Thursday, 29 December 2011

Reservoir Dogs

I'm undecided over Tarantino. Some of his work is mesmerising, with quirky dialogue and a well thought out story-line. At other times however he just seems to throw in some extreme violence and a massive amount of blood and hope for the best.

In part I think Reservoir Dogs is closer to the latter than the former.

The premise of the movie is great, a bungled burglary and a question of who ratted them out. Along with that the cast is phenomenal - a who's who of who you would want to have as a series of bad-guys if you were ever to be making a heist movie. The problem is that it doesn't seem to go much beyond that.

There are a couple of brilliant scenes in the movie. The argument over Buscemi's character being called Mr Pink is well-placed and not over egged as it might be in some films. SImilarly the torture scene is disgustingly well done, and for once I admire Tarantino for holding the camera away from the actual gruesome task - something that I doubt he would do in a more recent film.

For me though I struggle beyond that - how do I identify with any of these characters? Who are they and why should I care? I want some character development. I want some depth beyond Michael Marsden is a psycho and Steve Buscemi is Steve Buscemi. This movie could have been one of the greatest movies ever made if Tarantino had given it some depth.

All in all, it is a typical Tarantino movie. Some smart dialogue, some great actors, a clever idea and a whole bag-load of violence... but it is by no means his best.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

American Beauty

I remember a few years ago coming across a song called "waiting for my real life to begin" and at the time it struck a chord with me. I had finished university, was living with my then girlfriend and was embarking on my career as a teacher, but I still had that nagging doubt that something was missing; I was waiting for something.

Four or five years on that feeling hasn't really disappeared, except now I own my own flat and I no longer have that (or any) girlfriend. On top of that my job isn't exactly the most enjoyable (although I have taken steps to remedy that) and I am still trying to figure out what I want to do with the rest of my life. In essence I am struggling with who exactly I am and who I want to be seen as.

Which for me is everything that American Beauty is all about. A mid-life crisis for Lester Burnham is waking up one day with the realisation that you have no idea who you are, and all of those childhood hopes and dreams have not come to fruition. Perhaps the most telling line in the film is when his daughter informs him that they haven't spoken for weeks and he hasn't realised. He is sleep-walking his way through life.

I think the film resonates with me because that is what I am petrified of happening - that one day I will wake up and be middle-aged without ever having done anything with my life.

American Beauty is a fantastically well made movie, with possibly some of the best acting in any of the films I have seen so far in this challenge. From Kevin Spacey down to Allison Janney, I don't think a single person plays their part anything but superbly.

Every single one of them to me outlines a different part of that struggle of who they want to be and how they want to be seen as - from Suvari as the teenager who wants to be anything but ordinary to Bening who wants the outwardly respectable marriage. Every single character in this film is struggling with the same thing, the lack of identity or at least the struggle with being the person you want to be.

This is a must-see movie, and is without a doubt one of my all time favourites.

Lord of the Rings trilogy

I've tried quite a few times to sit down and read one of Tolkien's novels, and every time I have failed. This is largely because it was in the pre-movie days, when I had simply no idea what this strange halfling actually was, thinking that I had stumbled into a stranger version of Watership Down. Since watching the films I keep meaning to go back, but there is something missing that makes me actually follow through with it.

One of my targets for this holiday was to watch all three films back-to-back, because truthfully I think that is the only way in which it is acceptable to watch them. Which in a sense is part of the problem, the films can only really be admired as part of the overall story (unless of course you are a huge fan that knows the story inside-out and back-to-front).

For me I really enjoy the second film, but it requires me to re-watch the first in order for it to make complete sense, to remind myself who everyone is (although I do treat Pip and Merry as the equivalent of Ant and Dec - who cares which one is which...) and what each one is doing or has done. Which means that whenever I want to watch Lord of the Rings I have to set myself a good ten hour window in which to watch them, or at the very least three consecutive evenings.

Part of what I like about the second movie is that it is the one where it has the most potential to stand on its own (bar the scene with Gandalf and the Balrog), with the best battle of the trilogy coming at the end of the movie. With the first it is just setting things up for the rest of the story, while the third has the rather cumbersome task of tying up lots of lose ends in a very extracted final 30mins (and yes I know it is longer in the book).

I think my problem is that I am just not a big enough fan of Fantasy, or Tolkien to admire these films as much as many people do. I don't think they are bad movies, but they aren't the sort of movie that I would just throw on of an evening; you really do have to take the time, pay attention throughout and probably watch all three in order to get the most out of them.

