Thursday, 31 December 2015

Film Watch List of 2015



How can I even begin to describe Birdman? I first read a small article about the film in Empire and was hooked. I saw the words, Michael Keaton, playing washed up superhero actor trying to make a play while being tormented by visions of the character he played. I was hooked. The more information surfaced the more it fueled my desire to see the film. The cast was brilliant and the director, Alejandro González Iñárritu was brilliant, it looked set to be a great film and it was, oh it was. I loved the early films that Iñárritu made and I remember studying his films at college back in 2006! Apart from finally getting to see Keaton back on form again, it was the story that had me. Set in a theatre on Broadway, going behind the scenes with the actors and various other characters, all connected not just by the play but through the strange creator, Riggan Thomson (Keaton). He has brought them together to create. His hopes of being remembered are put on the play he has adapted, written, produced, directed and starred in, as well as putting everything he has, physically, mentally and money wise. He has adapted, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver and even has a sweet story about his influence from Carver, Riggan is flawed but the question is, is he a genius or going crazy? Others might argue that he is unstable and no he cannot fly. The scene where he jumps from the roof but exits a taxi a moment later is odd but I believe that he did fly and that its not all bleak out there. It's brilliantly made film and I admire everything about it, not to mention the fact that it feels like the film has no cuts and it smoothly goes from one scene the the next without any jolts. An amazing film that deserves the attention its getting and it really funny. Cannot ask for much more than that or maybe a peculiar fight scene between Norton and Keaton, oh wait it gave us that too.


Inherent Vice

Those who said this film was confusing are wrong, sorry. The truth is, it doesn't matter. As along as you're watching the screen and listening AND you have a memory, you'll be fine.  A mixture of noir, psychedelic haze and good detective period piece, there is an array of crazy and colourful characters to see and its damn brilliant film. The only thing I don't understand is why everyone was making such a deal over Katherine Waterston? She was good but not amazing, it doesn't help that her character, Shasta is actually only there to start the story. In fact whenever she shows up, things slow down and halt the progression of story. Apart from a few little things that bothered me but didn't really bother me, I can't complain about anything, I cannot praise this film enough. Some have said it was 'hard to follow' or 'it was too confusing'. If you don't try to solve the crimes in this film as linear and just appreciate and watch the characters create chaos and some sort of conclusion, I think you will understand. 


Song of the Sea

Seals, folktales and beautiful 2D animation, of course this film was aimed at someone like me. The story is about Ben and his sister Saoirse and their father, the lighthouse keeper. After the death of his mother, who died presumbly during childbirth, Ben has always been hostile towards his younger sister who at age 6 has still never spoken a word. But when Saoirse discovers a white coat and lead to the sea by mystical fairy lights, there she discovers, after wearing the coat, she is a Selkie. After being discovered on the sea shore the next morning, the children's visiting grandmother insists the children live with her in the city. The defiant Ben decides to escape and make his way back home with Saoirse in tow. They journey home and discover and meet fairies of the myth and legend as well Saoirse's destiny and importance between worlds. Its beautifully animated and the story, so simple yet brings out all emotions. The seal and folklore aspects just the film all that more enjoyable to watch.

Suit Francaise

My friend and I went to see it like it was like any other war drama, but after the first viewing we were hooked. The film's end felt like we were left in suspension and for me disbelief that it ended. Again, I've read mixed reviews about this film, centered around the German occupation of France in 1940. A regiment is sent to a town outside Paris and how the residents and he soldiers live along side each other. We became obsessed with this film and story, as we both read the book the film is based on by Irene Nemirovsky, who was writing the novel just before she was taken to a labor camp for being Jewish. The film is heartbreaking above all but it was also interesting to see a different aspect to the war. Set just when Germany defeats France and takes over, the Germans are the enemy but are seen to be civil until one of their own is murdered. Along side the main story of occupation, there is a romantic element. A German officer, Bruno is billeted with Lucille and her stern mother in law, Madam Angellier. Her son is a POW and she treats her tenants with contempt. Bruno and Lucille share a bond through their love of music but it is, as always, an ill fated romance. Played with such subtly by Michelle Williams and Matthias Schoenaerts, the relationship is not sweet but delicate and works so well on screen, just wish they had longer scenes. The story's outcome and the outcome for several of the characters featured in the film is changed and ultimately damned by one selfish person. From this point on the story descends into the usual, way a war film does, its frustrating but not disappointing. By my friend and I reading the book, we searched for answers to see if we missed something. We both felt that the romance needed further attention and I personally felt the sting of the ending. I don't wish this often or ever, but I hoped for a change of ending from the book. And no matter how many times I watch, love, despair at the film, it will never change. Directed by Saul Dibb with the elegant touch that he previously had in The Duchess, I should have know I would have been depressed with the end. If you're wondering about the title, it is the name of the music that Bruno is composing throughout the film.


