Sunday, 27 May 2012

The week in brief (21 - 27 May)

Bit of a step down from the 17 films listed last week - this time around I watched a rather more modest 6 movies. Of those 6, 3 were good, 2 bad and 1 mediocre. The line up was as follows:

Horrible Bosses (2011): 6/10
Malcolm X (1992): 8/10
Night Watch (Nochnoy Dozor) (2004): 4/10
Eyes Wide Shut (1999): 8/10
Valhalla Rising (2009): 4/10
Moonrise Kingdom (2012): 8/10

First up, the good. Both Malcolm X and Eyes Wide Shut are films with exceptionally long running times, and as a person who ordinarily has the attention span of a goldfish, I wasn't entirely sure I'd be able to see them through in one sitting. That I did so, and in fact (in both cases) was completely absorbed by the film for the duration, is a testament to the quality of both of the pictures. Eyes Wide Shut in particular is a fascinating film. I had thought it would consist of a long drawn out argument between Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, but that's just the tip of the iceberg: the plot sees Tom Cruise's doctor taken to strange and disturbing places, as he catches a glimpse of a hidden underworld involving many prominent members of New York high society.  It's a fitting way for Stanley Kubrick to sign off his life as a director, with echoes of many of his earlier films: we have Regency costumes (Barry Lyndon), a promiscuous teenager (Lolita), disturbing, phallic masks (A Clockwork Orange) and a sinister butler (The Shining). If I was to slot the film into my Kubrick top ten, I think I'd put it seventh, just below A Clockwork Orange.

Also highly recommended this week: Wes Anderson's latest movie, Moonrise Kingdom. I'm a big fan of Anderson's first few pictures (Rushmore in particular), but I wasn't as keen on The Darjeeling Limited or Fantastic Mr Fox. Moonrise Kingdom sees Wes get back on track - it's sweet, touching, and beautifully shot, with two winning performances from the two young lead actors (Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward). They're helped by an astonishing ensemble of brilliant actors in supporting roles, including Ed Norton, Bruce Willis, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, Harvey Keitel, Frances McDormand and Jason Schwartzmann.

Now we move on to the bad: I regret to say that I really didn't enjoy Night Watch or Valhalla Rising. The former is just a confusing, incoherent mess, which is only partly redeemed by a few impressive action set pieces. The latter was a bigger disappointment for me - I've liked pretty much everything Nicolas Winding Refn has done to date (particularly Drive), but Valhalla Rising has to be one of the most tedious films I've had the misfortune of sitting through in quite some time. Although it has a running time which is less than half that of Malcolm X, it felt like the movie had lasted for days. It was a real endurance contest for me to get to the end without drifting off to sleep.

No list this week, but as it's a Bank Holiday weekend coming up, I should have plenty of time to put another top 10 together shortly...

Kirk's Quote of the Week

Rushmore (1998)

"Max Fischer: So tell me Curly, how do you know Miss Cross?
Dr. Peter Flynn : We went to Harvard together.
Max Fischer : Oh that's great. I wrote a hit play and directed it, so I'm not sweating it either."

Sunday, 20 May 2012

The week in brief (14 - 20 May)

Lots to report on in this post - I think this is the most films I've seen in a week since my Horror Week back in November last year. The (lengthy) list of films I've seen over the last seven days is as follows:

March of the Penguins (2005): 7/10
Final Destination 4 (The Final Destination) (2009) 7/10
Dark Shadows (2012): 6/10
Kung Fu Hustle (2004): 6/10
The X Files: I Want to Believe (2008): 6/10
Groundhog Day (1993): 10/10
Fight Club (1999): 9/10
Final Destination 5 (2011): 7/10
Neds (2010): 7/10
Sarah's Key (2010): 8/10
Hanna (2011): 9/10
The Fighter (2010): 8/10
Kaboom (2010): 2/10
Rabbit Hole (2010): 7/10
The Sting (1973): 8/10
Big (1988): 8/10
The Raid (2011): 9/10

My award for movie of the week has to go to Groundhog Day - it's funny, it's touching, it's sweet and it features an absolutely brilliant lead performance from Bill Murray. I must have seen the film about 6 or 7 times, but it's still fantastic. It even manages the astonishing feat of making Andie MacDowell seem likeable. Other films which I rewatched over the past 7 days and thoroughly enjoyed include Fight Club, Hanna (just as great as the last time I saw it), Big, The Sting and The Fighter.

