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Archive for February, 2009

FandangoGroovers

When I started this blog I said I said I would reveal the origin of the name. this is it:

My best Kevin Costner impersonation

My best Kevin Costner impersonation

It’s the 20th July 2008 despite being scared of heights I am stood on a rock on a cliff overlooking the Rio Grande on the Mexican border with a bottle of Dom Pérignon in my hand. This is the exact spot Kevin Costner had stood about 25 years before, but what led me to this strange location in West Texas? To say the journey began in Las Vegas a few days before is not completely untrue but doesn’t give the complete picture the journey really began nearly 20 years before back home in Birmingham (England not Alabama!).

Some time in the late 80’s I saw a film on BBC2 called Fandango. The reason I watched it was simple Kevin Costner, a Hollywood star in his ascendancy. Although he was yet to make his Oscar winning début as a director with Dances With Wolves he was still a big star I had recently seen The Untouchables, Field of Dreams, Bull Durham and the much underrated No Way Out.  He went on to make some classic films as well as a few turkeys but there is something special about Fandango. Like all cult classics it bombed at the box office before going on to achieve acclaim and popularity on Video and TV. For those who haven’t seen the film here is a brief synopsis:

Set in Texas in 1971 during the Vietnam war five collage friends calling themselves The Groovers go on one last “Fandango”, a road trip across the state to the Mexican border in a 1959 Cadillac. They all have different motivations for their actions. Two of them are facing the draft one is about to get married but they all share a bond as they celebrate the “privilege of youth”.

I won’t go into detail about the scenes in the film but will simply say it is worth seeing for the skydiving scenes alone. So back to my story fast forward a few years: Having seen the film one or two more times on TV I went away to university. Studying for a media degree we were all film nuts and watched lots of films; one day Eddie; one of the group who was studying sports science and had never shown an interest in the films we watched declared that he would show us his favourite film. that’s when I saw fandango for the third or fourth time. Over the three years at university we watched it many times. To the best of my knowledge it has never been released on video or DVD in the UK (but region 1 versions are available) so I settled for a recorded of TV video that I have watched many times.  So years later when Eddie called and said he was going on a “Fandango” it didn’t take me long to agree to join the trip.

Just off Route 66 on our way to Texas

Just off Route 66 on our way to Texas

So that’s how I ended up in Texas, we flew into Vegas and picked up our rented Cadillac (less the fins of the ‘59 model in the film) and headed for West Texas and met up with some other fans of the film (who Eddie had found on the internet) including Chuck Bush (who plays Dorman in the film). Over the weekend we travelled around visiting the locations from the film including the rock mentioned at the top. For more information on Fandango check out the fan site at here.  And by the way it wasn’t a bottle of Dom Pérignon, it was American sparkling wine (kindly supplied by Jeff, thanks!).  For those who haven’t seen the film take look at this clip (in our defence I have it on good authority the Dom Pérignon in the film is fake as well!): 

(Tribute compiled by fellow fan Jeff not me)

A real bottle of Dom!

A real bottle of Dom!

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Recent reviews

Back a little earlier than planned.  As well as regular blogs following a theme it is my intention to give a short review of films I see at the Cinema (I see a lot of films!).  For the last twelve months I have been reviewing most films on Flixster so have decided to reproduce the reviews for films that are still on release.

 

Che Part One and Two

cheI saw this film on New Year’s Day with parts one & two put together to make one epic four and a half hour movie. The style is very interesting; with no credit or title sequences and a style of photography that gives a documentary feel. We never get close to Che or find out what he is thinking; it is a very cold detached piece. There is a scene towards the end of Part One that sets up Part Two perfectly. It is a flashback to the first scene in the movie set in Mexico when Fidel Castro asks Che if he is coming to Cuba with him. His response is simple and understated but cuts to the heart of his idealism and explains his post Cuba life. The rest of the film plays out as a document of war/revolution. A good example of the documentary style is when a plane flies over and drops a bomb the camera stays on the ground with Che and his men and we see an explosion, there is no point of view of the pilot or the bomb the way war films tend to be shot these days. Part one works better than part two, I think because of the way it is broken up with the New York scenes that are more intimate than the jungle. After a few short scenes in Cuba with his second wife Part Two goes straight into the final year of Che’s life in Bolivia skipping over his visits to various countries in the world and the time he spent in the Congo during their ongoing conflict. The photography is fantastic making great use of the vibrant colours of jungle and towns and juxtaposing them with the stark black and white New York footage. The casting is perfect. Benicio Del Toro looks the part and is completely believable; the film was made at just the right time for him. Having matured as an actor in films like 21 Grams and Things We Lost in the Fire he probably wouldn’t have given the same gravity of performance as a younger man. Left any longer and we would have been too old for the part, he is already more than 10 years older than Guevara was at the time of part one. Also look out for another great performance from rising star Catalina Sandino Moreno and an understated but assured performance form Franka Potente. The film doesn’t have the same impact as Walter Salles fantastic The Motorcycle Diaries that dealt with an earlier part of Ernesto Guevara’s life (before he became known as Che) but it is interesting and an enjoyable film that doesn’t try to romanticise the myth. The film does not tell its audience that Che was a hero or a villain it just tells us what he did and to a lesser extent why he did it and lets us make our own minds up about the man and the myth. Two (very limited release.  You are more likely to see part two at the moment but recommend you don’t see it unless you have seen part one)

