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Archive for December, 2012

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

About 55,000 tourists visit Liechtenstein every year. This blog was viewed about 610,000 times in 2012. If it were Liechtenstein, it would take about 11 years for that many people to see it. Your blog had more visits than a small country in Europe!

Click here to see the complete report.

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The simple if flippant answer to why Tom Cruise was the right choice to play Jack Reacher, is that no one can play Jack Reacher, so he is good as anyone. People have been giving reasons why Tom Cruise is the wrong person to play Jack Reacher since before I knew who Jack Reacher was, it actually turns out he was a pretty good choice. As previously mentioned back in June I had only read one Jack Reacher novel back in June when the trailer hit. I have now read another eight and am halfway through a ninth including One Shot, the book the novel is based on. As is widely reported Reacher’s vital statistics include:JACK REACHER

Height: 6′ 5″, 1.95metres
Weight: 220-250 lbs/100-113 kg
Size: 50-inch/127cm chest, 3XLT Coat, 37-inch/95cm Inside leg

The problem with casting a character by height is that you could be blinded by one aspect of the character forgetting all the other characteristics. Tom Cruise is a charismatic and talented actor with a track record in playing action heroes. Had the character been around and the movie been made in the late 80’s early 90’s it is conceivable that Arnold Schwarzenegger would have been cast because of size and reputation when Mel Gibson or Bruce Willis would have been a better choice. The success of the movie could open the door for Jack Reacher becoming a franchise like James Bond, and like Bond it could be reinvented with lose continuity and new actors taking the character in new directions.jack-reacher

As for the movie itself: The plot is simplified and a few characters have been removed to be replaced by a car chase but the basic idea of the original novel is still there and the car chase isn’t bad. There is device within the books whereby the twists and turns of the plots are signposted so the readers are always one step ahead of the characters. This and a lot of the twists and turns of the plot have been removed, depending on your point of view it is to the credit or the detriment of the movie. As an adaptation, it does a good job, avoiding the pitfalls of either throwing the original text out, or even worse being a slave to it. Instead it takes the core structure and essence of the book, the cliff notes for what of a better term, and finds its own way from A to B. Tom Cruise may not be that recognisable as Jack Reacher to die hard fans of the books but the essence of the character and his actions are there.

Lee Child’s cameo in the new Jack Reacher movie

Lee Child’s cameo in the new Jack Reacher movie

If you are still not happy, who else could play Reacher? Here are my top ten more height suitable actors ( in order of height):

Kevin Durand 6′ 6″
Adam Baldwin 6′ 4″
Liam Neeson 6′ 4″ (too old)
Alexander Skarsgård 6′ 4″
Chris Hemsworth 6′ 3″ (too young but give him ten years)
Idris Elba 6′ 2¾”
Hugh Jackman 6′ 2½” (was considered for the part)
Will Smith 6′ 2″ (was considered for the part)
Nathan Fillion 6′ 1½”
Denzel Washington 6′ 0½” (too old)

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  1. Skyfall: I wasn’t sure if Sam Mendes would be the right director for Bond, how wrong was I! After seeing a Bond film I have said “that was a great Bond film” on many occasions, its rare to say that’s a great film. That’s why Skyfall makes the top of my list, its simply a great film.skyfall
  2. The Dark Knight Rises: Both the most intimate and the biggest in scale of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Elevated by great casting particularly Tom Hardy and Anne Hathaway. A fitting conclusion to what is possibly the best trilogy ever that like all great movies leaves you wanting more.The Dark Knight Rises
  3. Argo: A spy story based on real events is going to be a hard sell but Ben Affleck has done it again. As both star and director Affleck has given us a film completely different to but as good as if not even better than his first two films. Tense and funny in equal measure and at the right times, a future classic.Ben Affleck in Argo
  4. Haywire: Possibly the controversial choice on the list certainly the “Marmite” choice on the list. Steven Soderbergh has crafted a B movie with an A list cast held together by Gina Carano, a former cage fighter with no acting experience. The antidote to modern action movies with frenetic editing an too much CGI.Gina Carano and Channing Tatum Haywire
  5. The Avengers: Joss Whedon has done the impossible. Bringing a disparate group of characters together to create an exciting and entertaining movie with just the right blend of action and comedy. Making good use of all the characters and giving the franchise a future, its far more than I expected from the movie. And he gave The Hulk the best like of 2012.Marvel Avengers Assemble
  6. Killer Joe: William Friedkin’s tale of murder set around a dysfunctional Texas family is often violent and repugnant, but it is also brilliant mainly because of a star turn from a resurgent Matthew McConaughey.Killer Joe
  7. Moonrise Kingdom: Wes Anderson has turned his unique quirky bittersweet eye on a coming of age drama. It is as funny as you would expect from Anderson, but it is more engaging and endearing thanks to fantastic performances from both the recognisable established actors and the unknown kids.Moonrise Kingdom
  8. Life of Pi: I was a little sceptical about seeing this movie, I had heard it was a bit preachy and how interesting can a film about a boy in a boat be? I also hate 3D. I shouldn’t have worried, as previous mentioned; the 3D is the best I have ever seen, the story is great as well as being stunning to look at.Life Of Pi
  9. Rust and Bone: Jacques Audiard follows up A Prophet with a bruising and brutal melodrama. Marion Cotillard is as great as ever as is her co star Matthias Schoenaerts. Sometimes oppressive and hard to watch, at others uplifting but always emotional. A film that needs to find a worldwide audience.Rust and Bone
  10. End of Watch: Written and directed by David Ayer,. Made up of little snippets of the daily life of a pair a of cops (perfectly cast Jake Gylleenhaal and Michael Pena) working one of the roughest beats in South Central LA. A tough, brutal and believable cop film like nothing that has been made in a generation.End of Watch