Of the films I saw for the first time this week, one stood out in particular: Sarah's Key, a recent French film which takes a look back at the terrible fate that befell the Jewish residents of Paris during the Second World War. It's a heartbreakingly sad, but really well made film that really made me think about how I might have reacted to a Nazi occupation of my city, had I been alive back in the 1940s. (Edit: I wrote the above before I saw The Raid on Sunday evening. It's a brilliant Indonesian action/ martial arts flick, with some of the most astonishing fight scenes I've seen on film for a very long time. It's just come out in the UK and is definitely worth checking out.)

In other news, I seem to have developed some sort of Stockholm syndrome in relation to the Final Destination films. After absolutely slating the second one, and just about tolerating the third movie, I found myself having a whale of a time watching the fourth and fifth instalments in the series. I suppose the trick is to look past the sometimes terrible acting and the repetitive plotting, and just enjoy the films for the wildly over the top death scenes. It's kind of like watching the old BBC series 999, only without Michael Buerke popping up to offer a grave warning about engaging in the kind of dangerous activities which lead to accidents.

There was only one film which I really didn't like this week, but it was an absolute stinker. I'm generally quite generous with my marks out of ten, and rarely give a movie a mark below a 5, but in the instance of Gregg Araki's Kaboom, I'm quite happy to make an exception. It's an amateurish, sloppy mess, full of obnoxious, self regarding characters and a plot that makes no sense whatsoever. In my opinion, it's a massive step back for Araki as a follow up to the brilliant Mysterious Skin. In fact, I'm only awarding it 2 marks out of 10 because I like Juno Temple.

(By the way, in case you haven't seen it, I've put together another top ten list this week - this time on my favourite Stanley Kubrick movies).

Kirk's Quote of the Week:

Election (1999):

"Jim McAllister:  Larry, we're not electing the fucking Pope here. Just tell me who won."

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Listorama! My Top Ten Kubrick Movies

Well, it's time for another list; this time I'm going to be doing a run down of ten of the best from one of my favourite directors, Stanley Kubrick. Throughout his career, Kubrick covered a diverse range of genres, from historical epics to comedies, war movies to science fiction, but just about every film he made was a success.

There are two Kubrick films which are ineligible for this list (because I haven't seen them): his first film, Fear and Desire (1953) and his final film Eyes Wide Shut (1999). It's tricky to get hold of the first of those films, but I really don't have much of an excuse for not watching the second one - other than a strong desire not to see Tom Cruise running around in his pants. Despite that reservation, it is now on my LOVEFiLM list, and if I like it, I may have to make room for it on this list at some point in the future.

That leaves eleven Kubrick movies to rank, so one of them couldn't make the cut. That film is Barry Lyndon, which I've previously reviewed here. I found it to be a little over long and rather ponderously paced, but it's certainly not a bad film.

Anyway, here's the remainder of Mr Kubrick's movies, ranked from worst (10) to best (1):

10. Killer's Kiss (1955)

An early, minor work from Kubrick, this '50s film noir tells the story of a punchdrunk boxer (Jamie Smith) who resolves to save the life of a dancer (played by Irene Kane) from the murderous attentions of her evil employer (Frank Silvera). This is a film made very early on in Kubrick's career, was shot on a shoestring budget, and barely qualifies at feature length (it clocks in at 67 minutes). Nevertheless, it's an entertaining story, economically told and showing early signs of brilliance.

 9. Spartacus (1960)

This sprawling historical epic featured a cast full of heavyweight thespians of the era, including the likes of Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Peter Ustinov and Charles Laughton. We follow the heroic Spartacus, as he leads a slaves' revolt against ancient Rome. While it's a fine film, it was made by Kubrick as a 'gun for hire', and lacks the personal touch of some of his later masterpieces.

