Monday, 29 August 2011

That was the week that was (22 August - 28 August) (Part Two)

Here's part two of my weekly round up - with five more films to review. (Full disclosure: I actually watched Moon this morning, rather than during the week of 22 - 28 August, but I'm going to include it in this week's write up anyway. Because I can.)

The Wackness (2008)

It seems a little strange that there are now films looking back at the '90s with a sense of nostalgia, but I suppose the '90s were over a long time ago now. In any event, this is one such film - set in that distant and long ago time of 1994, it tells the story of depressed pot dealer Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck), who has just graduated from high school in New York and as well as the usual adolescent angst, his family is under serious financial strain, and are faced with eviction from their swanky Upper East Side apartment. Shapiro seeks solace in hip hop music, a budding romance with flakey rich girl Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby) and an unlikely friendship with Stephanie's father, an unhinged, pill popping therapist, played with wild eyed relish by Sir Ben Kingsley. (Or as Christopher Moltisanti would put it, Sir Kingsley). Despite seeming at times to be a tamer version of 'Kids', I liked The Wackness a lot more than I thought I would. It's funny (at times), but also bittersweet. Luke Shapiro is character who is a little hard to relate to, as he appears to be in a near catatonic state throughout the film, but Ben Kingsley is excellent, and seemed to be having a lot of fun in his wild and crazy role. It's worth mentioning that the film has an excellent soundtrack - full of classic early '90s hip hop tracks from the likes of Nas, Notorious BIG and A Tribe Called Quest. It's also worth catching this film for a bizarre scene which may haunt you for years - the sight of Sir Ben Kingsley making out with one of the Olsen twins. *Shudder*.

Rating: 8/10

Dazed and Confused (1993)

I first caught this film when I was about 17 (probably the ideal age to watch it); it showed on BBC2's late Sunday evening movie-of-the-week show, Videodrome. I loved it then, and while it doesn't have quite the same impact for me, now that I'm rather older and mentally and physically decrepit, it's still tremendous fun. I find it's also one of those films whose appeal improves immensely if you're had a few drinks. Anyway, the plot (such as it is) centres on the last day of school in a smalltown in Texas in 1976. Various groups of friends feature in the film - a group of American football players about to enter their senior yera of high school, and relishing their chance to dish out a few vicious paddle beatings to the incoming high school freshmen; the said high school freshmen, desparately trying to avoid being on the receiving end of a thrashing - a group of geeks and cardplayers, mulling over their future and a few stoners, attempting to salvage a party which has been jeopardised by one of the kids' parents unexpectedly staying home for the evening. The high school quarterback, Randy 'Pink' Floyd, is the dividing thread which links many of these groups, though he spends most of the day mulling over whether to sign a promise to his football coach that he will not partake in drugs and alcohol over the course of the summer. The film's pleasures don't really lie in the storyline, however - it's more about just hanging around with the various kids. If the script and the soundtrack weren't so great, this could make for an excrutiating couple of hours, but thankfully, both are excellent. The ensemble cast includes a number of actors who grew up to be household names (including Ben Affleck, Mila Jovovich and Matthew McConaughey), together with other, rather less famous actors such as Adam Goldberg, Michelle Burke, Rory Cochrane and Marissa Ribisi who put in equally impressive work. The aforementioned excellent soundtrack features a number of great tunes from the '70s - Foghat, Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, Deep Purple, The Sweet, Lynryd Skynyrd, Black Sabbath, Ted Nugent and many other classics. Lovely stuff.

Rating: 9/10

Lost in Translation (2003)

Now, here's a movie I watched about four times when it first came out, but haven't seen since about 2005. I absolutely loved this film in the cinema - on the big screen, in the dark, it has a kind of hypnotic quality. Unfortunately, I watched it again with a friend of mine on DVD a year or two later, and he almost persuaded me that it was a load of racist tripe. I suppose I can see where he's coming from - there are a few scenes in the film which seem to exist to poke fun at those 'wacky foreigners' (particularly the scene in which the prostitute comes 'a knockin', and tries to get Bill Murray's character to 'lip her stocking'.) On the other hand, I still stand behind my initial reaction to the film. It's a beautifully shot and directed film which is all about the feeling of dislocation and otherness a solo traveller experiences when exposed to an entirely different culture. Bill Murray is particularly good as world weary actor Bob Harris, who is able to escape his isolation by forging a connection with fellow lost soul Scarlett Johansson. I'm still hoping that Sofia Coppola will be able to match this film, but I wasn't too impressed with Somewhere or Marie Antoinette (from what I saw of it).

