The Birth of a Nation

This review was originally written as part of my USA Road Trip series for French Toast Sunday.

Two families – the Stoneman family from the North and the Southern Cameron clan – are friends with one another, with clear romantic interests between males and females on both sides. However, when the American Civil War breaks out the families find themselves in opposing camps. Both suffer losses until a Cameron son ends up being cared for by the Stoneman daughter in a Northern hospital when the war ends. All looks to be well until President Lincoln is assassinated, at which point everything becomes more racist than could possibly be imagined.
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My Week in Movies, 2015 Week 39

1001As much as I’d like to regale you with more tales of my first world problems – I may have lost part of a podcast recording! I had to send back a LoveFilm disc without watching it! I’m concerned about the upcoming London LAMB meet-up! I’ve got a cold! – there are more important things afoot. Namely, a new edition of the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book!

I don’t care about what was removed, because I look at the master list that includes everything that’s ever been on the List, so here’s what’s been added, along with my thoughts for each one:

Ida (2013): The Polish winner of this year’s Best Foreign Language Oscar as well as a nominee for Best Cinematography, I know very little about Ida but don’t mind that it needs watching because it’s less than 90 minutes long.

Under the Skin (2013): A surprise entry, it was also a surprise that I didn’t hate this movie. I’m more than OK with watching it again, hopefully just so I can understand it a little better now I know how it ends. Can’t say I’m looking forward to trying to review it though.

Citizenfour (2014): It’s a documentary, and that’s all I know.

Leviathan (2014): Again I know very little other than it’s long, Russian, and the giant monster skeleton on the poster doesn’t actually appear in the film, which is a major disappointment all round.

Boyhood (2014): I love being right. Love it. So when I reviewed this earlier in the year in anticipation of it being included on the List, I was frickin’ right. And that means I can add another film onto my counter of 1001 List movies reviewed this year! And I don’t have to watch Boyhood again! Hurrah!

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014): Another surprise I’m somewhat taken aback by. I’ve discussed before that I loved this in the cinema but have cared for it less and less ever since, so I’m shocked it made it onto the List, especially seeing as the far superior The Avengers or Iron Man didn’t.

Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014): Absolutely no surprise here. The Best Picture winner always gets added, and more often than not is removed a year or so later. As with Guardians I liked this less on the re-watch, but I’m willing to let it slip for a year or so before returning, at which point maybe I’ll like it more.

Whiplash (2014): A very welcome surprise and one of my favourite films from 2014, I now have even more reason to buy it on DVD. Cannot wait to relive those last twenty minutes again.

The Theory of Everything (2014): Added purely so they’ve got something to remove next year. It wasn’t bad, it’s just not List-worthy. A very “Meh” choice.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014): Not surprising, but not expected either, this could have gone either way. I loved it first time, enjoyed it second, and am more than OK to watch it again, especially because I’ve already got it on Blu-Ray (along with Birdman, Guardians and soon Whiplash too).

Here’s what I watched this week:

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My Week in Movies, 2015 Week 38

What’s that saying about the best laid plans? Oh yeah, don’t bother making any. As much as I love my partner, I do appreciate the time I get to spend when she’s away. If that sounds mean then it isn’t meant to, she and I have discussed before that’s it’s nice to have an evening or a day to yourself once in a while, and I wholeheartedly agree. It’s been a long time since she was elsewhere for a couple of days, but this past weekend she was in London on business, so I found myself with a free couple of days to do whatever I liked, so I set out to make a plan. I scheduled three podcasts (my own, guest hosting one and being a regular guest on another) and a whole heap of movies to watch, planning to catch up on and cross off some of the more difficult films I needed to watch this year, and which Aisha definitely wouldn’t want to see. Needless to say, everything went to pot and I got very little done that I’d intended to.

Friday night went perfectly. After work I walked Murphy, dropped Aisha off at the train station, ran a couple of errands and headed home for dinner and a couple of movies in preparation for podcast #2 on Saturday, with casts 1 and 3 not covering specific movies so minimal preparation was required. Saturday, however, was far less successful. Murphy’s morning walk showed signs that he might not have been feeling all that well, but normally he gets over these things pretty quickly. Not so much this time, with a scrabbling at the door mid-podcast resulting in a couple of messy gifts from him littering the house, including one on a windowsill and halfway up the curtains, which I genuinely cannot fathom the logistics of how that happened. He’s fine now, but more time was given to cleaning up after him and making sure he was OK than had been planned. Additionally, my parents decided to invite themselves around on Sunday for a couple of hours, meaning a portion of my Saturday had to be given over to making the house and garden more presentable. Long story short, instead of watching a three-hour-plus movie and editing podcast #1 I only watched about 30 minutes of said film and didn’t even open the podcast file. Rats.

