Monday, 25 July 2011

That was the week that was (18 - 24 July)

Another weekly roundup, this time with only three movies to review. I'm afraid it's all been a bit busy this week ( I went away for the weekend, plus I'm getting ready to move house), so I haven't had much time to watch films. Still, as Mr Burns once said: "Family, religion, friendship. These are the three demons you must slay if you wish to succeed in business." I'd like to think that applies to watching films too. If I was able to remove all outside distractions from my life, I'd be able to watch around 8 or 9 films a day (allowing myself 7 hours a night for sleep, and one hour to replace my drip and feeding tube). I think I'd be able to survive a few months before I went totally crazy. The sad thing is, I'd still never get close to being able to watch every film ever made. I suspect that even if I stuck to just watching every new film being released (worldwide) from the point when I started my mystical journey, I wouldn't be able to keep up with the number of films being made (I'd also have to watch a lot of no budget, straight to DVD horror movies, unsubtitled Nigerian and Indian films and even Michael Bay movies...)

Candyman (1992)

An interesting horror movie from the early '90s, Candyman combines elements usually found in slasher movies with elements of the supernatural, to good effect. It is also a film which I remember being popular in the primary school playground when I was growing up. I was never allowed to watch anything too gruesome, but the film seemed very popular with other (tougher) kids, who seemed to have unfettered access to a VCR. I therefore knew the basic premise of the film from a very young age - if you say the word 'Candyman' five times in front of a mirror, the Candyman will appear behind you and stab you with the hook he has in place of a hand. While that basic idea does form part of the story, the film develops that idea in an interesting way. Virginia Madsen (looking like a cross between an early '90s Madonna, Sharon Stone and Gillian Anderson) plays a post-grad student who is looking into urban legends as a part of her thesis. The aforementioned Candyman is just one of the urban legends which Madsen encounters as parts of her studies. However, when she learns of certain real murders in Chicago's Cabrini-Green housing projects which have distinct similarities to the urban legend, she feels compelled to investigate... I don't want to reveal too much more of the story from that point, as the plot goes in a number of rather surprising directions, and I don't intend to spoil that for anyone who hasn't seen the film. However, I would say that Candyman is rather unusual in slasher movies in featuring a genuinely gritty ghetto setting, an area so run down and menacing that it is almost as terrifying as the Candyman himself. The film definitely benefits from being shot on location - as a point of comparison, the 'urban wasteland' in Jason Takes Manhattan looks transparently fake, populated with ersatz 'street punks' straight from central casting. The cast is also strong - Madsen, Xander Berkeley (as her lecturer boyfriend) and Tony Todd (as the Candyman himself) all put in solid performances. The movie sustains a scary atmosphere for most of its running time, with a number of particularly macabre scenes, though I felt the ending was a little anticlimatic. On the whole though, a well made and enjoyable horror movie.

Rating: 7/10

The Tree of Life (2011)

Terence Malick's latest film is an incredibly ambitious affair, first looking at the world in an incredibly broad way - taking the viewer through the history of life on Earth - before narrowing in scope significantly, as he chronicles the life of a ten year old boy, growing up in Waco, Texas in the 1950s.    I'm not sure I've ever seen a film like The Tree of Life - in some ways, that's a good thing, in others, not so good. It was certainly a challenging watch, and a number of my friends (including most of the people I went to the cinema with) didn't like it at all.   For me, certain elements of the film worked very well. I thought the lighting and cinematography were dazzling throughout, I loved the visual experience of seeing the creation of the world and life on Earth on the big screen, and for the most part, the section of the film set in '50s Texas seemed very real to me, very evocative of the frictions of family life and what childhood is like during a long, hot summer holiday. I also felt the performances of the actors in the '50s section of the film were very strong - particularly Brad Pitt (as the disciplinarian father) and Hunter McCracken (his eldest son). On the other hand, I can also sympathise with the naysayers to some extent - the film lacks a cohesive narrative, there are sections of the film which are rather dull, and I felt the ending in which (SPOILERS!) all members of the central character's family meet up on a beach (purgatory?) for a big old group hug was a little mawkish for my tastes. It's good to see a filmmaker not afraid to take some big risks and make something so ambitious, rather than simply making something mediocre, designed to offend as few people as possible. Still, I'd prefer Malick was making tighter, more focused pictures like Badlands, rather than something as meandering as the Tree of Life.

