Monday, 20 June 2011

That was the week that was (13 - 19 June) - Part Two

Well, here we are with part 2 of the week's round up. Not much variety in the ratings this time around - four very good movies, with A History of Violence just doing enough to reach the lofty heights of a '9' grade.

Watchmen (2009)

I have to confess that I absolutely loved this film when it first came out. I know a lot of people thought it was terrible, I know it was directed by Zack Snyder, but despite those significant handicaps, I came out of the cinema dazzled. However, my initial goodwill towards the film was whittled away by reading a torrent of negative comments about the film on the internet, and by the poisonous critical reception given to Snyder's follow up movie, Sucker Punch. So, it was with some degree of trepidation that I decided to play the DVD of Watchmen; would it be as good as I remembered, or were the naysayers right? I suppose the truth is somewhere in between, but I still think Watchmen is much more interesting than the vast majority of superhero pictures to have come out in recent years. It is mostly successful in mixing together real world history with a fictional narrative in which superheroes have been protecting the streets of New York since the 1940s. It is also a visually beautiful film, with some dazzling uses of special effects, paticularly some of the sequences featuring the blue tinged atomic superman, Dr Manhattan. The plot, which is copied almost exactly from Alan Moore's brilliant comic book is full of twists and turns, and despite the two and a half hour running time, I never found myself bored with the film.  I think the problems with the movie stem from some poor acting on the part of a few of key performers (I'd single out Malin Akerman and Matthew Goode for particular opprobrium here; conversely, Jackie Earle Harley is terrific as Rorschach), as well as a slightly weak ending. Still, on the whole I'm still pretty happy to stand behind the film as being one of the best superhero movies of the last ten years, not quite up there with Christopher Nolan's Batman movies, but certainly in the conversation.

Rating: 8/10

On Dangerous Ground (1952)

This movie, like The Day The Earth Stood Still last week, was playing as a Sunday matinee showing at the local arthouse cinema. The plotline centres on the actions of an embittered, violent New York cop named Jim Wilson. Wilson spends the first half of the movie engaging in some strongarm tactics in an effort to track down two men suspected of killing another police officer. After his captain has had enough of his brutal methods, is sent upstate to get his head together (rather like Johnny Ryall). Rather than drinking some Thunderbird and feeling light as a feather, Wilson is instead ordered to assist the smalltown cops in the investigation into the killing of a young girl. On the trail of the killer, he is partnered up with the father of the girl, who is determined to kill the perpetrator before the police can arrest him. The duo track down the killer's movements to a farm, where he is being harboured by his sister, a stoical blind lady. It was rather interesting to see New York in a film noir from this era - most of the movies in genre which I've seen (such as Double Indemnity, have been set in Los Angeles. It creates a very different atmosphere - the dark streets and alleyways in the first half of the film are very different from the broad, palm fringed boulevards of LA, and the snowy vistas of upstate NY contrast strongly with the sundrenched Californian hills.  The film was divided into two very distinct halves - the first of which, on the mean streets of New York, I felt was very effective, showing the rough and tumble lives of the NY city cops, and how the demands of the job took its toll on the already fragile psyche of Wilson. However, the second half was a little less effective - Wilson's lengthy conversations with the murderer's sister stalled the momentum of the movie, which had until that point been told at a breakneck pace. Nevertheless, a very solid and entertaining film noir.

Rating: 8/10

A History of Violence (2005)

One of two recent forays by David Cronenbourg into movies examining the violent lives of gangsters (the other, Eastern Promises, also features Viggo Mortensen in a lead role). The film is initially set in smalltown Indiana, where Tom Stall (Mortsensen), the mild mannered owner of a local diner, seems to be living the American dream. He has a beautiful wife, two polite and intelligent children and the respect of the local community as the owner of a thriving business. However, after Stall intervenes in a robbery at his diner, saving the lives of a number of his customers and employees, he gains some unwanted national fame - which draws him to the attention of men representing the violent life he thought he had left behind. Rather like David Lynch, Cronenbourg takes great pleasure in showing the darkness that often lies beneath the seemingly normal American family. The violent setpieces are very well staged, and do not shy away from showing the gruesome end results. Mortensen is particularly good in the lead role, as his character gradually changes from the gentle family man he is in the beginning, to the dead eyed killer he regresses into. Top notch.