While We're Young

So many discussions were sparked from watching this film. After my friend and I watched it, we came out annoyed but satisfied. I thought the film would be about a married couple in their 40s making friends with a married couple in their 20s, but it was more and I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw. Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cordelia (Naomi Watts), both documentary filmmakers, in their 40s, no children are in a rut. Their close friends have just had a child and have focused their whole lives around it, or so it seems. Josh has been making a film for 10 years and Cordelia feels that this has held them back from enjoying life and being spontaneous, especially without the worry of children. They did try but that is in the past and seems too painful to go into detail. After a lecture he is giving, Josh is approached by Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried), he is an aspiring documentary filmmaker and she makes ice cream. Josh is flattered by Jamie's comments about his work and a friendship blossoms. Soon the couples are hanging out together, making plans together, Jamie even asks Josh to help on a film idea he has come up with. But its a Noah Baumbach film, nothing is smooth sailing. Without giving anything more away, I'll stop with the plot. I actually discussed the film on The Matinee podcast recently and what was said on there pretty much sums up what I thought about the movie. The characters of Josh and Jamie are at the forefront and the women seem to be less taken care of, Darby even describes herself as 'the girl to Jamie's hitchhiker'. The film is about creativity and integrity in filming which I really enjoyed as its not addressed like in a typical Hollywood style, it feels realistic no matter how annoying you can believe it. Another aspect I admired was that the film was about married couples and they don't have affairs. It was so refreshing to watch relationships that weren't about fidelity. I really enjoyed this film and in some small way relate to struggle that Josh goes through as well having met people like Jamie and knowing they are not to be trusted.


Mad Max: Fury Road

How do I begin with this Mad Max film? Maybe by answering all those, let's face it, men, complaining that the film was dominated by Charlize Theron's Furiosa and not enough of Tom Hardy's Max. To them I say, please do shut up. The film is not a feminist riot. Women, yes do take centre stage and there are more women than men in the 'main' cast catagory but why does this matter? Doesn't it show that films have progressed and that stories, even big blockbuster films can be about women too? All the films are about Mad Max and how he survives in the wilderness, but all the films aren't solely about him, they're also about the people he encounters. If you really want to summerise the epic film that is Fury Road, you could say its about a strong woman who saves three women from being owned by a crazy dictator. They all go on a road trip to find a better place to live. Also Max is there.

The film is more than these sexist views about the film. It begins with Max's story, then intercuts with two others, Furiosa who drives a war tank and Nux (Nicholas Hoult) a 'war boy' in the crazy dictator Immortan Joe's army. Max is captured and used as blood bank for Nux. When Joe realise that his prize possessions, the last breeders, his 5 wives have been kidnapped/saved by Furiosa, so begins the epic road trip/war to bring them back. Max, is caught up in another war (as you remember this happens quite frequently). At first reluctant, nearly driving off leaving the women stranded, but soons he is part of the gang trying to escape the clutches of the actuallt really disgusting and truely terrible being, Immortan Joe. The film doesn't break away and reboot anything, its stays with the universise of the other three films but on a bigger playing field. Everything from the machines, vehicles, costumes, the language and the just the characters themselves are brilliantly executed in screen. I only have a few qualms but they are just my own views (one is a plot spoiler, so I won't do that). It was mainly Hardy's choice of accent, it was part Bane, part American, part Austrailian, let's just say it was odd. If you liked the classics, you will not be disappointed. If you like road movies with violence, you won't be disappointed. If you're sexist and only like films where men take the centre stage, grow up, Furiosa is coming for you.

Far From the Madding Crowd
I've written quite a post comparing the 1967 film directed by John Schlesinger and the newer 2015 version by Thomas Vinterberg. Here is a link to that post.


