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Archive for July, 2010

 

 

Space, the final frontier, I’m sure I have heard that somewhere before. The vast and seeming endlessness of space, like storytelling and moviemaking is full of endless possibilities. It is often the case that filmmakers are at their best when overcoming limitations so what happens when the only limitations are their imaginations? The five movies we have picked are different in as many ways as they are similar; whether they are blending haunted house horror with action shoot-em-ups, taking us to strange new worlds or bringing the science back to science fiction they all have relevance in the present day.  Here is my contribution. Check out Movie Mobsters for the full article:

 

Serenity (2005)

 

“Half of writing history is hiding the truth” – Malcolm Reynolds

Written and directed by Joss Whedon Serenity picks up six months after the end of the TV show Firefly. Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) is the captain of the Serenity a cargo spaceship and home to a mismatched crew living on the edges of the law. When they help Dr. Simon Tam (Sean Maher) rescue River (Summer Glau), his disturbed but gifted and telepathic sister from a medical facility it puts them in the direct firing line of an “operative” Chiwetel Ejiofor, basically a government assassin. Looking for a way out they stumble across a secret The Alliance doesn’t want anyone to know.

After the disappointment of the Star Wars prequels it was left to this spin-off from a cancelled TV show to show the way, possibly the best Sci-Fi movie of the last decade, certainly the most entertaining and fun. The skill with which the story is constructed makes it equally watchable for newcomers (which I was when I first saw it) and fans of the Firefly TV show (that I am now). The other great thing about the script is the way it is filled with comedy without detracting from the action or drama. The whole thing is held together by a charismatic performance by Nathan Fillion as Malcom Reynolds complimented by the rich variety of the other characters. Working on many levels Serenity is a great action adventure set in space with a large nod the western genre but looking deeper it is also a social commentary. The Alliance wants to make things better (unlike the evil power hungry Empire of Star Wars), unfortunately their meddling has deadly side-effects for some and is just unwelcome by others (American foreign policy and British colonial rule anyone?). That is the key to the movie, forget the cowboys in space, the ideas of good and evil, this is a story of humanity complete with our imperfections and our fallibility. The lasting effect of Serenity is yet to be seen but hopefully it will remind filmmakers of the simple ideals that made Star Wars so great.

“I aim to misbehave” – Malcolm Reynolds.

Also including: Groovers Guide to Star Trek

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A couple of months ago I posted a list of my favourite movies from when I was ten years old. But how did my tastes change? Although I still loved the movies from when I was ten (and still do) I had discovered a few more films in the five years that had passed.

The Terminator: Combining all the things I loved at the time; action, adventure, horror, sci-fi and a great story The Terminator was an instant classic that has only go better with age. Often unfairly overlooked in favour of its more flashy and expensive sequel that is a great film in its own right but the original is still the best. Just creeping onto the list ahead of another James Cameron movie Aliens.

Some Like it Hot: The first older film I fell in love with and to this day it is probably my favourite film. Perfection is an over used term but I can see no way this film could be made better, anyone who thinks they know is either very clever or incredibly stupid.

Die Hard: This movie reinvented action with heart, sole and intelligence without losing the raw and brutal edge that gives action movies there simple visceral edge. The icing on the cake for this movie is the confidence to make the villains the best character and give him all the best lines. As good now as it was over twenty years ago.

The Lost Boys: For every comedy horror that works there are at least a dozen that fall flat on their face. The lost Boys towers above all other movies of the genre. It is so silly it has no right to work but for some inexplicable reason it did and it still does.

Nikita: The first foreign language movie I remember watching and still one of my favourites. I love the fact this movie literally opened the world up to me, but I love it as a movie in its own right too, what more could you ask? Dismissed at the time for style over substance now it has the recognition it deserves as a classic.

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The Red Shoes

A true measure of a great film is that you love it despite its subject matter and not because of it. I have never been to a ballet, I have no particular desire to go to see a ballet and yet I not only love The Red Shoes but actually believe it is one of the best films ever made. Orson Welles commented many times on how he learnt to make movies by watching Stagecoach, not a bad schooling! There are a lot of filmmakers around these days who could learn a lot from The Red Shoes. Although not the same connection, Martin Scorsese who seems to learn from everything he sees ranks it among his favourite films (check out the spiral staircase scene in Shutter Island, if that isn‘t a homage I don‘t know what is!). Scorsese was also a personal friend of Michael Powell and introduced him to his (third) wife Thelma Schoonmaker (yes that Thelma Schoonmaker, three time Oscar winner Thelma Schoonmaker).

