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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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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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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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