatre in China Town with stunningly designed sets and costumes; and an intricately designed and choreographed climactic shoot out in a Hall of Mirrors, which makes great use of reflection and a sense of unknowing is really built by the fact one can't tell which Elsa or which Arthur is the real one, and the suspense of it is also built by a strong score by Heinz Roemheld.

In terms of the narrative, however, the film is rather patchy through out. Welles is quite charming as O'Hara in a rougish charm, and writes the character to be quite philosophical, as well as successfully creating a strong Irish accent for the character; while Elsa is written to be quite a seductive, free spirit type woman, who hates being tied down to a husband. In contrast to this, however, Arthur is written to be quite unbelievably sleazy, and although his being a bit of a sleaze could be accepted, he is just too much so one for a character who is also meant to be a refined and incredibly successful Attorney. As for his Law partner, George (Glenn Anders), whom ultimately sets up the whole theme of murder, we have a very poorly written character offered to us, one whom we can't take seriously as he is not only sleazy and foolish, but his manipulative side is written to be like a less funny version of the Joker from Batman, and whom can't keep his face still or serious, in what results in being an altogether irritating character and performance.

Although, sly and charming in places the screenplay does also manage to raise the odd chuckle with its gags, particularly in Michael's trial which uses some excellent word play to make it a comically verbal trial for sure. The other problem, however, is attempts to be comical within the screenplay, which simply do not work. Probably the best example of this is when Michael fights two court guards in the Judge's (Erskine Sanford) office, which results in all manner of things being broken or thrown, a bookcase getting pushed over, and ridiculously exaggerated punches being thrown, in what is clearly an attempt at a farcical fight, but which just ends up looking too exaggerated and well rehearsed. However, this is more than made up for by the terrific, suspenseful climax in the Hall of Mirrors.

Altogether this is an enjoyable piece of film making that has two solid leads in the forms of Welles and Hayworth, and even if the film does fall flat in places, the climax rounds off the film with a bang.


1947.
PG.
Stars: Orson Welles, Rita Hayworth, Everett Sloane, Glenn Anders, Ted de Corsia, Erskine Sanford, Gus Schilling, Carl Frank, Louis Merrill, Evelyn Ellis, Harry Shannon.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Untitled Short Film about RMS Olympic


***

Presumably filmed in the early 1910s, this Untitled 5 to 10 minute piece of film, presumably made to advertise a voyage on RMS Olympic, one of RMS Titanic's sister ships, during its early days as a cruise ship, by depicting a day in the life of a First Class passenger - the meals, the various rooms for socialising, and time in the various sports rooms.

The film is rather interesting, particularly if you have an interest in the Titanic, as I do, as it displays the luxury in the First Class, and one can see from the background passengers just how comfortable and luxurious it was on board, and also what a wonderful social experience it was - cigars in the Smoking Room, sparring matchs in the Gymnasium. It also shows just how hard the unseen crew worked, by showing the kitchen staff preparing dinner with all kind of impliments that one can't believe ever existed within the last century. This is as it would have been on the Titanic and it is a reflection of how the pre-World War I rich would holiday and in some cases move to a different continent.

The piece of film does, however, look far too rehearsed for an advertisement that is shot like a documentary, more so in the most prominent passengers in the film than those in the background, and it doesn't feel very natural at all, and comes across fairly cheesy in places thanks to the expressions which look slightly exaggerated. However, this does not stop it from being an interesting little piece of film. As far as I am aware it is only available to see when one goes to see the travelling Titanic Honour and Glory Exhibition, which is a shame, but the exhibition is definetly one to go to, and this film is among the highlights. I will write about the exhibition later this week.


1910s (Early).
Silent with Intertitles.

It Always Rains on Sunday


***

When Tommy Swann (John McCallum) escapes from prison he tracks down his ex-lover Rose (Googie Withers), who agrees to hide him from the Police, not thinking about the effects it could have on her marriage to middle-aged Harry Sandigate (Edward Chapman).

This is not a brilliant film from Ealing Studios, such as Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) is. The film's not that brilliantly paced, with a number of scenes which tend to drag, and which one feels were sloppily written to reach the target (and actual) running time of 92 minutes. The cast is also quite a mixed bag. Withers gives a sensitive leading performance, depicting Rose as a woman torn between the loyalty to her husband and the love for her ex; while McCallum makes Tommy a man desperate for freedom, giving a good portrayal of the character's agression; and Chapman depicts the London working class character of Harry as a genuine image of the working class man and his lifestyle of that era. The most obvious flaws in the casting come in the form of Harry's teenage daughters, Vi (Susan Shaw) and Doris (Patricia Plunkett), both of whom fail to give a convincing portrayal of two sisters, with the little bond between the two depicted woodenly, and with Shaw depicting Vi's resentment of Rose too cockily, and Plunkett understating Doris's frustration with her older sister.