Rating: 9/10

Ghostbusters (1986)

A classic '80s movie, which deftly mixes comedy, horror and sci fi elements. Ghostbusters stars Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson, who team up to do battle with the hoardes of paranormal beings attacking New York. But of course, you knew that anyway. For me this film is all about Bill Murray. Pretty much every line which comes out of Murray's mouth is pure gold - even where what he's saying isn't all that funny, his deadpan, laconic drawl really sells it. Other highlights include a decidedly foxy Sigourney Weaver as Murray's love interest and Rick Moranis as a nebbishy accountant in Weaver's building. Apparently, they're making Ghostbusters III at the moment, though I don't want to get my hopes up too high - it could be Indiana Jones & The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull all over again.

Rating 8/10.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

That was the week that was (13 - 19 June) - Part One

Another busy week, with plenty of reviews to post, so it's going to be a two parter again. I'm going to be away next week (on holiday in America), so wanted to catch as many films as possible before I go.

Slums of Beverly Hills (1998)

Tamara Jenkins wrote and directed this film, which invites us to spent a few months in the life of Vivian Abramowitz (played by Natasha Lyonne) and family in 1970s Los Angeles.  Family patriarch Murray (Alan Arkin) has decided that it is vital for his family to live in upscale Beverly Hills, so that his kids can attend the best schools - but as a struggling car salesman he finds it difficult to pay the bills. As a result his clan are often forced to move house in the middle of the night to avoid angry landlords. In order to improve their financial situation, Murray offers to take in the daughter of his wealthy brother, who has recently left rehab, but her arrival throws the family into further turmoil... As a comedy, the film is not often laugh out loud funny, but it is quirky and has a lot of heart. The cast is uniformly excellent, but Kevin Corrigan (who plays an eccentric, Manson shirted pot dealer), and David Krumholtz (Viv's long suffering brother) are particularly good value, and enliven pretty much every scene they're in.

Rating: 8/10

Senna (2011)

As somebody with little to no interest in Formula One Racing,  I wasn't planning on watching this documentary about the life of three time champ Ayrton Senna, despite it receiving some rave reviews from the critics. However, as a couple of my friends were going along and I had nothing better to do, I thought I'd check it out. I'm very glad that I did - for my money, this may be the best film I've seen all year. Beginning with the start of Senna's F1 career in the mid 1980s, it tells a fascinating story of a great and fearless competitor, battling a great rival on the track (Alain Prost) and the corruption of the sport's governing body off it. The in car sequences are exhilarating, and watching it on the big screen you get a sense of the incredible speed of the cars, which doesn't really come across when you see the same images on TV. As the film moves towards the Senna's untimely death at the Imola circuit in San Marino, the sense of foreboding and dread which you feel is palpable. I also learned that during that same weekend, several other unrelated incidents took place, in which one driver (Rubens Barrichello) was seriously injured, and another (Roland Ratzenburger) died. Thankfully, safety has since been improved and Senna was the last F1 driver to die during a race. A moving tribute to a fantastic sportsman.

Rating: 9/10

The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

One of Wes Craven's earliest films, this '70s horror is set in an American backwater somewhere in the Nevada desert. A vacationing family en route from Cleveland to Los Angeles take the ill-fated decision to stop off in search of an abandoned silver mine - but when their car skids off the road they're forced into a battle for survival against a family of cannibalistic savages living in the nearby hills... I know this is meant to be a classic horror movie, but I wasn't terribly impressed with this one - I've liked some of Wes Craven's later work (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream etc.), but this film really didn't work for me. It isn't a complete failure - the tension is nicely built up in the first third of the movie, the scene in which the cannibals attack the camper van is memorably macabre, and it is refreshing to see a horror film where any there is the sense that the director isn't going to sanitise any of the violence - pretty much anything could happen. However, some of the performances (particularly by the guy who plays the holidaymakers' teenage son) are awful and there are long lulls in the picture where very little of interest happens. Despite the film's short running time, I was eagerly awaiting the finish of the movie well before it actually ended.  Craven obviously shot this movie on the cheap, and it shows - it's certainly nothing like as good as John Carpenter's Halloween, a movie made on a similar budget at around the same time.

