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Archive for August, 2011

After the success of last months Go, See, Talk Presents – Double Feature Theatre Marc from Go, See, Talk is at it again asking us to pick our Top 10 list of oldies, the only catch, they have to be in black and white. The one stipulation “try to stick to the 30s 40s and 50s…and don’t pick Clerks just because its black and white” so that ruled out some modern classics like: Raging Bull (1980), Schindler’s List (1993), La Haine (1995) and Ed Wood (1994). As a fan of old movies the problem wasn’t coming up with ten movies, it was limiting myself to just ten. Surprisingly no movies by Alfred Hitchcock (my two favourite of his movies are in colour), Orson Welles or John Ford (both hard to leave out) made the final list:

Metropolis (1927)

Many old silent films were groundbreaking and influential but now look dated and silly. Whilst some of the acting is over the top and the plot isn’t always clear, Fritz Lang’s German expressionist classic still stands up as an enjoyable movie. Add this to the influence it has had on Sci-Fi and film making in general and you have one of my favourite old films. You don’t have to like it but if you are a film fan you really should see this movie.

King Kong (1933)

Starting life as a B picture, King Kong became an icon of cinema remade and imitated numerous times but never equalled. Its not just about the giant ape and Fay Wray’s screams, it is a well constructed and suspense filled action thriller. Despite being just 100 minutes long you have to wait until nearly the way point before seeing the titular primate. Don’t worry about the old stop motion animation it still looks great, certainly better the CGI the latest version.

Frankenstein (1931) Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Okay so I had to cheat, but these two movies really should be enjoyed together. I first saw them on channel four in the late 80’s and have seen them both numerous times since. Unaccredited in the first movie Boris Karloff has yet to be surpassed as The Monster after eighty years. The second movies is also one of the few sequels that it can be argued is better than the original movie.

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

So you think Quentin Tarantino made an impressive début with Reservoir Dogs, take a look at John Huston’s directorial debut The Maltese Falcon. An almost perfect detective noir thriller based on a Novel (of the same name) by Dashiell Hammett and boasting perfect casting: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet. The plot has enough twists and turns to keep it interesting without getting contrived or silly.

Casablanca (1942)

The greatest war film ever, with a twist, there isn’t any war/battle scenes in it. Set in unoccupied Africa during World War II an American expatriate in exile meets a former lover. Eminently quotable (and misquoteable!) tells a different side to war mixed in with a complex love story. Made in 1942 it is a contemporary, if fictional WWII movie. And don’t think it was what we now know as a big “tent pole” movie, based on an un-produced play and shot mainly on sound stages and Warner’s Burbank Studios for around $950,000 (a lot of that went to actors salaries) it was one of around 70 movies released by Warner in 1942, but as they say the cream rises to the top.

Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)

I saw most of the classic Ealing comedies when I was a kid. This remains my favourite. Dennis Price is perfectly cast as Louis Mazzini, a man compelled to murdering the eight of his relative. The real star of the movie is Alec Guinness who plays all eight relatives.

Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

Cinema was built on genre movies and one of my favourite genres in noir. A far darker movie than your average noir thanks to Mickey Spillane’s antihero Mike Hammer. I think I first saw this movie in 1994, it was the last movie Alex Cox introduced on Moviedrome, the BBC2 cult movie series that ran for twelve years from 1988. I have seen it numerous times since and never get tired of it. As well as being a great movie, it is also a highly influential one.

12 Angry Men (1957)

With most of the action taking place in one room over a single day this movie really shouldn’t work. Its little more than a play on screen, but thanks to fantastic writing and perfect casting it is a true classic. I don’t remember when I first saw it, it has always been there in my consciousness. It is one of those movie that you come across when flicking through channels and aren’t turn off. The moment when Juror #8 (Henry Fonda) stabs the knife into the table is one of the simplest but most iconic in cinema history.

Some Like It Hot (1959)

My parents first showed me this movie when I was a kid, over the next thirty years it has got better every time I have seen it, and I have seen it a lot. Put simply its my all time favourite movie.

La Dolce Vita (1960)

I nearly didn’t include this movie on the list as it came out in 1960, a fraction outside the suggested parameters but as one of the most beautifully photographed black and white movies ever made. It is also a highly influential and classic movie.

As a side to this piece, four of my selected movies (The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, King Kong, Some Like It Hot) have been “colorized”. Possibly the most pointless process ever devised in the history of cinema. Humphrey Bogart’s son Stephen is reported to have said: “if you’re going to colorize Casablanca, why not put arms on the Venus de Milo?”

Click HERE to get the rest at Go See Talk

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I have often heard it said that it’s a bad sign if your first knowledge of a movie is seeing the poster on the side of a bus or on a bus shelter. Despite this I actually have high hopes for A Lonely Place to Die, a movie I had never heard of until I saw the poster on a bus shelter today. I quickly looked it up on IMDB and found this synopsis:

A group of five mountaineers are hiking and climbing in the Scottish Highlands when they discover a young Serbian girl buried in a small chamber in the wilderness. They become caught up in a terrifying game of cat and mouse with the kidnappers as they try to get the girl to safety.

