Wednesday, 26 October 2011


So with about 20 million, squillion things that I need to do tonight I decided that it would be more productive to watch a children's movie for the second time in six months. A few caveats to that would be that I hadn't decided on the list last time I watched it and the other would be that lovefilm decided that this was the next DVD that I could watch. 

I should perhaps start by saying I don't hate the film. It is not my favourite pixar movie, which will always be Cars (closely followed by Toy Story), but it is certainly an enjoyable movie. 

As usual with Pixar it is their attention to detail that always impresses me. The ability to make you forget that you are watching an animated cartoon (obviously the flying house is a bit of a giveaway in this film), but their characterisation, facial expressions and even the way they have things move about the scene. 

I love the relationship between Mr Fredericksen and Russell, and the reluctance of a grumpy old man to become taken by the effervescent youthfulness of the young wilderness scout. Perhaps all the funnier for me knowing a couple of scouts who I imagine would be exactly like that! 

The film is slightly more poignant that the usual fair from Pixar, but at the same time the story is beautifully told. It certainly makes me think about the childhood dreams I had and why as yet I have not fulfilled them... although I am pretty sure diving into a swimming pool of money like Scrooge McDuck would hurt a hell of a lot! Still a boy can dream!!

Does Up deserve its top100 billing? No probably not. Certainly not while Toy Story is missing. But it is an enjoyable way to spend an hour or two when you should be working... 

Monday, 24 October 2011


I know as both a Unionist and a History teacher I am supposed to hate everything about the film Braveheart. Unfortunately I just can't do it. There is something in me that just warms to the idea of an underdog realising their dreams.

What I can't understand though is quite why Mel Gibson decided to tell the story in this way. I can forgive the Hollywoodising in the introduction of Sophie Marceau even though she didn't marry the future Edward II until 1308. I can forgive the Hollywoodising of the supposed relationship between Wallace and Bruce, even though there are no records of them ever meeting. I can even forgive the rather dramatic death of Wallace, from the point where he was betrayed by a senior noble to the Scotsman's new favourite catchphrase "FREEEEEEDDDDDOOOMMM".

What I can't understand, and therefore as yet I am unable to forgive, is how you can have a Battle of Stirling Bridge, with no castle and, perhaps slightly more noticeable, no bridge.

Every time I get the pleasure of teaching the Scottish Wars of Independence at school, I am left baffled by Gibson's decision to leave out the bridge. The true story is the one that surely should be the Hollywoodised one? Arrogant Englishman try to cross a small bridge to defeat a peasant filled Scottish army and instead get annihilated - surely easy prey for a Hollywood director?

And once again I have got bogged down in the standard fare when someone in the know tries to explain William Wallace.

For me as a 12 year old boy living in England this film was brilliant. Not just for the atmosphere in the film, or the ability to slag off my new mates but for the fact that provided a gateway to discovering the true history of Scotland. I can't watch a movie any more without googling something at the end, be it the accuracy of the story or the name (and filmography) of one of the actors (usually the attractive actress...), and in Braveheart I discovered the joys of the real Wallace.

The film itself is triumphant, suspenseful and dramatic, even if it doesn't hold true it is still a great movie. I'm just not sure it is in Oscar winning territory though...

Sunday, 23 October 2011

American History X

This is the first film I have watched so far that would make it easily into my own Top 10 all time greatest movies, and in a way I am slightly surprised that it only made it to 38 in the IMDB list.

I often get asked by kids at school why people got taken in by the Nazi's. Why normal every day people didn't do anything to stop the persecution of Jews, or sometimes even got involved in it. I get asked why people were so racist towards black people in America pre-1960s. Or even simply why there is so much hate in the world today.

This film encapsulates how easy it is to follow, and how easy it is to follow hatred. When things go wrong in your world it is easy to look outwards for someone to blame, someone who can take that burden from you. Within the film the death of Derek's father, sees him disappear into a web of violence, hate and destruction. Perhaps what is more worrying is the ease in which his brother follows him into that world - without ever really stopping to think about what he is doing.

Ed Norton is one of my all time favourite actors and in this movie he is outstanding. In fact all of the actors here are brilliant. Elliot Gould's portrayal of one of the teachers is mesmerising, particularly his silent shock and lack of action with Norton's attack on his family - perhaps one of the clearest explanations of why little action is taken against a mob. I am also entranced by the performance of one of the black gang members at Danny's school, who (without spoiling the film for those who haven't seen it) gives a single look to the camera in one of the final scenes in the film that shows all the futility of hate, yet at the same time the lack of choice that many gang members feel.

All in all this is a brilliant movie.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

I don't really get Westerns. I don't understand in my simplistic world view as to why we should be supporting the "baddies" against the Law. I'm not someone who wants the baddie to win, unless it is against another badder baddie and they secretly all along are really on the good side.