Sunday saw me watching a little more of the movie, but not getting beyond the two hour mark, with last minute tidy-ups occurring before my parents arrived, and their couple-of-hours visit evolving into half a day, with them leaving just before podcast #3 began, halfway through which Aisha arrived back home (with gifts of fudge and brownies, so she was even more of a welcome sight than expected). Before the weekend I’d planned to watch three films from the “Bad” movies list, two from my USA Road Trip, one 2015 movie and at least one “Nominated” movie, with options here and there from the TiVo list, but all I managed was two thirds of a USA Road Trip movie. I don’t think I’m going to get another free weekend for the rest of the year, so I’m a little annoyed at pretty much everything.

Also, with my celebrating of HitchcOctober just round the corner, the UK LAMB meet-up in a couple of weeks, a week spent visiting Aisha’s parents and an upcoming John Carpenter retrospective for the Lambcast, it’s looking like my goals are going to have to suffer, so I need to prioritise what I really want to get done. The TiVo list can take an easy back seat. The 1001 goal of 75 movies will probably sort itself out. Kate Winslet is done and the 2015 movies are ones I van more easily convince Aisha to watch for the most part. The choice really sits between the USA Road Trip, Bad Movies list and the Nominated films. I’m looking at the Road Trip as a priority, as I’d like to finish that off this year and enter 2016 with a new project for French Toast Sunday, which I’ve yet to decide upon. Numbers-wise it’ll be easier to do the Bad movies than the Nominated ones, so I think that’s what I’ll aim for. Ideally I’ll get it all done, but that’ll most likely require a week or so off work, and I’ve got no holiday left to book. I’m not that distraught, because after all these are self-imposed deadlines, but it’s a shame it looks like I’ll be throwing in the towel before the end of the year. Maybe I’ll have a movie marathon around Christmas. Here’s the very few films I watched this week: Continue reading

All the President’s Men

This review was originally written as part of my USA Road Trip series over at French Toast Sunday.

June, 1972. Five men are caught having broken into the Watergate Complex, specifically the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee. Routinely checking out their trial, reporter Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) begins to suspect something may be up through some odd details of the trial, and a shared phone number amongst the address books of some of the accused. Bob’s colleague Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) helps Woodward write a piece on the potential scandal, and the two of them – with the support of their editor Benjamin Bradlee (Jason Robards) and a highly secretive and selective informant known only as Deep Throat (Hal Holbrook) – dig ever further into how far this story goes.
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My Week in Movies, 2015 Week 37

Ever since I was at school I’ve often had a tendency to bite off more than I can chew, taking on projects far more ambitious than I can cope with and producing a lacklustre finished piece as a result of rushing or making do. It could be argues my 1001 Movies challenge is one such project, and many weeks I would, but in this instance I’m not talking about movies, I’m talking about baking.
This past weekend was my girlfriend’s birthday and, whilst we had dinner plans Saturday night, I wanted to make her a special dinner on Friday, especially after the cake she arranged for me a month ago for my birthday. So, on Friday night I came home via the supermarket, very precariously on a far too overladen bicycle that was also carrying a couple of bunches of flowers and some regular shopping items too. My plan was to spend the entire evening in the kitchen, briefly emerging with delicious food to enjoy with Aisha, before retreating back into my world of worktops and wonder. First step: make the custard for the hazelnut crème brûlées, and allow to set. Mistake number one: I didn’t make these the night before to give them enough time to set. As it turns out though, that wasn’t a problem, because whilst they were cooking I also made the main course, peppered steak with parmesan crusted chips, and somehow knocked the oven temperature up to maximum, so instead of hazelnut crème brûlées (which is basically a normal crème brûlée with nutella whisked into it and chopped hazelnuts mixed into the sugar topping) we had hazelnut scrambled egg, which wasn’t really what I was trying for. Fortunately I’d picked up some of her favourite ice cream just in case this sort of thing happened (this isn’t my first cooking catastrophe). The steak went well, a little well done for my liking but that’s how she prefers it, but I had high hopes for the cake, which I’d intended to be a hazelnut meringue pyramid, in the design of the Ferrero Rocher adverts. Only problem was, I’ve never really made meringue before, and one could argue I still haven’t, because what I made was under-whisked and under-baked, so not possible to construct a pyramid from. Reviewing my attempts after taking a break to wrap Aisha’s birthday presents (whilst watching a film, naturally) the clock said 2:30am and I called it a night. I didn’t bother making the ganache to hold the meringues together, because it probably would have gone wrong, and it’d be like building a wall by cementing together sea sponges. I didn’t even think about making the raspberry marshmallows I’d also planned. So, a failure all round really. There’s always next year I suppose.