Jurassic World

As a very big fan of Jurassic Park, constantly quoting lines, creating drinking games in it's honour and having a sister who has been dinosaur mad since we were very young (I remember), I really loved Jurassic World. Everyone has seen the trailers and posters so no need to go into story detail because some of the things not in the trailer was brilliant. Now that I have established I loved the film in all its dino, nostalgic, tribute glory, I can say now; as my sister pointed out, why did the children have to be boys? It was a great mix in the original, maybe the makers were worried of repeats but still why boys? Also, in the first film they both had skills. In this film, their scenes were tiresome, except when they were being chased of course. I think the makers of the film did the right thing, a new start, with Hammond's dream coming to life. Anyone spot Henry Wu from the original film? His character has a bigger role in the books so it was great to see somebody from the old days and it was refreshing to see that it was a minor but important character. The dinosaurs were superb, especially the giant beast in the water, made me think about the BBC series, Walking with Dinosaurs, still great show. Anyway, I have a theory that Chris Pratt has audiance charisma where you love him, no matter what. We now know the winning formula; dinosaurs + Chris Pratt x fun = box office office gold! It brought the franchise back to life, I was getting worried.



 I was honestly never a proper fan of Amy Winehouse, I like a few of her songs but for me she was better known for successful career and contantly being in the news. I think for that reason I found this documentary both revealing and distressing. We all know, she was a real human being, she was normal, she just happened to have a unique voice, talent, personality to match but she made bad choices. The film is well constructed, showing home and personal footage, with a soundtrack of her unheard work and songs we know too well. All the interviews especially for the film are voice only shown over news footage, media interviews and stills, it makes it more tragic hearing the distress in some of the friends' voices and dislike those who did nothing to help. If you were a great fan of her work, I would say listen to her music but if you're intrigued about the story behind what the newspapers sold, I would recommend this film. 


Mistress America

Oh Mistress America, how can I count the ways of how much I love thee? I think I fell in love with this film. I though I did with Frances Ha but this film was something else. It's the characters, the setting, the non story and the god damn brilliant dialogue, especially between Tracey and Brooke. The plot, so thin it doesn't even matter, Tracey (Lola Kirke) is a freshman at college in New York. She is lonely and not really enjoying her time there, she sums it up when she says 'I think by trying to fit in, I'm fitting in less' ( or something along those lines). But when her mother announces she's getting married and the husband to be's daughter lives in the city, she goes in search of her 'sister' who is Brooke (Greta Gerwig). She is weird and wonderful, selfish ans kind all at the same time. She has several different things happening but her main goal of the moment is to open a restaurant. 

Their pairing is perfect, Tracy needs a muse and someone to hang out with, Brooke needs to tell someone all her ideas and for them to actually listen be interested in her and Tracey is. The plot turns when Brooke, after money problems arise, goes in search of an old friend she claims ruined her life, from there it becomes this perfectly times screwball comedy that then sharply turns back to drama when Tracey's short story inspired by Brooke is read out. The cutting of ties hurts both women but we only really witness Tracey's downward spiral and the inspiration to carry on. The film is about these two women who are trying to fit in and get along with everything and finding each other, they find someone they can share with - sort of. As the film plays out, Tracey reads her story, which is inspired by Brooke, as a voiceover throughout and I love it. For me it reminded me of The Great Gatsby. Tracey is Nick, relating events, the observer and Brooke is of course the tragic Gatsby, but at least she realises her mistakes before its too late. I cannot express how much I loved this film and as a bonus Greta Gerwig co-wrote the story with Noah Baumbach, and a female influence shines through.


 A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night

An American film, set in Iran, written and directed by American Iranian Ana Lily Amirpour, starring American-Iranian actors, filmed in black and white and all the dialogue is in Persian (according to Wiki). It was dubbed as the 'The first Iranian vampire Western' and doubt there will be many more like it as this film could almost be the definition of unique. Arash, is hard working, his fancy car is prrof of this, but his father is drug addict and is in debt to local 'gangster' and pimp, Saeed. He takes his car as payment. Just after he has snubbed and mistreated one of his prostitutes, the Girl appears. She stalks him down, get invited into his home and drains him dry. This is theme, the Girl vampire goes after mem who mistreat women or nasty men in general. The first half is an intriduction to Arash and the Girl, the second half is a very gentle love story, ending in a bloody realisation. Apart from the blood and killing, the weird peacful tenderness that is shared speaks volumes more than if anything else more graphic or physical occured. Less is more here and throughout. Filmed in Calfifornia, it stands in for a Iranian ghost town called 'Bad City' which is again a very basic term for the people that live there and what happens. There doesn't seem to be any law enforcement around for all the deaths. The black and white adds to the delicate scenes, even the more bloody, it also makes the film feel otherwordly, that this is not somewhere familiar and I liked this. I would reccomened this film to anyone looking for something new to watch and anyone who appreciates art. I was pleased to here the film is being made into a graphic novel which will help the film story spread its wings, I just hope Arash and the Girl stay together.



