I won an award!

Photobucket

 If you’re anything like me your blogger desktop has recently been inundated with the above picture being handed out from one worthy blog to another, and thanks to the lovely Siobhan (pronounced Shi-vawn, she’ll have you know) over at Film Flammers, this honour has now befallen me. Firstly, thanks Siobhan. You can find her blog over here, and I recommend that you too.
Here are the rules:

1. Each person must post 11 things about themselves.
2. Answer the 11 questions the person giving the award has set for you.
3. Create 11 questions for the people you will be giving the award to.
4. Choose 11 people to award and send them a link to your post.
5. Go to their page and tell them.
6. NO TAG BACKS
Continue reading

TTFN

Hi everyone. Just a little note to say that there may not be an awful lot happening here for a little while, as I’m getting a bit burned out and rushed off my feet with other projects, so much so that I’ve not actually sat down and watched a film for well over a week now, which is pretty huge for me. Reviews are going to pop up sporadically for a bit (I’ve got my tickets for The Dark Knight Rises on Friday) but it’s unlikely that there will be a Top 5 or anything else for a week or two whilst I get some things settled at home. Sorry about that. Hopefully I’ll see you all soon. J

Top 5… Film-makers I’d like to come out of retirement

This weekend is my parents’ joint retirement party (it’s a barbecue, so please could everybody hope for at least dry weather), so this week I’m taking a look at those makers of films that have decided not to make them any more, and which ones should come back and improve modern films.

5. Peter O’Toole
Even though O’Toole only announced his retirement three days ago, and he turns 80 in a month’s time, I’m still including him on this list purely because I couldn’t think of a fifth film-maker I’d like to come out of retirement. Yes, there are many who I would have liked to have come out of retirement some time ago, but to demand they do so now would be cruel in some states (85-year old Sidney Poitier) and downright impossible in others (Peter Falk). So I’m sorry Pete, but if you fancy having another pop at this acting lark, you’re more than welcome. O’Toole is of course most famous for playing T. E. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia and Prometheus, but I know him better as the soon departed king in Stardust, King Priam in Troy and as the creaking critic Anton Ego in Ratatouille. He does have the perfect voice for playing Disney bad guys or strict authoritarian elders, and vocal work can’t be that taxing, so I feel the door should be left open, just in case he fancies another Pixar cameo.
Continue reading

Doctor Zhivago

One of those Sunday afternoon sweeping epics that never seems to be off the TV schedule but before the List I’d never seen before (see also The Sound of Music, Gone With the Wind, The Ten Commandments), Doctor Zhivago was a bit of a disappointment.
For starters, it’s well over 3 hours long, but very little of that mammoth runtime left any kind of impression. Other than some striking imagery – a splash of blood in freshly fallen snow, a burst of yellow sunflowers against a dull, beige hallway – and a few admittedly impressive set pieces, there’s very little from this film that’s been committed to my memory banks.

Given there’s so much time to handle, the characters don’t receive much characterisation. This is a real shame, particularly for Omar Sharif as the titular medical man, who gives an engaging a bright-eyes performance, but of a character I still know very little about. His Sharif is born into a wealthy family in Russia, a little before the Bolshevik Revolution, and the film tells of his many and varied troubles throughout his, and Russia’s, history. On many occasions the history overshadows his life, as well it should, but the focus of the film is instead on him and his loves, for his childhood sweetheart Tonya (Geraldine Chaplin), whom he marries, is forcibly separated from Zhivago, forming a love triangle when he works closely with Julie Christie’s Lara.
At times the film reminded me of – whisper it – Pearl Harbour, particularly when I was asked to try and forget about the major historical event taking place in the background of a scene, and instead focus on the trivialities of the relationships of the leads, but just like Michael Bay’s explosion-fest, the grand scale of the set pieces was very impressive. Be it the hundreds of singing extras at a rally that becomes a battleground against an army of sword-wielding Cossacks, or the miles-long trudge Zhivago sets out on to return home through the snow, there is little shortage of spectacle.
Look out for Klaus Kinski on a train, and listen as your cries for more Alec Guinness – as Zhivago’s brother Yevgraf – go unheard. Whilst the film is certainly at times impressive, especially for its time, today it doesn’t really hold up, though it is certainly better than Pearl Harbour.
Choose life 6/10

