In the last days of the 70s, Iranian militants take over the US Embassy in Tehran taking everyone inside hostage. Unbeknownst to them, six Americans managed to escape, and were able to covertly make their way to the Canadian ambassador’s house (after being turned away by the New Zealanders and those pesky Brits). After hiding out their for weeks, never going outside for fear of being seen and executed on sight, it soon becomes clear that the CIA must make a move to ‘exfiltrate’ these citizens. Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), their top exfiltration specialist, comes up with a plan to pull them out, by pretending to be a Canadian film crew scouting locations for a new sci-fi B-movie called Argo, and to make the story more convincing, Hollywood needs to get involved.
Continue reading


The Marquis de Sade (Geoffrey Rush) has been imprisoned by Napoleon for writing sexually explicit novels Justine and Juliette. Whilst in prisoned at the Charenton Insane Asylum, de Sade uses a laundry maid (Kate Winslet) to smuggle out his scripts. The Abbe de Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix), who runs the asylum, battles constantly with the rebellious de Sade, until eventually Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine), a conditioning expert, is brought in to ‘cure’ the man.
Continue reading

Top 5… Movie Cars

 Two weeks ago, Aisha and I bought a car. It’s her second, but it the first one I’ve ever put some money towards, and it’s our largest joint purchase to date, so it’s something of a noteworthy milestone. It would have inspired last week’s Top 5, but then my sister went and got engaged, so I had to postpone this one a week, but in tribute to our new powder blue Nissan Micra (named Ellie after the wife/house from Up), here is my list of the Top 5 Movie Cars. Now, I’m not much of a car guy, so don’t expect long diatribes about how fast Cameron’s Dad’s Ferrari 250 GT from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off can go, or just how sexy Bruce Wayne’s Lamborghini Murciélago is, because I had to look up what both of those cars were, and I’m still doubting the spelling of Lamborghini. Instead, these are the cars that, for whatever reason, are generally my favourite, be it due to character, coolness or how much I’d like to own one.
Continue reading

The Graduate

Ben Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) has returned home from university a star scholar, with his parents and all their friends keen to voice their high hopes for him and his future, but Ben is more uncertain with what he wants to do. Amidst this despondency, Ben finds himself the reluctant object of the affections of Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), the wife of his father’s business partner, and the pair begin a secret and sordid affair, which becomes complicated when Mrs. Robinson’s husband (Murray Hamilton) has plans to set Ben up with his daughter Elaine (Katharine Ross), obviously against the wishes of Mrs. Robinson.

This is one of those films that has become famous for a few significant moments that have become integral to pop culture. Moments like Anne Bancroft trying to seduce Dustin Hoffman, him framed in a doorway behind her strategically cocked legs in the foreground, or the ending, which gives way to one of my favourite final scenes in cinema (featuring the second time I’ve seen a crucifix being used as a weapon in recent times, after Liam Neeson cracked skulls with his in Gangs of New York). The first time I watched this film, as I’m discovering is the case with so many films, I didn’t understand it that much or in fact take any of it in, and the true meaning of the ending was lost on me. This time around I’m pretty sure I got it. Maybe I’m the right age now. Maybe it’s because I’ve now finished my studies and, only a few years ago, was briefly adrift in an ocean of directions I didn’t want to pursue. Or maybe it’s because I’ve seen (500) Days Of Summer, in which the ending is discussed and potentially ruined for anyone who hadn’t seen it or couldn’t remember it (like me, for example).

That’s the problem with such a culturally significant film; it’s been discussed and dissected not just on film blogs such as this one (and probably a few better ones too), but in many other areas of pop culture. The more famous sequences have been riffed on in the likes of
Starter For Ten, American Pie and several times in The Simpsons, whereas the overall plot can be heard in The Player (in which a sequel is pitched, set 25 years later), and in Rumor Has It (which I’ve not seen, but my knowledge of the plot led me to expect certain scenes in The Graduate that never actually came about). Fortunately, even though the basics of the plot have been in the public eye for some time now, there are a great many more charms which this film can rely upon.

