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Saturday, 12 March 2011

"Me and Orson Welles", directed by Richard Linklater (2008)

This was a pleasant surprise. It happened to be on TV when we were looking for a film and we decided to watch it knowing nothing about it. It tells the story of a teenager (Zac Efron) who by chance stumbles across Orson Welles (Christian McKay) and finds himself cast in a minor role in a Broadway play at the Mercury Theatre, a modern (and the movie is set in 1937) anti-Facist version of "Julius Caesar". The film takes us through the chaotic rehearsals to the opening night and through Efron's relationship with Welles and with the ambitious production assistant (Clare Danes). A great script and beautifully filmed (in London, the Isle of Man and New York). McKay gives an extraordinary performance as Welles - he won a BAFTA for this - but Efron was I feel miscast and not suited to the role - too much of a good-looking teenager and not enough character. Clare Danes plays her role well and there are several excellent minor characters, including Ben Chaplin as George Coulouris. Well worth a couple of hours of your leisure time !
Search for me and orson welles

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

"Transsiberian", directed by Brad Anderson (2008)

If you like a jolly good thriller, then this film is for you. It tells the story of a young couple travelling by train from Beijing to Moscow who get involved with another young, globe-trotting pair, who it turns out are transporting drugs. The Russian police are on their trail, but they are also in the pay of the drug dealers.
The movie was beautifully filmed, mostly in Lithuania, with Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer in the lead roles, and Ben Kingsley as the corrupt police detective.
Not a huge box-office success but a film I enjoyed enough to recommend it !

"Black Swan", directed by Darren Aronofsky (2010)

It's not often I leave a cinema feeling emotionally disturbed, but we saw "Black Swan" at a preview last night and this morning I'm still getting over it ! This is an exceptional film which you should not miss. It tells the story of the mental deterioration of a ballet dancer as she competes for and wins the lead role in "Swan Lake". Natalie Portman is superb in the lead role and is well supported by the rest of the cast, in particular Barbara Hershey as her crazy mother. There is a very good description of the film on Wikipedia which you may read by following this link. If both the film and Portman don't get Oscars, there's no justice in Hollywood !

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

"Amadeus", directed by Milos Forman (1984)

An adaptation of Peter Schaffer's play, this works well as a movie. There are some wonderful performances, in particular by F Murray Abraham - who was awarded an Oscar - as Salieri, and Tom Hulce as Mozart. (The latter bears a remarkable resemblance to Robert Downey Jr). The film won seven other Oscars, including best picture. My one criticism is its length - after a great beginning and middle, the end does drag on a little, but this is just me being fussy and many won't agree I'm sure. Look out for Cynthia Nixon from "Sex and the City" who plays the maid Salieri sends to spy on Mozart. Overall a major cinematic experience not to be missed.

You may purchase the DVD here.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

"Chaplin", directed by Richard Attenborough (1992)

I have to confess that I didn't know this film existed until I watched it on TV the other afternoon - and what a pleasant surprise. Its main claim to fame is a remarkable performance by Robert Downey Jr as Charlie. Not only does he bear a very close resemblance to Chaplin, particularly in his old age, but he has somehow managed to capture his voice and his mannerisms, and apes his acting and his famous walk most convincingly. The movie is long - 2 hours 24 minutes - and tries too hard to cover Chaplin's entire life ; perhaps it should have been in two parts. But as entertainment, it is superb and must be a great favourite with ardent fans of the early days of the cinema. Try to work out who is who as you watch the film. Interestingly, Charlie's daughter Geraldine plays her own grandmother, Charlie's mother.
Watch this if you are at all interested in the history of film.

You may purchase the DVD of this movie here.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

"Lover Come Back", directed by Delbert Mann (1961)

This was a big surprise. We settled down to watch what we thought would be a quietly pleasant but rather ordinary little comedy and found the film to be very funny and not at all ordinary. It stars Doris Day, Rock Hudson and Tony Randall and is set in New York City in the advertising world with Day and Hudson rivals for a big contract. Hudson comes up with a scheme to advertise a new product which doesn't actually exist and fools Day into chasing the account. You can work out the rest. Both Day and Hudson are very funny and are well supported by Tony Randall. An excellent script helps this fast-moving film to be one of the best. And the fashions will have you in stitches !

You may purchase a DVD of this film here.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

"The Illusionist", directed by Neil Burger (2006)

This movie didn't get the best write-ups but it is one of my favourites, probably because I have always been fascinated by "magic" and illusions. The story is set in Vienna around 1900 and tells the story of an illusionist (played by Edward Norton) who falls in love with his childhood sweetheart, now betrothed to the ruthless Crown Prince Leopold. The film tells how they escape his clutches to be together. It's a very clever plot, and the illusions performed on stage are great, although obviously concocted for the film. There is an especially good performance by Paul Giamatti as the police inspector - and watch out for Max (Jake Wood) from "Eastenders" ! A very entertaining film which keeps your attention throughout its 109 minutes.

