Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Life Is A Box Of Chocolates And My Name Is Forrest Gump…

Monday, June 27th, 2011

Once in a while, a critic comes across a film that is almost universally good. That is, it’s very hard to find any flaws in it due to its sheer excellence (one of these minor flaws is the obvious CGI feather near the beginning that takes away from the immersion in the film). Forrest Gump is one such film, coming as it does from the year 1994, which was a very good year for films. Other films released that year include The Shawshank Redemption, Pulp Fiction and The Lion King, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Leaving aside for the moment my rule about the name of the director not being a byword for excellence and quality (examples of where this rule applies include Stanley Kubrick and George Lucas), it should come as a surprise to nobody that the director of Back To The Future (Robert Zemeckis) was also responsible for this excellent film.

The film is about a mentally disabled boy (the Forrest Gump of the title) who grows up into a man bearing an uncanny resemblance to Tom Hanks. Along the way, the film-makers entrench him in American history with the same footage altering technology that would later be used for the Deep Space Nine episode, Trials and Tribble-ations.

One of the reasons that Forrest Gump is a great film is that it captures the spirit of recent American history for the people who weren’t there and reignite memories of those who were. They use the character of the everyman to do a retrospective of the last forty years or so before the movie was made. What I like about it is that if you’re not very good on dates and times, the film has a timeless feel. You can pin down events roughly and guess at time periods, but much of the film lacks that definitive stamp that tells you when and where a scene is set. A good example of this is Forrest inspiring John Lennon to write Imagine on a TV show. Now, this must’ve happened around 1975 or so, but the film does not tell you that definitively.  It adds to the framing device of the movie, which is him sitting on a bench telling his story to various passersby. Another thing that adds to the framing device is that while he doesn’t know what people in his lives are getting up to away from him (especially Jenny), the viewer sees it anyway.

Newcomers may notice strong similarities to another film of the scriptwriter’s, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button. And indeed, it is very similar. All the more noticeable, in my opinion, as the bulk of the story (i.e, the bits with Brad Pitt) takes place over the 1950s to 1980s, where there is a strong backdrop of current events that become a part of American history. Spotting the similarities? I thought so.

I fear that we are reaching a generation where this film will only be familiar to the young because it was referenced in a Lonely Island video. This is a depressing fate for an excellent film. Overall, this film is fantastic but you have to see it to appreciate just how good it is.


“And Now It’s…Springtime For Hitler And Germany!”

Friday, June 3rd, 2011

The annoying thing about remakes or adaptations is that you can’t please all of the people all of the time. Removing elements or adding new ones in can either be seen as sacrilege or as the best idea ever (and of course, a lot of it comes down to which you see first). With that in mind, I shall take you through a comparison of a remake and the original. The films are The Producers and The Producers (the film that invented the phrase “creative accounting”), one made in the late 60’s and praised by Roger Ebert as one of the funniest films ever made and the other made in 2005 and praised by me as gloriously underrated.

To give some context, I shall give a chronology of the Producers works. First there was the famous 1968 Mel Brooks movie, starring Gene Wilder and some guy called Zero Mostel. This was then adapted into a musical on Broadway starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick (Ferris himself!). This musical was then filmed as a movie (so they could actually use locations, etc) and released in theaters and on DVD. This was the version I saw first and fell in love with. Some time later I managed to see the original film and was quite disappointed, if I’m honest.

The original is not a musical in any way whatsoever, which may come as a surprise to those who’ve only seen the 2005 one and frankly is a bonus (I don’t really like musicals). It does feature the famous musical number “Springtime For Hitler”*. This it has in its favour. What it doesn’t have is the charm and the actors of the 2005 film. It also features a rather feral performance from one Gene Wilder in his opening scene as Leopold Bloom which came across as halfway funny in the new one but just disturbing here.

The film of a musical of a film is to my mind much better because it features better actors (including Will Ferrell, John Barrowman and Uma Thurman all in stand-out roles), better jokes and a charm missing from the original. What’s bizarre about this one though is that I kinda wish they’d just done a straight remake (that’s a rare sentence considering remakes normally go wrong), which would’ve been even better but would’ve no doubt invoked the wrath of the fans of the original. Special mention must go to Uma Thurman, who excels as the sexy swedish secretary Ulla and convinces girls in the audience to flaunt what they’ve got. John Barrowman also stars as a Nazi-dressing singer in the Springtime For Hitler number with a rather marvellous singing voice. I’d argue his performance was worth buying the DVD for alone (especially as it came six months after appearing on Doctor Who as a time travelling conman fighting for the allies).

