Sunday, 29 January 2012

The Sunday Scene #11: Top Gun

You never close your eyes any more when I kiss your lips...

Sorry, I've really not had time to think about this today, so let me show you this:

and then you can sing the rest in your head!

Saturday, 28 January 2012

The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)

Set against the backdrop of the American Civil War, The Outlaw Josey Wales is a story of revenge and retribution. When a rogue group of Unionist soldiers known as the Redlegs attack Josey’s farm, killing his wife and son, he joins a group of men aiming to bring their own flavour of justice to the Redlegs. With the end of the war the renegades turn themselves in, all except Josey, who becomes outlaw number one.

Josey is a very interesting character; initially emotionally broken by the murder of his wife and son, he becomes a real hard man, shooting and killing his way to inner peace. As the film progresses we learn that he never lost the desire to lead a peaceful life with a family. As he travels, evading both the Unionist men hunting him and Bounty Hunters, he meets/rescues other lost souls until he has essentially surrounded himself with a surrogate family. It is also quite striking how Josey portrays the native Americans in the film. In a lot of classic Westerns the “Injuns” are the bad guys; the enemy here is definitely the soldiers who murdered his family, whereas the Cherokee and Navajo are just people (funnily enough) who believe in Josey. Even when Josey meets Ten Bears, the chief of a ferocious-looking tribe, he speaks to him as an equal and negotiates a peaceful solution.

Of course what we want to see in a Clint Eastwood Western is Clint being quick on the draw, delivering a great script, and generally being cool; and Josey Wales doesn’t disappoint. There are plenty of duels/shootouts/sticky situations; all of which are dealt with in typical cool Clint style. The film also looks amazing, lots of lovely cinematography of the Utah landscape giving a really epic feel. The cast is great, low-key (if a cast can be low-key?), and they all work really well together. However I feel that I must mention Chief Dan George who plays Lone Watie, the first person that starts to tag along with Josey. He is the main supporting actor I guess, and he is great; laid back, sarcastic, and has quite a sense of humour, and (get this) he was born in 1899! That’s crazy!

This is the fourth film that Eastwood both directed and starred in. When I recently watched The Town, the DVD extras make a big song and dance about how great Ben Affleck is because he both starred and directed. I enjoyed The Town, but Clint has been starring and directing since before Affleck was born! Though credit to Affleck, he was 38 when the made The Town, and Clint was 41 when he made his first film, Play Misty for Me.

In a time when interest in Westerns was waning, Clint really invigorated the genre when he made Josey Wales; to such an extent that it received a nomination for an Academy Award. OK, so it was for best original score, but it’s impressive that the movie got that much attention; and not that I generally put much stock by these things but the film still has a 94% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes! I think that it is a great film; simple yet effective revenge story, Clint is wonderful as the outlaw who has far more of a moral compass than the Unionists, great dry sense of humour in the script, excellent supporting cast and wonderful scenery.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Burke and Hare (2010)

William Burke (Simon Pegg) and William Hare (Andy Serkis) are two Irish entrepreneurs who have come to 19th century Edinburgh in search of a new life. Quickly found to be frauds while trying to sell Irish Moss (actually cheese mould) as a cure for all ailments, they soon find it far more lucrative to rob graves/commit murder and sell the bodies for medical dissection. But the militia are closing in.

I must say that it was very refreshing to see a film set in Scotland, and none of the Scottish accents were awful; equally Pegg and Serkis’ Irish accents were pretty good. There’s nothing worse than a film being totally ruined by someone attempting a specific accent and falling flat on their face; but here at least I don’t think it’s an issue.

Usually in films where Simon Pegg is the main or one of the main characters he is fantastic and really rules the roost, but here I feel that he is upstaged by Andy Serkis whose rubbery face is capable of so much expression. It is Andy’s character that drives the story forward (along with his wife Lucky - Jessica Hynes), whereas Pegg’s characters generally has to be convinced of the merits of killing people! Do you think that Hare’s wife Lucky helping to make some of the more macabre business decisions is mirroring the driving force of Lady Macbeth in the first all-women production of the Scottish play that Ginny (Isla Fisher) is putting on? No, actually probably not! I think my imagination is getting the better of me!