Firstly, the acting. I’m starting to think that Dustin Hoffman could well be one of the most under-rated actors of his generation. Now, I know that he’s received two leading actor Oscars from seven nominations (the first of which came from this very film), but he’s always seemed overshadowed by the likes of Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro from actors of that age. It hasn’t been helped by his far-from-stellar later work, but then Pacino and DeNiro are hardly innocent of that either. You can pretty much guarantee Hoffman will be the focus of a future Film-Makers series. In The Graduate, Hoffman takes a character who should be sympathetic and runs in the opposite direction, making him quite unlikable; someone who’s been handed everything but couldn’t care less. The true genius of the performance shines when Ben is at his most nervous. His subconscious, subtle nod when Mrs. Robinson asks if he knew she was an alcoholic;
his unintentional little whinny and half-swallow whenever he’s put upon the spot or caught off guard. You completely believe, despite the ten year age difference between Hoffman and the character he was playing, that he could be this bright young scholar, the former big man on campus, who now finds himself in the submissive role of a relationship he has no control of. Anne Bancroft is also noteworthy as the woman Ben was completely unprepared for. She retains a steely demeanour, forever in control of every situation she is in, usually because she pulled the strings to instigate it in the first place. 

The cinematography and editing were surprisingly good too – surprisingly because I didn’t remember them being very memorable the first time around. The brilliant opening, following Ben as he glides down an airport’s moving walkway, has been shamelessly ripped off by Tarantino in Jackie Brown, but it’s the cuts that really impressed me. Whether it’s Ben getting dressed as he leaves the swimming pool and walks through a doorway cutting to him walking into a hotel room and being undressed by Mrs. Robinson, or his mounting a lilo cutting seamlessly to mounting her on a bed. The editing from In The Heat Of The Night must have been superb to have beaten this at the Oscars.

The main detracting factor is the soundtrack. I was pleasantly surprised when Simon and Garfunkel’s The Sound Of Silence opened the film, for it’s a song I’m happy to listen to. However, they perform the entirety of the soundtrack, which unfortunately is comprised of only about three of their songs, repeated over and over again, and I became truly sick of it all the second time Scarborough Fair was played in the space of a couple of minutes. I don’t normally mind the haunting, melancholic feel of their songs, but after too long I felt like I was drowning in cold syrup. The main problem is that they always sound bored of singing their own songs, and I’m certainly now bored of hearing them.

There were a couple of uncomfortable moments, but they were played out masterfully, particularly the initial encounter between Benjamin and Mrs. Robinson, who have known each other all of his life, just not in that present light. After giving her a lift home in his shiny new graduate-present car, Ben is requested to accompany Mrs. Robinson indoors, as she is frightened of entering an empty, dark house alone. He is plied with alcohol and music and led upstairs, torn between intense awkwardness and the desire to be polite and not offend his parents’ close friend. Just as you think things cannot possibly become any more excrutiating for Benjamin, after Mrs. Robinson has all but thrown her naked form at him, of course Mr. Robinson comes home and encourages young Ben to enjoy himself that summer, making sure he has a few flings. This is an embarrassing situation far beyond anything you will find on Curb Your Enthusiasm.

The script is also wonderful, and any film that can feature the lines “You’re the most attractive of all my parents’ friends” and “I don’t love your wife, I love your daughter sir,” can do no wrong by me.

Choose film 9/10

Top 5… Movie Proposals

Earlier this week, I discovered I was going to become a brother-in-law, as my sister’s former-boyfriend-now-fiance finally popped the question atop Edinburgh castle. My tribute to them (congratulations Rachel and Sparrow!) is this little rundown of the top proposals in the movies. I’d also like to give a special mention to this video here, which had it appeared in a film would probably be on my list. Anyway, it turns out that a majority of movie proposals happen in rom-coms (I was shocked too), most of which I unfortunately (or fortunately?) haven’t seen, so this is list is far from complete. Just like all my other Top 5s really. Oh, and not all of these are strictly proposal scenes, but that’s the general gist, so let me off on a couple, OK?
Continue reading

The Wicker Man

Devout Christian police officer Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) receives an anonymous letter telling him that a young girl, 12 year old Rowan Morrison, went missing a year ago and hasn’t been seen since. Armed only with the letter, a photo and his unbreakable religious beliefs, Howie sets out to the secluded island of Summerisle, where he is met by hostility from the locals, who do not approve of a mainlander on their soil, and all deny any knowledge of Rowan’s existence. As Howie investigates further, he is met by obstructions at every turn, and discovers the islands inhabitant’s rituals and ideology may have a more sinister cause for Rowan’s disappearance than the policeman could ever have imagined.