Rating: 6/10

M (1931)

Fritz Lang's classic film noir is set in pre-Nazi Germany in the early 1930s. A compulsive murderer is preying on the children of the city and has sparked a huge manhunt by the police department. At the same time, a coalition of criminal figures from within the city, angered by the increased police interference into their activities as a result of the manhunt, are also searching for the killer; a network of all beggars and peddlers in the city has been organised to keep an eye out for anything suspicious. I was a little apprehensive about watching this movie - it's probably the oldest film I've ever seen, and I wondered if watching it might be more of a chore than a pleasure - but I was captivated throughout by the gripping storyline, as the net gradually closes in on the murderer. Fritz Lang's direction is very distinctive, utilising a number of unusual camera angles and the reflections from glass surfaces to great effect. The standout acting performance in the film comes from Peter Lorre, who plays the killer as a sad figure, haunted by his inability to stop himself from committing his monstrous crimes, and in so doing engenders a certain amount of sympathy from the audience for what could otherwise have been a wholly one dimensional character.  The version of the film which I saw was an attempt to reconstruct the film as it had originally been released which meant that at times the sound dropped out - but this didn't stop me enjoying this excellent picture.

Rating: 8/10

Monday, 18 July 2011

That was the week that was (11 - 17 July) (Part Two)

Right then, without any further ado, it's on to part two of last week's reviews round up.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Parts 1 & 2) (2010/11)

So, after a decade of incredibly successful films, the Harry Potter series has finally come to an end. I can't say that I've ever been a Potter superfan, but I've read the first few books and have seen all of the films in the cinema. In that time, ten years has passed - I've aged from a naive, spritely 19 year old into the decrepit, bitter 29 year old I am today. The Potter series has changed too, after the first couple of years in which we were (to quote Lazy Sunday) transported into a dreamworld of magic, the films have grown progressively darker as Harry, Hermione and Ron have faced up to the twin horrors of going through puberty and escaping their noseless nemesis. In this final instalment, matters finally come to a head, and young Harry has to face up to his responsibilities to face the evil Voldemort in battle, with the fate of the wizarding world on his shoulders... On the whole, I've enjoyed the Harry Potter movies, though I have to confess that I almost lost interest after part six in the series (Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince), which was rather confusing for those of us who hadn't read the book. Still, I think both parts of The Deathly Hallows improve on that movie. Part One of the Deathly Hallows contains a few terrific early scenes (including my favourite scene, where the three protagonists dresss in disguise to infilitrate the Ministry of Magic), but the film seems to lose focus at about the halfway point, as Harry and pals go on an interminable camping trip as they seek out the 'horcruxes' which they must destroy before facing Voldemort. Part Two of the Deathly Hallows, in contrast, has very little slack. The opening scene (featuring John Hurt as an expert on wands) gently eases the viewer back into the swing of things, but after that the action is relentless, as our heroes stage a daring raid on Gringotts bank to retrieve one of the remaining horcruxes, then face off against Voldemort for the final battle. It's all very exciting stuff, though in all the confusion of the climatic battle scene, it's sometimes difficult to tell what's going on, and which of the supporting cast have died. I should also give praise to the cast of the movie - the Harry Potter series has always featured some of the best British actors in supporting roles, but Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint have really improved over the years, to the extent that they now appear completely natural and at ease on the big screen. Despite a slightly embarassing coda to the film (in which aging makeup appears to have been haphazardly applied to the young actors, meaning that some of them appear to have hardly aged at all, while others are wizened beyond their years), this is a fitting and very enjoyable end to the Harry Potter series.


