Sunday, 30 September 2012

Blazing Saddles (1974) - ★★★★

Director: Mel Brooks
Writers: Mel Brooks, Norman Steinberg
Stars: Gene Wilder, Cleavon Little, Slim Pickens, Harvey Korman, Madeline Kahn, Mel Brooks. 

Blazing Saddles is a film that has as so many laughs, and also many jokes that fall flat. It's really funny in some parts, and tedious in others. What makes this movie so good is the originality and unpredictability of it all. There are many scenes that I've seen copied from this movie, yet they are no where near as good. I guess that's where the genius lies, is with its expert execution in comedy (with scenes that don't involve Mel Brooks). 

You could say that this is the Ultimate Satirical Western Spoof. It is set in the town of Rock Ridge situated next to a railroad construction site, where everyones surname is Johnson. When quicksand blocks the construction, the route has to be changed to go through Rock Ridge. The villain of the film, Hedy Lamarr, I mean Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman), wants to buy the land along the new route cheaply by driving out the townspeople. He sends a gang of thugs led by his blundering assistent Taggart (Slim Pickens), to get rid of them. The townspeople then demand that Governor William J. Le Petormane (Mel Brooks) appoint a new sheriff. The slow witted governor appoints a black railroad worker named Bart (Cleavon Little) who was about to be hanged to become the new Sheriff, for Lamarr convinced him that a black lawman will so offend the town people that they will either abandon Rock Ridge or kill the new sheriff.  Either way it will pave the way for him to take over the town. Bart then assumes the position of sheriff and joins forces with drunken gunslinger Billy 'Waco the Kid.' Together they must save the town of Rock Ridge from Lamarr. 

Gene Wilder played a small supporting role as Billy, who has the fastest gunslinging hands in the world. I was surprised at how toned down his performance was, as he is usually eccentric in films. The important thing is that he was funny, which I don't give kudos for director Mel Brooks' script. Brooks was the unfunniest part of the whole film. The Governor provided half of the flat jokes in the film and made me uncomfortable with how terribly unfunny he was. One thing I can say about Governor Petormane is that he reminded me a lot of George W. Bush, which was about the only thing that was slightly amusing about him. Cleavon Little was a great lead actor. He was funny, charismatic and really held the movie together well. Madeline Kahn played Lili Von Shtupp, who in my opinion was the funniest of the lot. She was pretty much a spoof on the great Marlene Dietrich and did a fantastic job.

Blazing Saddles was almost as unfunny as it was funny, which should make it a pretty average film. It is its revolutionary style of comedy that has made many call it one of the greatest comedies of all time. I personally thought that the ending made the film great, adding much of the action and excitement that was beginning to fizzle out. In the end I was entertained, it made me laugh and I'm glad I sat through all of it. It's clear that this film inspired many satirical spoofs made after it, thus giving the film the right to be called great.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Fish Tank (2009) - ★★★★

Director: Andrea Arnold
Writer: Andrea Arnold
Stars: Katie Jarvis, Michael Fassbender, Kierston Wareing

This is a brilliant film. Its brutally honest realism sets it apart from most movies about troubled youth, which is achieved through what seems like effortless and meticulous acting, and an everyday girl's story in the suburbs of England just trying to get by. If they said it was based on a true story, I wouldn't blink.

Katie Jarvis plays the lead character, fifteen year-old Mia. The director discovered her when he saw her fighting with her boyfriend at a train station. Man oh man did he make the right choice in choosing her to play Mia. 

Mia is an angry, resentful and vulnerable teen that goes about her day either looking for a fight or for booze. It's not hard to see why when you see the mother (Koerston Wareing) who is an uncaring, boozy and irresponsible parent that clearly has no interest in raising kids. Mia's little sister is perhaps neglected the most, with no affection from either her mother or her older sister, which has turned her resentful also. Their lives take a strange turn when Conner (Michael Fassbender) joins the family as the mothers new boyfriend. He's nice, caring, and extremely handsome, which naturally draws Mia to develop a crush on him. The film has its sweet moments and its horrifying moments, mainly filled with an air of suspense for what will happen next.

The thing I liked most about this film is the way it clearly displayed the emotions of Mia. Jarvis did a great job in displaying the inner turmoil on her face and showing the vulnerability in Mia, even though she presented an angry exterior. You could really feel for her, because of the way she was raised and the hole she's stuck in with what seems like no way of escaping. At the beginning of the film you wonder why she's a bitch that drinks, smokes and fights people. The genius of Fish Tank is that it's self explanatory once you meet the mother, who clearly screwed Mia up as a child. You can also see good in Mia, for she sees a sick horse chained up over a fence and tries to feed and free it so that it may have a chance to live.

