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

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