Part One: 7/10
Part Two: 8/10

Office Space (1999)

Mike Judge's comedy tells the tale of bored office drones working for a American software company at the turn of the century. Protagonist Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) lives a miserable existence, catering to the whims of his eight different bosses until an accident at the hypnotist's office enables him to finally relax and conquer the white collar world... Still a very funny movie, but perhaps not quite as great as I remembered, Office Space is at its best in the first half of the movie when it details Peter's awful life., but loses momentum in the latter stages where Peter and his friends are plotting to rip off their company. For me, the best thing about this movie is Gary Cole's performance as the loathsome boss, Bill Lumbergh - possibly the most punchable character ever to appear in a major motion picture.

Rating: 7/10

Sunday, 17 July 2011

That was the week that was (11 - 17 July) (Part One)

So, another weekly round up beckons. A pretty good group of movies on the whole this week - with one exception. To be honest, I've noticed that my grades have been very high on the whole for the last few weeks - maybe I need to be a bit tougher. If I start giving any movie worth its salt an '8', there isn't much room to move upwards, is there? On the other hand (as I may have mentioned before), the films which I watch fall into two categories:

(a) films which I'm watching at the cinema/ through LOVEFiLM for the first time
(b) films which I've seen and liked before, and have purchased on DVD to rewatch.

Obviously, the vast majority of films under category (b) are going to get high marks, as I'm rewatching them because I know I've enjoyed them before. Even under category (a), I'm pretty selective about the films which I watch and usually check to make sure a film has been well reviewed on Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes before seeing it.

I've dished out four marks of '8' or above this week, but I think that's fair enough.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

I suppose every film fan has a few classics which they've never gotten around to seeing. Butch Cassidy fits squarely into this category for me. I'm sure why that is - although I wouldn't say I'm particularly enamoured of the Western, I've seen plenty of other films in the genre which don't have as exalted a reputation as Butch Cassidy. Anyway, having seen the movie, I can certainly see why it's so highly regarded.  Paul Newman and Robert Redford (in one of his first major roles)play the eponymous duo, a pair of likeable desperados who are beginning to realise that the era of lawlessness in the Old West is coming to an end, and that the corporations expanding Westward into America do not want their sort hanging around any longer. Both lead actors are excellent - Newman is laid back, talkative and charming, a bank robber who relies on his wits rather than his gun to make his living; Redford is more taciturn and serious, relying on the menace that his reputation as one of the fastest shots around can bring him. The plot sees Butch and Sundance attempt a series of risky train robberies before escaping from the clutches of the authorities and heading to Bolivia for some fresh bounty. There is also a love triangle, of sorts, as the pair both seem rather enamoured of a schoolteacher played by Katharine Ross. However, all of this is really incidental - the film's strengths are the engaging performances of Redford and Newman, the witty script and the iconic setpieces. I'd already seen a number of homages and pastiches of the famous scenes where Butch and Sundance jump from a great height to avoid their pursuers, where Paul Newman rides around on a bicycle (the vehicle of the future!) with Katharine Ross to the sounds of 'Singing in the Rain', as well as the final showdown in which the pair battle against impossible odds and the Bolivian Army. Nevertheless, these scenes retained their power. The film still holds up as a classic, and I regret not having seen it sooner.

Rating: 9/10

Cape Fear (1962)

