Friday, 30 December 2011

War Horse (Steven Spielberg, 2011)

"It is an honor to ride beside you. Let every man make himself, and his country, proud. Be brave!"


In Jurassic Park, there is a scene whereby Paleontologist Dr Alan Grant (Sam Neill) finds an ill Triceratops. He is transfixed - "It's so beautiful.  It's the most beautiful thing I ever saw". This same line could be applied to the War Horse, our protaganist in Steven Spielberg's latest War film. Spielberg's fascination with the idea that Dinosaurs, Animals and Aliens tell us more about ourselves that about themselves, is a theme further explored in War Horse.

Michael Morpugo released the children's novel in 1982, but it was in 2007 when the success of the play on the London South Bank began that Hollywood became interested. Though successful in its own right, the success of the play was also renowned for the use of puppetry to depict the horses - winning multiple awards for Best Design. Spielberg's interpretation does not use puppetry and relied solely on the beauty of the animal and the core of the story itself.

Through the Wars

The film charts the journey of a horse who, born in Devon, provides hope for a family before being taken to assist in World War I. Whilst in the War he manages to become an allie of both English and German armies whilst also providing hope for young men and girls from across Europe. The film manages to successfully highlight, through the multiple perspectives, the varying attitudes to war - the horror, the tragedy, the patriotism, the cowardice, the sadness and frustration.

Techincally, Spielberg creates a picturesque impression of Devon and Europe, in no small part to the cinematography by longtime collaborator Janusz Kamiński. It almost gives the impression of a hyper-real world whereby the skies are always blue and the endless-fields in Devon depict every single variation of green. Initially, this jars a little giving the impression of artificiality but I believe, like many of the concerns I have with the film, this is primarily due to the audience Spielberg is aiming at. This artificiality is heighted by some stylised transitions between scenes, plucked straight from the editing software used for The Adeventures of Tintin, as we effortlessly fade from a pair of knitting-needles to a field where our War Horse is ploughing. Even the decision to ensure the film is delivered in the English-language, again, seems to be specifically to cater the younger audience - considering the broad range of characters of German, French and English origin.

Y'Know, For Kids!

World War I also provides a fascinating context to explore the themes. Technologically, the range of weapons from small bayonets attached to the end of rifles for close combat straight through to the large, bulky tanks, are all touched upon. And indeed, without being patronising, the film explores multiple challenging themes: the fear of fighting in a war; the pride in fighting in a war; theft by the Army and the state;  war creating broken families; previous generations who have fought in wars changing irreversibly following their own experiences. Though technicially ensuring it is accessible to younger audience members, it does not go as you would expect. Nothing goes 'to plan' and characters live and die, with a very clear message: In war, there are no winners - you are either lucky or not. Richard Curtis (Writer and Director of Love, Actually) and Lee Hall have written a script that is equally challenging and haunting whilst still ideal for children. I can only imagine the countless conversations between families following their cinema-trip.

This is ultimately a story about a Horse - memorably named 'Joey' by Albert Narracott played touchingly by Jeremy Irvine. The story of the horse is the spine of the film - taking us to see a broad range of characters from David Thwelis' 'Lyons' and Benedict Cumberbatchs' 'Major Stewart', through to Niels Arestrup (Un prophète) playing the Grandfather of a young girl Emile who becomes equally besotted with the horse. The cast are suitably strong, but in the case of some young unnamed cast members, where it is less-than strong, you can be safe in the knowledge that our War Horse will sure-enough take us away from those characters and move onto others within minutes. 

Spielberg Has Proven Himself Again

Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan recreate sequences from World War II which are simply horrific - the landing on the beach portraying the graphic death of many soldiers whilst the horror we see in Schindler's List in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp can never be forgotten. These are films that, as important as they shall be to cinema, are not accessible to children. War Horse sets out to depict World War I in a way that children can appreciate - without ignoring the tragedies and horrors that inevitably occur during wartime. The film depicts an innocent animal set against the backdrop of the horrors of war, much like the children who were innocent victims in a conflict they did not create - it is our fighting that hurts the horse, yet it is the horse that manages to bring people together.

I can already see the future as many schools and teachers will ensure that this film plays a core-role in the school curriculum. In 1993, Spielberg directed Jurassic Park and Schindler's List. One became the Best Picture Winner whilst the other smashed all box-office records worldwide. In 1997, Spielberg directed The Lost World and Amistad. Here in 2011, we have another two Spielberg films. This is truly the time to view the film - bring the family, and make sure that you have a place to go afterwards because there will be plenty to talk about. Not least the fact that, over the last year, Spielberg has directed two films that, again, establish him as a force to be reckoned with.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955)

"They abide and they endure"


Kim Newman writes "[The Night of the Hunter is] like a fairytale told in its simplicity, and yet seethes with adult complications". A perfect summary of the type of story this is. A recent film to bear a comparison to, is Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood, whereby Paul Dano's 'Eli Sunday' portrays a greedy, corrupt preacher who - though nowhere near as sinister - clearly has similar inner-conflicts and demons as Harry "Preacher" Powell, played by Robert Mitchum. The fact that this film, over 50 years ago, still influences cinema today, shows the timelessness and importance of the film.

