Friday, 12 August 2011

My First 12 Months in Blog

Contrary to all expectations, I have now been blogging for an entire year. 12 months of insightful reviews filmic wittering, 12 months of watching all sorts of films, and 12 months of writing reviews too late and forgetting what the movie was all about!

So I thought, what better way to celebrate this mini-milestone than choosing my favourite films from the last 12 months. I thought that simply choosing my favourite films would be too easy, so I chose my favourite from each month. This was harder than expected, especially since I watched Aliens, Raiders, and The Godfather in April, and February saw The Big Lebowski competing with Watchmen, From Russia with Love and The Damned United.

Here we are then, my favourite films of the last 12 months. I think I'm happy with my final choice; though I still can't decide: Raiders or Aliens, or Raiders, or Aliens...


September
Inglorious Basterds

This is one of those films I think is really great because everyone speaks the language they should (similar to Zwartboek). The Germans speak German, the British and Americans speak English and the French speak French. Brilliant! There is some cross-over but it's all done well.

I guess I generally like World War 2 films anyway, as long as they're done a bit differently (Zwartboek, Downfall, Enemy at the Gates, erm Where Eagles Dare?); and this is unmistakably Quentin Tarantino. From the irreverent casual chat between characters (which Christoph Waltz does so well) to the particularly gruesome, bloody violence. There is even some very similar camera tracking movements to Kill Bill, the main lobby of the cinema with it's staircases particularly reminded me of The House of Blue Leaves restaurant.

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October
The Thing

I remember as a kid (probably age 10 or something like that) watching The Thing. I was probably trying to appear cool to my older friend from next door who watched a lot of horror. I remember saying something like "This could be my first horror film". Needless to say, it scared the bejesus out of me! Of course now I'm a lot older (not necessarily wiser), I can see it for what it is: a great film.

I've seen The Thing several times since, and I felt an urge to watch a film to restore my faith in movies, having watch Eragon the night before! The film starts with some Norwegians trying to shoot a dog. Doesn't sound like much, but the desperation of the Norwegians is brilliantly enhanced by Ennio Morricone's simple yet effective music.

Dominik Hauser – The Thing (Ennio Morricone)

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November
A Town Called Panic

Well now...this is absolutely bonkers! That really is the best way to describe this film. Just look at the trailer!



For those who live in the UK, there's a good chance that you will be familiar with the Cravendale milk adverts. For those who don't know: a pirate, a cyclist, a cow and occasionally a chicken I think (all toy, stop motion animated) run around being generally crazy shouting "MILK! MILK!" Thus:



The creators of these adverts are Belgian duo Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar. This creative genius has now given us A Town Called Panic.

In a nutshell: A cowboy called Cowboy, an Indian called Indian live together with a horse called, yup, Horse. It all starts because of Horse's birthday. (Spoilers!) Cowboy and Indian decide to build him a barbecue, and go online to order bricks (from Briquenet)! While ordering 500 bricks one of them comes back from the kitchen with a mug of coffee and puts one mug down next to the computer; of course the handle knocks the zero key and they end up ordering, well 50,000,000 is the figure quoted (I think), but there were more zeros than that! So, all these bricks are delivered, and having built a barbecue (which horse loves) Cowboy and Indian hide all the other bricks on top of the house in a giant cube.

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December
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

Now, I'm imagining that most people reading this will have read the book (otherwise why are you searching for blogs on Harry Potter), so my synopsis of the plot can be mercifully brief.

Harry has now come of age, and will no longer be protected from Voldemort at his muggle home. He flees this home with the help of Order of the Phoenix members, and arrives at Ron's house: The Burrow. While at The Burrow, one of the elder Weasley brothers, Bill, marries Fleur Delacour, but the wedding is plunged into chaos as a Patronus arrives from the Ministry announcing that the Death Eaters have taken over. Harry, Ron and Hermione immediately disapparate to escape.

Essentially the rest of the story involves the threesome moving around the country, camping in out of the way places to stay away from the Death Eaters, while trying to figure out a way of destroying the Horcruxes, which Dumbledore had informed them would destroy Voldemort. That doesn't sound especially interesting, but the story doesn't drag. Amidst this escaping around a damp countryside (though there are some lovely location shots) are the main exciting set pieces, ie The visit to Godric's Hollow, Breaking into the Minsitry, and being captured by "Snatchers" and the escape from Malfoy Mansion.