Rating: 4/10

Adventureland (2009)

A film I saw in the cinema when it first came out, and have now seen two further times, Adventureland is tremendous fun. Jesses Eisenberg plays James Brennan, a recent college graduate in 1980s Pittsburgh who is looking forward to a summer of debauchery in Europe with his friends, followed by taking his place at Columbia University in New York to study journalism. Unfortunately, his father runs into financial difficulties, meaning that James has to spend the summer working at the rundown local theme park. Despite the soul crushing nature of running the (rigged) games at the park, he does make some new friends, including a potential love interest in the outspoken Em (Kristen Stewart). The central romantic plot between Eisenberg and Stewart is both sweet and genuine, and there are a host of brilliant supporting characters - including Martin Starr's put upon intellectual, Ryan Reynolds' park handyman/ fraud, and a guy called Frigo who keeps popping up unexpectedly to punch Eisenberg in the crotch! This is a really funny film, with a brilliant soundtrack full of classic alternative rock from the '80s.

Rating: 8/10

Altered States (1980)

I suppose to sum this movie up in a sentence, I would have to say "a less successful version of The Fly". It's not really a bad movie, and does feature some very diverting scenes, but it certainly isn't a patch on David Cronenbourg's masterpiece, with which it shares a number of similarities. (To be fair, The Fly came out six years later, so director Ken Russell can't be accused of plagiarism here). Like The Fly, Altered States focusses on the life of an eccentric scientist (played by William Hurt), whose dangerous experiments on himself lead him away from the woman who loves him. In this film, the experiments focus on a sensory deprivation tank - Hurt discovers that by staying in the tank for extended periods of time, he is exposed to troubling visions, often relating to his own lapsed religious faith and to the death of his father. Trying to get deeper into his experiences, Hurt travels to Mexico, where he obtains a psychedelic potion made from local tribesmen. By combining the potion with the effects of the sensory deprivation tank, Hurt is able regress into the mind of primitive man. There are some interesting ideas in this movie, and the scenes where Hurt experiences his visions are very powerful, but the plot of the film jumps from place to place, and from time to time without giving the viewer much time to adjust and the movie doesn't quite hang together as a whole.

Rating: 7/10

Well, that's about enough for today. I shall return tomorrow with the rest of the week's reviews, including:

On Dangerous Ground
A History of Violence
and possibly more...

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

The Big List

As I've been doing this blog for just under two months now, I thought it would be a good idea to do a bit of a round up of all the films I've seen so far. I've listed all of the movies I've reviewed below from best to worse (in my completely subjective opinion) - from absolute classics to utter bilge. It also shows which of the films graded say 7 were pretty close to an 8, and which of those were skirting on the brink of being awarded with a 6.

1. Taxi Driver (10/10)
2. The Shining
3. Hanna (9/10)
4. Paths of Glory
5. My Life As A Dog
6. The Social Network
7. Changeling
8. Sideways
9. Dogtooth (8/10)
10. The Last Picture Show
11. The Evil Dead
12. Four Lions
13. A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors
14. The Fog
15. The Sure Thing
16. Total Recall
17. Lilya-4-Ever
18. Trading Places
19. Beverly Hills Cop
20. 13 Assassins (7/10)
21. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
22. Lolita
23. Head-On (Gegen Die Wand)
24. Rio Bravo
25. A Nightmare On Elm Street 1
26. The Descent
27. Poltergeist
28. Spartacus
29. American Pie
30. The Haunting
31. The Day the Earth Stood Still
32. The Breakfast Club (6/10)
33. Kung Fu Panda 2
34. They Live
35. Fright Night
36. Saw
37. Meek's Cutoff
38. Iron Man 2
39. Caddyshack
40. Barry Lyndon
41. Thor
42. Wes Craven's New Nightmare (ANOES 7)
43. X-Men: First Class (5/10)
44. Scream 4
45. Vice Versa
46. The Secret of My Success
47. A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master
48. Funny People
49. Beverly Hills Cop 2
50. The Amityville Horror (4/10)
51. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge (3/10)
52. A Nightmare on Elm Street 6: Freddy's Dead
53. A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (2/10)
54. Birdemic: Shock and Terror (1/10)

So, looking through the 54 films seen so far, what trends have appeared? Firstly, I tend to give good marks to the majority of the films I've seen - only 5 movies scored less than a 5. I suppose this partly down to me generally finding something to like even in pretty average movies, and also because I usually only go to see films which I think I'm going to enjoy, whether that's at the cinema, or through LOVEFiLM.