Both productions have their own flaws that stop them from being truly great, unfortunately. The 2005 one takes way too long to get going (the movie is two hours and ten minutes long and the beginning 45 minutes of that is spent setting up the plot; it gets much funnier after that), combined with a couple of unentertaining musical numbers near the beginning. The 1968 version suffers from having much the same dialogue as the later effort (I realise that’s not its fault but if you plan to watch both it’s kind of off-putting) and being not as funny due to touches in the script in the meantime (and the natural talents of Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick). The effect that I ended up getting as a viewer and reviewer of both is that it would’ve been great if they’d been able to find some middle ground between the two, and made a version that combined the best elements of them.

I suppose it’s a matter of not the original being bad, but that the 2005 one did pretty much everything better.  It partially also depends on what type of film you want to see. If you don’t mind musicals or are open to them, then see the 2005 version. If you’d really rather not, then go for the 1968 one, although you know what I would recommend.

*Incidentally, after The Producers was first released, all of the Swedish releases for Mel Brooks’ subsequent movies had “Springtime For…” in the title. For example, Spaceballs would be “Springtime For Space”.

Happy Fun Super Hard Boiled Review Show…

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

Hard Boiled is a Hong Kong action movie that to be honest, if I’d seen it in the shop, I probably would’ve passed over it. However, both my teacher (I tend to trust his tastes) and my friend recommended it to me, so when I saw the budget version I had to pick it up. It was only a pound, after all. Although I was aware of John Woo as a name in the directing world, and I was aware of the references to him and this movie in Hot Fuzz, somehow I missed watching the movie itself before this.

Wow. I was not prepared for it at all.

There is one shot that comes in early that tells you exactly what kind of movie this is. It’s also when you get an idea of how impossible some of this stuff must’ve been to think of, never mind shoot. The main shot that will have you screaming “WHAT.” at the screen is a shot of Chow Yun Fat (who, incidentally, has gotten a more oval head with age) sliding down a bannister while firing two guns at the same time in the first five minutes.

The movie is about a typical cowboy cop known as Tequila (I’m not sure why). His friend dies in a raid on a teahouse (where the aforementioned bannister-sliding takes place) so he decides to take his revenge on Johnny Wong, the crime boss. Who for some reason (apparently it was due to a subplot that got abandoned) has his base in a hospital, leading to the famous hospital shoot-out.

On the opposing side is an undercover cop named Tony (I think) who is obviously conflicted about what he does, and the fact that people who should be his colleagues want to kill him. There’s nice banter between the main characters as they get together, leading to a Buddy Love scenario (the friendship type, not the ‘Nutty Professor’ type).

The story doesn’t really matter that much though. You come for the standard story, and stay for the explosions and gunplay (or you come for the explosions and gunplay and stay for those elements; in that case I applaud you for knowing where your priorities lie), which at times looks like smoothly choreographed ballet – perhaps an inspiration for the “Gun Kata” of Equilibrium? The sequence leading up to the ending, where the place explodes, is nothing short of masterful.

Something that adds a hilarious layer to the film is the really obvious dub from Mandarin Chinese to English. Actors’ mouth’s flap long after they’re finished talking and I’m pretty sure the villain has a British accent at some point. My teacher told me not to watch the dubbed version (apparently there’s a subtitled version out there) but arguably the poor dubbing quality makes it better. It’s about as funny as my girlfriend’s copy of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which for some reason couldn’t decide whether the characters were saying Peking or Beijing. (The subtitles said one thing while the characters said another.)

Much like Die Hard, this is definitely a guy movie; one to watch with your mates and occasionally riff on. This is a movie that makes aspirations at delivering life messages and being deep, but they knew exactly what the casual viewer wanted. And by God the filmmakers gave it to them with both barrels. This comes absolutely recommended; two guns up.

It Was His Sled…

Sunday, May 8th, 2011

Just for my WordPress (and Facebook) readers to coincide (near enough) with its 70th anniversary, here is my exclusive review of Citizen Kane, a movie with one of the most famous spoiler endings in history. In fact, it’s so well known, it’s no longer a spoiler!