8. Lolita (1962)

(Previously reviewed here). Given the censor's restrictions which he was under at the time, it seems remarkable that Kubrick was able to create any kind of film out of the controversial novel. That he was able to do so successfully is a mark of the fine filmmaker he is. Less focus is placed on the relationship between seedy academic Humbert Humbert and Dolores Haze, the object of his affections; instead, the film hinges on the rivalry between Humbert and his even more odious counterpart, Clare Quilty. Peter Sellers steals the show as the villainous Quilty, a master of disguise with absolutely no moral compass.

7. A Clockwork Orange (1971)

If anything, this movie was even more controversial than Lolita, and was withdrawn from distribution in the UK (at the director's request) between 1972 and 1999.  Now widely available, it's a very good adaptation of Anthony Burgess' book, in which a sociopathic thug (or 'droog') undergoes a radical treatment to 'cure him' of his violent impulses. If the film does have a flaw, it's that feels rather dated at times - the future world created in this film seems to be very much a product of the '70s. Despite that, it's a highly inventive, disturbing film, anchored by a career best performance by Malcolm McDowell as head droog Alex.

6. Paths of Glory (1957)

(Previously reviewed here). An incredibly effective anti-war movie set during the First World War, this one has Kirk Douglas portraying a heroic Colonel in the French army, who is determined to save the lives of a number of his men who have wrongly been accused of insubordination. Few movies have been as savage about the madness of war, or as cutting about the disdain which certain high ranking members of the military hold for the lives of those in the lower orders.

5. Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Another fantastic anti-war film, this time following the progress of a platoon of recruits from basic training until they see action in the Vietnam War. The first hour of this one is hard to beat - we see the way in which the grunts are transformed from raw, fresh faced boys into dead eyed killing machines by a sadistic drill sergeant (played brilliantly by R. Lee Ermey). While the second half of the film isn't quite as effective, Kubrick is still able to effectively portray the insanity of the conflict in Vietnam (despite shooting the entire movie in England).

4. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

An incredibly ambitious sci-fi epic, 2001 documents our relationship with technology: from our ape-like ancestors using crude tools through to their descendants entering the space age. The film is divided into three distinct segments; the first, set during prehistoric times, is a little slow paced for my tastes. The second, showing a troubled space expedition and the conflict between the crew of a spacecraft and its computer, is wonderfully tense. Then we have final segment, which almost defies description, a mesmerising trip through time and space that has to be seen to be believed.  I'm not normally a huge fan of science fiction, but this is one film from that genre that I couldn't help but be impressed with.

3. Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

Kubrick may well be the only filmmaker who can make a film involving an all too plausible nuclear armageddon scenario into something which is laugh out loud funny. As in Lolita, the brilliant Peter Sellers once again steals the show, portraying three different (and hilarious) characters: bumbling RAF Captain Lionel Mandrake, ineffectual President Merkin Muffley and the creepy, sinister nuclear scientist Dr Strangelove. A film which is hilarious and troubling in equal measure.

2. The Killing (1956)

It may raise a few eyebrows to see The Killing beating out the likes of A Clockwork Orange, 2001 and Dr Strangelove to reach second place on my list, but for me, this is just about the perfect heist movie. With this story of a plot to rob a racetrack, Kubrick assembles a motley crew of robbers, who believe they have hatched the perfect plan - though of course, when it comes to putting the plan into practice, not everything runs so smoothly... It's a tautly plotted and scripted film which proves Stanley Kubrick was making wonderful films right from the start of his career.