Around the two main characters there are more than capable supporting performances from Tom Wilkinson, Tim Curry, Bill Bailey, David Schofield, Jessica Hynes, as well as a few cameos by the likes of Christopher Lee and Paul Whitehouse. Isla Fisher perhaps isn’t great, and the casting of Ronnie Corbett as the Captain of the Militia was an odd choice and not a particularly good one in my opinion.

This macabre tale of these famous Edinburgh murders is very suitable for American Werewolf in London director John Landis and he brings his gallows sense of humour to the film. All of the sets are very gloomy bringing a dingy, spooky edge to 19th Century Edinburgh. Burke & Hare is never going to win any awards, but there is plenty to enjoy. The two main characters are very affable and since the film doesn’t take itself seriously it is really quite entertaining; plenty of humour and enough background detail to engage the viewer (at least one is very Edinburgh specific). Good honest fun.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Source Code

Duncan Jones’ second film is as interesting and different as Moon; and is best described as a cross between Quantum Leap and Groundhog Day. The Source Code, as programmed by Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright), is a Matrix-like computer interface that allows a test subject to enter the last 8 minutes of a dead guy’s life. In this case US pilot Colter Stephens (Jake Gyllenhall) enters the body of a bloke who has already died on a train. The train had been blown up by a terrorist, and so Colter’s mission is to find the bomber on the train so that he doesn’t detonate a nuclear device in Chicago, in the future.

Get it? Think: Dr Sam Beckett leaps into a guy on a train and has to stop it exploding as well as another bomb in Chicago. Except that he only has 8 minutes, but he gets to try again and again. It’s quite a bizarre concept yet it works well; as Colter finds out more about how he got into this experimental military program, Jake gives a very mature performance as his life seems to spin out of control. Constantly flipping between the two characters of Colter and Stevens (the dead bloke on the train whose body Colter “leaps” into), Jake convincingly manages to shift from confused and questioning to frantic and desperate.

Michelle Monaghan is the “love interest” on the train and was fairly incidental; Vera Farmiga plays Colleen Goodwin - essentially the military officer on the other end of a computer screen who talks to Colter, telling him his mission and helping him through. Jeffrey Wright’s Dr. Rutledge is also fine, but all the support cast are really incidental as this is really Jake’s film, and he does a really good job, nothing amazing; though perhaps comparisons with Sam Rockwell’s excellent performance in Moon are inevitable.

Writer Ben Ripley and director Duncan Jones manage to distill this rather abstract and complex premise for a story and tell it in a snappy 90 minutes. They manage to maintain the interest and emotional element without getting bogged down in convoluted exposition which would have really killed the film. What remains is a neat, tight story driven by a smart performance by Jake, but with enough intrigue and mystery to keep the audience on their toes; throw in some subtle special effects and some clever editing and Source Code is a cool, entertaining film.

And if you still don’t believe me about Quantum Leap, I would like to point out that the voice of Colter’s Dad on the end of a phone call is none other than Scott Bakula! How cool is that?!

Sunday, 22 January 2012

The Sunday Scene #10: Butch and Sundance

I recently watched Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid again, and though the whole film is tremendous, I think that it is possibly the most iconic scene of the film that sums it all up so well. During the final moments of the film, Butch and Sundance are ambushed by the Bolivian police and half of the army, in a desperate attempt to capture the two "Banditos" who have robbed so many of the local banks (in stuttering Spanish).

After a dramatic shoot-out, and many Bolivian deaths (thanks to Sundance's marksmanship), the two affable outlaws are pinned down in a small room just off the main square of a village. After a short while the duo burst out, guns blazing, but against so many soldiers their fate is inevitable.

This final scene is excellent for several reasons. Of course it is a tremendous gun battle, very fluid and dynamic. Another reason the scene is so good, and encapsulates what is so great about the rest of the film, is the wonderful relationship and banter between the two protagonists. All the while that Butch and Sundance are slumped against the wall, injured, bleeding, and very likely about to meet their deaths; they don't mention this enormous elephant in the room. They talk about where they'll go next, Australia, and generally slag each other off for not being able to run or shoot. This typifies the quality of their relationship throughout the film, and also the quality of the script, which is as sharp as this all the time, and Paul Newman & Robert Redford are just fantastic too.

The final cool thing about the scene is how they achieved that final iconic shot, as I've explained before; it was shot, frozen at this point, imported into an empty photograph of the background before bleeding the colour out to make it match a lot of the other sepia photos within the film. This is just one of the reasons that Conrad Hall won the Academy Award for cinematography for his work on this film.