Here’s what I watched this week:
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Donnie Darko

One morning in early October, 1988, troubled teenager Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) is coerced into sleepwalking by a mysterious figure in a creepy giant rabbit costume. He wakes up on the local golf course and heads home, only to find a jet engine has fallen into his bedroom, with the FAA claiming no such engine is missing. Had Donnie been home, he’d have been killed. In his dream, Donnie was also told that the world would end in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 26 seconds, so he sets out attempting to unravel this mystery whilst also dealing with the regular trials and tribulations of a teenager in the 80s.
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My Week in Movies, 2015 Week 36

Nothing much to report this week. I could go into the usual filler of the week’s events, excusing the lack of movies watched with reasons of visiting guests and adventures in leaving the house, maybe drop a brief anecdote about Murphy’s latest quest to destroy my life, primarily through learning how to turn the gas hob on while I’m at work, making every day a potential fireball (we’ve fixed this problem, please don’t fear for my life any more than usual) but that’s nothing new. So instead, here’s my thoughts on True Detective Season 2, which we finished watching this past week. Spoiler warning for the end of the season.
I didn’t hate it. I’ve seen a lot of negative comments, and I can see where most of them are coming from, and I agree with a lot of it, but for the most part my feelings are positive. Here’s the thing; I didn’t flat-out love the first season. It was good, often great (that episode 4 tracking shot? Holy hell I’ve watched that like a dozen times since) but I wasn’t dying for the next one. So when season 2 rolled around my hopes weren’t as high as everyone else’s. I really dug the pilot (as each season follows new characters and plots, I’ll be thinking of the first episode each time as essentially being the pilot for that season). I liked the four separate storylines diverging around this one dead man, and I was intrigued as to how it would all pan out. Some of the characters felt a little similar, what with both Rachel McAdams’ Bezzerides and Colin Farrell’s Velcoro having problems with alcohol and Taylor Kitsch’s Woodrugh suffering from PTSD after his experiences with in the war, but over time the differences became clear and they all sorted themselves out. If anything, I could have maybe done with a little more time with their individual family and home lives, especially Bezzeredes, because if you cast David Morse as her father, I’m going to need him to be in at least half the episodes, not barely in three of them. The same goes for Fred Ward, but to a lesser extent. I also thoroughly approved of the inclusion of a criminal’s viewpoint, namely Vince Vaughn’s Frank. He and his wife (played by Kelly Reilly, who is excellent) have lost a lot of money courtesy of a guy dying in the first episode, so they’re trying to get their life back on track to survive this mess. Vaughn gets most of the best lines, although nothing ever came close to beating Farrell threatening a child who bullied his son with the promise ” If you ever bully or hurt anybody again, I’ll come back and butt fuck your father with your mom’s headless corpse on this goddamn lawn.” Shame that the script peaked in episode one, but there you go.

My main issue is the plot. I’m of the opinion that this series wasn’t about the investigation as much as it was what happens to these four main characters, but that’s because I never had any kind of idea what was going on, who any of these secondary or tertiary people were or why they were doing anything. Even after the final episode I’m still in the dark about a lot of things. There’s too many characters, too many names and locations. It’s the same problem I had with JFK recently, in that I just couldn’t keep track of it all. If I’d kept some kind of chart as I went along, or watched each episode a few times apiece then I’d probably have a better idea, but I didn’t, so I don’t. I’ve heard others says that this is the whole point, you’re supposed to go through not knowing what’s relevant, but when I’m lost with everything, I retained nothing. Like I said though, I’m OK with that, because I focussed on the characters, and I understand how they all ended up, and most of the reasons why, without needing to completely understand everything that’s going on outside of their comprehension. If they make a season three I’ll definitely give it a shot, especially because it’s likely to take a whole different turn to this one. I’d love a 40s or 50s style noir, following a Bogart-esque gumshoe, but I don’t think this is that kind of show. Alternatively, maybe something like Heat could work, following one main good guy and one main bad guy across the whole series. That’s kind of what I thought this would be, but with three detectives after Vaughn’s criminal. That might be too simple of a set-up for this show, but it’s what I’d enjoy. Whatever they do, I’d appreciate if they just used less characters overall, allowing more time to explore their lives in depth to a greater extent. What did you think of the show? Let me know in the comments!