All in all, definitely all three deserve to be in this list, but for me they are perhaps slightly higher than the deserve to be, and are definitely in the wrong order!!

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Shawshank Redemption

This is without a doubt one of my all time favourite movies, and I cannot find any fault with its placing at the top of the list. Everything about it is sublime.

What I am most annoyed about is that I don't remember my emotions or reactions when I first saw the movie over ten years ago. I don't remember what I was thinking as Red was sitting in his cell worrying about Andy, while Andy in turn sat in his holding a length of rope. I don't remember the feelings as the whole plot unravelled in the following scenes. This is a film that is sure to be magical when you first watch it - if only I could remember!!

Having said that I have now watched it about a dozen times, and each time I get that same warm fuzzy feeling inside. This is a film about hope, and is the perfect movie for when you are feeling in need of being cheered up.

The relationship between Andy and Red is wonderful to watch develop, and Freeman in particular should have won an Oscar for it (had this film not come out in the same year as Forrest Gump and Pulp Fiction). There is nothing flashy or showy in the acting, there are no theatrics or prima-donnas it is all about the story and how normal people cope with extra-ordinary difficulties.

If you haven't seen this movie before then there is something wrong with you. Similarly if you can claim not to enjoy this then you must be dead inside. Without a doubt a Top100 film, and my picking for number 1.

Saturday, 24 December 2011


I'm not sure whether or not it was my mood last night, or whether following up City of God with Amelie was a bad decision, but I really didn't enjoy Amelie. I thought maybe after some rest today I would be able to write a more productive (and nice) review but it is still beyond me right now.

I don't hate the film, I just feel that there are better rom-com movies out there that I would prefer to watch. Yes it is different, and there are some very touching moments, but I think it was just a bit too surreal for me.

Friday, 23 December 2011

City of God

I wasn't really sure what to expect with City of God. I wasn't sure whether to expect a Hollywood-ised version of slum life, like Danny Boyle did with Slumdog Millionaire (read Q&A by Swarup to get the actual story). I wasn't sure whether we were going to get a Quentin Tarantino style shoot-em up, with some smart dialogue. I wasn't sure whether or not this would turn into a Brazilian version of Gran Torino.

What I got instead was a simply brilliant and beautiful tale.

The premise of City of God is very simple - young people growing up in slums (or ghettos) across the world have few options to escape their dreadful existence. They can stay on at school, ignore all temptations and with a bit of luck find a job that will lead on to a better one, or they can get involved in gang culture. In City of God we see the difficulties of the former and the ease in which young people can fall into the latter.

The film is incredibly well shot, using a voice-over to narrate the overall story and to link individual smaller stories that contribute to the whole. Alongside that is a rather sparing use of violence to tell what is an incredibly violent tale - which all contributes to a very compelling story.

That is perhaps the best thing about the movie, it is compelling without being violent; it is moving without being overly saccharine; it is a genuine film about a very serious problem. After watching this I am going to be buying my own copy of the movie - definitely one to watch again.

Sunday, 18 December 2011


For the first time I made the dangerous choice of not writing this review immediately after I watched the movie. Which if last year is anything to go by then you are lucky to be getting a review at all! It is a bit like that phenomenon when the first cup or plate is not washed you can guarantee that it will be days before you wash any of your dishes... thank god for having a dishwasher!!

I love Rome. It is without a doubt one of my favourite cities in the world. The place is just magical. What I love most about it, is that unlike many other cities in the world, the history is incredibly important to it. Monuments to all the different eras that have had an impact on Rome's development are still in existence. In the UK you can pretty much guarantee that if these monuments were in a large city they would have been knocked down and some disgusting 1960s monstrosity would have been built over the top of it.

The Roman world is a fascinating era in history, particularly because there are so few accurate sources to say what actually happened. Most of the characters in Gladiator actually existed, with the exception of Maximus himself who is an amalgamation of several people. Yet what they do in the movie is merely a script-writers invention. Yes Commodus is regarded to be a weak leader, who had a love for gladiatorial battles - yet he was much more bloodthirsty than regarded. His sister Lucilla was involved in the period and made an attempt on Commodus' life which failed and resulted in her deportation to Capri where she was assassinated within a year.

So Gladiator the movie has some element of fact within it. But even if it didn't I still think it would be an awesome movie.

