My 10 favourite films of the year: A failed attempt at objectivity

With the year drawing to a close and these lists springing up everywhere, I thought why not get on the band wagon (and potentially be the straw that broke the camels back).

FULL DISCLOSURE: I haven’t scene Star Wars yet or the Oscar race films such as Spotlight, Danish Girl and the Revenant which are not out in the UK yet.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS:

Ant-Man, Avengers: Age Of Ultron and Spectre (reviews in hyperlinks below)

Ant-Man was a breath of fresh air into the MCU; small scale, charming and genuinely funny and entertaining.

Age of Ultron (MCU’s main poster child for the year) was a good solid entry into the Marvel cannon. Great performances and cast additons and an entertaining story. The main problem was the expected overcrowding and (what I suspect) are extra bits stuffed into the film at the studios request. Everything was done well, just not as well as the original.

I feel like taking the best elements of Skyfall and Spectre would make a near perfect movie, sadly separately they are both just good. Spectre also criminally underused Christoph Waltz as Blofeld, a missed opportunity if there ever was one.

These films were all good, just not quite enough to make it into the top 10.

Onwards and upwards:

10) It Follows (David Robert Mitchell)

There is a full review to come with this one but to summarize… a brilliant and original concept which sheds some interesting light on modern day attitudes towards sex and sexuality. Couple that with a very creepy, John Carpenter-esque score, great acting and some genuine scares makes for one of the best horror/thriller films in a long time.

I couldn’t choose between these next two and couldn’t leave them out (hence my failure at objectivity).

9)…B)  Macbeth (Justin Kurzel)

Possibly the most picturesque and beautiful film this year? Either way it is a masterpiece in cinematography and the rest of the film ain’t too shabby either.

9)…A) Slow West (John Maclean)

Maybe this film coud revive the dying Western genre? All I know is that its slow build, short run time, pointed dialogue and brilliant characters make for wonderful film.

FUN FACT: This is the 2nd best tourism add for New Zealand behind The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy.

Click here for my full review!

8) Beasts Of No Nation (Cary Fukunaga)

Brutal and beautiful visuals, difficult subject matter and some astounding acting. This really was the best way Netflix’s original movie platform could have started.

Here is my full review.

7) Jurassic World (Colin Trevorrow)

My second failure at objectivity. Jurassic Park is one of my favourite films of all time, as I am dinosaur obsessed. Jurassic World, although not as good as the original, certainly lived up to the hype and was thoroughly entertaining. Took me back to when I first saw Jurassic Park.

Here is my full review.

6) Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (Christopher McQuarrie)

Somehow the 4th and 5th entries of this franchise are arguably on/above-par with the original. This is certainly helped by the continually growing all-star cast and a sensational performance by Rebecca Ferguson. Ludicrous stunts, a clever plot and a good story make this one of the best action films of the year.

Full review here.

5) Brooklyn (John Crowley)

This film, based on Colm Toibin’s book, is really a show case of Saorise Ronan’s ability. Despite her young age, she delivered an exceptional performance with depth and subtlety; she says more with one look than most can with a conversation. The screenplay is great and bolstered by a strong supporting cast and direction. This is a great film and deserves all the praise it is receiving.

4) The Martian (Ridley Scott)

Once again we are off to save Matt Damon (see Interstellar, Saving Private Ryan etc)! This is funny, smart and brilliantly helmed by Damon as stranded astronaut Mark Watney. A scene stealing performance from Donald Glover as the scientific whiz kid back on Earth is also worth a nod.

This scene says it all:

 

3) Carol (Todd Haynes)

This film is a beautiful piece of art. Haynes completely immerses  you in this gorgeous 50’s world allowing you to focus on the truly remarkable performances by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. This film could have very easily become politicized, after all it is about a tale of love between two women in the 1950’s and the difficulties they face and could well still face today. Instead, however, gender doesn’t feature into this, it is just a story about two people falling in love and trying to make it work. Making it all the more beautiful.

2) Ex Machina (Alex Garland)

The directorial debut from the writer of 28 Days Later is impressive to say the absolute least. A thought provoking, stylish and clever Sci-fi film; it deals with complex subjects and doesn’t dumbdown or spoon-feed the audience as is so common in cinema today. Many films try and tackle artificial intelligence and, aside from 2001: A Space Odyssey, I cannot think of any other film that deals with it so originally, intelligently and tensely. All in all a resounding success.

1) Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller)

George Miller returns to his Mad Max franchise with a huge victory for pracitcal effect and story telling in general. This movie is one long exhilarating ride, with barely time to catch your breath; it is incredible to watch. Rarely do films show such a single-minded dedication to an idea but I’m glad this film does! The title may suggest otherwise but Charlize Theron’s Furiosa is the real main character, and this is not the only female empowerment you’ll see during this film.

It was hard to choose between this and Ex Machina; but through sheer ferocity and excitement Mad Max won out for me.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

1)The success ofAlicia Vikander’s as Ava and Charlize Theron as Furiosa should surely prove now that women can lead critically and commercially successful films of any genre: Action, Sci-Fi not just love stories! Also a well deserved not too Emily Blunt for Sicario and Rebecca Ferguson for MI: Rogue Nation.

