A slow week for the shame list, but I did catch up on a few recent DVD releases.
Mad Max wasn’t quite what I expected. I think what I was expecting was something more like Mad Max 2, although I haven’t seen that yet. As far as revenge movies go, it was a little disappointing. It takes a while to get going. In fact, revenge doesn’t even come into it until the last 20 minutes when Mel Gibson’s post-apocalyptic cop avenges the brutal murder of his wife and child at the hands of a vicious biker gang. It looks great and has a raw kind of feel, with an iconic star-making turn from Gibson. The version I saw must have been the one that was dubbed for American audiences which explains why a film set in Australia and filmed in Australia had all the Australian actors talking in an American accent.
Shame list total: 1,206
I’m normally quite tentative about rom-coms. I kind of side step them like they’re a pile of dog’s mess on the pavement. However, I gave Definitely Maybe a go after hearing good things about it from a number of reputable sources. I’m sorry to say, they were all wrong. Will Hayes (Ryan Reynolds on auto-pilot) decides to tell his daughter Maya (Academy Award nominee Abigail Breslin, here ticking the ‘cute but shrill kid’ box) the story of how he met his mother. He changes the names of the three women in his life (Elizabeth Banks, Isla Fisher and Rachel Weisz) so she has to guess which one is her mother. Aside from the fact that the film features an implausibly coincidence-laden plot and sickeningly cloying performances, it is relentlessly slow. Among the longest 107 minutes of my life.
In an effort to get over being dumped by his girlfriend Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell), Peter Bretter (Jason Segel, who also wrote the leisurely script) goes on holiday to Hawaii only to find that Sarah is staying at the same resort with her new boyfriend, English rock star Aldous Snow (Russell Brand). It’s a typically hit-and-miss comedy from the Judd Apatow stable (although he only produces leaving the directorial duties to first timer Nicholas Stoller) that features many of the regulars including Jonah Hill and Paul Rudd who gets many of the best jokes. On the whole it’s a throwaway piece of entertainment but intermittently hilarious, thanks mainly to Russell Brand.
A horror mystery produced by Guillermo del Toro was always going to be impressive and this doesn’t disappoint. Laura was brought up in an orphanage and when, as an adult, she moves back in with her husband Carlos and son Simon to renovate it as a home for disabled children. But Simon makes a creepy new friend and things get a little bit eerie. There are a couple of good scares but it focuses more on the story and building an atmosphere of creeping dread than giving the audience sleepless nights. Plot-wise, it is rather similar to Japanese fear factory Ringu and it does occasionally descend into cliché (large creaking staircases, creepy children, walking slowly in the dark) but horror films should be marked on their overall quality not necessarily their scariness.
At the moment the shame list is made up of a number of film lists from the AFI top 100 to the Guardian’s 1000 films to see before you die. At the moment, my countdown is currently at 1,207 films – that’s 1,207 films I must see before I die, which hopefully is not for a little while now. I’ve taken into account as many major films lists as I can find so as to get as even a spread as possible.
However, a new list has emerged as an important one to take into account. This month’s Empire magazine features a list of the 500 greatest films of all time and purports to be the most ambitious film poll ever attempted. Not only does it include the views of 10,000 Empire readers, but also those of 150 film makers and 50 key film critics. What’s more, because every contributor was asked to compile their top ten, they’ve even managed to put the films in order. So the greatest film of all time is apparently… well, you’ll have to buy the mag to find out.
Anyway, I shall be including Empire’s list in my list very shortly so expect the shame list total to rocket up considerably, probably adding months onto my estimated time of completion (which I haven’t even worked out yet).
For the record, I submitted my top ten and I’m delighted to see every one of them in the list, although in a list of greatest films that includes Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (which apparently is better than 12 Monkeys which is a total lie) and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (which many seem to think is superior to Glengarry Glen Ross which it’s not), that doesn’t necessarily say a lot about my taste in films. Or indeed, that of everyone else.
I’m a little behind but here are the films from last week. This week’s films will be up soon, I promise.
