Top 5… Rainy Scenes

I’m on holiday in Wales at the moment, and whilst I’d like to do my Top 5 Welsh movies or Movies Set In Wales, I’m afraid I couldn’t come up with very many for either category. Instead I thought I’d try and be funny and do my Top 5 Movie Whales, but I’ve only seen four films with whales in (4. Pinocchio, 3. Finding Nemo, 2. Free Willy, 1. The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy) and I haven’t seen any others (including Moby Dick, Whale Rider, Big Miracle and Star Trek VI: The Voyage Home). So instead I’ve decided to focus on Wales’ biggest export, rain, and I’m celebrating those scenes made all the better because of a downpour. I’ve chosen not to include any John Cusack films on the list purely because he gets caught in the rain in every damn one of them, so if I ever get stuck for a list in the future, Top 5 John Cusack In The Rain Scenes may well crop up.
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Scream 4

I wrote in one of my first posts aaaaaaaaaaages ago that I was really looking forward to this film, as I loved Scream and Scream 2, and enjoyed Scream 3 enough to justify owning it, but when the reviews came out and Scream 4 was deemed something of a failure I became lukewarm to the idea, and have put off watching it until recently. I went in with fairly low expectations, which is probably the best approach to take if you want to enjoy this film.

The problem with the Scream franchise, and indeed with pretty much every horror series, is that it tells the same story every time. Yes, a new batch of barely-characterised nubile young hotties is brought in to be creatively slaughtered, and at least with these films the killer changes each time, but the motive always seems to be the same and it’s always someone you’re not supposed to expect, meaning you work out who the killer couldn’t possibly be, and then you’ve solved the mystery.
It’s not difficult to see why the surviving leads from the series, Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox and David Arquette, have returned, seeing as none of them has had a very successful venture since the last movie, and the likes of Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, Rory Culkin and Adam Brody were probably only too willing to work with Wes Craven, the legend behind the original trilogy as well as A Nightmare On Elm Street, The Hills Have Eyes and The Last House On The Left.
The plot sees Sidney Prescott (Campbell), the key surviving victim from the series, as she returns back to her home town of Woodsboro 15 years after the original murders to promote her new book, where Dewey (Arquette) is now sheriff and married to Gale Weathers (Cox). At times it’s more than a little awkward to see Cox and Arquette working together after their divorce, as they’ve lost that spark of chemistry present in the earlier films. Coinciding with Sidney’s return, a new killer is murdering random victims, and seems to be doing so by following the rules set by modern horror multi-sequels. This time amongst the knife-fodder is Sidney’s niece Jill (Roberts) and her friends, as well as movie nerds and audience cyphers Charlie and Robbie (Culkin and Erik Knudsen).
Seeing as the antagonists murder weapon is a big knife, the kills here can never be all that inventive. It’s more a case of where the killer jumps out from and who is behind the mask more than how will everyone die (hint: by being stabbed). The film has now surpassed it’s previous level of satire and whip-smart semi-parody by becoming overly self-deprecating, with the multi-layered opening being a prime example of how silly it has become, and how little the film cares about the kind of emotional attachment the audience is willing to put into the characters and plot. The ending makes sense within the film’s universe, but only because it’s frightfully similar to that of the three films before it.
If you enjoyed the previous films, and heaven knows I did, then chances are you know what you’re getting yourself in for here, and won’t necessarily be disappointed. If, however, you’re looking for the series to get a kick start and head off in a new direction, you’ll find it sadly lacking. This was intended to start another trilogy, but somehow I don’t think that’s going to happen.
Choose life 4/10

Top 5… Movie Monarchs

Last weekend was Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee. I’ve mentioned before that I’m no Royalist, but it got me thinking as to the cinematic world’s greatest rulers, so let’s have a look at the top movie monarchs. I’ve broken this down into real and fictional.

Nosferatu: A Symphony of Terror

There are at least six variations on the Dracula myth on the List, and probably hundreds that aren’t. I’m ashamed to admit that the only other vampire movies I’d seen prior to this (other than Les Vampires, which doesn’t really count) are a half watched Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Twilight, which I did not choose to watch and am still trying to scrub from my retinas. And yet, though my life has been surprisingly devoid of vampire fiction (I’ve never even seen an episode of Buffy, or an instalment of the Underworld or Blade films), I’m still well versed in the vampire mythology, as indeed is everyone else. It seems one is almost born knowing that vampire’s transform into bats, suck your blood and can be vanquished with a stake in the heart, exposure to sunlight or too much garlic on their pizza.