The only movies to fail to make the threshold of a '5' were either (a) A Nightmare On Elm Street sequel which I felt obligated to see in the weekend where I was on a mission to see all the Freddy Krueger films back to back, or (b) Birdemic, which I was watching in anticipation of its being utterly terrible, and wasn't disappointed.

The vast majority of the other films I saw were films that I liked, but there were only a few which I felt were truly outstanding, and worthy of a mark above a 9. In fact, of those movies to score above a 9, only 2 were films which I was seeing for the first time - the rest were films I already knew I loved. So, congratulations are in order for Hanna and Paths of Glory, as the only 'new films' to reach the rarified heights of a '9' grade. I should also give an honourable mention to Dogtooth, which wasn't far off getting the same mark, but ultimately had to be satisfied with a high 8.

Anyway, that's about all I've been able to glean from my opening two months of movie blogging, but I shall return in a couple of months time to update the list.

Monday, 13 June 2011

That was the week that was (6 - 12 June) - Part Two

So here we go then - part 2 of last week's reviews...

Beverly Hills Cop (1984)/ Beverly Hills Cop II (1987)

This was another nostalgic trip for me - I think Beverly Hills Cop was the first film I decided was my 'favourite of all time'. (I then moved on to Batman, Terminator 2 for a few years, then LA Confidential (I think), Goodfellas, Dazed and Confused, Ghost World, Mulholland Drive - and now, probably Chinatown). Mind you, I was about 7 or 8 at the time. I think part of that was because BHC was one of the first '15' rated films I was able to see - so there was plenty of gun fights, bad language and explosions to enjoy. Also, at that age I decided that Eddie Murphy was just about the coolest man on the planet - for further details see last week's entry on Trading Places.  I'm not sure I've rewatched BHC since I was about 13, but generally, it holds up pretty well. Despite the film using almost every cop movie cliche in the book (just about the only thing I didn't see was the chief asking for Axel Foley's badge and gun), it's tremendous fun. Eddie Murphy still seems pretty fresh, the wisecracks and jokes mostly hit the mark, and the soundtrack's just as iconic as ever. Unfortunately, the sequel doesn't really deliver. The plot of BHC 2 is basically the same as the first one, and the script seems engineered to give Murphy as many chances as possible to bluff his way into uppercrust establishments, but everything rings rather hollow and stale here - no-one's heart really seems to be in it. There's also a series of really poor 'jokes' about Billy (Judge Reinhold)'s obssession with firearms and other deadly weapons, which don't work the first time, and get increasingly irritating as the film keeps going back to the same well as the movie progresses.

Ratings: Beverly Hills Cop: 8/10

Beverly Hills Cop 2: 5/10

The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)

The local arthouse cinema (The Watershed) is showing a season of films scored by Bernard Herrmannm, and as I wasn't doing much on Sunday, I thought I'd go along to a screening of this 1950s sci-fi classic. Apparently, this was the first movie to use theremins as a basis for the soundtrack (a theremin is an early form of electronic instrument) - a sound which is now widely associated with science fiction. The movie was interesting - a few of the primitive special effects got a laugh or two from the audience - but for all of the alien invasion plotting of the first ten minutes of the movie, for  the most part, the film is far more concerned with terrestrial matters. The alien, Klaatu (who amazingly looks just like us), has come to Earth in order to teach us foolish earthlings (or, if you're John Travolta, 'man-animals') that the nuclear arms race on Earth is imperilling our planet - and that if the major powers can't agree to a truce, alien powers will destroy the Earth to prevent us from harming anybody else. There are a few cheesy moments in the film (particularly the subplot where Klaatu befriends a 10 year old boy), but it's still an interesting film today despite the rather dated effects.

