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Archive for October, 2009

untitledcity of godCrouching Tiger, hidden Dragonirreversible

Every year the Oscars award a Best Foreign Language Film of the Year.  Is this a great showcase for foreign language films or a patronising or even slightly xenophobic attitude to filmmakers from none English speaking countries.  These films often don’t receive nominations in major categories.  And when they do it is incredibly rare for them to win.  It is like the academy saying they are good but not as good as what we can do.  In fact more often than not they are better than what Hollywood is churning out.  Originally a Special/Honorary Award was given to Foreign Language Films between 1947 and 1955 until the current award was launched in 1957.  The first winner was Federico Fellini’s La strada; an altogether better film than the best picture winner Around the World in Eighty Days. 

The selection process for the award is different to all other catergries in that it does not require films to be released in the United States.  Instead the film must have been released in the country submitting it (for no less than seven days during a proscribed period).  Every country is invited to submit just one film to the Academy.  Although referred to as Foreign Language Film the category does exclude American films such as Letters from Iwo Jima, although a Japanese language film it was an American production (it did however with the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film as they have a different criteria).  All of this does suggest the category is somewhat redundant except as a showcase for films that otherwise wouldn’t receive recognition at the Oscars.  I am not saying that I would like the category scrapped but if it did result in films from other countries and in other languages being more integrated into the main competition it would surely be a good thing. 

With the recent changes to the best picture category it is unlikely any more changes will be made but it is an interesting idea.  I recently suggested that six of the last ten best picture Oscars should have gone to Foreign Language Films. 

AmelieThe lives of othersOldboyHero

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Following my list of most promising young actresses Caz from Lets Go To The Movies recommended I check out Across the Universe that stars one of my selectios, Evan Rachel Wood. Now there are two things that Caz should know about me:  The first she should know from things I have said in my blog and comments I have made on her blog: I don’t particularly like musicals. I find the way people break into song mid scene contrived and annoying, I also find the music in musicals to be cheesy crap at best. The second thing she doesn’t know as I have never mentioned it in my blog: I love music; I own several hundred records and see lots of live bands however I don’t particularly like The Beatles! I don’t hate them with a venomous passion, I reserve those feelings for ABBA, I just don’t hold them in great esteem and put the on a pedestal the way many people do. Even so I thought I would give the film a go and put it on my DVD rental list. To my great surprise it arrived within a week of requesting it. Someone at “Love Film” must be as keen for me to see this film as Caz was.

across the univers

So the big question was it any good? Well, it is often an incoherent mess and the “All you need is love” ending is pure cheese but for some inexplicable reason it gets away with these faults, possibly because the film has real heart. For those who don’t know the basic plot  involves Jude (Jim Sturgess) a Liverpool shipbuilder who travels to America looking for his GI farter. He ends up befriending student Max (Joe Anderson). Together they travel to New York and lodge with an aspiring singer, Sadie (Dana Fuchs) who appears to be modelled on Janis Joplin (right down to the psychedelic Porsche seen outside the record studio at the end of the film). They are joined by Max’s sister Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood), together they get swept up in the bohemian lifestyle and later the peace movement.

Julie Taymor UntitledJim SturgessEvan Rachel Wood

The success of the film rests with strong performances on the young cast both singing and acting. Fitting the Beatles songs into the story sometimes feels contrived but other times is compliantly effortless. One such occasion when it is effortless is the use of My Guitar Gently Weeps portraying the heartbreak of two of the main characters. The way an instrumental version of A Day In The Life is slipped in is less subtle but is approaching geniuses in its execution. The other great triumph is the story, a simple and old fashioned story of boy meats girls falls in love, loses her, then fights to get her back, has been staple of cinema and literature for as long as anyone can remember. On set subject of the story, how far wrong could you go with a screenplay by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, the duo behind the greatest sitcom in the history of television!

As you would expect the film is filled with Beatles references from the names of the characters to the design for the record company or Jude & Lucy emulating John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s famous Rolling Stone magazine cover. Also look out for cameos by Joe Cocker, Bono, Salma Hayek and Eddie Izzard. The film didn’t perform that well at the box office losing money on its initial release, this wasn’t helped by the cost of acquiring the music rights. It has been reported they cost nearly quarter of the $45 million budget.

So the big question; did I enjoy the film? Although often flawed, yes I actually found the film charming and ultimately enjoyable.

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At the end of the year there will be lots of lists of best films floating around. Therefore I have decided to stick my neck out early and produce a top ten movies of the decade. If anything comes out later in the year I can always amend my list!  This is the hardest list I have ever compiled as there are so many great films that I had to leave out. Amazingly there is no Tarantino or Scorsese. There are four foreign language films, one that started life as an unaired TV pilot and one by a first time director. The biggest surprise is Christopher Nolan, a director I had never heard of ten years ago has made five films in the last ten years two of them make my top ten.