The film, however, is an interesting and accurate depiction of a working class family in the 1940s. Marriage resulted in Rose having to become a housewife, cooking, cleaning and sorting out the ration books, as many married women had to, post World War II; while George is a working man who goes down the pub with his friends. This depiction of a working class family is wholly accurate as it was the social expectation that a working class family would live in this way, and watching it today and comparing it to the near non-existent social restrictions in terms of employment really makes one think. The film is also a depiction of yearnings for freedom. It is not just Tommy who yearns to be free of his imprisonment, but Rose is a subtle, yet moving depiction of one who wishes to be free from her dependancy on her husband, and live an independent, enjoyable life as she had before, which is truly sparked more than anything else by Tommy coming back into her life.

An enjoyable and interesting, though not brilliant, film from Ealing Studios, this film is definetly worth a viewing, though it is by far not one of the classics.


1947.
PG.
Stars: Googie Withers, John McCallum, Edward Chapman, Susan Shaw, Patricia Plunkett, Jack Warner, David Lines, Sydney Tafler, Betty Ann Davies, John Slater, Jane Hylton, Frederick Piper, Alfie Bass, Michael Howard, Meier Tzelniker, Jimmy Hanley, John Carol, Hermione Baddeley, Nigel Stock, John Salew, Gladys Henson.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Mandy


****

After several years of trying to teach their deaf-mute daughter Mandy (Mandy Miller) to communicate, Christine (Phyllis Calvert) and Harry (Terence Morgan) enrol her into a special education establishment in the hope they will be able to break the communication barrier.

Throughout this film is a sensitive depiction of the emotional struggles of a deaf child, unable to understand why she can't communicate, and unable to understand the people around her. In several scenes we see the narrative from Mandy's perspective, with all background sounds and surrounding dialogue muted, and it is quite hard-hitting to think that this was how the world seemed to so many people, in the days before modern methods to overcome this obstacle were introduced, and generates a generally moving emotional response.

The emotional struggles are depicted most though through the best performance in the film, which comes from Miller, who was aged just seven when she filmed. With no dialogue, Miller conveys all of Mandy's fears and anxieties felt for a world she can't connect with at all through her facial expressions, which display her upset and fears perfectly, without overdoing them, or understating them, in what is truly a remarkable performance.
Miller is well supported by some sensitive performances from a strong cast of adults, though the most memorable are Calvert and Morgan, who play a wonderful contrast in characters, Calvert playing the emotionally strained yet determined mother, and Morgan the insensitive father, with the two actors playing the contrast perfectly and portraying true tension between the two characters very well.

An altogether sensitive drama, this film comes as a huge surprise to all who watch Ealing films, as it is a huge contrast to the comedies that Director Alexander Mackendrick made - e.g. Whisky Galore! (1949) and The Ladykillers (1955).


1952.
PG.
Stars: Mandy Miller, Phyllis Calvert, Terence Morgan, Jack Hawkins, Godfrey Tearle, Dorothy Alison, Marjorie Fielding, Nancy Price, Edward Chapman, Patricia Plunkett, Eleanor Summerfield, Colin Gordon, Julian Amyes, Jane Asher, John Cazabon, Gabrielle Brune.

BAFTA nominations: Best Film, Best British Film, Best British Actor (Jack Hawkins), Best British Actress (Phyllis Calvert), Most Promising Newcomer to Film (Mandy Miller), Most Promising Newcomer to Film (Dorothy Alison).

Friday, 9 September 2011

Treasure Island


**

When Billy Bones (Finlay Currie) dies he leaves a map to Captain Flint's treasure to Jim Hawkins (Bobby Driscoll). Jim goes on an expedition across the sea to find it and is taken under the wing of the cook, Long John Silver (Robert Newton). However, Silver and the crew turn out to be pirates, putting Jim, Dr Livesy (Denis O'Dea), Captain Smollett (Basil Sydney) and Squire Trelawney (Walter Fitzgerald) in mortal danger.

The film is quite good visually, with a lot of effort gone into the costumes to give them a genuinely strong 18th Century look and feel while the Hispaniola is well designed, and made to feel like a grand and majestic ship.  The fights, however, look far too rehearsed and forced, with little feeling of authenticity, and the feeling of amateur fights instead.

