Wednesday, 30 January 2013

C is for Close, but no cigar...

...and finally, to finish off Alphabet Week (as absolutely no-one is calling it), I thought I'd post an A to Z of my second favourite films. There is one slightly controversial entry in this list: the Dutch film The Vanishing is also known by it's original title 'Spoorloos', but as IMDB has the film listed under its English language title, I feel fairly comfortable in including it as my entry for the letter 'V'. If that's not permitted, my back up option would be Mike Leigh's Vera Drake.

Anyway, enough waffle, here's the list:

A: American Psycho
B: Barton Fink
C: Changeling
D: Dark City
E: Election
F: Fargo
G: Groundhog Day
H: Halloween
I: Inception
J: Jindabyne
K: Kind Hearts and Coronets
L: Lost In Translation
M: Miller's Crossing
N: A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors
O: Office Space
P: A Prophet (Un Prophete)
Q: Quiz Show
R: Reservoir Dogs
S: Stand By Me
T: This is Spinal Tap
U: Unforgiven
V: The Vanishing (Spoorloos)
W: Withnail & I
X: X-Men
Y: Young Adult
Z: Zombieland

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

B is for Bloody Awful

I thought I'd continue where I left off yesterday, and again, following Colin's lead, I've put together an A to Z of my least favourite movies. If anything, it was even harder to find films I hated for every letter of the alphabet. I can only apologise to the makers of Q & A and You've Got Mail, both of which I'd regard as being mediocre, rather than terrible movies - I just couldn't think of anything I truly loathed which began with a 'Q' or a 'Y'.

As for the rest - well, there's a mixture of abysmal horror movies, incredibly stupid thrillers and aggressively unfunny comedies. Avoid this lot like the plague...

A: Along Came A Spider
B: Birdemic: Shock and Terror
C: Cats and Dogs
D: Die Another Day
E: End of Days
F: Friday the 13th Part V (A New Beginning)
G: Gone in Sixty Seconds
H: Hackers
I: The Invention of Lying
J: The Jerk
K: Kaboom
L: Love Liza
M: Mr & Mrs Smith
N: Night Watch
O: Once Upon A Time in Mexico
P: Possession
Q: Q & A
R: Rumplestiltskin
S: Scary Movie 2
T: Twisted
U: Urban Legend
V: Valhalla Rising
W: When Saturday Comes
X: The X Files: I Want to Believe
Y: You’ve Got Mail
Z: Zack and Miri

Monday, 28 January 2013

A is for Awesome

My friend Colin has recently put together an alphabetical list of his favourite movies, so I thought I'd respond with my own A to Z, running all the way from Spike Jonze’s amazing Adaptation, to David Fincher’s, um, zippy Zodiac.  It was tough to come up with answers for a few of the letters, particularly J (I like Juno, but I wouldn’t normally include it amongst my all-time favourites), Q, X (this was the toughest of the lot – I was basically restricted to X-Men and X-Files movies) and V. Basically, my answers for all the letters which score highly in Scrabble can be taken with a pinch of salt.

A: Adaptation
B: The Big Lebowski
C: Chinatown
D: Dazed and Confused
E: Ed Wood
F: The Fly
G: Goodfellas
H: Heathers
I: The Ice Storm
J: Juno
K: The Killing
L: L.A. Confidential
M: Mulholland Drive
N: No Country for Old Men
O: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
P: Pulp Fiction
Q: Quadrophenia
R: Rushmore
S: The Shining
T: Taxi Driver
U: The Usual Suspects
V: Videodrome
W: Welcome to the Dollhouse
X: X-Men 2
Y: You Can Count On Me
Z: Zodiac

The week in brief (21 - 27 January 2013)

Not too much to report on this week, with only three movies watched. I've been pretty engrossed in watching the fifth season of Mad Men (which is excellent, by the way), so haven't had too much time for the cinema. This week's list is as follows:

Django Unchained (2013): 8/10
Creepshow (1982): 5/10
Quai des Orfevres (1947): 8/10

