Archive for December, 2013

As is often the case, this is not a review, it is just a few of my random thoughts on a movie.

Having missed a secret screening and a preview screening of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty I wasn’t sure if I was going to bother seeing it. I am not a fan of Ben Stiller’s movies and can honestly say Reality Bites (1994) and Tropic Thunder (2008) are the only two of his I have really enjoyed watching (and that I have chosen to see more than once), interestingly they are both movies he directed and appeared in, so maybe I shouldn’t have been too surprised by The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. But, I really was pleasantly surprised by it, in fact I loved it. After all if an actor like Adam Sandler whose films I really dislike can make a movie like Punch-Drunk Love (2002) why can’t Ben Stiller who I normally just find a little annoying and not very funny make a really good film? If you are not convinced by Stiller, Kristen Wiig is always excellent and worth watching as is Shirley MacLaine even in a small part.the secret life of walter mitty

On his Matineecast podcast Ryan always does an “other side” movie. Once he and his guest have talked about a new release they each pick a companion movie. I find myself increasingly thinking about companion movies as I am watching new films these days, possibly because it was fresh in my mind from watching it over Christmas, but I believe Walter Mitty has a perfect “other side”: Billy Wilder’s The Apartment starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine (who also appears in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty playing Walter’s mom). Two uplifting stories of hope told through downtrodden people who are only downtrodden because they have let themselves get that way. Characters who find a better life because they choose to, its not a new idea, but it’s a good one.

Walter Mitty

As well as enjoying the movie, I was also taken with the giant LIFE magazine covers that decorate the walls of the publishers offices and would love a couple of them to hang on my walls at home. Clearly the Walter as an astronaut was a fake (based on a real cover of John Glenn) but it actually turns out most of the covers were fake, as described in the current online incarnation of the magazine: “the majority of the LIFE covers one sees in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty were never covers at all. The pictures on the covers in this gallery, for example — the launch of Apollo 11; Jayne Mansfield luxuriating in a swimming pool; a theater audience watching the first-ever 3-D feature-length film — are, indisputably, classic LIFE images. But none of them ever graced the cover of LIFE magazine.” you can read the original article HERE.Walter Mitty fake LIFE covers

If you haven’t already take a look at the movie, you may be pleasantly surprised like me.


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2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 150,000 times in 2013. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 6 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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the secret life of walter mittygravityNEBRASKAHBT2-fs-140204.DNGall is lostID_D47_17954.dngSAVING MR BANKSHow I Live NowOldboyEnders Game

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As I write this last blind spot post of the year on Christmas eve I thought I should go for a seasonal movie. I have seen most of the classic Christmas movies and have no desire to see Elf, that’s how I ended up with The Polar Express.

The Polar Express poster

On Christmas Eve it is revealed that a young boy is beginning to doubt the existence of Father Christmas. Just before midnight he is woken by a noise that it transpires is a steam train parked outside his house. Onboard the train he is joined by other children for a trip of a lifetime to the north pole.

I remember the movie coming out but had no interest in seeing it and knew little more than what I had seen in the trailer. As I looked for a little background, I discovered it is based on a book by Jumanji author Chris Van Allsburg. Considered a classic “Christmas story” in America but largely unknown here in the UK. Particularly admired for its illustrations resulting in a perfect jumping off point for the film adaptation.

The Polar Express wolves

Notable as an early example of an motion capture computer-animated, it is actually listed in the Guinness World Book of Records as the first all-digital capture film, a format director Robert Zemeckis would return to three years later for Beowulf. The animation is stunning in both detail and use. Combining the vast landscapes of John Ford with the camera trickery of Steven Spielberg. In its innovative style and production it is in some ways a cousin of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and Casshern that came out the same year. Both the most expensive to make and also the most successful, it was a modest success at the cinema, it has found its real home on DVD and television where it appears to have become a Christmas staple.

The Polar Express train

The story is surprisingly short and simple concentrating mostly on the train journey with one set piece at the north pole. Despite a few scenes of action and adventure there is never any real sense of danger or peril making the final result a little bland. The ending lacks the ambiguity that could have turned it from a full frontal assault on Christmas spirit into a more interesting story. All this is said from the point of view of a cynical thirty-something and not its target audience. For any of my criticism, the film probably only has one fault, its target audience is very narrow having little appeal to older audiences.The Polar Express santa

It may come across that I am trashing the movie, far from it I did enjoy it and I appreciate the innovation involved in its production.  However, for all its technical innovation it all a little hollow.  While the film isn’t without its charms, I can’t help thinking I would rather be writing about the film that is on in the background as I write this article, the Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life.