First things first, I’ve not seen the 2006 Nicolas Cage remake, so I can’t really discuss that film here, which is fine, because this post isn’t about that film, it’s about the 1973 original. I have seen a few of Cage’s clips online, and I was glad to see that at no point did Edward Woodward (who, by the way, has the greatest name ever, I can’t stop saying it) explode into a torrent of “How’d it get burned?!?”, have a cage of bees strapped to his head, or perform a running punch whilst dressed as a bear. I had, however, seen this version before, but I now realise it was a heavily edited-for-TV cut, as although I watched it some years ago, I cannot remember nearly as much of the frankly disturbing goings-on that occurred in this film.

Even though it is essentially about a cult, and it’s seen through the eyes of an outsider, there is a lot of this film that’s difficult to fully come to terms with, particularly the downright infuriating manner in which the children of the island are taught. For example, with their forthcoming May Day celebrations, the lessons focus on the maypole, and how it symbolises the penis. Strips of flesh are hung by gravestones, one of which reads ‘Protected by the Ejaculation of Serpents’. Oh, and graveyards are apparently appropriate places to breastfeed children. The children are also encouraged to sing, which I’ve got no problem with, unless the lyrics contain such gems as “On that bed, there was a girl. And on that girl, there was a man. And from that man, there was a seed. And from that seed, there was a boy.” Bear in mind these children are all pre-teen, maybe even by a fair few years in some cases. 

Oh yes, the singing. I’ve decided that if I ever revisit my Top 5 Films That Should Be Musicals, this film is a prime candidate for the sub-list of ones that already pretty much are ones. There are far more songs here than I had expected, and their diversity was something of a surprise. You’ve got a group of naked women prancing around a stone circle singing about pregnancy, and elsewhere there’s an impressively impromptu pub-wide rendition of The Landlord’s Daughter, which must have taken rather a lot of choreographing, seeing as no-one steps on anyone else’s lines. Britt Ekland, who plays Willow, the aforementioned innkeeper’s spawn, even gets her own solo (though I think she was dubbed by someone). Her song, creatively named Willow’s Song on the soundtrack, plays out like a pornographic music video, as Ekland, naked of course, sings directly to the camera as she gyrates ferociously around her room, slapping herself and beating on the wall in an effort to entice the neighbouring Howie to come and attend to her. Understandably, this is one of the more memorable of the film’s scenes, but the breaking of the fourth wall was distracting, and it felt like it went on for far too long.

I very much approved of how we as the audience are kept as much in the dark as Howie is as he goes about his quest, only realising something’s up when he does, at which point of course it’s too late. Woodward also does a good job with Howie’s character, establishing a hero who is something of a dick, and definitely not a people person. I don’t want to get into a debate about religion (in short, it’s not for me), but I’m glad that I’ve never met someone who is quite so steadfast in their beliefs as Howie, who is utterly appalled when he discovers the island education system doesn’t contain anything to do with the teachings of Jesus, as the only religion he even acknowledges the existence of is Christianity, proving he is possibly just as obsessed or bigotted as the islanders themselves.

Even with so many distubing aspects – the thought of the beetle slowly crawling around the desk until it strangles itself still upsets me a little – I can’t help but appreciate this film as being a thoroughly engaging mystery, with an enrapturing plot that, even though I had an inkling of a memory as to what the ending was, I couldn’t wait to see pan out to find out exactly what was going on. Also, Christopher Lee is generally brilliant in anything, here appearing as the charming Lord Summerisle. I’d have appreciated a little less music and a lot less insanity, but I’m still very pleased to have seen it again. Oh, and I’m fairly sure the Salmon of Knowledge was from a lost Monty Python sketch.