Through a Childs Eyes

The set-up begins as little John (Billy Chapin) and Pearl (Sally Jane Bruce) witness their Father, Ben Harper (Peter Graves), return home; money in one hand, gun in the other. John is sworn to hide the money he has stolen before Harper is arrested by the law men. In prison, he lets slip to his fellow cell-sharer Harry Powell of his crime and Harper is executed for his crime. John and Pearl do not know this, but they soon see something suspicious when Reverend Harry Powell arrives to their town and manages to woo their Mother. John never trusts him, and has no intention of revealing the location of the money to anyone - least of all "Preacher" Powell, who clearly shows his true intentions as he obsesses over this location ... questioning John and Pearl time and time again...

Biblical Centrepoint

The film begins as a biblical story is told to the five children: "A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit. Neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Wherefore by their fruits, ye shall know them". From the outset, you do not trust the people on screen - Ben Harper has an inner conflict as he is desperate for his children not to want through seeing the many children starve on the streets during the depression. Unfortunately, he turns to crime and gives his life hoping that his children do not struggle. But, by the same token that a criminal can have a good-heart, we also see a "man of the cloth" who is corrupted in every possible way - with every intention of corrupting those around him and betraying the trust bestowed upon him.

Akin to Paul Muni in Scarface, and the sinister whistling Muni has as he approaches his next victim, Mitchum equally sings a hymn in his southern-drawl titled "Leanin' ", which Ma Cooper (Lillian Gish) soon corrects as she correctly sings the song "Lean on Jesus". A subtle change that verbally shows the different intentions of each character - whilst Ma Cooper is a woman of faith, she believes that what she does is for the love of God. "Preacher" on the other hand
commits his crimes and actions for himself.

The One and Only

The Night of the Hunter is a staple of Film-Noir, but the director Charles Laughton only directed this single film in his entire career. Having worked with Hitchcock on The Paradine Case and Jamaica Inn, Laughton had clearly worked with the best.

The direction often shows stunning landscapes as characters walk across the horizon, creating defining silhouettes. Specifically Mitchum's 'Preacher', whose trademark-silhouette horse, rides across the horizon, as he wears a flat-top hat. By the final act, when you see this appear, it is a deeply unsettling experience as you know how much this character is capable of.

The use of deep-focus is regularly used and shadow dominates the screen, often completely obscuring faces so that you can only hear their voices. A stunning sequence is shot to show a side-perspective of a single room (above). On one hand, it appears incredibly strange, but in the symmetrical and triangular shape alongside the lighting, you can see that Laughton is creating a church-like atmosphere - arranging the frame almost as a Renaissance triptych; "Preacher" Powell is in his element and is, effectively, in his church. Another shot of Powell, waiting to enter the house, reminds me of the iconic shot in The Exorcist as the priest prepares to enter the house. No doubt Freidkin watched many films portraying evil prior to making The Exorcist - and Mitchum's "Preacher" is indeeed just that. Then we see the multiple uses of shadow drifting across walls, threatening the characters in the room harking back to F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu. This film is clearly influenced by cinema that preceded it, but more importantly influenced much more cinema after it.

Little did I know that the film ends on Christmas Day as Ma Cooper tells us about chidren: "They abide and they endure". In the final few scenes, we see John break and struggle under the responsibility his father has placed on him. We have a responsibility to look after these children and their future. On a sidenote, I also watched Inside Job last night - an award-winning documentary about the global recession ...
Large Association of Movie Blogs

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Preparing for a New Year and a New Start!

Changes must be made.

Over the last couple of months, I have lost followers. An all-time high of 91, I was excited that I was heading towards 100! But alas, it changed direction and now sits, sadly, at 88.

But then, on the other side, my traffic has increased! This whole blogging thing is a tricky business it seems ...

So I ask you! What can I do to improve?

Is the layout any good? Do you want more lists? Are the posts simply too long?

In terms of my writing - does it ramble on too much? maybe, as fellow bloggers, you may see rookie-mistakes in my writing - Do tell me how I can improve on these!

For me, I hope that this becomes more of a library to dip into (Access to different theories and interpretations of films, franchises and constructs of cinema) rather than a news-feed.
Is this realistic? Does anyone actually look at the older analysis and reviews using the side bars?

The A-Z posts?
The Franchise Posts - Rocky, Star Wars and Saw...?

I think the big question is What do you like?

What brings you to this blog in the first place?

Please comment below or email me directly! Any feedback is greatly appreciated!
Large Association of Movie Blogs

Friday, 23 December 2011

Sleuth (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1972)

"So I understand you wish to marry my wife."