 

 

 

The Curious case of Benjamin Button

benBy now everyone is aware of the premise of the film; a man aging backwards. Directed by David Fincher best known for darker films such as Seven, The Game and Fight Club. You will not be surprised to see this film maintains an edginess that you would expect of the director. The great performances from Bard Pitt and Cate Blanchett stand out as does the fantastic special effects used to capture the unusual aging process. The similarity with Forrest Gump has been mentioned, they share a screenwriter in Eric Roth and a theme of a man’s journey through life told in flashback with an eye on world events. Benjamin Button is a more likeable character and this is a more enjoyable film. Ultimately the film is about life, death and love, like so many other stories. Without going down the Sliding Doors or Butterfly Effect routes it is about the opportunities we missed and the chances we took. At times quite a sombre film but you still walk away feeling happy. Finally look out for some interesting casting Elle Fanning plays the younger version of Cate Blanchett’s character, she had previously played Blanchett and Pitts daughter in Babel. WARNING PLOT SPOILER: Benjamin and Daisy’s baby daughter is played by Shiloh Jolie-Pitt, Brad’s real life daughter.

 

Slumdog Millionaire

slumAlthough you wouldn’t typecast Danny Boyle in a particular genre of film you wouldn’t expect him make a feel good movie set in India. Slumdog Millionaire uses flashbacks in a simple but clever way. Jamal is a young man who grew up in the slums of Mumbai, he finds himself one question away from wining the Jackpot on the Hindi version of “Who Wants to be A Millionaire?” As the program finishes for the evening Jamal is arrested and questioned as the host suspects him of cheating. What unfolds as he is questioned is incidents in his life that gave him the knowledge to answer the questions to get to this point. The scenarios are dramatic, tragic and comic and all add to the flavour of the film and the depth of the characters. What also develops in the flashbacks is the relationship between Jamal, his brother Salim and Latika a young girl they befriended and Jamal’s reason for being on the program. The three main characters are played by three different actors each allowing for different ages. All do a really good job in what for most of them is their first film. The photography is stunning making full use of the locations. The editing and direction are sharp and fast keeping the viewer interested and emotionally involved with the characters. This is a film that most people will enjoy but there is are sum disturbing scenes before you get to the feel good ending.

 

Vicky Christina Barcelona

vickWhilst spending the summer in Barcelona two girlfriends are invited to spend the weekend with a local artist, although both woman are attracted to him one is about to get married. The relationship is further confused by the arrival of his highly stung ex-wife with whom he has an unusual but tempestuous relationship. Scarlett Johansson’s character is very similar to the one she plays in Lost in Translation a young person desperate to find a way of expressing herself. Rebecca Hall has the toughest role as the more sensible friend whose character evolves throughout the film. Javier Bardem is good as the artist but Penelope Cruz steels every scene she is in as the ex wife. My only criticism of the film is the voiceover unnecessarily explaining what is going on gets a bid annoying.

 

 

 Revolutionary Roadrev

A storey of an unhappy and ultimately not particularly nice couple in 1950’s America. The bulk of the story happens in 1955 with flash backs to happier times of their relationship when they first met, there is no mention of the time period but from the age of the children one assumes seven or eight years. The reason for their unhappiness is never totally explored but is centres around wanting more out of their lives but not actually knowing what they want. Their existence in suburbia is fuelled by an underlying feeling that they are better than their neighbours; the realisation that they are no different is the catalyst for a life changing decision. As with so many of this years award contenders the film has fantastic performances without being a fantastic film. Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet are supported by a small but excellent adult cast although the children are hardly ever in the film and only have a handful of insignificant lines of dialogue. The final scene is played out between recurring supporting characters played by Kathy Bates and Richard Easton, it is truly inspired and sums up the entire theme of the film simply but memorably.