The cast are a rather mixed bag, with the strongest being Newton, who captures the pirate/sea dog stereotye down to a tee, while also making the character believably caring and compassionate. O'Dea and Fitzgerald are both rather refined as Livesy and Trelawney, with O'Dea displaying a very kind performance and Fitzgerald capturing the pompous aristocratic type very well; while Sydney is quite authoritive and firm as Smollett. Driscoll however is the major drag down, with poor delivery and expression, making the character generally wooden and an altogether poor lead. The rest of the crew aren't particularly strong, not making hugely convincing pirates, but the majority of them get very little screentime and development. As for the character of crazy hermit Ben Gunn, actor Geoffrey Wilkinson overexaggerates the character's poor mental state and general anxieties, making the character altogether unconvincing and wooden.

The other flaw is the inconsistent screenplay, which is quite slow-moving in some parts of the film, while rushed in other parts of the film, making it quite tedious to watch at times. The screenplay also fails to give the characters substantial development, making them generally one-sided and bland. The dialogue is also poorly written, and has an altogether childish and also slightly cheesy feel to it, making the film drag. As a result of all of these factors among others the film fails to capture the magic of the classic book by Robert Louis Stevenson, and is a film that is of a fairly weak standard.


1950.
U.
Stars: Bobby Driscoll, Robert Newton, Denis O'Dea, Basil Sydney, Walter Fitzgerald, Geoffrey Wilkinson, Ralph Truman, Geoffrey Keen, Finlay Currie, Francis de Wolff, David Davies, John Gregson, John Laurie, Andrew Blackett, William Devlin, Harold Jamieson.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Harry Brown


**

When his best friend (David Bradley) is killed by a gang of hoodies, elderly ex-Marine Harry Brown (Michael Caine) is sickened by the lack of results by the Police, so takes up vigilante action, killing all the scum on the estate.

The film is effectively gritty, making good use of fake blood to make this an effectively gory film. The film also uses strong use of the shadows and dark alleyways to build up suspense and bring a dark feel to the film. Grit is also added to the film by Caine’s performance, which is authoritive and determined to avenge. The quality of the cast is very patchy, with all the actors playing hoodies creating stereotypical chavs quite well, albeit overdoing the aggression, but Emily Mortimer and Charlie Creed Miles, playing the CID Officers investigating it all give bored, fairly wooden performances.

The main problem with the film is that it is far too unbelievable. Are we honestly meant to believe this pensioner with strong morals could so easily kill so many hoodies and drug dealers, without A) getting overpowered, especially when so many of his foes have guns and knives or B) feeling any remorse for his actions. The other problem is that the character of Harry is so self-contradictory – he hates the hoodies as they had presumably killed Len in cold blood, but then kills in cold blood himself. The other unbelievable factor is the fact that the Police seem so stupid, not taking anything too seriously and just seem so incapable of doing their jobs, which is a poor and hugely inaccurate depiction of the Police Force.

The film is fairly gritty but it is far too sloppy and farfetched, and is quite a disappointment, particularly when compared to recent triumphs of low-budget, suburban British cinema such as This is England (2006).


2009.
18.
Stars:
Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Charlie Creed Miles, Ben Drew, Jack O'Connell, Liam Cunningham, David Bradley, Sean Harris, Jamie Downey, Iain Glen, Lee Oakes, Joseph Gilgun.

Empire Award: Best British Film.
Empire Award nominations: Best Thriller, Best Actor (Michael Caine).

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Invasion of the Body Snatchers


***

When Alien pods start landing in San Francisco they clone and replace humans as emotionless beings, and for Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland) and his friends it is a race against time and against the odds to escape San Francisco.

From the start of the film you know that there is something wrong with San Francisco and something weird and possibly unexplainable is happening within its community, as the film opens with an odd, slightly creepy shot of a Priest (Robert Duvall), expressionless as he goes up and down on a swing. From here the film grows more and more tense and creepy as more and more people become emotionless, and once the truth about the pods is revealed the film becomes a full on adrenaline rush against the odds. Thanks partly to the strong performances, which help build up the characters as strong characters, and we feel their fear as it is displayed on screen. It is also partly due to the fact that in a city the size of San Francisco it really does seem the end, and the characters have to really fight a passionate, no-limits fight to escape with their souls.

