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Archive for February, 2010

Review: The Lovely Bones

Based on a 2002 novel of the same name by Alice Sebold, The Lovely Bones is Peter (The Lord of the Rings) Jackson’s first movie since King Kong in 2005.  Set in 1973, Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) is a normal 14-year-old girl living with her younger bother, sister and their parents. When Susie is murdered by a neighbour (Stanley Tucci) she finds herself in a sort of Technicolor Purgatory, unwilling to move on she watches over her family and her killer. The film is set over approximately two years and is held together by a from-the-grave voiceover from Susie.

The expression of time and space in the film is was appalling, there are a few lazy devices and comments in the voiceover that helped but some if just didn’t add up. Parts of the plot surrounding the murder were really week at best making the movie completely devoid of the emotional soul that it needed. Many films are accused of going to far with their portrayal of graphic violence; this movie doesn’t go far enough. Whilst I am not asking for anything gratuitous, the plot does need that little bit more. On the whole the acting was quite good with the best coming from Stanley Tucci and Susan Sarandon. But even this isn’t without its problems; Sarandon mainly appears in one small comic section of the movie that feels like it was tacked on to lift the otherwise dour movie. Although this segment was well handled and one of the best parts of the movie it was totally out of step with and detracted from the narrative as a whole. Set within two worlds, how much the worlds overlap and how much influence the dead characters can have is never really explored or properly explained. Whilst the scenes connecting the words don’t actually contradict each other they certainly don’t help each other. The voiceover by Saoirse Ronan is really annoying she sounds somewhere between a patronizing voice people use whilst talking to children and someone who is struggling for breath. The music is terrible; on its own there is nothing wrong with it but in the context of the film it is obtrusive and overpowering and sounds like a week attempt to inject some of the emotion that is lacking from the film. The ending felt nasty, shallow and unfulfilling when it could have been tragic, uplifting or emotional.

On a positive side the film is really well shot, the scene that is shot looking through the dollhouse is brilliant. The general real world scenes are also well handled and there is great attention to detail with the clothing and the houses and cars looking like a real 1970’s setting. The fantasy world is also well handled and looks its best when the two worlds begin to combine and blur. There is one stand out scene where Susie’s sister (Rose McIver) breaks into the killer’s house only for him to return home unexpectedly. The film is brilliantly acted and cut with Hitchcockien precision for total dramatic effect, of only the rest of the film could have been as good.

Having not read the book I don’t know how much of the criticism belongs with the author and how much with the filmmakers. The biggest problem with the film is that it leaves the audience with a hollow emptiness where the films soul should have been. Whilst not strictly speaking a bad film, there is too much wrong with it to be a good one. If you want to see what Peter Jackson can do with a teenage protagonist I would recommend Heavenly Creatures (1994) over his latest effort.

Two Stars out of Five

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Review: Solomon Kane

Redemption is a much used theme in movies and is often used by filmmakers as an excuse to justify huge amounts of otherwise gratuitous violence Solomon Kane is no different. The film begins with Solomon Kane (James Purefoy) working as an mercenary fighting in an unnamed battle in an unnamed North African country in the employ of Queen Elizabeth I. As he enters a throne room of a sacked castle to plunder it he is stopped by a daemon who is a servant of the devil intent on claiming his soul that has been damned following his bloodthirsty ways. After fleeing the daemon, in an attempt to save himself he renounces violence and converts to Puritanism. This goes well for a year while he is living in a monastery, on leavening things immediately go wrong as he encounters a puritan family bound for The New World (twenty years before the Mayflower). Together they travel west unknown to them they are heading into a heart of darkness as they approach a kingdom ruled by Malachi (Jason Flemyng) a priest and sorcerer in the employ of the Devil. Solomon decides to return to his killing ways to save Meredith (Rachel Hurd-Wood) the daughter of the family regardless of the consequences for his soul. Conveniently for Solomon and the plot he is informed that there are other ways of gaining redemption.