Check out what Ryan and the others have been watching HERE.

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Before I post my top ten movies of the year later in the week here are ten surprisingly good movies:

White House Down: The best Whitehouse home invasion movie of the year and much better than this years entry into the Die Hard franchise.White House Down

Mama: Effective and surprisingly good horror movie with a great performance form Jessica Chastain.Mama

Flight: Denzel Washington is immense and the plane crash scene is stunning.flight

Spring Breakers: A mess of a movie but an interesting an good looking mess.Spring Breakers

Oblivion: Despite the flimsy plot this is still a very watchable sci-fi movie largely thanks to the cast: Tom Cruise, Olga Kurylenko & Andrea Riseborough.OblivionThe Conjuring: James Wan’s horror is reminiscent of 70’s & 80’s horror and is all the better for it.The Conjuring

About Time: Richard Curtis’ time-travel rom-com is both funnier and less sentimental than I expected it to be.About Time

You’re Next: Another surprisingly good horror. It’s a little cheep and some of the acting is a little wooden but it gets away with it.You’re Next

The Counsellor: Don’t believe the reviews this is a great film that will people will come to like over time.The Counselor

Ender’s Game: Forget baggage and mixed reviews it is an entertaining and interesting movie.ENDER'S GAME

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miracle on 34th streetdie harda nightmare before christmaskiss kiss bang bangGremlinsChristmas-Vacationbad santawhite christmasIts-a-wonderful-lifemean girls

Edited to include an eleventh movie I originally forgot.

Edited to include an eleventh movie I originally forgot.




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If you take a look at the top ten grossing movies of the year so far there are seven sequels (Iron Man 3, Despicable Me 2, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Monsters University, Fast & Furious 6, Oz The Great and Powerful, Star Trek Into Darkness) and a reboot (Man of Steel). World War Z (based on a book) will probably be knocked out of the top ten by The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smug leaving Gravity as the only original property to bother the top ten. Do audiences only go in large numbers to see sequels of franchise movies or do studios only commit large amounts of money to existing properties that a ready made audience? The $825million taken by Christopher Nolan’s Inception proved that a totally original movie could make money, however it would probably never been given the green light if not for the $1billion The Dark Knight took. As cinema prices creep up and audiences become ever more selective, studios become more cautious making it a self fulfilling prophesy relegating most original ideas to smaller films. With this in mind, here are my top five original movies of the year. Original movies, not a sequel, prequel, remake, re-imagining or reboot. Also, not based on a book, comic book or true story.

Stoker: In the year that the remake of Chan-wook Park’s masterpiece Oldboy limped onto cinema screens Stoker proved to be Park’s best film since Oldboy. The original screenplay was written by actor Wentworth Miller. A weird, beautiful and sublime blend of melodrama, psychological thriller and coming of age drama. Budget: $12,000,000 (estimated)stoker

Gravity: Alfonso Cuarón’s space adventure about a pair of astronauts trying to find a way home after a collision in space is a truly stunning film and the first film that should be seen in 3D preferably IMAX 3D. Budget: $100,000,000 (estimated)GRAVITY

Prisoners: Great acting from ensemble cast and stunning photography from Roger Deakins combine with taught direction French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve making his English-language debut elevate this from a genre movie with an overt subtext to a really good film. Budget: $46,000,000 (estimated)Prisoners

The East: An original story of the murky world of private intelligence firms and an environmental anarchist collective. Written by director Zal Batmanglij and star Brit Marling. It is notable for great acting and its dark melancholic tone. Budget: $6,500,000 (estimated)The East

Pacific Rim: To call Guillermo del Toro’s monsters vs. robot movie original would be a stretch as it appears to be based on every other monster movie/comic book to have gone before it, however it isn’t directly based on any other previously produced work. It makes the list ads it is just great fun, pure and simple. Budget: $190,000,000 (estimated)PACIFIC RIM

Mud – the continuing renascence of Matthew McConaughey.
The Counsellor – Cormac McCarthy’s first screenplay is far better than has been reported
About Time – Charming and funny time travel comedy from Richard Curtis.
Blue Jasmine – Cate Blanchett, deserves an Oscar.
Elysium – Neill Blomkamp’s Sci-Fi action drama lacks subtlety but is still good

Check back at the end of the month to see how many of these movies make my top ten of the year.

