Archive for December, 2011

  1. Hugo – To be called a family film these days usually means a silly kids films with a few in-jokes for older viewers but Hugo really is a film for all ages and will remain so for generations to come. A film for lovers of film by a director who truly loves his medium, he even made 3D work.
  2. Drive – This is a movie that really shouldn’t work, there isn’t much plot, its old fashioned, overly violent, the leading man doesn’t have much dialogue. For some reason it does all work and like all the best movies it will haunt your memories long after you have seen it. It missed out to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy as my movie of the month back in September but on reflection it is a better movie.
  3. The Guard – What could easily have been yet another fish out water tale is elevated by prospective. Instead of focusing on Don Cheadle’s FBI agent the film is centred around Brendan Gleeson’s wiser than he first appears Irish policeman. The real star however is the script and more importantly the dialogue.
  4. Senna – The first documentary to make my top ten of the year list. A fantastic and moving story of Ayrton Senna, a man who was possibly the greatest racing driver of all time, the true greatness of the film is the number of none F1 fans who also enjoyed it.
  5. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – The BBC adaptation of John le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is possibly the best spy thriller I have ever seen, I think the movie may just be better.
  6. We Need to Talk About Kevin – Not the easiest movie to watch but well worth the effort. Confidently directed and superbly acted (Tilda Swinton deserves an Oscar) but the real strength lies in the screenplay. Adapted from a novel with a near un-filmable format, it’s a miracle any film was made let alone such a good one.
  7. Midnight In Paris – The premise is silly and clichéd but the execution is so charming and amusing that it gets away with all its potential faults. Especially rewarding for fans of Hemingway, Fitzgerald and the “Lost Generation” but entertaining and enjoyable for any film fan. Woody Allen’s best movie in a very long time.
  8. The Skin I live in – Beautifully shot, perfectly cast and brilliantly acted but most importantly Pedro Almodóvar back to his weird, bizarre best. Antonio Banderas is also back to his best and Elena Anaya deserves more roles like this.
  9. Moneyball – with a screenplay by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin you expect a compelling story and snappy dialogue, I am happy to report both are present and are helped by Brad Pitt’s second great performance of the year. Reminiscent in part to The Social Network (also written by Sorkin) and that has to be a good thing.
  10. Stake Land – A grim and often violent road movie from the team who gave us the direct to DVD zombie/rat/mutant classic Mulberry Street. Benefiting from its gritty realism and the constraints of a low budget it is intelligent and thoughtful whilst still being entertaining, and the vampires don’t sparkle in sunlight they burn! The best vampire movie since Let The Right One In (that topped my list two years ago).

A note on my selection: in previous years my top ten has been made up of films released in the UK during the calendar year. This time I have excluded films that were on general release in America in 2010 making my list more comparable with other best of the year lists (Stake Land is a bit of a grey area as it is listed as a 2010 movie but doesn’t appear to have been screened anywhere outside film festivals until 2011). I would like to have seen The Artist before compiling my list but despite the published December 30th release date it doesn’t appear to be on anywhere. Check back tomorrow to see how True Grit, Black Swan and The King’s Speech compare to this years movie in my full list of movies seen this year.

Finally: the list are my favourite films of the year not necessarily the best ten films of the year, so please don’t tell me the list is wrong but feel free to share your favourite films of the year.


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2011 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

London Olympic Stadium holds 80,000 people. This blog was viewed about 380,000 times in 2011. If it were competing at London Olympic Stadium, it would take about 5 sold-out events for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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When I compiled a list of my top ten vampire movies in 2009 the 2008 Swedish movie Let The Right One In came second behind Near Dark (1987). Shortly after this the movie was remade in America as Let Me In (2010). The remake was well directed by Matt Reeves who had previously impressed with Cloverfield (2008). The acting was great particularly from Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloë Moretz. Greig Fraser’s photography is stunning and the New Mexico locations are surprisingly good. Despite all this I didn’t actually enjoy the movie coming so close after the original Swedish film it all fell a little flat, it certainly offered nothing new but also inexplicably felt to be lacking something; in short what was the point? This was my greatest fear for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, coming just two years after the Swedish version (actually called Män som hatar kvinnor that translates to Men who hate women. Like the book it is based on it was renamed The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for the English speaking market) how relevant would it be?

The first thing to say now that I have seen both versions (and having previously read the book) is that the David Fincher version is an adaptation of the book and not a remake of the original film. The reason they are so similar is that they are both relatively faithful to the book. Normally this would be a good thing, but to be relevant so soon after the first adaptation I can’t help thinking it needs to separate itself from the original in the way Let Me In failed to do. The interesting thing is that they have both watered-down the politics that are personal to the author and cement the story as a Swedish one. This is one of the changes that makes the Swedish setting less important and would have made transposing the story to the UK or the USA possible. As well as a more original film it could have had a very timely subtext about the financial crisis. A few changes would have been needed but it is an adaptation of a book into a different medium and changes will always be made.