The film also uses some very shocking imagery in Matthew's climactic attempt to escape from what seems to be every single resident in San Francisco. The shocking image in question is a human head on a dog's body, which happened when the pod became confused by the DNA of a tramp (Joe Bellan) who slept with his dog (Misty) pressed against him, in what is an effective piece of make-up which will really make the viewer jump as they see this unexpected mutant for the first time.
It is things like this however, which drag the film down, as the film is a fairly big budget sci-fi/horror, and the fact it is so big and extravagent robs it of the magic of the sophisticated, low-budget original which was a lot more sophisticated and felt just as bleak as this one, with a lot less to attribute to its success, while this film ends up feeling like and becoming a big budget Hollywood remake of a simple idea. This usually fails, but in this case it works reasonably well as it is a film about mankind's individualism and how we should fight for said individualism, just like the original, and it gets the message across quite well. It isn't a brilliant film, and nowhere near as good as the original, but it is still a pretty good film, definetly worth a viewing.


1978.
15.
Stars:
Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright, Leonard Nimoy, Art Hindle, Lelia Goldoni, Kevin McCarthy, Don Siegel, Tom Luddy, Stan Richie, David Fisher, Tom Dahlgren, Garry Goodrow, Joe Bellan, Jerry Walter.

Saturn Awards: Best Director (Philip Kaufman), Best Sound (Art Rochester, Mark Berger, Andy Wiskes).
Saturn nominations: Best Science Fiction Film, Best Actor (Donald Sutherland), Best Actress (Brooke Adams), Best Supporting Actor (Leonard Nimoy), Best Special Effects (Russel Hessey, Dell Rheaume), Best Make-Up (Thomas R. Burman, Edouard F. Henriques).

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Black Gold


****

In this documentary by the Francis brothers we get an intimate insight into the Ethiopian coffee trade, as the documentary explores just how much hard work 15 million Ethiopians making a living from it put in with so little reward, while chains like Starbucks bring in the profits.

The documentary is very thought provoking and hits hard as we are offered sensitive and brutally honest truths first hand from coffee farmers. For us coffee is an every day almost essential - I drink at least two mugs a day - and they work all the hours to provide it for us. Generally, we barely work two-thirds the daily hours they do, but we reap good rewards we take for granted - good food, clean water, new clothes, and we get a good education, all of which is offered to us on a plate. Despite their hard work they live in poverty without any of these things.

As they speak of how they feel about all of this in between details of profits chains such as Starbucks make in a year, one really appreciates how blessed they are as their view of coffee is changed. Watching this and thinking about it now I feel guilty as I have been so blessed in my life, and take it all for granted, while they would do anything to have what I have, yet they work all hours to provide something I drink at least a litre of daily. The harsh realities really provoke thoughts and your hearts will go out to those farmers, as we hear their views in sensitive, intimate expressions of emotions.


2006.
E.


Sundance Film Festival nomination: Grand Jury Prize (World Cinema: Documentary - Marc Francis, Nick Francis).

Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: The Adventure Begins


**

Not long after his partner Warp (Diedrich Bader) is killed, Space Ranger Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) has to save the entire Galactic Alliance, when Evil Emperor Zurg (Wayne Knight) steals the Uni-Mind to brainwash all to do his evil bidding.

Brought, colourful and quite well drawn, the animation creates a feeling of a vast galaxy boasting numerous alien species by displaying so many different character designs within the background characters. However, the character of Buzz just isn't at all charming, not least because he is hand drawn instead of computer animated as he is in the Toy Story films and shorts (1995-), and the same applies to the Green Aliens (Patrick Warburton).
Equally, none of the characters are charming as they are one-sided and underdeveloped, and the energy and enthusiasm the voice cast bring to them isn't even enough to make up for this. The events too are underdeveloped and too many events are crammed into the 67 minute running time, with the film becoming rushed and ending with a bit of an anti-climactic battle against Zurg and his army.

So, this film is too rushed and charmless, and worked better when shown on TV as a three-parter debut for the subsequent TV Series (2000-1).


2000.
U.
Stars:
Tim Allen, Wayne Knight, Nicole Sullivan, Stephen Furst, Larry Miller, Adam Carolla, Diedrich Bader, Patrick Warburton.

DVD Exclusive Awards nominations: Best Animated Video Premiere (Mike Karafilis, Mark McCorkle, Robert Schooley, Tad Stones), Best Animated Character Performance (Greg Guler: key character designer: Buzz Lightyear; Tim Allen: voice).

Saturday, 3 September 2011

The Siege



**

When a series of terrorist attacks hit New York FBI Agents Hubbard (Denzel Washington) and Haddad (Tony Shalhoub) have their investigation taken over by US Army Major General Devereaux (Bruce Willis), with the soldiers patrolling the streets, imprisoning and even killing the members of New York's Arab community as they abuse their power.