Commonly hailed as one of the best movies of all time, it’s not really surprising that the newcomer might be a bit intimidated. However, I think I am hardly alone in saying that this movie is not the best of all time (although reviews are subjective). Good, certainly, and very well made, but not the best of all time (in my mind, that honour belongs to The Man From Earth or Star Wars Episode IV). The film is hard to describe in one sentence, but if I had to, I’d say it’s “a film about a reporter trying to find out the secret of a newspaper mogul’s last word (“Rosebud”) through flashbacks”. Actually, I think I did admirably. An appreciation of classic film is needed, as it might not hold the attention of viewers used to explosions, gunfights and the comedy of Jack Black.

Interesting fact about Rosebud as a name. The film took inspiration from William Randolph Hearst (whose daughter held up a bank in an example of Stockholm Syndrome), whose nickname for his mistress’ clitoris was, you guessed it, Rosebud.

There are good performances all round, and I have to say that my personal highlight was seeing Old Jed in the nursing home, when he keeps asking for cigars on the sly. Not forgetting the performance of Welles himself, of course. (Incidentally, I’ve heard a radio talk that he was in with H.G. Wells in 1942 or so. One was a potential Darth Vader, and the other sounded very much like Droopy from the Tex Avery cartoons.)

However, where this film excels is the use of filmic techniques. The first shot of the film is a fade into the house of Xanadu, with the light from one of the same windows always in the same place in the frame, no matter the angle, which is an impressive achievement. He also mimicked one of the old-style newsreels and made it look authentic. What films don’t do enough of nowadays is the one-shot, a continuous shot throughout the scene. Cuts are preferred instead and are easier to do as you can cut between them in the edit suite.

This movie is best appreciated as a study on cinematic techniques, what came afterwards and how people improved on the ideas developed here. It also helps that it is an interesting story and that Orson Welles has one of the best voices I’ve ever heard. Seriously, the man could have been paid to read the phone book. It’s not like he was shy about taking voice-over work in his later years. If you’re ever on a film studies course, this film is a must. As it’s a classic, it shouldn’t be too hard to find (I believe it’s on iPlayer for the next day or so). Comes recommended from your friendly neighbourhood reviewer.

More Review Mumblings…

Sunday, October 10th, 2010

Crikey, I’ve not updated this thing for nearly two months. Here are more links to my recent reviews and thinkings. Enjoy, my loyal fans.

Again, earliest to most recent. I’ve been quite prolific.

Article first published as Music Review: Cee-Lo Green – “Fuck You!” on Blogcritics.

Article first published as Movie Review: Sherlock Holmes (2010) – The Adventure Of The Mockbuster on Blogcritics.

Article first published as DVD Review: The 4400 – The Complete First Season on Blogcritics.

Article first published as Book Review: The Japanese Devil Fish Girl by Robert Rankin on Blogcritics.

Article first published as Movie Review: Reservoir Dogs on Blogcritics.

Article first published as DVD Review: The King Of Kong on Blogcritics.

Article first published as Star Wars in Glorious 3D! (That Never Gets Old) on Blogcritics.

Article first published as Music Review:Black Swans And Wormhole Wizards on Blogcritics.

Article first published as Movie Review: Back To The Future on Blogcritics.

My Recent Accumulation Of Writings

Sunday, August 29th, 2010

Wow, I haven’t updated this for a while. Temporary internet exposure must’ve gone to my head. Anyway, this is a compendium of the last 8 or so articles I’ve published at, my new home on the internet.

Earliest to most recent:

Article first published as Movie Review: The Importance Of Being Earnest (2002) on Blogcritics.

Article first published as Movie Review: Journey To The Center Of The Earth (2008) on Blogcritics.

Article first published as Experiment In Autobiography (Title Stolen Wholesale From H.G. Wells) on Blogcritics.

Article first published as DVD Review: Centurion on Blogcritics.

Article first published as Movie Review: The Expendables on Blogcritics.

Article first published as Twilight – What The Hell? on Blogcritics.

Article first published as DVD Review: Sherlock Holmes (2009) on Blogcritics.

Article first published as DVD Review: The Ghost (2010, aka The Ghost Writer) on Blogcritics.

You can find my new writer profile on here.