This version is one of the earliest vampire films, having been released in 1922 and directed by German silent director F. W. Murnau. It follows the traditional Dracula beats (though the vampire is named Count Orlok as this is an unofficial retelling), and stars Max Schreck as the titular creature of the night.
Jonathan Hutter (Gustav von Wangerheim), a clerk from the town of Bremen in Germany, travels to Transylvania (ominous thunder roll) to complete some legal paperwork with the mysterious Count Orlok, who wishes to buy a house in Bremen. Though there are many clues as to what is in store for Hutter, including terrified locals speaking of nocturnal spirits and his creepy, Orlok-controlled boss hinting that the journey will cause him pain and cost him blood, Hutter merrily laughs everything off as ludicrous superstition and hokum, until he arrives at the castle and meets the Count, who keeps unusual sleeping hours and sleeps in a coffin in the basement.
Most of this film is predictable if you know the traditional Dracula legend, but what makes it truly memorable is Schreck’s performance. His distinctive appearance – all pale skin, pointed ears, giant eyebrows over sunken eyes and clawed hands on arms stuck firmly to his sides – sticks in the mind, and his presence is greatly missed whenever he’s off screen. Scenes of Orlok’s stark shadow descending on a prone figure, or his body, stiff as a board, rising from a coffin, stick firmly in the memory, and at the end of the film, when he is staring, unmoving, from a window, is genuinely disconcerting and more than a little terrifying.
It’s unfortunate then that the score for the film is more than a little insane. It kicks off with a cartoonish plinky-plonk tune over the supposedly doom-laden title cards detailing “Nosferatu! That name alone can chill the blood!”, and later the score goes crazy when Hutter is merely reading a book. Also some scenes are let down by a distinct lack of quality in the print. I understand that the film was made 90 years ago, but the scene in which Hutter is discovering bite marks on his neck is ruined by the fact that the bite marks are not even slightly visible on his bright white skin.
The ending is a little hurried, though by that time I was starting to get bored anyway. I was also surprised by how little the character of Van Helsing had to do with the plot, as I’d always thought he was pretty integral to the story, yet he turns up from nowhere halfway through as an expert on vampires in nature.
All in all, this is a good example of an early telling of a classic horror, that unfortunately has become very dated since its release. I’m sure that one of the more recent versions on the list – 1931’s Bela Lugosi starring Dracula or the 1958 Hammer version starring Christopher Lee – will be much better.
Choose life 6/10

A Nightmare on Elm Street

I can only imagine Hallowe’en parties in 1984, but I’m guessing quite a lot of people were dressed up in a battered fedora, red and green striped sweater, poorly applied ‘burned’ make-up and a glove with cardboard blades glued on, for if anything has endured from Wes Craven’s multiple-sequel spawner, it’s Robert Englund’s nightmare-stalker Freddy Krueger.