There seems to be a great number of remakes being made in Hollywood at the moment - at the cinema today, I saw a trailer for the new version of Footloose, and I know that remakes of The Thing (for a second time) and Fright Night. It seems a little odd that they see the need to remake films that are barely 30 years old - and in the case of The Thing, it seems pretty much impossible that they'll be able to top the Carpenter version (which is one of my all time favourite horror movies). I suppose if there's money in it, those sleazy Hollywood fat cats will do anything (that was supposed to be a reference to Mr Burns' election campaign, but I'm not sure it really comes off...). Anyway, on to the actual movie in question - Cape Fear was a film which was remade, successfully, by Martin Scorsese in 1991, and to be honest, I'd never seen the original until this week. On the whole, I probably slightly prefer the original to the remake, though both are solid pictures in their own right. Both films are set in a sleepy Southern town, where successful defence attorney Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck) is a pillar of the community, with a loving wife and daughter. However, into this idyllic scene comes ex-convict Max Cady; Cady blames Bowden for the eight year prison sentence which he has just served for rape, and intends to take revenge on Bowden and his family. There are a number of differences in the two versions of Cape Fear; in the earlier version of the film, Bowden is fair more clean cut, his marriage to his wife seems to be perfect, and his daughter is sweet and innocent. In contrast, family life is far more dysfunctional in the remake - there are marital troubles between the Bowdens, and Bowden's teenage daughter is notably more sexualised, and appears to have a genuine interest in Max Cady's advances. However, the key difference, and the one which really distinguishes the former film from the latter is in the performances of the actors playing Max Cady. Although I'm a big fan of many of De Niro's performances (particularly in Taxi Driver and Raging Bull), his version of Max Cady is ostentatiously unpleasant, almost to a cartoonish degree. On the other hand Robert Mitchum is far more restrained, but is able to generate just as much menace from his slow, drawling speech and menacing leer as De Niro raises with his tatooed physique. I should also mention how great the score is - Scorsese liked Bernard Hermann's effort so much he reused it in his remake. It was so good, Matt Groening used extracts of the score in the Cape Feare episode of The Simpsons - and there's no higher praise as far as I'm concerned.

Rating: 8/10

The Claim (2000)

Michael Winterbottom's epic Western is a version of Thomas Hardy's novel The Mayor of Casterbridge, relocated to California in the late nineteenth century. Peter Mullan plays Daniel Dillon, an Irish immigrant who has risen to prominence, as the mayor (and leading businessman) in a small town in the snowy mountains of the Sierra Nevada. However, Dillon has a dark secret - as a young man, he sold his wife and daughter to another man in exchange for a gold claim. When his (now ailing) wife and grown daughter return to town, Dillon's desire to atone for his past sins become his undoing. This is the one film this week which is going to come in for a bit of a slating, I'm afraid. There were so many aspects of The Claim which on paper seem to be very promising - I thought there were strong performances from Peter Mullan (as Dillon), Sarah Polley (as his daughter) and Natassja Kinski (as his former wife), the striking mountain scenery is beautifully shot, and the plot certainly holds promise. (The film also features Wes Bentley, who I last saw chasing a plastic bag around the place in American Beauty). However, the film is just too ponderous and inert to work - the action progresses at a snail's pace, and by about the halfway point in the film, I was just hoping for it all to be over as soon as possible. So, for me, the film is a failure, albeit one with certain redeeming features.

Rating: 5/10

Se7en (1995)

In which a naive young detective (Brad Pitt) is partnered with a cynical older cop on his last week on the job (Morgan Freeman). As the week progresses, it becomes apparent that something is terribly wrong - a deranged killer is 'teaching lessons' to the people of the city by carrying out a series of murders based on the seven deadly sins. I was planning to watch David Fincher's brilliant '90s serial killer picture as a double bill with the equally great (and similarly themed) Zodiac, but I didn't realise quite how long the second film is - as a result, I'm going to have to conclude the double bill at a later date. Regardless, Se7en was just as gripping and suspenseful as I remembered; the scene in which the apparently dead man who's been strapped to a bed for a year suddenly springs back to life still makes me jump out of my seat, and Fincher's vision of a hellish modern American city creates a relentlessly grim and oppressive atmosphere. As well as Fincher's powerful direction, the movie features a terrific script, great performances from Morgan Freeman and Kevin Spacey (as the killer), and tremendous attention to detail in the design of the film. From the opening credits, which feature remarkably gruesome looking pages from the killer's journal, to the killer's apartment and to murder scenes themselves, all aspects of the film look suitably macabre. Tremendous.

