Archive for January, 2016


 

Ivan Vasilievich: Back to the Future is an utterly bizarre Soviet comedy that makes for one of the strangest, yet entertaining cinematic experiences.

Based on a play of the same name the film follows Shurik (Aleksandr Demyanenko); an inventor who creates a time machine. Whilst experimenting with the machine he accidentally sends his neighbour Ivan Bunsha (Yuriy Yakoviev) and a petty burglar George Miloslavsky (Leonid Kuravlyov) back to the 16th Century whilst simultaneous trapping Tsar Ivan the Terrible (also played by Yakoviev) in 1973.

We then follow both sets of characters as Bunsha and Miloslavsky try to survive (with the former impersonating Ivan the Terrible) whilst Shurik attempts to fix the time machine – whilst keeping Ivan the Terrible in check. This results in a frenzy of scenes that’s probably best described as Scooby Doo meets Bill and Ted meets Weird Science meets a Noel Coward play. It is utterly insane, in a good way.

The film has so much fantastic physical and situational comedy throughout that it’d be easy to think it’s just a farce with no substance but that is not the case as the witty dialogue also gives an insight in soviet Russia of the 1970’s and according to other reviews is apparently even funnier for native Russian speakers as many jokes are lost in translation.

The film is directed and performed in a pantomimic way that makes it almost feel like a modern-day parody (think Danger 5) of 70’s B-movies, but obviously this isn’t the case and its over-the-top and wacky performances where done for actual comic reasons rather than mockery; and it works wonderfully. The entire film has a sense of Monty Python about it as it flicks between situations at will every scene offering ‘something completely different’ – there are food fights, sword fights, explosions, musical numbers and lots of running up and down stairs.

Ivan Vasilievich: Back to the Future is a comic gem that took my complete surprise upon watching… a must see.

 

9/10

The Big Short provides a sleek, witty look at the housing market crash of 2008 from an unexplored angle. It’s a stylish, somewhat bizarre yet also thoughtful movie that keeps what could have been a boring drama fun.

Some of the most popular words in the films screenplays are technical bank lingo such as: mortage backed security, sub-prime loans, collateralized debt obligations (CDO’s) and credit default swaps. These terms have little meaning to those who are unfamiliar with the world of banks, brokers and Wall Street and it’s conceivable that the consistent use of such phrases could alienate an audience. Luckily The Big Short doesn’t suffer from these problems. With a great cast, story and Margot Robbie drinking champagne in a bubble bath turns the film into a quirky ‘heist’ movie that has raises huge questions about corruption.

The film focuses of four different groups of ‘outsiders’ who profited from the collapse of the banks in 2008 by betting against the solid housing market; these people where the few who realized what was happening and what would happen and took advantage of it. Amongst these are the heavy metal listening genius Dr. Michael Burry (Christian Bale), the straight-talking irate Mark Baum (Steve Carrell) and a small part for the eco-friendly seed obsessed Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt).

All of the characters are fantastically entertaining and performed in such an absorbing way that you are sucked into the film (which at times is almost documentary-esque). The focus on each character’s quirks however fails to make them truly relatable and during the final act they become a little one dimensional – for example Brad Pitt has an emotional rant about how ‘millions will lose their homes over this’ feels extremely forced and out of place. The sub-plot of a personal tragedy in the past of Steve Carrell’s character feels similar off-tone and has no viable reason to be included.

The film though covers for these problems with its fast-pace and witty script; which gives each actor – including the non-A-listers such as Rafe Spall, Jeremy Strong and John Magaro – their moment to shine. For a film with such a large ensemble cast it does a great job of spreading the story between them.

For all its humour the film also does a fantastic job of spreading its message about the big banks and the corruption within them. Towards the end of the film the focus shifts onto the scale of what the characters are doing and the moral ambiguity of such. Even though each of them becomes millionaires none of them are happy about it; their celebrations muted by a sombriety that makes the message clear.

As only the best films do, The Big Short, makes the audience feel happy yet also thoughtful at its conclusion and it takes a while to come to terms with exactly what happened and the impact on the economic crisis on us all.

9/10

“A Dingo ate my baby!” is the infamous line for which A Cry In The Dark is known and is a line that can be used to sum up the movie. Although interestingly it is never said in the actual movie “A dingo’s got my baby” is used… but I guess the imagery of a kidnapping dingo isn’t as funny as a ferocious baby-eating one and therefore the phrase doesn’t carry the same iconicness.