2) I regret not being able to see these movies so far this year and will have to catch up in the New Year: Trainwreck, Sicario, Crimson Peak, Legend, The Lobster, Diary Of A Teenage Girl, Black Mass, Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2.

Well that’s all folks. Please let me know what you think of this list in the comments: Agree? Disagree? Don’t care? Either way, let me know.

Happy New Year and thanks for reading!

 

 

 

 

Apocalypse Brando: The heart attack of darkness

A WORD TO THE WISE: when watching a 3+ hour movie on a plane, do not. I repeat DO NOT delay the start of viewing, or you will end up being made to put the laptop away for landing with only 100 seconds of footage left. After watch 190 minutes of cinematic masterpiece, you have to stop and watch the final shot 4 hours later when you get to your hotel. GOD DAMN IT!

Anyway, that is what happened when I watched Apocalypse Now (the extended Redux version). Widely regarded as one of the best films of all time. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola and starring Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall, Marlon Brando, a very young Laurence Fishbourne, Dennis Hopper and many, many more! So here is the trailer:

The film follows Captain Willard (Sheen) as he is sent on a secret mission, during the Vietnam War, to ”terminate the command of Colonel Kurtz…with extreme prejudice”. Kurtz (Brando) has gone rogue, despite an exemplary and exceptional military record, using brutal and horrific tactics to win the war for the US. His unsanctioned and rogue behaviour has been deemed too extreme by the higher ups and has to be removed from his position of power over US, Vietnamese and Cambodian fighters and tribesman who see him as a God-like figure. Willard must complete his top-secret mission by traveling up-river on a small naval vessel, crewed by Chief, Lance the surfer, Chef and Clean (Fishbourne). This journey brings them to a surf obsessed, Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore (Duvall), three playboy bunny’s and a journalist infatuated with Kurtz (Hopper); among a whole world of chaos.

This film is an all out masterpiece; gripping from start to finish, brilliantly acted, clever and quote-able screenplay. THE WORKS. But when you read about the problems during production it is amazing the film was finished at all. Here are some of the more major ones:

  • BRANDO – everything about him (Ill explain why later)
  • HARVEY KEITEL was initially cast as Willard then replaced weeks into filming by Martin Sheen.
  • TYPHOON OLGA destroyed the set
  • THEFT of one days entire payroll, required hiring of bodyguards
  • NO PROPER ENDING AFTER INITIAL FILMING
  • SHEEN HAD A NEAR FATAL HEART-ATTACK DURING FILMING
  • EXPENSIVE SCENES CUT ENTIRELY FROM ORIGINAL CUT
  • SLAUGHTER of a live buffalo
  • POOR SOUND LIBRARIES lead to lots of dubbed backing sounds
  • DENNIS HOPPER requested and was given cocaine to better play his role
  • ACTUAL CORPSES were used as set dressing in Kurtz’s empire. It turned out they were not medical cadavers but had been recently relocated from graveyards

The fact that this film was made at all is frankly incredible.

Is this the one with pre-drug crazed, porn star addled Charlie Sheen?…No this is his dad….Okay, makes sense.

With such an ensemble cast, it could have been difficult to really flesh out characters coupled with poor performances, however the acting is tremendous. Aside from the Willard and Kurtz, the two highlights for me are Clean and Kilgore. Clean was Fishbourne’s debut, only 14 at the start of filming. For such a young actor, his performance as the cocky, young soldier was very strong, really capturing the journey from innocence to hardened fighter. Kilgore, played by Robert Duvall, is such an iconic character; delivering classic lines such as ”I love the smell of napalm in the morning” and ”Charlie don’t surf”. His character epitomised American bravo, unflinching in the face of war and bombs around him. An, almost, arrogant sense that he knew he would not get a scratch. He also provided some of the few and fleeting moments of comedy through his obsession with surfing.

So… to Willard, who in essence is our eyes for the film. For the most part he is a passive observer, he has a singular purpose and anything beyond the scope of this is irrelevant. Sheen’s nuanced, subtle and understated portrayal of Willard really helps ground the film within the absurdities and horrors surrounding the viewer. His narration points out the hypocrisies of war, his glazed eyes match the shock the audience feels. While we relate to Willard, his dispassion becomes vexing at times; over-ruling Chief on the boat, demanding the crew focus on his mission solely, not helping stranded soldiers or civilians, minimal interaction with the boat crew and spending much of his time analyzing Kurtz. He didn’t take his mission out of pride, duty or honour he just took it because it was there. Even killing Kurtz is a passive action; following his superiors orders without question and simultaneously doing as Kurtz wanted.