I remember discussing Michael Powell when I was a student, the people I was talking with couldn’t understand how the director responsible for Black Narcissus (1947) and The Red Shoes (1948) went on to make the controversial Peeping Tom (1960). They looked at me as if I had three heads when I tried to explain that Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes are far darker and more disturbing films than Peeping Tom. I digress let’s get on with a brief synopsis: Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook) is a Svengali like ballet producer and impresario. Following a performance he hires a new ballerina Vicky Page (Moira Shearer) and student who wants to be a composer Julian Craster (Marius Goring). When the prima ballerina quits to get married it presents an opportunity for both Vicky and Julian. After their first ballet is a hit Vicky and Julian fall in love, this puts them on a collision course with Lermontov. There is no way this can end well.Written and directed by Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger and shot by legendry cinematographer Jack Cardiff, to call it beautiful would be a huge understatement. It is during the twenty minute dance/fantasy at the heart of the movie that the visual style comes into its own, it is nothing short of stunning. Joan of Arc (1948) is a well shot movie but the fact Cardiff didn’t win (he wasn‘t even nominated) an Oscar is virtually criminal; he had won one the year before for Black Narcissus. The story is loosely based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale of the same name, the geniuses of its construction is the way the same fairy tale is the subject of the ballet at the centre of the movie without feeling contrived. This plot is very simple on the surface but is multilayered and brimming with subtle (and not so subtle) symbolism.

The reason it works and has appeal beyond any genre you want to pigeonhole it into is that it isn’t about dance or music, it is about people. People, their relationships, their faults, foibles and their insecurities. It doesn’t matter that the vast majority of the characters aren’t particularly likeable, if anything it actually makes their journey more interesting. To make this work is a perfect symbiosis of acting and direction helped by sublime casting. Marius Goring plays the mercurial Julian Craster brilliantly. Anton Walbrook’s Boris Lermontov cement that holds the movie together but it is the casting of Moira Shearer that is so important. Vicky Page is the heart of the story when casting the directors were looking for a ballerina who could act and not an actress who could dance. Originally reluctant to take the part, who would have thought Moira Shearer’s performance would be so good and surprisingly nuanced. Starting with the characters at arms length and moving closer to them as the story unfolds gives a feeling of getting to know them.

Made in 1948 during the austere post war years the bold use of colour elevates the visuals at a time when most other British movies were still black and white. I love black and white but this movie needs to be colour. Shot with the Three Strip Technicolor process that had been around for years but only perfected in the 40’s the visuals and the contrast are amazing and put many modern movies to shame, it is considered by some to be the finest example of the Technicolor process thanks in no small part to Cardiff who threw the rule book out and did it his way. There is nothing wrong with directors like Baz Luhrmann but there isn’t a great deal they do now visually that this movie hadn’t already done over sixty years ago. A brief technical note, the film recently underwent a complete restoration using the original negatives, the result of fundraising by Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker. If you haven’t seen the movie recently check out a DVD or blu-ray copy or even better if you are lucky enough, I believe there are a few 35mm prints kicking around although they haven’t reached a cinema near me yet. It is a visual treat you won’t forget in a hurry.

Strangely not that well known, a bit like the works of Federico Fellini and Ingmar Bergman there are many people who are aware of it but haven’t seen it. To put it in prospective how much this film is under appreciated, despite a rating of over 8 out of 10 on IMDB it doesn’t make it to their top 250. It losses out with their formula as it has received less than 8,000 votes. To put this into prospective Toy Story 3 received more than 25,000 votes within two weeks of its American release and top rated The Shawshank Redemption (1994) has nearly half a million votes.

So if you haven’t seen this masterpiece go and rent the DVD but don’t take my word for it Phil On Film selected it as one of his desert island picks. Meaning if he only had eight films to wtch over and over again for the forseable future this would be one of them. This is that he had to say about it:

“Now more than ever, this is an essential picture. Seeing the breathtaking new restoration was one of my cinema highlights of 2009, and the spellbinding new Blu Ray disc is an utter dream. Jack Cardiff’s cinematography is the finest use of Technicolor imaginable, and the imagination displayed in Powell and Pressburger’s direction of this ballet melodrama never ceases to amaze. The whole film is wonderful, but I’d be happy just to have that extraordinary central dance sequence, which is unquestionably one of the greatest artistic achievements in the history of cinema. A truly extraordinary work of art.”

And finally hanks to the Mad Hatter from The Dark of the Matinee whose mention of this movie a few months ago reminded me that I hadn’t seen it for over a decade.  By the way I still haven’t seen the other Red Shoes yet.