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January
The King's Speech

On the face of it, a film about a guy with a stammer and his struggle to overcome said speech defect so that he can speak in public, doesn't sound like it would particularly get bums on seats. But make the guy Prince Albert of York (soon to be King George VI), get Colin Firth to play him, and fill the role of the elocution teacher with the excellent Geoffrey Rush; then play the film against the backdrop of George V's death, the abdication of Edward VIII and imminent war with Germany in 1939 and the result is a great film full of many dramatic and funny moments.

Essentially; Prince Albert has suffered from a stammer from a young age, but now that he is expected to make public appearances and speeches, his difficulty in speaking is quite a hindrance. Having seen many speech therapists his wife Elizabeth (played by Helena Bonham Carter, who is also excellent) finds a therapist with some unorthodox methods. This therapist Lionel Logue (Rush), finds it hard to get to know "Bertie", but following the death of his father George V, he starts to open up to Lionel.

With the Death of George V, Bertie's brother Edward (Guy Pearce) becomes King, but his desire to marry a twice-divorced woman (not favourable in the eyes of The Establishment) results in his abdication of the throne. Bertie is therefore crowned King, not as Albert (considered to Germanic to be appropriate in 1936) but as George VI.

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February

How to start a review of one of my favourite films? The Big Lebowski is almost genre-less. It's mostly comedy, but being the Coen Brothers it's not straightforward comedy; but then it's not the black comedy of True Blood or Fargo. Above all it's a story about an ordinary Dude, who likes bowling, driving around and the occasional acid flash-back, who finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or rather with the wrong name.

Jeff Bridges is Jeffrey Lebowski aka: The Dude, a lazy man, who becomes confused with The Big Lebowski (David Huddleston). The Big Lebowski is a successful businessman, but who's young wife Bunny (Tara Reid) disappears. Unfortunately Bunny owes money to a Porn film producer, and when his heavies come to collect, they go to the wrong Lebowski. So The Dude gets caught up in a tale of kidnap, ransom, Nihilists, sex, and of course bowling.

Jeff Bridges is always great in my opinion, but rumour has it that the Coen's had Bridges in mind when they were writing the character of The Dude; and he is just perfect. But not just Jeff, most of the cast is superb. John Goodman gives the best performance of his career as The Dude's best friend: Walter Sobchack. This 'Nam veteran is a great character, has arguably some of the best lines in the film, and on occasion drives the story forward as he influences what The Dude thinks.

                                           "Smokey, this isn't Nam, this is bowling. There are rules!"

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March


Mesrine: Killer Instinct is the story of Jacques Mesrine (pronounced Mayreen) one of the most notorious gangsters in French recent history. Having been raised by a relatively loving family, he rebels and becomes a small time crook. With the help of mob-boss Guido, he becomes more confident. Eventually, though, he is captured by police, repeatedly, and repeatedly escapes from prison; even a maximum security prison. By this time we see that Mesrine is very influential, able to manipulate people on the outside to help him escape (even his lawyer), as well as bribing/manipulating guards to make his stay in prison more comfortable. Finally the police officer who is primarily trying to bring Mesrine to justice, is able to trap the gangster in traffic in Paris, and Jacques is shot dead.

The film is told in two parts, each beginning at the end, with the death of Mesrine. I left it quite a long time between viewing the first and second films, so I can't specifically remember if there was a clear theme to each. Thinking about it, I think the first film was really charting the rise of Mesrine, his influences, and ideas; whereas the second film rather concentrates on his influence and how powerful he has become on his way to being public enemy number 1.

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April
Raiders of the Lost Ark

Raiders of the Lost Ark is the kind of film that is absolutely ludicrous, but is absolutely brilliant. On paper, the idea of trying to locate the Ark of the Covenant and rescue it from Nazis really shouldn’t work; but if you get Steven Spielberg to direct it, George Lucas to produce it (and to help with the writing), get a great cast, and it all works perfectly! So perfectly that “Raiders” is one of the most entertaining films ever made; even George Lucas admitted that it was the most fun he had making a film! Just to convince you of its greatness, here’s 5 things you probably already knew.

Harrison Ford
In 1981 Harrison Ford had made his mark as Han Solo and worn some excellent glasses in Apocalypse Now; but he was yet to solidify his position in film history. Between Indy and Decker he was assured of it. Indy is very similar to Han, only this time he is the main character. Some of the sex appeal that Han had is written into the character, and some of the cockiness removed, throw into the mix some archaeo-sleuthing skills and we have cinematic gold.