Rating: 8/10

Alien (1979)

Ridley Scott's sci-fi horror classic is one of the few films to successfully stage a horror movie in space. Generally, it seems like the last role of the dice from a director desperate to 'spice up' a dying franchise by taking the Leprechaun or Jason Voorhees into the outer reaches of the galaxy. On this occasion, however, both the sci-fi and horror elements of the film work brilliantly; it creates a believably and interesting world of the future, whilst also offering a number of gruesome and scary scenes. One of the best touches is to show the Nostromo space ship as a lived in, grimy hulk rather than the kind of pristine futuristic facility you often see in a sci-fi movie. This helps to ground the film in reality, and enable you to really empathise with the human beings trapped on board the ship with the alien. For me personally, the alien creature isn't the most unpleasant thing in the movie - it's the facehuggers and the eggs. I'd much rather suffer the quick death which say Yaphet Kotto or Tom Skeritt than the drawn out coma and impregnation fate which John Hurt is required to face. A movie which launched a highly iconic villain, and a number of sequels - ranging from brilliant (Aliens) to godawful (the A v P movies).

Rating: 9/10

Moon (2009)

(Potential spoilers ahead). A very well made modern sci-fi film, Moon is even more impressive when you consider that it was made for a budget of only $5 million. Sam Rockwell does most of the heavy lifting in the film - playing multiple cloned versions of the same man, Sam Bell. He has been sent to the moon to harvest some kind of material which is being used to solve the world's energy needs. However, after discovering the truth of his situation, he needs to work together with sympathetic computer GERTY and his other clones to fight back against the morally dubious corporation which has consigned him to his slave like lunar existence. A very impressive debut from director Duncan Jones, who followed it up with another interesting sci-fi movie, Source Code.

Rating: 8/10

Sunday, 28 August 2011

That was the week that was (22 August - 28 August) (Part One)

As promised, just like Dennis Hopper and Rolf Harris before me, I've bounced back with a bumper week of reviews. I'm no mathematician (in fact I have trouble even spelling mathematician), but by my calculations I've watched five times more films than I did last week. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Mr Pythagoras! However, with ten films to review, and only limited time in which to do it, I'm going to keep it short and sweet again this week.

Nightwatch (1994)

A Danish thriller which concerns the life and times of a student who takes a job as a nightwatchman in the city morgue in order to pay the bills. However, with a necrophiliac serial killer on the loose, his choice of employment proves to be rather questionable, to say the least, and he finds himself under suspicion for the crimes. For me, this film didn't really work. It all felt a bit too self concious, with a number of characters saying things like 'this is like something from a bad movie'. You said it, fellas. Still, on the plus side, it does feature a young and rather lovely Sofie Grabol (more recently seen on TV in the UK in the Danish series 'The Killing').

Rating: 5/10

The Cottage (2008)

Paul Andrew Williams followed up his terrific gangster picture, London to Brighton, with this rather less serious effort. It's another horror comedy (I seem to have seen quite a few of those in recent weeks), but I felt that it was a lot more impressive than Severance (for example). Reece Shearsmith and Andy Serkis play two bumbling and mismatched brothers, whose attempts to kidnap the daughter of a local gangster (an extremely foul mouthed Jennifer Ellison) are disastrous from the start. However, facing the wrath of a crime kingpin is the least of their worries - they have chosen to hold their hostage captive in a cottage near to an area of woodland in which a crazy, disfigured farmer is running amok. The film is half a comedic version of the Disappearance of Alice Creed, half Friday the 13th, and while neither completely successful as either a horror film or comedy, there are enough laughs and scares to leave you satisfied. As a minor quibble, the monster make up for the farmer is a little fake looking. Still, solidly entertaining, with good performances from Shearsmith and Serkis.