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I was recently a guest on the (LAMMY award winning) podcast “The Matineecast”. For those of you who haven’t listened to The Matineecast (WHY NOT?) it’s hosted by The Mad Hatter who is also the brains behind the movie blog “The Dark of the Matinee”. Early on in the show he always does a segment entitled “Know Your Enemy” in which he asks a series of questions. One of them is “what is a Classic or essential movie you have never seen?” That was an easy question for me to answer, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Released the year I was born and winner of five Oscars, it is a really significant movie. The Oscars were all big ones, it was actually the first movie since Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night (1934) to sweep the major categories: Best Actor in a Leading Role (Jack Nicholson), Best Actress in a Leading Role (Louise Fletcher), Best Director (Milos Forman), Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay (Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman). It also picked up nominations for Original Music Score, Cinematography, Film Editing and Supporting Actor (Brad Dourif). It went on to go one better at the BAFTA’s adding a Supporting Actor win for Dourif as well as the big five again. It was a huge financial success making around twenty five times it $4.5million budget in the domestic American market alone. It was also a hit in the late 70’s early 80’s on the fast growing VHS rental market. To put it simply we are talking about a pretty major movie in cinema history that I had never seen.

So why had I never seen it? By the mid 90’s I had already developed an obsession with movies and had seen a lot of classic movies, if you had asked me at the time I would probably have said The Godfather Part II was my favourite movie. It was around this time I became aware of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Jack Nicholson was a big star, even kids at school who weren’t into movies knew him as The Joker from Batman (1989) (back then who would have thought his performance would be surpassed by another actor playing the Joker two decades later!), a big fan on Chinatown (1974) I had just seen its belated sequel The Two Jakes(1990), I had seen Easy Rider many times (and had an American flag on the back of my leather jacket inspired by Peter Fonda’s character). Anyway I digress I think it must have been a late night season of Nicholson movies on at the time as I had also seen Five Easy Pieces around the same time. So one night I had been out with some friends came home just in time to set the VCR recording before going to bed. A few days later I came to watch the movie only to find it recorded over. At the time I blamed my brother or my parents for the terrible transgression, I truth looking back they probably didn’t even know I had recorded it!

Not one to worry about these things I knew it would be on again soon. It wasn’t the next time it was due to be on years later it was bumped from the schedule, I think somebody died and they put a movie on as a tribute. And then it must have just faded from memory until last month knowing I was going to be asked the question by Hatter I thought I would make a list of the big movies I have never seen, the movies that seem to come up when he asks other people seem to be epic classics that people find daunting like Gone with the Wind or some of the David Lean movies, I have seen all of them! So I went to IMDB and decided I would go with the highest placed movie on their top 250 that I had never seen. I have seen approximately 95% of the 250 but standing out at number 8 with an average rating of 8.8 from over 200,000 votes was One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Seeing it there all my memories of failed attempts to watch it came flooding back and I decided I would make no effort to watch it but would come up on TV one day. So when Hatter told me how great it was and I was in for a treat I said something like I would catch it on DVD sooner or later. Then a strange thing happened, I must have put it in my Love Film (a UK website like Netflix) queue sometime in the past and forgotten it. As one day last week it dropped through my letterbox, so between world cup football matches I have just gotten around to watching it. But was it any good? Simply put it was fantastic.

Assuming I am not the last person in the world to see the movie here is a brief synopsis: R.P. McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) isn’t the most stable person and he has a few issues but he clearly isn’t crazy. In an attempt to avoid hard labour in prison he pretends to be crazy and gets transferred to a psychiatric hospital for evaluation. Spending his days playing cards or Basketball and pretending to take his medication, he fits into his new environment surprisingly (and frighteningly) well. Although often disruptive he soon has a positive effect on some of the other patients who have been living under the cloud of Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher), a tyrant who rules the ward through fear and humiliation.

Nicholson is truly brilliant giving one of his best ever performances but to dismiss it as a one man movie would be to underestimate the depth of the movie. The supporting cast includes Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd, Vincent Schiavelli and Brad Dourif as well as Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched who is mesmerising in a part turned down by every big name in Hollywood. Interestingly the movie is driven by both character and at times plot making it totally engrossing and immersive. I was amazed to discover it is nearly a two and a quarter hours long, it felt like an hour and a half! As the narrative unfolds, you kind of know where it’s going and how it will end up but this really doesn’t matter. When it comes the end is perfectly handled being both heartbreaking and uplifting at the sme time.

If I were to be asked the same question again now the next highest ranked movie on the IMDB 250 that I haven’t seen is WALL•E (2008) at no. 46, but a more significant movie I haven seen would be E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) I have to say I am in no rush to see either.