I couldn't disagree with Ebert more when he said the characterisation was vacant. Yes the actors could have done more with the characters than they did, but the subtlety actually works really well in this movie - a Heath Ledger Joker type villain would have detracted from the story-line. In fact from my perspective I think Joaquin Phoenix did a brilliant job as the weak and feeble Commodus, suffering constantly from paranoia and reacting accordingly. Russell Crowe plays a typical Russell Crowe character and there is sort of charisma surrounding him, which is exactly what the character needs.

Gladiator combines pretty much everything I love in a movie, a great setting, good acting, a story-line that sees someone lead a group to victory against a baddie... if only there was a place for Drew Barrymore in the film and it would be perfect!

Thursday, 15 December 2011

All About Eve

Today I spent the early afternoon trying to figure out what to buy people for Christmas. I'm not a huge fan of this time of year because I find it all quite false. We go out and buy ridiculous gifts for people of things that they don't need nor want. We all get together and pretend that we do actually like each other. We respond to everyone who sends us a Christmas card with one in return, even if we are in regular contact.

While hating everything, I do what I usually do at this time of year, I go wandering around the shops half looking for ideas the other half trying to work out what I would buy myself with the money I am going to spend on buying people gifts. Which means at some point in the day I will inevitable end up in a bookshop, where I will try and resist the temptation to buy myself anything - and today I succeeded... (or failed depending on which way you look at it!)

What always gets me about books today is that there seems to be a hell of a lot of copycat authors out there. Books that have the same basic premise of a story, or are set in a particular time period or place - and you can guarantee that they will all try and match the style of cover, hoping that you will accidentally pick up the wrong book. They even go as far to say things like "if you love Author X you will love this book that tells the same story, with the same sort of characters by this completely different and new author..." Is that really a good selling point?

Which in an incredibly roundabout way brings me onto the film All About Eve. Released in the same year as Sunset Boulevard, All About Eve has many of the same traits. Aging actress being threatened by younger talent or changing world and a slight critique of the industry itself. Which begs the question - why is it that we seem to have two very similar movies being released at the same time? Why is it that in all elements of life we seem to have fads?

What I think is better though is the storyline itself.Having said last week that the power-thirsty Citizen Kane was poorly done, we see in All About Eve a much better rendition of a Lady Macbeth character. Someone who is willing to do anything to get what she wants, to lie and cheat while all the time smiling demurely. Anne Baxter is not the strongest or best actress I have seen, but the character she portrays is sublime, and incredibly subtle until the big reveal towards the end. In fact I might have gone even further with it, and left it completely until the end, in an Agatha Christie style plot twist.

Having said all of that, I'm not sure that I enjoyed the movie enough to put it into my top100. It was alright, but I don't think it was anything particularly special.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Gran Torino

I'm really struggling to write this review. I'm struggling because every time I watch this movie I find myself a little choked up. I'm struggling because I'm not sure just exactly how I can explain my love for this movie.

One of my old flatmates used to complain because all of the movies I owned had a certain theme to them in her mind. I only seemed to watch triumphant movies, where after initial struggles the main character (or team in the case of sports movies) would come good. And to be fair to her, she was partly right.

I love watching movies where the faults and flaws of the individual end up getting resolved. To me it shows the idea that redemption is possible in everything. You can be a crotchety old man, with a racist mean streak, as Eastwood is in Gran Torino, yet still learn that not everyone is exactly who you think they are. People will always surprise you and many times do, or be, the exact opposite of what you expect.

I love the development of the characters in this movie. Everything is so simple, yet so incredibly believable - which is particularly remarkable when you consider that so few of these actors had been in a movie before this one. Eastwood is unbelievable - how he didn't get another Oscar nomination for this movie I will never ever understand.

His character here reminds me of Mr Fredricksen in Up, unable to cope with the difficulties of living in the modern world - or at least perceived that way by all around him. Everything seems to be different from what it was before, yet his life stays remarkably static. Yet it is entirely apt that he warms to the next door neighbours, particularly as they show respect for both themselves and for him.

Perhaps the only slight downfall in the movie is the nastiness of his own kids. I don't understand how any children brought up in the environment that Eastwood's character provided for them would end up the way they did. I just don't think their selfishness would fit with the way in which Eastwood would want them to be - perhaps if he had been absent from their lives then maybe, but in this movie it just doesn't quite fit.