 

 

Underworld:Rise of the Lycans

underLets face it the original Underworld wasn’t a great film but it looked amazing with the eastern European sets and Kate Beckinsale in a costume that wouldn’t look out of place in a fetish club (and I am a real sucker for trashy vampire films). The second film was dull and pointless and diluted the already thin plot. This third film is a prequel to the original and tells a storey already told in flashbacks in the first film. It has regained the look of the first film transposed to a medieval setting but there is little else to recommend it. Although there is nothing wrong with Rhona Mitra she doesn’t have the presence of Beckinsale and leaves the star performance to come from the ever reliable Michael Sheen and the extra hammy Bill Nighy.

 

 

The Wrestler

mickyA film notable for fantastic performances from Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei rather than being a brilliant film. The storey is based around Rourke’s character, The Wrestler of the title. He is a man at the end of his career, the problem is that he struggles to define himself or see purpose in his life away from wresting. He looks for salvation in a stripper played by Marrisa Tomei, and his daughter played by Evan Rachel Wood who is also very good. As with previous films Darren Aronofsky has got top performances from his actors playing characters who are compelling but not necessarily likeable. The film gives an interesting insight into wrestling for people like me who know nothing about it but will not attract new fans.

 

Quantum of Solace

quantumIt should be called Casino Royale 2 or even The Bond Ultimatum in homage to the Bourne series of films that has obviously influenced the revitalised Bond franchise. This film starts immediately after its predecessor finishes. The action is none stop with six or seven set pieces and a few fights along the way. The film is very much a globetrotting affair after its opening in Italy it moves backwards and forwards between Europe and South America before ending in Russia. There are plenty of familiar faces with M, Matthis and Felix Leiter all retuning as well as Mr White from the end of Casino Royale. There are two bond girls; Olga Kurylenko as Camille and Gemma Arterton as Agent Fields. Kurylenko is good in the part and gorgeous but Arterton looks far too young for the part and her performance is a little wooden. As with the previous film the gadget count is kept to a minimum and there is no Q or Moneypenny, again for the better; scenes involving these character would be much lighter and change the tone of the film. Without giving the plot away fans of the earlier films should look out for an interesting reference to Goldfinger, its not subtle, you will know what I mean when you see it. Quantum also introduces a new criminal organisation, a SPECTRE for the twenty-first century that will clearly be the basis for the next few films. The main question is it any good. Very simply yes. It probably won’t make any new fans for the franchise as you need to have seen Casino Royale to understand Bonds motivation and emotions. It also isn’t as good as Casino Royale but it dose raise the bar in the action stakes taking bond in a direction it will be interesting to see how it unfolds in the next few films. This may also have an influence on the as yet untitled fourth Bourne film due out in two years time. Looking back at previous Bond films Daniel Craig does manage to do what Pierce Brosnan failed to do in making a good follow-up film. After a great start with Goldeneye Brosnan’s films got progressively worse culminating in the disaster that was Die Another Day.  (Still on in the odd cinema but if you want to see it you probably already have!)

 

I have also seen three other films that are on general realese but have to written reviews for so I will put a fe thoughts down now:

 

Doubt:  Based on a play and struggles to move away from its theatrical origins.  Not a bad film but not a brilliant one.  A film like this should make you think long after you have seen it Doubt doesn’t do that.

 

Valkyrie:  Far better than I expected it to be.  The German characters with English and American accents don’t work, it would have been so much better with a German cast (see Downfall if you haven’t already).  Even someone with a tiney knowalage of history will know that the plot fails but that doesn’t detract from the tension of the film. 

 

The Reader:  Another film about the second would war although set after the end of the war.  Ultimately it is a very average film with a very good central performance from Kate Winslet.

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I have been thinking of starting a blog for some time on one of my favourite subjects Movies; I have finally gotten around to it. As it is the weekend of the biggest event in the movie calendar the Oscars I decided to do a my own preview on the awards running through the main awards noting what I think will win along with what I think should win.