Based on a character that first appeared in 1920’s novels by pulp writer Robert E. Howard (best known as the creator of Conan), the idea of a movie has been kicking around for years. Interestingly it isn’t a Hollywood movie: a British, French and Czech production shot in England and the Czech Republic with a budget estimated at between $40 million and $45million It is far from a low budget movie but also a long way short of Hollywood’s’ biggest blockbusters, Clash of the Titans for example cost over four times more. It spends its money wisely with overt CGI only used in key (mainly climatic) scenes and an A list free cast. What it does have is fantastic production design, the seventeenth century looks suitably grimy with costumes from Witchfinder General (1968). There is something of a nod to Lord of the Rings with the black eyed army being reminiscent of the Orc’s, there is even a creature with a fiery centre like a Balrog. Some of the dialogue is beyond cheesy and James Purefoy’s embellished west country accent is obtrusive at best for a British viewer, I don’t know how it sounds to American audiences. The response of American audiences to the film (and not just Purefoy’s accent) is vital to the success of the movie. If the budget estimates are true it will need to do well in North America and/or Asia to make its money back. If successful it is planned as the first part of a trilogy, it certainly ends in a way to suggest they intend to follow it up. It can be done, Underworld (2003) was made for around $22million and took just shy of $100million and spawned two sequels that were also profitable.

Swords and sorcery is a tricky genre to get right, for every Conan the Barbarian there are a dozen Hawk the Slayer’s but generally Solomon Kane gets it right. It isn’t a great film, the plot is thin and doesn’t always make perfect sense but that doesn’t matter, it is a B movie (an expensive B movie but still a B movie) that is true to its pulp origins. As such being good fun to watch is far more important than being a great film and on the whole it is good fun despite some cringe worthy dialogue a a predictable plot.

Two Stars out of Five

 

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Fandango

When I started this blog I posted an article explaining the origin of my blogs name.  At the time I had about three readers, so with Hollywood’s current obsession with origin stories I thought I would re-post my own to celebrate my blogs first birthday.

A similar event is planned for later this year, the 25th anniversary of the movies release including a screening of the movie at a West Texas drive-in. Sadly fanatical constraints prevent me from attending this time. Anyway back to the re-posting:

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 film and media degree we were all movie 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 off 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.

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!).

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BAFTA: The results.

You have seen my hopes and fears, here are the facts.

  • OUTSTANDING DEBUT BY A BRITISH WRITER, DIRECTOR OR PRODUCER
  • DUNCAN JONES for Moon: perfect start, both my prediction and the one I hoped would win.

  • SPECIAL VISUAL EFFECTS
  • AVATAR: Two for two this was also my prediction and the one I hoped would win.

  • SUPPORTING ACTOR
  • CHRISTOPH WALTZ for Inglourious Basterds: A hat-trick, my choice and my prediction.

  • COSTUME DESIGN
  • The Young Victoria: I didn’t predict in this one for some reason. Haven’t seen the movie so can’t comment

 

  • MAKEUP AND HAIR DESIGN
  • The Young Victoria: Same as above!

 

  • SUPPORTING ACTRESS
  • MO’NIQUEPrecious: as predicted but I wanted : KRISTIN SCOTT THOMAS to win.

  • OUTSTANDING BRITISH FILM
  • FISH TANK: Wow I’m amazed my choice but not my prediction (that was AN EDUCATION)

  • ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
  • THE HURT LOCKER: as much as I love The Hurt Locker, Quentin Tarantino really should have won this. First category that neither my choice or my prediction won.

  • PRODUCTION DESIGN
  • AVATAR: NO NO NO NO NO, : INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS was robbed!

 

  • ORANGE RISING STAR AWARD
  • KRISTEN STEWART: Fucking Twilight fans, as great as she was in Adventureland she only won because of Twilight. CAREY MULLIGAN deserved this one. 

 

  • ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
  • UP IN THE AIR: didn’t see that one coming, I thought PRECIOUS would win and wanted AN EDUCATION to win.