When I think about incredible scriptwriters,the first three names which come to mind are: Aaron Sorkin, David Mamet and whoever wrote the screenplay for His Girl Friday (Ben Hecht wrote the play "The Front Page", which it is based upon, whilst Charles Lederer is credited for the screenplay itself). I feel I may be adding a fourth to the list, noting the words written by Antony Shaffer. If you love the speed and perfect dialogue written in films like The Social Network, Glengarry Glen Ross and His Girl Friday then the next film to hunt down is Sleuth.

From the English Country Manor to Dr No's Lair

When you consider Ken Adams set-design in the 60's James Bond films, it is easy to automatically think about the excessive volcano-base in You Only Live Twice and the interrogation room Professer dent speaks within in Dr No. But Ken Adam's stunning sets were not limited to these expansive, iconic designs. He also designed the office for M and the living quarters of Dr No - including the infamous Duke of Wellington portrait by Goya. It is the latter designs that became the style Ken Adams worked within on Sleuth working alongside Peter Lamont supporting as Art Director (Lamont would move on to become Production designer himself on films including Titanic and Casino Royale).

As an adaptation of a two-man stage-play, the set becomes intrinsic to the story. We are forced to acknowledge the obsession of "game-playing" Andrew Wykes (Olivier) through the small set-pieces he keeps within his basement and the multiple automaton's set-up across the lounge - even his precise Kitchen etiquette and archaic taste in music (Cole Porter) reeks of a character who is false and forced to play a role in life. Until this month, it would've been a stretch to know what an automaton is - and now, through Sleuth and Scorsese's Hugo, I now have a very clear idea of what these robot-puppets are and how they predated cinema. Another visual signifier of Wyke's fake-persona and almost-robotic - and definitely outdated - political attitude.

A Fight to the Death

On the surface, we see Andrew Wykes attempting to commit insurance-fraud using Milo Tindle (Michael Caine) as his pawn due to Tindle's affair with Wyke's wife Marguerite. But this two-man show constantly shifts and changes the perspectives. We constantly question who is in a postion of power and who is not. Initially, it seems that Wyke's has Tindle in the palm of his hand - going so far to dress Tindle up in a clown outfit and reducing a man who has broken free from the working class roots his father came from, back to becoming a petty theif. This constant parrallels as Caine represents the younger, impulsive generation as Wyke's represent the older, outdated, traditional older man. The fact that both characters portray different types of men - even hinting at how Wykes is perfect for Marguerite because he can "afford" her, whilst Tindle is perfect for her in a sexual need. Wyke's is happy to tell us that he "could copulate for England at any distance" but Wyke's observation of Tindle as he changes into the clown outfit seems a little more than a passing interest ... and we also find that he hasn't "copulated" with his own mistress Tea in years...

It is the English versus the second-generation immigrant as Tindle is clear about his Italian ancestry, something that Wykes resents. Upper Class versus Working Class as Tindle works in a London Hairdressers whilst Wykes writes books isolated from society in his country manner. Fact versus Fiction as Wykes is an author of detective novels and this constantly informs out characters as to what "would" and "wouldn't" happen in a detective story - we are constantly unsure who to trust, even if we know the secret about Inspector Doppel, we are still tense as we do not know the truth about the previous situation.

I Saw This Before ...

A two-man theatre-adaptation from the early 1970's starring Lawrence Olivier and Michael Caine is unlikely to connect to the Saw franchise ... but indeed, it does. Sleuth is crucially built on the foundations on game-playing, high-stakes game-playing that highlights inequality in an upper-class world. Like Jigsaw, Andrew Wykes constantly talks in riddles, quotes and accents. The entire subtext revolves around how life "is a game" and, the set-ups, plans and ideas are for our benefit and we, as an audience, are completely kept in the dark about what will happen next. The three-act structure is clearly defined as the first act portrays a power-play duality between the two characters (trying very hard not to give anything away), whilst this flips - in terms of who has the power - during the second act. The third act, raises the stakes and we are all on the edge of our seats waiting to see how it will pan out. In fact, I wouldn't be suprised if the remake of Sleuth starring Michael Caine (playing Oliviers role) and Jude Law may have been green-lit due to the current appetite for 'game-playing' that audiences had. I know the tricks Jigsaw pulled and the games were the reason I enjoyed the Saw franchise. I doubt Leigh Whannell and James Wan watched Sleuth at any point prior to making the Saw, but if they had they would realise that their game-playing concept was nothing new - and dated right back to the 70's. I mean, there is even a puppet who has a recurring role and a creepy laugh!


My closing paragraph highlights the themes of image as throughout the film, we see close-up shots of the automatons and their faces looking down on Wykes and Tindle. The idea of image is a recurring theme - Wykes lives by a code and Tindle has changed his persona to suit the higher-class of life he is living. He intially stops-short and corrects his working-class colloquialism to speak to Wykes, whilst Wykes puts on accents and even mocks Tindles heritage by offering the job in a comedic Italian-gangster accent. Bitterly ironic that The Godfather of the same year re-established the Italian-gangster crime story so that it became organised and upper-class - opposed to Wykes perspective that it only solidifies Tindles working-class roots. More upsetting is how both Michael Caine and Lawrence Olivier were nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role, whilst losing out to Marlon Brando's Don Corleone.