In the end, you're left wondering whether she will be ok or not. I think she will be. If I've learnt anything about Mia while watching Fish Tank, it's that she's a fighter and will do whatever it takes to get on her feet. This film is a testament to how parents are usually the root of the destruction of their children.

The Woman In Black (2012) - ★★★

Director: James Watkins
Writers: Susan Hill, Jane Goldman
Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Janet McTeer, Roger Allam

When I started watching this film I had a terrible feeling that it would be extremely Hollywood and that Daniel Radcliffe would be a terrible casting choice. This is supposed to be the film that launches him out of the Harry Potter saga and into a career as an all-round good actor. The Woman In Black is a good start. It's a good movie, both scary and intriguing, it had me entertained for the short 90 minutes it was on.

Radcliffe plays Arthur Kipps, a young lawyer who is tasked to sort out the paperwork of a mother that was torn apart by the death of her young son. He has to leave London and stay at the village in which the paperwork lies. The villagers are hostile and warn him to return to London, but persistent Mr. Kipps manages to buy a ride to the old mansion where the death of the boy occurred. He soon learns that he is not alone in the mansion, for the ghost of the mother lingers to terrorize the village and kill the children. Mr. Kipps has to figure out a way to prevent her from killing any more children and save himself.

Radcliffe broke away from Harry Potter in this film, although there were still moments where I couldn't tell the difference between Arthur and Harry. He was convincing and most importantly, he wasn't annoying. These days horror films have the most irritating main characters, which is why Mr. Kipps came as a breath of fresh air (and I actually wanted him to live through it). There were many scenes that made me gasp and laugh, which I did not expect. The village had a Transylvanian feel to it which I liked, and the story (although unoriginal) was thrilling to watch unfurl. The ending to me was a shame, for it left me wondering whether The Woman In Black was going to continue to kill children, or whether she had moved on. If you know the answer please tell me.

This film is a mixture of Stephen King's Rose Red, The Ring and many old English horror stories which blended well, but left an air of predictability. I say it is like Rose Red because of the style in which she haunts the mansion, and I say it's like The Ring because of the way Mr. Kipps must save the children (by reuniting the mother and the child's corpses). This is an entertaining film and I would probably watch it again, if only to see if I missed something important. The Woman In Black is a standard horror film, made better than most are today.

Brief Encounter (1945) - ★★★★★

Director: David Lean
Stars: Celia Johnson, Trevor Howard, Stanley Holloway

Let me start off by saying that Brief Encounter is one of my favorite romance films of all time. It has so much passion and such incredible acting that it hooked my heart strings from the moment Laura (Celia Johnson) met Alec (Trevor Howard). 

At a cafe' railway station in England, middle aged housewfe Laura Jesson meets doctor Alec Harvey and has an instantaneous connection. Although they are both already married, they gradually fall in love with each other as they see one another every Thursday. This is also one of my favorite films about forbidden love, for they aren't young or selfish, but older and caring for everyone that the affair would hurt. Although they know their love is impossible, they continue seeing each other throughout until a thrilling, beautiful and sad climax is reached.

Celia Johnson gives one of the finest performances I have ever seen as Laura. She is a masterful actress that knows how to fully express her emotions on her face without uttering a word. All she had to do was look at you and you could tell what she was thinking and how she was feeling. A notable scene from the film is when she is sitting on the train, contemplating the affair she is having. Johnson's great talent had me going through the exact same thought process. Seeing her in deep thought had me in deep thought, and in the end I came to the same conclusion she did. She sucked me right into her shoes, now that is what I call a powerful performance! It's a shame that she never had a big career after this film. The same compliments go for Trevor Howard, who could display affection so incredibly well that you couldn't help but fall in love with him yourself. Their chemistry was astounding and the story was heartbreaking, one couldn't help but wish that they would run away together.

The thing that makes this film a classic is that it's unforgettable. I believe this is one of the most underrated films of all time. It should be up there with all the great romances. David Lean is renowned for his masterpieces Lawrence of Arabia and Bridge on the River Kwai. I'll always remember him for Brief Encounter. 

Captains Courageous (1937) - ★★★★★

Director: Victor Fleming
Writers: Rudyard Kipling, John Lee Mahin, Marc Connelly, Dale Van Every
Stars: Spencer Tracey, Freddie Bartholomew, Lionel Barrymore, Melvyn Douglas, Mickey Rooney.

Let me start of by saying this is one of my favorite films of all time. Spencer Tracey's world class acting and Freddie Bartholomew's lovable charm combine to make this such an entertaining, heart-wrenching and beautiful piece of cinema. I was just a child when I first saw this film, and it has stayed with me through all the years as one of the best. After watching Captains Courageous again, it is sealed in my mind as one of the greatest films ever made.