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“The only exercise I take is walking behind the coffins of friends who took exercise”


Peter O'Toole (1932–2013)

Peter O’Toole (1932–2013)

I seem to be writing too many of these “In Memoriam” posts, with Peter O’Toole it is a little easier given both the length and fullness of his life. Both a movie star and a great actor, he was nominated for 8 Oscars (2007 Venus – 1983 My Favorite Year – 1981 The Stunt Man – 1973 The Ruling Class – 1970 Goodbye, Mr. Chips – 1969 The Lion in Winter – 1965 Becket – 1963 Lawrence of Arabia). After initially turning it down he received an honorary Oscar in 2003.

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Making the Case for Stoker

I have been disillusioned with the Oscars for many years possibly since Forrest Gump beet Pulp Fiction, The Shawshank Redemption and Three Colours: Red (nominated for best director but not best picture) to the best picture Oscar. Despite this, as a movie blogger I still take something of an interest in movie awards. As such a I recently had a conversation about next years Academy Awards with a friend who is move interested and excited about them than I am. The basis of the conversation was if Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks) or Sandra Bullock (Gravity) have a chance at winning the Best Actress Oscar or if Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine) has it sewn up. The conversation then moved to a film that for me is head and shoulders above everything else I have seen this year but is unlikely to be nominated for any major awards. Normally I would keep my thoughts to myself until my own awards next year, but Stevee Taylor’s “Make a Case for blogathon” caught my eye.

The film I would like to make a case for is Stoker:Stoker movie poster

Best Picture: A coming of age melodrama, a simple genre horror or a clever and intense thriller? I am really not sure what Stoker is, it feels very familiar and totally original at the same time, it is a weird beautiful and sublime movie.

Best Director: I first became aware of Chan-wook Park when Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) was shown as part of the Asia Extreme Season in 2002. A year later I saw his masterpiece Oldboy (2003). Since then I have taken a great interest in his movies. As much as I love Lady Vengeance (2005) and Thirst (2009), Stoker is Park’s next best film after Oldboy.

Best Original Screenplay: Second rate actor Wentworth Miller (the bloke from Prison Break) has crafted a melodrama worthy of Douglas Sirk or Nicholas Ray, a thriller worthy of Alfred Hitchcock and a teen drama worthy of John Hughes.

Best Actress: Australian actress Mia Wasikowska appeared almost from nowhere when she appeared in Alice in Wonderland and The Kids Are All Right in 2010. Her performances here is so measured and un-showy that it won’t even be on the radar of the academy.stoker

Best Actor: Matthew Goode is so creepy that he must be channelling Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates.stoker matthew goode

Best Supporting Actress: So often the star and centre of attention, Nicole Kidman plays a colder and more restrained character and plays it to perfection.Stoker

Best Cinematography: Shot by Chan-wook Park’s long time collaborator Chung-hoon Chung. The colours, shadows and unusual camera angles leave you feeling very uncomfortable, but at the same time every scene looks like you could freeze frame and hang it on your wall.

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As a movie fan I am relatively well located. Living just a short drive from the centre of a major UK city, England’s so called second city, Birmingham, I have access to many cinemas including a great independent and a multiplex with an IMAX screen. However I am beginning to feel a little short changed.

For the second time this year a much hyped movie doesn’t appear to be coming anywhere near my city. The first was Upstream Colour (2013) Shane Carruth’s long anticipated follow up to Primer (2004). More recently Blue Is the Warmest Colour (2013), the controversial Palme d’Or winner from this years Cannes Film Festival. Earlier in the year Amour (2012) received a single screening after it had won the Best Foreign Language Oscar. Had it not won, it is unlikely that it would have made it to a multiplex.Upstream Colour

Back to my local multiplex I mentioned above. They have over 80 UK cinemas. Five of them are showing Blue Is the Warmest Colour. All but one of the five are in London. While I accept that we don’t get as many of the smaller movies as they do in the capital, but if they are unable to show a Palme d’Or winner in England’s second city what is the point of modern technology? The modern technology that is supposed to make it easier and cheaper for cinemas to show more films making smaller films more accessible and available.Blue Is the Warmest Colour

Upstream Colour and Blue is the Warmest Colour are set for release on DVD on 30th December and 17th March respectively, I fear these will be my first opportunities to see them. I am also confident they will find their way onto FIlm4 before too long. This however isn’t the point, I don’t just want to watch movies, I want to watch them where they are made to be seen, on a giant screen in a cinema.Nebraska

Before you feel too sorry for me, I do get to see more films than many people and will most likely be going to see Alexander Payne’s Nebraska tomorrow.

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