If it’s true that a horror movie lives or dies (generally by running upstairs instead of out the front door) by it’s killer, then there’s no surprise that this franchise is still going. I haven’t seen the 2010 reboot and I’ve only heard bad things, but I’m intrigued to see Jackie Earle Haley’s take on the former child murder released from prison on a technicality but burned alive by the parents of Elm Street. Krueger is an icon from horror history, up there with Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees and the Guy in the Scream mask, making up the B-team behind the likes of Frankenstein, Dracula and the Wolfman. For Krueger, you see, is unstoppable. He’s risen from the dead to take the children of those that murdered him, but he does his killing in the one place he cannot be caught; the children’s dreams. This is a genius conceit, but also the film’s biggest let down.
If you want to terrify your audience and instill in them genuine fright once they have stopped the film and gone about their daily lives, you scare them with something ordinary. A situation they themselves will find themselves in on a regular basis. Hitchcock did it in Psycho with having a shower. Craven did it with going to sleep. There’s nothing you can do about it, eventually you’ll have to go to sleep; quite often it happens without you even planning to. And once your head is resting gently on your pillow, all you can think about is that maniacal laugh echoing around the walls. That tapping at the window, surely that’s just the branch of a tree blowing in the wind, it couldn’t possibly be the knifed glove of the man out to rip you to shreds? When asleep you’re at your most vulnerable. It can happen anywhere – at home, school, prison, hospital, and there’s no way to defend yourself (short of Inception-style techniques, crossover anyone?) and Craven knows this. In his world, a glass of warm milk is as deadly as any conventional weapon.
But the fact that Freddy exists in dreams, can defy physics by being everywhere at once and can take on any form he chooses to terrify you the most, makes him almost less scary. There’s a sense of inevitability. Much like in Ring, once you watch the tape, you’re going to die. There’s not a whole lot you can do about it. You can’t kill Freddy in a dream, you can’t stay awake forever, there’s really only one possible outcome. Yes, in this film and the ever diminishing sequels they find loopholes to temporarily get around the issue, but I’ve always found these to be annoyances and cop outs from the original story. I’d forgotten the ending of this film when I saw it, and I was almost incredibly annoyed at the backdoor excuse they try to use.
It’s a good, solid horror film, and is much more effective if you never, ever watch the sequels. Whilst they have some inventive kills (hearing aid? genius) and increase the comedy quotient, Freddy becomes a watered down pantomime villain, whose incessant survival becomes more grating the more films you watch. But here his terrorising of four teens (including a 21-year old Johnny Depp in his movie debut) is played largely for tension and scares, though there’s a few lull-in-the-score moments that are clear setups for something to jump out and grab our virginal heroine Nancy (Heather Langenkamp).
There are moments of black comedy – a cop telling a paramedic “you don’t need a stretched, you need a mop,” and the kills are satisfyingly gory. Nancy looking in the mirror got a laugh out of me, as at the time of the film’s release Langenkamp was, you guessed it, 20 years old. The image of Krueger’s hand emerging from between the legs of a girl asleep in the bath is more than a little terrifying.
Choose film 6/10

Midnight in Paris

Woody Allen continues his obsession with Europe (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, the upcoming To Rome With Love) and adds a little time travel into the mix with this delightful slice of whimsy. Owen Wilson picks up the Allen role as Gil, a writer tagging along with his fiance Inez (Rachel McAdams) visiting her parents as they embark on a business merger in Paris. Gil has made a name for himself writing not terribly good films for Hollywood, but has aspirations for writing novels, and dreams of moving back to Paris, whereas Inez and her disapproving parents seem far more level headed. On a late night drunken stroll Gil finds himself in the 1920s world he so wishes to live in, and gets to meet his idols from a time long passed.

It all sounds a little bit ridiculous – a Woody Allen time travel film – and my parents and girlfriend, with whom I watched the film, were expecting something quite different and tuned out quite early on – but I thought it was wonderful. Wilson is a perfect fit as the neurotic Gil, refusing to tolerate Inez’s pedantic know-it-all friend Paul (Michael Sheen, brilliantly punchable) and forever wishing he’d been born in a different time.
Many films would dumb down the references to the past, and I’ll admit there were many I didn’t get, but the characters portrayed are so rich and interesting that I’m encouraged to discover more about them on my own. I’m ashamed to say that I’m unfamiliar with the likes of F. Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein, and have only a passing knowledge of Cole Porter, Ernest Hemingway, Picasso and T. S. Eliot, though I think I got most of the Bunuel and Dali references (I’ve even seen The Exterminating Angel, the film Gil proposes to Bunuel, and it’s not even on the List), and as for the others I’m now making an effort to better myself by looking into their works. This is exactly what a film should do, not work out what its audience already knows and repeat that to them, but provide an opportunity to further their own knowledge.
The supporting cast is incredible. Kathy Bates is Stein, Tom Hiddleston and Scott Pilgrim‘s drummer Alison Pill are the Fitzgeralds and Marion Cotillard is delightful as Gil’s 1920s love interest Adriana, but it is the brief appearance of Adrien Brody as a flamboyantly insane Dali that steals the show (“I see rhinoceroses!”). Rachel McAdams plays a fairly thin character in the almost-bitchy, not understanding fiance, and her parents (Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy) begin to grate after a while as their characters refuse to develop throughout the film.
All the typical Parisian tourist attractions are acknowedged, and got out the way, early on in a brief montage. This is nice, as it’d be a shame to ignore them, for they aren’t part of the story, but they show perhaps the draw of the city to Inez and her family, whereas Gil prefers the layers of life and history underneath. The present day scenes are shot crisply, everything looking bright and new, whereas those set in the past are softer, slightly fuzzy around the edges, and with such a warm palette it’s no wonder Gil wants to live there. It has a more mysterious atmosphere full of soirees and flapper dresses.
┬áIt’s not for everyone, and many may find it just too odd to come to grips with, but if you are a Woody Allen fan (and you should be), and have either a good knowledge of the 1920s or want a place to build yours from, check this out.
Choose film 8/10