Goodbye Mr. Chips (1939) - ★★★★½

Director: Sam Wood
Writers: R.C. Sherriff, Claudine West, Eric Maschwitz (screenplay, James Hilton (Author of the book)
Stars: Robert Donat, Greer Garson, Paul Henreid, Terry Kilburn

Goodbye Mr. Chips is a personal favorite of mine that has always affected me deeply. I think it's the purely magnificent performance by Robert Donat as Mr. Chipping. Of all the fictional characters in cinematic history, he would have to be up there with my absolute favorites. This is a movie that isn't perfect by any means, but has the beautiful ability to tug at your heart strings.

The story follows a teacher named Mr. Chips, who at the very beginning of the film just transports to a new school. It's a period drama, where time goes by and we see Chips grow older. We see the world through his eyes in events such as the WWI and emotions such as love. Our hearts break with his when former students and friends die, our hearts jump for joy when he finally finds love in Kathy (Greer Garson). Above all, we get to know and love this character through time in a masterful way.

Robert Donat was absolutely fantastic. He has the uncanny ability to show how the character has grown, not only through his dialogue, but through his facial expressions. It's wonderful when he finally meets Kathy, for the chemistry between Donat and Garson is really special. One of the most heart-wrenching scenes I've ever seen in a film comes between the two, where Donat gives one of the greatest performances in movie history.

It's one of those movies where you either love it, or you leave it. I truly loved this film for everything it achieved. Not since Captains Courageous have I encountered a film that made me as happy and as sad as this film does. Goodbye Mr. Chips will forever be one of my favorite movies of all time. The line "Goodbye Mr. Chips, Goodbye..." spoken by Terry Kilburn gave me chills; I'll never forget that scene.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Zeitgeist (2007) - ★★★★★

Director: Peter Joseph
Writer: Peter Joseph

After watching Bill Maher's essentially anti-religion documentary 'Religulous' I told my friends that it was entertaining, funny and that it brings up valid points. One of them then asked if I'd seen Zeitgeist and told me that it was the most interesting documentary that I will ever see. He wasn't wrong.

Zeitgeist is controversial, intelligent and has a raw, amateurish feel about it. The documentary is split into three parts: i) Refuting religion. ii) The 9/11 conspiracy, essentially saying that the American Government was behind it all. iii) The rise of the power of banks and their stranglehold on the world.

The first part of the film aims to discredit religion, particularly taking aim at Christianity. It does this through showing all the 'hand-me-down' stories that were taken from ancient religions which are now part of the Christian belief. One way they did this is by comparing the Ancient Egyptian god of Horus to Jesus (there are unbelievable likenesses). There were many eye-opening and valid points that were made in this section of the video, which was the highlight of the documentary for me.

The second part aims to make the audience question the open and shut case that was 9/11. When I say 'open and shut,' I mean that a thorough investigation was not conducted and many loose ends were not tied. Once again this documentary gave a glimpse into many of the facts that the public weren't shown about the collapsing of the towers, in particular tower '7', which was not hit by a plane yet also collapsed. This film continued to intrigue me and ask questions.

Perhaps the most shocking and disturbing information in Zeitgeist for me was the way that the banks of America and around the world were presented. This film suggested that they were responsible for the US fighting in many wars, including WW1, WW2, Vietnam and Iraq/Afghanistan. It was very informative in regards to the history of the banks, and the suffering they caused the people during the depression back in early 20th century.

This is a well thought-out, plausible and unwaveringly interesting documentary. It has a long running time of nearly two hours, yet I was hooked from start to finish. I learnt many things that I would have otherwise been ignorant about, and I was compelled to start asking questions myself about religion, 9/11 and the control the banks have over the world. Although all the facts may not be correct, the arguments that are put forth are displayed clearly and effectively by the narrator. Everyone should see this film.

Religulous (2008) - ★★★

Director: Larry Charles
Stars: Bill Maher

Bill Maher's Religulous was compelling enough to keep me entertained throughout the documentary, but I ended up wondering what the point of making it even was.

No religion was left unscathed in Maher's hilariously funny interviews with people that span from the uneducated Christian's of the South to the man who claims he is the second coming of Jesus. Much of the film is Maher giving his opinion on religion, which I found interesting, however, I was disappointed in the lack of information presented from the pro-religion side.

Much of the interviews were from, excuse my bluntness, idiots. It could have been so much better had Maher interviewed more authorities on the subject. I understand that he is blacklisted from many religious foundations across the world, but interviewing ignorant and clueless strangers just didn't add up to make a great documentary.