Another classic Western under my belt, and this is easily the best so far. Set during the American Civil War, this story of three men searching for buried gold never takes itself too seriously. It takes its time but the great dynamic between the main characters, Ennio Morricone’s classic score and Sergio Leone’s tight sweaty direction make the journey well worthwhile.
Henry Fonda lends his trademark stoicism to the timeless role of Wyatt Earp in John Ford’s classic retelling of the gunfight at the OK Corral. Apparently it’s not the most historically accurate telling of the story but it is one of the most poetic and affecting. Ford’s contemplative tone occasionally slows the film down when it could do with a kick, but it’s so well shot that that can be forgiven.
Although Back To The Future and Grease were pieces of nostalgia about how great it was (or would have been) to be young in the 1950s, Rebel Without A Cause (tellingly, a film about the ‘50s that was actually filmed in the ‘50s) shows that it wasn’t all milkshakes and rock ‘n’ roll. Despite a tone of sundrenched colour, knife fights and fatal games of chicken abound. James Dean’s performance as Jim Stark is iconic as the teen too cool for school, yet his rebellion is not against conformity, but against the idea that being a teenager means shunning the love of your parents. Tragic, powerful and reflective – of all the films I’ve discovered so far from my shame list, this is one of my favourites.
Shame list total: 1,207
An interesting idea is slightly marred by an overreliance on CGI. It’s as visually striking as you’d expect from the endlessly creative Guillermo del Toro, but the script is a bit flabby and it does go on a bit long with an ending that feels rushed. On the plus side, Ron Perlman really makes the role of Hellboy his own and John Hurt always makes for great viewing.
Last week for me was quite a busy week in films, but not for the shame list which I only reduced by one:
Annie Hall (1977)
I’m quite new to Woody Allen’s oeuvre having only seen a shockingly meagre two of his films before, so it felt right to continue with his best loved film. Consistently funny and inventive, Annie Hall’s influence on popular culture is obvious and can be seen in the likes of When Harry Met Sally, High Fidelity, even Family Guy. Seamlessly mixing screwball comedy with a more intellectual brand of humour, Allen’s script is both witty and heartfelt. Although he claims that Alvy Singer is not an auto-biographical character, it cannot be denied that he is Allen through and through, and Diane Keaton’s Oscar-winning turn as the eponymous love interest is a worthy emotional heart to a sharp comedy.
Shame list total: 1,210
Also watched last week:
Frustratingly manipulative and often painfully slow, this moral dilemma movie is a hangover from the 1980s ‘greed is good’ sub-genre, complete with clichéd scenes of shagging on a bed of banknotes and indulgent slow-mo gambling shots. All of the characters are morally reprehensible to the point that you hope they all end up miserable which of course they don’t. Still, it does make you think about what’s important (love vs money) and that’s no bad thing.
With the film’s release in UK cinemas delayed for six months due to the plot closely resembling the case of missing girl Madeleine McCann, Gone Baby Gone is shrouded in an uncomfortable sense of chilling familiarity. However, rather than a sombre family drama, it is a tense thriller with some great performances (especially the Oscar-nominated Amy Ryan as the child’s uncaring junkie mother) and an interesting moral dilemma in the finale, which some critics have had a few problems with. Occasionally the film troubles itself with sticking so rigidly to the thriller formula that it doesn’t do justice to the core themes and it certainly could have done with fewer twists. However, it is definitely worth watching for Ben Affleck’s direction which shows that he has much more promise and warmth behind the camera than he ever did in front of it.
Four middle aged bikers (John Travolta, Tim Allen, William H Macy and Martin Lawrence, who isn’t actually middle aged) decide to take a break from their humdrum suburban lives for a road trip across America. On the way they piss off the Del Fuegos, a hard ass biker gang led by a typically nasty Ray Liotta and save a pleasant town from their tyranny. With shades of the infinitely superior City Slickers, there’s little here to get excited about. A hit-and-miss joke count, a script that could have been written in crayon by a two-year-old and some shamefully pantomimic performances (especially from Travolta and Liotta, and Macy’s not exactly stretching himself as an adorable loser) add up to a tame comedy that means well but never really reaches its potential.