”Everyone gets everything he wants. I wanted a mission, and for my sins, they gave me one. Brought it up to me like room service. It was a real choice mission, and when it was over, I never wanted another”

For most of the characters, this film is a journey into the darkness and terrors of war, and how far they can be pushed before they reach their breaking point. Chef’s encounter with a tiger. Lance’s decent into drugs. Chief’s emotional meltdown. Whereas Willard was broken by his 1st tour at the start of the movie, in a coincidentally brilliant scene. Instead his journey, as he learns more about and begins to empathize with Kurtz’ fall from grace, is about whether he will give in to the madness and join Kurtz or whether sanity and the mission will prevail. Interestingly, the use of masks, shadow and face-paint is repeatedly used to denote a characters breaking point or new identity, Lance, Kurtz, Willard are all part of this symbolism.

Kurtz (played greatly but problematically by Brando) is for want of a better stereotype, an evil genius, yet his insanity is a debatable question. His understanding and involvement in war has lead him to feel great burden and responsibility for the prevailing ”horrors”. Fed up with the hypocrisies of the US army, he commands his own force. The severed heads and mutilated bodies attest to his madness and the horror that is now his life but when viewed in the context of the rest of the film and the other acts of war, they are normal, maybe even tame. These acts are the language of war and he see’s them as pure, constructive horror. Yet he speaks of these horrors as if they are from a different era and have no place in modern times. This way he is free from any morality, for which he sees no place in war, and therefore accountability.

Even with this rational, Kurtz wants to die but needs an heir to inherit his philosophy and continue his legacy, this heir is Willard. His final words, ”The horror.. .the horror” (along with many others are from T.S. Elliot poems), and his readiness to accept his death at Willard’s hand suggest that maybe he saw death as the only escape from his madness, his demons he let win and the atrocities he has tried to rationalize.

Brando’s portrayal produces a vision of a God-like character who is intellectually, physically and spiritually on another plane to everyone else. While much of this is due to his and Coppola’s brilliance it is also very much due to Brando’s failings. He arrived on set having no preparation, hating the script and ending, 40+ lbs overweight and generally problematic. He spent weeks re-writing the ending with Coppola. Brando demanded they only film him his face and coated in shadow. So they dealt with his weight by dressing him in black and using tall body doubles. These restrictions, along with his 18 minute improvised on camera monologues (much of which is cut from the film) lead to this is great portrayal. Despite, roughly, only15 minutes of screen time he really did earn top billing as his character drives the entire film.

Kurtz was meant to look withered by the jungle. Brando went the other way. Along way the other way!

The themes throughout this film, whilst not overtly anti-war, are certainly critical of all that comes with it. Willard’s mission is one snowballing hypocrisy; a waste of resources, energy and intelligence to kill a high ranking US official whilst US soldiers and Vietnamese civilians are being slaughtered all around. The river and its surrounding fog and haze help to highlight the soldiers descent into madness. As they journey further up river and become more hardened or eventually broken the film takes a hallucinatory turn to solidify this transition. Their madness is further driven by the emptiness of the American values featured in the film. Vietnamese are fighting for their homes, the US are fighting because they feel they have a right to fight in Vietnam and are fighting for Surfing, rock n roll and playboy bunnies. Even, Kilgore demands his soldiers surf or fight!

One final point of interest is the soundtrack, which often seamlessly fits and ties in with the hallucinatory tone of the film. For instance the opening scenes over ”The End” by The Doors, especially as this song moves from atmospheric sounding (over scenes of Vietnam jungle) to eery (Willard devolves in a drunk stupor). BUT perhaps the most recognizable music from Apocalypse is the use of Rise of The Valkyrie as Kilgore flies into battle, an absurd soundtrack for a reckless decision and a pointless airstrike. Additionally music is used throughout to symbolize home and the US values soldiers are fighting for.

Regardless of all of this. No matter what you think of this exceptionally lengthy essay. Watch the film. You will not be disappointed, it is exceptional!

NB/ The redux version has 45 minutes of extra footage, which while not vital to see does add some interesting ideas to the film.

VERDICT: ”I will not hurt or harm you. Just give me back the board, Lance. It was a good board… and I like it. You know how hard it is to find a board you like…”

Disneyland? Fuck, man, this is better than Disneyland! 

Silence of The Lambs: I’m having an old friend for dinner

Recently, Hannibal served us it’s last course and closed out a pretty phenomenal 3 seasons. Despite its beautifully dark tone and phenomenal acting, NBC has cancelled it. So to say goodbye to Hannibal, I’m having an old friend for dinner. By which I mean I’ll be reviewing the trilogy of films starring the incredible Anthony Hopkins as our favourite cannibal. One of my favourite cinematic character portrayals of all time.

Let’s start with ”Silence of The Lambs”, our first introduction to Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter, based on the Thomas Harris book of the same name. This film, directed by Jonathan Demme, is an incredible cinematic achievement, leading to its status as the only horror film to win the Best Picture Oscar (the only other even nominated is ”The Exorcist”). On top of this, the film won Best Actor, Actress, Director and Adapted Screenplay. Making it one of 3 films to win the Big Four: ”It All Happened One Night” and ”One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”.