* * * * *

1Oldboy (2003): Often you need to see a film a few times for everything to sink in and for you to say this is one of my all time favourite films. Other times you love a film but it doesn’t live up to repeated viewings. Once in a while you know whist watching a film it is one of your all time favourites. Oldboy and Fight Club belong in that list for me. I didn’t go into the film expecting anything amazing. Directed by Park Chan-wook the film is the middle part of his vengeance trilogy. I had already seen the first part Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and enjoyed but Oldboy was so much better. The premise is brilliant: It tells the story of Oh Dae-Su, a man who is imprisoned in a hotel room for 15 years. He has no knowledge of who his captors are or what their motives are. He is then released without warning or explanation. As he seeks answers and vengeance we are taken on a bizarre ride as the viewer learns the secrets at the same time as Oh Dae-Su. What people often overlook is just how well made the film is. It is perfectly paced, well acted and the attention to detail and the photography are amazing. Not the easiest film to watch it is often described as sick and horrible but if you have an open mind and a strong stomach you may just love like I do!

 Oldboy

2Pan’s Labyrinth (2006): Visionary is a word that is over used when describing directors but in the case of Guillermo del Toro it is completely justified. After making Blade II and Hellboy he returned to Spain the setting of his 2001 film The Devil’s Backbone. The Devil’s Backbone was set towards the end of the civil war in a hot and dusty landscape. Pan’s Labyrinth takes us to a far darker period in history just five years later when the fascists were in power. The setting is fittingly much darker with a dark winter woodland replacing the hot dusty plane. The film starts with a young girl Ofelia who along with her pregnant mother go to live with her new stepfather, the sadistic and cruel Captain Vidal. It is shortly after this that Ofelia enters a fair-tale world. After seeing the trailer I expected to see a film set in a fairy-tale world where del Toro’s visual fair can run riot. What we actually get is a film set mainly in the real word thanks to Captain Vidal and at times it is a grim real world. The visuals are truly beautiful at times; this provides the perfect contrast to the often horrific images. Without giving anything away the ending is purely sublime giving the perfect balance of closure and ambiguity.

 Pans Labyrinth

3City of God (2002): Directed by Fenando Meirelles and Kátia Lund. Set in Cidade de Deus (City of God) in Rio de Jeneiro over approximately ten years culminating in the early 80’s. Using a non linear narrative to tell the story of the City of God, the one constant Rocket, a boy who has grown up in the area but chooses a different path from the drug dealers and thieves he grew up with. Predating Slumdog Millionaire by six years the film was shot in the area it is set and uses first time actors from the area. And it is these kids that give the film real heart. Chronicling the gang controlled drug trade in the most violent neighbourhood in Rio the film was marketed as the Brazilian Goodfellas. Like Goodfellas it is based on true events but this is a more basic and visceral experience than Scorseese’s gangster classic.

 City of God

4Million Dollar Baby (2004): Very different from the top three on my list that I loved the moment I saw them. Million Dollar Baby crept up on me. I went to see it at the cinema being a huge fan of Clint Eastwood as both an actor and a director. I accepted it as a good film but couldn’t say I liked it, I found it really disturbing and had no desire to see it again. Then about a year ago turned the TV on and it was about an hour into the film. I hate watching a film after missing the start so turned it off. I was kind of haunted by it. I Went out and purchased the DVD and have watched it about ten times in the last year. I went into the film expecting a sort of fealgood sports move, tryumpjng against the odds. A sort of female Rocky. And that’s what you get to begin with. Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood) owns a boxing gym. He also acts as a trainer. Having recently lost his top fighter to a more ambitious manager, Frankie reluctantly agrees to train Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank in her second Oscar willing role). The reason for his reluctance is that as he says (repeatedly) “I don’t train girls” and because he thinks she is too old. After she achieves great success she eventually has a title fight against welterweight champion, Billie “the Blue Bear” (played by real life boxer Lucia Rijker). Following this fight there is a huge shift in narrative making the second half of the film completely different. A testament to how good the film is, is the way it holds the interest after such a dramatic change of pace and theme. Love it or hate it, it is a film you will never forget.

 Million Dollar Baby

 

5Battle Royale (2000): Staring life as a 1999 Japanese novel written by Koushun Takami, Battle Royale has been adapted into a manga series as well as this film. A sort of Lord of the Flies for a modern more violent age. The film can be viewed in many ways I like to think of it as a satire on the modern age others suggest it is intended to denounce the evil of Reality TV. Whatever the true meaning I don’t think I will ever totally get the subtleties and nuances of the story watching it from my viewpoint as a westerner. I have seen it many times and have read the [English translation of the] novel but have no first hand knowledge of the Japanese culture that created it. The film is filled with the darkest humour and is often brutal and uncompromising. It is a film that could only have come from Japan (or possibly South Korea). A European or American mainstream film industry is rarely brave or original enough to make a film like this. According to legend the film is so controversial it is band in the United States. Although this would add to the mystic of the film it is sadly not true. It simply has never been distributed. It has however been show at film festivals and is readily available on DVD by mail-order and has been sold in some shops. These versions have mainly come from the UK and Hong Kong. For those who haven’t seen it this is what it is all about: Whist on a class trip a group of fifteen year olds is knocked out by gas and transported to an isolated island. They are fitted with explosive electronic collars reminicent of the ones used in the movie The Running Man. They soon discover that helped by their teacher Kitano (Takeshi Kitano) the government is behind their kidnapping. They are told that they have been selected to participate in a game where they must kill each as set out in the Educational Reform Act also know as the Battle Royale Act. Under the rules of the act one class per year is selected and must fight to the death until only one is left alive. The collars monitor the location of the students and are set to explode if they disobay the rules. One of the rules dictates that certain locations on the island are designated “danger zones”. These zones change periodically forcing them to move around and ensuring they come into contact with each other. Each student is provided with a survival pack containing a torch, a map & compass, food, water, and a random weapon. The weapon vary in the usufulness, some aren’t even weapons at all. The range from guns and knives to saucepan. Everyone reacts differently to the game ranging from suicide to killing without remorse in an attempt to win the game. Some form groups for mutual protection. Others operate alone. One group even has a plan to hack the computer system defeat the game. You will have to see the film to see what happens!