Starting with my pick of the week, Quentin Tarantino's controversial Django Unchained. It's a movie which has been described as Tarantino's take on a 'Southern' - something with most of the attributes of a Western, but set in the Deep South during the middle of the 19th century, before the abolition of slavery. Our guides into this often disturbing world are an enlightened German bounty hunter, Dr King Schultz and the slave who he frees and takes on as his apprentice, Django Freeman (Jamie Foxx). The pair spend the first two thirds of the film travelling through the southern states, killing fugitives for reward money, before we reach their ultimate destination: Candyland, the estate which is home to sadistic, twisted plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo di Caprio), and the current location of Django's wife... While Django isn't perfect - for me, it's closer in quality to a flawed picture like Inglourious Basterds than a masterpiece like Pulp Fiction - there is plenty to enjoy here. As is usual with Tarantino movies, there are some brilliant comic set pieces - particularly the scene in which a group of KKK members bicker about the eyeholes on their masks being askew - some rousing, violent action scenes, and various nods and winks to the sometimes disreputable movies of the past which have inspired the director. I was also highly impressed with the performances of Waltz, Foxx, Samuel L Jackson (as the cruel head slave) and particularly Di Caprio, who makes for a supremely repellent villain. My main complaint with this one would be in the way in which it ends - without giving two much away, the movie builds to a strirring climax with its first ending, but then continues for a further half an hour, which allows Django to get his revenge on pretty much everyone who ever wronged him, one at a time. This final section felt rather indulgent to me - especially as it includes a typically cringeworthy cameo from QT himself, speaking in one of the least convincing Australian accents of all time.  Nevertheless, the movie, on the whole delivers - for your money, you get a great (if rather gruesome) night at the cinema.

A strong runner up was Quai des Orfevres, a classic French crime drama from the 1940s. It was directed by HG Clouzot, who was also responsible for the brilliant suspense thriller Les Diaboliques, a movie which ranked at number 3 on my "Top Ten French Movies" list. Quai des Orfervres is a strange film in some ways - the story which centres on the murder of a prominent (but lecherous) industrialist - but there seems no great mystery to what has has happened, as we spend much of the first half of the movie with the apparent culprits - a beautiful young singer and her jealous older husband. Having set the scene, the great detective Antoine enters the story. He's a fascinating character - shabbily dressed, accustomed to being treated in a disdainful manner by criminals, witnesses and victims alike, but he has an incredibly sharp mind and is soon able to expose the flimsy lies with which the singer and her husband attempt to conceal their involvement in the case. However, the film isn't just an interesting murder mystery - it's also a highly vivid portrayal of two highly different worlds - the theatre and the halls of justice - co-existing at the same time, and only a few miles apart. Highly recommended.

Finally, my award for 'turkey of the week' will have to go to the shlocky anthology horror film Creepshow, which presents five different stories, taken from the pages of a horror comic book. On the face of it, the movie sounds like a can't miss proposition. It's scripted by Stephen King (an author I've really come to appreciate recently) and helmed by George A Romero, legendary director of Dawn of the Dead, Night of the Living Dead, Martin and a few other horror classics. Sadly, the various segments of the picture vary wildly in quality. The first section is undoubtably the worst - a group of highly unpleasant rich people are menaced by the unconvincing looking corpse of their dead father. By far the most bizarre and terrifying aspect of this section is Ed Harris cutting a few shapes on the dancefloor. Truly disturbing stuff. Following that, we get to see Stephen King trying his hand at acting (badly, but probably better than Quentin Tarantino) as a country bumpkin who encounters some strange, parasitic vegetation which arises from an asteroid. There's also a moderately entertaining bit with Leslie Nielsen hamming it up as a man who wreaks unspeakable revenge on a man (Ted Danson!) who has been sleeping with his wife, and finally, the best section of the lot, in which a reclusive biollionaire finds his hermetically sealed penthouse apartment under attack by an army of cockroaches. Aside from the first segment, which is dreadful, and the final segment, which is actually pretty creepy, the rest of the movie is just mildly diverting. I wasn't particularly impressed with the quality of the special effects (sometimes laughably unscary) or by the quality of the script - I suspect that it was written in the middle of Stephen King's 'out of control addict' phase. Not one I'm likely to return to in the future.

Kirk's Quote of the Week

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

"Ed: You didn't tell me Barbara had a Jag. I've always wanted to drive one of those.
Shaun: Yeah, well, it's Philip's, okay? He won't let anybody near it. Honestly, I put half a Mars bar in the glove box once and he chased me around the garden with a bit of wood."

Monday, 21 January 2013

The week in brief (14 - 20 January 2013)

This week's list of movies watched:

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012): 6/10
Gangster Squad (2013): 4/10
Slither (2006): 8/10
Kenny (2006): 7/10
A Prairie Home Companion (2006): 7/10
The Interruptors (2011): 7/10