At any rate, I obviously recommend this film very highly if you haven't seen it and I have tried very hard to keep the many secrets of the film hidden so you can enjoy the film as I did. One thing which is clear though, is the reality of these games. Though a game - and percieved as such - this is a game that has real implications. The separation between these two men and between the areas of society they represent is very real. We can wax lyrical about the meanings and we can talk often about the news and how they depict society - but it is real and it can be the difference between life and death. Those who fail to acknowledge this are clearly under the assumption that poverty is almost a game unto itself and as long as you are "winning" then you don't need to worry.

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Home Alone (Chris Columbus, 1990)

"This is my house, I have to defend it"


There is much more to Home Alone. Much, much more. This film is part of my history - my childhood between ages 8-12. My brother and I watched this religiously. Every sequence, scene and line evokes memory of non-stop jokes my brother and I would make - "look what you did you little jerk!". After another rewatch, considering how much we quoted, it is suprising how little talking there is - much more watching-Kevin-walking-to-the-shop or montages showing him set-up. Even the two 'Wet Bandits' often let out screams, noises or in the case of Harry (Pesci), mumbling to cover up expletives ("you little mummble mummble mummble")rather than stating distinct lines of dialogue. Clearly, my perspective has changed and though I still love the film, there is much more to Home Alone than mere "family fun" ...

You often hear 30-something reviewers endlessly quoting eighties films of John Hughes arguing that these are 'retro' movies that, through their nostalgia, are important to cinema. I believe that Home Alone (Jurassic Park et al) for all of the twenty-something bloggers will - in time - replace the obvious-eighties movies that so often claim the 'retro' tag. These films are equally iconic and memorable in their own ways.

Solid Structure and No Fat

The film is so strong due to how well-structured it is. Even in the first ten-minutes it establishes everything. We see Harry - and realise he is a 'bad guy' (that tooth shine), we see the big McAllister family and how busy it is and how often Kevin is caught in the wrong. Most importantly, we see how Kevin seems to annoy everyone - we see Buzz-the-bully forcing Kevin to be sent to the attic. Over the night, the electricity is knocked out while everyone sleeps  and his dream comes true: the family leave without him. So true-to-life, and worrying too possible - yet within the confines of a family-fun movie.

The same set-up could be shot very differently to present the same frustrations Kevin feels and the mistakes parents make within a family (as busy as the McAllisters) but consequently becoming more sinister, deeply upsetting and traumatic. But we have John Hughes on the script and Chris Columbus directing a family film that deals with some deeper themes in a very subtle manner - but in a way that ensures everyone can access them.

I realised that the subplot regarding Kevin's Mother (Catherine O'Hara) trying to get back to her son disects a very important aspect of parenting. At what point do you become a bad mother or father? I must admit that leaving your child at home is pretty bad - but then, look at Uncle Frank! This guy insults kids, he backs his chair into his own son - with only the Mother squeezing him out of the squash. Uncle Frank is the example of what a bad parent really is. Whilst Kevin's Mother is doing literally everything she possibly can - even potentially selling off her wedding ring! - to get back. To get back to make sure he's safe, to be near her son - to tell him she was sorry so he knows she loves him. That's what makes a good parent - everyone gets into unwanted situations - its what you do about it that decides whether you are a good parent or not.

Economic Separation and Outlooks

This particular viewing made me also acknowledge the financial divide between the characters. The McAllister family are exceptionally wealthy - a huge house, with enough money to comfortably support a large group of children and even the financial wealth to afford a holiday in Europe in 1990. This appears to be an incredibly unique family within the top-bracket of earners in the US, so it begs the question as to whether the film subtly explores class and economic-separation.

I think if you consider the conversation between Old Man Marley and Kevin in the church within this context, it may answer the question. Marley says "You live down the street from me right?, You know anytime you see you can always say hello, you don't have to be afraid. A lot of stuff has been said about me, none of it's true.". Is it possible that Marley, representing the economically-deprived area of society is trying to bridge that gap? He works on the street, almost on a par with public-servants, and looks dangerous as he looks dirty and dresses in black. This is a judgment of the family that dictates his status - Buzz is who "informs" us of his past. Crucially, this story is not true. Marley and Kevin discuss "being afraid", Marley saying that "You can be too old for a lot of things, but you're never too old to be afraid!". Prejudice and discrimination is rooted in fear, and ultimately begun in a fear often during childhood and through your upbringing. Consider the misrepresentation and fear that middle/upper-class feel towards economically-deprived families - for example, crime is a product that is often associated with a lack of wealth and is easily attributed to the poorer areas of society. Marley "lives down the street" from Kevin, and the potentially huge divide between the two of them is purely through class and economic-advantage. The fear is unfounded and the reality is how both characters can learn from each other - and crucially, help each other. This same sentiment is highlighted in Home Alone 2, whereby a bird-loving tramp is who Kevin befriends.

