R.I.P. My childhood

May 30 2008 at 6:22 pm (Rants)

I have just read that Lee David Zlotoff, the creator of MacGyver – a character who was once up there with James Bond and Superman for me – has announced plans to bring his creation to the big screen. My initial excitement petered out when I realised that this will be a huge mistake.

After watching the tearfully disappointing Indiana Jones and the Step Too Far, reading about developments in the big screen Tintin adaptations, hearing news of plans to make a Fraggle Rock movie and now this, I have come to the conclusion that Hollywood will be unrelenting in the slaughtering of my childhood. The crushing blow will surely come when I hear plans of Back to the Future Part IV, a remake of Labyrinth and a live action version of MASK.

No good can come of this. Can’t we leave the past in the past?


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Cinema review: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

May 28 2008 at 10:18 pm (Cinema reviews)

Every summer a film comes out that divides audiences. Increasingly in recent years, blockbusters have been so-so affairs that all too often descend into utter tripe. The disappointment usually comes from the crushing weight of expectation. You know what you want, and if it doesn’t come close, it’s an utter disaster.

Thankfully, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is not an utter disaster. True, it’s not as good as the original trilogy, but it’s mostly entertaining.

So it’s 1957 and the Russians (the new baddies of choice taking over from good old Indy favourites the Nazis) are after a mysterious crystal skull which is supposed to have some kind of power. Indiana Jones is now an older, wiser college professor and is prompted by a young biker (Shia LeBoeuf) to go and find an old friend who has disappeared. So far, so Indy.

We know what we’re going to get, so why does it all feel so empty? The action scenes are good especially a fun car/motorcycle chase around the streets and halls of Princeton University and an exciting car chase in the Amazon. But when it’s not dazzling, it’s actually pretty dull. Indy and his new sidekick spend a lot of time wandering around spooky temples, but where are the booby traps? Where is the danger? It all feels a bit, well, safe.

Safe and more than a little silly. Indiana Jones films have always been tongue-in-cheek affairs but this takes things one step further. Quite apart from some ill-advised CGI, especially during the lacklustre finale, there are some scenes that will have you groaning in disbelief. Watch out for one scene involving quicksand and a snake.

Hampered by a botched ending and a MacGuffin so poorly explained as to make the plot seem incomprehensible, we’re left hoping that the cast will fill this out. It seems, though, that most of them are playing this for laughs. Cate Blanchett is not a particularly threatening villain thanks to a comedy Russian accent. Ray Winstone and John Hurt seem to be there just to make up the numbers. So it’s down to Karen Allen (as great as ever) as Indy’s long lost lover Marion Ravenwood, and Shia LeBeouf to rescue the film.

But of course this is Ford’s show. He looks good for his age and can still cut it as the man in the hat. Some say he’s lost it, but the truth is he’s a man in his sixties playing a man in his sixties. With 19 years since The Last Crusade both on and off screen, he can get away with being a bit creaky.

Many fans will probably deal with this film in much the same way as Star Wars fans dealt with the prequels: they’ll simply pretend it doesn’t exist. That’s not a bad idea; the original trilogy made a nice neat little self-contained bubble that fit perfectly in the space of a decade. This is less a comeback than an afterthought. It’s not that the original trilogy was so good, but that it was so familiar that any addition, no matter how good, was always going to be a letdown.

But to give it a (ahem) fair crack of the whip, it’s a solid piece of entertainment that harks back to the good old days. As soon as that music kicks in you’ll be as giddy as a schoolboy.

Rating: 3/5

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19-25 May 2008

May 27 2008 at 10:08 pm (The list)

I ticked three films off the list last week, as well as watching a few others. I’ll start with the list.