 Battle Royale

6Lost in Translation (2004): From a Japanese film to one set in Japan that has been accused of being raciest and disrespectful to Japan. I disagree with it as the American cast and crew make more fun of themselves and their own culture than they do of their Japanese hosts. The film was actually commercially successful in Japan. The Japanese DVD came with a map of filming locations  popular with fans of the movie. For me it is a film that appeals for so many different reasons. The photography and lighting is brilliant capturing a real feel of the locations. I remember being amazed it wasn’t nominated for the cinematography Oscar; then I discovered they actually used minimal lighting. Shooting with high speed film stock allowed them to shoot many scenes with available light. This you would expect lend a documentary fell to the film, it doesn’t the look of the film is beautifall and cinematic. The casting is perfect, Sofia Coppola has said that she would not have made the film with any other actor than Bill Murray, I can see why. Not only does Murray give the performance of his career but I could not imagine any one else in the part. He doesn’t just lend his inexplicable comic presence to the film but also gives it a certain heart and sole. The part of Charlotte must have been much harder to cast but Scarlett Johansson is perfect. She conveys a certain sense of melancholy and despair without being depressing, on top of this she has to make her relationships believable. Not just with Murray’s midlife crisis actor Bob Harris but also with her husband John (an understated but brillient Giovanni Ribisi). The other performance of note is Anna Faris playing an airhead actress parodying every young actress out there including herself. The film is so well constructed it is amazing to think that it was only Sofia Coppola’s second feature (her first The Virgin Suicides is worth seeing as well if you haven’t already). I often criticise films for poor expression of time and space, films that do this can be self conscious and draw your attention away from the narrative. There are no such worries with this film as a viewer you get completely lost in the film and the characters. Ultimately not a great deal happens in the film making it more realistic than a film with complex and contrived scenes just for dramatic effect. This is why the film has to be good in order to keep the viewers interested. The reason it can do this, is that most viewers can relate to either Bob or Charlotte. I suspect a lot of people who don’t like the film don’t relate to either character, therefore may change their opinion of the film in the future.

 Lost in Translation

7Mulholland Drive (2002): Mullholland Drive came almost out of nowhere, the bulk of the filming had taken place in 1999 and 2000 as the pilot for a TV show that didn’t get picked up (the network chose an American version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire). So Mullholand Drive sat on the shelf for two years and we where denied the chance to see a second David Lynch TV show following Twin Peaks. Then the French company Studio Canal funded extra shooting to turn it into a complete film. And what a complete film it makes. There has been much debate as to if there is a coherent narrative Amongst the strands of the story. The beauty of the it is that it is left open to interpretation. You can take different meanings from it depending on how you read it. Although to his credit director David Lynch has always refused to explain what is happening he did give some vital clues to unlocking what is happening. Following these clues does give a defined story but if you want you can throw them out and draw your own conclusions. However you look at it there is a lot to enjoy in what may well be David Lynch’s best film. It also made a star of Naomi Watts who had been appearing in films for ten years but had never had a breakthrough role therefore it is responsible for some of the great roles she has had in recent years.

Mulholland Drive

8Donnie Darko (2001): Donnie Darko was really badly marketed as a teen movie. Fortunately Empire magazine came to the rescue giving a great review comparing it to a the work of David Lynch. That was enough for me so I was fortunate enough to see the film first time around at the cinema. From the poor box office I must have been in the minority. It is hard to define why the film is so good as it is a combination of things. The casting is great making a star of its leading man Jake Gyllenhaal and his sister Maggie (playing his sister). Using relatively unknown stars is always a risk but this was balanced with the use of the recognisable faces of Mary McDonnell and Holmes Osborne as their parents. Patrick Swayze and Drew Barrymore are both really good in small but significant roles. The music is a great making use of a nostalgic eighties soundtrack but the most notable song is a haunting cover of the Tears for Fears song Mad World. The line “The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had” fits so perfectly it could have been written for the film. Put the music and the acting aside the thing that really makes the film is the story. Set against the backdrop of the 1988 presidential election and filled with the type of ambiguity that David Lynch would be proud off. This is one film where the original theatrical release is better than the directors cut. The directors cut came about as the director didn’t like the idea of people misinterpreting his vision, therefore removing some of the ambiguity that makes the film so good.