All in all this is well inside my Top 10 movies of all time, and perhaps is even sniffing around the top spot. Beautifully made, beautifully told and beautifully acted.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Citizen Kane

I'm clearly not enough of a cinema buff.

I say that after having watched Citizen Kane this morning, and I am left feeling a bit meh, by the whole thing. I believe that it is one of those movies that if you have any aspirations to make it as a playwright, cameraman or director you must not only have seen it, but also view it as the best movie ever made. For me as a casual movie watcher I am just not convinced.

For me the hype of the film is perhaps what gives it the reputation that it has, which I am not sure is completely justified. I think perhaps if I had seen this film back in the 40s and 50s I could be overawed by ingenuity of it all, but in today's world it is just a little bit dated.

The telling the story from different perspectives is an interesting touch, and is an idea that I could see working really, really well. The problem is that while the story itself is interesting, there are many people (including Shakespeare) who do the whole power hungry thing much, much better. I don't feel that having got to the end of the movie that I am really seeing the level that Kane would go to, to try and make himself happy.

Interesting movie, and yes it is a classic, but I think there are many better movies on this list.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011


Wanky, pretentious with a vacant story-line.

The idea of Memento is a clever one. Someone having short-term memory issues, who is trying to piece together what has happened based on an array of polaroid snaps, tattoos and scribbled notes, is a very thought provoking idea. And perhaps with a better story-line would work incredibly well. My problem with Memento is that once you get over the reverse narrative, you are left with a great actor telling a pretty ridiculous story-line.

My short term memory is pretty poor so I try to support myself with numerous lists. I always find that if I am trying to remember something that I need to write down in full what it is that I need to do, I can't get away with knots in handkerchiefs and such like. So why then if this character has no short-term memory at all he writes such bland and generic statements?! "Do not trust his lies..." what does that even mean?!!? If he wrote things out in full then there would be no problem... surely he must realise that?!!?

Yes the film is cleverly made, and Christopher Nolan is a genius. But one viewing (or maybe two at most) is enough to get everything you are going to get out of the film. It does leave me with a lot of unanswered questions, but there is almost no way that these questions are ever going to be answered by anyone.

My biggest issue is that I think Nolan is trying too hard to make a movie that everyone is going to talk about. The interest is not so much in entertaining but in showing how clever he is - which admittedly he is, but it is not enough for me. I demand to be entertained!!

Monday, 5 December 2011

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

I find some of the decisions as to what has made this list quite confusing. Yes I know it has been done by random people on IMDb (which is clearly going to be a certain type of person), but how is it possible that only one of the Python movies makes the Top100?!?!

As it is I love the Holy Grail.

It is probably one of the smartest scripts in the whole list, managing to have me giggling repeatedly over some of the worst insults known to man! At times it is perhaps too smart for its own good, particularly the part with the modern day police force - although that does give it quite a cheap and convenient ending. Alongside that however you have some completely random parts that are not even part of the story that are just brilliant - in one scene a man trying to catch fish with a stick!?!

It does make me wonder what would happen if they were to make that movie today. How much of it would be censored? How much money would be thrown at it, and would that then change the very essence of what makes the film so great? After all if you can afford horses would you have used coconuts?

If you haven't seen this movie then you really should if for no other reason than it has one of the greatest scenes ever:

The Dead Collector: Bring out yer dead.
[a man puts a body on the cart]
Large Man with Dead Body: Here's one.
The Dead Collector: That'll be ninepence.
The Dead Body That Claims It Isn't: I'm not dead.
The Dead Collector: What?
Large Man with Dead Body: Nothing. There's your ninepence.
The Dead Body That Claims It Isn't: I'm not dead.
The Dead Collector: 'Ere, he says he's not dead.
Large Man with Dead Body: Yes he is.
The Dead Body That Claims It Isn't: I'm not.
The Dead Collector: He isn't.
Large Man with Dead Body: Well, he will be soon, he's very ill.
The Dead Body That Claims It Isn't: I'm getting better.
Large Man with Dead Body: No you're not, you'll be stone dead in a moment.
The Dead Collector: Well, I can't take him like that. It's against regulations.
The Dead Body That Claims It Isn't: I don't want to go on the cart.
Large Man with Dead Body: Oh, don't be such a baby.
The Dead Collector: I can't take him.
The Dead Body That Claims It Isn't: I feel fine.
Large Man with Dead Body: Oh, do me a favor.
The Dead Collector: I can't.
Large Man with Dead Body: Well, can you hang around for a couple of minutes? He won't be long.
The Dead Collector: I promised I'd be at the Robinsons'. They've lost nine today.
Large Man with Dead Body: Well, when's your next round?
The Dead Collector: Thursday.
The Dead Body That Claims It Isn't: I think I'll go for a walk.
Large Man with Dead Body: You're not fooling anyone, you know. Isn't there anything you could do?
The Dead Body That Claims It Isn't: I feel happy. I feel happy.
[the Dead Collector glances up and down the street furtively, then silences the Body with his a whack of his club]
Large Man with Dead Body: Ah, thank you very much.
The Dead Collector: Not at all. See you on Thursday.
Large Man with Dead Body: Right.