I feel all productive after ticking three great films off the shame list last week:
Bloody long but well worth it. While the impressive cast includes Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins and Omar Sharif all acting their sandfilled socks off, Peter O’Toole is particularly charismatic and captivating in the title role, and making almost four hours fly by. The compelling and inspiring story is made all the more arresting by David Lean’s visionary direction, making the most of the vast canvas of the desert and making its searing heat burst from the screen. All this, plus Maurice Jarre’s majestic score make Lawrence of Arabia the perfect example of epic filmmaking.
This entertaining Arabian adventure fantasy has aged well: colourful, sparky and brimming with great sequences from magic carpets to giant malevolent genies to flying mechanical horses. There are some classic 1940s matinee performances from Conrad Veidt’s boo-hiss pantomime baddie Jaffar to John Justin’s dashing hero, Ahmad. The special effects must have been impressive to 1940s audiences (and they were responsible for one of the three Oscars the film won) and most of them give the film a kind of age-worn charm, although the film does feature possibly the shittest spider in screen history.
This is one of the most recent films in the list (it only appears on the IMDb top 250) but that doesn’t diminish its power. The Diving Bell And The Butterfly tells the tragic true story of French Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby (Jean-Do to his friends) who suffered a stroke and left him with ‘locked-in syndrome’. Completely paralysed apart from his left eye, he communicated by blinking and ‘dictated’ his best-selling memoirs from which the film is adapted. Although a difficult subject to tackle visually, Julian Schnabel’s efficient direction effectively puts us in Bauby’s mind allowing us to see and experience what he does without making the film feel too claustrophobic by pulling back to witness what his friends and family go through. Ronald Harwood’s honest script never allows us to feel sorry for Jean-Do by showing his understandable cynicism, and the film is held together by deeply affecting performances from all. A poignant and unmissable depiction of the triumph of willpower.
Shame list total: 1,211
Also watched last week:
Hot Rod (2007)
Rod Kimble (Andy Samberg) is a wannabe stuntman who’s frankly not very good. What this means is that he spends a lot of time attempting absurdly ambitious stunts on his moped while wearing a fake moustache (he thinks it makes him look more butch) and hurting himself very badly. When his stepfather, Frank, who hates him (a hilariously savage Ian McShane) is taken ill, Rod takes it upon himself to raise $50,000 to fund a heart transplant… just so he can legitimately kick Frank’s ass and finally gain some self respect. Some good laughs and a retro ‘80s metal soundtrack make this a watchable if forgettable comedy starring a number of Saturday Night Live alumni.
Star Wars films are like Bond films: they all open in the same way. Even before the film starts there’s the 20th Century Fox fanfare, followed by (or preceded by; I can’t remember which) the glittery Lucasfilm logo. Then along comes ‘A long time ago…’, and then bam, the Star Wars logo is right there in your face, before floating away to reveal the opening crawl to the sound of John Williams’ legendary theme.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars ain’t no ordinary Star Wars film though. You get the ‘long time ago’ bit, the Lucasfilm logo and a version of the music, but that’s about it. From the outset, you know that it’s not going to lightsaber the mustard.
The absence, also, of an episode number hides the fact that it’s essentially episode 2.5, so Anakin’s just had his hand lopped off by Count Dooku and married Amidala in secret. The plot that sits between this and the disappointing birth of Darth Vader is preposterous even for such a fanciful franchise. Jabba the Hutt’s son has been kidnapped and the big green slug has promised to help whichever party rescues him. The Jedi council dispatches Anakin and his new Padawan Ahsoka Tano to bring back Rotta the Huttlet (seriously), but Dooku is hot on his tail.
As a story it’s rather a departure from the Star Wars formula. For a start, it includes something that has been largely missing from George Lucas’ previous intergalactic excursions: a MacGuffin, here in the shape of cute little Rotta, who resembles a big bogey with a smiley face drawn on it. The action is even more cartoony (understandably) than we’ve come to expect which means that the film lacks the sense of import that the build up (which, let’s face it, has been over for three years now) required.