Donnie Darko

9The Dark Knight (2008): With Batman Begins director Christopher Nolan dragged Batman into something resembling the real world but left us wanting more. With The Dark Knight we got it and then some. Sometimes a film comes along that transcends all expectations. The Dark Knight is one such film, it isn’t a great comic book film it is a great film. When the film comes up in conversation the first thing people tend to mention is the brilliant performance by Heath Ledger; taking nothing away from him, he fully deserved his Oscar for his part as The Joker but there is so much more to the film than that. Forget the action, the scene that cuts to the heart of the film is when Bruce Wayne is at diner with Harvey and Rachel. After Bruce’s date, Natasha makes a comment about democracy they discuss how when threatened the Romans would suspend democracy and appoint one man to protect the city until Rachel reminds last man who they appointed was Caesar and he never gave up his power. This theme follows through the rest of the film as Bruce holds Harvey up as The White Knight the city needs and that will allow him to give being Batman. But then we have the moral dilemma that does Bruce want to give being Batman because it is the right thing to do or because he knows it’s the only way to win back Rachel who is now in a relationship with Harvey? The story is multilayered and brilliantly played out without losing any of the great action you expect of the genre.  This is a film that can stand proudly along side any great thriller of recent years.

The Dark Knight

10Memento (2000): The second Christopher Nolan film on the list,  an ingenious and original concept elevated this neo noir thriller to near geniuses. Based on a short story by Christopher Nolan’s brother Jonathan and only the second feature directed by Nolan. For those who don’t know the film is told backwards with each scene set before the previous one. This is combined with a scenes shot in black and white to define them from the rest of the film. The black and white scenes form a linear narrative in chronological order. The narrative explores insurance investigator Leonard’s (Guy Pearce) search for the man who killed his wife. His quest is complicated by an injury he sustained at the time his wife was killed, it prevents him from forming new memories. He overcomes this problem by making notes of anything import that happens in his investigation. The most important thing he tattoos on his body ensuing he never forgets them. The reverse narrative means that we are not looking for a conclusion to the story but an explanation for it. The great thing about the narrative is that although there are clues along the way things are never truly explained until the end when the two narratives are revealed. The depiction of anterograde amnesia has been praised by experts in the field as an accurate portray of the condition.

Memento

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True Blood

Having previously been screened on the FX channel, last night saw the UK free to air premier of True Blood on C4.  Based on The Southern Vampire Mysteries series of novels by Charlaine Harris, it was created and produced by Alan Ball.  Following a great cretit sequence of old looking and sometimes disturbing visions of the south the show opens with a TV interview.  This explains that vampires live amongst us and people are now aware of them for the first time.  This is an effective if somewhat lazy way of jumping directly into the narrative without a complicated build-up.  It explains how vampires “came out of the casket” two years before when the Japanese developed a new totally synthetic blood called TruBlood.  The appealing thing about the show is that it presents vampires in a more adult (I mean grown up not a euphemism for porn!) way than other television and movie vampires of recent years.  Their appearance and retractable fangs have a more realistic look than many vampires who go through over dramatic transformations.  There is very little action and the show is very dialogue heavy.  As the series develops this is something that could make or break the show depending on how it is handled.  As a strongly character driven program it should be okay.

 True Blood

Set in Bon Temps, a fictional small town in Louisiana the principle character is Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) a waitress with a gift/curse of being able to hear other people’s thoughts.  It is difficult to say at this stage how bigger part many characters will have in the show so I will just mention the main ones.  

  • Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer) is a vampire who comes it the bar where Sookie works.  She appears to fall in love with him almost immediately.  Something her friends put down to vampires ability to hypnotise people.  At this stage we don’t know if that is true.  Some facts about vampire’s powers, abilities and weaknesses are revealed in the first episode but there is lots more we are not told. 
  • Sookie’s best friend Tara Thornton (Rutina Wesley) takes a job at the same Bar as Sookie.  With a huge chip on her shoulder she provides great comic relief.  She is very loyal and protective of Sookie who seems to be her only real friend as her explosive and untrusting nature drives people away. 
  • Tara has a huge crush on Sookie’s older brother, Jason (Ryan Kwanten) who despite being a chronic womanizer doesn’t seem to notice she exists. 
  • Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell) owns the bar where Sookie and Tara work.  He is also protective of Sookie who he has a crush on.  This I suspect will push him and Tara together as Sookie’s relationship with Bill develops. 
  • Finally we have Sookie’s grandmother Adele (Lois Smith),  Sookie and Jason appear to live with her.  No explanation for this has been given yet.  Her reaction to Sookie meeting a vampire suggests  she may have had contact with them before probably many years before they “came out”.