I do like Shakespeare but I am more of a fan of the comedies rather than the tragedies. I studied Macbeth at school like many others and we saw countless versions of it, good and bad. I've not seen any of the Macbeth films apart from a filmed stage version. This film is both visually striking and beautiful at the same time which is an odd way to describe this violent play. This is how this story was meant to be seen. Everything from the cast, the costume, the setting and the beyond amazing scenary. 'Be bloody, bold, and resolute' can illustrate the mind and motive of Macbeth. I'm hoping most know the story of Macbeth, a play where the protagonsits (that's including Lady Macbeth) are evil and not people to cheer for. But if not, rather than me ruin it here, seek it out, maybe just a summary somewhere, but its best discovered in a book first then play then film. Sound snobby but I think its needed. I've seen a few Shakespeare plays without being familiar with the text and not enjoyed it as much at all.

The Martian

When this was first announced I wasn't too keen on watching it. If I saw it, I saw it. The trailer looked good but again, I wasn't too bothered. My friends were more keen than me. Having watched it, it was everything I expected, feeling an ache the whole way through, scrabbling around in my seat at the more difficult scenes, not enough Sean Bean. But it was a brilliant film, Ridley Scott has emerged from the Russel Crowe obsessed darkness, dusted off his alien suit and come up with an adaptation of the novel of the same name that is beyond the spectrum of the definition of survival. There are too many things to mention is a short paragraph, so forgive me if I ramble. After an expedition to Mars is cut short by a disaster, Astronaut Mark Watney is thought to be dead and the rest of the crew of Ares lll leaves to go back to Earth. But Watney is alive. To survive Watney oragnises the food rations he has while trying to gain contact with NASA. When NASA work out that Watney is alive through satalite pictures of the planet, they kick into action.

The film poses many questions, some being difficult to face. Do they save this one man for sake of billions of dollars? Do they ask a crew of 5 to risk their lives for the sake of one man? It sounds harsh but when you're watching the film, you start to see things from everyone's point of view, NASA, the engineers, the crew of the Ares lll but with Watney, its different. The scenes with just him are brilliantly done and the fact that Watney the Botney, he's a botanist, is that he has a winning spirit that is unparalleled with any other survivor. He doesn't sit around at any point, apart from one scene where he's watching Happy Days, he is always working, whether it is growing potatoes on Mars, writing out long messages to communicate with NASA or trying to fix a broken window on the hub. He is the key to all of the film. The intense scenes that I found myself squirming in my seat involve being stranded in space and floating around hoping to be caught. I find those scenes stressful. But that aside, its a great film, with a brilliant cast and core. As I said, Ridley Scott is back everyone!


Mockingjay Part 2

A year of waiting is over. This was the film I was dying to see. With such a cliffhanger from Part 1 and the dearly departed Philip Seymour Hoffman's role having to be decreased, there was worry. I absolutely love the books and I consoled myself with the audiobook of Mockingjay all year. As long as they followed the book I'd be happy and they actually did. To avoid spoilers, I will talk generally. Part 1 was about preparation and Part 2 is about war. I think the films weren't balanced well. There is a whole section at the start that could have easily been included in the previous film to free up space to some scenes that definitely needed more time. Some key moments were cut short, plot holes too. But the main bulk of the film was perfect. The first two films were far better but Mockingjay watch as a whole is pretty damn good too, and an excellent end to the story, I got my closure or at least I will when I get to see some deleted scenes on the DVD.  