So, this week I made my first trip to the cinema in 2013. Sadly, my moviegoing for the new year didn't get off to a very good start. On paper, Gangster Squad seems like it should be just the sort of film I'd love - it's set in postwar Los Angeles, and tells the allegedly true story of a group of misfit cops who teamed up to bring down the evil 1940s crime boss Mickey Cohen. It features a strong cast (including Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Sean Penn and Nick Nolte) and was directed by Ruben Fleischer, who also helmed the very enjoyable Zombieland. Unfortunately, despite some redeeming features (the costume design and sets look very impressive), this movie was a major disappointment for me. Sometimes, when I'm watching the slower sections of a classic gangster picture like Goodfellas, The Godfather or Casino, I wonder whether it would be better if the film was non-stop exciting, violent action set pieces (like the assassination of Sonny, the car bomb under Ace Rothstein's car etc.) - but what I suppose I've come to realise is that those movies are great because it's not just about having a few gripping and violent sequences - it's the dialogue and characters which suck you in. I felt that Gangster Squad was lacking in both respects. The various characters comprising the 'Gangster Squad' were basically just thinly drawn archetypes who could be summarised in about three words apiece - "the strong leader", "the ladies' man", "the old gunslinger", "the nerdy one" etc. - and as a result, I never really particularly cared whether they succeeded in bringing down Mickey Cohen, or died trying. Sean Penn, who played Cohen, gives an incredibly cartoonish and over the top performance, which is only very tenuously based on the real life criminal of the same name. With this film, I was hoping for something like L.A. Confidential or Chinatown, but what I ended up seeing was more like The Expendables in 1940s costumes.

There's only one film which I saw this week which I'd wholeheartedly recommend. Somewhat surprisingly, it's Slither - a picture from James Gunn who also directed Super, a film which I couldn't stand. Set in a small town in the American South, the plot involves an asteroid strike hitting the woods near the town, and bringing along an extra-terrestial parasite. When local man Grant Grant (Michael Rooker) gets infected and starts attacking the townspeople, it's up to his wife (Elizabeth Banks) and the local sheriff (Nathan Fillion) to bring him down. Banks, Rooker and Fillion all provide wholehearted performances, and the movie deftly combines elements of humour with some pretty extreme gross-out horror. It's probably the best example of this type of film that I've seen since Peter Jackson's Braindead. If you only see one movie about killer brain slugs from outer space this year, make sure it's Slither.

Finally, I'm going to gloss over the three films I saw this week which were 'good but not great', and provide a few words on another recent release, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. The film has an interesting premise, albeit one which seems common to a number of other recently released or upcoming films, such as Melancholia and This is the End. A depressed insurance salesman Dodge (Steve Carrell) has to deal with the news that due to an impending asteroid strike, the world is to end in three short weeks. He resolves to spend his time tracking down the lost love of his life, accompanied by neighbour/ Manic Pixie Dream Girl, Penny (Keira Knightley). It all starts very promisingly - the blossoming friendship/ romance between Carrell and Knightley is played out in front of a backdrop of end of the world craziness, which includes riots, suicides, orgies and other desperate activities. Unfortunately, the second half of the film is a real slog. After escaping the madness of the city, the pair spend an extended period of time getting to know one another, and sadly for the viewer, neither of them is particularly interesting. It's kind of a shame that the film trailed off so dramatically towards the end, as I reckon the apocalypse could yet be fertile ground for a comedy - hopefully This is the End or Edgar Wright's forthcoming The World's End will make better use of this premise.

Kirk's Quote of the Week

A Prairie Home Companion (2006)

"Lola Johnson: What if you die some day?
Garrison Keillor: I will die.
Lola Johnson: Don't you want people to remember you?
Garrison Keillor: I don't want them to be told to remember me."

Sunday, 13 January 2013

The week in brief (7 - 13 January 2013)

This week's list of movies:

Backbeat (1994): 7/10
Take This Waltz (2011): 4/10
The Lost Weekend (1945): 8/10
Child's Play (1988): 6/10

Right then, a quick run through of what I've been watching. Nothing really stood out as being particularly great this week - though I quite enjoyed The Lost Weekend, a Billy Wilder picture from the 1940s which concerns a struggling writer's battle with alcoholism. Ray Milland was appropriately tortured as the alcoholic author, and there are some interesting visual flourishes (especially the scene in which Milland starts to hallucinate). Backbeat is a film which I have mixed feelings about. It's set in Hamburg in the early '60s, telling the story of The Beatles' original bass player, Stuart Sutcliffe and his departure from the band to be with his German fiancee, Astrid Kirchherr.  I found the film to be rather flawed, but not without some strong redeeming features. On the one hand, the performances of Stephen Dorff (as Sutcliffe) and Sheryl Lee (as Kirchherr) were pretty bland, with the viewer given little reason to care about these two dull but attractive individuals. On the other hand, I loved Ian Hart as John Lennon - he's excellent as an acid tongued, charismatic and angry young man clearly destined for stardom. The film also really comes to life during any scene in which the group is playing. An all star line up of '90s musicians (including Dave Grohl, Mike Mills and Thurston Moore) were responsible for recording the music used in the movie, and they give some electrifying performances of classic Beatles rock and roll covers such as Road Runner, Twist and Shout and Long Tall Sally. Definitely worth a look for Beatles fans.