Rating: 9/10

Right, I'm running out of time now (may have gone on a bit too long on the Butch Cassidy and Cape Fear write ups. I shall return tomorrow with Part Two of this week's reviews. This shall feature the following movies:

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Parts 1 & 2)
Office Space

Stay tuned for more spine tingling adventures...

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Mock me if you will...

... but this huge DVD collection has gotten me out of some tough scrapes. Actually, it's not really that big (though I am working at expanding it, I swear) - I just wanted to link to one of my favourite (and naturally, one of the most puerile) Onion articles:,10688/

Anyway, 'joking' aside, the reason for this post was to list all the DVDs which I currently own (237 movies, plus 96 TV shows on boxset and 3 music/ sport DVDs), just in case there are any Bristol based burglars who read this blog and who want to acquire a relatively large collection of a media format which will be obsolete in a couple of years. Next week I will be posting a list of other valuables I have in my house, together with my PIN and mother's maiden name.

I don't think it's a bad collection, though there are a few films on there (i.e. Domino, Rocket Science, Eagle vs. Shark) which aren't really any good. I didn't build the collection in any sort of organised way; in fact as a true luddite at heart, I resisted buying any DVDs until VHS was pretty much completely dead. For a fairly long period of time (around 2004), I only owned one DVD, but it was a good one - Ed Wood. Then I started to buy DVDs in 'buy 5 for £30' offers from HMV and Virgin and so on - many of which I'd never seen before, which resulted in quite a few purchases of films which I now regret owning. These days I only tend to buy films I've seen before and know I really like.

Anyway, that's enough of a preamble. Here's that list in all its glory, and in alphabetical order:

TV Shows

24 (Series 2)
Curb Your Enthusiasm (Series 2 – 5)
Extras (Series 1 & 2)
Father Ted (Series 1 – 3)
Flight of the Conchords (Series 1 & 2)
Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace
Green Wing (Series 1 & 2)
Jonathan Creek (Series 1 & 2)
Knowing Me Knowing You With Alan Partridge
Life on Mars (Series 1 & 2)
Mad Men (Series 1 – 3)
Millennium (Series 1)
Murder One
Nathan Barley
Oz (Series 1 & 2)
Peep Show (Series 1 – 7)
Seinfeld (Series 1 – 9)
Skins (Series 1)
South Park (Series 3 – 9)
Spaced (Series 1 & 2)
The Adam and Joe Show
The American Office (Series 2 & 3)
The Corner
The Day Today
The League of Gentlemen (Series 1 – 3 and Christmas Special)
The Long Firm
The Office (Series 1 & 2 and Christmas Specials)
The Simpsons (Series 1 – 10)
The Sopranos (Series 1 – 6)
The Wire (Series 1 – 5)
The X Files (Series 1 – 9)
We Can Be Heroes