1. The Shining (1980)

It came out top of my horror films list and has once again emerged victorious - The Shining is my absolute favourite Stanley Kubrick movie. It works as both as a terrifying horror film and as a character study of an isolated man coming apart at the seams. Apparently, Kubrick drove his cast to the brink of madness with his demands to do hundreds and hundreds of takes of certain scenes. In my view, it was worth it - his perfectionism led to the memorably unhinged performances from Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall.  It's an unnerving movie with many secrets, lurking just below the surface, a film I can watch again and again.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

The week in brief (7 - 13 May)

So, I'm back with another quick round up of what I've been watching over the past seven days. Quite a busy week, with nine films seen, though not really a vintage collection if I'm being honest. The line up was as follows:

Oranges and Sunshine (2010) 8/10
Lourdes (2009) 6/10
Drive (2011) 8/10
Final Destination 3 (2006) 5/10
Saw IV (2007) 4/10
Predators (2010) 6/10
Bad Teacher (2011) 6/10
Piranha (2010) 5/10
Secret Window (2004) 6/10

My picks of the week go to Drive and to Oranges and Sunshine, two very good, but very different films. Oranges and Sunshine is a poignant and moving story about the investigation into the forced migration of kids in childrens homes to Australia in the 1950s. Emily Watson is fantastic as Margaret Humphreys, a social worker from Nottingham who uncovered the truth about the case in the '80s, then led a campaign on behalf of the children. Drive is a film I've previously reviewed on this blog (see link above) - if you haven't seen it yet, you really should. It's just a fantastically stylish crime picture from Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn.

Sadly, those two films were about the only two bright spots in a pretty poor week, on the whole. There were a number of contenders for 'worst movie of the week', but Saw IV just about pipped Final Destination 3 and Piranha for the title. None of the films are exactly masterpieces of cinema, but at least FD3 features Mary Elizabeth Winstead (by the standards of the Final Destination series, she's Meryl Streep) and Piranha has a certain campy appeal. Saw IV was just a confusing, depressing experience; even Jigsaw's signature traps seemed to lack the invention of those that featured in the first three Saw movies.

No top ten list this week, I'm afraid, but I can direct you to a list that my friend Colin has put together on his blog (dated April 23 2012). It's a run down of his top ten cinematic couples - some are romantic pairings, others are just good friends.

Kirk's Quote of the Week

This is Spinal Tap (1984)

"Marty DiBergi: David St. Hubbins... I must admit I've never heard anybody with that name. 
David St. Hubbins: It's an unusual name. Well, he was an unusual saint. He's not a very well-known saint. 
Marty DiBergi: Oh, there actually is, uh... there was a St. Hubbins? 
David St. Hubbins: That's right, yes. 
Marty DiBergi: What was he the saint of? 
David St. Hubbins: He was the patron saint of quality footwear."

Monday, 7 May 2012

Listorama! My Top Ten L.A. Movies

I thought it was about time I got around to doing another top ten list. On this occasion, I'm going to be counting down my favourite ten films set in Los Angeles. LA is a city which I've never visited, though due to the sheer number of films and TV shows I've seen which are set in Southern California, I feel like I know the place anyway. It's possibly for the best that I've never been there in person - the real Los Angeles could never live up to the city I've created in my mind.

Now, I know that a huge number of films have been shot in LA, but to qualify for this list, the films have to be set in LA (or its environs), and feature the city's locations prominently. As with my other lists, there were a number of excellent movies which didn't quite make the cut: Heat, Down In The Valley, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Boogie Nights, The Big Sleep,  Boyz N The Hood, Sunset Boulevard and Inland Empire.

Right then, that's enough of a preamble. On with the list!

10. The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988)

I've loved the Naked Gun movies since I was a kid, and for my money, Leslie Nielsen's first outing as Lt. Frank Drebin is the best. I had a hard time deciding between this movie and Heat, but for sheer re-watchability, Naked Gun wins hands down. Provided you've got a sufficiently puerile mind, it's hilarious from start to finish, and culminates in a brilliant scene set at a California Angels baseball game. Plus, we get this fine montage, set in such quintessential Los Angeles locations as the beach, tattoo parlour, and the rodeo (that's a popular activity in LA, right?).

Memorable lines:

"Jane: Would you like a nightcap?
Frank: No, thank you, I don't wear them."

9. Magnolia (1999)

An incredibly ambitious, sprawling three hour epic which shares the stories of a number of heartbroken Angelenos, it's hard to believe that Paul Thomas Anderson was only 29 years old when he made this picture. It's also noteworthy for featuring a performance from Tom Cruise that proves that the guy really can act if he wants to, as well as brilliant turns from the likes of Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffmann and William H Macy.