This argument is supported further in the journey Kevin's Mum takes. She is initially annoyed and frustrated about not easily achieving her goal - her money amounts to nothing as she is forced to travel alongside characters who, through their economic circumstance, don't see their familes weeks at a time, as they tour across the country. Her realisation of the difficulties and challenges these Father's face to support their own families, sharply changes her perspective. Finally, we have the "basement" - for some, unclear reason, scares Kevin. Through the parrallel between fear of the underclass and the under-house basement, it is only through understanding the basement - and the chores, jobs and expectations of a "citizen" in the household, does he realise he has nothing to fear.

Iconic Status

The film still retains an iconic status too by inputting unique features that are memomrable in their own right. Kevin's chequered shirt and white sneakers combo has a real iconic-ninties look - a credit to the costume department. This becomes so unique that, in the sequel, they expand upon this as Kevin's unique puffy jacket and hat is easy to spot by Marv and Harry when they coincidentally end up together in potentially one of the busiest places in the USA; New York.

The Angels with Dirty Faces rip-off, Angels with Filthy Souls portrays an Edward G. Robinson-type character, with a tommy-gun to face off against a Humphrey Bogart-type character. He might charm, but he has nowhere near enough strength to save his skin. You simply need to read the script to appreciate how much fun the sequence is:

'Johnny': [hears knock at door] Who is it?
'Snakes': [Snakes comes in] It's me, Snakes. I got the stuff.
'Johnny': Leave it on the doorstep and get the hell outta here.
'Snakes': All right, Johnny, but what about my money?
'Johnny': What money?
'Snakes': Acey said you had some dough for me.
'Johnny': That a fact? How much do I owe ya?
'Snakes': Acey said 10%.
'Johnny': [smirks] Too bad Acey ain't in charge no more.
'Snakes': What do you mean?
'Johnny': He's upstairs taking a bath. He'll call you when he gets out.
'Johnny': Hey, I tell ya what I'm gonna give *you*, Snakes.
[Johnny pulls out machine gun]
'Johnny': I'm gonna give you to the count of 10, to get your lying, yellow, no-good keister off my property, before [shouts] I pump your guts full of lead!
'Snakes': [wide eyed and calm] All right, Johnny, I'm sorry. I'm goin!
'Johnny': 1... 2... 10!
[starts unloading bullets into Snakes while laughing maniacally]
'Johnny': Keep the change ya filthy animal.

Duality and Identity

Finally, we continue to expore the film by highlighting the regular duality of so many characters. Within the jam-packed introduction, we see Old Man Marley the man who murdered his family and hides out in Chicago whilst Harry-the-cop advises families on safety over Christmas. We all realise by the end that both people are not who we think they are - Harry is one of the theives whilst Old Man Marley is just that - an old man, with a family he cares about and loves. Ultimately, Kevin himself may look young and not the type to fend off two grown men, and even he changes expectations and turns out to be more capable then the thieves (and his Mother) realise. He looks after the shopping and looks after the house (except Buzz's room) and proves how mature he is. Without dealing directly with race (are there any ethnic minorities in this film?), the film centres around judging people and, moreso, not judging people on how they look.


To conclude, the focus is - obviously - family. Kevin's arc is at the start wishing his family would dissappear and, by the end, realising that he didn't and would never want that to happen. But this is not due to his close-calls to capture by Harry and Marv - he doesn't want his family back to keep him safe (he can look after himself!), but it is because of his meeting with Old Man Marley - the snow-plough man. Marley has actually lost his family through his choice. Kevin shouted to his Mom at the start that he wanted to live alone - Marley lives alone and look at him. Poor fella. It is upon realising how lonely Marley is, that Kevin realises his mistake. He misses them a little bit too. This also shows how the moral of the story is not just unique to kids - the entire attitude of not-needing-your-family is an attitude anyone, anywhere can feel - not just pre-teen, argumentative boys. The line quoted should be changed from 'This is my house...' to 'This is my home...' with all the family stuff included. This makes it accessible and timeless - and with a stunning soundtrack by John Williams alongside an insightful, accessible script, it creates an unforgettable Christmas movie which, interestingly enough, does not feature in Steven Jay Schneider's 1001 Movies to See Before You Die. That needs to be addressed.

1. Kevin, at no point in the film, utter the words 'Holy Cow'
2. Think of Edvard Munch's Scream and look at then look at the poster...

This was orginally published in Christmas 2009, but I have made some significant changes for this write-up, crucially the paragraph on the economic status of characters.

Monday, 19 December 2011

The Ultimate Christmas Present! (Part Two)

This is possibly the most important film of my life ... possibly...

Way back on 31st August 2010, I released a post (which I re-released yesterday ...) only to find that the second part of the film (the best half) was unavailable on YouTube.

Since then, it has re-appeared giving you the final chapter in the Kung Fu story.

Please note that this was made in 2004/2005, and I was but a wee boy - as was Jo - but we all had a great time making the film. Crucially, much of the game-like joke preceded Scott Pilgrim in a big way so, Edgar Wright, believe me - we were there first! Before even YouTube was invented!