As for movies, here’s what I watched this week:
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Schindler’s List

During World War II, an entrepreneurial member of the Nazi party, Oscar Schindler (Liam Neeson) takes advantage of the mistreatment of Jewish citizens by using them for cheap labour in his enamelware factory. However, as he gets to know his workers better – particularly his right hand man Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley) – and witnesses first hand the inhuman brutalities they must endure – particularly at the hand of concentration camp overseer Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes) – Schindler begins to realise the change he can make to the people around him.
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My Week in Movies, 2015 Week 35

There are different degrees of fandom and geekery. You might think that, considering I run a film blog, contribute to various others, host a movie podcast and spend a large portion of my daily life watching, discussing and generally thinking about movies that I’d consider myself a high level movie nerd. Well I don’t. I’m way more of a fan than the average man on the street, and amongst my friends I’m the “movie guy,” but compared to a lot of other people I’m barely scratching the surface. You want proof? Well, this past weekend saw the Bournemouth Film and Comic Con take place about four miles from my house, and I didn’t even go. It’s not like I’ve been to so many cons that I’m sick of them – I’ve never been to any – I just didn’t go. It was partially for financial reasons – August was a particularly expensive month, and September and October probably will be too – and also for time constraints, with various other things I’d planned to do this weekend, but there’s also the fact that there was very little advertised about the con that I wanted to partake in. I’ve no interest in collecting autographs or having my picture taken with figures from the world of TV and the movies. Yes I think Michael Biehn is great, but I don’t see how meeting him would improve my life, and I’d have nothing to say to him other than “Man, Jai Courtney shat all over Kyle Reese, right?” The same goes with Robert Englund, or Sylvester McCoy, both of whom were also present, along with Lou Ferrigno, Chris Barrie, David Prowse and the guy who plays Hodor on Game of Thrones. I respect all of their work, but I don’t understand what people get from having their signature on a DVD slip cover. No offence to anyone who is interested in this kind of thing, it’s just not for me.
Speaking of this past weekend, I feel there’s proof that I may be maturing as a person. This weekend was a Bank Holiday weekend which, for people who don’t know, means everyone who doesn’t work in a shop or for the emergency services etc. got an extra day off. It happens a few times a year, and this was the last one before Christmas. I’ve got a few days off in October for the UK LAMB Meet-Up in London, but other than that I’ll be working solidly through to Christmas Eve for the rest of the year. In the past, my three-day weekends would have been filled with movies, TV shows and video games. This time last year I watched 9 films, in spite of having guests staying over. In 2012 I watched 11 films over the course of the three days. And what about this weekend? Surely I made good use of the time catching up and even getting ahead of some of my targets. I at least must have written some of my outstanding reviews. Nope. I watched a grand total of four movies. And I reviewed nothing. Not a damn thing. Granted, all four movies I watched were relevant to some goal or other, and I partook in two podcasts, one of which took almost three hours to record (but was well worth the effort, thanks French Toast Sunday!). I also did some gardening – I’m adding a stone border around the front lawn for easier lawn-mowing, and to match the one we put in the read garden recently – and some DIY, taking apart a vintage wooden bar, re-painting it and re-assembling. We also made a cake we were commissioned for, decorating it to look basketball-themed (we’re happy with it, but the finished product isn’t worthy of a photo on here), took Murphy out for some walks, has a nice pub lunch, I started Aisha’s birthday shopping, and generally just had a nice weekend, not cluttered with the stress of staying on top of my lists. I know I’ve got a weekend or two in my future where I’ll be left alone with the puppy, at which point I’ll get a bit more done, but for now I’m more than OK with the progress I’m making. Or not, as the case may be. Here’s the four movies I watched this week: Continue reading