Rating: 7/10

Poltergeist (1982)

In which a family residing in a new build suburb in California are scared out of their wits by a spate of telekenetic activity in their home. Their youngest child, Carol Anne, seems to have a particular connection with the 'TV People' who have entered their house, and during one night of particularly violent activity, is sucked away into a the spirit world. This was another movie I decided to rewatch, having not seen it for a few years. When I initially saw this picture, I must have been about 18, and not being quite so desensitised to horror movies, I found it pretty scary. Now though, it doesn't have the same effect, though there are one or two good frights to be had (particularly the scene where one the researchers investigating the phenomenon has an hallucination which involves him tearing the skin off his face). Still, it's a well made movie, exploring similar themes to other Spielberg movies of the era (E.T., Close Encounters etc), but with rather a darker tone. This can be explained by the fact that Texas Chainsaw Massacre's Tobe Hooper was the director here, though apparently he was heavily supervised by Spielberg in his role as producer. Rather disturbingly, I read that both of the actresses who played the family's two daughters both died young in unusual circumstances, which puts rather a different perspective on viewing the film for a second time.

Rating: 7/10

Sideways (2004)

A movie which focusses on the relationship between two former college roommates, played by an excellent Paul Giamatti and an almost equally impressive Thomas Haden Church. The two amigos have long since grown apart - Giamatti is a depressive wine expert, attempting to get his novel published whilst still reeling from his divorce, Haden Church is a sleazy actor still living off the glories of a minor soap opera part he had eleven years ago - but decide to head to Northern California for a last hurrah before Haden Church is married. While Giamatti is hoping to spend time in the Wine Country sampling different grape varieties and playing a relaxed game of golf, Haden Church is desparate to have one final fling with somebody - anybody - before his impending wedding. All of this is the set up to an eventful week for both men, told at a relaxed (but never boring) pace. The film doesn't shy away from showing the dark sides of both of these characters, but you feel attached to them all the same. A really top notch comedy, and (rather surprisingly, given it's somewhat explicit content) my Grandma's favourite film of recent years.

Rating: 9/10

Sunday, 12 June 2011

That was the week that was (6 - 12 June) - Part One

Well, another week has gone by, and there are another batch of movies to review. Looking back through this blog, it seems like it's been a long time since I've done anything other than just rate the week's movies, so I will look to do another top 10 list in the near future. Possibly my top 10 films of all time (which may be a little difficult to rank - there are about 15-20 movies which I really love, but it's difficult to put them in any definitive order). Anyway, on with the week's reviews:

The Haunting (1963)

In which an academic with an interest in the paranormal gathers a group of very different individuals in a supposedly haunted house in New England. We have Eleanor, a nervous and neurotic woman in her late 30s, who is dealing with her own demons even before she encounters any supernatural phenomena; there is Theo, a brash confident young lady who appears to have a more than platonic interest in Eleanor. Luke, a skeptical and arrogant young man who expects to inherit the house is also along for the ride, and finally we have Dr John Markway, the man responsible for organising the experiment in the first place. As the group spend more time in the house, increasingly odd things start to happen... I've got to be honest - I wasn't really 'haunted' by this movie, despite some critics hailing it as one of the scariest films of all time. To be fair, a lot of the scares come from the eery noises which emanate from the house, and for some reason, the sound on my copy of the DVD would only go up to a certain (fairly quiet volume) before there was too much feedback from my TV to bear. Still, despite the lack of anything terrifying in the house, the film scores highly for some rather unusual camera angles used by the director, Robert Wise, which create a disturbing atmosphere, and for the interesting characterisation of Eleanor, who is virtually on the brink of a nervous breakdown even before she enters the house, and is driven over the edge by malevolent spirits.

Rating: 7/10

Lilya-4-Ever (2002)

I was interested in seeing this film after thoroughly enjoying director Lukas Moodysson's previous effort (Together), a sweet and funny picture about life in a hippie commune in 1970s Stockholm. Lilya-4-Ever is quite the opposite in tone to Together - where the earlier film showed what can be achieved when people work with one another, Lilya shows the awful consequences of everybody you encounter letting you down. The plot focuses on the life of Lilya, a 16 year old girl living in a bleak corner of the former Soviet Union (though some other reviews of this film state that this is Estonia, this is never made clear in the film). When Lilya's mother leaves her behind to start a new life in America with her new boyfriend, it is just the beginning of her misery and degradation, as she is tricked into becoming a statistic of an evil sex-trafficking ring. Her only friend during this ordeal is another young unfortunate, Volodya, whose brutal father's beatings lead to his near homelessness. There is very little hope in this film - the only escape the characters are able to experience comes through huffing glue in a plastic bag. A very well made film which highlights the horrifying realities of the sex-trafficking industry, but (rather like Requiem For A Dream) due to its extremely bleak nature, not a film which I'm likely to return to the near future.