Here is the trailer:

Jodie Foster stars, in an Oscar winning performance, as Clarice Starling, a determined, resilient and sharply intelligent trainee FBI agent. FBI behavioural analysis unit chief Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) recruits Starling for a sensitive, nuanced, almost surgical task. To interview and analyze Dr Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins); a pure psychopath responsible for a heinous series of cannibalistic murder, now residing at Baltimore Mental Asylum under the care of the sadistic and opportunistic Dr Chilton (Anthony Heald). Meanwhile, the FBI desperately search for Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), a serial killer who kidnaps, starves and skins his victims. As events unfold, Clarice winds up caught in a game of cat and mouse between Jack, Hannibal, Buffalo Bill and even Dr. Chilton. All the while, Lecter knows much more than he is letting on about the case and Clarice herself.

Hannibal is intriguing, horrifying and impossible to turn away from, in equal part due to Harris’ original writings but also through Hopkin’s stellar performance. For most of Lecter’s screen time he is limited either through the confines of his cell or by restraints. Yet despite these confines, Hopkins has a powerful  physical presence that is never anything less than menacing. His statuesque posture and deliberate steps, all carefully constructed to fully bring Lecter to life. Each and every word is delivered with purpose and point, wholly embracing the role of an exceptionally intelligent but malevolent Lecter.

What is most terrifying though, are his eyes. You know the hideous monster he is but he reveals nothing. Instead you can see his piercing, eyes focused directly on Clarice, searching her mind, seeing through her facade. He sees everything and reads more from every minuscule detail and in return Clarice gets self-reflection and a small trickle of information Lecter deems necessary. Carefully weighed, enough to intrigue but not enough to complete the puzzle.

The writing and dialogue here are exceptional, the best example being the verbal sparring between Lecter and Clarice. Clarice is scared and captivated by Lecter and never backs down from his abrasive questioning or intellectual challenges. But this is in essence what Hannibal is. He elevates himself to a higher plane of existence, intellectually and spiritually. He toys with those unworthy. Kills and eats those he deems rude or discourteous. For those few he finds interesting or deserving of his time he continually provokes and challenges to prove his superiority. To prove that they are beneath him, And to prove that he is in control.

Here he is in full flow:

Although cleverly shot, thoughtfully crafted and brilliantly acted throughout, the stand out for me (besides Lecter) is the strength of Clarice Starling as a character. Not only is she strong, dedicated and equally, if opposingly, brilliant to Lecter but she does this in a world designed to belittle and dismiss her. The Law enforcement of this film, and real life, is a strikingly male dominated world, with a multitude of evidence for this. Often the only woman in the room. Lustful or comical looks from male counterparts. The attitude towards women in the Bureau is summed up, in a typically confrontational, question by Lecter about whether Clarice has considered that Jack wants to sleep with her. She replies, ”That does not interest me Doctor and frankly, it’s, its the sort of thing Miggs would say”. In reference to her previous visit with Lecter where his neighbour Miggs threw semen at her; Lecter responded by convincing Miggs to kill himself… This exchange typifies Clarice, no matter the trauma or situation, she will become stronger, she will evolve and triumph. Further more, she challenges superiors to change and adapt their attitudes towards women because as she rightly states,” It matters, Mr Crawford. Cops look at you to see how to act. It matters.”

Here is my favourite scene of Clarice’s, discussing her childhood during quid-pro-quo with Lecter and explaining the films title:

Clarice is a strong character. She isn’t strong for a woman. Or strong for a man. She is a strong person in her own right. Defined by her drive and her goals. Now although times have moved on, the world of movies hasn’t really improved in this area. I can’t think of many women in film as strong since Clarice, apart from maybe Furiosa from Mad Max Fury Road (I’m sure there are a good few examples I’m blanking on). These characters are great not because they are physically strong (although I’m sure they are), like say Hope Van Dyne (Ant Man) or Isla Faust (MI:Rogue Nation), but because they are real people. They have complex emotions and beliefs, they are driven and have faults and stand against the obstacles in their path. They earn their place in cinema in there own right, not by serving as a foil for someone else or even worse as window dressing.

No horror film is complete without a big, scary villain. In this case we have two! Alongside Lecter we have Ted Levine giving a jarring and unsettling performance as Buffalo Bill. It was almost like playing two characters; the low-key and conspicuous public persona and the unstable, confused and angry murderer in private. He does this brilliantly, switching between the two seamlessly. Bill does not just kill for pleasure, he has a deep and complex pathology. A confusion and intricacy Levine brings to all his scenes; allowing us to empathize with him on some level knowing the years of abuse he suffered and his difficulty with self acceptance.

This film has received some criticism for featuring the often used trope of having trans-gender or homosexuality cause psychopathy (something especially common on procedural shows where fresh ideas for criminals run out fast), which is obviously COMPLETELY WRONG. LGBT rights and tolerance have come along a way since 1991 but the fact that this is still a writing device shows that there is a ways to go yet! I think these criticisms of the film are valid but I also think there is more to Buffalo Bill, as Lecter states;

”Look for severe childhood disturbances associated with violence. Our Billy wasn’t born a criminal, Clarice. He was made one through years of systematic abuse. Billy hates his own identity, you see, and he thinks that makes him a transsexual. But his pathology is a thousand times more savage and more terrifying.”

