Film Blogathon 00/17: round-up

Strictly from a personal point of view, this has been an interesting challenge.

And ‘challenge’ has certainly been the right word.

In the writing, I have enjoyed experimenting with the narrative ‘voice’, and using cross-styles.

Reviewing films that were unwatchable rubbish alongside films that would be on the Top Hundred list of most people, has been interesting.

Finding the time, and originality needed, to make a review worth reading has been another part of the challenge.

And poor old Barry Norman dying, part-way through, almost seemed like an omen.

No, not Barry Cryer, as the Daily Fail put it:

Daily Mail getting it wrong again

Daily Mail getting it wrong again

This one. The real one:

Barry Norman

Barry Norman

I got a couple of tips from Young Masher, that have been added to my ‘watchlist’.

And Kennamatic gave us his view of the view of a couple of films worth looking at.

But it was a challenge.

And no, I wouldn’t do it again.

Thank you to my two co-conspirators for their support along the way.

But I’m out.

Film Blogathon 10/17: Leon

Because we are going to see Despicable Me 3 tomorrow, I felt I needed to step away from the cartoon genre…

Synopsis: A hit man befriends, and takes in to his life, a 12-year old orphan, and trains her as his apprentice

Leon is, essentially, a French art-house film that successfully muscles in on Hollywood turf.

A couple of the components for this Luc Besson vehicle are, in themselves, quite excellent.

The outstanding Eric Serra score, coupled with very contrasting performances from Besson regulars, Gary Oldman and Jean Reno, are just two components that lift this film above the average.

The characterisation is juxtapositional.

Reno, as the plant-obsessed, Gene Kelly-fan hitman is an interesting study.

Gary Oldman chews the scenery up as the drug-taking gangster who has nothing else to give us.

Nothing else to give us, apart from being a pivotal mechanism of wryness in the way the film is fashioned.

The script is a deft construction painted in humour, with a light finish of wit and irony.

Leon has the potential to shun style and go straight for the softer parts of the human audience, and yet it doesn’t.

The film plays on the burgeoning relationship between Jean Reno and the young Natalie Portman, whilst at the same time surprising the audience, through a couple of deft misdirections.

Leon is a clever film, but because of the genre, and the art-house feel, I wonder if it will ever get the audience it truly deserves.

Film Blogathon 09/17: バトル・ロワイアル (Battle Royale)

A long time ago (in film terms), and let’s be honest, seventeen years is a long time ago, Kenta Fukasaku wrote a screenplay based on Koushun Takami’s novel, and the film Battle Royale was born.

The irony that this independent Japanese film indirectly gave birth to the sprawling 2008 monstrosity that was The Hunger Games trilogy is not lost on me.

However, setting corporate greed, together with the need for the US film industry to ‘own’/invent everything, including stories that have actually been developed elsewhere aside, let’s look at the film.

Synopsis: In the near future, Japan institutes a programme to cope with rising youth crime. The solution is to make the youth of Japan toe the line of behaviour, by selecting a random class of 14 and 15 year-old children and packing them off to an island, where they are given weapons and three days to eliminate each other until a sole survivor remains. Look at what could happen to you if you don’t behave, kids.

So that’s totally The Hunger Games, yes?

Anyway.

The saddest thing about this very good film is that the certification, because of the violence depicted onscreen, restricts the viewing audience.

The brutal horror of man’s inhumanity to man is a lesson that should be widely taught, not shunned.

And this film could be a vehicle to convey that lesson.

For three days, 42 children are isolated on a remote island.

Their numbers steadily dwindle as they are killed in sometimes brief scenes that often ring uncomfortably true.

By the time you could have worked out who the children are, and how much you liked them, most of them have died.

And died in a succession of surprising, disturbing, touching, horribly funny or deeply upsetting ways.

It’s impossible to guess which of these neatly-uniformed youngsters is secretly a serial killer, a self-sacrificing hero, a born victim or simply another body count statistic.