A note on my selection: I have only included movies from this year. 2011 movies that didn’t reach the UK until this year have been excluded. I will probably do a redux version when I have seen all the 2013 movies in early 2013.

Don’t forget, this isn’t a best of 2012 list, it is it is simply my favourite 10 of the year. So don’t tell me the list is wrong but feel free to share your favourite films of the year.

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As I work on my inevitable list of best films of 2012 I started thinking about Argo. Not the Ben Affleck film that we saw, but the un-filmed Star Wars rip-off Sci-Fi movie that featured in it. For as long as I can remember Star Wars has been essential Christmas viewing, but why? Probably because as an action adventure fantasy film it is yet to be surpassed. It is often stated that Star Wars changed films for ever, it certainly built on the idea of the summer blockbuster that began with Jaws two years before. All this is most probably true, but surprisingly Star Wars has never inspired a successful and credible action adventure set within a alien universe. The greatest failing of most of them is an unnecessary attempt to ground the plot in the reality or to earth, this is true from The Last Starfighter (1984) through to Avatar (2009). It worked for Star Trek as the idea of humanity exploring space was central to the premise. After its cancellation in 1969, it gained cult status, around the time of Star Wars a plan to resurrect the television series as Star Trek: Phase II.  It was a planned and quickly abandoned, ideas from the pilot were however saved and became Star Trek (1979). The  highlights of the film series that followed are: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991), Star Trek: First Contact (1996) and the reboot Star Trek (2009). 1977 star wars

The latest failed attempt of the genre was John Carter (2012) based on A Princess of Mars by (Tarzan author) Edgar Rice Burroughs. So uncomfortable in its own skin the producers dropped the Sci-Fi “of Mars” title from the movie shortly before it hit cinema screens. Telling the story of a civil war era gent who is transported to Mars that is going through its own Civil War. A lot of the story involves the fish out of water scenarios as Carter adapts to the culture of the society and then imports his own sensibility. Going back to the time of Star Wars, the biggest of the early attempts to cash in on the Star Wars was unsurprisingly by Disney. The Black Hole (1979) had a budget of around $20million, around double that of Star Wars but only grossed around the same as Star Wars took in its first weekend. There is a good reason, for all its technical accomplishments, the movie is just plain dull. I have seen it at least twice and remember very little about it. With a budget of around $4million Starcrash (1978) is certainly low budget but isn’t quite the Z Movie it is often claimed to be. Poorly acted with terrible effects and unintentionally funny moments it isn’t very good. However it does deserve a certain amount of praise as a low budget movie that has grander ambitions than many of its contempt competitors, it is also good silly fun at times.

Starcrash

The one success of the genre (artistically if not financially) was Flash Gordon (1980). The plot is a rehash of the original thirteen part film serial starring Buster Crabbe from 1936. One of the reasons the movie looks so good and worked so well is the retro design including long shiny almost phallic spaceships that were inspired by the original 1930’s comic books. The result is utter camp, the characters and the performances are totally bonkers and over the top in the vein of Barbarella (1968). All this was held together by a an equally camp and over the top score by Queen.