 Tara and Sookie

It isn’t clear if each episode will be stand alone or have a continuing narrative.  The ending (that I won’t give away) and the fact the first episode ends with a murder from earlier in the episode remaining unsolved suggests that it will have an ongoing narrative.  If they do, this murder could well be a key plotline along with Sookie and Bills fledgling relationship.  From what I have seen so far the main themes that are explored are acceptance and tolerance for people who are different.  This could relate to race, religion, sex and sexuality.  As the vampires are new to the people in the show and the viewer does not yet know the characters very well the themes could develop or change over time.  I’m already looking forward to next week.

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Zombie Kill of the Week

Zombiland has a plot reminiscent of Night of the Comet, most of the population have turned into zombies. Not wasting time with a complicated explanation or build-up we jump straight into survival and zombie killing. Columbus (Jesse Eiseberg) is nervous and very awkward around people. He has survived by his rules that include #1 cardio, #2 Double Tap, #4 Seatbelts, I’m not going to explain them but don’t worry they all make sense thanks to the brilliantly played out examples. Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) has turned killing zombies into an art form. Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) are a pair of young sisters who worked as short con grifters before everyone became zombies. These four characters are the reason the film is so good. Comedy horror is such a hard thing to get right but in Zombieland the charters are both likeable and perfectly cast. Jesse Eiseberg plays a difficult teen better than anyone else of his generation. Woody Harrelson is always best when playing for laughs. Emma Stone’s bad girl with a heart is probably the least developed character but she plays it perfectly. Abigail Breslin expands on her “child who is wise be yonder her years ” character as seen in Little Miss Sunshine. The only other significant non zombie character is a cameo but let me assure you it is the cameo to end all cameos. The surprise has probably already been spoilt but I won’t add to that except to say if you don’t know what I am talking about don’t look it up just go and see the film without reading anything that may give it away.

zombieland

The pinnacle of zombie comedy in recent years is surly Shaun of the Dead. With cricket bats and vinyl records they found some new, inventive and comic ways of killing zombies. But none of these are going to win “Zombie Kill of the Week”. The simple fact is that Zombiland is considerably funnier that Shaun of the Dead. I can not express just how funny the film is. The last time I was this presently surprised by a comedy was In Bruges last year. Don’t get me wrong this is still a zombie film and is a bloody and sometimes as violent of any other zombie film. So is it a comedy about zombies or a zombie film that is funny? I would probably go for the former rather than the latter as the film really doesn’t have much to say for itself and has no subtext. This isn’t a criticism a comedy can be as shallow and disposable as it likes as long as it is funny and this is extremely funny!

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Top 10: Young Actresses

A few weeks ago I started a list of the most promising young actors and actresses making films at the moment.  I didn’t finished as I was struggling to come up with ten suitable actors.  Caz from Lets Go to the Movies had a similar idea but the opposite problem.  She came up with more actors than actresses so decided to publish a list of Top 10: Young Actors.  In response I decided to drop my actors and go ahead with my top 10 young and promising actresses.  The only difference in our top tens (other than the sex) is that that I limited the age to 25 and Caz went up to 30.  I didn’t include Scarlett Johansson (24) or Keira Knightley (24) as they are both already very established stars.

Dakota Fanning (15): The transition from child star to adult actor is never an easy one but Dakota Fanning appears to be making it look very easy.  She hasn’t gone through any great transition, she is simply growing up on screen.  I fist saw her in Tony Scott’s remake of Man on Fire (2004), her film choices since then have been varied but her performances always good.  Now having landed a role in the Twilight Saga her fan base is sure to grow.

Dakota Fanning

Kristen Stewart (19): Adventurland is probably the most important film of Kristen Stewarts career.  Don’t worry that noise you hear isn’t a hurricane, it is just the collective sound of a sharp intake of breathe from all the “twihards” at my blasphemy.  The reason it is so important is not because of her movie stealing performance (although that helps) but simply because it proves she has a career beyond Bella Swan. Kristen Stewart

 Nikki Reed (21): Nikki Reed’s debut in Thirteen was probably slightly overshadowed by her co-star Evan Rachel Wood but the remarkable thing about the film is that at age 13 she actually co wrote the script along with director Catherine Hardwicke.  Since then she has made two more films with Hardwick; Lords of Dogtown and Twilight.  Her continued involvement in the saga isn’t going to do her any harm. Nikki Reed

Ellen Page (22): After several years of TV shows and movies in her native Canada Ellen Page exploded onto the scene in hard hitting Hard Candy in 2005 but it was the eponymous lead in Juno two years later that really made he a star.  She proved she really had made it with a guest appearance on The Simpsons.  Next up: Whip It directed by Drew Barrymore and Inception directed by Christopher Nolan.Ellen Page

Evan Rachel Wood (22): The first I time I saw Evan Rachel Wood was in Thirteen (2003) however the teenage actress had been working in the industry for nearly ten years at this time.  At the age of seven she had auditioned for the part of Claudia in Interview with the Vampire (Kirsten Dunst eventually got the part).  After several solid but not outstanding performances she played Mickey Rouke’s estranged daughter in The Wrestler and comfortably held her own in the presence of Rourke and Marisa Tomei. Evan Rachel Wood