 

  • BEST ANIMATED FILM
  • UP: no surprise given the critical response, having only seen one nominated movie I didn’t predict this one, the cynic in me may suggest Avatar should have won.

 

  • FILM NOT IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE
  • A PROPHET: interesting. A prophet is one of the best movies I have seen this year but it thought THE WHITE RIBBON (my choice for the equivalent Oscars) would win and wanted RIGHT ONE IN (the best film I saw last year) to win.

 

  • BEST DIRECTOR
  • Kathryn Bigelow for THE HURT LOCKER: Back on track, both my choice and my prediction. Lets hope the Oscars get it right too.

 

  • LEADING ACTOR
  • Colin Firth for  A SINGLE MAN. My choice if not my Prediction. Really glad Jeff Bridges didn’t win, I’m sure he is great in Crazy Heart but as it doesn’t go on general release until next weekend, what stupid loophole got it nominated? 
  • LEADING ACTRESS
  • CAREY MULLIGAN for  An Education: my choice and my prediction, very well deserved, makes up for missing out on rising star.

 

  • BEST FILM
  • THE HURT LOCKER: great choice, I really thought AVATAR would win but am so happy that The Hurt Locker did and really hope the Oscars follow suit.

 

My last two predictions haven’t made it to the main program, there should be a roundup at the end of the awards that didn’t make the main program. In the meantime HRH Prince William (the new Academy President succeeding Lord Attenborough) is (with the help of Uma Thurman) presenting Vanessa Redgrave with this years Academy Fellowship.  So how did those last two go?

  • CINEMATOGRAPHY
  • THE HURT LOCKER : I really thought AVATAR would win but wanted THE ROAD to win. I really can‘t complain at The Hurt Locker.

 

  • EDITING
  • THE HURT LOCKER: My choice again although I thought AVATAR would have got this one too.

 

Summery: The Hurt Locker picks up a well deserved six BAFTAs including the prestigious best picture and best director relegating Avatar to two relatively minor awards. The other flagship awards are in the acting categories with Colin Firth’s brilliant performance in A Single Man and Carey Mulligan’s equally great turn in An Education taking the awards for leading roles. The pre award favourites: Christoph Waltz for Inglourious Basterds and Mo’nique for Precious took the awards in the supporting categories. All in all it was a good awards, lets hope the Oscars is as generous with The Hurt Locker and as frugal with Avatar.

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Review: A Single Man

Directed by first time director Tom Ford who is best known as a fashion designer and photographer, it would be easy and some would say cheep to accuse A Single Man of being a triumph of style over substance or being a film that looks better than it actually is. Unfortunately all the potential clichés are probably true, the film looks amazing with beautiful photography and amazing attention to detail but, it exists in an almost dreamlike state similar to The Virgin Suicides (1999) but ultimately it all feels a little hollow and pointless. As a viewer I didn’t feel that I had learnt or experienced anything new or that it had changed my perception of anything by seeing the movie. Therefore the movie becomes little more than entertainment, and as beautifully shot and sublimely acted the movie it is, it is just too dour to be truly entertaining.

Based on a Christopher Isherwood novel of the same name from1964 the movie is set in 1962 around the same time as The Cuban Missile Crisis that is referred to in the movie. The main character George Falconer (Colin Firth) is a collage professor who is struggling to get over the loss of partner Jim (Matthew Goode) who died in a car accident six months earlier. The film is shot in such a way to imply that George sees the same flashbacks that we see of Jim and in the same way we do (to the extent a black and white photograph triggers a black and white flashback), he is literally haunted by his dead lover. George decides that it will be his last day as he plans to kill himself, he spends the day partly going through the motions of an ordinary day and partly making preparation for his suicide, all the time haunted by his flashbacks. The portrayal of George’s sexuality is interesting, for a film set in the 60’s with flashbacks to the 50’s it is very easily accepted and made to appear very normal, this makes the film seem much more modern than its setting. Interestingly though one of the most successful and compelling scenes is when George is talking about fear and the perception of fear but holds back on his ultimate meaning.