This is just one great scene out of so many in Butch and Sundance; definitely worth checking out if you haven't already; even if you don't like westerns, Newman and Redford make the story so enjoyable.

Octopussy (1983)

John Glen returns to direct his second James Bond film; having given 007 a good grounding in FYEO, can he improve on this and deliver an even better Octopussy? Well, no. Not really. I'm not sure whether it's the story, which has something to do with a Fabergé egg, an octopus (not psychic), some Russians and a bomb; the fact that Roger Moore is now a sedentary 55; whether it's because Maud Adams' character is nowhere near as interesting as in The Man with the Golden Gun; or is it because the best villain weapon is a glorified Yo-Yo?

Following a dismal opening credit song, (all time high? Really? You don't sound like you're on one Rita), given that the characters were all a bit boring and the plot rather obscure and muddled, I started noticing how much Bond hates nature! So I played a little game of 007 vs the animals!

First up, spiders.

What a scary toy spider! Does 007 gently brush them off à la Indy? No! Mash them, squash them, they make a nice crunchy noise. 1 nil to 007. Next a tiger get the jump on him, but being a secret agent and speaking a host of languages, Bond tells the tiger to sit, and the moggy duly obliges. 2-0 to 007.

However, while hiding from hunters on elephants, a snake doesn't miss the opportunity to get up close and personal with Rog; however he actually ignores the asp so I guess this is a draw; 3-1 to Bond.

Now it seems like we have skipped back a few films as 007 looks as though he has a prosthetic third nipple again. Nope, just some unfortunate leech that attached itself to Roger's moobs, which gets burned! 4-1 Rog.

Before he finally escapes the jungle, 007 is chased by a crocodile. It doesn't actually manage to bite Bond's ankles, but obviously it looked the wrong way at him as Q later turns the offending reptile into a toy submarine.

Final score 5-1 to James Bond. At least he doesn't get face-hugged by Octopussy's octopus.

So there we go, we know from previous films that Bond hates women; it now seems clear that he hates animals too. What an all time high.

Order of Preference so far:

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)

Holmes and Watson are trying to solve another mystery; this time investigating what appears to be a series of unconnected bombings, but which eventually put them on the trail of Holmes' nemesis: professor James Moriarty. Just like last time, Holmes uses some very unorthodox approaches to solve the case, but unlike last time the banter between Downey Jr and Jude Law just isn't the same which I think made the whole film feel a little flat. Director Guy Ritchie made an effort to make this film even funnier than the last, but I don't think I really laughed once. No, sorry, the state that Watson turns up to his wedding in made me snigger; but this isn't funny or necessary:

Despite Holmes having to try and outsmart Moriarty, I just found the story quite boring. I don't know why, because thinking back it sounds like it should be quite exciting, but it just seemed to really trundle along. Perhaps I was spoiled by having seen BBC's Sherlock (fantastic btw), which also sees Sherlock pitted against Moriarty in the climactic episode; but unlike Game of Shadows it is superbly crafted, impeccably acted, and fascinating & intriguing from start to finish. There is quite a cool action set piece about 2/3 of the way through the film, as lots of heavy artillery are used to try and destroy Sherlock and Watson as they flee through some woods; however, the sequence felt a bit shoe-horned in rather than flowing naturally.

Noomi Rapace is interesting as the gypsy Madam Simza Heron, she is probably the most developed character in the film; having said that Jared Harris' portrayal of Moriarty is also very good. Stephen Fry makes an appearance as a rather eccentric Mycroft Holmes. Again, both Downey Jr and Jude Law are good, and as before Jude Law comes across better, I think because he doesn't have to force his performance as Downey Jr does. As in the first film, Victorian England (and a lot of Europe this time) looks super, apart from one "night" shot of a train which is very badly done; clearly filmed in broad daylight but filtered to look like night; it stuck out like a sore thumb and it just looked cheap.

Overall I thought that it was a tepid, drawn out adventure, which tried too hard to be funny and exciting, and fell short on both. Guy Ritchie's usual style is clearly on show, but the film lacks the razor sharp banter of some of his earlier work and indeed the first Sherlock film; and his dramatic fight scenes look like a sub-standard imitation of Zack Snyder's quick/slow/quick techniques. I came out of Game of Shadows thinking "Meh".