A Night At The Opera (1935)
My first Marx brothers film. I was hoping to enjoy this film and wasn’t disappointed. It is hilarious from start to finish with some great slapstick sequences and verbal verve aplenty. The ‘stateroom’ sequence in particular in which 15 people pile into a tiny room is brilliantly crafted as is the finale. While the musical interludes detract from the sheer vitality, they do showcase the extraordinary non-comedic talents of Chico and Harpo.
Rating: 5/5
Red River (1948)
I’ve never been a huge fan of Westerns, although I don’t really think I’ve given them a chance. This remake of Mutiny of the Bounty benefits from the talents of John Wayne and Montgomery Clift in only his third screen role. The father-son dynamic between the two leads is believable aided by a terrific supporting cast. Wayne as the gruff, cold-hearted cattle boss Tom Dunson is all the more sinister after his crew abandons him. However, the happy, almost jokey ending jars slightly after the tense build up.
Rating: 4/5

United 93 (2006)
Released just five years after 9/11, one might consider this film to be insensitive and crass. On the contrary, it is a brave piece of filmmaking, which does well to depict the events of that fateful day in a deeply realistic light. Focussing on the normal lives of the people involved from the air traffic controllers to the passengers on board the flight, the film puts us right there with them, allowing us to see each individuals point of view in real time. Watching this film, you almost feel guilty being swept along by it as if it is an ordinary thriller. It’s hard to believe that these events actually happened in the all-too-shockingly recent past.
Rating: 5/5

Total must sees seen: 221
Shame list total: 780

Also watched last week for the first time:

The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989)
An entertaining film with good music and great performances. Michelle Pfeiffer has never been sexier and the real life Bridges brothers spark fairly well off each other. Jeff Bridges is always great to watch but here his performance requires little more than bored mumbling. The ending is a bit of a letdown as well.

Rating: 3/5

Wag The Dog (1997)
A very enjoyable and fast-paced comedy about a Washington spin doctor (Robert De Niro) joining forces with a Hollywood producer (Dustin Hoffman) in order to divert America’s attention away from a presidential scandal… by fabricating a war. This inventive and often frightening political satire reveals just how gullible people can be and how much faith we have in the media. Plus it’s great to see De Niro and Hoffman, two of the greatest living screen actors, working so well together.

Rating: 4/5

Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous (2005)
Hmm… I quite enjoyed the first one. I thought it was better than other films like it. The sequel, however, is predictable, forgettable and too long.

Rating: 2/5

An Officer and a Gentleman (1982)
I never realised the cultural impact of this film. Watching it, I noticed how many parts of it were referenced in other films and TV programmes from Wayne’s World 2 to Red Dwarf. Louis Gossett Jr. is terrific as the sadistic Gunnery Sergeant Foley and there are some good training scenes but this is just Dirty Dancing: Boot Camp.
Rating: 3/5

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The shame list: an explanation

May 25 2008 at 4:26 pm (Uncategorized)

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a teenager but my passion for film was sparked when I was a child. I never thought until fairly recently that I could put the two together.

I used to consider myself to be pretty clued up when it comes to films. I may know an awful lot about films but that knowledge is actually quite superficial. Until recently, I rarely ventured out of my comfort zone to brave what I thought to be the no man’s land of black and white, foreign and silent films. The truth is that if I want to be good enough to write about films for a living (because that is the ultimate goal), then I have to watch more films. A lot more.

Last Christmas I was given a book called 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die (edited by Steven Jay Schneider). I went through the list and discovered that I had only seen 188 of them. Less than one fifth. An embarrassingly low total for someone who calls himself a film buff.

So I decided to do something about it.

Armed with four TV channels, a video recorder (yes, I know I’m probably the last person in the western world to still be using one of those rather than Sky+) and a subscription to Love Film, I started to watch those films that I really should have seen by now. I know books like this are not meant to be taken seriously and the list is surely not comprehensive but it’s as good a basis to form a list as I can think of.

This is my shame list. All will be watched.

It’s been five months and my total figure has increased to 220. 32 films in 5 months. There are still 781 films left to see. I’m 28 now. If I watch two of these films a week, I’ll have completed my mission by the time I’m 35, by which time there will almost certainly be an updated edition with more films I have to see.

Despite this daunting task, I’m not planning on restricting myself solely to the list. This blog will include cinema and DVD reviews, general rants and probably the odd top ten.

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