The Queen

Well it’s a bank holiday this weekend over here in Blighty, because our reigning monarch has succeeded in not dying for 60 years on the throne, and doesn’t deem any of her offspring worthy enough to take her crown whilst she has enough life in her hands to grip onto it, so what better way of celebrating than by watching The Queen?
Diana, Princess of Wales, divorced wife of the Queen Elizabeth II’s son Prince Charles and mother of her grandchildren Princes William and Harry, is killed in a car accident in August, 1997, causing uproar throughout the UK, not least for the royal family and the recently elected Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen). In the aftermath, the royal family take a period of mourning in their Scottish residence, whilst Blair remains in London to almost take advantage of the situation.

First off, the performances in this film are mostly excellent. There was never any doubt that Helen Mirren would make a perfect choice as QE2 (the monarch, not the boat), and she gives a repressed, buttoned down portrayal of a woman few know personally. Sheen, too, is at his best when playing a real person (see also The Damned United, Frost Vs. Nixon, half of his CV) and James Cromwell is good as the Queen’s cantankerous husband Prince Philip. It is only really Alex Jennings as Charles who goes too far. The rest of the cast limit how much of an impersonation they are making of their subjects, whereas Jennings tries too hard to mimic Charles’ more exaggerated mannerisms and persona already expanded upon in the media, as though he’s performing a sketch show impression rather than showing just enough for us to know who he is.
This is the kind of film that lives and dies by it’s script. The West Wing covered a similar theme on a weekly basis, and succeeded not just because of the stellar cast and direction, but mainly due to Aaron Sorkin’s masterful way with words. Here we have a good cast and a slightly above average director in Stephen Frears (High Fidelity, Dangerous Liaisons), but the script is written by Peter Morgan, whose CV is littered with other mediocre biographies lifted only by acting talents (The Last King of Scotland). Had this film had a punchier script, with some rat-a-tat dialogue and an entertaining turn of phrase, it’d be a much better piece. As it is, the story isn’t terrible, but it is largely forgettable.
Being English, you’d think I’d be well versed in the goings on around such a recent major occurrence, even if I was only 10 at the time, but alas I’ve never known an awful lot about the events both before and after Diana’s death. Much that occurs in the film came as a surprise to me. I’d obviously heard of Diana, dubbed the People’s Princess by Blair, but knew very little of her exploits or the reasonings behind her tabloid headlines. I’ve never paid much attention to the royal family, to be honest. It’s not that I’m anti-monarchy, it’s just that I really don’t care about them. The most I’ve seen of the jubilee celebrations was some highlights I caught whilst channel surfing this evening, and were we not having family over to visit I’m sure I’d have been writing posts or watching something off the List, so would have missed it completely. This film has done little to nothing to increase my interest in the royals, though it has provided an insight behind the closed doors of their world.
The movie seems to take a fairly pro-Blair stance, as he seems to be the most considerate character in the film, especially when compared to his far more callous spin doctor Alastair Campbell (Mark Bazeley). The relationship between the Queen and Blair is nicely played out – she kicks off his first day in power by reminding him that he is her 10th Prime Minister, with the first one being Winston Churchill, so he has a fair amount to live up to. There are some nice comedic touches – in her death, Diana is still proving an annoyance to the royals, including the Queen Mother (Sylvia Syms, Helena Bonham Carter’s character in The King’s Speech), whose funeral arrangements Diana has pilfered. It’s very bizarre to see the Queen calling someone Mummy, and even more so to see this usually confident figure spending much of the film deliberating and worrying, as she finds herself in the middle of a major royal event with complete and utter media coverage.
Not much of the film has stayed with me after watching, other than Mirren performance, which is especially spot on during the Queen’s address. I’ve had a little royal history filled in for me, but it was never anything I really cared about anyway.
Choose life 6/10

Top 5… Morgan Freeman Roles

Unbelievably, Morgan Freeman is 75 today! He is most famously known for his smooth, mellifluous tones, making him easily the greatest narrator available for any story like to tug the occasional heartstring and culminate in an uplifting scene, but his lovable, greatest-grandfather-yoou-never-had persona has been perfectly suited to many other roles too. Let’s have a look at the ones that fitted most perfectly.
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