Rating: 7/10

Jaws (1975)

I'd only seen Jaws once before (thought it was OK), and thought it would be a good to catch it again, as a point of comparison with Super 8, which I really enjoyed watching the other week. Well, I know a lot of people love the film, but I still wasn't blown away by it. I could appreciate the artistry of Spielberg in creating a real atmosphere of fear and suspense in the early scenes, whilst showing as little of the shark as possible. (Apparently, this was partly a happy accident - the shark model was not available for extended shots at this point in filming). On the other hand, I felt the final section of the film drags out for too long; couldn't they just kill the shark already? To paraphrase David Brent, if I was to name three great Steven Spielberg films, I wouldn't say Jaws, Jurassic Park, you know. I'd go E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark, Saving Private Ryan. Close Encounters of the Third Kind...

Rating: 7/10

Doc Hollywood (1991)

This was a film which I watched with a couple of other people, and was only half paying attention to, so not sure if I can really give it a fair shake. From what I saw, it all seemed pleasant enough... Michael J Fox plays an arrogant young doctor, en route to Los Angeles to become a high flying plastic surgeon. However, when his car comes off the road in a small South Carolina town full of loveable eccentrics, he's forced to do community service in the town and help the good townspeople out. It's all very predictable, but there are a few (small) chuckles here and there, and it's hard to dislike anything too much when Michael J. Fox is involved.

Rating: 6/10

Made in Dagenham (2010)

Another film which I can't really do total justice to - in this instance, it was because the DVD I got through the post from LoveFiLM was pretty scratched. I had to skip through three or four films, so it was a bit tough to really get into this one. From what I saw of it, the film was pretty good. It tells the story of the strike by female Ford factory workers in 1968 which eventually led to the Equal Pay Act for women. Although at times the script is a little heavy handed - some of the speeches from the characters feel more like a lecture from the screenwriter than something one of the workers would actually say - Sally Hawkins and Bob Hoskins transcend the material and put in particularly strong performances. Worth a watch.

Rating: 7/10

I shall return tomorrow with the remainder of the week's reviews. Watch this space, my friends!

Monday, 22 August 2011

That was the week that was (15 August - 21 August)

Another week, another weekly roundup... Clocking in at only two films watched this week, this may be the shortest entry to date. I shall have to do better next week.

Re-Animator (1985)

A good old fashioned splatterfest, Re-Animator has to be the goriest film I've seen since Braindead. The plot sees a doctor who has devleloped a 'reagent', capable of bringing the dead back to life, take up residence in a small medical school in Massachusetts. Unfortunately, those brought back from the other side tend to be a tad disgruntled, and want to wreak some vengeance on the living. Although it's enjoyably deranged, the film isn't without it's flaws; it's a low budget production, and most of the budget has gone on the special effects. Therefore, some of the acting is a little off - it ranges from the sublimely hammy (David Gale as Dr Carl Hill) to the ridiculously wooden (Bruce Abbott as leading man Dan Cain). On the other hand, Jeffrey Combs puts in a fine performance as the implacable mad scientist Herbert West. If the good people at Re-Animator Productions wanted me to provide them with an inappropriate, partly plagiarised quote for their poster (and they have only to ask), it would be as follows: "It's good clean fun for all the family (no old people though, they're not covered by our insurance)."

Rating: 7/10

Super 8 (2011)