Filmed in the Scottish highlands including Ben Nevis and Glen Coe (places I have visited many time). The star and “poster girl” for the movie is Australia actress Melissa George. Having made her name on television Gorge had several small parts in prominent films (Dark City, The Limey, Mulholland Drive) before carving a niche in horror/thrillers such as: The Amityville Horror, Paradise Lost, w Delta z, 30 Days of Night and Triangle. Interestingly (according to wikipedia so it must be true!) George’s character, Alison was originally intended for Franka Potente who is one of my favourite actresses. I am actually more excited by the prospect of a new Melissa George movie following her great performance in Triangle.

Having already appeared at film festivals across Europe and North America it is set for release here is the UK on 7 September and in the USA on 11 November.

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As I sat watching Silver Streak on TV, a movie I haven’t seen for about twenty years, I suddenly realised something I have always know in the back of my mind; there is something magical about movies set on trains. Air travel and the jet set should be more sexy, it probably is, but its far less cinematic, Planes are little more than a mode of transport, they are the way James Bond gets from one exotic local to another, but trains are the locations in themselves. True, plains have been the setting for movies live Air Force One, Flight Plan or Red Eye, but none of these movies offer anything new that we haven’t seen before in movies like The Narrow Margin (the 1952 original, although the Gene Hackman, Anne Archer remake isn’t bad either). The size of a train is what makes it so suitable for a film, particularly a thriller or murder mystery, they are big enough to provide the space need for the action to play out but small enough to create just enough claustrophobia and intimacy.

A common theme of train set movies if people finding love, romance or just sex on a journey. North by Northwest features one of the best seduction scenes ever as Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint flirt and seduce each other over dinner. The movie then ends with the most audacious ending as the train itself becomes a phallic symbol in the most overt of innuendos that only Hitchcock could get away with. In a lot of ways Silver Streak condenses all the ideas of North By Northwest down to a train based part of the movie with just enough action, comedy and absurdity to keep it the right side of parody.

Although only a small section of Some Like it Hot is set on a train, it is a fantastic part, not least as its where we are introduced to ‘Sugar’ Kane (Marilyn Monroe). James Bond has spent his fair share of time on train, most notably in From Russia with Love (1963). Encapsulating the romance and the danger as Bond (Sean Connery) woos Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi) and fights ‘Red’ Grant (Robert Shaw). Bringing things more up to date Harry Potter first meets Hermione on the Hogwarts Express, it is also the place he first encounters the dementors.

As the world shrinks under the weight of ever the increasing progress of technology the magic of trains in movies evaporates, but filmmakers will always find ways to bring it back. This can involve setting movies in more exotic places like The Darjeeling Limited (2007) and Transsiberian (2008) or in the past: Water for Elephants (2011). In this age of laptop computers and MP3 players I wonder how often people actually strike up a conversation with a stranger on a train anymore? That could be a good or a bad thing depending on who you talk to: Guy Haines (Farley Granger) encounters psychotic Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker), who has a plan to help him get away with murder in Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1951) (adapted from Patricia Highsmith’s novel of the same name with a screenplay by Raymond Chandler). On the other hand in Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, American student Jesse (Ethan Hawke) has a very different experience when he meets Céline (Julie Delpy), a young French woman on her way home to Paris.

Next time you are watching a movie set on a train (and there a lot, I have only mentioned a few) have a think about the setting and if it would work anywhere else.

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After taking ten years to watch the first three Harry Potter movies I have now seen the other five in under a week.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005) Directed by Mike Newell: The fourth movie in the series offers a change direction from the first three movies. While the earlier films share a format that starts with the daily goings on at Hogwarts giving way to a mystery the three young protagonists have to solve, The Goblet of Fire combines a more action adventure story with a paranoid thriller. Ralph Fiennes finally puts in an appearance as Voldemort and does a great job.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) Directed by David Yates: If the Goblet of Fire has pretensions to be a paranoid thriller political, The Order of the Phoenix takes is more a political thriller as the two sides become more clear. Imelda Staunton’s Dolores Umbridge is evil personified made even more sinister by her cheery grin and fluffy pink outfit but the greatest addition to the franchise is Helena Bonham Carter’s slightly deranged Bellatrix Lestrange. A much darker movie than the Goblet of fire with a great ending.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009): Directed by David Yates: With a story that lacks direction it feels like we are treading water before the inevitable showdown between Harry and Voldemort, we do get a glimpse of what is to come with a fantastic climactic sequence.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 (2010): Directed by David Yates: Being new to the Harry potter universe and watching all the movies in a short space of time I was getting a little tired of the repeating story (Harry’s bad home life – train to school – new Defence Against the Dark Arts professor – quidditch match, won by Harry – Christmas break – solve a mystery – end of the school year) however I miss them now they are not here in this movie. If the Half-Blood Prince is treading water this movie is sleepwalking towards the final movie. It does have some good moments and is often fantastic to look at.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 (2011): Directed by David Yates: To add to the themes and genres already explored this movie is also heist movie with its first set piece being a bank robbery. It also features battle scenes that may not rival Lord of the Rings in their scale but are impressive in their execution and spectacular in their presentation. There is so much going on that despite its 130 minute running time it often feels rushed. Taken on its own merits this isn’t a big problem, but put into context with the other movies in the series it all seems a little silly when you consider the time wasted in the previous two movies. The entire movie is centred around Harry; although Hermione and Ron have a reasonable amount of screen time they do little of significance. The rest of the supporting cast is largely relegated to the background, this is a shame as (warning plot spoiler) characters are killed off cheaply. Alan Rickman’s Professor Severus Snape is still the best character in the movie, it is also good to see Maggie Smith’s having fun with her character Professor McGonagall, one of the franchises most under utilised characters. All things considered, along with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban this represents the high point of the franchise.

