Recently, I posted 30 blog entries in 30 days each responding to a question about film. These posts seem to be quite popular in hits, so for convenience, I have compiled an index listing my responses.
Film Nerd’s Choice: The A-Team
This is perhaps the easiest entry for me in the entire 30 day film challenge. I scrolled back through my history of reviews to June last year, and there was only one new release film reviewed in that month (I was off to a slow start, it seems!!). That film was The A-Team, which I was wild about at the time and still enjoy now.
Film Nerd’s Choice: Superman
Director: Richard Donner
Cast: Christopher Reeve, Gene Hackman, Margot Kidder, Marlon Brando, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Glenn Ford, Terrence Stamp
Synopsis: Though not the first appearance of Superman on-screen, this is the first appearance of DC’s ultimate character on the big screen. With a big name cast, amazing technology for the period, and enough dose of heartfelt origin story, Christopher Reeve’s Superman defined the character for a generation.
As a child, I was already a fan of both science fiction and of the superhero genre. As a teenaged I became addicted to Marvel, but prior to discovering these comics thanks to a mate in the seventh grade, all I really was familiar with was the DC output (aside from the likes of Spiderman, of course). I was a big Batman fan, but absolutely adored Suoerman, running around the backyard wearing a Supes cape, on one occasion getting stung by a swarm of wasps for my trouble. It made no change to how often I watched this film on our taped from TV Betamax cassette.
We are talking about a period where film, fiction, and reality were close to being one for me. I had little concept of acting or on rating acting skill. In hindsight, I do find some of the acting, and some of the sentiment (Truth, Justice, and the American Way!) very much over the top. It is the more experienced actors that gave the film a gravitas, but back then the names Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, and Terrence Stamp meant little to me. The first and the last I lknew as those ones that appear before Krypton blows up, and Hackman I despised as representing all villainy. Come on, in the end, i was there to watch a man deflect bullets and fly. The technology was cutting edge, now it is dated. But I still to this day can’t help but feel a level of magic watching the film.
Perhaps this is due to the element of the film that has best stood the test of time… John Williams’ score. Another memory comes to me of this film, the night we were taping it from the TV broadcast. My dad would usually press stop on a recording as soon as the credits started rolling. On this occasion, I begged him to tape it through right until the end… which he did. This once again lead me to many occasions of running around the living room with my cape on whilst the closing credits music played. This started me on a life-long love of movie soundtracks, a collection I have which is now substantial… only really rivalled by my DVD and Blu-Ray collections. In particular, it started a love for John Williams’ scores, which continue to impress me to this very day.
The film is a little dated, and perhaps bears the level of optimism of a bygone era. It is also a piece of history, and I shall always be a fan.
5 stars out of 5.
Film Nerd’s Choice: Mulholland Drive
Director: David Lynch
Cast: Naomi Watts, Laura Harring, Ann Miller, Dan Hedaya, Justin Theroux, Billy Ray Cyrus, Melissa George
Synopsis: Following an accident on the titular stretch of road, a woman(Harring) involved in the accident suffers amnesia. Adopting the name Rita, she tries to piece together the events leading to her accident, assisted by Betty (Watts), who recently moved to Hollywood to find her fame in movies.
For today’s entry, I agonised over exactly how to define “obscure” in the context of this quiz. The word implies a meaning of shrouded or hidden, and this can apply to movies in two different, but not mutually exclusive, contexts. The first is that the film itself was shrouded or hidden in the sense that it is little known, little seen, and perhaps a part of some type of subculture. The other context is that the tone or plot of the film is obscure, such that it can take many viewings and re-evaluations to understand the thought processes of the director/screenwriter in question.
I have opted specifically for the latter definition. In in doing so, selecting anything in the milieu of David Lynch directed series and features certainly adequately meets the definition of obscure.. Specifically for me, Mulholland Drive was a film that left me completely and utterly confused after the first viewing. Yet I was entertained nonetheless, resulting in me watching it multiple times and reading interpretations online such that I can get a personal interpretation of it. Even after all these opportunities to find a linear story, the film consistently gives me something new to consider on each viewing.
The synopsis I have provided above is a bare bones plot that only really suffices for, I suppose, the opening 15 minutes of the film. I had heard prior to watching it the capacity of the film to warp the mind, and I doubted the validity of this at first. The first half of the film does tell a pretty linear story, prior to flipping the entire film upside down in what at first seems a different film with the same actors. To say more is to already say too much, but if I get any comments wanting to go in-depth on the film, I will happily discuss it in a more spoiler-ridden post.
The film rests mostly on Watts’ performance, which at first seems to be almost overacting, but in contest of the rest of the film, this is quite fitting. After the twist, she really comes to the fore, with a performance that is heart-wrenching, and to a degree quite disturbing. Harring performs her role adequately, though despite it being her story that initiates proceedings, she never truly pulls attention away from Watts’ more starry-eyed Betty. Even if both performances were poor though, the intrigue of the film would still remain, which still makes it all worth it.
If you want a film tied up in a nice little bow with no loose ends, avoid this film as if it were the plague. If you are a fan of cinema that you really have to think about and even then not come up with an answer, this really fits the bill.
Film Nerd’s choice: Sideways
Director: Alexander Payne
Cast: Paul Giamatti, Thomas Hayden Church, Virginia Madsen, Sandra Oh
Synopsis: Two friends head off to wine country for a week for a buck’s party. Neither is really a shining example of humanity, one is a failed writer (Giamatti), and the other (Hayden Church) is seeking meaningless sex before he ties the knot. What ensues is an often amusing tale of drinking, relationships, and life.