You may purchase a DVD of this movie here.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

"Manhattan Murder Mystery", directed by Woody Allen (1993)

A very funny movie, typical Woody Allen, with Allen himself, Diane Keaton, Alan Alda and Angelica Houston. Allen and Keaton suspect their apparently harmless neighbour of killing his wife and decide to investigate. Some very funny moments, especially a neurotic Allen playing poker. Great dialogue, some wonderful one-liners, Allen and Keaton bounce off each other with ease, and all filmed in New York City with the usual musical accompaniment. A simple, predictable plot, but it doesn't matter, for this is a very entertaining film which will have you laughing for its 108 minutes.

Buy the DVD of this film here.

See my "Woody Allen" lens at Squidoo !

Thursday, 28 May 2009

"Vertigo", directed by Alfred Hitchcock (1958)

This Hitchcock film gets great reviews wherever you look, and in general we agree with them. It's a fascinating movie, one which you should watch at least a couple of times. James Stewart plays the male lead in his usual "I'm not quite sure where I am" manner, with Kim Novak as the female lead. Stewart plays a retired police detective with a fear of heights hired by an old school pal to keep an eye on his wife...but no more of the plot as it will spoil your enjoyment, and we hope you won't guess what is going on. Our one criticism is that Hitchcock reveals all a bit too soon, and the ending is not too convincing, but neverthess a great thriller which you should ensure you watch ! Barbara Bel Geddes (from "Dallas") is also in the film.

If you would like to buy a DVD of this film, click on the image below.

Friday, 10 April 2009

"From Here to Eternity", directed by Fred Zinnemann (1953)

Definitely one of the all-time great films ! It is set in Hawaii just before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour and is a story of life in the US Army. It is beautifully acted by everyone including Frank Sinatra in his now famous role as the ill-fated soldier Maggio, Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift (a great actor who died at the early age of 46), Deborah Kerr and Ernest Borgnine. The scene on the beach with Lancaster and Kerr kissing was considered pretty near the mark when the film was made. Compare the treatment of the Pearl attack with the 1990s version of "Pearl Harbour" !

Sunday, 18 January 2009

"Mars Attacks !", directed by Tim Burton (1996)

I was on holiday in Spain a few years ago and watched this film after a few brandies. We were rolling about on the floor laughing, it was so silly ! It's an hilarious spoof of science fiction movies, and even if the joke begins to wear a bit thin after a while, the special effects (which date from 1996 !) are brilliant. The Martians are superb and their complete disregard for any of our niceties cracked me up. Jack Nicholson is the US President - 'nuff said !!

Sunday, 4 January 2009

"The Big Sleep", directed by Howard Hawks (1946)

We've just watched this movie for the umpteenth time and it never ceases to entertain. Humphrey Bogart is private eye Philip Marlowe in this adaptation of Raymond Chandler's detective novel, with Lauren Bacall as the female lead. The story is about a blackmail case, and gets more and more complicated as the film progresses, becoming quite difficult to follow - but so what ! The acting and dialogue are superb, very funny at times and always sparkling. The pace never relents, Bacall and Bogart bounce off each other like verbal pingpong balls, and are a delight to watch and listen to. If you do nothing else in 2009, watch this one, it's one of the great movies of all time !

Sunday, 28 December 2008

"Oh ! What a Lovely War!", directed by Richard Attenborough (1969)

Adapted from the stage show, this film was Attenborough's first effort as a director. It is beautifully filmed and has some great musical numbers and also some very poignant moments as you might expect from a movie about the First World War. The film is a series of super musical numbers, interspersed with more human episodes. It was very popular when first released in 1969, a time when there was a resurgence of interest in the conflict and the stupidity of war and those who run it. Although it is perhaps a little long, you won't find it boring.

"Best in Show", directed by Christopher Guest (2000)

This movie is a mock documentary, very cleverly directed by Christopher Guest, who also plays a role in the film. The action takes place at a dog-show in Philadelphia and shows several of the contestants (and their owners !) and their preparations for the event. Some hilarious moments, some very clever humour and some great characters. I particularly liked the awful radio commentator, and Eugene Levy as the owner with two left feet. I suspect that much of the dialogue may be improvised, although officially the script was written by Guest and Levy. Very funny, lots to laugh at, don't miss this one !
Our DVD has a load of extra scenes, most of which are hilarious !