I've read many articles and reviews of 'Carol' based on Patricia Highsmith's The Price of Salt and they all praise the film for various reasons, some different, but they all say, this is a love story, a simple love story set against a difficult background and at a time when things were'nt easy. Carol's sexual orientation is never said outright, it's implied. Therese is just starting to understand her own but again, nothing is labelled, which I feel makes the love story between these two women all the more meaningful. Therese even tries to discuss love at one point with her clueless boyfriend. He says he loves her but she openly asks if he has ever fallen in love with a boy, hinting at her own feelings for Carol. While Therese is almost carefree and young, Carol is burdened with a husband who won't let go and a daughter who she will do anything for. Her troubles hang over the couple at the centre and in the end become each other's undoing, until Carol breaks the mould and defies convention. She says she cannot go against her own grain. She illustrates how painful it is to live a lie and does her best to continue life the way she wants but what she wants is Therese. The film is beautiful, particularly when Carol and Therese first meet, but at times so tragic. The tragedy is elevated by the quietness of the film and the characters looks towards each other, so much is conveyed in a look. But do not despair there is a happy resolution to this love story. Both leads are brilliant in their own way, the fuss that surrounds the film is deserved and understood.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Inhaling in the New Year with 200 Cigarettes

Back in 1999, we were all waiting for the new millenium and hoping never to hear that song by Robbie Williams ever again. My New Year's that year we had family over from New Zealand, were all going crazy with the fireworks outside and generally having fun. I think I went to sleep soon after (I was 10 afterall).

Fast foward to 2007. Waiting to bring in the New Year, I watched 200 Cigarettes. I watched it before I went out, just to be clear. On the surface its just another ensemble cast, befitting the 90s/early 2000s, with New Year's Eve being the backdrop. Set in New York, 1981, New Year's Eve and a group of people, split into pairs/groups, wonder the streets, drinking in dive bars, slowly make their way to a party, where the host is going crazy, worried no one will show up.

The cast is a who's who of the early 2000s fame, plus Elvis Costello making a cameo appearance. The likes of Ben Affleck, Paul Rudd, Kate Hudson, Christina Ricci and Casey Affleck are among the cast, looking so very young. They were all directed by Risa Bramon Garcia, mostly known for being the casting director on various films and TV shows, but 200 Cigarettes is her only film director credit.

Why is the film called 200 Cigarettes? Well, its because, in total, 200 cigarettes are smoked in the film, apparently. I think on the second viewing I tried to count how many were smoked but was too distracted by the 80s meets the 90s costumes.

There isn't much love out there for this film, with a very low 28% from Rotten Tomatoes and earning such reviews from Roger Ebert as "Maybe another 200 cigarettes would have helped; coughing would be better than some of this dialogue." There isn't much out there either and with good reason. The characters are a mixture of misfits thrown into a blender, dressed in very stereotypical clothing for 1981 and thrown onto the streets of New York on New Year's Eve. The individual stories are uninspiring and rather predictable with a few laughs sprinkled on. But, for me, it encapsulates what New Year's Eve is, a complete underwhelming mess of colour, alcohol and mostly likely, a 80s soundtrack.

The two dimensional characters are easy to follow throughout the film as they do not stray from their given formula. The characters represent people we know, we may even be that character so their struggles we can relate to. The exaggerated costumes make it easy to remember that you're watching a film, one long costume party and while you're trying to figure out whom you are, you can admire the effort that has gone into the listless dialogue. Everything in the film, including the random appearance from Elvis Costello, happens for a reason and over all; it's not too bad.

For all its flaws, this film goes through the stages of how we all feel this time of year. We all want to hope for the future, we all believe in silly curses; we're just trying to have a good night out or in. We do all this, even though we know that when we wake up in the morning, the night before was just another night. But in true cinematic light, 200 Cigarettes, with all its doom and gloom of the evening makes things bright and hopeful. In most cases anyway.

Monday, 28 December 2015

Reflections & Resolutions

Of course now that Christmas is out of the way, now is the time to think ahead to the nxt week. New Year's Eve, the biggest anti-climax of the year. My advise, aim low and it'll be high. That's the way all my 'good' NYE's went. This year, its a simple, quiet-ish one with some awesome friends. That is all that's needed.

This is also the time where we all make resolutions that we keep until February and forget we ever made them. Then we make new ones before the Summer then forget them by September. I've had a look back at my resolutions from last year and in true tradition, I forgot what they were, but surprisingly, I actually kept to most of them as they were do-able.

I said I needed to write more of my novel. I didn't do that. But I did try to start a new one (I'm also laughing at this). I also wrote some short fiction and sent it out to competitions. I tried.

I said I needed to excercise more. I actually injured my back in February, on a trampoline and put on weight, so not great. But I fixed it. Then I hurt it again, as well as finding out I had shin splints. I spent the rest of the year doing physio. But my legs and ankles much better, my back on the mend, my friend and I went for walks AND I started pilates, I'd say I did something.

I said I needed to go on holiday. I did. I went to Cornwall for a week and it was beautiful.