(500) Days Of Summer
101 Reykjavik
13 (Tzameti)
2001: A Space Odyssey
A History Of Violence
A Nightmare On Elm Street
A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge
A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors
A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master
A Nightmare On Elm Street 5: The Dream Child
A Nightmare On Elm Street 6: Freddy’s Dead
A Prophet
A Serious Man
A Very Long Engagement
Alien 3
American Pie
American Pie 2
American Psycho
American Splendor
Amores Perros
An American Werewolf In London
Anatomy of a Murder
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
Back To The Future
Back To The Future: Part Two
Back To The Future: Part Three
Barton Fink
Batman Begins
Battle Royale
Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
Being John Malkovich
Beverly Hill Cop
Beverly Hills Cop 2
Beverly Hill Cop 3
Blade Runner
Boogie Nights
Bottle Rocket
Burn After Reading
Children Of Men
Dark City
Dazed and Confused
District 9
Dog Day Afternoon
Donnie Brasco
Double Indemnity
Eagle vs. Shark
Ed Wood
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Five Easy Pieces
Four Lions
Friday the 13th (1980)
Friday the 13th Part 2
Friday the 13th Part 3
Friday the 13th Part 4 (The Final Chapter)
Friday the 13th Part 5 (A New Beginning)
Friday the 13th Part 6 (Jason Lives)
Friday the 13th Part 7 (The New Blood)
Friday the 13th Part 8 (Jason Takes Manhattan)
Full Metal Jacket
Funny People
Gangs of New York
Get Carter
Ghost World
Gremlins 2: The New Batch
Groundhog Day
Half Nelson
High Fidelity
Hot Fuzz
Hotel Rwanda
Into The Wild
Jackie Brown
Killer’s Kiss
Kind Hearts & Coronets
Knocked Up
L.A. Confidential
La Haine
Let The Right One In
Little Miss Sunshine
Lucky Number Slevin
Me And You And Everyone We Know
Mean Creek
Miller’s Crossing
Monty Python & The Holy Grail
Monty Python’s … And Now For Something Completely Different
Monty Python’s The Life of Brian
Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life
Mulholland Drive
My Bloody Valentine (1981)
My Life As A Dog
Mystic River
No Country For Old Men
O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Office Space
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
Pan’s Labyrinth
Paths of Glory
Pulp Fiction
Punch Drunk Love
Raging Bull
Raising Arizona
Rear Window
Reservoir Dogs
Rocket Science
Say Anything…
Scanners 2
Scanners 3
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
Scream 2
Scream 3
Shaun of the Dead
Short Cuts
Shutter Island
Sin City
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
Stranger Than Fiction
Swimming With Sharks
Synecdoche, New York
Taxi Driver
Team America: World Police
Terminator 2: Judgment Day
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
The Assassination of Richard Nixon
The Big Lebowski
The Breakfast Club
The Constant Gardener
The Departed
The Descent
The Forty Year Old Virgin
The Goonies
The Grifters
The Hudsucker Proxy
The Hurt Locker
The Ice Storm
The Jerk
The Killing
The Ladykillers (1955)
The Last Supper
The Lavender Hill Mob
The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou
The Lives Of Others
The Luzhin Defence
The Man In The White Suit
The Man Who Wasn’t There
The Naked Gun
The Naked Gun 2 ½
The Naked Gun 33 ⅓
The Prestige
The Producers (1968)
The Royal Tenenbaums
The Secret In Their Eyes
The Shining
The Silence of the Lambs
The Social Network
The Squid and the Whale
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
The Thing
The Third Man
The Wedding Singer
The X Files Movie
Them (Ils)
There Will Be Blood
This Is England
This Is Spinal Tap
Total Recall
Trading Places
True Romance
Walk The Line
Wayne’s World
Wendy and Lucy
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare
What’s Eating Gilbert Grape
Withnail & I
You Can Count On Me

Other DVDs

Over the Years and Through the Woods (Queens of the Stone Age Live)
The Ashes 2005
The White Stripes Under Blackpool Lights

Sunday, 10 July 2011

That was the week that was (4 - 10 July)

Another quiet week, film wise - there isn't too much out on at the cinema at the moment (the Tree of Life and Harry Potter7 Part 2 are out soon though, so I will be venturing back into the multiplexes shortly), but I have been watching some excellent TV dramas, both featuring Michael C Hall. Firstly, Six Feet Under, a series which was made about ten years ago but one I have only just got around to watching. I've just finished the first series - which was consistently gripping with some flashes of black comedy. Secondly, I've been watching the fourth series of Dexter; a show which is generally great whenever Dexter himself is involved, but rather less interesting when it delves into the often tedious lives of the supporting cast.