Prior to watching the film I had almost no knowledge of the situation other than a vague idea that a dingo ate a baby in Australia at some point and the world was obsessed with saying as such. In fact the most I knew about it was from Seinfeld:

It was a surprise to me then when a majority of the film turned out to be a courtroom drama. The film stars Meryl Streep and Sam Neill as the parents who leave their baby alone in a tent for a few minutes; only for a dingo to run off with it. Australian media soon pick up on the story and somehow the police become convinced that the baby was murdered and is being covered up by the parents. Leading to several gripping court-cases… which make fantastic viewing; the story is full of so many twists and turns that it is impossible to predict (unless you’re familiar with the true story behind it).

Throughout the film we also get to see reactions by random Australians to what is happening in court; be this punters at a bar gossiping, or chit-chat at a barbers shop. These moments serve only to add extra tension to the film as we see from another side how divided the country is as to whether the baby was murdered or not.

Outside of the courtroom and the reactions to it, is the place where the film falls down. There are lots of bloated scenes between Streep and Neill that just draw out the film, as neither of the actors seems truly heartbroken by the events. This could have been done purposefully; either in an attempt to build up the ambiguity and tension in the courtroom scenes (and it does), or because this is how their real-life counterparts acted. However it just distracts us from the things we care about – the courtroom.

A Cry in The Dark is a tense, courtroom drama based on an extremely interesting true story. It’s just a shame that the story behind the film is more interesting than the film itself.

 

7/10

 

 

The Decoy Bride is an average, predictable and pretty much standard British indie comedy; offering little more than cheesy jokes and awkward romance.

The film is one, which I hadn’t heard of prior to watching –and only watched because my girlfriend is a massive David Tennant fan. It’s no surprise that I didn’t know of the film, as it has almost nothing going for it (apart from that it stars David Tennant).

Lara Tyler (Alice Eve) is a famous actress hounded by the media and engaged to bumbling author James Arber (Tennant). In an attempt to get married out of the media’s eye the two of them run to the small island of Hegg – where one of Arber’s books is set – the media are not so easily fooled however and soon descend; forcing Arber to ‘marry’ a decoy bride local girl Katie (Kelly MacDonald).

Of-course Arber soon discovers that he doesn’t actually love his fiancée and is in fact in love with this Katie girl – in an extremely forced and chemistryless way. A dash across the island, a swim in a lake and an attempt at playing bag-pipes is all it takes for him to realize this as characters motivation are forced onto the audience.

The cast performances all feel incredibly awkward and stilted, which in turn makes the film feel similarly awkward. Even Tennant looks hungover/exhausted throughout the film and shows little dedication to his flat character. The pacing is also terrible as the film languishes in the mire of ‘mildly amusing’… everytime you feel a good joke might happen it doesn’t and there is little charm to cover up the missed opportunities.

The film in all its averageness and cliché does have one positive in that it doesn’t try to get puffy and emotional (as similar small-scale rom-coms often do), instead sticking to its (failed) attempts at wit.

The Decoy Bride is not a film worth watching, with little appeal to any audience – I can’t see anyone falling in love with it, that said it is an inoffensive piece of cinema that is not worth hating either.

4/10

Whisky Galore! is an Ealing comedy with a great repuation. It often appearing in Top 10 Ealing lists alongside the likes of Passport to Pimlico, Kind Hearts of Coronets and The Ladykillers. Therefore when you watch this film you expect it to be similar to the other films from the studio… you expect a great ensemble cast, darkly funny situations and a sarcastic humour hidden in a light-hearted exterior.

Unfortunately Whisky Galore! whilst having these attributes fails to make the impact of the other films listed (although admittedly it was made before any of the others so mistakes where obviously learnt from)’ it is dire bland film with almost no humour.

The film has an interesting premise that should set it up for great comedy. During World War II a small Scottish island runs out of whisky (due to rationing) then when a cargo ship crashes off its shore filled with 50,000 cases of whisky’s the Scottish townspeople must work together to steal (and drink) the whisky without the obedient English officer Captain Waggett (Basil Radford) discovering what they’re up to.

The story is set up for a great community standing up against the authority type film (in the same vein as Passport to Pimlico). However it never quite happens; the townspeople don’t evade Waggett in any way that is even mildly amusing – the highlight being they hide some whisky under a baby’s pram – and we have no care for their plight. The entire film is just drab and humourless. It has little heart and almost no charm as we have no-one to back on either side.

The film improves towards it end with a car chase that is good fun, but it is a sense of far little too late. Throughout the film you feel sorry for Waggett for the trouble the townspeople cause him (instead of happy that he’s being outwitted), and watching the villagers get drunk has little comedic impact.