Sunday, 15 January 2012

The Sunday Scene #9: Children of Men

Children of Men is a very original idea that is executed with tremendous style by Alfonso Cuarón. There are many great scenes in the film including a couple of great tracking shots. But the scene that I think is really impressive is this sequence filmed in a car.

To achieve this, a crazy rig had to be built on top of the car, so that a remotely controlled camera could be moved up and down, left and right within the car. There was also room on top for the director and cameraman!  Of course as well as all this, the action has to be coordinated perfectly and  the actors have to be all spot on (not least Clive and Julianne being able to catch a ping-pong ball in their mouths). This scene really raises the game in terms of the fluidity that Cuarón was trying to create in the film. I do love the way that the scene creates a claustrophobic sense of terror in a situation where I think most of us feel very safe and secure; in our car.

A great scene and a great film, and I should probably watch it all again soon.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

The Town (2010)

The Town is a bank heist movie with a bit of a romantic twist to it. After four guys hold up a bank at the beginning of the film, a hostage (Rebecca Hall) is taken who is shortly let go when the robbers are out of danger (it kinda makes sense in the film). She is then viewed by the criminals as a loose end, but when Doug (Ben Affleck) tracks Claire down he starts to fall in love with her. Doug is forced to balance this relationship with the local criminal kingpin (Pete Postlethwaite), and reluctantly agrees to do one last job. Meanwhile the FBI are slowly closing the net.

As well as starring in the main role, Ben Affleck also directs this film, which can't have been easy, so it's impressive that he has made a fairly solid gangster story. It's nothing special, but I did find myself feeling quite tense during the final heist, wondering who was going to make it through. It's a good story and the cast are generally good, nothing outstanding; Ben is a good driving force throughout the movie, and Jeremy Renner's character is suitably unpredictable. It's funny how when in these films the bank robbers wear comedy masks (skeletons or nuns in this case) I can't help but think of Point Break. I'm sure the Dead Presidents weren't the first daft masks in cinema bank jobs, but for me they are the most memorable.

The Town was an enjoyable film, tense at points, well directed and competently acted; but it's really nothing to write home about.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

The Artist (2011)

Set in Hollywood at the time when silent films were losing popularity because the “Talkies” were taking off in big way (late 20s early 30s), The Artist tells the story of George Valentin; a very famous silent movie star struggling to come to terms with this enormous change in film-making.

In short, the film is an absolute delight, wonderful. As it is set in the era of silent films, the film itself is silent, mostly. As a result director Michel Hazanavicius uses lots of traditional film-making tricks to tell the story (no special effects, no CGI, no colour); and the result is amazing. There is of course the occasional card telling us what a character is saying, but for the most part the story is driven by a superb score by Ludovic Bource. Needless to say, equally important are the wonderful performances by the two leads Jean Dujardin as George Valentin and Bérénice Bejo as the young “talkie” girl Peppy Miller. These guys are so compelling that after ¾ of the film I suddenly remembered that I was actually watching a silent film. Jean and Bérénice are supported by great performances from James Cromwell and John Goodman, whose crinkly face can convey so much without saying anything. All this before we get to the dog, who would surely give the dog from Beginners a run for his money as best canine in cinema from the past 12 months!

I wanted to see this film out of interest, as I had heard so many good things about it. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it as much as I did, or to be sucked in by the characters so much. It is mesmerising, heartbreaking and funny. A truly surprising and brilliant film, a real celebration of cinema, and I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

The Sunday Scene #8 Serenity

This week's Sunday Scene is perhaps a  bit of an indulgence because I think Firefly is so ace, but I really love the steady cam shot at the beginning of Serenity. For those not in the know, Firefly is a pseudo-western Sci-Fi series created by Joss Whedon; however brilliant all the fanboy geeks think it was (and it was), the first series was never completed as the show was cancelled. Serenity is therefore the feature film that finished off the series, tied up all the loosed ends (to an extent), gave the fanboys some closure, and is really good to boot!

At the beginning of my chosen scene there is a perfectly executed blend of CGI, models and a little live action as the camera zooms into Mal and Wash in the cockpit; this is followed by a really cool "intro to the crew" as the camera tracks Mal around the ship trying to calm people down/explain what's going on. This is all done with the same kind of humour that made Firefly so good, and Joss Whedon's script is great as usual for this series.