Memorable lines:

"Claudia Gator:  Now that I've met you, would you object to never seeing me again?"

8. Short Cuts (1993)

Another lengthy anthology of LA stories, this time directed by old master Robert Altman. It's tough to choose between this movie and Magnolia, but Short Cuts just about edges it.  Each of the segments here is based on the short fiction of Raymond Carver, one of my favourite writers, and it's crammed full of fascinating, desperate characters from all ends of the social spectrum in Los Angeles.

Memorable lines:

"Tess Trainer: I hate L.A. All they do is snort coke and talk."

7. Barton Fink (1991)

This is the first of several films on my list which touches on the dark side of showbusiness. Promising playwright Barton Fink is whisked off to Hollywood with dreams of making a difference to the common man, but like William Faulkner and F Scott Fitzgerald before him, he winds up crushed by Hollywood, writing Wallace Beery wrestling pictures for crazy studio mogul Jack Lipnick. One of the Coen brothers' finest pictures, it goes to fiendish lengths to portray the way the writer is treated by the studio system.

Memorable lines:

"Ben Geisler: Look, you confused? You need guidance? Talk to another writer.
Barton: Who?
Geisler: Jesus, throw a rock in here, you'll hit one. And do me a favour, Fink: throw it hard."

6. Double Indemnity (1944)

A magnificent film noir, starring Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck and Edward G Robinson. This film has MacMurray as Walter Neff, a straight arrow insurance salesman talked into a murderous scheme by a beautiful femme fatale (Stanwyck). I suppose what I like so much about this film is the contrast between the beauty of the setting - a city where the sun is always shining and the American dream is being lived to the full - and the corruption and unpleasantness which resides just below the surface of that mirage. It's a film I can watch over and over again.

Memorable lines:

"Phyllis: I'm a native Californian. Born right here in Los Angeles.
Walter Neff: They say all native Californians come from Iowa. "

5. The Big Lebowski (1998)

Probably the most quotable film of all time, a movie which has launched conventions, festivals, irritating adverts for VW... you name it, Lebowski has done it. It's also a great LA movie, taking in the Dude's private residence in Venice, the Big Lebowski's mansion in Pasadena, Jackie Treehorn's place in Malibu, In-N-Out Burger and, of course, the famous bowling alley, which has apparently now been demolished. If you haven't seen this movie, you really need to rectify that situation right now. (By the way, I'm aware that in a previous list of Coen brothers movies, I placed Barton Fink above the Big Lebowski, but here it's a few places lower. I suppose there are two reasons for that: and (a) It was extremely difficult to separate the top four films on my Coen list - on another day, the top four could have been in a completely different order (b) I felt that Lebowski was more of a 'Los Angeles' movie, if that makes sense - it covered a broader range of LA locations and people than Barton Fink, which just took place in the world of Hollywood.)

Memorable lines:

"The Stranger: Sometimes, there's a man, well, he's the man for his time and place. He fits right in there. And that's the Dude. The Dude, from Los Angeles. And even if he's a lazy man—and the Dude was most certainly that. Quite possibly the laziest in all of Los Angeles County, which would place him high in the runnin' for laziest worldwide."

 4. L.A. Confidential (1997)

I absolutely love James Ellroy's books - particularly the L.A. quartet, four hardboiled crime novels which expose the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles in the '40s and '50s. For me, L.A. Confidential is probably Ellroy's greatest novel, and Curtis Hanson's adaptation perfectly translates the book to the big screen. It features career best performances from the likes of Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Kevin Spacey and Kim Basinger, a beautiful recreation of postwar LA, a brilliantly twisty plot and an amazing ending.

Memorable lines:

"Sid Hudgens: Come to Los Angeles! The sun shines bright, the beaches are wide and inviting, and the orange groves stretch as far as the eye can see. There are jobs aplenty, and land is cheap. Every working man can have his own house, and inside every house, a happy, all-American family. You can have all this, and who knows... you could even be discovered, become a movie star... or at least see one. Life is good in Los Angeles... it's paradise on Earth. Ha ha ha ha. That's what they tell you, anyway."