Steven Spielberg

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May
Hanna

Hanna is a young girl raised by her father, Erik, in a wooden hut in the middle of nowhere somewhere in Finland, within the arctic circle. Erik has taught her to kill, fight, and generally to take care of herself. It becomes apparent after a while that she has been trained as an assassin to take out one particular target, when she finally finds herself out in the real world.

Hanna is played very capably by Saoirse Ronan; she is able to swing between action sequences and her quieter scenes of self-discovery. Obviously Joe Wright sees something good in her, as she also plays the young Bryony in Atonement. Speaking of Atonement; remembering a tremendous one-take steady-cam shot, I was on the look out for one in Hanna, and wasn’t disappointed. Eric Bana (Erik - Hanna’s father) arrives in Berlin and is shadowed by CIA guys. As we follow him through a bus station, down into the U-bahn, he is confronted by 3 or 4 CIA guys, Erik manages to take care of them all, before leaving calmly. Very slick, very cool.

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June
X-Men: First Class

After a successful and enjoyable X-Men Trilogy, started off by the inspired Bryan Singer, and an alright but fairly forgettable X-Men Origins: Wolverine; Matthew Vaughn has gone back to the origins of all the mutants. Back in the 60s, bad guy mutant Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon, who can absorb energy; Shaw, not Bacon) is playing the Americans off against the Russians so that they start nuclear war. At the same time Charles Xavier is completing his PhD in genetics at Oxford; whereas Erik Lehnsherr (Magneto) is trying to track down Shaw to make him pay for killing his mother at a concentration camp during the second world war. Charles and Erik are recruited by the CIA and are then able to locate and recruit other mutants (brilliant cameo F-bomb during this montage); and ultimately confront Shaw narrowly preventing the escalation of the Cuban Missile Crisis to nuclear war.

I thoroughly enjoyed First Class. Despite Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart being so iconic in the first three films, James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender completely make Xavier and Magneto their own, and are every bit as good. As well as the main good vs evil story, there is the other story regarding Charles and Erik and their different views about whether or not humans will accept the mutants into society. McAvoy and Fassbender work really well together, and the fact that we see them become really good friends makes their separation at the end of the film all the more emotional.

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July
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2


From the opening understated scene of Snape looking out from a Hogwarts window (in a Galadriel/Elrond kind of way) HPATDHP2 is a very fitting finale to the HP series. The most financially-successful franchise in cinema has seen stars Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson grow from cute, bewildered (yet perfectly cast) 12 year-olds into proper actors.

The story takes off immediately from Part 1, which was nice; there was no “Previously on Harry Potter”. Though I am glad that I had recently watched part 1. The action is then fairly constant throughout the film; but not so much that the cast don’t get the opportunity to shine. It was great that Ralph Fiennes finally got to act! He has mostly been in the background in the previous films, but here he is really able to get his Voldemort on! He manages to be angry, intimidating, yet scared and uncertain. Alan Rickman is of course superb as always; though I did feel that the reveal of Snape’s history was slightly rushed, which lessened the impact that it should have had. Jason Isaccs is brilliant once again as the terrified, sycophantic Lucius Malfoy, and I have already mentioned that Daniel, Rupert and Emma are now all great actors.

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August
Beginners

Ewan McGregor is Oliver, a guy whos world had recently been torn apart. First his Mum dies, then his 70-something year old Dad, Hal (Christopher Plummer), tells Oliver that he is gay, and has always known that he was gay, even all through his marriage. Not long afterwards, Hal is diagnosed with cancer, to which he eventually falls victim. Soon after, Oliver meets Anna (Mélanie Laurent), and after a stuttering start, their relationship blossoms, until they move in together.

This synopsis sounds kinda run-of-the-mill, but that is to underestimate the film completely. For a start, the story isn’t in the chronological order I describe above. Oliver meets Anna towards the start of the film and Hal’s death is towards the end, with everything in between jumbled up. Ewan is fantastic, Mélanie is fantastic (and also gorgeous), and the chemistry between the two is brilliant. From the first time they meet, when Anna can’t speak due to laryngitis, to the end of the film, their relationship is wonderful and captivating. Plummer is a delight as Oliver’s Dad who now wants to explore all facets of being gay. His new boyfriend Andy is played by Goran Visnjic (Luca Kovac from ER), who is very affectionate and always slightly awkward around Oliver. Add to this mix a Jack Russell who has a vocabulary of over 150 words but can’t talk, and you have a rather fabulous film!

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