Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Black Swan

I thought watching this movie for a second time would be much easier, but truthfully the second viewing was perhaps more uncomfortable than watching the first time. This is the definition of a psychological thriller perhaps even more for the viewer than for Natalie Portman's character. 

The film leaves me somewhat undecided about it's merits. Films are generally supposed to be enjoyable affairs that allow the viewer to escape reality for a short-time, to be entertained and perhaps find some solace with the characters. If this is the case then Black Swan really does not merit it's placing anywhere near the Top100. 

On the technical side however this film is possibly one of the best movies ever made. It is incredibly uncomfortable watching someone have a breakdown in front of you in the space of two hours. Even on second viewing when you know what is going to happen there were times where not only did I avert my eyes but I actually left the room. This film is so powerful that it has to be including in this list. 

Portman to me is fantastic in the role. Her portrayal of the character is so believable that it is hard to remember at times that she is acting. From the timid and vapid character to begin with to the dauntless alter-ego of the black swan everything about her role is so beautifully created. 

This is not a movie I think I could watch a third time, but is certainly a movie you have to watch once, and maybe if you are brave a second time. 

Monday, 9 April 2012

Apocalypse Now

First up is a confession that I cheated here and watched the Redux version as opposed to the original, so my view may be slightly tainted by the additional footage - but I owned the Redux version so figured why not!

For the first two hours or so this movie is brilliant. From the opening scene with Martin Sheen struggling to adapt to life outside of the jungle to the murder on the Sampan, it shows everything you ever need to know about war (and not just in Vietnam) and explains the difficulties of it all so well.

The characters you meet throughout the movie are so incredibly real, that even when they are on screen for a short period of time you feel that you know exactly who they are and why they are the way there are. Duvall's portrayal of Kilgore in particular is just awesome: down to his lack of reaction to the dropping bombs and his refusal to give up on his lost surfboard, everything is taken into consideration.

Similarly the river travel scenes are beautifully constructed, showing perfectly well the fluctuating demands of the soldiers - massive periods of inactivity that are interjected with sudden demands that require instant alertness. Both the Sampan scene and the period just after they receive the mail are just brilliant.

You will probably notice however that I have only really complemented the first couple of hours (on the Redux version), and that is because I just don't get the Marlon Brando part of the movie.

When I read Heart of Darkness the character's backstory made sense, Kurtz had to be in that place and therefore his position as a demi-god to the natives made sense. In the film I just don't buy it. Yes Kurtz has gone rogue, and yes he may have disappeared into the wild, but why does he still continue to do battle in the way that he does? Why does he react to Willard the way that he does?

I just don't get it, which is a shame considering how good the film was up until that point.

This is a brilliant movie for at least the first two thirds and is then let down a little. Definitely worth watching for no other reason than you get to see exactly how a war movie should be made.

Singin in the Rain

The best thing about this year's challenge has been discovering some movie classics. I genuinely didn't think I was going to enjoy these films, worrying that they would pale in comparison to today's movies. What I suppose I had forgotten was that in the 1950s and 60s there was very little in the way of special effects, so what you could do is what you could get.

Singin' in the Rain entertains with a very simple story-line, great characters and some wonderful touches. Yes everyone remembers the film because of the scene with Gene Kelly tap-dancing down the street (perhaps more for the Morecambe and Wise version?) but the film is much more than that.

Perhaps my only slight criticism is just how long the songs and dances go on for, which is why this film has become such a success on the stage. For the movie however there are times where for me the musical elements are just ever so slightly too long and begin to make the story drag - I'm thinking particularly the scene where Don is getting elocution lessons, where the dance seems to go on forever!

However the humour is good, and I love the little touches that highlight the difficulties of those early talkie days and the power that the studios had over their actors. This is a great movie and definitely worthy of it's placing in this list.

Star Wars: A New Hope and Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back

I really wish I had been born when Star Wars was first released. It seems to be one of those movies that changed the way that the film industry worked and had a massive impact upon the directors that made the movies that defined my childhood. Which means that I don't really see the allure of the trilogy in the same way that perhaps someone born in the 60s and 70s would.

I can appreciate the groundbreaking use of technology and the attention to the detail in the aesthetics of the movie. The problem is that for me the story itself and the detail in the characterisation is nothing more than superficial. The prequel trilogy does go someway to explain most of what is going on, but those movies were twenty years later in being made and as such is not a defense for the first three films.

At times I'm caught trying to figure out whether these movies are supposed to be serious or humourous. Should I be looking for the moral message in the fight between good and evil, or look for meaning in the use of the force by the Jedis? Or should I be laughing along with the Muppet-aliens and the corny script?

The corniest part of the two movies under review here is definitely the final scene of the New Hope, where we see Han Solo and Luke Skywalker awarded medals for their service. The medal ceremony I can just about forgive, but the rousing soundtrack and cheesy smiles between the characters is just too much - particularly when R2D2 shuffles on - was there really any need?!?