Camilla Belle (22): At just 22 Camilla Belle has appeared in films as diverse as Ballad of Jack and Rose (with Daniel Day-Lewis) the hugely underrated The Chumscrubber, and the rubbish blockbuster 10,000 BC.  This all in the last four years add to this some pretty solid child performances including The Lost World: Jurassic Park.  She could turn out to be a great actress or a movies star!Camilla Belle

Olivia Thirlby (22): Best known as Juno’s best friend Olivia Thirlby has a secret weapon.  She is actually a classically trained Shakespearian actress.  The dark horse of the list, she is more likely to become a great actress than a big star. Olivia Thirlby

Kat Dennings (23): Making her debut at 13 in Sex and the City, Kat Dennings worked mainly in TV before picking up parts in Down in the Valley and The 40 Year Old Virgin but it was another four years before she made a real impression in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist along side Michael Cera where her trademark rebellious teen began to show signs of growing up.Kat Dennings

Megan Fox (23): The Transformers star hasn’t made many headlines for her acting ability but the fact of the matter is she makes headlines.  The upcoming Jennifer’s Body and Jonah Hex will be crucial to her ongoing success.  I have feeling that when she finds her perfect role she may surprise a lot of people and put in a great performance one day. Megan Fox

Amanda Seyfried (24): Fox’s co star in Jenifer’s body is a more accomplished actress but not as big a star.  She is probably now best know for Mamma Mia! But has previously impressed as one of the “plastics” in Mean girls and in the short lived TV show Veronica Mars.  I have heard great things about her performance in Jennifer’s Body.  She also stars in Atom Egoyan’s new film Chloe. A director always worth watching who has previously got fantastic performances from young actresses. Amanda Seyfried

 

Bonus picks.  You should know by now my top tens are never really top tens! Thinking inside the box (the TV!).

olivia wilde

Olivia Wilde (25): At 25 she is right on the age limit for eligibility in my list and is basically a TV star with significant parts in The O.C. The Black Donnellys and House.  Her biggest problem is breaking out of the box but with a part in Tron Legacy next year she may just do that.

 

 

 

Die wilde Karte.  Ein sehr vielversprechender deutscher Schauspielerin.

Jennifer Ulrich

Jenifer Ulrich (24): Looking outside of Hollywood the German actress Jenifer Ulrich stood out in last years The Wave (Die Welle).  Working mainly in TV she isn’t getting much recognition outside her native country but with a part in the Albert Schweitzer biography next year a few more people may sport her.

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My Top Twenty Comic Book Movies of the Decade was going to be a top ten but there where so many great films to choose from it became a top twenty. I had the opposite problem with the 90’s, the decade was filled with dross like Judge Dredd and Batman & Robin. I actually came up with four great 90’s comic book films. I subsequently found out I had been misinformed and Dark City (1998) was actually an original idea and not based on a comic book. I pressed on anyway and came up with the Top Three Comic Book Movies of the 90’s.

Batman Returns (1992): Tim Burtons Batman is often overlooked these days as it is in the considerable shadow of The Dark Knight. Looking back now there are similarities between Batman (1989) and Batman Begins (2005). It rebooted (although he term wasn’t used back then) the character who was still best known on the screen for the camp 60’s TV show. It made a huge amount of money (approximately eight and a half times its budget of just under fifty million dollars). Most importantly it produced a sequel that was better than the first film. Following up Jack Nicholoson’s Joker was going to be tough but they pulled it of with triple antagonists: Christopher Walken as ruthless business mogul Max Shreck, Danny DeVito as The Penguin and Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman. Whether by luck or judgment Pfeiffer was perfect in the part bringing the right measures of action, comedy and sexiness to the character. She wasn’t actually first choice, Annette Benning had been cast but was forced to pull out of the demanding role due to pregnancy. Susan Sarandon, Raquel Welch, Ellen Barkin, Bridget Fonda, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Lena Olin and even Cher where considered. Pfeiffer had come close to getting the part of Vicki Vale in the first film when Sean Young (who coveted the role of Catwoman) had to drop out after being injured during filming. If she had got it obviously she wouldn’t have been able to play Catwoman. Pfeiffer was so good as Catwoman that producer Denise Di Novi and writer Daniel Waters proposed a Catwoman spin-off possibly with Tim Burton directing. By this time Batman Forever had moved the franchise away from Burtons Gothic image more towards family friendly crap. The project was all but shelved until eventually after ten years a very different Catwoman film did come out ten years later. The less said about that the better. Burton stuck with his original vision of Gotham from the first film. The city looks somewhere between a futuristic metropolis and a gothic fairy tail. The visuals are really complemented by the score by Danny Elfman that is brilliant as ever.