I said to de-clutter. Well, I didn't really do this. All I did was sell a few things on ebay and sell my sofa.

Finally, I said I needed to branch out. I did, or at least, I feel I did. I won't go into details but I tried new things, I made an effort and I tried new ways of being creative with my ceramic classes. My aunts and uncles were given a few things I made for Christmas - just hope they like my weird creations. On a good note, I have contributed to The Film Magazine.

Over all, I think I kept to my goals in one way or another. This year, it's simple but far more difficult. Plus, I can't actually broadcast one of my resolutions. But here are the others:

1. Visit Helsinki - my sister and I planned a trip last year but there was quite a bit going on so we have postponed until 2016. Main reason is obviously for these guys:

2. Ceramics - I enjoyed it very much so thought, why not go back and learn throwing this time.

3. German - I really regret stopping my lessons but it became just too tiring after work. I want to go back to learning, maybe through another way.

4. Move Out - It's time. I've had to put this off for finacial reasons but I'm hoping in junction with my resolution that cannot be discussed, I can move out. Fingers crossed.

5. Health - this covers all bases, just to be healthier, that would be great.

Anyway, here's to 2016 - may be a great year for everyone!

Sunday, 27 December 2015

December Watch List

La Belle et la Bete
I had that there was to be a French film of Beauty and the Beast and I was pleased to see the cast. Vincent Cassel as the beast and Lea Seydoux as Belle. The story follows the original fairytale up to a point. The Beast's backstory is different, in this version, he was happily married but he was obsessed with hunting a golden deer. Even after his wife begs him to stop, he kills the deer only to see it transform into the deer. Then theres a bit about her father being god of the forest and he punishes the king turning him into a beast. Then theres a side story involvong Belle's brothers (note in the original story she has no brothers) who are in debt. They send the debters to the Beast's castle as it has money, jewels and other fine things. The relationship between Belle and the Beast also felt rushed which is a shame as the film is amazingly beautiful to look at and the story is an interesting adaptation. I think of the Disney one and can't help but compare. Still, if you manage to track down a decent version of the film, it's definitely worth a look. 3/5   

I've read many articles and reviews of 'Carol' based on Patricia Highsmith's The Price of Salt and they all praise the film for various reasons, some different, but they all say, this is a love story, a simple love story set against a difficult background and at a time when things were'nt easy. Carol's sexual orientation is never said outright, it's implied. Therese is just starting to understand her own but again, nothing is labelled, which I feel makes the love story between these two women all the more meaningful. Therese even tries to discuss love at one point with her clueless boyfriend. He says he loves her but she openly asks if he has ever fallen in love with a boy, hinting at her own feelings for Carol. While Therese is almost carefree and young, Carol is burdened with a husband who won't let go and a daughter who she will do anything for. Her troubles hang over the couple at the centre and in the end become each other's undoing, until Carol breaks the mould and defies convention. She says she cannot go against her own grain. She illustrates how painful it is to live a lie and does her best to continue life the way she wants but what she wants is Therese. The film is beautiful, particularly when Carol and Therese first meet, but at times so tragic. The tragedy is elevated by the quietness of the film and the characters looks towards each other, so much is conveyed in a look. But do not despair there is a happy resolution to this love story. Both leads are brilliant in their own way, the fuss that surrounds the film is deserved and understood. 4/5 

Bridge of Spies  
 I'm not Tom Hanks's biggest fan and I wouldn't see a film because he's in it. To be honest I'm not a massive Spielberg fan either but I like most of his films, I mean, Jurassic Park/World, it's pretty darn hard to beat Dinosaurs (but Star Wars did). The reason why I so desperately wanted to see this based on fact film about how a Russian spy was defended by a good and moral insurance lawyer who then went on to negotiate an exchange for an American pilot in East Berlin, a place where no one wanted to be, I wanted to see it because the Coen Brothers co wrote the screenplay. That's how much I needed a Coen Brothers fix. I'm too impatient to wait until February for Hail, Caeser! Tom Hanks is one the greatest 'everyman' character actors. He slips into James B. Donovan's shoes like a glove and I was honestly moved by his performace and determination to get both the American pilot who crash landed and the poor American student, wrongfully arrested. He wants them both, no one gets left behind. Although a little one sided, the film depicts the AMericans has being too quick to judge and not really thinking it through, except Donovan of course, it shows the Americans being far 'nicer' than the Russians and the Germans. It was too biast but a brilliant cast and story none the less. I was please to notice the Coenesque dialogue from the first few scenes, such great writing. I also noted, as did my friend who I saw it with, that the film was slow paced but still had your attention throughout, there wasn't a moment I looked at my watch. A slow moving thriller, it's something that you have to be skilled at. Ok, yes, I just really love the Coens. 4/5