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Warren Oates

Generally described as a character actor, Warren Oates had greater acting ability than most of the big name stars he performed alongside. Although he doesn’t play the main part in most of the films in this list it doesn’t detract from his star quality. Look at what he did with when given the lead in Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia shows what a star he could have been, it may have bombed at the box-office but it is still a classic and one of director Sam Peckinpah’s best movies. Sadly no longer with us but today would have been his birthday so what better time to list his best performances.

  1. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974): Dismissed as a violent road movie, but it is so much more, it’ a modern day western (a hard thing to pull off) and beneath all the blood and grime a tragic but strangely romantic love story. And at the heart of all this is Warren Oates giving the performance of a lifetime as Bennie a loveable loser.
  2. Two-Lane Blacktop (1971): Playing second fiddle, this time not to a more famous actor but to a car, his character even takes his name in the credits from the car he drives (G.T.O). As the only professional actor in a major role he keeps the movie ticking over and also has all the funny lines that he delivers with relish.
  3. In the Heat of the Night (1967): Sidney Poitier was the star and Rod Steiger got all the plaudits but don’t underestimate the importance of Warren Oates in In the Heat of the Night. His character Patrolman Sam Wood is central to the plot and his performance in the small role is every bit as good as Steiger in the bigger more showy part.
  4. Race with the Devil (1975): A superior B-movie that skilfully blends horror and action with a road movie. Peter Fonda and Warren Oates play off each other perfectly. I first saw this movie as part of “Moviedrome” back in the early 90’s before I really knew who Warren Oates was but when I saw a trailer for Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia a few months late I was sure to watch it.
  5. The Wild Bunch (1969): As part of a first rate ensemble to be honest Oates doesn’t actually stand out, but that is no bad thing, to be part of this classic western that tells the end of the west is enough in itself. Watch it in conjunction with Ford and Leone.

Also take a look at:

  • The Shooting (1967)
  • Badlands (1973)
  • 1941 (1979)
  • The Thief Who Came to Dinner (1973)
  • Blue Thunder (1983) (his final film)

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Eclipse

 

I went to see the original Twilight movie as a fan of vampire movies, out of curiosity regarding the phenomenon that is Twilight and as an admirer of director Catherine Hardwicke. Although far from great there was enough good things about it to make it worth seeing. I went into the second film hoping Chris Weitz could redeem himself after the mess he made of The Golden Compass (2007). Whilst not the mess he made of The Golden Compass, New Moon lacked bite (as always with me the bad pun is completely intentional). So how did David Slade do with the third instalment of the licence to print money franchise? In short not bad.

After the turmoil of the previous movie Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) are finally together, happy and in love. They are planning for the future; graduation from high school, going to collage, possibly getting married and the small matters of Bella’s virginity, humanity, a potential love triangle with a giant dog and Edward‘s eternal damnation. All this is put on hold when an old adversary, Victoria returns (now played by Bryce Dallas Howard replacing Rachelle Lefevre from the first two movies). Then a series of killings in Seattle turns out to be more sinister than just a serial killer.

In comparison to the previous movie the acting is good. I have never had a problem with Kristen Stewart and believe she is a talented actress but Taylor Lautner and Robert Pattinson were very wooden in New Moon, here they are much more believable and actually share some genuinely funny scenes. That brings me onto another improvement the film has some really funny moments that I think/hope are intentional, the director isn’t afraid to make fun of some of the more ridicules elements of the story. The negative thing about the actors/characters is that most of the supporting characters are largely marginalised. Anna Kendrick, probably the most talented performer in the movie is wasted in a tiny role. The only character whose part seems to have increased is Jasper (Jackson Rathbone) who is given a lot more to do, his character has also developed since the first movie.

From a visual point of view, the movie is very well shot with great use of the stunning locations and well lit interiors. The visual effects are okay, the Wolves are still not convincing but they are better than they were in New Moon. There is a nice touch with the vampires, they appear to have a crystalline makeup, a possible indication of both there strength and the glittery appearance. There is more action than the other films and it is handled pretty well but again there could have been more of it. There are also a couple of effective flashbacks telling the back stories of some of the main characters.

The biggest criticism is a very poor sense of time and space, interestingly a similar problem hampered the directors previous movie, the otherwise excellent 30 Days of Night (2007). This is exacerbated by the structure of the movie, as is often the case with movies adapted from books it feels like a collection of little episodic scenes that need a little more to link them together. I imagine when adapting the book the writers picked out what they considered to be the key scenes and cut out the less important ones. It isn’t a major issue but it is conspicuous imbedding the viewers ability to be immersed in the story. The voiceover had the same effect, as it is only used a couple of times it was conspicuous when it happened.