Rating: 8/10

Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)

A lightweight but entertaining diversion, this movie came as a welcome change of pace after sitting through the gruelling Lilya-4-Ever. I was surprised by how much I liked the original Kung Fu Panda, and while this movie isn't quite as captivating, and there are certain rather dull stretches of the movie in its middle section, it's generally a worthy follow up to its predecessor. Jack Black and Angelina Jolie reprise their roles as Panda and Tigress, respectively - and there are a host of other household names lending their voices to the other animals. These include Seth Rogen, Dustin Hoffmann, Lucy Liu, Jackie Chan, Jean Claude Van Damme and Gary Oldman (as a villainous peacock), though in many of these cases, the minor part which they play is only given a handful of lines throughout the film. I should also mention that the visuals look amazing - and the film expertly combines the 3D computer animation which is used for the majority of the action with more traditional hand drawn animation, used for certain flashback sequences.

Rating: 6/10

The Tenant (1976)

Roman Polanski's follow up to Chinatown, this film tells the story of a mild mannered Polish immigrant in Paris (played by Polanski himself) who rents out a room in a strange boarding house; the previous occupant of the room committed suicide, and Polanski becomes increasingly certain that his neighbours are trying to drive him to the same fate... This is one bizarre, crazy film. It's hard to know how to grade this one - it's like taking a look into a lurid nightmare going on in Roman Polanski's head. Certain aspects of the film work brilliantly, and in the second half of the picture, Polanski creates an oppressive, creepy atmosphere, with a number of particularly effective scenes, including one where Polanski runs to the bathroom opposite his room (where a number of people have been staring him), only to discover that he can see his own doppelganger still in his room, staring at him through binoculars. Polanski also adds to the madness by dressing in drag towards the end of the film, as starts to believe that he and the previous occupant of the room (who was female) are one and the same person. I'm not sure the plot makes too much sense overall, but definitely worth a look.

Rating: 8/10

American Pie (1999)

It's hard for me to judge American Pie objectively, or too harshly. Watching it reminds me strongly of my first year at University, watching it in a friend's room with a whole bunch of other people. At the time, it was hilarious, and while it doesn't hold up so well now that I'm ten years older, and watching it on my own, there were still quite a few laughs throughout.  Apparently, they're making a reunion movie, with virtually all of the original cast coming back (except for Natasha Lyonne, who has had a few legal and drug/ alcohol troubles over the last few years). Should be interesting to see how they've all turned out - though following my disappointment with Scream 4, I'm not expecting too much from the movie.

Rating: 7/10

Right, that's probably enough reviews for one day. I shall return tomorrow with reviews of the rest of the films I saw this week:

Beverly Hills Cop (Parts 1 and 2)
The Day the Earth Stood Still (the original 1950s version)

Until then, my friends, keep watching the skis...

Sunday, 5 June 2011

That was the week that was (30 May - 5 June)

So, we're back for another week of thrills, spills, chills (and kills). As a little aside, I seem to be developing a habit of buying up any DVD that I see for £3 - £5 in Head, HMV or FOPP. I used to just rely on LOVEFiLM for most of my movie watching needs, but lately I can't stop buying DVDs too. There's a big mountain of films under my TV which I feel may soon take over all the free space in bedroom. If I don't watch them all soon, I may not be able to get out of my room by the next time I write this blog....

 Anyway, nonsense aside, it's on to the movie reviews.

Barry Lyndon (1975)

As part of my recent interest in seeing all of Stanley Kubrick's movies, I saw both Barry Lyndon and Paths of Glory this week (more on the latter film below). Barry Lyndon tells the tale of a minor Irish nobleman whose attempts to raise his station in life take him through the battlefields of the Seven Years War, onto the courts of the Austrian royal family and finally to his own sprawling country house in England, which he acquires by marrying the beautiful Lady Lyndon. Unfortunately, Barry's life begins to unravel at this point, as he neglects his wife and incurs the emnity of his stepson, Lord Bullingdon.  I have to say I was a little disappointed with this one. It was beautifully shot and the costumes and backdrops were gorgeous, but I was never really engaged with the fates of the characters. I didn't really enjoy Ryan O'Neal's performance as Barry (particularly his struggles with the Irish accent). I also felt that it moved at far too languid a pace; the first half of the film was fairly interesting (as Barry encountered various different levels of society in his rise to being Lord of the Manor), but once Barry was married to Lady Lyndon, everything slowed down dramatically, and by the end of the film I was eventual decline and fall couldn't come soon enough as far as I was concerned.