A remake of the film has been recently announced starring Eddie Izzard in the role of Captain Waggett. Whilst I’m not particularly excited by this decision it will be interesting to see a more current (and hopefully comedic) take on the story as I do believe the situation could have genuinely hilarious

Whisky Galore! is a dry ‘comedy’ with no jokes and the only reason that I can see for the outstanding reviews it often gets is that the reviewers are all partaking in the titular ‘Whisky’ throughout their viewings.

5/10

Commando (1985)

 

Before watching Commando I made a list of things that I expected to see; based on the title of the film, the 80’s setting and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The list was as follows:

  • One-liners/puns
  • Arnie smashing stuff with his bare hands
  • Brutal murders
  • Arnie delivers bad jokes sarcastically
  • Topless Arnie/Muscle flexing
  • Explosions
  • Car chases
  • Car crashes
  • Guns
  • Arnie smashing more stuff with his bare hands
  • A stupid side romance with a random woman
  • Little meaningful plot apart from killing
  • An epic hand-to-hand climatic fight between Arnie and the villain

As the film played I ticked the things off of the list and not to anyone’s surprise it delivered on every one of them (a majority within the opening fifteen minutes). Commando is the action-packed, violent and insanely entertaining movie that I wanted to see and a great watch.

Opening with a short cheery montage showing Arnie flexing his muscles, chop wood and carry his daughter over his shoulder. The film throws the audience straight into the deep end as his daughter is kidnapped and he sets all out to save her life and kill the kidnappers and boy does he kill them.

When the iMDB trivia on an action film states ‘that 54 stunt performers are credited in the movie compared to a cast of 36’ you know the fight scenes are going to be good. Therefore its unsurprising that Arnie goes to town on pretty much every person he encounters. If you want to see Arnie tear things apart with his hands this is the film for you. In the course of the ninety minutes Arnie rips apart: airplanes, car-seats, his enemies necks, chains, ladies tops and countless other things; in an astounding testament to his ability as an action star and his physical strength.

The film is at it’s best when Arnie is left without guns (as seen in the early fight scenes) when he has to use his hands/conveniently placed objects around him he is wonderful to watch and gets you on the edge of your seat waiting for the next kill. He also delivers several of his most famous lines with my personal favourite from the movie being “You know I said I was going to kill you last… I lied.” Before dropping his enemy from a cliff.

It’s just a shame that Commando doesn’t offer enough of this in the later fight scenes… once Arnie gets himself some guns; the film peters to a halt and the fun goes with it. You can watch anyone shoot twenty people with a machine gun but only Schwarzenegger can rip a phone booth from a wall (in a particularly testorone fuelled scene). Admittedly he does lose the guns for the final showdown but by this point the film has lost its magic.

Commando is a film that, as you can guess by the number of times he’s been mentioned in this review can be summed up in two words: Arnold Schwarzenegger.

8/10

Some Like It Hot is a light-hearted comic romp that mixes several different types of comedy into fantastically funny situations.

What makes something funny? To answer such a question is difficult… and attempts to come up with a response have been wide and varied throughout history. With as vast and diverse a population as humankind it is only right that different cultures have developed their own comic tastes and therefore created different sorts of comedy – physical comedy, satire, dark comedy, sarcasm, puns, parody, black comedy, cringe comedy, spoofs and general wit are to name just a few sub-genres that come under the comedy umbrella. Therefore it’s impossible to please everyone?

Wrong. Some Like It Hot (and perhaps early episodes of The Simpsons) takes almost every type of joke available and shoves it in a blender. The output being a comic cocktail that is perfect for everybody. I honestly believe that every person could watch this film and find something funny about it (even if they don’t enjoy it in its entirety). Most obvious in the film are the theatrical situational gags of men dressing up as women and Marilyn Monroe playing a dumb blonde; assisted by the satire and parody of rich people, large corporations, gangsters, alcoholism, sex, homosexuality and the music industry. And that’s all from the situation alone.

The dialogue in the film is fantastically worked with jokes consistently coming thick, fast and hilariously. With so many one-liners crammed in the film a second watch of the film reveals dozens of jokes you missed on the first viewing because you where laughing so hard. This prompts a third viewing in which you remember how funny the jokes you heard first time where and forget the jokes you noticed second time. Leading to vicious circle of re-watching that it is hard to get out of (I worked out that I’ve seen the film six – or maybe seven times – but three of those happened in the same week).

All of this is underpinned by fantastic performances by the cast particularly the three leads Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon and Monroe. Each of them comes across perfectly in well-formed comic characters. Particularly shown in the gruff contrast between Curtis’s masculine sax player ‘Joe’, feminine good listener ‘Josephine’ and self-created Cary Grant-esque millionaire ‘Shell-Oil Junior’.