This film, a colloboration between J.J. Abrams (director) and Steven Spielberg (producer), was made with the intention of evoking memories of some of Spielberg's early movies - classics like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. Set in the late '70s, the film tells the tale of a gang of teenaged friends from a small town in Ohio who are spending their summer holidays making their own low budget zombie movie. The group includes budding director Charles, his best friend and make up expert Joe, special effects guru/ pyromaniac Cary and lead actress Alice. After sneaking off late at night to shoot a scene at an abandoned railway station, they witness a horrifying train crash. From the wreckage of the train cars emerges a creature from outer space... This was the blockbuster movie I was most looking forward to this summer, and it didn't disappoint.  Watching child actors can sometimes be rather cringeworthy, but the kids in this film all put in terrific performances, particularly Elle Fanning as Alice and Joel Courtney (in his first big screen role) as Joe. The scenes in which the gang are directing their zombie movie are touching and funny; to be honest, I could have watched an entire film just focussed on the kids' attempts to win the local film festival. If the film does have any weak elements, they crop up in its second half, where the alien storyline is more prominent. I enjoyed the fast paced action scenes of the conclusion to the film just fine, but wasn't quite as captivated as I had been at the beginning. Nevertheless, after quite a few underwhelming popcorn movies this summer, Super 8 is a breath of fresh air.

Rating: 9/10

Monday, 15 August 2011

"Home of the bizarre rant" (That was the week that was 8 August - 14 August)

This week I have been mostly watching... films from the 1970s. I finished off my '70s Classics' box set, and was inspired to watch another couple of enduring movies from that decade. It seems like Hollywood filmmakers had much more leeway to take chances in the '70s - it seems incredible that brilliant, adventurous sprawling epics like The Godfather and Apocalypse Now, as well as controversial films like The Exorcist would be backed by the major Hollywood studios. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure there was an awful lot of poor quality films made in the 70s, and I still like quite a few of the (rather less adventurous and controversial) films which Hollywood makes today. I just mean that back then, directors like Coppola, Scorsese and Altman were given a lot of financial backing and almost given a free rein to do whatever they saw fit, which resulted in some very interesting films being made.

Anyway, on with this week's reviews.

Dirty Harry (1971)

I was inspired to rewatch this film after seeing it feature in David Fincher's Zodiac, which I enjoyed so much last week. There certainly are some echoes of the real life Zodiac case in the plot of this film. This can be seen in the film's setting (San Francisco), in the name of the killer in Dirty Harry (Scorpio) and in the way in which the killer writes to the San Francisco Chronicle, holding the city to ransom unless his demands are met. However, whereas the cops in Zodiac are constrained by having to actually prove that their suspects are guilty, old Dirty Harry is pretty much able to run amok in his pursuit of his suspect without fear of reprisal. To be fair, I liked Dirty Harry - it's well paced, the action scenes are exciting and Clint Eastwood is one cold blooded devil. Still, it's not half as good as the Simpsons' parody of it. "Hey, I'm trying to eat lunch here!" (

Rating: 7/10

Deliverance (1972)

John Boorman's early '70s thriller sees four city types head out to the Appalachian mountains for a magical weekend of canoeing, shooting and non- consensual buggery. Their crew consists of posturing wildman Lewis (Burt Reynolds), chubby, insurance selling irritant Bobby (Ned Beatty), cautious, resourceful Ed (Jon Voight) and guitar playing sweetheart Drew (Ronnie Cox). The group plan to sample the wilderness before it is flooded forever by a newly constructed hydroelectric dam, but they are soon forced into a battle for survival against the elements and a number of crazy, gun-toting mountain men. I've seen a number of films made after Deliverance which feature similar themes of affluent outsiders making ill fated trips to the wilderness, but few of them can compare with the original. Jon Voight is particularly good as an initially timid and calm man who finds strength within himself to fight for survival, but I also enjoyed Burt Reynolds' performance as the unpredictable Lewis. I originally watched Deliverance about ten years ago, and while I remembered the most graphic and gruesome scenes, I had forgotten that the denouement to the film, in which the survivors return home to their families, and attempt to cover up what happened out on the river. Anyway, it's a pretty darn good movie.

Rating: 8/10

All The President's Men (1976)

In which Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffmann ARE Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the crusading journalists whose investigation into a break in at Democrat headquarters leads them onto a trail of corruption which goes all the way up to old Tricky Dick himself. The film succeeds in breaking down the conspiracy into its constituent parts, and effectively shows the painstaking work which was necessary to successfully prove that the senior members of the Republican party were carrying out a dirty tricks campaign against their political enemies. However, I do have some reservations about this film - there is little sense that Woodward and Bernstein are ever really under any personal threat in carrying out their investigation until the very end of the movie, which makes it a little less dramatic than it could have been. The film also ends frustratingly early - Woodward and Bernstein are able to prove that one of Nixon's closest advisors is intimately linked to the Watergate affair, but we never see the endgame for the president himself.