Rating: 6/10

Trading Places (1983)

A classic '80s comedy starring Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy. Aykroyd plays Louis Winthrope III, an arrogant, snobbish commodities broker working at an upscale firm in Philadelphia. His life is thrown into disarray when his bosses decide to play a social experiment (over a $1 bet) and see how homeless street hustler Billy Ray Valentine (Murphy) would fare if he was given Winthrope's advantages and privilege. Winthrope is stripped of his high powered job, home and butler and framed for a crime he didn't commit - putting him in the same position as that from which Valentine was plucked. Fortunately, Winthrope is assisted by a hooker with a heart of gold (TM) played by Jamie Lee Curtis... A consistently funny comedy, featuring brilliant performances from Aykroyd and Murphy, for the first three quarters of the movie director John Landis gets just about everything right. Unfortunately, there is a rather misjudged slapstick comedy sequence in a train car, in which all of the principal characters appear in unfunny disguises, which rather takes the sheen off. Other than that though, it's top notch. It's just a shame Eddie Murphy went from making this movie and his other '80s successes like 48 Hours and Beverley Hills Cop to a run of absolutely dire movies that has endured to the present day. (I'd argue that the one exception is Bowfinger).

Rating: 8/10

X-Men: First Class (2011)

The only movie I saw at the cinema this week, and from the looks of the movies coming out in the next few weeks, it might be a while before I venture back into the multiplexes. Matthew Vaughn attempts to reboot the X-Men series by going back to the early '60s, when Professor X had a full head of hair and the use of his legs, Magneto was a vengeful Holocaust survivor not yet in full control of his powers and the world was on the brink of nuclear war.  Maybe I'm judging this film a little harshly because I saw a number of very positive reviews before I went in, but for me this latest X-Men movie just doesn't work. The script is very clunky, there are a number of poor performances from actors who I've previously liked (January Jones, Jennifer Lawrence and Nicholas Hault were all disappointing) and understandably, the film has a little trouble balancing the inherently lightweight story of the genesis of the X-Men with very serious subjects like nuclear war and the Holocaust. On the other hand, Michael Fassbender is very convincing as Magneto - and redeems almost every scene he's in through sheer force of personality. It's no worse than Thor I suppose, but it's certainly not as good as Vaughn's previous superhero outing, Kick-Ass.

Rating: 5/10

They Live (1988)

In which a hobo, played by professional wrestler 'Rowdy' Roddy Piper, discovers that aliens have infilitrated the upper echelons of American society, and have integrated themselves into our world, using their power to crush the average working joe. The full horror of what is happening can only be seen when you put on a pair of special sunglasses, which allow you to see the cadaverous looking aliens, as well as the subliminal messages they have added to billboards, magazines and the TV.  John Carpenter's late '80s sci fi/ horror picture has a number of brilliant ideas, some very effectively shot scenes and a message about the evils of unchecked capitalism that is still relevant today, but doesn't really come together as a whole. Another of the problems with the movie stems from the lack of acting ability displayed by Roddy Piper - there are a number of great one liners in the film which he doesn't really do justice. Not a bad movie by any means, but not really classic Carpenter.

Rating: 6/10

Paths of Glory (1957)

Stanley Kubrick's brilliant anti-war film is set in the French trenches during the First World War. While the generals sip wine and plot meaningless offensives in a well appointed chateau well behind the front lines, their men are left to die in the trenches; at one stage an evil general even orders his artillery unit to fire on his own men. Kirk Douglas plays a brave colonel who tries to save the lives of three men unfairly selected to face the firing squad, as scapegoats for an unsuccessful (and possibly impossible) assault on the German position. The film powerfully brings home the futility of war, a subject Kubrick would return to with even greater effect in Dr Strangelove.

Rating: 9/10