Bill hates who he is and thinks being someone else will bring him acceptance. He covets women and sees them as better and worthy of acceptance and so attempts to transform himself into one to gain self acceptance. But gender identity is an intrinsic part of us, the change in our external characteristics or appearance come later, if at all, and completely depend on each individual. Bill’s pathology has lead him to believe that wearing a suit of women to change his exterior will change his fundamental identity. He is too unwell to grasp that his self-hatred does not means he has a trans-identity.

Anyway….this is an exceptional film. Dark, scary and intense. Watch it.

VERDICT: ”A CENSUS TAKER ONCE TRIED TO TEST ME. I ATE HIS LIVER WITH SOME FAVA BEANS AND A NICE CHIANTI.”

”WELL, CLARICE – HAVE THE LAMBS STOPPED SCREAMING?”

SKIP to 1:20 for the classic exchange

Oldboy (2003): Dae-su’s beginner guide to DIY dentistry

Oldboy is the second instalment of director Park Chan-wook’s ”Vengeance trilogy” and is arguably the best entry in the series. It is regarded as one of the best mystery/thriller films ever made…in any language. Here is the trailer:

Oldboy stars Choi Min-sik as Oh Dae-su who is kidnapped on the day of his daughter’s 4th birthday. He finds himself imprisoned in a hotel room with all his basic needs cared for. All without reason and without any hope of release and with only a TV for company. Dae-su begins to plot his vengeance but after 15 years of solitary training and toil with his escape almost at hand, he is swiftly released back into the world. With just as little understanding as 15 years ago. Dae-su then begins his quest for vengeance against his captors.

Any spoilers and this will be you!

That rough synopsis is all you are getting, any more would ruin it! (See picture below) Half the joy of this film is wondering what each clue means. Wondering who did this. What unspeakable action meant Dae-su deserved this. The only information you get is what he gets. You are part of the mystery yourself. There is no expositional Morgan Freeman voiceover. You are not given all the answers. This film does not reduce itself into bite-size easy to swallow chunks, it is not dumbed down. This film assumes you have a better IQ than a glass of water. That is reason enough to watch the film!

Ask anyone about Oldboy and they will talk (at length if my experience is anything to go by) about THAT CORRIDOR FIGHT SCENE! This and all the action scenes are beautifully choreographed, shot and completed but what makes them memorable is their realism! They are brutal, gritty and violent. Dae-su is not this super-human martial arts expert decimating his opponents, he is vicious, inelegant, like a cornered animal. He fights like a man who has nothing to live for except vengeance. This makes sense…Yes Dae-su spent 15 years training BUT he was punching a chalk outline on a wall. He has never had an opponent. He learnt watching combat sports on TV but spend just as much time fantasizing about a Korean pop star! He is not in Neo in the matrix, just a pissed off middle-aged man who is in dire need of a hair cut.

Just a little off the top?

This film is intense. There is no way around it… Dae-su does not have a good time. Oldboy deals with hard themes and ideas; revenge, violence, torture, sex, death, relationships, isolation. But by dealing with these issues head on and revealing each new horror one by one we are forced to deal with these issues and really comes to grips with some big questions. Even better is that the violence is stylized and always finds the line between intense, unsettling visuals and over the top gratuity. Film makers could learn a thing or two here (ESPECIALLY HORROR FRANCHISES). OVER THE TOP GORE =/= INTENSITY OR HORROR. JUST NAUSEA. See this film for reference as how to do it properly. Of particular note are the tooth pulling scenes, hard to watch but impossible to look away from. A scene involving a tongue gets pretty out of hand too!

First. Open wide. Second…wider!

This really is an incredible film, full of suspense, thrills and action. The ending reveal lives up to all horrifying expectations and then some. It turns Dae-su’s world upside down and feeds on everything any of us hold dear. Well any one who is well adjusted and not a psychopath. It is truly an amazing achievement in story telling! There was a 2013 american remake as well but I would recommend watching the original first!

VERDICT: ”Laugh… and the world laughs with you. Weep… and you weep alone.”

Al Pacino Al Day Al Night: Dog Day Afternoon and Serpico

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TODAY IT IS TWO REVIEWS FOR THE PRICE OF ONE!

It was too my shame that until recently I had not seen Al Pacino in anything other than his phenomenal performances as Michael Corleone in the Godfather series. So I decided to rectify this the only way I know how… By ignoring my actual work and just watching movies.

Blue Steel

Blue Steel

First up “Dog Day Afternoon”. Here is the trailer

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CF1rtd8_pxA

This film tells the true story of Sonny (Pacino) and Sal (John Cazale) who attempt to rob a bank. This turns out to have been a bad idea… I know shocking! The situation rapidly descends into chaos and a national news frenzy. Although trapped and surrounded by police, FBI and news crews the atmosphere inside the bank is surprisingly relaxed with Sonny treating his captives with dignity and respect. Even allowing them relative freedom. The real palpable tension here comes from Sal, who is tightly strung, fervently religious and desperate to not end up back in prison. The question here is whether Sonny can keep him from snapping and shooting the next bank teller who lights a cigarette (which is not very Christian in his eyes).