Rating: 7/10

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

This David Fincher movie came between two films which I love unreservedly - Zodiac and The Social Network, but for me it's not a patch on either of those two movies. The film isn't entirely without it's charms, though. Brad Pitt plays the titular character, a man who is born a child sized old man, and experiences the aging process in reverse as he gets older. The story is largely set in New Orleans, from around 1918 until the present day, though  The CGI effects used in the film to demonstrate Mr Button's journey are quite remarkable, and really help the viewer buy in to a rather outlandish premise. Unfortunately, the plot of the movie is rather dull, with Benjamin Button himself a rather bland, passive character who doesn't leave much of an impression. On the other hand, some of the people who Benjamin encounters are much more interesting, including Cate Blanchett's ambitious dancer and particularly Tilda Swinton's character, a prim and proper Englishwoman who seeks escape from her loveless marriage. At almost three hours, the film rather outstays its welcome, but on the whole I don't regret watching it. David Fincher's next project is an adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo - I wonder if it will continue the trend established by his previous few efforts of great film - mediocre film - great film - mediocre film; we shall have to wait and see.

Rating: 6/10

Severance (2006)

A film which was billed as a cross between The Office and Deliverance, this horror-comedy isn't particularly funny or scary. The plot sees a group of broadly drawn stereotypes of office workers heading out into the woods in Serbia for a fun filled weekend of team building. The motley crew includes a pompous boss (Tim McInnerny), an attractive American (Laura Horris), a corporate yes man (Andy Nyman) and a laddish stoner (Mark Kermode's favourite actor, Danny Dyer). Unfortunately, the script for the film is generally poor and laughs are few and far between. The fright sequences lack suspense, and the the majority of the supposedly horrifying aspects of the movie are derived from rather OTT gore and torture scenes. There is some attempt at satire, with office drones who work for a multinational weapons company faced with the end products of their labours, but for me, the whole thing doesn't come off at all.

Rating: 3/10

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006)

This is a very unusual movie indeed, but a film which I enjoyed far more than I expected. It tells the strange tale of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (played by Ben Whishaw), a boy brought up in an orphanage in the poorest section of 19th century Paris, who has the gift of an extraordinarily powerful sense of smell. He is able to escape his humble origins as the apprentice to an Italian perfume maker (Dustin Hoffmann in a rather hammy turn), but despite discovering a genius for formulating perfumes, his true interests lie in rather darker areas. His true nature is awakened after he inadvertently kills a beautiful young woman on the streets of Paris; this leads to Grenouille becoming obsessed with recapturing her scent. His travels take him to the perfume capital of France in Provence, where he perfects his craft as a perfume maker. He develops a process which enable him to store the scents of beautiful women and begins a killing spree in search of the most powerful scent of all... The film is beautifully shot, with vivid colours and images used to represent the various scents picked up by Grenouille's sensitive nose. The story (based on a novel by Patrick Suskind) is highly original and captivating, and I was intrigued by the central character despite his terrible crimes. Perfume was a notorious flop at the box office when it first came out, but it is definitely a movie which is worth seeking out.

Rating: 8/10

Monday, 8 August 2011

That was the week that was (1 August - 7 August)

OK then, without too much of a preamble, the latest batch of reviews. Again, I've been a bit busy of late, so I'm going to try and keep these short and sweet.