Choose film 7/10


Tae-suk (Hyun-Kyoon Lee) has no home, few belongings and leaves no mark on the world. Essentially, he has no life, but why would he need one, when he can borrow other people’s for a few days at a time? Leaving pizza menus taped to the front doors of houses and apartments, he establishes who is away for a while, breaks in and makes himself quite literally at home, making a quick exit before the inhabitants come home. But in his latest domestic intrusion, Tae-suk neglected to ensure the house was empty, as abused housewife Sun-hwa (Seung-yeon Lee) is still home, and when she discovers him he flees, but he returns to find her husband not being overly kind to her. Tae-suk lures him outside and pelts him with golf balls, prompting Sun-hwa to run away with Tae-suk, joining him on his adventures.

I’m guessing that the main reason this film was included amongst the hallowed ranks of the 1001 Movies book is due to it’s sense of poetry, and the fact that the two leads barely even utter a sound for the entirety of the film, but the main reason that the film is no longer a part of the book is because it’s all inherently stupid, with far too many plot issues than I can justifiably overlook, and which ruined the film for me.

Let’s start with the obvious. Tae-suk’s plan is to stick takeaway menus to people’s front doors in the morning, and then come back in the evening to see which one’s have been removed. If a menu is still in place, he assumes that the occupant’s are away for a while. Has he never heard of anyone working late? Or popping out for a drink after work, maybe going for a meal, nipping to the shops or even seeing a film at the cinema? And even if the inhabitants are on holiday, he has no idea how far into it they are, other than on the rare occasion that someone’s outgoing voicemail message announces their return date. For all he knows, they’re due back that evening. It’s not the most well thought out of schemes. Also, he puts an enormous amount of faith in sticky tape. I don’t know about you, but I find the stuff to be wildly ineffective in terms of it’s adhesive power, even when not exposed to the elements. And what’s with the woman who was terrified of the missing photo in an apartment she’s never been in before? The ending, too, is ludicrous, and though the final shot is beautiful and pignant, it doesn’t hold up when even the slightest amount of logic is applied, for example, are there no mirrors in the house? But even though the resolution is downright silly, it was still oddly poetic and smile-inducing, in spite of just how ridiculous it was.

Basically, for the most part I found this film infuriating, so much so that it’s quiet beauty and simplicity was almost lost on me, so great was my annoyance level. There was a real sense of inevitability to many of the scenes – I was waiting for the drilled golf ball to come loose, and for the breaking and entering to all go horribly wrong as soon as the elements were established – and even at a scant 88 minutes I was regularly checking the clock. The prison-set scenes were nice, but unless I’m really missing something blatant, I just didn’t get this film. Whilst I appreciated the unspoken romance between the two characters – some things are easier said through looks than words – and the performances cannot be criticised in either case, I just can’t get behind a film with such irritating issues.

Choose life 5/10

Gangs of New York

New York, 1846. Priest Vallon (Liam Neeson), the leader of a group of Irishmen going by the name of the Dead Rabbits, has roused other rival gangs to join together and fight Bill ‘The Butcher’ Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis), the leader of the tyrannical New York Natives, over ownership of the Five Points. When Neeson is slain, his son escapes and leaves the city, returning sixteen years later as Leonardo DiCaprio, who understandably has a score to settle with Bill over his father’s murder.

I can see what Martin Scorsese was trying to do here, basically a mid-19th century Goodfellas, but if Henry Hill had a vendetta against Paulie, but unfortunately he was quite a way off the mark. Whilst Gangs of New York isn’t a bad film, it’s no match for Goodfellas in terms of story and generally being awesome. What Gangs does have, though, is a lot more violence, and of course Daniel Day-Lewis in full on mental mode. His Bill Cutting is easily the best and most memorable aspect of the film, with his hair plastered immobile to his scalp, with his fringe greased down and intimidating moustache twisted up. As always, Day-Lewis gives an intense, extreme yet believable performance as the film’s most rounded character, and the fact that he lost to Adrien Brody for The Pianist (one of ten Oscar nominations the film failed to pick up trophies for) is beyond me, though Brody should definitely have been nominated. Bill is, at times, downright terrifying, most notably during the knife-throwing scene, where his “Whoopsy-daisy!” sends a shiver down my spine, and waking up to see Daniel Day-Lewis, draped in the American flag, may well soon be a recurring nightmare of mine.