Taken on their own merits, both films are very good. They both fall down in a few places, sometimes the same places possibly showing limitations of the source novel. The key to how you will feel about the films rests in the portrayals of Salander and Blomkvist and therefore is likely to decide if you like the films and which you prefer. After seeing the original film I felt it was perfectly cast: Michael Nyqvist plays as Blomkvist as an everyman hero. Lisbeth Salander, is a harder part to fill but Noomi Rapace was a revelation. The perfect portrayal (despite being a little too old and too tall for the part) rightly launched her onto the international stage. In the new version Daniel Craig is pretty good fit as Blomkvist un-toning his James Bond physique. Rooney Mara’s Lisbeth Salander is more likely to divide opinion; as I see it, from an acting point of view she isn’t as good as Rapace, however conversely her performance is better. She plays Lisbeth as both more vulnerable and more dangerous, this is both more interesting and closer to the character in the book.

So where do we find relevance in this remake, at what point does it become a credible film in its own right and stop being a pointless imitation for people who can’t be bothered to read subtitles? I have a theory on this. As mentioned at the top I do believe it is an adaptation of the book and not a remake of the first film, but this isn’t enough. The greatest failing of the original Swedish version was not in the film itself but its two sequels: The Girl Who Played with Fire (Flickan som lekte med elden) and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest (Luftslottet som sprängdes). Both far weaker films mainly because they fail to move away from their TV origins. And that is where David Fincher and his cast can find relevance and a reason for the existence of a $100million that differs little from the original (other than to make money for its studio), they have the opportunity to put what went wrong first time around and give us parts two and three of the Millennium trilogy that live up to The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

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Next week I will be revealing my favourite movies of the year, but before that, my least favourite.

TENPirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides: better than the other two sequels but ultimately another pointless movie that devalues the fun of the original Pirates movie.

NINEUnknown: after reinventing himself as an action hero in Taken, Liam Neeson does it again in Unknown and it is worse than Taken. it’s a shame to see a talented actress like Diane Kruger in crap like this.

EIGHTScream 4: As clichéd and irrelevant as the first film was original and groundbreaking. It does have some humorous moments and the Anna Paquin/Kristen Bell cameo is great but ultimately a waste of time.

SEVENThe Silent House: High concept Uruguayan horror inspired by real events. Some good ideas and some good moments but ultimately it doesn’t work.

SIXThe Eagle: With a talented director and an interesting story I really wanted to enjoy this movie, sadly I didn’t. If you want to see a good fictionalised story about the legendry Roman Ninth legion rent the DVD of last years Centurion.

FIVEThe Resident: I really wanted to like this movie; a Hammer horror/thriller featuring Christopher Lee, what more could you ask for? A decent script would be top of the list!

FOURSeason of the Witch: Total hokum, fun in places, Nicolas Cage is thankfully understated and Ron Perlman is always worth watching but the film is seriously dull. 

THREETransformers: Dark of the Moon: better than Revenge of the Fallen, considering how bad that movie was it really is the definition of damning with faint praise.

TWOThe Hangover: Part II: A dull, predictable and repetitive rehash of the first movie that is both xenophobic and homophobic, worst of all it just isn’t funny.

AND THE WORST MOVIE I HAVE SEEN THIS YEARSanctum: The story is silly, clichéd and very predictable. The 3D isn’t bad but is still a pointless gimmick that adds little to the movie.

Finally, a few movies that just escaped the bottom ten include: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1, Footlose and a movie everyone else seems to love, Attack the Block. A nasty and pointless movie whose horrible characters and lack of morality could have been excused if it was an enjoyable well made movie, it isn’t.

*A note on the selected movies, I am not a film critic, just a movie lover so I only see the movies I want to see (about 110 at the cinema this year). Therefore this isn’t a definitive list of the worst movies of the year, just the worst I have seen.

Feel free to disagree and share your worst movies of the year.

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With just two more movies to see this year: Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (making a total of 108 movies seen at the cinema this year) I am already looking forward to the new year. I am led to believe the early part of the year can be a bit of a barren time for American cinema goers but here in the UK the new year is often the time to see the Oscar bait movies that week get a few months later.

With two academy awards from sixteen nominations, nothing says Oscar like Meryl Streep. The Iron Lady tells the story of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher. From the clips and trailers I have seen, it looks interesting, the only doubt, the directors, Phyllida Lloyd’s only other feature appears to be Mamma Mia!

I have heard nothing but good things about Shame despite the unusual and controversial subject matter, sex addiction. After the excellent Hunger (2008), the re-teaming of director Steve McQueen and actor Michael Fassbender must be a good thing. The addition of co star Carey Mulligan and I am really looking forward to this one.