Battle Royale is a film that never lets you settle down.

It sidesteps so rapidly between satire and splatter, and it offers the screen moments that will make the most hardened viewer cringe, as well as showing snatches of quiet melancholy that will haunt you for a long time.

And if you’re a hardened cynic, Battle Royale is worth watching because it gives you a real glimpse of what The Hunger Games could have been, if it hadn’t pandered to the massively superficial US audience.

Film Blogathon 08/17: Contact

Contact

Contact

Synopsis: How one woman’s search for extra-terrestrial life changes the world when she decodes a signal from deep space.

Based on a Carl Sagan novel, the film Contact was released in 1997, and you need to hang on to that fact.

Behind the scenes, the film was put together by a brilliant team.

Edited by the fantastic Arthur Schmidt, who worked with the awesome cinematography of Don Burgess (a director of photography of brilliant track record), this film makes me feel the same way that Close Encounters of the Third Kind used to make me feel.

The slow but near-perpetual build-up of momentum keeps excitement and pace running in near tandem.

There is not a single dull moment in Contact.

Everything in the film, whether visual or audio, everything in this film exists for a reason.

Contact is the perfect vehicle for Jodie Foster: a sharply-written storyline and a chance to showcase her broad range of ability.

She brings a breathless enthusiasm to the role, and to the film, and she contributes to the qualities that make Contact a stand-out film.

A most likeable second strand in the story is how the discovery of alien life brings in to focus the schism between science and religion, and it neatly points out the fundamental incompatibilities between the two.

If I was handing out stars, Contact would get four out of four, five out of five, six out of six or ten out of ten.

It is a perfect interpretation of a brilliantly-written book, by a high-thinking author.

Contact was released in 1997.

How many other films look this good when they have reached 20 years of age?

Film Blogathon 07/17: Tornado Warning (originally: Alien Tornado)

Synopsis: Aliens are lured to Earth by a strange electronic signal, and they appear to you and me as destructive electromagnetic tornadoes (really!). Brilliant high school student (not a cliché, honest), together with her father and weather/storm chaser blogger who is already involved in the study of these ‘tornadoes’ are struggling against time to prevent further disasters and to disable the signal to make these destructive aliens/pseudo tornadoes leave the planet.

This film is CGI-effects a go-go.

And not in a good way.

The story is set in the American mid-west. Or possibly in South Carolina.

An unpredicted tornado strikes a small farm, but it behaves like no tornado we’ve ever seen before.

Not only that, but the Official US Government Weather Watchdog denies that the tornado-strike ever happened.

There are a number of sub-plots designed to keep the viewer off guard:

  • The 17-year old daughter (who says of her dad ‘you’re so old’) who achieves the top 10 percentile at school and qualifies for a place at Chicago University
  • Her single-parent dad who hasn’t insured the farm, and has spent his deceased ex-wife’s life insurance payout just meeting financial ends (and not been telling his daughter about all these financial dire straits, obv)
  • The town cop who is from out of town and Who Has A Secret
  • The Sinister Top Secret Government Installation just outside town
  • The storm chaser with ten years experience who can just feel an instant barometric drop. Yeah, right, we’re all that gullible as well
  • The sinister-looking blacked out SUVs linked to the same Secret Government Installation. Maybe

Anyway, to the film.

Despite the very low budget, which was probably almost the same amount as our weekly household shopping bill, and despite a very silly plot, Tornado Warning isn’t too bad.

Oh, it is bad, yes.

It just isn’t too bad.

The lo-fi special effects look unconvincing, but that’s the point. You’re supposed to notice that those tornadoes aren’t as we know them.

And the storyline has more cheese than the entire town of Cheddar.

But the female lead (Stacey Asaro) is surprisingly strong in a role that most people would find challenging.

Contrastingly, the head bad guy from the sinister SUVs is embarrassingly badly acted by David Jensen (no, not that one, another one).

But despite the childish plot and the unavoidable potholes of bad acting, there are things to enjoy about this low-budget flick.