Marilyn Monroe also performs the ‘dumb, beautiful blonde’ role with everything you’d expect. Sure the film had many production problems because of her inability to learn lines (59 takes to say ‘Where’s the bourbon?’ apparently) but that doesn’t matter if the performance is captured correctly and that it is.

 

As discussed on yesterdays review of Wilder’s more dramatic ‘The Apartment’ the main reason I decided to watch this film was in an attempt to decide my favourite film by Billy Wilder. And therefore which one could take its place on my unprestigious all Time Top 20 list. And the result is in. Whilst The Apartment is a thoroughly entertaining film I could watch anytime of the year, Some Like It Hot is just plain funnier and therefore gets the win. I know that this may seem unfair as the Apartment doesn’t try to be an out-and-out comedy its focus being  more dramatic… but Some Like It Hot is so perfectly funny it cannot be beaten.

‘Nobodies perfect’ the famous ending line of Some Like It Hot comes across even more ironic when I consider it a ‘perfect’ comedy. Seriously the film has jokes for everybody and is a true example of a must see film. But for those who don’t want to watch a black and white movie it’s also worth checking out the colour remake White Chicks (2004) by the esteemed Wayan’s brothers, that I hear is equally hilarious*.

10/10

*I take no responsibility for any person who takes these comments about White Chicks seriously and actually watches that dismal movie.

Billy Wilder’s classic best picture winner is a wonderful movie that only gets more interesting when seen multiple times.
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Having recently decided to re-organise my Top 20 of all time movie list; I found myself stuck in a dilemma. For the sake of fairness (and to stop Hitchcock from having all 20) I made the decision that only one film per director can make the list. Some decisions here where made easily for example choosing Big Lebowski as my favourite Co-en Brothers movie or Pulp Fiction as the best Tarantino work. Choosing my favourite Billy Wilder film is something of a problem – how do you choose a favourite from some of the finest and most charming films ever made. After much internal debate I finally whittled it down to two films The Apartment (1960) and Some Like It Hot (1959) which I both think of fondly for very different reasons. I then realised that having not seen either in other a year it would be unfair to judge them solely on my memories of their charm and much easier to just watch both and see which I prefer – my review of Some Like It Hot will be next in my Film-A-Day challenge.

The Apartment was the first Billy Wilder film I ever watched. I remember watching it for the first time and being blown away by it’s witty, charming yet surreally dark portrayal of New York and its satirical look at office work, consumerism and love. I was instantly obsessed with it (this was probably helped by the fact that I watched it during my Fight Club phased and would’ve adored any film with a vaguely anti-corporate message). Since then I have watched the film several times and it has always stood up to its expectation. I was therefore excited to revisit it yet also filled with anxiety as to whether it would stand up to my ever changing and increasingly judgmental opinions.

As soon as it with its C.C Baxter (Jack Lemmon) statistical analysis of New York life, all my fears where quelled as I became absorbed in the film and immersed myself in the wonderful world that Wilder creates. Everything in the film is immense from its perfectly crafted screenplay; it’s excellent pacing and the beautiful set decoration. From the second we meet Lemmon we know the character and instantly like him – the-bumbling-nice-guy-who-can’t-say-no may be an archetypal character but that doesn’t mean you can’t love him. Lemmon’s performance dominates the screen and the audience feels throughout the emotions and chaos of the journey on which he goes.

The best part of the film though by far is its balance between comedy and drama; whilst the film is not the laugh-fest I expect when I watch Some Like It Hot. It is full of fantastic comic moments that are genuinely laugh out loud funny; with most of these coming from Baxter’s almost blind optimism. Taking this optimistic character and contrasting him with a down-on-her-luck pessimist Frank Kubelik (Shirly MacLaine) an equally great character and performance creates a beautiful dynamic in the film that makes the emotions felt by the characters and the audience towards the end of the film all the stronger. It is masterful.

The film does what very few films are able to do; it offers up a platter of mixed emotions and leaves you feeling emotionally tortured. After watching the film I couldn’t decide if I was happy or sad… it was sort of uplifting but in a strange sort of way. Such was my investment in the characters and that I couldn’t quite decide if I was happy the way things turned out; the ending has a slight tone of ambiguity to it that leaves you wanting more and questioning not only the film but also your own life.

 

A film which I adored previously and reaffirmed it’s adoration; the Apartment is a firm favourite of mine and it will take something special for Some Like it Hot to beat it to my Top 20.