Of course if you have never seen Serenity or indeed Firefly, then this doesn't mean an awful lot; but if you have any Sci-Fi leaning then I would urge you to go and buy the Firefly box set right now, and Serenity.

I promise that I'll spend a bit more time preparing my Sunday Scene next week, as this was a bit rushed and blurted out!

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

In true Hollywood style, as soon as a foreign film does well at the box office, a remake is scheduled so that the great unclean can watch a good story without having to expend any energy by reading subtitles. My initial reaction of “Oh FFS” was tempered when I heard that David Fincher was making the film, and I became intrigued upon hearing that Daniel Craig was to be playing Blomqvist. So it was that I eventually found myself looking forward to seeing the film when it was released.

The opening credits are tremendous. Very Bond-esque, there are lots of stylised tattoo-ink figures amongst other stuff, and the re-hashing of Led Zeppelin’s The Immigrant Song by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross fits really well.

Following all that, there is a general re-run of the original version, but in English. Don’t get me wrong, it is a very good film and I did enjoy it. It’s just, well, was it really worth doing? Rooney Mara is very good as Lisbeth Salander, though she’s almost a bit too pretty to be really gritty; there was just something about her face. Though she had obviously lost a lot of weight for the role her face was still too round and pretty. She’s certainly no Noomi Rapace who was just perfect, and Mara isn’t quite so brutal (though she has a mean swing with a golf club). Daniel Craig is also very good. He is the one thing I think is an improvement over the original. In the books Blomqvist is described as being quite a ladies man; however Michael Nyqvist in the original, has a face like a bag of spanners! Daniel Craig is definitely a better fit for this description, though he did spend a lot of the film wearing his glasses under his chin!

So, while I did enjoy the film I felt is didn’t offer much more than the original Swedish version. It wasn’t really a re-imagining, more a copy. The ending was changed slightly (if I remember correctly), but it’s of little significance. There is also quite an extended epilogue, I think spelling out what was more implied in the original; so those people who thought that Lord of the Rings had too many endings may be bored by this point. I didn’t think there were enough endings in LOTR so didn’t mind the epilogue. Overall it is a very good film, though perhaps redundant. If it ain't broke, don’t fix it.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Four Lions (2010)

Rubber Dinghy Rapids Bro!

A film about British Muslim suicide bombers could have been cringeworthy, inappropriate (especially as it’s directed by Chris Morris), or just plain awful. As it turns out, it is a very entertaining, and funny (very dark humour) film. The story revolves around four main characters who want to protest against western capitalist consumerism, ultimately by blowing stuff up. There is a very strong performance by Riz Ahmed who plays Omar, the leader of the group, who tries to keep his fellow Jihadists focussed. Nigel Lindsay is also very good as the unhinged Barry, who thinks that the best target for their act of terror should be the local Mosque! These two are supported by Kayvan Novak (Waj), and Adeel Akhtar (Faisal) who manage to be so believable and serious despite their characters being so incompetent; Waj couldn’t have a thought of his own if his life depended on it, and Faisal is training crows to carry bombs into buildings!

Despite the subject matter and the way the film portrays the perpetrators, (I think) the film is never offensive. Rather it makes the audience wonder whether real terrorists have such conflicting ideologies, and whether the organisation involves muppets like Barry and Waj. At the end of the day Four Lions is a very entertaining film, helped along by a very sharp and witty script, a cast who suit their roles perfectly , and the kind of black humour that Chris Morris is so good at.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

The Sunday Scene #7: The Return of the King

Prepare for Battle

Happy New Year everyone. I wish you all the very best.

Having known exactly my favourite scene from The Two Towers, I found it hard to chose one from Return of the King. My choice in the end is less a scene than a short section of a phenomenal film. The Siege of Gondor as a whole is brilliant; but I feel that the best section is from where Gandalf clobbers Denethor with his staff until the time that Grond is wheeled up to the gates of Minas Tirith.

Again the blend of live action, CG and models is perfect, and there are so many brilliant action sequences: pieces of masonry being flung back at the Orc army by trebuchets, some Orc-bashing Gandalf action, and a phenomenal aerial shot of Nazgul descending upon the city.


Howard Shore's score is brilliant again, in moments inspiring, but mostly sinister and oppressive given the scale of the invasion force. As I said, the whole film is brilliant, but I feel that this is the most astounding section; not necessarily just one scene, but there really isn't one scene I could single out. Do you agree?