Clearly Ralph Fiennes’ doesn’t believe in making life easy for himself, making his directorial debut with an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Coriolanus. The updated setting is reminiscent of Richard Loncraine’s Richard III (1995), looks interesting.

I understand J,Edgar has had mixed reviews on the other side of the Atlantic but with Clint Eastwood in the directors chair and Leonardo DiCaprio in the starring role it has to be worth seeing.

There is already Oscar talk about George Clooney in The Descendants, directed by Alexander Payne (Election 1999 & Sideways 2004). I don’t know much about it but Clooney on good form remains a watchable movie star reminiscent of the stars from the golden age of cinema, I’m in!

Bizarrely, the two films I am most looking forward to aren’t going to feature at the Oscars, they are more what is (condescendingly) referred to as “genre movies”. As one of the few people who liked The Girlfriend Experience I am always interested in Steven Soderbergh’s more experimental ideas. Like with The Girlfriend Experience Soderbergh has gone for an unexpected lead actress for the action movie Haywire, former Mixed martial arts fighter Gina Carano. He has surrounded her with an impressive supporting cast including: Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas and Bill Paxton. As I said it won’t win Oscars but it looks like its going to be fun.

There are two real guilty pleasure franchises around at the moment, we have to wait until later in the year for the next Resident Evil movie, but Underworld Awakening is out in January. Nearly a decade after the first Underworld movie Kate Beckinsale is back in her most iconic role (and costume). From the trailer it looks as dumb as the previous movies, but I really don’t care, I can’t wait!

Other movies coming out in January include: War Horse. Thanks to a really cheesy trailer, I can honestly say I have never been less excited by a new Steven Spielberg movie. I know nothing about The Darkest Hour other than what I have seen in the trailer but with director Chris Gorak who impressed with his debut Right at Your Door (2006) and Timur Bekmambetov credited as a produce I will give it a go. Another movie I now nothing about other than the trailer is Man on Ledge. The trailer makes it look a lot like Spike Lee’s Inside Man (2006), that isn’t a bad thing.

Check back on the 1st of February to find out what I actually saw and what I thought of them.

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Driving home from a party promising young student Rhoda (Brit Marling) hears a radio DJ describe a new earth like planet that has been discovered. She is distracted by the sight of the planet and causes an accident killing the family of music professor John Burroughs (William Mapother – cousin of Tom Cruise). After being released from prison four years later, Rhoda is looking for direction and redemption in her meagre existence and in her menial job. She is also in pursuit of a place on the first flight to “Earth 2” for reasons that are not clear to her.

Don’t be fooled into thinking this is a sci-fi movie, the new planet is always there in the background and in the thoughts of the characters but just as in Lars von Trier’s Melancholia this is a movie about people. Taking successful and ambitious characters and breaking them creates an interesting dynamic that defines the tone of the film. Its hard to make a compelling movie if the audience dislikes or has no connection the main protagonist, but how do you make a connection with a character whose selfish and careless actions have had such an effect? Rhoda is isolated from society and her family, but the isolation is self imposed, as if she feels the enforced exile of her prison sentence was inadequate. We follow Rhoda throughout the movie, she is in just about every scene, with this exposure we are forced to explore the psychology of the character and her actions. With this, we see her crime and her search for redemption, the camera, and with it us the audience are both accuser and conscience for her actions and her character, this is how we feel for her.

All of this would have fallen flat with anything less than a strong central performance, however this movie is elevated by a stunning performance by Brit Marling, who wrote the movie along with (first time) director Mike Cahill. I don’t know if the film has the profile to be an Oscar contender, but it really should. Debuting at the Sundance Film Festival and being picked up by Fox Searchlight, it is an independent movie with a growing profile.

It is easy to draw comparisons with other movies like Melancholia, Rabbit Hole and even Journey to the Far Side of the Sun but this is very much its own movie whose meaning and message are open to interpretation, it is all the better for it. Whatever your thoughts I hope you agree that it is an engaging movie made by people who love what they are doing, most notably Brit Marling who is surly destined for stardom. 

Four Stars out of Five


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Have you ever noticed the number of actors and actresses who advertise aftershave and perfume? If you haven’t take a look at your TV as we approach Christmas and you may be surprised. The thing I didn’t realise until recently is how many of them are directed by big A list directors. This isn’t a new thing, David Lynch made an advert for Opium by Yves Saint Laurent in the early 90’s, he has since gone on to direct one for Gucci and a bag commercial for Dior starring Marion Cotillard.