Which is why I find this film a bit bizarre. I am meant to enjoy watching three bad guys relate to each other over trying to find stolen money. I perhaps am meant to identify with the "Good" in Clint Eastwood, who kills people and steals money, or identify with the "Bad" who does exactly the same (without any more sadism) or even identify with the "Ugly" who isn't particularly ugly...

I know I am supposed to recognise the futility of war as it plays out in the background to the main story - and I do. Which then would suggest that the main story of trust amongst people (and thieves) is then a better way to live our lives. Or maybe Leone is suggesting that it is all futile?

Either way I am just confused as to what Leone's message is to us - if indeed there is one.

What is good about this film is that the acting is very good. Wallach in particular as "Ugly" is brilliant, and anyone who can pull of a moustache like van Cleef as "Bad" deserves credit. The music as well is typical Morricone, and is brilliant at building the suspense. The ending too has the potential to be outstanding although I think it fell slightly short, particularly compared to other films on this list.

I suppose my final thought is a more spurious one, and is one that I can identify in many films and tv shows throughout the ages. If a gun in this film generally holds six bullets, why is it that no one ever seems to need to reload?!

By all means this is a good film. It is perhaps one of the better Westerns, although my knowledge is admittedly weak. I'm just not sure it merits its Top 5 placing.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

The Lives of Others

I really haven't been in the mood to watch this movie. I got it through the post about three weeks ago as my latest Lovefilm/Tesco offering, and I have found other things to do instead.

I'm not quite sure what it is about films in a foreign language, but they have a fairly negative reaction in me. That feeling is particularly strange because as yet I don't think I have seen a film in a foreign language that I thought was shit, yet every time I get offered such a movie a feeling of dread stirs up inside me.

Yet again I have been proven to be wrong about this.

Like many of the books I read last year the blurb seems to be written by either a complete moron or by someone who has never actually watched the film, and I think it was partly this that put me off watching the movie for so long. The blurb does the film no justice, it is quite simply one of the most beautiful films I have seen yet in this Top 100.

Yeah it does have quite a slow start, and it doesn't exactly hide what is going to happen in the end, but the way in which the film is constructed is just captivating. As the truth is revealed to Dreyman in the last 15 minutes you can't help but be caught in the emotion.

This is without a doubt one of the best films I have seen so far in this challenge, the story is beautiful, the acting is superb although what probably tops it all off is the soundtrack.

This is without a doubt a must see.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Pulp Fiction

There is something wrong with Quentin Tarantino. The guy is certifiable.

That may sound like a damning indictment of his work, but I am actually quite a big fan, and he is one of the few directors whose films I would actually look out for.

Pulp Fiction is made doubly better by the presence of both Samuel L Jackson and John Travolta, and (rather disappointingly) the smallest cameo ever of Steve Buscemi.

Tarantino's skill is in creating some very smart dialogue. For me however his real strength is in creating some very believable characters - which considering we are talking about gangsters in both Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction and the Bride in Kill Bill is no mean feat. I love the way in which he builds his characters, even bit part characters like the Zed and Maynard get some development.

For me this is a film that should be safely in the Top 100, and I think its spot a number 5 is probably fair. It's not a film that I could watch again and again but it is one that is eminently enjoyable every time I do.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Dark Knight

I've never been a comic book fan, at least not outside of the Beano. I do however have a massive love for superhero movies - unless M Night Shyamalan has had anything to do with them...

Nolan's Batman trilogy is up there with the best of them (although for comedic value Iron Man would probably take the plaudits).

The Dark Knight as the second installment is in a word Awesome.

From Heath Ledger's demonic and chaotic Joker, through Aaron Eckhardt's destroyed face the film is so well put together. Even Michael Caine manages to not annoy me as Alfred, and while disappointing that Katie Holmes didn't come back to play Rachel Maggie Gyllenhaal is a very suitable replacement.

It is always disappointing when plaudits are thrown at actors or musicians that are sadly taken before their time. But in the case of Ledger the only sad thing is that he can only win one Oscar for this role, and it was very much earned. Not even Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs comes close to the sheer sadism that Ledger brings to the Joker.

Nolan's trilogy is far better than the Clooney, Keaton, Kilmer versions of the 90s, and I very much cannot wait for the Dark Knight Rises (and not just for Anne Hathaway in a cat suit...).

Pan's Labyrinth

Okay so this year seems to be going just as badly as last year in terms of my project! I am woefully far behind in watching films - although I am being a lot better about posting up reviews (even if this one is a month late!)

I suppose part of the reason it has taken me so long to write this is that I wasn't a huge fan of the film. Yes it was magical and mystical, and I think had the potential to be simply wonderful.

I suppose I didn't really appreciate how difficult Ofelia's life was that resulted in her over active imagination. If you compare with say Mathilda in Leon you get so much more of the backstory that helps you understand the character so much more.

I also had difficulties with the "pitchfork" ending, but I won't spoil it for anyone who does actually want to see it.

By all means it's worth seeing but it wouldn't make by top 100.