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars is just such a big deal at the moment I will say nothing until the New Year and my thoughts on it. I leave you with my rating which is 5/5. I will write a separate post for the film.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Blind Spot: Double Indemnity

Almost all done for the year. My second to last film of the series I have had on my shelf, still in the wrapping since 2008. It was back in college when I started to watch more Film Noir films, even bought a book about it. Back then, I barely bought any film related booked, and that Film Noir book was one of my first. I was already an admirer of Billy Wilder's films, especially Some Like It Hot, I was raised on that, and so to my delight he had directed a Film Noir film that was, said to be, one of the best of the genre. Complete with brilliant typical voice over, femme fatale and a murder plot it was the perfect set up for me. But why had I waited 7 years to watch it? I have no idea. I suppose I wanted to devote some time to the film, give all my attention. When The Matinee posted about the Blind Spot series, this was the perfect chance.

I had actually seen clips of the film before but only what was included in Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid. I was still intrigued even though the story sort of resembled The Postman Always Rings Twice. But this was all about insurence. Oh and murder.

Insurence Salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray), by chance goes to see one of clients about motor insurence but instead meets his intriguing and beautiful wife Phyllis. She plays the bored but concerned housewife trying to trick Walter into letting her sign accident insurence for her husband. Walter sees right through her plan and guesses murder. But already under her spell, infatuated the two begin an affair. Walter eventually comes round to the idea of murder and the two plan the would be perfect plot. When Phyllis' husband 'accidentally' falls from a slow moving train and breaks his neck, at first no one is none the wiser until Walter's colleague, an investigator of claims, smells foul play. Soon the deadly couple's plan and feelings unravel. 

Although the film has very stereotypical elements of Film Noir, there are things that are slightly skewed. The lead male is not a detective or a useless drifter, he's an insurence saleman. The 'detective' role is Keyes, Walter's colleague who can sniff out any false insurence claim by listening to what he calls 'the little man' inside him. But although he knows something is wrong the $100,000 claim after thinking it over, he doesn't suspect for one moment his friend and colleague is involved. Unlike other Film Noir genre films, the story had a central friendship, Keyes and Neff. Unlike the be all and end all relationship of a man and a woman having an affair. The two friends, have some great exchanges and also alters the dynamics of the film. The little things make all the difference, such as the ongoing exchange where Neff always lights Keyes' cigars for him. These are welcomed. Especially as insurence is not the most exciting of settings.

It's not surprise that the film has some similarities to The Postman Always Rings Twice as the original novella was written by James M. Cain. As the film was made at the time of the damned Hayes Code, the original ending, double suicide, was cut. The ending that Billy Wilder planned involved Neff going to the gas chamber with Keyes watching but instead the film ended with the two men on the ground, Neff dying and Keyes lighting his cigarette for him, a gesture of friendship.

Of course the story is really all about the femme fatale in this story, Barbara Stanwyck, she plays ice cold Phyllis who plays three women technically. The unwanted housewife, the lover and the sinister killer. She has the ability to be emotional and pretend to show love but in one quick stare morph into a cold hearted killer. It's brilliant to behold the changes.

Another brilliant part of this film was the opening titles. A lone man on crutches. Combined with the eery music of impending violence, it not only set the tone but the anticipation until the voice over starts, as thats what the audience waits for. But this image, important to the story, is an ominous prelude which I thought was an excellent touch.

At last I got to watch this film. It's a tick on this list as well as my 'must watch more Film Noir films' list. A true classic I believe.

To see where it all started and for an excellent insight to film, have a look at The Matinee and have a look HERE for more Blind Spot posts from other bloggers. 

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Once Upon A Star Wars...

Note: This was written before I went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I have since seen the film, twice. It's amazing. I also tried to write a post about the new film but I ended up having to redact everything.

Seeing as Star Wars: The Force Awakens is soon to be upon us, I, like any other film blogger out, am going to cast my mind back to yester year when I first saw Star Wars.