Memento

Christopher Nolan’s first major picture (after 1998’s Following, which is interesting but a tad too confusing, and really for completists only) is at first glance nothing but a gimmick, using a reverse-narrative to tell the detective noir of Guy Pearce’s Leonard Shelby as he hunts for the man who raped and killed his wife whilst suffering with a rare condition that prevents him from making new memories. However it turns out that telling the story backwards, scene by scene and with an expositionary telephone conversation spliced in between, is the only way to give the story justice.
Famously, there is an easter egg on the Memento DVD that plays the film in chronological order, and I’ve discovered that in that orientation the film just doesn’t work. It’s not just because the last few seconds of every scene are replayed again moments later at the start of the next one (surely that wouldn’t have taken much to edit out?) but it’s also because the film is completely lacking in tension or pacing when that way round. Which just goes to show that Nolan was able to use a plot technique to it’s fullest advantage, which in the hands of a lesser director could have proved disastrous.
Pearce is excellent in an unforgiving role, especially given that Leonard has no character arc longer than a scene. He’s always been a brilliant actor, and often hides his Brad Pitt-esque looks behind obscuring facial furniture or heavy make-up – see Ed Exley’s glasses in L.A. Confidential, or large amounts of Play-doh in Prometheus – and here is no exception, with Shelby’s body plastered with tattoos and a shock of peroxide blonde hair to distract from those razor-sharp cheekbones. Pearce is ably supported by Carrie-Anne Moss and Joe Pantoliano as Natalie and Teddy, people who may or may not be out to help Leonard on his quest.We discover elements of the story as Leonard does, and the true meaning of almost every scene is altered by the one that immediately precedes/follows it. Surprisingly, a scene can hold just as many surprises, and just as much tension, if you know how it ends but not how it begins. You can’t help but feel sorry for Leonard, in a situation that would drive most of us insane – as long as we could remember the insanity long enough – and his life would be hard enough without everyone screwing with him. Even the clerk at his motel (Batman Begins‘ Mark Boone Junior) charges him for two different rooms, and doesn’t even hide it from Leonard, as there’s no chance he’ll remember.

There’s more comedic moments than you might remember, and some darkly so, for example the conversation where Leonard reveals to Natalie that the last thing he remembers is his wife. She says that’s sweet, before Leonard concludes “…dying.” I probably shouldn’t have, but this got a start of laughter from me.

I remember that my first viewing of this movie was ruined when I borrowed it from a housemate some years ago. He basically told me the ending, and that the film was crap, but I watched it anyway and remained intrigued and fascinated by how the plot would tie together – which it does nicely. Rest assured I never took that housemates movie advice again.

If Stephen Tobolowsky is in a film, then I’m legally obliged to mention him in a review, and here he crops up in grainy, black and white flashback as Sammy Jankis, a case Leonard looked into as an insurance claims investigator before his memory loss. Jankis suffered from a similar condition as Leonard, and Tobolowsky’s wonderfully big blank face is perfect for the look of someone not recognising anything new in the world around him, and his bursts of anger at annoyance – at an elctro-shock test and not understanding TV shows – is also great.

The story, written by Christopher Nolan’s brother Jonathan, is well thought out and takes into account the minutiae of Leonard’s predicament. Such a high concept (though scientifically possible) film could have left many annoyances at skipped over details, loose plot strands or inconsistencies, but by the end/beginning no such problems are left.

Choose film 9/10

The Piano

First off, an apology for the forthcoming review. I watched the film three months ago, and have gotten so far behind on my post writing that I’ve not had any real desire to review it, as to be honest it wasn’t that inspirational of a film. Nonetheless, I shall do my best, but I’m relying almost solely on the notes I made during the movie, as I can’t for the life of me remember very much of it. As you can probably guess, this isn’t going to be much of a recommendation to watch the film.
Holly Hunter plays Ada McGrath, a woman who, aged six, willed herself mute, and has since never spoken a word. She moves from Scotland to New Zealand for an arranged marriage with Sam Neill’s landowner/writer Alisdair, and brings her young daughter Flora (Anna Paquin in her first live action picture) and their piano, Ada’s pride and joy. Neill is less than impressed with his new bride-to-be (“You’re small, I never thought you’d be small”), and refuses to cart her piano across the difficult swampland between the beach and his home, so they abandon it on the sand, much to Ada’s discontent. Fortunately local plantation worker George Baines (Harvey Keitel) takes a shine to Ada, and trades some land with Alisdair for the piano, and agrees to trade it back to Ada in return for ‘piano lessons,’ during which George will get to know Ada far more intimately than she’d like.