I’m not too sure what they are yet, but I’ll let you know when I work out what they are.

Film Blogathon 06/17: The House Bunny

I know right?

There’s this girl?

And she’s like an actual Playboy Bunny?

You know?

Actually lives with Hugh Heffner in his mansion and everything?

But for reasons too complicated to explain (or too complicated for the audience to understand), she decides to leave the Playboy Mansion?

But this makes her homeless?

I know, right?

Like a poor person?

So she needs to find a place to live, because, like, we all do, right?

So she decides to get a job as a House Mom in a Soriety House on campus at College?

So she gets a job as a House Bunny Mom at the Zeta House?

And the girls who live at Zeta House are all, you know, really really unfortunate looking?

Like there’s a Goth with loads of facial piercing, and there’s a girl in a torso-brace, and there’s a girl who is like so like you know, plain, right? And there’s another girl who is so grossly pregnant that she looks just sort of f.a.t. you know?

Anyway, the House Bunny Mom has to get lots of pledges from lots of new students so that they will join the house, otherwise Mean Mrs Hagstrom is going to Close Down The House, right?

So the House Bunny Mom just goes about turning everything around and making the lives of those unfortunate girls so much better, while Hugh Heffner sits in his Mansion getting really miserable because his favourite bunny has left him, and eats lots of ice cream because that’s what we do when we’re down, yeah?

But while House Bunny Mom is being real cool and also turning everything around the House Bunny Mom messes up her own personal life because she seems to have the interaction skills of a cabbage, right?

But in the end, the House Bunny Mom gets everyone straightened out, and Zeta House gets all of the pledges they needed to have, and Hugh Heffner gets to spend the rest of his life in the Playboy Mansion with all his other Playboy bunnies and he gets over the ice cream phase and just chills out with lots of those other Playboy Bunnies and the House Bunny Mom finally gets it together with Oliver and they all live happily ever after?

I know, right?

Film Blogathon 05/17: M:I-2

M:I-2

M:I-2

Mission Impossible 2 (An Accent Too Far)

M:I-2 is an odd film which features an impossible implausible plot and:

  • An arch baddie with a bad Scottish accent
  • A sub baddie with a bad Australian accent
  • A goodie with a bad Australian accent, and
  • A goodie with a bad English accent.

However the film is jammed full of hi-tech goodies such as:
Those rubberish face-masks that let the wearer be someone else, even though they’re a different height and a completely different build
Tom Cruise’s Triumph Speed Triple having an auto-rear-tyre-change function, that somehow flips the rear tyre from slicks to roads, to cross-country and back to roads again, all in the space of one fast pursuit.

Yet even all of these technological marvels fail to lift MI: 2 out of the bathtub of mediocrity that it fell in to, in an early scene in Cadiz.

And the predictably obvious ‘fight to the death’ that Mr Cruise has with the arch baddie is just dull.

Actually no, it isn’t just dull.

It’s tiresomely dull.

So is the soundtrack.

I’m not sure what happened to MI: 2, but somewhere along the way, probably in a workshop deep within the creative phase, the film got out of control, like a rampaging bull in a shop in the middle of China.

M:I-2 should have been put to sleep, humanely.

But instead they went ahead and finished it.

I wish they hadn’t.

And I watched it.

I wish I hadn’t.

It’s rubbish.

Film Blogathon 04/17: Black Hawk Down

 

Black Hawk Down

Black Hawk Down

Black Hawk Down, the film that spawned a thousand videogames.

Based on a true story (the key word there is ‘based’), this is the story of a disastrous US Special Forces action against a warlord in Somalia.

Black Hawk Down is not without its flaws, but is well worth another look – even if you have already seen it – and well worth a first look if you haven’t.

I had forgotten the brilliant soundtrack. Every note is evocative, every tone sounds authentic (even though it isn’t).

Also worth mentioning, and a point too easily overlooked, is the international cast.