catwoman batman returns

The Crow (1994): The film will always be infamous for the tragic death of its star Brandon Lee. Without the years of mythology and baggage that characters like Batman came to the screen with the crow was a relatively new comic book. Alex Proyas film came out in 1994 just five years after James O’Barr’s comic book of the same name. The film was certainly the first I had heard of the story. Eric Draven a rock musician (changed from a mechanic in the comic) comes home to find his girlfriend Shelly Webster (Sofia Shinas) being raped. Eric is killed and Shelly dies later in hospital. Exactly a year later on “Devils Night” the night before Halloween he comes back from the dead accompanied by a crow to avenge his own and Shelly’s deaths. The directors original idea was to shot the film in black and white emulating the style of the comic book. The studio vetoed the idea fearing it would put viewers off. The idea was possibly ahead of its time having since being used in Sin City. Set over just two nights there is very little daylight in the film, along with costumes and sets this helps with the films neo gothic look.. Despite the gothic styling the film is far more an action film than a horror with perfectly choreographed action. The photography and design have are striking and have been emulated ever since. It is a film that couldn’t be made today as no director would be able to resist the opportunity to overuse crappy and unnecessary CGI effects. The first rule of comic book movies is a credible villain; this is provided by Michael Wincott as Top Dollar and his sister Myca (Ling Bai). Michael Wincott had already played a memorable villain, Guy of Gisborne in Robin Hood when he did the near impossible by not being completely overshadowed by Alan Rickman’s Sheriff. He went on to play Philo Grant in Strange Days. The three characters are very similar and all memorable. The budget for the film was relatively low at around fifteen million dollars. Its first weekends revenue covered 80% of the budget. Even the top grossing films of the year, Forrest Gump and the Lion King could only manage around 50%. It went on to take around ninety-five million dollars worldwide. This financial successes is the biggest problem with the film. It resulted in three sequels and a TV spin-off all of which were rubbish.

The Crow

Blade (1998): I recently described blade as the most important Marvel film ever made. With the success of Spiderman and the X-Men this sounds strange as Blade is one of their less well known and less profitable franchises. But it was the first decent film made from a marvel comic boot and proved that Marvel titles could make good profitable movies. After years of the rights to Marvel comics being sold off for TV shows and rubbish tiny budget films Blade was Marvel studios first film(a co production with New Line Cinema) and a relatively low risk venture. Blade wasn’t one of their big name comic books. The film had a relatively low budget of around forty five million dollars. Written by David S. Goyer (whose other writing credits include: Dark City, Blade II, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight) based on the character originally created by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan. As is so often the case the film works because of the casting. Wesley Snipes is perfect in the lead role giving the right blend of stone faced killer, brooding hero and a little deadpan humour. The supporting cast is also good with Kris Kristofferson as Abraham Whistler his sidekick, mentor, weaponsmith and general farther figure. Stephen Dorff makes a good villain and the face-offs between his character Decaon Frost and Blade are good. As well as what the film did for comic books and Marvel, it re-invented the vampire movie. Moving it away from the gothic horror of the old MGM and Hammer movies and the romanticized ideas of films like Interview with the Vampire. Blade may not of invented the vampire action movie, The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires came more than 20 years before blade, but blade reinvented it and created a lot of imitators. The film had two sequels, the first (Blade II (2002)) is better than the original the second (Blade Trinity (2004)) was terrible. This was followed by a short lived TV series where Snipes is replaced by Kirk Jones AKA rapper “Sticky Fingaz”.

blade

Any other suggestions for good comic book adaptations of the 90s?

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The Term Film Noir was coined by French film Critic Nino Frank in the 40’s but didn’t really come into common use until years later when film Noir was dying out.  The end of The Hays Code in the late sixties had opened the floodgates for directors allowing them to get away with showing so much more without the constraints of so called decency and morality.  Whist in a lot of ways this was a good thing in others it wasn’t, in stifled creativity.  The genre was always looking for creative ways to get their point across and get around the censors; this made them have to work so much harder and created some of the greatest films ever made (I can’t believe I am actually defending censorship, that’s not like me!).  As film makers like Francis Ford Coppola, Arthur Penn, Martin Scorsese and Peter Bogdanovich where changing the face of cinema forever with the American New Wave a successor to the Film Noir emerged dubbed Neo-Noir.  Inspired by classics of the Genre and taking on modern themes and styles it produced some great films that included modern contemporary films and postmodern nostalgia.  Roman Polanski’s 1974 classic Chinatown my not be the best example of the genre as it owes so much to the classic Noir of the forties and fifties but it is still (in my opinion) one of the best films of the seventies if not of all time.  Don’t let the bright and vivid colour fool you this is as much a film noir as the low key black and white of the classic era.  The bright and lush setting not only offer a perfect juxtaposition to the darker underbelly of the plot but also makes the revelations and loss of innocence far more powerful and disturbing.

chinatown

The creative force behind Chinatown was producer Robert Evans and screenwriter Robert Towne.  Evans had asked Towne to write a screenplay based on the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel The Great Gatsby, he declined (a film of The Great Gatsby was made with a screenplay Francis Ford Coppola).  Instead Towne suggested he write an original story set in the 30’s. Evans agreed and Towne set to work on a story inspired by the “California Water Wars” and centered around Los Angeles private detective J.J. Gitties (Jack Nicholson).  It had been intended as a trilogy.  The second film The Two Jakes was eventually made in 1990 and directed by Jack Nicholson.  A third film was never made.  Roman Polanski was hired to direct after Peter Boganovich turned it down, a decision he unsurprisingly grew to regret.  At this time the script was sprawling complex and ranged in length from one hundred and fifty to three hundred pages depending on who you believe.  Polanski insisted it be rewritten.  This was duly done, amongst the changes were a new ending insisted on by the director.  Although Towne did not want to change his original ending years later he admitted Polanski was right.  The other main change was the dropping of the voiceover, often a staple of the genre.  This was done because Polanski felt the voiceover gave too much away and the film worked better if the audience only discovered the clues and the twists in the plot at the same time as Gittes.  