I hope you enjoy the film - we spent many-a-day whereby we sacrificed crucial marks on our degree to create this work of Art ...

Have you made any Uni-Films of a similar nature? If so - please comment below!

The Ultimate Christmas Present! (Part One)

It is 2002, many years ago, and Jo and I - and friends - regularly got together to create short films.

Yes - Jo, Rhys and Matt studied Film and TV, but no-one else did so it was merely an opportunity to play around and spoof films we loved and mock films we didn't. The following film - Kung-Fu Balls - created in 2004, in Aberystwyth, was the fourth film created by, what became known as 'The Balls'.

In Part One, notice the psuedo-Pokemon riff as faces speed-across the screen ...

But seriously, brace yourselves for Part Two (tomorrow) because that is where this short really kicks off...

[Nb, there is partial-Simon nudity...]

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Sunday, 18 December 2011

A-Z #106: Jerry Maguire

You can pick up hundreds of DVDs for a round-pound each - it doesn't matter. It's never about quantity, it's about quality. A-Z is my way of going through my collection, from A-Z, and understanding why I own the films ... or you can tell me why I should sell 'em

#106 - Jerry Maguire 

Why did I buy it?

Jo recommended it to me and, more and more, I had heard about how 'brilliant' Cameron Crowe was. I bought this such a long time ago - early 2000's - so I doubt I had even heard of Cameron Crowe at the time. Tom Cruise was in it... so that couldn't be bad.

Why do I still own it?

It remains so inspirational. A film that equally shows how brutal life can be - but still ensures that it builds you up again so that you can see great the world is around you. The irony is that the most memorable line in the film is "Show me the money!", when it is abundantly clear that money is not what people need to make them happy - it is people that makes people happy. The relationship Cruise and Gooding Jr have, the belief Zellweger has in Cruise. I need to re-watch the film - but money is definitely not what the film is 'about'.
Large Association of Movie Blogs

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone, 2006)

"It ain't about how hard you hit, it's about how you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward."


Stallone confessed that during the production of Rocky V, he was "negligent". Rocky Balboa is very much a companion piece to Rocky only. There is little mention of the sequels, with no footage whatsoever from Rocky V. It is a real shame that the history of Rocky since Rocky II is ignored. I wouldn't expect a constant reference to all the previous instalment's, but the previous films were made and they are part of a chronological story that should be respected.

Rocky Balboa is the only film that does not begin with a boxing match, indeed it is the only Rocky-film that does not pick up after where the other film left off. This lack of connection to the previous instalment's does jar a little when you have watched the previous four films. Rocky Balboa, no matter how strong it may be, feels much more of an epilogue to the series rather than a closing chapter. The "Story of Rocky" seems to progress very naturally until Rocky V, but Rocky Balboa takes huge liberties in the gap between the previous film in 1990 that they could almost attach Rocky Balboa to the end of Rocky V with the subtitle "15 years later..." and leave it as an over-3-hours cut of the final chapter.

Death and the Adrian

One reason that I refused to watch the sequels for a long time was an assumption on my part that I "knew" when Adrian died. I knew that she would die at some point in the franchise ... but I don't know where I got that idea from because she dies outside the franchise between the two films. This set-up, takes Rocky and Paulie to a very dark place. The film begins with Rocky visiting her grave side on the anniversary of her death. Personally, this magnifies how much of a separate film this is to the previous instalment's. Rather than opening on panning-shots of Philadelphia, it would've been nice to open the film using different shots and images to fill in the gap - a picture of Rocky in the newspaper post-Rocky V, the graduation of his son, the awareness of Adrian's illness, Rocky by her bedside. Think the first 15 minutes of Up and pull it down to five-minutes setting up Rocky's current status. It would simply connect everything together.

Having said that, without casting Talia Shire in the film, her presence is littered throughout. Stallone is a broken man - he doesn't fight, he is estranged from his son and he owns a restaurant ... called "Adrian's". At this point we are introduced to Marie (Geraldine Hughes) - the tomboy from Rocky. The idea that, as Rocky was living his life, the world kept spinning and some people never left the neighbourhood is poignant. Spider Rico, equally, never left the neighbourhood. Crucially, Marie is not a love interest, but her role does ensure that a female sensibility is adhered to. Rocky, when discussing his decisions and the choices he has to make needs someone to talk to now Adrian is gone - and Marie is that person.

Father and Son

Rocky's son is very different. The boy of Rocky V does not seem to be the same as he was. Understandably, people dramatically change in their teenage years and we can accept this, but again it clarifies what a huge divide there is between the previous film and this film. Even the argument's between father and son seem to highlight issues which, by this point, you should be more than aware of: "It ain't about how hard you hit, it's about how you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward."

But the theme of children today is two-fold. On the one hand we see the apathetic and disillusioned Rocky Jr, whilst Mason Dixon and his success seems much more modern and the credibility is what Dixon seeks: the money is not all there is to it. Money was what Tommy Gunn was desperate for - credability didn't matter to him - he fought Rocky in the streets! In addition to this parallel to Rocky V, we also see more agents desperate to use Mason Dixon - and Rocky - as a way to earn huge sums of money. Much like George Washington Duke's role in Rocky V, but without the comeuppance.