Firstly the film is an absolute triumph from a performance point of view, the ever reliable firth gives the performance of his career and of the movies I have seen so far believe he deserves the best actor Oscar and BAFTA. Julianne Moore makes a brief but memorable appearance as Charley, George’s oldest friend. The scenes they share together are magical and poignant and ultimately heartbreaking; as a viewer I realised just how alone George was at the moment when I questioned how little Charley understands him. Nicholas Hoult is also impressive as one of Georges students. His character is integral to the story but is never fully explained, the role could easily have been written as a figment of George’s imagination rather than the real character we see in the film.

The film also looks amazing, the costumes and locations all look amazing, again I know it’s a cliché but really look like they have come directly out of a fashion shoot. The photography and lighting is also brilliant helping to create the mood of the film. George’s house is stunning, it looks ultra modern but still has the warmth you associate with a more traditional property. It is easy to imagine George as growing up in London, probably in a Victorian property then moving to the New World where he balances the modern and traditional. This similar to the way he divides his personal and professional lives, letting the two overlap a certain amount but holding back a little all the time. There are a couple of scenes where George is seeing laying out cloths, this is reminiscent of Richard Gere in American Gigolo, his impeccably tailored suit is a mask or costume, as he dresses he is getting into character, the voiceover explains just how aware George is of this.

From a style point of view, there is one really conspicuous and annoying thing, the movie is filled with close-ups of people’s faces, the camera lingers on them just a moment too long and the colours become a little more vivid. It serves no purpose for the good of the film but is hugely distracting.  Ultimately the film fails to live up to its potential, it has so much more to offer than it actually achieves leaving me feeling a little empty. To use an analogy it is like going to see a new band; they look the part, there are great musicians but the songs they sing just aren’t very good.

Three Stars out of Five

 

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Below are the majority of categories for this years BAFTA along with who I think would win and who I would chose to win. All categories have five nominations; the number in brackets denotes the number of nominated films I have seen in that category.

  • BEST FILM (5)
  • Prediction: AVATAR
  • My Choice: THE HURT LOCKER

 

  • OUTSTANDING BRITISH FILM (4)
  • Prediction: AN EDUCATION
  • My Choice: FISH TANK

 

  • OUTSTANDING DEBUT BY A BRITISH WRITER, DIRECTOR OR PRODUCER (2)
  • Prediction: DUNCAN JONES – Director – Moon
  • My Choice: DUNCAN JONES – Director – Moon

 

  • DIRECTOR (5)
  • Prediction: THE HURT LOCKER – Kathryn Bigelow
  • My Choice: THE HURT LOCKER – Kathryn Bigelow

  • ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY (4)
  • Prediction: A SERIOUS MAN – Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
  • My Choice: INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS – Quentin Tarantino

 

  • ADAPTED SCREENPLAY (4)
  • Prediction: PRECIOUS: BASED ON THE NOVEL PUSH BY SAPPHIRE – Geoffrey Fletcher
  • My Choice: AN EDUCATION – Nick Hornby

 

  • FILM NOT IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE (5)
  • Prediction: THE WHITE RIBBON – Stefan Arndt, Veit Heiduschka, Margaret Menegoz, Michael Haneke (my choice for the Oscars)
  • My Choice: LET THE RIGHT ONE IN – Carl Molinder, John Nordling, Tomas Alfredson

 

  • LEADING ACTOR (3)
  • Prediction: JEFF BRIDGES – Crazy Heart
  • My Choice: Colin Firth – A Single Man

 

  • LEADING ACTRESS (3)
  • Prediction: CAREY MULLIGAN – An Education
  • My Choice: CAREY MULLIGAN – An Education

  • SUPPORTING ACTOR (3)
  • Prediction: CHRISTOPH WALTZ – Inglourious Basterds
  • My Choice: CHRISTOPH WALTZ – Inglourious Basterds

  • SUPPORTING ACTRESS (5)
  • Prediction: MO’NIQUE – Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire
  • My Choice: KRISTIN SCOTT THOMAS – Nowhere Boy

 