Flash Gordon

The story goes that David Lynch turned down Return of the Jedi instead opting to replace Ridley Scott as the director of Dune (1984). Unlike most people, I am glad he did. I first saw Dune on video in 1985 and loved it. A few years later I read the first three or four of Frank Herbert’s novels. It was the first David Lynch film I saw, I have seen and loved everything he has made since. The movie shares producer Dino De Laurentiis with Flash Gordon, that is where the similarity ends. While Flash Gordon is fun and camp, Dune is sombre serious but when you strip away all the religious symbolism, mythology and the ideas of loyalty and betrayal it is simply a story of trade and politics, possibly an allegory for the fight for the control of the worlds supply. The TV mini series is heralded as a superior adaptation, it may be but it is painfully dull, something the movie can not be accused of even in its three hour cut.Dune

Star Wars often plays like a western set in space.  This is where the genre has found the most sucess.  A film that took this idea a stage further was the Roger Corman produced Battle Beyond the Stars (1980) that took its plot from Magnificent Seven/Seven Samurai. It has a certain degree of pedigree with a screenplay by John Sayles, a score composed by James Horner, and the special effects directed by a young James Cameron. A similar idea had been attempted in the “High Noon in space” Outland (1981) with Sean Connery in the Gary Cooper role. Not a classic, but far better than its reputation. The best space western is probably Serenity (2005) based on the too short-lived TV show Firefly (2002-2003). It is still rooted in the reality of humanity but unlike the movies that suffer for this, Serenity plays its hand perfectly.Battle Beyond the Stars

The Star Wars prequels failed to live up to their billing, will the new Disney produced movies be more successful or will we have to wait for someone else to create a new Space Opera in a believable alien universe? Star Wars: Episode VII is expected in 2015.

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As film fans we all have our favourite directors. When talking about a movie I am going to see, if someone asks me the usual question “who’s in in it” I tend to tell them who directed it before answering the question that is actually asked. There are certain directors that I would go and see just about anything they make, top of my list has always been Martin Scorsese. Quentin Tarantino, Kathryn Bigelow (yes, I am the person who saw The Weight of Water) and Christopher Nolan would also be part of the exclusive club. When a new film is announced I will look it up online and check back from time to time to see what’s happening. Is it in pre production or have they started shooting, who is in it, who will be writing the script? I will watch the trailer online as soon as it hit’s the internet, then eventually the movie will open and I will go and see it within a few days of opening.Martin Scorsese Quentin Tarantino Kathryn Bigelow Christopher Nolan

But something strange has happened recently, I suddenly realised that I had a new must see director. Not that strange in itself, but it came out of nowhere in 2008 I went to see the feature début of an actor turned director that had sat on the shelf for over a year. The movie was Gone Baby Gone the director Ben Affleck. I loved the film and praised Affleck to have the sense and restraint to not cast himself. Two years later he cast himself in his next movie The Town. I went with a certain trepidation, this was unfounded. Although never a bad actor, he has never been a great actor and was still living in the shadow of Pearl Harbor, Jersey Girl and Gigli, however in The Town he was really good. Following these two movies I found myself really looking forward to Argo, going out of my may to see a preview screening two weeks before its release. My enthusiasm was rewarded with one of my favourite movies of the year.ben affleck directing argo

And so the anticipation begins. Until today I had heard nothing of Affleck’s next project when I followed a link from IMDB to the Entertainment Weekly. The short article was actually about Affleck dropping out of a movie called Focus about a con artist and his young female protégée (Kristen Stewart). The reason given clashes with future directing projects “including the thriller Tell No One and an adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s Live By Night”.

For those who don’t know Tell No One is a novel by Harlan Coben that was filmed (in French) in 2006 by actor turned director Guillaume Canet (best know in the English speaking world as Étienne in The Beach). Telling the story of a man who was prime suspect in his wife’s murder. Eight years later the case is reopened following two further murders. He then receives an email suggesting his wife is alive. In the great tradition of innocent men in movies, he goes on the run to clear his name and find is wife. Great performances from François Cluzet and Kristin Scott Thomas in the first of a series of French movies she has made. I have nothing to go on about the Affleck movie other than the title of the movie so am not sure if it is the same story but assume it will be. While I don’t see the point in a remake of such a recent and good movie but am sure Affleck would handle it well.tell no one

Dennis Lehane’s Live By Night only came out within the last few months and I know nothing about it. A quick look at the synopsis tells me it is about “A small-time thief in 1920s Boston”. More important than the plot, is what has gone before it, Dennis Lehane’s previous novels that have been adapted into films are: Mystic River, Gone, Baby, Gone and Shutter Island.Dennis Lehane’s Live By Night

It is interesting that at given Hollywood’s frequent failure to adapt novels that Affleck seems to not only favour them (his first two movies were based on novels and his third on an article in LA Weekly), but do such a good job of adapting them. Whatever his next movie is, and I hope both these projects get off the ground I am sure to see Ben Affleck’s next movie and given his performance in Argo and The Town I would be happy to see him appear in them.

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As I’m sure you are aware tomorrow will see the end of the world. We survived the end of the world and at the end of 1999 and again on 21st. May 2011 just as our ancestors survived a previous predicted end of the world in 999. This latest End of the World relates to the Maya calendar, but which Maya calendar, I have heard of at least three different ones quoted and that’s before we get to all the new age bullshit. So what happens at the end of the world? To be honest the Maya doomsday theory is little more than the end of their calendar, and what happens when the calendar ends? A new one begins! The end (or near end) of the world is a subject many filmmakers have explored.