There was one real contender for turkey of the week - the hugely disappointing Take This Waltz. I'm usually a big fan of Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen, so I felt more than a little let down with this smug, tedious attempt at a romantic drama. Williams plays Margot, a woman in a stable but dull relationship with cookbook author Lou (Rogen), who finds herself tempted into entering into an affair with Daniel, a neighbourhood artist. I suppose my biggest peeve with this film was that neither Margot nor Daniel were at all likeable - Margot is neurotic to the point where she finds herself unable to walk in an airport for fearing of 'missing a connection', while Daniel is overbearing, pretentious and seemingly without scruples in the way he greets Lou like an old friend while simultaneously romancing his wife behind his back. The movie also seemed to be trying far too hard to be quirky - meaning various elements of the film felt entirely false and artificial. Particularly irritating examples of this are the baby talk which Margot and Lou habitually engage in, the fact that Ben is working on a wacky cookbook consisting of entirely chicken related recipes and that Margot's principal hobby seems to be gatecrashing a water aerobics class for the over 70s. While I have to admit I enjoyed the scene in which Margot finally realises that she's fallen for Daniel (whilst on a waltzer, to the strains of Video Killed the Radio Star), other than that, this movie was a dead loss.

Kirk's Quote of the Week

Chinatown (1974)

"Jake Gittes: How much are you worth?
Noah Cross: I have no idea. How much do you want?
Jake Gittes: I just wanna know what you're worth. More than 10 million?
Noah Cross: Oh my, yes!
Jake Gittes: Why are you doing it? How much better can you eat? What could you buy that you can't already afford?
Noah Cross: The future, Mr. Gittes! The future."

Sunday, 6 January 2013

The week in brief (31 December 2012 - 6 January 2013)

This week's list of movies watched:

The Sure Thing (1985): 8/10
The Dark Knight Rises (2012): 8/10
Mad Max (1979): 5/10
Margaret (2011): 9/10

Another fairly slow week - and again, not too much for me to report on, really. Owing to a delay in my LOVEFiLM delivery, I spent the week catching up on a few old favourites. I've previously reviewed The Sure Thing and The Dark Knight Rises (here and here), and I can only report that both movies were just as good second time around.

While I have seen Margaret before (I really liked it), it was a little different this time, as I saw an alternative cut to the version I caught in the cinemas this time last year. Quite frequently, when I see an extended cut of a movie on DVD - it's usually a Hollywood comedy, with something like "Unrated Extreme Edition! Too Hot for Cinemas!" on the box - and I can generally see why all the 'extended scenes' were removed from the film in the first place. On this occasion, however, given that Kenneth Lonergan, the director of Margaret, had an extended battle with the studio over the content of the picture, it was genuinely interesting to see a longer version of the film which is apparently closer to his original vision. In terms of differences between the cuts, I'd say that the longer cut may be a slight improvement on the cinematic version. Certain scenes have been added in to the picture which make previously inexplicable plot points make more sense, and the movie flows a little better as a whole. Above all, some of Lonergan's themes in the film - that of New York as a whole being shaken to its core by the 9/11 attacks, and that Lisa Cohen's story is just one of many stories taking place in the city at any given time - seem clearer in the longer cut. Though this is a rather lengthy picture (now coming in at just under three hours), it's well worth the investment of your time.

Only one other film to report on this week - and one which had the dubious honour of introducing Australian wildman Mel Gibson to the moviegoing public - the original Mad Max. Although it's one of those movies which seems to have been on late night TV about twice a week since 1987, for one reason or another, I'd never got around to seeing it until now. Set in the near future, the story involves a renegade lawman's pursuit of an unpleasant gang of bikers who have been menacing his family. Even though it's regarded as a classic of its genre, I have to say that I wasn't overly impressed with this one. The film was made on a shoestring budget, and that's something which is apparent in various aspects of the production - from the generally dubious quality of the acting to the bargain basement "apocalyptic future" look of the film. Even more worryingly, Max doesn't really get 'mad' (and take his revenge) until the very end of the movie - that's a long time to sit through some pretty poor screenwriting and uninteresting characters. That's not to say that the film is entirely without merit - the first ten minutes and last ten minutes are pretty exciting, with some high octane car chases and some highly commendable stunts. Apparently the second film in the trilogy is a big step up, so I'll probably seek it out at some point, but my expectations for it won't be particularly high.

Kirk's Quote of the Week

Miller's Crossing (1990)

"Johnny Caspar: It's gettin' so a businessman can't expect no return from a fixed fight. Now, if you can't trust a fix, what can you trust? For a good return, you gotta go bettin' on chance - and then you're back with anarchy, right back in the jungle."