  • CINEMATOGRAPHY (5)
  • Prediction: AVATAR – Mauro Fiore
  • My Choice: THE ROAD – Javier Aguirresarobe

 

  • EDITING (5)
  • Prediction: AVATAR – Stephen Rivkin, John Refoua, James Cameron
  • My Choice: THE HURT LOCKER – Bob Murawski, Chris Innis

 

  • PRODUCTION DESIGN (4)
  • Prediction: HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE – Stuart Craig, Stephenie McMillan
  • My Choice: INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS – David Wasco, Sandy Reynolds Wasco

 

  • SPECIAL VISUAL EFFECTS (4)
  • Prediction: AVATAR – Joe Letteri, Stephen Rosenbaum, Richard Baneham, Andrew R. Jones
  • My Choice: AVATAR

 

  • ORANGE RISING STAR AWARD
  • Prediction: CAREY MULLIGAN
  • My Choice: CAREY MULLIGAN

 

I have a similar list drafted for the Oscars but will leave it until closer to Oscar night so I have a chance to see a couple more of the movies.

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Review: The Wolfman

Actor Lawrence Talbot (Benicio del Toro) receives a letter from his brother’s fiancée, Gwen (Emily Blunt) informing him that he has gone missing. When he arrives at the family home his and father (Anthony Hopkins) informs him that his brothers body has been found. Investigating the circumstances of his brothers death he soon comes face to face with the beast.

There is actually little seriously wrong with the elements that make up the movie but on the whole it just doesn’t work. The acting is all pretty good with the possible exception of Sir Anthony Hopkins who is overly hammy. Hugo Weaving is convincing as Inspector Abberline until he referees to Del Toro as Mr Talbot, all I could think of was Agent Smith interrogating Neo in The Matrix. Given a better script and more screen time he could have been the best character in the movie. Emily Blunt is as good as ever but criminally underused. The film is also littered with characters that look like they are going to play a significant part in the story but ultimately they fade away the most notable of these are Art Malik as Sir John Talbot’s Sikh manservant and Geraldine Chaplin as Maleva a gypsy fortune teller. The Wolfman makeup isn’t bad, it seems to be equal parts Lon Chaney Jr (The Wolf Man), Oliver Reed (The Curse of the Werewolf) and Michael J. Fox (Teen Wolf) however the transformation is a real letdown it looks like a cheep copy of the seminal An American Werewolf in London. With the aid of CGI it should have been so much better, it is more proof of my long held belief that technology makes filmmakers lazy.

There are some pretty good set pieces most notably the attack on the gypsy camp. The London scenes are far less successful, the street scenes lack a believable look making the setting far less believable than the recent Sherlock Homes movie that was set in a similar era and made for a similar budget. The final battle isn’t bad but then the ending itself fizzles out. And that is basically the problem, the film is a collection of parts that just don’t work as a whole. The same could be said for the underlying themes of the movie. It looks at times as if it was intended as an atmospheric Victorian gothic horror, at other times it looks like there may be an epic romance, but then there is no romance, in fact there is almost no physical contact between the characters other than the violent assaults.  I have heard suggestions that the film that has been much delayed has retained many ideas from the various people who have been involved with the project over the last four years. This could explain the mess that the film is, it could have got away with it if not for the fundamental problem, It all just feels so shallow and hollow as a viewer I felt no connection with the characters and therefore failed to empathise with them.

The mess that was 2004’sVan Helsing should have told Universal something, classic horror movies should be left alone. The has never been a Frankenstein move to match the James Whale movie of the 30’s, for all the adaptations there hasn’t been a decent Dracula since Christopher Lee hung up his cape. If you are looking for some Wolf action try one of the movies on this list preferably something more original like Brotherhood of the Wolf or Ginger Snaps.

A more than generous Two Stars out of Five.

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Valentines Day special: Rom-com’s ranks as one of my least favourite genres but I actually found it surprisingly easy to come up with a top five. Some may argue the validity of the list as some of the films aren’t outright comedies but they all made me laugh what more do you need.