Like many movies on the subject, (plot spoiler) Planet of the Apes (1968) explores what happens to survivors after the end of a man made apocalypse. Mad Max (1979) and its sequels (1981 & 1985) is vague about the events that led to the end of the world as we know it instead concentrating on the increasingly crumbling society. The Terminator (1984) uses time travel to try and avert an apocalypse. Hardware (1990) is a story of a small group of survivors living in a city living off the scraps of the dead and decaying civilisation. The Matrix (1999) combines idea of all the above movies and uses glossy Sci-Fi as a juxtaposition to the grim reality of the dystopian future. We never really find out what exactly happened in The Road (2009) but the world is clearly dieing in this chilling and melancholic story.The Terminator

Averting the end of the world is a mainstay of sci-fi, like The Terminator (mentioned above) Millennium (1989) and 12 Monkeys (1995) resorts to time travel to try and save the world after the event. More proactive in their approach, Sunshine (2007) sees a team of astronauts attempts to re-ignite the dying sun. the opposite is happening in (the terrible) Knowing (2009) as solar flares from an overactive sun burns away the atmosphere and incinerates the surface of the Earth. Both films have religious themes in their ending. Melancholia (2011) turns the destruction of the earth as a metaphor for depression. The under seen Last Night (1998) forgoes explanation and simply tells us the world is ending and concentrates on how people spend their last day.sunshine

Roland Emmerich seems to be trying to corner the market in world destruction. After flirting with aliens in Stargate (1994) he went for all out alien invasion in Independence Day (1996). No sooner had we survived that than America came under monster attack from Godzilla (1998) (if you haven’t seen it, don’t bother, just go for the Japanese original 1954 Gojira). Then the weather struck in The Day After Tomorrow (2004) before the Maya doomsday prophesy of 2012 (2009).the day after tomorrow

Following in the footsteps of WALL·E (2008) two of the biggest and most bankable stars in Hollywood return to an uninhabited future earth. Oblivion sees Tom Cruise as a drone repairmen on an abandoned and devastated earth after a war with an alien race. In After Earth Will Smith’s return to earth isn’t planned. This time earth has been abandoned for a thousand years until Smith and his teenage son (played by his teenage son Jaden) crash land and have to fight for survival. My only reservation, it is directed by M. Night Shyamalan who I have been less than complimentary about, except the underrated Unbreakable (2000).After Earth and Oblivion

Lets hope we all survive the apocalypse and get to see them.

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There is something special about watching a movie for a second time. It doesn’t hold the mystery of the first viewing but it brings a certain nervous feeling as to how it will hold up to the scrutiny of a second look. I must have liked it the first time to be watching it again, but why did I like it, is it as good as I remember? It’s a little like a second date, you are worried about things going wrong. Like a second date, it is the time when you make some choices, do you have a future, or you are never going to see each other again. I am not usually one to change my mind. Ryan from The Matinee, is a great advocate of re-watching movies you don’t like first time around to give them a second chance. He is a hard person to disagree with, not only are his opinions spot on more often than not but he is embarrassingly articulate in expressing them, however I still tend to trust my first impression and judgment when it comes to movies. With all this in mind I have just re-watched two of my favourite films from the last few years, Black Swan and Drive.black-swan-movie-1

Black Swan is pretty much as I remember it, the character Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) describes his take on Swan Lake as “visceral and real” that is how the movie feels while still existing in a dream like state. While it offers a huge debt to Italian giallo movies, it is its own beast electrified by amazing performances from Natalie Portman, (the underrated) Mila Kunis and Vincent Cassel. When I first saw Drive last year I described it as “possibly the most stylish movie you will see all year“ and “Brutal but mesmerising” like with Black Swan my first impressions where spot on. The movie is slick and stylish and elevated by Ryan Gosling’s equally slick but economical staring role. Both movies have now found a place on my DVD shelf and will be enjoyed again in the not too distant future.Ryan Gosling, Drive

How will this years crop of movies cope with the scrutiny of a second viewing. Due to long runs in the cinema and how much I liked them, I have already seen Skyfall and The Dark Knight Rises twice and enjoyed them both the second time around. Of the other films I have enjoyed this year I expect Argo and Moonrise Kingdom to be as good as I remember them. I look forward to watching Haywire and Killer Joe again as most people I speak to didn’t enjoy them as much as me. The interesting one will be The Avengers, is it as good as I remember or is my impression formed from the fact that it exceeded my expectations rather than it was good on its own merits? Only time and a second viewing will tell.

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