Just, for a moment, taking away the American actors, we are left with:

Ioan Gruffudd (Aberdare)
Ewan McGregor (Perth)
Ewen Bremner (Edinburgh)
Hugh Dancy (Stoke on Trent)
Orlando Bloom (Canterbury)
Tom Hardy (London)
Željko Ivanek (Ljubljana)
Kim Coates (Saskatoon)
Eric Bana (Melbourne)
Treva Etienne (London)
Razaaq Adoti (London)
George Harris (Grenada)
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Rudkøbing)
Jason Isaacs (Liverpool).

Although Black Hawk Down is staged well for the relentless realism of urban warfare, it shouldn’t be seen as an accurate retelling.

The strength of the film, however, is the constant, incessant, punishing chaos of urban conflict.

Depicted well is the complete confusion and disorder, the total absence of a cohesive strategy, the massive underestimation of a well-armed enemy, and the crowning glory of idiocy; the tactical errors heaped upon even more and even greater tactical errors, of the US command.

In the words of the Prussian military tactician Field Marshall Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke ‘No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy’.

This film shows how chillingly accurate that phrase is, whilst continuing to maintain, and turn up the suspense.

Black Hawk Down is an easy four out of five, or an eight and a half out of ten.

Film Blogathon 03/17: Lost Boys

Lost Boys

Not lost, just clueless. And by the way gang, ONE OF THEM ISN’T A BOY!

I watched this skillfully-directed but very badly-edited, film for the first – and last – time, last week.

What a difference five years made.

From baggy, meandering Lost Boys in 1987, to the tight-as-you-like production of Buffy The Vampire Slayer (starring Kristy Swanson as Buffy, and Donald Sutherland as her watcher), in 1992.

I’m still not sure whether I was supposed to take Lost Boys seriously, or if it was an attempt at schlock-horror, or even a stab at camp comedic send-up.

I don’t know.

I do know that I didn’t hate Lost Boys.

I didn’t even hate the film when IT BROKE THE VAMPIRE LAW, when it said you could become a vampire by just chugging a couple of mouthfuls of vampire blood from an old bottle, like you were some kind of down-on-your-luck blood-addicted wino from the wrong side of the tracks.

I didn’t even hate the film when the main motorbike scene had far too many implausible points for my brain to accept.

Lost Boys is just a mess of a film.

And it left me wondering what it could have been, if it had the courage of its convictions.

There is probably a great film in the script of Lost Boys waiting to get out.

But what I saw was more like a film of a script called Escape From Mediocrity.

Lost Boys film rating: Meh.

Film Blogathon 02/17: Pitch Perfect

Pitch Perfect

Pitch Perfect

You know those annoying syrupy films so self-consumed that they can’t see the joke at the centre of their own reason for existing?

Well, Pitch Perfect isn’t one of those.

This is the story of an all-girl A Capella group at a fictional co-ed US university.

I approached Pitch Perfect thinking it was going to be a large helping of sugar-coated gloop, just like (shudder) Glee.

It isn’t!

Instead, this is more like 112 minutes of Mean Girls The Musical (that’s the best analogy I can come up with); a film with a strong line in self-deprecating humour, and an occasional sideways glance at itself.

The writing is so sharp that it allows the odd nugget of cunningly-hidden adult humour to skilfully glide over the heads of younger viewers.

Production is OK (could have been better in places), but the film is shot with such articulate intelligence that it develops a likeable character of its own.

Yes, there is intelligence in Pitch Perfect. And it is a good example of smartly articulate story-telling.

But it isn’t a documentary, so lighten up people.

Although I enjoy the way Pitch Perfect allows some of its characters to develop, I do have a problem with Rebel Wilson, or maybe my problem is with the Fat Amy character.

Whatever.

Aside from this minor issue, Pitch Perfect is a nicely-paced feel good film that is a bucketful of family entertainment.

And easy and thoroughly enjoyable watch.

Which you should.

Obv.