Ignoring Most of the Past

Technically, Stallone employs textured shots. There is no 'sheen' to the screen when we see him on the streets of Philadelphia. The sharpness and dry surface complements the rough area Rocky now lives within, but suffice to say, this separates the film further from the previous films.

Contrary to all the flaws I found in the film, I can appreciate the closure we gained. As mentioned, Rocky V did seem to drop the ball - especially with the final fight on the streets. Rocky Balboa manages to give us a huge fight, in the ring, with a finale the wholly represents the message of Rocky. It's not all about winning - it's about challenging yourself. This manages to show an emotional depth that Rocky V lacked, but I think the final two films could've simply been played differently. The themes and ideas in Rocky Balboa are great, but the film simply lacks consistency with the rest of the franchise. You could almost ignore every sequel and just put Rocky and Rocky Balboa as a duo. This, I believe, is a real shame because the sequels do have so much to offer.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Quantum of Problems

Garth Franklin wrote a few days ago, for Dark Horizons, on the problems with Quantum of Solace:
"Asked about scripts being an after-thought on huge productions, Craig responded "Yes and you swear that you’ll never get involved with shit like that, and it happens. On “Quantum”, we were fu**ed. We had the bare bones of a script and then there was a writers’ strike and there was nothing we could do. We couldn’t employ a writer to finish it. I say to myself, “Never again”, but who knows? There was me trying to rewrite scenes – and a writer I am not.’"

I have watched Quantum of Solace a few times and my analysis of the film is already written up - in detail.

Suffice to say, I have never been too frustrated with the script. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the difficulties the film had and I completely understand the frustrations Daniel Craig and Marc Forster may have had with writing the script on set. But it wasn't the script that was the primary problem - it was the editing. It felt like it was spliced together with no knowledge of what was on the screen. In fact, only after a few watches do I understand what is going on. I knew something was "off" during the opening car chase ... and when it says "[car chase]" in the script, then it is clear that aspect of the script which was not going to change in the slightest. The buck stops firmly and squarely on Forsters head - and no amount of "writers-strike" talk will change that. 

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Rocky V (John G. Avildsen, 1990)

"Natures smarter than people think"


This film was clearly supposed to be the end of the Rocky film series. Stallone was initially keen to continue the story in Russia and continue the dichotomy between Drago and Rocky, but for no clear reason, this idea was scrapped. Instead, the film - like all the films - continues where the previous film left off starting a whole new drama. Rocky has returned from Russia - he is shaking, his memory is fading. As the press ask him questions on his return, a passionate businessman proprositions him in the middle of the junket setting him up for a future fight. Rocky turns it down...

Getting Back To His Roots

It is clear that now Rocky has effectively conquered the world, the next step is to take him back to his roots. He has to lose everything: his health, his money and, towards the last act, he nearly loses his family. Though we have briefly revisited Philadelphia in the previous two films, it is Rocky V whereby he goes back to Philadelphia for the duration. Unlike Rocky and Rocky II, this is not where he wants to be - and crucially not where he wants Adrian to be. These historical facets to Rocky V are only possible because of what we know about. It is fair to say that Rocky V can be watched without any prior knowledge - but the deeper connection to Philadelphia, the passing of Mickey and the poverty that Rocky has worked his way out from ensure that this film is a much more fascinating film, given the past we have seen.

The Birth of a Champion

I think that all the previous films build Rocky up from a point in his life whereby he could've easily sat back and let the world pass him by. There was a history before the first film, whereby Rocky was a street-fighter and trained to be a champion under Mickey, but settled to be a 'bum' collecting money for a "two-bit gangster". The first film sets him up as he is given a chance to reclaim what should be his - and the rest is history. If Rocky V was made today, I wouldn't be suprised if it would be a prequel: Rocky Begins, Rocky Origins or Rocky: The Beginning. The film constantly relates to his past - the training Mickey gave him, his own Son facing the challenges in school and understanding that sometimes, "fighting is neccessary" (despite disliking violence), the training of Tommy Gun and - most importantly - his whole 'birth' in street-fighting.

The Boxing Business

Connecting to the 'roots' of Rocky is additionally his detachment from the boxing 'industry'. Rocky always had Mickey as his agent and trainer. Rocky tells Tommy Gun:

"This is what Mick told me about. About the business, the dirty part of the business. These managers, when they represent these fighters, they promise them the world, then they, they suck' em dry, leave them, leave them in the gutter, broke Tommy"

This is a fascinating development of the franchise. The whole idea of Rocky as a product has been explored before, but the importance of money versus the necessity of money. We know that Rocky had it all and, through greed of his accountant, he lost it all. Rocky trains Tommy Gunn up from his roots, taking him way back to his own beginnings in an incredible scene directly lifted from the first scene in Rocky, whereby Rocky took on Spider-Rico, now Tommy is fighting. It is easy to think that Rocky is desperate to relive his own past glories - and to some extent he is - but by breaking Tommy down to the same place Rocky came from, we can see how what Tommy doesn't have is the same heart. As cliche as that may be, it comes back to the belief in oneself - a respectable, honourable and dignified belief. Only through seeing these relevant connections to his past do we appreciate how, even before he started his training to fight Apollo Creed, Rocky was respected, honourable and dignified. These traits are what made him who he is. 