So what did I think of the series as a whole? Having not read any of the books I have no reference point to compare them to their source material and can only comment on the movies within their own medium. From a negative point of view the stories are repetitive and often predicable, the direction is a little hit and miss. Worst of all some of the movies mange to appear rushed and overlong at the same time. On a more positive note the best of the movies have a great visual flair, there are a fantastic array of characters who are all perfectly cast. Taken as a whole it is one of the most complete movie series, no other franchise can boast a coherent story arc and continuous cast over so many movies. In conclusion not my favourite movie saga but one I am glad to have finally caught up with.

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“Because some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

Alfred Pennyworth, The Dark Knight 2008

I published this quote from The Dark Knight as part of a post entitled “Movie Quotes That Define Their Generation” in November 2009. At the time I never expected it to be so true, or more to the point so close to home.

What begun as a protest following the shooting of a man by police in Tottenham, north London last week was quickly hijacked by mindless idiots bent on destruction and looting. After a weekend of trouble in London, the so called riots have been copied in other cities across England including my own, Birmingham.

I believe in the right to protest, however what has been going on over the last few days isn’t a protest. The rioters, looters or whatever you want to call them appear to have no cause or point of view they are trying to put across. If there is an point to the protest it is lost in the images of kids smashing the windows to steal hoodies, trainers and mobile phones. As supporters come out to try and justify the actions they talk about disaffected youth the governments austerity measures. Nobody is denying that the economy of the western world is on its knees and the short to medium term prospects for a lot of society isn’t great but this mindless action really isn’t helping.

Sorry for this little rant, movie blogging will resume shortly!

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I have now seen the third Harry Potter movie, The Prisoner of Azkaban for the second time and the first time in context/order. The first thing that stands out is that it does as I suspected work equally well as a stand alone film or as part of the series. 

Its thirteen year old Harry Potter’s (Daniel Radcliffe) third year at wizard School and once again his life is danger. Convicted murderer Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) has escaped from Azkaban Prison and is heading for Hogwarts. The rumours are that Black is coming for Harry, but the young wizard has a more immediate concern, Dementors, Azkaban’s particularly nasty guards. The Dementors who are more frightening than the prisoners they guard have taken up residence in the grounds around Hogwarts. Harry does have a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher in the shape of Professor Lupin (David Thewlis) but he has his own problems.

One of the problems with the second movie is the way the story seemed to be a complete rehash of the first movie. Setups and their outcomes were all to familiar and predictable, the movies divided comfortably into three parts, an introduction to the school year and the story/themes of the movie followed by a middle section that served to both develop the ongoing plot and set up the final section of the movie with a Quiddich match and a confrontation with Draco Malfoy thrown in for good measure. Whilst this movie fails to move away from this structure it does make better use of them with an entertaining and light hearted introduction and a more well planned final adventure.

There are two main threads to the plot, they conveniently converge in the final act to make an a compelling little adventre mainly featuring Harry and Hermione (Emma Watson). The story makes good use of time travel using the conventions of the genre without overdoing the clichés. The young actors are growing into their parts and are improving as actors giving more believable and less self-conscious. On the subject of casting, Michael Gambon makes a good replacement Dumbledore after the sad death of the great Richard Harris.

Another slice of family entertainment but Azkaban is a far darker movie than the first two and is all the better for it. Director Alfonso Cuaron not only delivers a more gritty film than its predecessors but he also demonstrates far more artistic flair. The addition of the new characters are welcome and perfectly performed by Thewlis and Oldman.

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With less than a year to go until the release The Dark Knight Rises and after much speculation we now have official and unofficial Images of Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle/Catwoman.

It appears that my idea of her costume as a practical high-tech material with a matt finish, something like Scarlet Johansson’s Black Widow from Iron Man 2 were wrong. Its hard to be sure from the images but it appears her catsuit is made from some sort of textured leather. As previously reported (and speculated by me long before that) she is wearing goggles, these do appear to have some high-tech features. What is missing however is her trademark cowl and cats ears.

More interesting than the costume is the fact she appears to be riding the Batpod as featured in The Dark Knight. For those that don’t remember the Batpod was ejected from the Tumbler when it self destructed after being damaged beyond repair. The possible reasons why Catwoman could be using Batmans vehicle are so numerous that it isn’t worth speculating, whatever they are they are sure to be interesting. The image comes from the movies official website.

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