Wolf Creek (2005)

An Australian take on the slasher movie (as well as films like Deliverance, The Hills Have Eyes and Southern Comfort), Wolf Creek was partly inspired by a series of murders by Ivan Milat in the late 1980s - early 1990s. The film starts with three backpackers (two British girls and an Australian guy), buying a car and heading off into the outback, travelling from Western Australia to Cairns, in Northern Queensland. Stopping off at a remote beauty spot, the trio return to their car to discover that the engine has died. In what seems like a stroke of good fortune, a passing motorist offers to fix their car and help them on their way. However, once they wake up at his farm, all hell breaks loose... This is a film which takes its time to build up the tension, though early scenes in which the travellers exhange some ugly banter with some local rednecks in an outback petrol station points towards the way the film is headed. However, once we enter the final third of the film, all bets are off, with the three backpackers facing a horrifying and terrifying ordeal with a remorseless and truly evil villain. Unlike most slasher movies, where the 'final girl' is usually pretty clearly signposted from an early point in the film, in Wolf Creek, there really is no way of telling which (if any) of the three will survive their ordeal, or whether the killer will be stopped at all.

Rating: 8/10

To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)

This classic movie, based on Harper Lee's novel of the same name, is set in the Deep South in the 1930s. Honest, principled lawyer Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) has been chosen to defend a young black man, Tom Robinson, accused of raping a white woman. At the same time, Finch's young children, Scout and Jem (along with their friend Dill) are growing up in the poor Southern town, where racial tensions are constantly simmering under the surface. As well as keeping a keen eye on the events of the trial in which their father is acting, the children are fascinated by their reclusive neighbour, Boo Radley. A powerful and gripping film which examines the themes of racism and prejudice in America. Though some of the characters are perhaps a little too black and white (as it were) - with Atticus Finch shown as a purely virtuous figure, and the ignorant farmer who falsely accuses Tom Robinson of rape pure evil - this is a fantastic movie, with a message of tolerance which is still relevant today, and with Gregory Peck giving a brilliant performance as Atticus Finch.

Rating: 8/10

Carrie (1976)

This was another film being shown at the Sunday lunchtime slot at the Watershed cinema, and I was very keen to see it on the big screen - having previously seen it a couple of times on TV. It was definitely worth the trip to the cinema (even though the print they were using was possibly the dirtiest I've ever seen on a big screen, complete with masses of 'cigarette burn' marks, and specks of dust and occasionally distortion to the colour of the picture). Sissy Spacek plays Carrie White, a rather awkward girl who is bullied at school by a number of her peers, and at home is subjected to endless lectures on impurity and sin from her deranged, bible bashing mother. On reaching puberty, Carrie has discovered that she has the gift of telekenesis - being able to move objects with the power of her mind. Unfortunately for all concerned, a number of girls at her high school are planning a really nasty prank of Carrie at her senior prom, one which will spark Carrie into a rage which will wipe out most of her class and burn her house to the ground... This is still a brilliant horror film, particularly the explosive finale, which builds the suspense to breaking point with Carrie on stage, unaware that at any moment she will be soaked in pigs' blood. Some of the '70s excesses - costumes, haircuts and soundtrack - look a little cheesy these days, and provide some unintentional humour, but that doesn't really detract from the story. Brian De Palma would go on to marry Nancy Allen, who played Chris (Carrie's chief tormentor at school). He teamed up with Allen again on several occasions, including when he made perhaps his greatest movie - Blow Out - which also featured John Travolta (who had a smallish role in Carrie as Nancy Allen's boyfriend). Definitely up there with the very best Stephen King adaptations - I'd say it's on a par with Stand By Me, Misery and The Shawshank Redemption, though possibly not quite as great as The Shining.

