Sunday, 23 June 2013

The fortnight in brief (10 - 23 June 2013)

These are the movies I've watched over the last couple of weeks:

Billy the Kid (2007): 7/10
Metropolitan (1990): 7/10
Sinister (2012): 6/10
Chariots of Fire (1981): 8/10
A Royal Affair (En Kongelig Affaere) (2012): 7/10
Taken (2008): 7/10
Down Terrace (2009): 8/10
God Bless America (2011): 6/10

A fairly decent week, on the whole - I saw nothing which I'd regard as poor, plenty of very solid movies, and two very good pictures. My first choice for pick of the week goes to the 1980s classic Chariots of Fire, which tells the story of the Great Britain athletics team which competed at the Paris Olympics in 1924. It's primarily focussed on GB's two great medal hopes for the games; men from entirely different backgrounds, driven to succeed for contrasting reasons. Firstly, there's Harold Abrahams, a young man who has wanted for nothing and has been to the finest schools in England, but has always felt like an outcast due to his Jewish roots. He's running as a way of proving himself to the establishment. Secondly, there's Eric Liddell, a runner from Scotland of incredible natural talent, whose devoutly Christian faith is his inspiration for running, though also threatens to interfere with his ability to compete (as he refuses to run on Sunday). It's a gripping story, very well told. As I didn't know the actual results of the Olympic games in question, I genuinely had no idea whether the protagonists would succeed. The film features some fine performances, particularly from Ben Cross as Abrahams and Ian Charleson as Liddell.

My second selection for pick of the week is the brilliant Ben Wheatley's first picture, Down Terrace. Having absolutely loved Wheatley's more recent efforts - Kill List and Sightseers (my film of the year for 2012), I was extremely excited to discover that LOVEFiLM had sent me Wheatley's debut in the post. The movie tells the story of a small time criminal family from Brighton - as we enter the story, the father (Robert Hill) and his son (Robin Hill) have narrowly escaped going to prison for drug dealing. They return to their down at the heel family home determined to discover which of their low rent associates was responsible for grassing them up. In common with his later movies, we get to experience the same rundown British setting, the same realistic dialogue and the black humour and bloodcurdling violence which is Mr Wheatley's trademark. Though the plot is perhaps not 100% airtight, at least from my perspective - as it was never really clear exactly why certain characters were suspected of treachery - this never really gets in the way of the fine, understated comic performances and superb script. It's another success from one of my favourite directors.

Once again, I didn't see anything which I'd regard as being a turkey, but Sinister was just a shade above mediocre.  Ethan Hawke stars as Ellison Oswalt, a true crime writer who takes the inspired decision to move his family into the scene of a horrific slaying, then becomes obsessed with a box of snuff movies which has mysteriously appeared in his attic. Needless to say, these choices backfire on Ellison pretty quickly, as he begins to fear that his own family may be the target of a (possibly) supernatural serial killer known as "Mr Boogie". Now, on the one hand, the film is a success on at least one level, as it's a horror picture which is genuinely scary in places. True, most of these scares are simply horrible things jumping out of the dark with an accompanying shriek from the film's score, but it still worked on me. On the other hand, I felt that a lot of the scary stuff on offer here has been seen before on a number of occasions. Creepy kids drawing weird pictures on the walls, a warning from the local Sheriff, psycho killers in masks, the protagonist running around in the house in the dark... these elements have all been done and dusted elsewhere. So, I suppose the movie scores fairly highly as on the terror scale, but loses marks for lack of originality.

Kirk's Quote of the Week

Pi (1998)

"Sol Robeson: You want to find the number 216 in the world, you will be able to find it everywhere. 216 steps from a mere street corner to your front door. 216 seconds you spend riding on the elevator. When your mind becomes obsessed with anything, you will filter everything else out and find that thing everywhere."


Monday, 10 June 2013

The week in brief (3 - 9 June 2013)

This week, I have been mostly watching...

Bugsy (1991): 6/10
The Purge (2013): 5/10
Sullivan's Travels (1941): 8/10
In the Name of the Father (1993): 8/10
Your Friends & Neighbors (1998): 7/10