There wasn't much of a point made. Obviously Maher wants to prove that religion is silly and inhibits the progression of mankind, but that just doesn't come across in this film, which is the fatal flaw of it all. I was expecting cut-throat facts and evidence from his part, but all he gave was peoples opinions on the subject, which disappointed me deeply. I will however mention one scene that had me laughing for a while. Maher interviews a man that 'used to be' gay, and when they hugged at the end the theme to Brokeback Mountain started playing, which I thought was extremely subtle, clever and hilarious.

I admire Bill Maher very much, and I love his viewpoint on religion. This documentary just seemed half-assed and presented nothing new. It was the same old debate from Christians, Jews, Muslims, Mormons alike. Regardless of its unoriginality, this film is entertaining, which is why I give it a thumbs up.

Red Firecracker, Green Firecracker (1994) - ★★

Director: Ping He
Writer: Daying Ye, Feng Jicai
Stars: Jing Ning, Gang Wu, Xiaroui Zhao

Red Firecracker, Green Firecracker is a lackluster Chinese beauty that could have been great, but fell short as a result of its slow tempo, disconnected characters and what I consider to be quite a boring story. This is a film about love, yet had more scenes with fireworks than passion.

Jing Ning inherits her father's fireworks factory, for his wife bared him no son. She is known as the master of the factory as a child, then grows to be known as the boss. Her business is thriving and life is peaceful in the city that she runs, until one day a fiery, considerate and proud painter named Gang Wu is hired to paint the gods on the doors and urns at the factory. She is forbidden to marry in order to prevent outsiders from factory ownership. Many problems and struggles arise when she falls in love with the bold and unafraid painter, leaving her peaceful life in pieces.

This sounds like it should be a compelling movie, but it isn't. The reason for this is that the lead actors had very little chemistry and it was hard to connect with their stories, their struggle, and their pain. I'm a sucker for romance films and find many tragic movies moving, but this one didn't do it for me. Without likable or interesting characters, what is a movie? It's boring. The story progressed unbearably slow and the two star-crossed lovers continued leaving each other, then coming back, then hurting each other, then healing. It repeated itself, which did my head in.

There are two redeeming qualities about this film that made me give it two stars. One, the scenes all looked exquisite, elaborate and historical. That's what I love about asian cinema, they know how to polish an otherwise dusty movie. The other thing I loved was the music, which was so beautiful that it evoked more emotion out of me than the characters.

Should you watch Red Firecracker, Green Firecracker? No. It is forgettable and a waste of a couple hours that could be better spent watching a superior film. Might I suggest Hero by Yimou Zhang?

Friday, 14 September 2012

The Avengers (2012) - ★★★

Director: Joss Whedon
Writers: Zak Penn, Joss Whedon
Stars: Robert Downey Jr. Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner

The Avengers didn't live up to its hype. I expected to see a visually amazing, funny and thrilling action-packed movie, which is what I got. For me, the problem with the film was that it wasn't as fun or exciting as I had hoped it would be.

It was boring in parts, which I wasn't expecting whatsoever. However, much of the comic relief was given by Ironman Robert Downey Jr. He was pretty funny throughout the film and without him I wouldn't have been entertained much beyond the visual effects and action. Chris Evans was also pretty entertaining as Captain America. I was surprised at the how much I liked his character, considering he can't do much more than the other Avengers. Chris Hemsworth as Thor surprisingly became my favorite of all the Avengers, because he exuded the most power and always lit up the screen with his scenes. Mark Ruffalo was pretty awesome as The Hulk, but he didn't really get as much screen time as the others which was disappointing. In my opinion, his story is more interesting than Captain America's and Ironman's combined. Scarlett Johansson really shined as Black Widow, who surprisingly was just as thrilling and entertaining to watch as the others. She outclassed all the others with her screen presence, which is certainly not an easy feat to accomplish. Jeremy Renner played Hawkeye, who came across as relatively useless and weak. His character felt unnecessary, but I suppose his story coincides with Black Widow's and will perhaps become a separate movie one day. Tom Hiddlestone played Loki in what I consider to be one of the most fragile and pathetic excuses for a movie villain I've ever seen in a hero movie. Everything about him exuded weakness, which didn't add much to the film except that I wanted him to disappear. For the life of me, I will never understand why people think he plays a fantastic villain.

This movie achieves what it sets out to. It WOWS people and it stays true to the heroes origins. It just isn't that great of a movie. Its funny, but not that funny. Its action-packed, but not very original. There are great characters, and many not-so-great characters. The story is standard and nothing special. The Avengers is an entertaining film, but not a very effective or memorable one.