 

10/10

 

Ladies and Gentleman, The Fabulous Stains is a little watched film that was deemed a failure on its original release. Over thirty years later and the film is finally beginning to get the recognition it deserves as an ahead of its time satire on the music industry, fandom and the media.

http://www.reelhipster.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/ladies-and-gentlemen.jpgThe film’s story is a simple on the face of it… Corrine “Third Degree” Burns (Diane Lane) forms a punk band, The Stains, and they go on tour with up-and-coming British band, The Looters. Despite The Stains having little talent they soon become the more popular band; with Corrine adding a white stripe to her hair in order to look unique. This move is soon copied by thousands of doting fans (all young girls) that with the help of extensive TV coverage become ‘Skunks’ – the modern day equivalent of a Belieber.

The main focus on the film is on Corrine and her intriguing personality that is impossible to read; thanks to the great performance of Lane. Throughout the film the characters motives are impossible to read as she changes her mind on everything seemingly on a whim. It is unclear whether she is just a rebellious teen who happened to become a star or if she cleverly played everyone around her including the media in order to become a success and this ambiguity adds a depth and charm to the film.

Lane however does not give the best performance of the film; as a young, slim Ray Winstone steals the show in his role as Billy the lead singer of the Looters. Right from the outset Winstone shows that he is a great actor and brings a real gravity to his character, offering several gruff speeches that he is later to be known for. His climatic speech to the crowds of ‘Skunks’ in which he calls them ‘commercials’ is just one of many stand out moments in a beautiful performance.

The film in essence being a road-movie about music, obviously puts a lot of emphasis on its soundtrack; which is fantastic with Paul Cook, Steve Jones (of the Sex Pistols) and Paul Simonon (from the Clash) making up the rest of the line-up of the Looters alongside Winstone. The songs are typical punk rock, so not for everyone but a fans of the genre will appreciate them.

The heart of the Fabulous Stains comes from its satire of the everything it touches. Nothing is safe from its grasp and it’s wonderful; its attack on the media and exploitation of fans is particularly scathing with the message that ‘you don’t need talent to become successful’ coming across strongly.

Ladies and Gentleman, The Fabulous Stains is a fabulous film that you could easily watch on repeat; it feels a lot more current than its 1980’s release date and many of its messages stand true today, perhaps even more so than at its time of release.

 

9/10

Leonardo Di Caprio gets knocked down (and gets back up again) dozens of times with an epic performance in a film that is violently thoughtful.

Be it the various production problems or Di Caprios supposed certainty at winning his elusive Oscar, Revenant is a film that has been talked out about to an extreme amount. The problem is all the chatter is for the wrong reasons; and it’s only after you set all that aside that you can enjoy the film.

The film looks wonderful with every frame giving the audience some sort of natural beauty to glimpse at. It is truly astounding from a cinematographic standpoint and worth a watch just for the camerawork.

Following Hugh Glass (Di Caprio) who is left for dead after being mauled by a bear; the film is a revenge tale as Glass fights off certain death and travels miles gravely injured in order to get revenge on Fitzgerald (the southern-accented Tom Hardy) for killing his son.

In order to reach Fitzgerald he must cross hundreds of miles of snowy mountains but Di Caprio is not one to let a cut throat or falling off a cliff get in the way of his OSCAR dream Glass is not one to let a cut throat or falling off a cliff get in the way of his revenge and perseveres to an extreme. The will of the character, the actor and the performance is startlingly good.

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The problem is that Di Caprio is so obviously Di Caprio throughout that it’s distracting. You never have a chance to relate to the character because of the pre-conceptions with the actor; and with little to do other than grunt, groan and sleep in a horse carcass it is easy to see why. The commitment to the role is never in doubt; the problem is the role itself. It is hard for any actor to show themselves in all their glory when the majority of the role is to be in extreme pain. The film even ends with Di Caprio staring straight into the camera in what can only be seen as a plea to the academy voters – and the thing is it could work.

The violent scenes are perfectly directed, as they do not fall into the easy trap of becoming either horrific or comedic – instead they remain gory and cringeworthy. You are never too put off by them, even if the middle portion of the film that is just a series of set pieces aiming to shock an audience.

The final act of the film is wonderful as the tension mounting throughout the journey comes to a head in a beautiful cat and mouse moment between Di Caprio and Hardy. It is amazingly choreographed and chilling to watch.

Revenant is a film that does what you expect, you see Di Caprio fight a bear and then you see him suffer. You see Tom Hardy put on another ridiculous accent. It is enjoyable without offering new. A film that is trying too hard to win awards… but will probably win them anyway.

7/10