The Day The Earth Stood Still Review

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

Article first published as Movie Review: The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951) at

The plot of the film The Day The Earth Stood Still revolves around an alien who comes to earth with a message to an untrusting and fearful humanity. The message is ‘don’t go out to the stars and bring your violence and death with you’, which is a good message to preach, and humanity really needed it back then when the Cold War threatened to kill us all in a big fireball.

The film, directed by Robert Wise, stars Michael Rennie as the alien, Klaatu, who comes down to make the world a better place and Billy Gray as the Standard ’50s Child (all “gee, mister” and “no foolin’?”) that he befriends while he’s there. Michael Rennie (who is the standard human alien of the piece) has one of those faces in that he looks like someone you may have seen in that thing a while back, or it could be somebody else entirely.

The very similar Plan 9 From Outer Space tried to use the same basic plot but didn’t succeed due to a great many problems, such as the narrator seemingly being confused about when the film takes place (“Future events such as these will affect you in the future…”) — and of course, being directed by the notorious Ed Wood.

Much like the kid’s use of the words ‘gee mister’ which are now thought of as a cliché of the time, the language standards of the time made themselves known in other ways too. For instance, some of the first words of the film are ‘holy mackerel’ and ‘holy Christmas’. Even in 1951 (when the movie was made), nobody would actually exclaim ‘holy Christmas’, at least not when they weren’t being censored fiercely. (Mind you, I wasn’t there. I could be wrong.) Speaking of gibberish, the movie is also, incidentally, the origin of the phrase ‘Klaatu Barada Nikto’, which was appropriated by the Star Wars expanded universe and the Tron film, among others.

Normally movies from the ’50s and early ’60s don’t tend to age too well when compared with the films of today, due to our superior film quality, sound quality, and the fact that most of them are in black and white. However, if the film is good enough, as with The Day The Earth Stood Still, it doesn’t really matter how good the cosmetic stuff is. The same message that this movie preached is still relevant today (in fact, especially so, as our weaponry and methods of delivering said weaponry have vastly increased since the ’50s). It’s one of the classics because it really makes you think about how things could’ve gone differently back then, and how we could’ve done with a real Klaatu to help us along the way.

This film was remade in 2008 starring Keanu Reeves, with the central message of the film changed to encourage people to be green to make it more relevant to the people of today. They didn’t have to do that though, as while we’ve cooled down a bit since the Cold War (nice pun), we are still a primitive and warlike people as Star Trek would put it, and part of me suspects it will always be so.

“Ever Since I Was A Little Boy, People Have Been Listening To My Reviewing Voice…”

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

The Shawshank Redemption is a 1994 movie that starred Tim Robbins as Andy Dufresne (confusingly pronounced Du-frayne rather than Du-Fres-Nay), who you’d recognise as a Public News Anchor in Anchorman (or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Burgundy!), the POTUS in Austin Powers 2 and a crazed civilian in the 2005 crapfest War Of The Worlds. It also starred Morgan Freeman, who you’d recognise from just about any movie past this point where they needed a truly awesome voice to do narration, but he’s also starred as Lucius Fox in the Dark Knight saga of recent years, God in the [INSERT NAME HERE] Almighty films and the narrator for the aforementioned crapfest, War Of The Worlds. This is the movie that pretty much started his narrating career, with just one or two small scale roles before it.

The film also stars, in a semi-minor role, Clancy Brown (the voice of Mr. Krabs in Spongebob Squarepants, Neo Cortex from Crash Bandicoot and Highlander villain, The Kurgan) in an excellent portrayal as the very harsh prison guard who administers beatings. I half expected him to be the main villain as, “I TOOK HIS HEAD, AND RAPED HIS WOMAN BEFORE HIS BLOOD WAS EVEN COLD!”*

The movie revolves around an innocent man who is arrested for the murder of his wife and her lover and follows the lives of him and his fellow prisoners. In the end, he is locked up for a total of 19 years. The movie does a very good job of showing how it’s very hard for an ex-con to be rehabilitated into society after being out of it for so long. The scenes that show the librarian and one of the other cons trying to cope with life after release are very well done. In particular, if you thought the main character’s stay was a long time, you should see how long the librarian was in there. Care to hazard a guess?

Turns out he was in there more than 50 years. Bear in mind the film takes place from 1947 to 1966 and you’ll get some idea of just how much the world changed since he was locked up. This also applies to Freeman’s character, who is locked away for 40 years (and doesn’t seem to look it). It’s never even said what he was locked up for.