As an animation, it does stand up and has some decent scenes, especially the vertical battle of Teth that takes place up the side of a wall. And with more lightsaber action than ever before, it keeps you entertained most of the time.
Still, director Dave Filoni seems to think that because he’s working in animation he can get away with a lot more – he can’t. What we get is the clunkiest dialogue in any Star Wars film yet and some ‘interesting’ (read: bad) interpretations of familiar Star Wars performances. Save for Anthony Daniels, Samuel L. Jackson and Christopher Lee, none of the cast of the prequels has lent their voices. Try not to laugh at Obi-Wan being voiced by a Californian imitating a Scot impersonating a Londoner.
Visually, however, it’s a real treat even if some characters’ hair looks like it’s carved out of wood and marble. There are even a few familiar touches from the original trilogy including the return of the Jawas and the Cantina band. The new characters are typically colourful but not always direct hits. Ashoka is as cute as a button rather than a kick ass superheroine, and Jar Jar Binks can relax now that he’s not the most ludicrously misjudged character in the franchise: enter Ziro the Hutt, Jabba’s camp uncle who seems to be covered in face paint and voiced by Eric Cartman.
Because of the medium, it’s aimed more at kids than any other Star Wars film, even though there’s still a fair bit of political talk and military speak. Adult fans won’t be left wanting more because as it feels like an afterthought, like one film too many. It’s not a total disaster, but it’ll always be remembered as the Never Say Never Again of Star Wars films.
There was a bit of an international flavour to my shame list viewings last week. From India with Disney, to Liverpool and London with The Beatles, to northern Spain with Guillermo del Toro and straddling the US/Mexican border with Orson Welles.
Slowly but surely, I’m getting through the Disney cartoons but I suspect they’re not going to get any better than this. Not just a great story, but a rare musical that doesn’t ram the songs down your throat. Instead, it has two very good, very memorable songs and only a couple more, some great characters, a winning script and some terrific animation for its time. The relationship between Mowgli, Baloo and Bagheera is so great, and the fact that the villain is a tiger that sounds like an English gent is just perfect.
I was never a huge fan of The Beatles but it’s hard not to enjoy this charming film. Richard Lester’s free-spirited direction benefits from a slight plot that charts a typically crazy day in the life of the Fab Four as they travel to London to appear on a live TV show. When they’re not performing, the film is just four lads larking about which can only make you smile. The quick fire script is laden with jokes that show that the John, Paul, George and Ringo were great comic performers as well as great musicians, and Wilfred Brambell does an amusing turn as Paul’s grandfather. The magic of A Hard Day’s Night is that it gives the impression that they were mates first, musicians second. A perfect snapshot of the era.
Mark Kermode calls Guillermo del Toro ‘the new Orson Welles’, one of modern cinema’s true visionaries and he’s got a good point. Seamlessly blending whimsical magic and brutal reality, del Toro has created a poignant and exciting fairy tale for adults. Set in 1944, it is the story of Ofelia, a 10-year-old girl who moves with her pregnant mother into a house in the hills of Northern Spain, to live with her new stepfather, a vicious captain in the Franco’s fascist army. Escaping from the violence and horror of her new life, Ofelia retreats into a world of fantasy in which she meets a faun who assigns her three tasks after which she will become queen of the underworld. Ofelia’s fantasy world and the all too real world of her stepfather’s regime of terror fit together seamlessly, and the fact that del Toro avoids an overload of unnecessary CGI in favour of some brilliant costumes and sets is a wise choice. Throw in some brilliant performances and a tight script, and you have one of the best films of the last few years.
Based on Whit Masterson’s novel Badge of Evil, this is the story of a battle of wills between two men: a Mexican narcotics officer Mike Vargas (Charlton Heston, who apart from a moustache just doesn’t seem very Mexican) and a corrupt but respected border town police chief Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles, who also directed and wrote the screenplay). Welles’ powerful direction is almost as larger than life as the man himself. A good screenplay and some gripping scenes (especially the finale in which Vargas stalks Quinlan at close range to get a confession on tape) plus some unnervingly jazzy music make for a great thriller, albeit one that does sag in places.
Shame list total: 1,214