Random, bizarre, hysterical... and on that note I'm off to trawl for some more quotes...

Saturday, 3 December 2011

One flew over the cuckoo's nest

At school we have talked a lot about the idea of deviancy and normality, about what is quirky and what it means to conform. I don't ever remember coming to a conclusion about anything other than perhaps the idea that there must be something wrong mentally with someone when they decide to commit a murder. In discussions on racism the idea of conformity tends to be a really difficult concept for some young minds, yet they themselves are often the ones who wish to follow everyone else and not to stand too far out in a crowd.

So what does it mean to be a deviant? Why is we in society feel that it is okay to suggest that someone is not normal and perhaps needs their behaviours to be corrected? Why is it so difficult for some to accept the idea of mental health issues altogether? Or deal with the person suffering the illness as though they were either stupid or a leper?

For me One flew over a cuckoo's nest was an incredibly interesting concept. A man putting himself into a mental institution for the hope that he would receive an easier ride than what he would get in prison, yet discovers a world where those deemed mentally insane are looked after without any care for actually getting treated. The most revealing scene for me was when it was explained that of the 18 on the ward, perhaps only a third of them were committed with the rest being there voluntarily - why is rehabilitation not playing a larger role than institutionalising them?

The film is brilliant in so many aspects, the acting in particular is astounding - for me perhaps Christopher Lloyd and Danny DeVito are just awesome. Nicholson is perhaps a little too loose cannon for my liking, although I do like the idea that it may be more to do with trying to blur the boundaries between sane and insane (although I might be reading too much into that!).

I do however agree with Roger Ebert in that there are a couple of points in the film that just don't make sense to me. Why stage a prison break for all of the inmates when the basketball game shows just as much of the characterisation and changing expectations? As Ebert says, "it's an idealised fantasy in a world of realism" and to be it doesn't serve a good enough purpose.

The film is a great movie, it's not my favourite on the list but I can understand why it won Oscars right, left and centre (perhaps not for Nurse Ratched though) and it does definitely deserve to be in the Top100.

Thursday, 1 December 2011


I think I really do have something wrong with me when it comes to films made pre-1990. I automatically look at them and decide that I'm not going to like them, they will be dated and rather twee. Yet whenever I watch one I find that it is incredibly enjoyable. Now granted I may just be watching the better movies from that period, no real surprise there considering I am watching IMDB top 100, but there has so far yet to be a film from an older era that I have enjoyed.

In fact I could go even further and say that as far as most movies go, the pre-70s era are surely going to contain a lot better films as they have to spend more time developing characters and a story line and can't rely on CGI to keep people entertained. Yes we can have stunts and wonderful chase sequences but everything that you see in the movie has to have been able to have been done in real life - which obviously makes the film much more realistic, and in some cases perhaps makes the film a little bit more dramatic.

The film M reminds me a lot of an Agatha Christie novel. Everything has to be built up and explained thoroughly to make sure that the audience knows exactly what is going on. We need to build the suspense as opposed to relying on cheap gimmicks or brutal murder scenes. Furthermore this is all in the days before a CSI-overloaded investigation - so how do you catch a criminal without any clues?

Within M there is no twist, that perhaps Christie would have gone for, simply because there is no need. Almost from the off we know "who-dunnit" and the suspense is in how the police, the public and the criminal underworld try to figure out what we already know.

There are some wonderful scenes building on suspicion. When we have no idea who then quite simply anyone can be it, and how the public become a vigilante mob when they are threatened in such a way. There is also an interesting scene towards the end once the murderer has been caught and is being tried, and it looks like he is almost able to convince the mob that he is unable to control himself - it begins to look like many are starting to emphasise before once again mob rule takes over.

All in all this is a good movie, and is a crime-thriller done particularly well.