Hunter and Paquin both won Oscars for this film, and Hunter at least thoroughly deserved hers (Paquin is excellent for an 11 year old, but though I haven’t seen any of the performances she was nominated against I wouldn’t be surprised if any of the actresses, including Emma Thompson and the aforementioned Hunter, performed more capably). Hunter’s Ada is utterly repressed, yet still emotive and expressive, all pursed lips and passive eyes, her skin a deathly pale against the stark black of her dresses and bonnet. Keitel is also good, though his proclivity for whipping his pecker out is always a distraction, and is for the most part unnecessary.
I got the feeling that the film was made to prove the point that a lead character doesn’t need to speak (see also: Dumbo). There isn’t too much of a story here, with the events built entirely around the character and her very existence rather than the exciting or emotional events in her life. Her character is well realised, especially the bond with her daughter, and her slowly breaking down walls against Baines’ advances. Communicating only through sign language, facial expression and a small chalk-board locket, she says more than any other character, and with far less.
Despite the poetry of the film, such as Keitel’s Baines being willing to just sit and watch the piano hammers dancing gaily along the strings, I didn’t take much away from this film, and it has had little to no lasting impact on me. It’s very slow, and the message is muddled, though I think it has something to do with choosing the correct way to woo someone. Alisdair goes about things in entirely the wrong way with Ada. If only he’d coerced her into, essentially, prostitution, he’d have been much better off. Oh, and the best part about the film? It features an actress called Geneviève Lemon.
Choose life 6/10

The Money Pit

I had high hopes for this film. I’ll gladly watch Tom Hanks in anything (I didn’t even mind Larry Crowne that much), and it co-stars Shelley Long who, having starred in Cheers, must be good for something. Well, OK, maybe not high hopes, but some hopes that I’d enjoy this film, but alas even those hopes were too high. I understand now why ASDA were recently flogging this DVD for £3. It’s not that it’s a terribly bad film, it’s just confused, contrived and desperately unfunny, which considering it’s an 80s comedy, makes it something of a failure.
Hanks is Walter Fielding who, along with his partner Anna (Long), find themselves in desperate need of a place to live after a series of silly  and easily avoidable plot points. When they discover an astoundingly cheap yet extravagant mansion, they buy it with an almost reckless abandon, despite the inevitability of it collapsing upon them. Needless to say, everything that can go wrong with the house does.

My main problem with the film is that at no point did I feel sorry for the two leads. I’m a home-owner, and have had a fair few problems with my flat, but unlike Walter and Anna, I didn’t have a wealthy employer/ex-spouse or client who would pay for everything, as is what happens here. Other than having to live in a building site for an extended period of time, the two don’t really have any long term problems, other than each other.
Also, the film is decidedly short on laughs. There were some farcical moments – the bathtub falling through the floor and Hanks getting stuck in the floorboards – that were a bit humorous, but mostly the film tried too hard and came up with nothing. One sequence involved Hanks in a ridiculous chain reaction involving a moved plank, circular saw, pit of wet cement and collapsing scaffolding. The setup can be seen a mile away, and the scene offers almost no payoff. It looks like Walter is about to be ousted as a KKK member when a black builder spots him on the roof dressed head-to-toe in white and wearing a hood, but no, the cement all gets washed off in a fountain, so there isn’t even any chance for him to become a kind of living statue. So many opportunities were missed for greater comedy, and there’s very little else that sticks in my memory about the film.
When Joe Mantegna pops up as a building contractor my hopes picked up, but then he never came back again, so I was deprived of getting to watch Fat Tony as well as listen to him  Even if you’re a Hanks fan and have a desire to watch everything he’s been in I still wouldn’t recommend this film, as though he has great comic timing and can pratfall like the best of them, even he can’t make this film watchable. Avoid.
Choose life 3/10