 3. Mulholland Drive (2001)

Perhaps David Lynch's finest movie, this is another film on this list which examines the dark side of Hollywood. It has a hypnotic, mesmerising quality - like watching a beautiful nightmare that you can't turn away from. It took me several viewings to even get close to working out what's going on in the second half of the picture, but the film is so full of bizarre, memorable scenes that rewatching it is always a pleasure, never a chore.

Memorable lines:

"The Cowboy: You will see me one more time if you do good. You will see me two more times if you do bad.”

2. Pulp Fiction (1994)

A film that launched a thousand (pale) imitators, Pulp Fiction is Quentin Tarantino at his absolute best. Cutting between different intersecting L.A. crime stories, we get to meet bungling hitmen Jules and Vincent, washed up prizefighter Butch, sadistic redneck Z, crime boss Marcellus Wallace, his coke-addled wife Mia and many other wonderful creations. It's just a brilliant Los Angeles movie - funny, exciting and unbelievably cool.

Memorable lines:

"Jules: And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who would attempt to poison and destroy My brothers. And you will know My name is the Lord when I lay My vengeance upon thee."

1.  Chinatown (1974)

So, we finally come to number 1 on my list, and as Chinatown is probably my absolute favourite film of all time right now, there wasn't much doubt in my mind that it would be top of the charts in terms of L.A. movies, too. It's brilliantly directed by Roman Polanski, wonderfully scripted by Robert Towne, and features iconic performances from Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway. I'd say it's probably the perfect film noir - one in which Nicholson as private eye Jake Gittes discovers the ultimate truth about Los Angeles - the poisonous foundations on which the City of Angels was built.

Memorable lines:

"Morty: Can you believe it? We're in the middle of a drought, and the water commissioner drowns. Only in L.A. "

Sunday, 6 May 2012

The week in brief (30 April - 6 May)

As I mentioned last week, I've decided to have a bit of a change of format change for Kirk's Movie Blog. I'm going to cut back on reviewing every film I see and instead just do a quick list with my thoughts for the week. That should give me a bit more time to do my Listorama! top ten lists - look out for my top ten L.A. movies list, coming up tomorrow.

Anyway, this week, I have been mostly watching...

Dark Star (1974) 5/10
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) 8/10
City of Men (2007) 7/10
The Kite Runner (2007) 7/10
Animal Kingdom (2010) 9/10
Super 8 (2011) 8/10
Donkey Punch (2008) 7/10
American Reunion (2012) 6/10
The Children (2008) 6/10

Best film of the week will have to go Animal Kingdom, which was just as good as when I saw it last year. I can't decide who's scarier - Ben Mendelsohn as psychotic, creepy gangster Andrew 'Pope' Cody, or Jacqui Weaver as his mother, whose genial, friendly front masks a ruthless and calculating interior. Also (unexpectedly) very good: Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which started off a little slowly, but comes to a brilliantly executed climax, set on the Golden Gate Bridge. Worst film of the week? Probably Dark Star - though I'm a big fan of a number of John Carpenter's movies, this was his first picture and it's very rough around the edges.

Looking to the future, I've had a look at the upcoming releases for the UK, and it's looking good for the next few months. There's something I want to see almost every week from now until August:

11 May: Dark Shadows
18 May: The Raid: Redemption
25 May: Moonrise Kingdom/ Men In Black III
1 June: Prometheus
8 June: The Innkeepers/ A Fantastic Fear of Everything
29 June: Killer Joe
4 July: The Amazing Spider-Man
20 July: The Dark Knight Risaes

Kirk's Quote of the Week: 

Barton Fink (1991)

"Mastrionotti: Started in Kansas City. Couple of housewives. 
Deutsch: Couple days ago we see the same M.O. out in Los Feliz. 
Mastrionotti: Doctor. Ear, nose and throat man. 
Deutsch: All of which he's now missin'. 
Mastrionotti: Well, some of his throat was there. 
Deutsch: Physician, heal thyself. 
Mastrionotti: Good luck with no fuckin' head."