Some Like it Hot (1959): The greatest comedy, possibly the greatest film ever made. It isn’t just a romance, it is a Bromance nearly fifty years before the phrase was coined. On the run from the mob (after appropriately for this list witnessing the St Valentines Day massacre) and disguised as women, musicians Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon) hide out with an all female jazz band. While Joe poses as a millionaire to woo band member Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe) Jerry is pursued by a real millionaire Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown) who will not take NO for an answer and is blissfully unaware of Jerry’s real sex.

Almost Famous (2000): Cameron Crowe’s semiautobiographical story. William Miller (Patrick Fugit) a high school student who blags a job with Rolling Stone Magazine and gets his dream assignment following an up-and-coming rock band on tour. His life is changed as he strikes up friendship with singer Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup) and groupie Penny Lane (Kate Hudson).

The Philadelphia Story (1940): A US Navy Destroyer Escort disappears from the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, and sends two men 40 years into the future. No that doesn’t sound right.  The day before her wedding Tracy (not to be confused with the former porn star) Lord (Katharine Hepburn) is visited by her playboy ex-husband C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant) now working for Spy Magazine. He arrives with reporter Macaulay “Mike” Connor (James Stewart) and photographer Elizabeth Imbrie (Ruth Hussey). As the wedding approaches things start to go wrong not least when Tracy gets drunk for only the second time in her life. Bursting with witty one-liners and sublime performances from Grant, Stewart and particularly Hepburn. Don’t be fooled by the terrible musical remake High Society.

Amélie (2001): Amélie (Audrey Tautou) has led a sheltered life because of her fathers (misguided) concerns of a heart defect, this results in her regressing into a near fantasy world. One day she returns a tin that is a long-lost childhood treasure to a former occupant of her apartment. After seeing the joy it gives him she begins a personal mission to make other people happy. This distracts her from her own quest for love with quirky Nino Quincampoix (Mathieu Kassovitz) a man who collects discarded photographs from photo booths.

Lost in Translation (2003): Once in a while a film comes along that is so sublimely brilliant and transcends styles and genres that you can’t believe anyone will dislike it (yes Katie I am talking about you!). Tinged with an inescapable sense of melancholy not seen since Breakfast at Tiffany’s (a film that nearly made the list), Lost in Translation is the story of two lost souls. Bob Harris (Bill Murray) is an actor who travels to Tokyo to be paid $2million to make a commercial rather than appear in a play. There he meets Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) a bored young woman accompanying her photographer husband John (Giovanni Ribisi). The pair strike up an unusual and inexplicable friendship and bond.

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The best place to see a movie is in a cinema. Even the best home system won’t live up to the experience of the massive screen and great sound of a decent cinema. Watching most movies at the cinema I am making up for lost time as I didn’t go very often as a kid, instead watching most movies on video. There was a time in the late 80’s early 90’s that I really got into low budget Sci-Fi and Horror B movies. There was always a certain amount of risk involved in this as for every Evil Dead there were a hatful of crap like Alien Private Eye. Empire International Pictures were responsible for some surprisingly watchable movies. They were formed in the early 80’s by Charles Band as a small distribution company they also produced a few movies. The best known are probably the Re-Animator and Ghoulies movies but my personal favourite was always Trancers, it was also directed by Charles Band. Trancers is the holly grail of 80’s B movies and is actually better than a lot of the mainstream sci-fi films of the time. As such it deserves its own article, it will duly oblige one day. In the late 80’s the company ran into fanatical difficulties and I understand eventually collapsed. Shortly before it did it started making slightly higher budget movies. I don’t know if this is what bankrupted the company but it is possible. I remember seeing three of these movies when they first came out on video. None of them were particularly good but for some reason they stuck in my mind. Please forgive any inaccuracies in these descriptions, I am doing them mostly from memory and I haven’t seen them for nearly twenty years.