Sal and Sonny shooting the breeze.

Sal and Sonny shooting the breeze.

Outside the bank is where the real drama happens with Sonny attempting to negotiate an escape.  His fervent battle cries of “Attica! Attica!”, in reference to the prison riot, gain the support of the general public. He further endears himself by throwing wads of money into the crowd like he’s in a Lil Wayne music video.

No comment.

No comment.

However this people’s champion doesn’t have it all his own way. As negotiations intensify and trust wanes, Sonny becomes increasingly aggressive, paranoid and unhinged. This is exacerbated by the involvement of his legal wife, Angela, and his “real” wife, Leon, a pre-op transgender woman. Both of whom reveal the extent to which Sonny has been coming apart as well as his confrontational tendencies. As soon as the public hear of Leon the atmosphere changes into one of hate, oppression and ignorance. Whether it is the crowds wolf whistling at Sonny frisking someone or just plain booing him to the police sniggering and laughing at Leon and her struggles to express who she is. A problem still prevalent today. Where this film succeeds is in highlighting the deep and genuine connection between Sonny and Leon, as well as there struggles and difficulties. In a sense it becomes about how far you are willing to go for someone you love.

The climax of the film is tense and thrilling, giving the film an abrupt but satisfying ending. The performances of Pacino and John Cazale are brilliant and the directing is great.

FUN FACT: John Cazale appeared in 6 films (1 released posthumously) before his death in 1978 : The Godfather Trilogy, The Conversation, Dog Day Afternoon and The Deer Hunter. All of which were nominated for Best Picture of which 3 won (Godfather 1/2 and Deer Hunter). Coincidence? I think not!

Next up “Serpico” here’s is the trailer

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pwundUvdqMc

For those that don’t know, Serpico is based on the life of Frank Serpico from 1960-72. A truly honest and exceptional NYPD cop who would not bend to the corruption surrounding him within the force. His actions lead to the exposure of this corruption and the formation of the Knapp commission to investigate it. Here Frank became the first police officer to step forward to testify.

Here we see Pacino on the otherside of the law as the titular Serpico, a beat patrol-man and plain clothes officer. Serpico is disliked and mistrusted by other officers not just due to his exceptional skill on the job but his complete refusal to and disapproval of taking bribes. Serpico finds an ally in officer Durk who also wishes to remove the corruption from the force. With each passing year and attempt to find a superior officer, politician or even friend to take the allegations seriously Serpico grow increasingly fraught, distressed and anxious. Pacino is brilliant as Serpico. Giving a real masterclass in acting when the hidden pressures built at work explode in his home life.  Destroying multiple relationships, friendships and family ties. Serpico is truly alone in an ever more toxic and dangerous environment. Alone except for his wonderfully shaggy old English sheepdog, Alfie, who with only a single barked line of dialogue steals every scene he’s in. Serpico also sports some rather fantastic facial hair. And a great disguise as a Rabi.

Im not sure which of the two has more luscious hair, Serpico or the dog? If you can't tell Serpico is in the middle and Alfie is on the right.

Im not sure which of the two has more luscious hair, Serpico or the dog? If you can’t tell Serpico is in the middle and Alfie is on the right.

Am I blending in?

Am I blending in?

Both of these films are classics and demonstrate exactly how to build tension. Even more impressive given the minimal levels of violence compared to today’s films. Especially since Hollywood has misconstrued violence, blood and gore as the simple formula for tension and fear. …. It’s just lazy and gross. If you make me want to throw up I’m not scared, just nauseous. Or sick from eating my own cooking. The acting and writing is brilliant and deal with issues still relevant today. Police brutality, corruption and LGTBQ rights. I cannot recommend these movies enough.

VERDICT: AL PACINO IS AL RIGHT BY ME. WATCH NOW OR ILL MAKE YOU AN OFFER YOU CAN’T REFUSE

American Graffiti: Making casting decisions for every Speilberg and Lucas film since 1973

American Graffiti was intended to be a coming-of-age, teenage film designed to fill everyone with nostalgia and joy. As well as being one of the early pioneers of using songs rather than a traditional sound track.

It did both of these with aplomb.

However, this film served a greater purpose. A more noble purpose. This film launched the careers of actors who would go on to star in some of our favourite movies of all time. See below!

Harrison Ford – STAR WARS, INDIANA JONES, E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL**

Richard Dreyfuss – JAWS, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, ALWAYS

** Harrison Ford played a headteacher in E.T. who was eventually cut from the film. BUT COME ON SPIELBERG ITS JUST GETTING LAZY NOW!

Without this film Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Jaws, Close Encounters would have been cast completely differently and given how brilliant these roles still are it’s not hard to imagine that any other actor would have RUINED EVERYTHING!

american graffiti picture

Sounds awesome doesn’t it?