I can understand the cultural heritage, and the historical impact that this series of movies had on the industry, but for me it is a movie that appears in this list because of it's impact upon those who saw it when it was first released. This is one of those movies that you like because it reminds you of your youth which is why BMX Bandits will always trump Star Wars for me.

Definitely worth seeing if you haven't done so before, but don't expect the greatest movies ever made.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

To Kill a Mockingbird

There are some books that just shouldn't be made into films. This is without a doubt one of them.

From start to finish this film makes a travesty of one of the best books ever written. The book provides suspense and drama with a beautiful well-paced story. The film tries to condense the story into two hours and in doing so misses almost everything that makes this story great.

There is no tension, or any real discovery by Jem and Scout, over the racial issues that exist in 1930s America. Boo Radley is just a bizarre character that has just been added on to make the book's ending make sense (although it fails at that!). While characters are never introduced nor developed.

Now yes I understand that this is supposed to be told from the perspective of a six year old child so I shouldn't expect a perfect story (unreliable narrator and all that crap). But I would really appreciate some development of Scout's character, some understanding of who she was and who she becomes. The book manages this well, the film is quite frankly pathetic in its attempts.

Gregory Peck is perhaps the only enjoyable part of this movie, and he was well deserving of his Oscar. Sadly for me it wasn't nearly enough to merit this movie being anywhere near a Top 100.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Taxi Driver

Taxi Driver has given me a great idea for a new challenge - the worst first dates ever. Now I am already fairly well versed on how to be pretty bad at the whole dating game, but the ingenuity of thinking that a porn movie was an acceptable option goes far beyond my own powers. Bravo that man. But can I top it?

Aside from all that Taxi Driver was a very interesting movie that depicts quite well the solitude and loneliness that can affect us all at some point in our life. As de Niro's character battles through life and tries to determine its purpose you get glimpses of the frustration of existence.

The whole thing climaxes in two great scenes, firstly as Bickle attempts to assassinate the Senator and then as he runs amok in the brothel. The level of violence would usually be too much for me, but in this film sits quite well - depicting the brutality and perhaps worhtlessness of life. What I struggle with though is why Scorcese felt the need to continue the film after the brothel scene - does it really add anything to the movie?

Robert de Niro is simply fantastic in this movie, and it is without a doubt one of the greatest acting roles ever delivered. He manages to portray a social outcast and misfit in such a way that you feel both sorry and appalled at him in fairly equal measure.

The film is definitely worth seeing for the acting alone, but for me the story-line could be a little better to live up to quite a clever portrayal of human suffering.


I think what stands out most for me when watching Se7en is the subtlety. There is no attempt to glamourise the violence, nor indeed horrify the watcher through the brutality of the deaths. What you see is what you get, and that is what makes this film so thrilling and shocking.

The power of the story is that it is not contrived. There are far better "cop films" out there, which play to the usual stereotypes and give you exactly what you expect - the "I'm too old for this shit" senior cop alongside the young rookie who shoots first asks questions later. What you get with Pitt and Freeman are two incredibly believable performances by two of the best actors in the business. Their relationship and how they go about their investigations just work so well together without falling into the same trap of every other cop movie.

What brings the film from being a good movie into being a truly great movie is the presence of the best actor of this generation as the villain of the piece. Kevin Spacey is just sublime. For the last twenty minutes of this movie watching Spacey and Pitt bounce of each other is just movie gold - even despite the fact that I knew what was coming next it is still heaping on the suspense while doing very little but talking.

To me what brings this movie into my Top 10 is perhaps one of the most mesmerising endings in a movie. Ever. I am so pleased that they chose to go with the version that they did - the alternatives would have brought this movie right back down to a stereotypical cop film - and the sheer ingenuity of it all is just brilliant.

This is an awesome movie, with some outstanding actors and a truly great storyline.

Full Metal Jacket

Okay so I fell behind a little in the updating of the blog and I have about 15 movies to review! Thankfully I made a few notes on each one, although truthfully I have no idea what some of them actually mean so this might be quite short!!

The opening to Full Metal Jacket is brilliant. In particular I loved the sadistic nature of the Drill Instructor and how he cajoles and tortures these young men into the soldiers he needs them to be. The problem being that some recruits are just not cut out for military life and we see a truly disturbing climax to training with the killing of Hartmann and the suicide of Pyle.

The second part of the movie for me is less clear and I admit I got a little lost in what Kubrick is trying to show us here. It lacks any real message and seems to just be an excuse for showing some fighting and the usual collapse of discipline when the leaders get killed.

The brainwashing of the recruits and to an extent the futility of war expressed throughout the second half get this movie into the Top 100. After all for Vietnam who the individuals were and what they were fighting for were never really important - what mattered was that they were there.