Starting off with the only movie which I saw at the cinema, I'm sorry to report that The Purge wasn't any great shakes. It's a shame too, since I loved the premise of this film. It's set around ten years time, in an alternative version of America in which for one night of the year, all crime, up to and including murder, is legal. The 'New Founding Fathers' of this brave new world are constantly on the television, trumpeting their achievements in establishing a place in which the ability for the masses to let out their basest instincts in an annual cathartic bloodbath, thus minimising violence for the remainder of the year. However, aside from the state sanctioned propaganda, it's clear that 'the purge' isn't really solving any problems - those rich enough to pay for protection are able to shelter for the night, whilst the poor and homeless are soft targets for the angry and the sociopathic. So, like I said, a very intriguing premise. Sadly, the director doesn't really delve into this world in any great depth, instead presenting us with a fairly ordinary home invasion thriller, in which a family is under attack from a group of rampaging 'Purgers'. The tension is built up pretty effectively, and I was generally enjoying things until the point at which the doors blew off and the house was under attack - after which the film collapsed in on itself like a deflated balloon. The 'Purgers' act in such an idiotic fashion that any sense of threat from them soon dissipates, and all of the action scenes are shot in an irritating shakey-cam style, meaning that it's hard to gather any sense of what's going on. It's all a bit of a shame, as there must be a brilliant movie which could have been made with the same premise - unfortunately, The Purge isn't it.

My pick of the week goes to In the Name of the Father, a powerful movie which examines the Guildford Four case, a famously tragic miscarriage of justice. Beginning in the early '70s, we follow the life and times of Gerry Conlon, perhaps the most famous of the Four, a petty thief from Belfast who was framed for the IRA Guildford pub bombings and remained in prison for a total of 15 years despite evidence clearing his name being available to the police. If it wasn't true, it would be hard to believe that something like this actually happened - but it seems that the desire to catch somebody - anybody - for the pub bombings led the police into a position in which they flagrantly abused their powers. It's a shocking story, but very well told, and features some splendid performances from Daniel Day Lewis (fantastic as usual), Pete Postlethwaite (as Gerry's father, Guiseppe Conlon) and Emma Thompson (as the crusading lawyer who brings the truth to light).

 (In mentioning my favourite film of the week, I should also make a very quick shout out to the Preston Sturges comedy Sullivan's Travels, which was apparently a great influence on the Coen brothers, and remains very funny 72 years later...)

Kirk's Quote of the Week

Sleeper (1973)

 "Miles Monroe: I'm not really the heroic type. I was beat up by Quakers."

Monday, 3 June 2013

The fortnight in brief (20 May - 2 June)

I've been away on my hols for the last week or so, meaning that I haven't had too much time to spend catching up on movies. Nevertheless, I did see the following films over the last fortnight:

Premium Rush (2012): 7/10
Bananas (1971): 8/10
Sleeper (1973): 7/10
Dredd (2012): 6/10

Two Woody Allen movies make their mark as my joint picks of the week: Bananas and Sleeper. The first sees Woody playing a typically nebbishy character named Fielding Mellish, an unsuccessful product tester who finds himself in the centre of a revolution in the fictional Latin American nation of San Marcos. Seeing an opportunity to impress his ex-girlfriend in New York, Woody embraces an opportunity to become El Presidente of the banana republic. The second of the two films (which I found marginally less amusing) has our hero waking up from a two hundred year sleep to find himself in the distant future, where his 20th century attitudes are roundly mocked by those around him. Again, Woody blunders his way into the path of a group of rebels who stand in opposition to the evil tyrants running the country, and once more he becomes a hero despite himself... I'd never previously seen any of Woody Allen's early pictures before, but I have to say that I was very pleasantly surprised. There's less of the therapy speak and (slightly creepy) pursuit of much younger women that you tend to find in his later film, and much more in the way of slapstick, hilarious one liners and self deprecating humour. As a result I found myself laughing throughout both of these movies, which is definitely a good sign. Previously, my favourite Woody Allen movie would have to be Hannah and Her Sisters, but Bananas gives it a damn good run for its money.

Once again, I didn't see anything which I'd regard as an out and out turkey, but I wasn't completely convinced by Dredd. The plot plays out in very similar fashion to last year's brilliant Indonesian movie The Raid: Redemption, with Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) and his psychic sidekick Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) trapped in a tower block, massively outnumbered by a gang hell bent on killing them. It zips along at a good pace, so I can't say I was bored by the movie, but for me, Dredd suffers in comparison with The Raid, in a couple of areas. Firstly, the action scenes just aren't as well choreographed or as compelling as the astonishing martial arts work on display in The Raid. Secondly, Dredd is an almost inhuman killing machine, in stark contrast to the Indonesian film's more vulnerable, human protagonist - this meant that I never found myself caring too much whether or not the Judge succeeded. While it's welcome to see a darker, more adult take on the superhero genre, Dredd isn't in the same league as films like The Dark Knight or Sin City.

Kirk's Quote of the Week

Bananas (1971)
"Fielding Mellish: I was a nervous child - I was a bed wetter. When I was younger, I used to sleep with an electric blanket and I was constantly electrocuting myself..."