Best Motion Picture of the Year: Slumdog Millionaire is by far the best film of the nominations and should win. The other nominations are: The Curious case of Benjamin Button is a good film if a little long. Frost/Nixon started life as stage play but has grown into an entertaining and informative film that deserves its place on the list. Milk a little preachy in its approach but a well told story with strong leading performances. The Reader is well filmed and well acted but a very average film that is inferior to many films that didn’t receive a nomination. 

frankBest Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role: Mickey Rourke for The Wrestler has been the favourite this award season so far; it is the most likely winner but I would go for Frank Langella in Frost Nixon. A fantastic performance that captures the mannerisms of the former president as well as a more sympathetic portrait of the man than I thought possible. The other nominations are: Richard Jenkins – The Visitor, Sean Penn – Milk, Brad Pitt – The Curious case of Benjamin Button.

rachBest Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role: Like Rourke, Kate Winslet (The Reader) has been the darling of the award season and will probably win but my vote would go to Anne Hathaway for Rachel Getting Married: an amazing performance from the young actress whose character is ultimately a miserable, selfish, narcissistic bitch but she also comes across as vulnerable, funny and sometimes even likable, very reminiscent of Angelina Jolie’s mental patient Lisa in Girl Interrupted. Angelina Jolie is herself also in with a chance for Changeling. The other nominations are: Melissa Leo for Frozen River and Meryl Streep for Doubt.

jokeBest Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role: Robert Downey Jr. for Tropic Thunder isn’t realistically in with a chance in a comic role a bit like Johnny Depp for Pirates of the Caribbean in 2003. The winner will be a well deserved Heath Ledger for The Dark Knight although I can’t help thinking the comic book role may have been overlooked if not for the actor’s untimely death. The other nominations are: Josh Brolin for Milk, Philip Seymour Hoffman for Doubt and Michael Shannon for Revolutionary Road.

barca1Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role: Possibly the hardest to call with strong performances across all the nominations. Amy Adams (Doubt) has to be in with a chance as does Marisa Tomei who is excellent in The Wrestler but I think it will go to Penélope Cruz who lit up her scenes in Vicky Cristina Barcelona and will be presented by her co star Javier Bardem who won last year for No Country for Old Men. The other nominations are: Viola Davis for Doubt and Taraji P. Henson for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

 Best Achievement in Directing: Another tough category but I think as with best film Danny Boyle will be a deserved winner for Slumdog Millionaire but would not be disappointed if David Fincher won for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, both directors made enjoyable epic films. The other nominations are Ron Howard for Frost/Nixon (who is a good outside bet) Stephen Daldry for The Reader (a great performance by Kate Winslet but not a great film) Gus Van Sant for Milk.

bruges1Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen: It is often difficult pick the best screenplay especially in the written directly for the screen category, how do you separate it from the best film category. Mike Leigh is an interesting case he is nominated for Happy-Go-Lucky this is his fourth writing nomination to go with his two directing nominations. It would be great to see him win but he does famously use a very loose script letting actors improvise their characters and the scenes. My vote is for Martin McDonagh for In Bruges, his brave script the sticks two fingers up at political correctness in what is probably the best comedy of 2008. the other nominations are: Courtney Hunt for Frozen River, Dustin Lance Black for Milk and Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter, Jim Reardon for WALL·E.

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published presents a different problem. What are you voting for? The best screenplay or the best achievement based on the constraints of the original material. The nominations are based on: two plays, two novels and a novella/shot story. My vote goes to Frost/Nixon (Peter Morgan) as it most successfully moves away from it stage origins and captures the age perfectly. But realistically I think Slumdog Millionaire (Simon Beaufoy) will take the award. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a great film that takes it inspiration if not its story from an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story. As much as I enjoyed the film a still can not forgive it writer Eric Roth for stealing two and a half hours of my life in the form of Forrest Gump! (His co writer on this film is Robin Swicord) The other nominations are John Patrick Shanley for Doubt, a film that seems incapable of transcending its theatrical origins. David Hare for The Reader, a film with great performances but not a great film.

Best Achievement in Cinematography. There is a tend to give the Cinematography award to pretty images and vast landscapes forgetting the true meaning of the art; Cinematography is an art! The use of camera and lenses choices to capture the film makers vision and the use of lighting to capture the mood. There are two very different films that stand out for me: Tom Stern (who has worked with Clint Eastwood on most of his recent films) for Changeling and Wally Pfister for The Dark Knight. However I think voters will be blinded by the vibrant colours in the beautifully shot Slumdog Millionaire (Anthony Dod Mantle). The other nominations are: Claudio Miranda for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Roger Deakins & Chris Menges for The Reader.

 komplexBest Foreign Language Film of the Year is another strange category as only one film can be entered from any one country so The wave misses out to the other German entry Der Baader Meinhof Komplex. I would probably choose this one but think the terrorist subject matter will not go down well in America. Unfortunately I have not seen the Israeli entry Vals Im Bashir but everyone I know who has seen it (both of them) have been amazed by it. The other entries are: Entre les murs (France), Revanche (Austria) and Okuribito (Japan).

 

So there it is my first ever blog entry. Hope I didn’t bore you too much, if I did you probably stopped reading long before this point! I will be back next week with an explanation of where my blog got its name.

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