jack nicholson chinatown

The story starts with J.J. “Jake” Gittes (Jack Nicholson) an LA private detective specializing in matrimonial cases being hired by a woman, Evelyn Mulwray (Diane Ladd) to perform surveillance on her husband who she suspects of having an affair. He quickly achieves his goal and photographs the man’s rendezvous with a young woman.  The following day the photographs appear in the newspaper.  He is then visited by the real Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway).  Shortly after Evelyn’s husband is murdered and Gittes has a rather unpleasant encounter with a pair of thugs, one of whom is played by the director Roman Polanski.  The plot gets deeper and darker as Gittes gets involved with Evelyn Mulwray and her farther Noah Cross (John Huston) a character allegedly based on William Mulholland, the chief engineer for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.  I won’t say any much more as I don’t want to spoil the plot for anyone who hasn’t seen the film yet, the spoilers I have given are in the trailer so I haven’t given much away.    

Although he removed the voiceover Polanski did insist on keeping one convention of the genre.  The story is told very much from the point of view of Gittes.  The character appears in just about every scene and as mentioned before the audience isn’t privy to any information that he is not.  Taking it to the next level the screen fades to black when Gittes is knocked out only fading back up as he regains consciousness.  This helps draw the viewer into the story and the character.  As does the sublime photographer.  Cinematographer John A. Alonzo was nominated for an Oscar but lost out (unfairly in my opinion) to The Towering Inferno.  He had previously worked on films as diverse as Vanishing Point, Harold and Maude and Hit! Amazingly the soundtrack by Jerry Goldsmith was composed and recorded in just ten days after the original Phillip Lambro score was rejected at the eleventh hour.  It was nominated for and Oscar but lost out to The Godfather part II. Ultimately of the eleven Oscars it was nominated for only Robert Towne’s original screenplay won.

faye dunaway chinatown

The casting is always key to a film and in this case is perfect with Jack Nicholson in the lead role as Gittes and an aging John Huston as Noah Cross.  But one part came about almost by chance; Faye Dunaway’s role of Evelyn Mulwray was originally intended for Ali MacGraw, Evans’ wife.  She famously left him to marry Steve McQueen who she had met while filming The Getaway (1972).  It was reported that the divorce also cost he the role of Daisy in The Great Gatsby (1974).  Even so Dunaway was still not the first choice; Evans wanted Jane Fonda but Polanski preferred Julie Christie who had been close friends with his late wife Sharon Tate.  Christie was offered the part but rejected it before they approached Faye Dunaway.  Dunaway is perfect displaying the same sexy and sassiness as she did in Bonnie and Clyde but with a greater range of emotions and displaying true vulnerability.  But this is Jack Nicholson’s film all the way, he really commands the screen.  Forget Five Easy Pieces or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest this has to stand alongside The Passenger as his greatest performance.  It has the perfect blend of quite brooding and the shoutier, showy performances he has become know for more recently. 

Beyond all the other things I have said about it the main reason it works so well and is such a good film is that despite the twists and turns of the plot it is easy to follow allowing the viewer to soak in the beautiful photography and sublime acting.  This is testament to a writer, director and producer all at the top of their games. 

 

 

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Okay so October has crept up on us, summer is over, autumn is here and it will be winter before we know it.  So to celebrate the end of summer here is my top ten films of the summer (May to August*).

from the hurt lockerInglourious BasterdsPublic EnemiesDrag me to hellmesrine

  1. The Hurt Locker
  2. Inglourious Basterds
  3. Public Enemies
  4. Drag Me to Hell
  5. Mesrine
  6. Fish Tank
  7. 500 Days of Summer
  8. Star Trek
  9. Adventureland
  10. Broken Embraces

fish tank500 Days of SummeradventurelandStar TrekBroken Embraces

Other recommended viewing: Looking for Eric, Antichrist, Anything for Her, The Time Travellers Wife, The Hangover, District 9, Moon.

* All films shown in a UK cinema and seen by me in the designated months.

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The summer is over the kids are back at school and September has been another good month at the movies.  Here are the nominations for movie of the month:

500 days of summerdistrict 9adventurelandfish tankThe Firm

  • 500 Days of SummerA quirky story well told.
  • District 9Interesting idea brilliantly executed.
  • AdventurelandReminded me more of a John Hughes Movie than a Judd Apatow movie, and that’s a very good thing!
  • Fish TankA frighteningly good performance from a young actress in her first film.
  • The Firm – Very watchable film about a repugnant subject.

It was really close this month with Adventurland and 500 Days of Summer just missing out. The winner is:

 

 

 

 

 

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