Captain America (2011)

In a summer with many so-so superhero movies, here's another... so-so superhero movie. Chris Evans plays Steve Rogers, a frail and sickly young man, whose desire to join the army and fight in the Second World War is thwarted by his poor physical condition. Steve agrees to be the human guinea pig for an experimental new treatment, which turns him into a fine physical specimen, ready to serve his country. Unfortunately, the scientist responsible for developing the super serum is assassinated by a Nazi spy before other soldiers can receive the same treatment, leaving Captain America as the only one of his kind. The Captain heads off to Europe, initially as part of a propaganda exercise, but is soon forced to do battle with a renegade Nazi general known (for obvious reasons) as the Red Skull. I have to say that the film was fairly enjoyable and passed the time well enough, but it wasn't anything too special. Hayley Atwell was suitably fesity as the British secret agent who served as the Captain's love interest, and Hugo Weaving was also pretty solid as the villainous Red Skull. How does it compare with Thor and X Men: First Class? Well, I suppose it was actually a little better than either of those two movies, but I doubt it's a film I'm going to return to in the future. Perhaps I should go and see Green Lantern, so the above films all look good in comparison.

Rating: 6/10

Teen Wolf (1985)

I can't really comment on this movie particularly thoroughly, as I was (half) watching it with a couple of friends while eating my dinner and having a few drinks. From what I saw of it, the film was... not too bad. Michael J Fox stars as a moody adolescent, whose life is further complicated by the fact that he has inherited a werewolfism (or werewolfitis, or whatever the correct term is) from his father. Unlike most other movies in the werewolf genre, Fox seems to be able to control his ability to change form - and when he is in the form of a werewolf, he seems less interested in seeking out human flesh and more interested in playing basketball. Indeed, he discovers that being a werewolf has some notable advantages; it improves your athletic ability and gets '80s girls with big pouffy hair to notice you. There were a few laughs here and there, but the whole thing's very slight. I should also point out that this film features some of the oldest looking 'high school students' ever seen on film. The guy who plays 'Fatty' (pictured below) looks like he's in his late 30s. A film for Michael J Fox fans only.

Rating: 5/10

The Wedding Singer (1998)

I am not what you would call 'an Adam Sandler fan', which is probably apparent from my review of his supposedly serious movie Funny People. I think you could count on the fingers of three fingers those films of his which I've actually enjoyed (for the record: Happy Gilmore, Punch Drunk Love, and this one. I suppose The Waterboy wasn't too bad either). Still, this is a film of his which I can get behind. Some classic '80s tunes, an engaging plot, and - shock horror - Adam Sandler actually being funny, I've seen the Wedding Singer about three or four times, and it's still really good. I should also point out two brilliant, scene stealing turns from Steve Buscemi (as the angry, drunken brother of the groom at a wedding early on in the film) and Jon Lovitz (as a sleazy singer). Almost good enough to make up for 'Click'. (Though probably not good enough to make up for the likes of Grown Ups and all those Rob Schneider films he helped to produce).

Rating: 8/10

Hard Candy (2005)

In which a predatory thirty something photographer (Patrick Wilson) lures a fourteen year old girl (Ellen Page) back to his house, following a meeting at a coffee shop. Little does he know that she is far from the innocent that she appears to be; has been tracking his activities for some time, and is about to turn the tables on him... I didn't really know what to make of this film - to give too much away of the plot would mean giving away spoilers - but without going into specifics, I didn't think much of the ending, which took away any kind of nuance from proceedings, and made everything a little too black and white for my liking. Both Page and Wilson are very solid, but the script seems rather clunky at times, which reduces the impact of their performances. The film also revels in the torture being meted out by Page's character, and some of those scenes were a little hard to stomach.

Rating: 6/10

The Innocents (1961)

Classic '60s horror, based on Henry James' novel 'The Turn of the Screw'.  A new governess (played by Deborah Kerr) moves into a beautiful but eerily quiet country house to take care of two orphaned children. However, despite the children's initially charming behaviour, the governess becomes convinced that the children have been possessed by the spirits of two former employees who formerly worked at the estate, and attempts to root out their evil influencer once and for all. This is a ghost story which is creepy and unsettling rather than being outright terrifying, so I suppose as a horror film, for me, it wasn't a resounding success. Nevertheless, it was a well acted, well made film with some haunting moments. In a way, I saw an echo of the themes of this movie in another, later British horror film, The Wicker Man. (Not the hilariously bad Nicholas Cage version... In both films, a prim and proper outsider comes to a remote location and is horrified by what they perceive as the corruption of the innocent, by forces they do not understand. In both films, the outsider's attempts to interfere with the way things are leads to tragedy. Something to mull over, anyway.