By comparison, DiCaprio’s Amsterdam is something of a disappointing hero, dithering about with Cameron Diaz’s petty thief Jenny, who also happens to have a connection with Bill, as he quickly rises through the ranks of New York’s gang culture. He’s a bit bland to be honest, although really who wouldn’t be when compared to Bill the Butcher? and the dance scene he and Diaz share is insipid and awkward, far more than I feel it should be. The supporting cast fares better, comprised of the likes of Jim Broadbent, John C. Reilly and Brendan Gleeson, as well as Henry Thomas (Elliot from E.T.!), Stephen Graham and Eddie Marsan making up the lower ranks, but all making their marks. 

The script is largely good and often quotable, with such gems as “You see this knife? I’m going to teach you to speak English with this f**king knife!”, “She’s a prim-looking star-gazer,” and my personal favourite, “I don’t give a tuppenny f**k about your moral conundrum you meat-headed sh*t sack!” The occasional black comedy was nice – the town has 37 individually run fire departments, who spend more time brawling over who gets to fight the fires than they do actually putting the fires out, and Broadbent’s politician’s solution to people hassling him is to hang some people – but no-one important of course. And there’s so much floor-spitting it’s a wonder everyone doesn’t have to walk around in wellington boots.

I feel I must mention the violence in this film, as there’s an awful lot more than I was expecting. At times it’s fairly comical – Neeson’s priest setting bludgeoning people about the heads with his cross – but elsewhere it’s less appreciated, for example a woman who rips off ears (she then uses them as a form of payment at the local bar), and there are far more animal carcasses than I really wanted to see. This is only to be expected – Bill is a butcher, after all, but we see more here than during a Rocky training montage. Along with the violence and dead pigs, there’s also enough racism to make even Prince Philip blush. No racial slur goes uncussed.

My main problem with this film is the lack of subtlety. There’s a pretty blatant metaphor spelled out in the opening scene, as Neeson recounts to his son the tale of St. Michael, who cast Satan out of paradise. It becomes pretty clear than in this parable, DiCaprio is to play the part of the saint, Cutting is Satan (his main office is referred to as Satan’s Circus) and paradise is New York, more specifically Paradise Square, the centre of the Five Points. This metaphor is handled pretty heavily, and flashing back to this opening scene every time Amsterdam encounters someone from his childhood really doesn’t help. I approved of the parallels between the two warring sides – they both pray to the same God, as do the law enforcement out to stop them, all believing they are on the side of justice and their Lord. The politics wasn’t bad either, though again it was less subtle than it could have been, with conscripts to the civil war boarding onto a boat as coffins are simultaneously unloaded from it directly in front of them.

The scale of the scenes is very impressive, with hundreds of extras across multiple storeys of buildings and far into the distance, occasionally pyrotechnics and a hell of a lot going on. This, along with Daniel Day-Lewis, is the only part of the film really worth watching for, so I can’t recommend it all that much.

Choose life 6/10

Top 5… Directors For The New Star Wars Films

As I’m sure you’re aware by now, Disney recently bought LucasFilm, and are currently planning on releasing the next trilogy of Star Wars films, starting in 2015 (which is looking like a pretty damn good year for movies so far, what with Avengers 2 and the Justice League movie). Currently nothing has been set in stone other than a frankly ridiculous amount of rumours over cast and crew, so I’m going to throw my hat into the already over-hatted ring as to whom I believe would make a decent director for what proves to be one of the most eagerly, yet cautiously, anticipated films of the next few years. As I like to do sometimes, I’ve made two lists, one of a safe pair of hands to kick off the trilogy, and another list of film-makers who could add an interesting spin on the series that I’d quite like to see.
Continue reading

Zombie Mania!

Recent days have seen the release of not one, not three, but two trailers for zombie-related films that I’m really looking forward to. I’ve not had much of a chance to say quite how much I like zombies on this here blog’o’mine, but they appear in some of my favourite horror films and/or films in general, and I’ve been eagerly awaiting both of these trailers.
Continue reading