Anyway! ON TO THE REVIEW!

American Graffiti, directed by George Lucas, is set during the 1962 American summer and tells the tale of a group of teenagers during their time between High School graduation and joining the real-world either starting a job, leaving town or heading to college. For me this period was in 2009, yet despite being set in the 60’s this film still perfectly captures the confusion, awkwardness and social pressures associated with being 17 or 18. The cast, consisting of relatively unknown actors, perfectly portray being young, naive and unworldly whilst having a yearning desire to to act, be treated and respected like an adult.

The film interweaves several plot-lines throughout the same night and is fast-paced and funny, but not at the expense of actual character development, something of a rarity these days with most comedy films falling flat on all counts (see Sex Tape, Grown-Ups, Paul Blart). Some of my personal highlights:

Richard Dreyfuss as Curt, a guy unsure if he wants to leave for college in the morning. He is charming, entertaining and likeable. He spends the night desperately trying to find the ”blonde in a white T-Bird’ that he drove past. Something anyone who has used public transport will understand. Most of us, however, move on to the next loving daydream. Instead, Curt ends up catching a ride, kissing a girl, getting roped into a gang for scratching a car and that’s just for starters. That is more effort than I’d be willing to put in for a fleeting glance on the street. But maybe I’m a pessimist!

John, Paul Le Mat, manages to pick up a young teenage girl, Carol, whilst on the lookout for some female company. Carol is the epitome of an annoying teenager and constantly provokes and irritates John to the point of exasperation. This is made worse by the fact John is hopelessly still trying to find some more mature company. In a very Game Of Thrones-esque style, this sibling rivalry-like relationship morphs into something less wholesome. This story line is central to the films climax with a hot rod race between John and Bob Falfa (Harrison Ford) a car enthusiast whose sole purpose is too aggravate everyone. The car he drives is the objectification of overcompensation!

I think my favourite story line is the romantically inept, hopeless and lost ‘Toad’. He is lent an exceptional car by a friend and suddenly finds himself playing the part of a Casanova, albeit with bigger teeth, hipster glasses and worse hair. Completely committed to the part, and emboldened by excess booze, he manages to pick up a girl and starts lying and exaggerating his way into Debbie’s heart, including the age old story of a man selling his horses to by a nice car to get a girl?! Eventually, ”His” car is stolen and all his lies gradually come under scrutiny. Toad, in full survival mode, creates more and more ludicrous and hilarious lies to cover them up. I think every teenager can remember a time when we’ve done this and been caught out. We all back-peddled faster than Nigel Farage’s PR machine.

BUT MY FAVOURITE CHARACTER IS THE SOUNDTRACK!

An early pioneer of using songs rather than a typical soundtrack. There are very few films whose soundtrack presents such a clear and undiluted picture of the society at the time. This Americana paradise is pre-Vietnam, pre-British Blues/Rock, pre-peak of the civil rights movement and you can tell. The choices in music are little screenshots of the time. Granted screenshots of a solely white place and time, but that’s for another time (from someone who knows more than I). I dread to thing what a modern-day version of this film would be:

NORTHERN GRAFFITI

”The story of teenagers getting drunk on Strongbow and Lambrini in a dark and dreary park, losing their virginity behind a bin (as well as their I Phone 5 in someones garden), all whilst trying to get served in a local pub and not be sick in your parents car!

Featuring the hits: ‘We Can’t Stop’ , ‘Booty’ , ‘Wiggle’, ‘You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful’ and ‘Anaconda’

Starring: Justin Bieber as Obnoxious Youth with a High Pitched Auto-tune Voice

ALL 5…. oh shit All 4 MEMBERS OF ONE DIRECTION as wailing Foetus’s 1 through 4

Miley Cyrus as girl passed out in the corner

AND      Joey Essex as responsible adult number 1”

The prospect of this makes me want to remove my eyes, ears, nose and scalp with a rusty tea-spoon!

Aside from the soundtrack the other major characters are the cars featured. They are beautiful and eye-catching and really do serve as an extension of their respective driver’s personality. Toad’s borrowed White Chevy Impala for his borrowed bravado. John’s bold Yellow hot-rod just crying out for attention. And Bob Falfa’s black, obnoxious, ominous supercharged car because he is a ginormous dickhead!

Overall, this film is charming, funny and endearing. Couple that with great direction, soundtracks and acting and what you have is very special!

RATING: ”YOU GOT A BITCHIN’ RIDE”

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About A Boyhood: How I learned to have an irrational dislike for one man’s ridiculous vision

Okay. This will not be a popular opinion.

These days when talking about movies, going against the grain is a dangerous proposition and can leave you isolated and ridiculed by the masses. The best, current, example of this is the ”masterpiece” by Richard Linklater BOYHOOD. This film received near unanimous praise from every man and his dog. Even criticizing this film in passing conversation could provoke hysterical fits of rage, public shaming and the anger of the entire hipster community.