Although there are some scenes that do a decent job of building the suspense, and the action scenes are appropriately graphic and gritty, with powerful explosions and vivid use of blood, the film's problem is the fact that it can't make up its mind about what it is. After a poorly paced first half, which is adamant that it is about stopping the terrorist attacks, the film can't decide if it is an all guns blazing action film, which it pretty much is as guns and shoot outs are in almost every scene of the secong half, or a political comment.
The gun violence, although gritty, is just repetitive and predictable after a little while, while the political comment is effectively saying that the US Army is prejudiced, big headed and make up their own rules, which is not only hugely incorrect, but also a weak and sloppy idea, that never gets any more developed than the soldiers walking around like tough guys, imprisoning and even killing members of the New York Arab community in a clear abuse of power. It is also racist as it reinforces what has unfortunately become a stereotype that all potential terrorists are Islamic, as only Islamic Arabs are rounded up in the film, no white male, or European is even considered for a second, and to watch this is quitely frankly sickening to the stomach. For more on the racial controvesy the film caused click here.
As for the cast, we are offered a cast where most of the actors give underdeveloped and unenthusiastic performances Willis tries too hard to be cocky and just cocks up his performance, although Washington is a decent lead and Shalhoub puts some good emotion into the character of Frank, though they are the only two reasonable performances in the film.

If you watch the first half of the film you'll get an enjoyable, albeit flawed experience. The second half has little redeemable quality to it and just can't be taken seriously at all, not least because it is reinforcing racist stereotypes, which has sparked controvesy.


1998.
15.
Stars: Denzel Washington, Annette Bening, Bruce Willis, Tony Shalhoub, Sami Bouajila, Aasif Mandvi, Ahmed Ben Larby.

Golden Raspberry Award: Worst Actor (Bruce Willis - also for Armageddon and Mercury Rising).

Friday, 2 September 2011

The 40-Year-Old Virgin


***

When his colleagues find out Andy (Steve Carell) is a 40-year-old virgin, they make it their job to get him laid, but with no success. When Andy meets Trish (Catherine Keener) he falls in love with her and they begin dating, but how can he tell her that he's never had sex when she is a mother of three?

The film is generally quite amusing, thanks to a farcical screenplay filled to bursting with innuendos - some are surprisingly funny, others are more gross humour than anything else and just fall short, double meanings, and characters who get themselves into comically awkward moments/situations. A number of the jokes just fail however, as they are far too crude, and it feels as if the screen writers are going out of their way to gross out and be inappropriate in their writing, though the screenplay at the end of the day amuses a good two-thirds of the time where it is clearly trying to.
The actors also give quite good performances. Carell plays the awkward comic geek stereotype perfectly, and despite what the character is setting out to do in this film there is so much sheer likeability in the character and the performance Carell gives, while Keener makes Trish a very kind and sensitive love interest for Andy. Meanwhile Paul Rudd, Seth Rogen and Romany Malco provide a comical trio, who time their comedy well, and (especially in Rogen's case) display strong comic delivery.

Aside from some cases of awful humour, what frustrates me about this film is its clear lack of morals and what it is telling us about life. What the film effectively is telling us is that it is necessary to get laid in order to be happy in life, and life is not complete until you have got laid. Seriously? Sex is a gift from God to be used the way he intends it to be used (within marriage), and to just sleep around for the fun of it with people you barely know, or picked up in a bar - like Andy's colleagues brag about doing - is a clear misuse of it. The film seems to be encouraging such behaviour, and totally disregards the fact that it degrades a person to a large extent to act in such a way.

Amusing it may be, but there is just such an unbelievable lack of morals to this film, which makes it shallow and crude in places. Its messages are just to be totally ignored, but fortunately the fact it is a comedy automatically makes it a film which can't be taken that seriously.


2005.
15.
Stars:
Steve Carell, Catherine Keener, Paul Rudd, Romany Malco, Seth Rogen, Jane Lynch, Elizabeth Banks, Kat Dennings, Leslie Mann, Gerry Bednob, Shelley Malil, Marika Dominczyk, Mindy Kaling, Mo Collins.

MTV Movie Award: Best Comedic Performance (Steve Carell).
MTV Movie Award nomination: Best Movie, Best Breakthrough Performance (Romany Malco), Best Performance (Steve Carell), Best On-Screen Team (Steve Carell, Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd, Romany Malco).