"The 39 Steps", directed by Alfred Hitchcock (1935)

One of my all-time favouries, this movie was adapted from the novel by John Buchan. Robert Donat plays Richard Hannay who gets caught up in a spy-ring when he is wrongly suspected of murder and is chased from London to Scotland (with the memorable scenes of the Forth Bridge crossing). Madeleine Carroll plays the female lead who spends most of her time handcuffed to Donat and has to remove her stockings whilst in this predicament. Fast-moving, exciting, with all the elements of a great thriller; some crackling dialogue between Donat and Carroll; and of course directed by Hitchcock - what more could you want ?

"Fahrenheit 9/11" directed by Michael Moore (2004)

This movie should be made compulsory viewing in schools to show what can happen when you elect an extremist leader. The film is at times funny, but makes compelling viewing. It tells of the alleged links between the Bush family, the Saudis and Osama bin Laden, and shows just how Bush and his henchmen exploited the 9/11 attacks to their own advantage. No doubt extreme right-wing Americans will hate this film - all the more reason for watching it as far as I'm concerned. The world suffered enough while Bush was in power and I'm sure that once he has gone there will be much revealed about what he got up to and just how evil his regime was. It took some guts to make this movie, and a lot of hard work finding the truth and then exposing it. If you haven't seen it, watch it !

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

"National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation", directed by Jeremiah S Chechik (1989)

By far the best of the "National Lampoon" movies - although that's not saying much as the rest were pretty awful. An experienced film critic would no doubt pick holes in this one, and it's not a brilliant movie by any stretch of the imagination - but it's very funny, it makes you laugh, and as this is what it's supposed to do, then it achieves its goal. It is of course about the Griswold family and their disaster-strewn Christmas which turns out OK in the end. It has some hilarious moments and a few tasteless ones too. Oh go on, watch it, it's a great Xmas movie, sit back, have a drink and a laugh with your family !

"Chariots of Fire", directed by Hugh Hudson (1981)

The story of Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams, two athletes who represented Britain in the 1924 Olympics in Paris. The movie studies the challenges and problems these two men had to face, including anti-semitism in the case of Abrahams, and the persuasive power of the British establishment which Liddell had to resist in order to keep his vow not to compete on a Sunday. For me the best performance in the film is that of Ian Holm as Abrahams' coach, but there are excellent performances from the entire cast. The movie was awarded four Oscars, and thoroughly deserved them.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

"My Cousin Vinny", directed by Jonathan Lynn (1992)

This film always makes me laugh, particularly as it has some nice little moments of clever humour. It concerns two lads on holiday in the deep south of the USA who are inadvertently accused of murder and come up against the local legal system. They manage to get hold of their cousin Vinny (Joe Pesci) from Brooklyn, who is a failed lawyer, and he drives down to defend them, accompanied by his girlfriend (Marisa Tomei). A light-hearted comedy which is not the greatest movie ever made - but I guarantee you will find it funny and enjoy it.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

"Gone With the Wind", directed by Victor Fleming (1939)

Some would argue that this is the greatest movie ever made. I disagree, but nevertheless it is well-worth seeing. First of all it was made in 1939 when movie-making was still a developing art which lacked the technology available today, so when you consider some of the episodes in the film, they are all the more remarkable, and at the time it probably was the greatest movie ever. No doubt some who saw it expected more from the film industry than was produced in the years following. The plot is really an elaborate soap opera set in the American Civil War and telling the story of Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh) and her lover Rhett Butler (Clark Gable). But it is well told, extremely well acted by a fantastic cast, including Leslie Howard and Olivia de Havilland, and is very entertaining. And amazingly it has an interval ! It's a four-hour film, so the break is needed to have a pee and buy an ice-cream (if you see it in the cinema which I suppose doesn't happen very often nowadays). So rent or buy the DVD and watch it - great entertainment.

Monday, 15 December 2008

The Year of The Cyst

Here is a little podcast discussing the powerful documentary "The Year of The Cyst". It follows a 22 year old university student throughout her eleven brain surgeries during 2003. Almost 6 years on, we caught up with Dia DiCristino and discussed her profound film.
Listen Here

Thursday, 11 December 2008

"Way Out West", directed by James W Horne (1937)

I first saw this film when I was about 15 and thought it was one of the funniest things I had ever seen. I still do ! It's a Laurel and Hardy film and I think the funniest they made. The boys are of course "out west" and have to take some mining deeds to a girl who has inherited them. But an evil villain tries to trick them ! There are some hilarious stunts, including the donkey and pulley scene, and other beautiful moments, like Stan lighting cigars with his burning finger or winning the jackpot from a gaming machine at a most inopportune moment. Also a soft-shoe shuffle by the duo. The film lasts just over an hour and I guarantee you will laugh the whole time - enjoy this one !