The directing work was well done, with the prison shots sufficiently darkened to give the right sort of atmosphere. Some of the shots (specifically, the long shot of Freeman walking towards a large oak tree) near the very end of the movie reminded me rather bizarrely of the covers of 19th century pulp fiction books, with explorers going through Darkest Africa.

The film is a very clever piece of work; it gets you interested in the story, keeps you watching and arguably gives you the closest thing to a sympathetic murderer protagonist that I have ever seen in a movie. It only fails that bit for two reasons, which are a) that Robbins’ character is completely innocent and b) that Morgan Freeman’s character is more of a supporting player than a protagonist. Comes very close though. And any film that does that even almost successfully is worth watching in my book.

*It’s Clancy Brown. Of course I’m going to use a Highlander quote.

Look! It’s That Mitchell And Webb…Look…

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

That Mitchell & Webb Look is a BBC Two sketch show starring David Mitchell and Robert Webb. The show in question is consistently excellent and has just started airing the fourth series, which has some of the funniest gags yet. I’ve included my three favourites from the first episode here. Links to all three are included.

Being a grammar nazi myself, the last five minutes of the show contains my favourite sketch. The basic premise is that Mitchell runs a company and fires people for grammar mistakes (the famous ‘specific/Pacific’ confusion makes an appearance here), but not quite in the way you’d expect…

It’s almost, but not quite, topped by this episode’s edition of the line crossing ‘Get Me Hennimore!’ sketch (a parody of 70’s sitcoms, featuring a perpetually scared Webb as Hennimore), which makes a return from previous series. It’s one of those sketches where you can see the gag coming as the sketch develops (as tends to be the tradition with all Hennimore sketches) but it is still funny when the payoff comes.

My last sketch choice is a new one (probably exclusive to the episode) about scientists working in the Garniér laboratory. It is a lot funnier than it sounds from that brief description.

Overall, I’d say that the new series is definitely worth watching if it keeps up this standard of quality throughout the run. Superb stuff.

You’ll Want To Snort This Powder Again And Again*…

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

Powder is a 1995 film about what would happen if someone with the powers of a God walked among the citizens of a small western American town. It feels weird to break this guy down in terms of a superpowered being (to give you some idea of what he’s like), but if I had to, I’d say he’s basically Magneto with the intelligence of Reed Richards.

I must admit that when I heard the name, I thought it was going to be one of those Brit-Pics along the lines of Pure (average flick, featured Keira Knightley in an early appearance). I was pleasantly surprised. The name of the film comes from the fact that for his albino complexion, the main character of the film is nicknamed ‘Powder’. His actual name is Jeremy Reed.

The powers he has came about because of a lightning strike that hit his mother when she was up the duff with him. Said lightning strike happened to look like she was being beamed up during one of the Trek crews’ jaunts to the 20th century, but that’s neither here nor there. She died in hospital but he survived to develop the highest intelligence on the planet, is telepathic and possesses a permanent electromagnetic charge. As anyone who is quite intelligent knows, it can single you out as a target for hostility and aggression. The film concentrates on showing how he copes with all of the above.

Two faces that I recognise from elsewhere are Jeff Goldblum as the high school physics teacher who recognises Powder’s amazing potential (it would’ve been nice to reference his character in Jurassic Park somehow, but then we can’t have everything) and the time travelling mother of Doc. Emmett Brown’s children, Mary Steenburgen. Both characters are used well here, and both follow his journey to realise just how bad people are(which is nothing new; people have been writing ‘humans are dicks’ stories since time immemmorial) and are present at the end.

As the film goes on, you find yourself sympathising with the protagonist and thinking of the other characters as dickweeds, which was the intention of the writer.This is one of the better films that I have seen, with powerful writing and direction serving the story well. The film reminds me of the 1963 novel, “The Man Who Fell To Earth”, apart from the fact that the protagonist of that work is an alien. Both have remarkable intellects, and could use what they know to change the world. Only in this movie the plot goes a different way with it, showing the others’ hostility to him rather than what he does (since he doesn’t actually have any otherworldly knowledge to use).

However, you should probably not show this film to impressionable children, since they could interpret the film’s message as ‘Lightning gives you a super intellect and lets you become Magneto!’ While this is always a fine message for a film to have, it’s not one that you want whippersnappers to pick up. Anyone else, however, would be picking up an excellent film, and one that I truly recommend.

*Wait, what?