To be honest, I don't actually remember when exactly it was. But I remember seeing the film taped off the TV, my family were great for taping movies not buying them, except Disney. It has advert breaks too and it was an old brown TV with an ancient VHS player. Things were slightly out of focus (I swear) or maybe just softer. And in true family tradition, I saw The Empire Strikes Back first. I didn't actually see A New Hope until much later. This happened with quite a few films, hence the tradition. I seemed to watch Ghostbusters 2 first, The Temple of Doom first, Back to the Future 2 first. It's odd that.

Of course, having grown up on such delights as 80's, 70s and 90s movie classics as well as a few random choices into the mix. I was also brought up on a catalogue full of old 'black and white' movies, especially the Marx Brothers films. With excellent film education, of course I loved Star Wars.

The fact it was a story or saga set in space didn't even enter my mind. All I saw were ships, lightsabers, aliens, Chewie yelling, hating Lando and getting very distressed when Luke lost his hand. The famous line, 'I am your father', was just a line to me then. I hadn't grasped how big a plot point this was, even after I watched Return of the Jedi. Watching all three together, the penny dropped.

After I saw the whole trilogy I'm afraid I didn't run out and buy lots of merchandise, I wasn't obsessed. I did all that when I was 13 years old with Lord of the Rings. But I did frequently watch the Star Wars films over and over until the Empire Strikes Back video jumped in places. But my parents still refused to buy the real videos.

Years later, going to college and Uni, I met others who grew up on Star Wars and, after years in secondary school where they all thought I liked 'boys' films, I was free to talk Star Wars as much as possible. I got more into the Star Wars universe but shamefully, I still don't own any of the DVDs. Yet. I was put off massively by the prequel films which I dislike intently. Then again by the added CGI garb added to the original trilogy.

The 'hype' of the new trilogy, or at least the new film was felt by everyone, or anybody who ever liked, watched, remembered Star Wars and what a huge effect it had on everyone. I swear every year at London Comic cons people go crazy for the films and there are always dozens of talks, signings and such things to keep Star Wars fresh in our minds. Obviously this year was the lead up to one of the best films of the year. Or set to be one of the best films of the year.

My friends are Star Wars fans and my sister is a Star Wars fans, my brother-in-law is also a Star Wars fan. Even my physio is a Star Wars fan. In a way its comforting to be able to completely geek out about these films with everyone. Free from the judgement of secondary school, its just a breath of fresh air. I was able to go completely crazy of The Hobbit without many people thinking I was odd. Star Wars is just such a huge phenomemnon it cannot be ignored and any lover of sci-fi and films has a special place for Star Wars.

This seems to be turning into 'what Star Wars means to me' but I just wanted to share the first time I saw the films and how theu have evolved for me. Like any super nerd, I pre-booked tickets for the film and I actually wanted to see it in IMAX, the Force demanded it. Once I've seen it, I won't post a review at the risk of spoiling anything. But I am super excited!

To all Star Wars fans - may the Force be with you and you love the film.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Thursday Movie Picks: Family Get-Together/Reunions

Don't forget to check out what Wandering Through the Shelves picked, the blog that started Thursday Movie Picks. 

Families seem to gather for only a few reasons, funerals, weddings, births, Christmas and when someone returns home.  Or in the case of one pick, all of the above.

This Is Where I Leave You
Funerals are always a place where family are together. Unfortunately I know this from personal experience. There's the joy of seeing family you don't often see but then there's the sad reason why you're together. This film had the bitter sweet effect. Similar to Parenthood, the siblings aren't estranged, but there are the typical one. Three brothers, one sister, one is responsible taking on the family business. One has just ended a marriage after his wife cheated on him. One has all the children and in an unhappy marriage. And then theres the 'black sheep' lazy one. Everyone has a part and they come together dealing with their father's death in different ways. As with death, revelations are made, truths come out and not everyone is happy in the end.

8 Women 

This story is brilliant. All women, set in the 50s, Christmas time, murder mystery and theres music. Unfortunately, only half the songs are good. Of course its based on a play and it feels like it too the way the set is laid out and with the finale bow at the end. The film takes in a homecoming, the eldest daughter, Christmas time and a death. The death is unexpected but its what draws everyone in. It's a 'who done it' with several marvelous twists. And, yes they're all family (except the maid).

Technically this Ron Howard film is one long gathering as the siblings and their families live close by and are always gathering together. Four siblings, each with out their own issues, family, children, jobs, debt and money problems, but as I said they always gather togteher, even for births.