A note on the finances of the franchise, with the other two movies already grossing over a billion dollars between them. At around $68million, this third instalment has a larger budget than the first two, but that is no great risk, it made its money back on its first day on release and is expected to top $200million by the end of the 4th July weekend. The final book Breaking Dawn will be split into two movies, considering the rushed feel to Eclipse this can easily justified creatively but lets be honest, it’s a cynical way of making even more money.

This film isn’t going to win any new fans for the franchise, but lets be honest, like it needs them!. It is however a dramatic improvement on the second movie and probably the best of the three so far. Chances are if you have seen the first two, you will see this one, if you haven’t, you won’t and if like certain people (yes Hatter I am referring to you ) you have developed an irrational hatred for all things Twi you probably stopped reading three or four paragraphs ago.

Three Stars out of Five

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After the disaster that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) I didn’t have much hope for X-Men: First Class due out next year. But then things started to take shape. First Matthew Vaughn was announced as director. He has already impressed with his first three movies Layer Cake (2004), Stardust (2007) and my favourite movie of the year so far Kick-Ass (2010). Then came the writing credits, Jane Goldman who worked on Vaughn on his last two films and with a story by Bryan Singer. Then we have the casting rumours:

James McAvoy as Professor Charles Xavier

 

Alice Eve as Emma Frost (in talks)

Michael Fassbender as Magneto

Amber Heard as Mystique (rumoured)

Benjamin Walker as Dr. Henry ‘Hank’ McCoy / Beast (rumoured)

Other character you would expect to see include Cyclops and Jean Grey.

Iceman and Angel appeared in the early comic books but their inclusion would destroy the continuity with the existing movies. We also need some more enemies the prescience of Magneto would suggest the Brotherhood of Mutants so look out for Mastermind, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, and Toad. One person that continuity will have to keep away from the X-Men is Wolverine.

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Corey Allen 1934 – 2010

Buzz Gunderson:You know something? I like you”.

Jim Stark: “Why do we do this?”

Buzz Gunderson: “You’ve gotta do something. Don’t you?”

 

 

I don’t mark the passing of every Actor or director but one caught my eye this week. My only knowledge of Corey Allen was playing Buzz Gunderson in Rebel Without a Cause (1955). He continued to work as an actor mainly on TV until the 70’s and had two more recent credits in The Works (2004) and Quarantined (voice only) (2009) but his most notable contribution was in directing, again mainly on TV. If you watched TV in the 70’s or 80’s you will have seen his work, having directed episodes of:

  • Magnum
  • Dallas
  • Murder, She Wrote
  • Hill Street Blues
  • Matt Houston
  • Simon & Simon
  • T.J. Hooker
  • The Rockford Files
  • Quincy
  • Lou Grant
  • Police Story
  • The Streets of San Francisco
  • Hawaii Five-O
  • Ironside
  • The High Chaparral

His only major award came in 1981 when he won an Emmy for Outstanding Directing in a Drama Series for “Hill Street Blues”. His most significant contribution to TV was still to come. In 1987 “Encounter at Farpoint” was the pilot for the Star Trek: The Next Generation. When “picked up” it became the first episode of the first series and the first new Star Trek episode since 1969. Had it not been picked up who knows what would have become of the franchise, would the films have continued and would we have had last year’s excellent reboot? Who knows. Not only did he direct the episode he was involved in the casting and creation of the show along with Gene Roddenberry. He also directed other episodes of The Next Generation as well as Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Along with a couple of episodes of The Cosby Mysteries in 1994 his later Star Trek episodes were his last directing credits.

From the various (brief) reports and obituaries I have read, I understand he died at his home in Hollywood on Sunday evening (he would have been 76 on Tuesday) due to complications from Parkinson’s disease, he is survived by a daughter, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

His death comes just a month after fellow Rebel Without a Cause star Dennis Hopper. He may not be as well remembered as Hopper or Rebel star James Dean whose death was 55 years ago this September but anyone who has watched an episode of Star Trek in the last 23 years has felt his influence.

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In a World Cup interrupted month I have still seen seven movies at the cinema. My six nominated movies are:

  • 4.3.2.1
  • [rec]2 
  • The Killer Inside me
  • Brooklyn’s Finest
  • The Losers
  • Letters to Juliet

To be honest the last two are making up the numbers and aren’t really contenders as is the other movie I saw this month Black Death

The movie of the month for June 2010 is:

4.3.2.1

 

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