Rating: 8/10

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

Hitchcock's remake of his 1934 movie; in this version Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day star as a pair of American tourists in Marrakesh who inadvertently stumble across a web of international intrigue. After Stewart overhears a French secret agent's dying words (warning him of an assassination plot in London), Stewart's son is kidnapped by the ruthless gang behind the plot, in an effort to keep him quiet. In his efforts to track down their son and prevent the assassination, Stewart and Day head to London, where they are not exactly helped by the local police (who are portrayed as rather bumbling and ineffectual). A solid Hitchcock picture, but not one of his classics, though unlike Dial M for Murder, it does seem that this one was actually shot on location. On the positive side, the film is well paced and there are several excellent set pieces (particularly the scene at the Royal Albert Hall, where the killer is waiting to strike at the same point as the cymbal crashes on stage). On the other hand, in the early going, the film seems a little xenophobic in the way Stewart treats the Moroccans, and the plot is rather implausible; it would seem to be much easier for the cabal of international assassins to kill Jimmy Stewart in Marrakesh, rather than spiriting his son out of the country and keeping him hostage in London. Nevertheless, a decent film.

Rating: 7/10

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Those were the weeks that were (27 June - 3 July)

A very quick recap today - I've just been away for a couple of weeks, so two of the three movies I've seen have been on the aeroplane; I'm not a great flyer and get distracted from the film by any turbulence or the sounds of the engine or the wings moving about, so my reviews of Cedar Rapids and Somewhere can be taken with even more of a pinch of salt than usual...

3-Iron (2004)

An interesting Korean movie which I saw early on last week, so I might be a bit fuzzy on the finer points of this one, but I'll try and do it justice. The plot centres on a mute young man who travels around Seoul on his motorbike, looking for empty homes to break into. Once inside, he cleans the absent occupants clothes, repairs appliances, plays a little golf and then documents his escapades with a photograph. However, his routine is interrupted when he finds the battered wife of a wealthy businessman inside one of the homes he burgles. The pair engage in a silent courtship, and continue to break into houses around the city until the discovery of a dead body in an apparently empty flat leads to their arrest. After this point, things begin to take a (possibly) supernatural turn which I don't want to give away, but which for me was rather unwelcome, detracting from the more realistic scenes at the beginning of the film. A meditative, slowly paced movie, but very charming, particularly for its first two thirds, it is also capable of shocking you with several instances of brutal violence.

Rating: 7/10

Cedar Rapids (2011)

In which a naive young insurance salesman named Tim Lippe is lead astray at a sales conference in dazzling Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  I didn't have high expectations of this comedy, starring Ed Helms from the American version of the Office, but I was pleasantly surprised. It was rarely laugh out loud funny, but provided a steady stream of amusing moments, as the straightlaced Lippe is taken out of his comfort zone. As well as Helms, it also has a strong cast of other faces familiar from various hit US shows, including Isiah Whitlock Jr (Clay Davis in The Wire) and Alia Shawkat (Maebe in Arrested Development), alongside fim veterans like Sigourney Weaver and John C Reilly. I should also mention that the version of this film I watched had been rather savagely cut for language by Delta Airlines. In some ways this added to the amusement factor; every time a character was supposed to say 'fuck', it was replaced with 'freak' or 'fudge' or something similar. In my favourite example of this clumsy dubbing, Isiah Whitlock Jr's character insults a local redneck by calling him a 'mudlover'. You work it out (shouldn't take too long).

Rating: 7/10

Somewhere (2010)

Sofia Coppola's latest film explores similar themes to her best known work, Lost In Translation, but with less success. Both movies focus on the lives of angsty film stars staying in luxury hotels, whose lives are enriched by a younger woman (though in this film the younger woman in question is the film star's daughter, rather than a love interest). However, whereas Bill Murray effortlessly and hilariously portrays his character as infinitely world weary and jet lagged, Stephen Dorff's character just seems a bit listless. This film was watchable enough, but felt very slight - I remember reading somewhere that in order to have a successful film, you need to have some sort of conflict or difficulty for its protaganist to overcome. There is almost no conflict or narrative urgency in the movie - Stephen Dorff is a highly succesful movie star, who is somewhat depressed, at the start of the movie, then reconnects with his daughter and seems slightly less depressed at the end. Still, Elle Fanning is very good as Dorff's daughter and the film retains some of the dreamlike quality that made me love Lost In Translation so much.

Rating: 6/10