Arena: A space station set sci-fi movie about an interspecies fighting sport known as The Arena. A handicapping system is used, a beam of light that controls the competitors strength. Despite this a human has not won for fifty years. Steve Armstrong (Paul Satterfield) a cook, gets into a fight with an Arena fighter and is quickly picked up by his manager Quinn (Claudia Christian, best known for playing Susan Ivanova in Babylon 5). As he wins his fights Steve becomes a hero to humans on the station.  All the usual sporting clichés are present such as corruption and a hero fighting back against the odds.

Robot Jox: Following a nuclear holocaust the world is split into two giant superpowers that encompass all surviving nations. They are basically East and West/America and Russia. Fifty years after the holocaust the two sides agree to outlaw war, instead deciding conflicts with a one on one gladiatorial battle. The fights are between giant robots, piloted by men know as Robot Jox. The movie revolves around a fight for the natural recourses of Alaska and the subsequent rematch. The robot battle scenes use stop motion animation and look really dated after just twenty years. The movie should have been Empire International Pictures biggest film, when the company went under the rights were sold to Epic Productions who finished the movie.

Crash and Burn: Marketed as “From the makers of Robotjox and Arena” and sometimes called Robot Jox 2, Crash and Burn is not a sequel to Robot Jox. Unicom is a corporation that basically rules the world following an economic crash. Their motto is “life, liberty, and the pursuit of economic stability”. In order to achieve this computers and robots have been outlawed (for some reason) by Unicom who use robots or synthetic humans themselves. Set at a remote TV station where the workers are stranded by a deadly “thermo-storm” caused by the depleted ozone, they also have to one of Unicom’s killer robots (that borrows heavily from The Terminator) after them. There only help: a delivery man and his plan to resurrect an old eighty foot tall robot that (conveniently) lies rusting out back. There is a neat rip-off of the scene from The Thing where they cut themselves to prove they are human with a good twist. There is also some interesting casting, the main stars Paul Ganus, Megan Ward and Bill Moseley have had reasonable careers on TV and in B movies, Jack McGee is a respected character actor, Ralph Waite is best known as John Walton Sr. in The Waltens and is still working today aged 81, and Eva La Rue will be recognisable to CSI fans as Natalia Boa Vista form CSI Miami. Information on the subject is a little sketchy but my understanding is Crash and Burn was made by Empire International Pictures possibly as early as 1988 but not released by them. The production and distribution company listed is Full Moon Entertainment, another Charles Band company mainly responsible for horror movies.

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Last year I purchased the novel, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo but didn’t get around to reading it. By strange coincidence I started to read it a last week, then whist at the cinema a few days later I saw a trailer for the movie, I had no idea the movie had even been made.  I am only halfway through reading the book so can not be certain where it is going but the two hundred and something pages I have read so far are totally brilliant. The novel is the first part of the “Millennium” trilogy by Stieg Larsson (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest). The trilogy are Larsson’s only novels, a journalist by trade, the novels were originally written for his own pleasure and enjoyment, he died of a heart attach before they were published. Together the original Swedish version and the English translation of the trilogy have sold over 20 million copies worldwide.  All three movies where released in Scandinavia last year, the first one is due to be released here in the UK on the 12th March this year and in the USA a week later.  There are no dates for the other two as yet.

Without giving away too much plot (I don’t know it all myself yet): Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) is a middle aged journalist who is sentenced to three months in prison following a conviction for libel. Before beginning his sentence he agrees to investigate a disappearance and possible murder on behalf of a wealthy retired industrialist Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube). Blomkvist is helped by Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) an investigator, researcher and computer hacker who is brilliant, beautiful (despite her unconventional appearance) but is also somewhat eccentric totally lacking in social skills.

I will finish the book in the in the next few days and am really looking forward to the film. I also really like the look of the posters.

 

Negotiations are underway for the inevitable Hollywood remake with some big named stars and directors being suggested.  Here are a few possible ideas on casting:

  • Viggo Mortensen as Mikael Blomkvist
  • An unknown actress as Lisbeth Salander
  • Robin Wright-Penn as Erika Berger
  • Max Von Sydow as Henrik Vanger

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