Here’s the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ys-mbHXyWX4

Herein lies the problem. People have opinions. People have different opinions. So right now I am going to stand up for my right to have a different opinion. I will not be ashamed. I will not hide in the shadows any longer.

I will stand tall and proudly proclaim that I DO NOT LIKE BOYHOOD!

Now here is a more accurate trailer in-line with my view point (courtesy of the amazing Youtube Channel Screen Junkies) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SSZg1Wy7H0k

Have you ever had that conversation when you ask someone about their day and then they proceed to tell you in REAL TIME? You’d do anything to make that monotonous, sleep inducing, droning, brown-note of a sound stop. You start wondering whether Van Gogh had the right idea.

Now picture not being able to escape that conversation for 165 minutes. And having to pay £8 for this privilege.

This is what watching Boyhood felt like to me.

Its getting harder and harder to find original ideas in cinema these days, just look at all the reboots, remakes and sequels coming out every summer. (I mean Transformers 4? Come on people we’re better than this.) All of this means that people at the other end of the spectrum have to try something crazy to get attention.

They have ruined dinosaurs for me!

And so we come to Richard Linklater, the only man who could be bothered to spend over a decade shooting a film in real-time. I can guarantee he wont have been the first person to have this notion. Fortunately all the other people who had this idea either had someone to say ‘No’ or had the sense to see this as monstrous idea. So off skips Richard gleefully into the abyss.

DISCLAIMER: The following can only be described as a strangely bitter analysis of the film. Apologies in advance.

Bright Idea Number 1 – Telling a story devoid of story

The art of story telling has delighted people for hundreds of years. Linklater took a very minimalistic approach to this story. So minimalistic that he just went ahead and removed the story altogether. Frankly, this was a genius ‘Bait and Switch’ move drawing you in with a tale of growth and inexperience and promptly replacing this with the chance to think about your own childhood. Only to realise what a little shit you were. This approach allows you to draw your own conclusions about the on-screen family. However, in practice this makes the two and a half hour runtime excruciating (and I sat through the entirety of the Tree Of Life). ”But life is the story” I hear you cry. Well I might agree if anything of note happened in these lives or if I could muster any semblance of affection for these characters.

A note to any budding film makers out there. Finish your script before you start filming or you’ll end up having your mother repeatedly date the same drunken arsehole with a different face.

Bright Idea Number 2 – Casting your daughter as ‘the daughter’

I’m sure Lorelei Linklater is a wonderfully talented person. Unfortunately, these talents do not include acting. The hardest thing to watch about this movie is her maddening performance which ranges from irritating to stupefying whilst being exceptionally cringe worthy throughout.

9/10 times a child actor is not going to be very good eg Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter. Only about 1/100 child actors will actually become a good actor in later life eg Daniel Rad….. I’m no mathematician but those are not good odds. Linklater proceeded to completely obey these odds by casting Ellar Coltrane as ‘the boy’ who manages to sulk his way through several progressively worse haircuts as well as the awkward teenage phase where is face hasn’t quite grown to fit his features yet.

Bright Idea Number 3 – Turn your one singular idea into praise for every single bit of the film

Here lies the true depths of Linklater’s genius. You have one trick, no problem. Just rely so heavily upon that one trick until it becomes two tricks. Then 4. Then 8. …..

The acting is amazing because it was done for 12 YEARS.

The directing is amazing because he did it for 12 YEARS.

The script is amazing because it took place over 12 YEARS.

The editing is amazing because its done over 12 YEARS.

The soundtrack is amazing because it covered 12 YEARS.

This one tiny insignificant thing is amazing because it happened for 12 YEARS.

Just because you did something the longest doesn’t mean you did it the best. If you take the same acting, script, story, soundtrack and shoot it in 6 months no one would look twice at this film. Aside from the film being visually beautiful there is nothing particularly remarkable about the film. The now sainted Patricia Arquette gives a solid performance that is elevated to lofty greatness and applause purely because she stuck with it for 12 YEARS.. There were lots of performances more deserving of this praise over the last year: Emma Stone (Birdman), Scarlett Johansson (Under the Skin) to name just two. I mean even the fake baby in American Sniper could play its role for 12 YEARS.

And the award for best supporting baby goes to…..

Bright Idea Number 4 – Panda to everyone

After all this you need just a little more to really drive everyone into fits of grateful nostalgia and childhood revelry. So prepare to watch in horror as a reference to every single fad, trend, song, TV show and celebrity of the last decade is shoved quite literally down your throat. All this pandering has two purposes. Firstly, to remind you the film was shot over 12 YEARS and secondly to distract you from the fact that nothing is actually happening on screen. Job well done!

BUT when all is said and done, the people who like this film are still going to like it and continue to publicly berate you for just ”not getting it” or for being ”uncultured” (guilty as charged on that count). But together maybe we can make a stand and say in one true voice that WE DO NOT LIKE BOYHOOD and finally be accepted for who we are.

I really need to get out more!

VERDICT: He’s not the Messiah. He’s a very naughty boy!

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