Dior’s Midnight Poison Commercial starring Eva Green was made by In the Mood for Love director Kar Wai Wong. Sofia Coppola has made two adverts for Dior, the most recent feats “brand ambassador” Natalie Portman. With the help of CGI Charlize Theron’s second Dior, Jadore advert also feature Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly and Marlene Dietrich it is directed by French director Jean-Jacques Annaud. The inclusion of Marilyn Monroe is an interesting and potentially risky one as the actress is generally associated with Chanel.

On the subject of Chanel, they have really embraced the idea of using movie directors: The Bleu de Chanel advert featuring French actor Gaspard Ulliel (Hannibal Rising) was directed by Martin Scorsese. The Chanel #5 advert from a few years ago featuring the song Sea of love (the one that ends with an aerial shot of a swimming poor that looks like a perfume bottle) was directed by Ridley Scott. Do you remember Estella Warren as the Little Red Riding Hood? (also a Chanel No. 5 commercial) That one was directed by Luc Besson. Its no surprise that the Paris set Chanel No. 5 commercial had echoes of Moulin Rouge! Not only does it star Nicole Kidman but it was directed by Baz Luhrmann. The current Chanel No. 5 advert stars Audrey Tautou and is set on the Orient Express, it reunites the actress with the Amelie/A Very Long Engagement director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Keira Knightley has made two Chanel, Coco Mademoiselle adverts the most recent one was directed by Pride & Prejudice and Atonement director Joe Wright.

The commercial that has been getting a lot of airtime recently is the Gucci Guilty advert featuring Evan Rachel Wood and Chris Evans and directed by comic book writer turned film maker Frank Miller. With an over stylised look and heavy use of green screen it is very reminiscent of Sin City.

A recurring trend in fragrance commercials is directors reuniting with actors they have made films with. Maybe one day Tom Tykwer will make a perfume commercial with Ben Whishaw and Rachel Hurd-Wood or Karoline Herfurth, that’s one I would like to see!

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A dozen movies seen at the cinema this month, but which is the movie of the month?

Contagion: a multi stranded story based around the spread of an unknown and deadly virus. The ensemble cast is fantastic and the writing and direction are sublime resulting in a perfectly paced and watchable movie.

In Time: Taking the idea of “time is money”, this is a high concept Sci-Fi movie, it has its problems but it also has some great ideas and an attractive and likeable young cast.

The Help: Given the hefty subject matter of race relations in Americas at the time of the civil rights movement it is a surprisingly lightweight movie. The story is highly manipulative and contrived, however none of these things really matter as the movie is highly watchable and entertaining thanks to fantastic performances from the largely female cast.

The Awakening: an old-fashioned ghost story, if you know my thoughts on horror, you will know that “old-fashioned” is a compliment not an insult. There are a few twists and turns in the plot but nothing spectacular, the real draw is Rebecca Hall who caries the movie virtually on her own proving her star credentials.

Wuthering Heights: a dark and brooding movie that reminds us that Emily Brontë’s story is far bleaker and less romantic than popular opinion would have you believe. The photography is stunning and the acting outstanding.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1: Depending on your point of view, splitting the final twilight movie in two is either the only way to do justice to the seven hundred and something pages of the source novel or a cynical attempt to squeeze as much money as possible out of the “Twihards”. Given the way the movie drags I would suggest the latter is true.

Immortals: a silly action movie that comes somewhere between Clash of the Titans and 300. Surprising entertains and with great visuals. It is a perfect example of a disposable popcorn movie, isn’t a great and I’m not rushing to see it again but enjoyed it while I was watching it.

The Rum Diary: A Johnny Depp movie based on a Hunter S. Thompson novel and directed by Bruce Robinson; you can’t help compare it to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Withnail & I. sadly it isn’t as good as either but Depp is as brilliant as ever and I could watch Amber Heard all day long!

Justice: If you have seen the trailer for the latest movie of the Nicolas Cage conveyor belt you have seen the movie, that’s all there is! Predicable and lightweight but not actually a bad film. Guy Pearce makes a great villain.

Moneyball: with a screenplay by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin you expect a compelling story and snappy dialogue, I am happy to report both are present and are helped by Brad Pitt’s second great performance of the year. Reminiscent in part to The Social Network (also written by Sorkin) and that has to be a good thing.

Take Shelter: As a regular family man starts having apocalyptic visions he prepares for the impending doom and questions his own sanity in equal measure. A haunting movie that will stay with you long after it ends, elevated by the performances of Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain.

My Week With Marilyn: The true story of 23-year-old Colin Clark’s experience on the set of The Prince And The Showgirl starring Marilyn Monroe and Sir Laurence Olivier (who also directed the movie). Directed with a light touch reminiscent of the best of Monroe movies but the best thing about it is the fantastic acting, Kenneth Branagh is brilliant as Olivier, Michelle Williams is even better as Monroe.

I was still thinking about the film I would name the movie of the month as I was putting this together, eight of the twelve movies were genuine contenders, but the movie of the month is:

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