Upper Class to Working Class

In parrallel to Rocky's story, we also have Stallone's son playing Rocky Jnr. Rather than coping with the change from poverty to wealth, and back to poverty again - Rocky Jnr has moved from wealth to poverty. Through no fault of his own, his entire attitude has to change - he is the new 'posh' boy in an alien school. Rocky tries to encourage him, but it is a long road ahead for Rocky Jnr. His understanding of fighting changes as, initially, he is reluctant to get involved, but he eventually understands that some people will only respect you through your own self-defence. Is this a comment on fighting itself - or the neccessity of this trait within urban poverty. I think this film surely shows how skilled Stallone is in writing a drama whereby the three characters constantly weave in and out of each others storylines, with tensions between all three: Rocky and Rocky Jnr establishing a relationship, the envy Rocky Jnr feels towards Tommy Gunn, Tommy Gunn's respect for Rocky - whilst fully exploiting Rocky's need for a fighter-son. A fascinating trichotomy (I looked it up, it's a word for "man having a three-fold nature").

Incomplete Finale

With so many strong parts of the story, it is a real shame that the end seems to fall a little flat. Rather that finishing in the ring, with Rocky taking on Tommy Gunn ... he fights in the streets of Philly. Everyone chants and cheers around the two, with one-liners thrown around flippantly - "Yo, Tommy! I didn't hear no bell..." - whilst the fight becomes much more physical, as Stallone rugby-tackles Tommy and the two use whatever items they find lying around to hit each other. It's poetic that, at this stage in the franchise what was the final fight, was going to be on the streets marking the territory that Rocky hails from. But it is also not the finale we are expecting to see - the lights, the ropes, the back-to-back punches and strategies employed - and commentated on - as the fights often went to 15-rounds. Where are the huge bombastic displays? I completely understand the reason why - considering how epic the fight in Russia was, it makes complete sense to go as small-scale as possible. In fact, how much smaller-scale could it get? Rocky beating his son up in the bedroom?

In 1990, this very much felt like the end - but I wouldn't be suprised if after multiple viewings of the film, Stallone knew the finale should be in the ring. But it took a long time to make it happen. It seems that Mickey was right: "Natures smarter than people think"
Large Association of Movie Blogs

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Food and Films - Is This The Future?

Mark Lawson, for The Guardian, discusses a slight-change in cinema viewings at a shopping centre:
"However, a new initiative at the Odeon atop the Whiteley's shopping centre in west London tantalises cineastes with the possibility one day of an evening's movie-going that is both Oscar-nominated and Michelin-starred. Chef Rowley Leigh, from nearby Le Cafe Anglais, is introducing a range of superior at-seat meals including a fillet-steak burger and red mullet risotto. Ordered on arrival, these will be served by waiters "during the trailers", which, given the picture houses' current recession-led desperation to advertise everything arriving in the next year, would allow time for a five-course banquet in many venues."
Read the full article:

The idea of huge meals in the cinema, initially, sounds ridiculous. Loud, monstrous-munching of a burger and crunching of salad accompanying the soundtrack of cinema. No way.

But then look - consider the 'delivery' of the food during the trailers ... consider the regular 20-minute length (maybe more...) of the adverts and trailers before the film. You'd be finished before the opening credits. Or at least all the big-munching and crunching would be finsished - at the start of the actual film, you would merely be picking at the left-over chips or small vegetables that are sat on the side.

The idea of utilising the ever-growing trailer-time might be a great change to a cinema night out.

Then again ... what about the smell ... 

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Sunday, 4 December 2011

A-Z #105: Jaws

You can pick up hundreds of DVDs for a round-pound each - it doesn't matter. It's never about quantity, it's about quality. A-Z is my way of going through my collection, from A-Z, and understanding why I own the films ... or you can tell me why I should sell 'em

#105 - Jaws

Why did I buy it?

At the time I bought it way back in 2000, I could not remember the time I had watched it. I knew it was an important film, but I could not vividly recall the details of the film. By purchasing it, I could rewatch it and refresh my memory.

Why do I still own it?

Obviously, since I bought the film, I have watched it many times. I have even watched the film at my school with some of the kids during a Film Club. They enjoyed it, but not half as much as I expected. I have a feeling that the slow-tension that builds throughout the film was a little bit too slow for the kids. I only hope they appreciate the idea of the shark swimming underneath their feet when they are swimming about on their summer holidays. A must to own, and I have a feeling it is a must on Blu-Ray when it arrives ... the stunning
Large Association of Movie Blogs