"A Shot in the Dark", directed by Blake Edwards (1964)

Easily the best and the funniest of the Pink Panther movies. The action never slows and there are some hilarious moments, including the famous nudist colony scenes and the assassination attempts in various nightspots. Peter Sellers has never been better and there is a great supporting cast, including Elke Sommer, George Sanders, Herbert Lom, Graham Stark and Burt Kwouk. There is a plot but it is irrelevant, just sit back and try not to split your sides laughing !

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

"The Day of the Jackal", directed by Fred Zinnemann (1973)

An adaptation of Frederick Forsyth's novel about an attempt to assassinate de Gaulle and the meticulous and ruthless planning of the assassin, the "Jackal", played by Edward Fox. The movie lasts 141 minutes but never drags, holding your attention the whole time. An excellent example of how to make a good thriller, and beautifully filmed in the UK, France (and I think Italy), and with a top-class cast.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

"High Society", directed by Charles Walters (1956)

I first saw this at the Odeon, New Street, in Birmingham when it was first released. It's a remake of "The Philadelphia Story" - perhaps remake is the wrong word as it is a musical version - and whilst it does not have the snappy action and dialogue of the original, the music more than makes up for this. The cast includes Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Celeste Holm, Louis Armstrong and, in her last movie, Grace Kelly. Chewing-gum for the eyes and brain it might be, but watching this is a great way to relax for a couple of hours.

"Le Retour de Martin Guerre", directed by Daniel Vigne (1982)

Gerard Depardieu plays a 16th Century French soldier who returns home after being away at war for seven years. At first no-one recognises him, not even his wife (Nathalie Baye), but he convinces them he is Martin Guerre and most accept him. Some, however, are suspicious, and then the "real" Martin Guerre arrives on the scene.
This film is based on a true story, which makes it all the more fascinating. Beautifully filmed and superbly acted.
Richard Gere later made the story into a post Civil War film, "Sommersby", which pales by comparison with the French version.

"Twelve O'Clock High", directed by Henry King (1949)

A film which was made soon after the end of World War 2 about US bomber crews in England. I saw this as a boy and loved it. Gregory Peck is the new CO who takes over an airforce base and has to balance the needs of the war with the welfare of his crews without becoming too involved personally. Dean Jagger plays his adjutant or whatever the rank is, and won an Oscar for the best supporting role, whilst Peck's role is ideally suited to him. Not simply a good war film, it's much more than that, try to get hold of the DVD.

Monday, 8 December 2008

"The Pajama Game", directed by George Abbott (1957)

This is my favourite musical ever, so I suppose I'm a bit biased. It stars Doris Day, John Raitt, Carol Haney and Eddie Foy, Jr. I used to work in a factory in the USA, and we had our "Once a Year Day"every summer, usually a grand barbecue in or near woods and a lake, and so the movie reminds me of those days, or rather vice versa as I saw the film before working in the factory.
It's a cracking film, full of action and fast moving musical numbers, lots of laughs and some memorable tunes and songs including "Hey There, You With the Stars in Your Eyes", "Steam Heat", "Hernando's Hideaway" and of course the wonderfully choreographed (by Bob Fosse) "Once a Year Day".
It took me ages to find a video of this one - found it on eBay eventually - but I think there is now a DVD. I'm sure Amazon will help ! If you can find a copy, grab it and enjoy the film !

Sunday, 7 December 2008

"Jean de Florette", directed by Claude Berri (1986)

A beautifully made film which should be seen together with its sequel, "Manon des Sources". This movie tells the story of a French family who inherit a small farm in the hills near Marseille. The father, played by Gerard Depardieu, works himself to death trying to get a sufficient supply of water to his small-holding, watched by a scheming, old local famer (Yves Montand) and his simple son (Daniel Auteuil) who want his land, and who make sure he doesn't discover the natural spring which would have solved his problems. Superb cinematography and some great acting.

The sequel takes up the story a few years later with the farmer's beautiful daughter (Emmanuelle Beart) discovering how her father was deceived and planning her revenge - with an unexpected ending !

Two super films which you must see !!

"Everyone Says I Love You", directed by Woody Allen (1996)

The music makes this film ! The plot is neither here nor there, but it doesn't matter. There is the usual sparkling dialogue we expect from Allen's films, particularly between Alan Alda and Goldie Hawn, and just about everyone in the film gets to sing some great old songs. Julia Roberts has a role, as does Natalie Portman, David Ogden-Stiers (from "Mash") and Drew Barrymore. Beautifully filmed in Manhattan, Paris and Venice. If you need cheering up and have a couple of hours to spare, watch this one, and enjoy the songs !

You may purchase a DVD of this movie by clicking on the image below.

"The Maltese Falcon", directed by John Huston (1941)

A classic detective movie with Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade, Mary Astor as his client and Peter Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet as the villains. Fast paced, very entertaining - if you like a good detective film, you'll love this one !

You may purchase a DVD of this film by following the link below.