Rating: 7/10

Zodiac (2007)

Having watched Se7en a few weeks ago, I was determined to watch David Fincher's other classic serial killer movie, Zodiac. For me, this is one of the best Hollywood films of the past few years. Unusually, for me, I hadn't read too much about the film before I saw it at the cinema, which made the scenes in which the Zodiac first attacks particularly powerful. The movie is based on the real life Zodiac murders, which took place in the late '60s and early '70s in and around San Francisco. The excellent cast includes Jake Gyllenhaal as Robert Graysmith, a cartoonist who becomes obsessed with solving the Zodiac case, Robert Downey Jr as the lead crime reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle and Mark Ruffalo as David Toschi, the lead detective investigating the Zodiac killer at the SFPD. Although a few scenes don't work quite so well when you know that the protagonist isn't in any real danger (such as Graysmith's visit to the house of the creepy projectionist), the film has a menacing quality which stays with you long after you've finished watching. It's a film which is as much about the obsessive nature of the men who pursue the case as it is about the Zodiac killings themselves. It also features an excellent soundtrack, remarkably detailed period costumes and set design and brilliant cinematography. All in all, it's brilliant. I'm going to do something I very rarely do here and award a '10'.

Rating: 10/10

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

A confession

I was really busy with moving house over the weekend, and I'm afraid to say that I never really got around to updating the blog. I did watch a few films last week, so rather than not post anything this week, I thought I'd just try and give a very brief impression of every movie I watched over the last seven days. I may come back and post proper reviews for these movies, and I promise that normal service will be resumed next week. Honest!

Au Revoir Les Enfants (1987)

A gripping French movie set at a Catholic school during the second world war. A Jewish boy is offered shelter by the head of the school; initially his classmates view him with suspicion, but he becomes friends with the main character, a rather spoilt boy who hides his insecurtiy beneath a facade of toughness. Spoiler alert: it doesn't end happily for any of the main characters. Very well made and ultimately, very moving. I thought I recognised one of the actors as the guy who plays the main judge in the French crime series Spiral, but it turned out I was sorely mistaken.

Rating: 8/10

Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

Has Al Pacino ever bettered this performance? He plays a nervous but charismatic bank robber whose plan to steal enough money for his lover's sex change operation goes horribly wrong; he has to take a vault full of bank employees hostage and winds up at the centre of a media circus. Another great film from Sidney Lumet - somebody I've got a lot of time for, and who was making brilliant films as far back as Twelve Angry Men (1957) and as recently as Before The Devil Knows You're Dead (2007).

Rating: 9/10

Get Carter (1971)

Gritty is probably the word to describe this film. It might be a bit of a cliche, but it's definitely the appropriate word to use here. Michael Caine is terrific as the eponymous antihero, a cold London gangster who heads back up north to Newcastle to investigate his brother's death, and is prepared to take anyone out who gets in his way. Some of the accents seem a bit dodgy - there don't appear to be many real Geordies in the film - but you can overlook that because the rest of the film works so well. A Northern noir.

Rating: 8/10

Three O'Clock High (1987)

A pretty generic '80s high school movie, featuring a whole load of people who look rather too old to be in high school, and whose careers seem to have petered out these days. (A few notable exceptions: Arrested Development's Jeffrey Tambor, The X Files' Mitch Pileggi and Philip Baker Hall (best known to me as the library cop, Bookman, from Seinfeld)). The plot of this one sees the well liked but rather wimpy protagonist (Casey Siemaszko) offend the new kid in school, who resembles Nelson Muntz (or possibly a young Heath Ledger) on steroids. The Muntz stand in challenges Siemaszko to a fight, at three o'clock, outside the school grounds - and like the Lonesome Hobo, our hero is prepared to resort to pretty much anything, including bribery, blackmail and deceit, to avoid getting his clock cleaned. A few funny moments, but pretty average on the whole.

Rating: 6/10