There are many examples of brilliant independent cinema out there, many examples being from the creative stylings of luminaries such as Tarantino and Rodriguez. It is another incredibly difficult category to come up with a favourite for. After some self-reflection however, I realised there was for me one independent film that as a comedy not only appeals to my sense of humour, but also appeals to another interest on mine I have rarely if ever touched on in this blog… wine.
Prior to seeing this film, I knew Hayden Church as Ned from Ned & Stacey, and Giamatti I had seen little of, but had heard a few rave reviews about… reviews that time has well and truly proven to be justified. The two leads do share a chemistry, which if anything gives credence to the friendship which exists despite the two having completely disparate personalities. Giamatti’s Miles is, for lack of a better term, a wine wanker who has depressive tendencies, the latter related to his failed marriage and his just as unsuccessful writing career. Hayden Church’s Jack is much more successful and laid back, but, given he is seeking to get his rocks off on the week before his wedding, is not really the type of guy that spends a lot of time considering consequences.
Each of them experience romance over the course of the week. Miles has an opportunity to spend time with Maya, whom he has long admired on past wine trips and whom herself is recently single. Jack gets the opportunity he seeks for some “last week of freedom” with Stephanie (Oh), a close friend of Maya’s. As supporting players, these two ladies are brilliant, and ideal prospective partners for each in personality.
This review perhaps does not adequately reflect the humour in the film, which is in many instances subtle, with a few bigger comic moments thrown in. It is an intelligent comedy, and there is some extra situational comedy associated with wine tastings and the like. Those familiar with wine trips and tastings can smile and nod, whereas everyone else can enjoy these moments laughing AT the types that enjoy such trips (I am firmly in the former category, I must admit.
Some may argue there are better independent films, that have greater impact or shock value. For me however, it is a film that speaks to a pass time I enjoy, and even introduced me to the subtle joys that come with savouring a pinot noir. Come into it expecting nothing, and you may come out with a new favourite pic!!
5 stars out of 5.
Film Nerd’s Choice: Ikiru
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Cast: Takashi Shimura
Synopsis: A the funeral of a city bureaucrat, friends and colleagues squabble over the acts of the deceased in the final months of his life. In flashback, we learn the story of a man discovering he has months to live and desperately seeking to give his remaining days some meaning. He settles on a simple project to get a park established in the city, and pursues that goal with both humility and tenacity.
It was perhaps a decade ago that I first discovered the films of Kurosawa, and since that time I have never seen a poor film that he made, just films of greater of lesser high quality. So any one of his films could have easily been inserted as my favourite foreign language film. They all manage great drama, and many have incredible emotional impact. The Seven Samurai may be his most well regarded, as well as his most copied film, but to go for real quality in his filmography, I cannot help but go back to this gem that is less epic, but no less profound.
For this film, Shimura takes a lead role, having been in almost all Kurosawa films prior and after this one, though normally in roles that play second fiddle to other popular Kurosawa mainstay, Toshiro Mifune. In many ways it is a very muted performance, yet this suits the role perfectly, though when he does lose control in despair it is heart-breaking. He is a man dying, he has not achieved greatness, he is just who he is. It is not his way to stand out, or to make big grand gestures. His success is in dedication, and in a refusal to accept rejection. He appeals to all the officials he needs to get the project to happen, and he simply waits outside their office until he will be seen, no matter how long. It is an incredible portion of the film. These same men squabble to take credit for being responsible for the park, and yet in the end, it was something they sneered at before Shimura’s Kanji got them to do it, often for little other reason than to see him leave.
It is a sad tale… after all, it is the tale of a man’s death… yet it is also a tale of quiet victory. Quite beautifully, the title of the film translates to “to live” or “living”. In a world where it is increasingly difficult to focus on what is important in life, the message of the film is one that can only resonate more strongly. Forgive me for saying it, but it is a film that only improves with age, like a fine wine.
5 stars out of 5
Film Nerd’s Choice – Anvil: The Story of Anvil
I admit it, I feel a bit lazy with this challenge of late as a lot of the films I am posting I have previously reviewed. It is really just a case of luck that these reviews already exist, however, given that these films are honest answers to the questions being posed. Anvil is the perfect example. No single documentary has drawn me in so deeply as this one of aging rockers. I am into metal, but this documentary is more about the journey. It is about family and most of all it is about friendship. I think all that needs to be said however, is already in my previously written review.
Film Nerd’s Choice: The Princess Bride
Once again this challenge left me with a very hard choice. I know many high quality animated films, and many of them span genre’s, from classic Disney and Pixar/Dreamworks stylings, through to Asian animations, such as child friendly Miyazaki pics to the more adult films in the Akira vein. I was spending some time debating between Toy Story 3, WALL-E and Up, when I expanded my search into the general kid’s film area. This is when lightning struck for me.
All the films listed above I own on DVD or Blu-Ray, but the simple fact is that I watch The Princess Bride more than any of them. I am also more prone to quote the Princess Bride most often of them all. Also, when I purchased Yoostar 2 at the movies for X-box Kinect, the first scene I jumped to act in was Inigo Montoya’s six-fingered man monologue. It is a film of fantasy, of comedy, of love, all told at a kid’s level, but performed and directed with such fun it is open to all audiences.
Film Nerd’s Choice: Memento
Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano, Callum Keith Rennie
Synopsis: Leonard Shelby is a man unable to retain short-term memory ever since the night his wife was murdered, is on the tail of her killer. His key to solving the mystery is tattoos on his body and photographs he has made notes on to recall what clues he has already discovered. The story is told in reverse, such that the audience is also unaware of the events preceding the scene currently in play.
For a film that opens with a man killing the murderer of his wife, and then proceeds to show how he discovered who the murderer was, it is amazing that the film can remain as consistently gripping as this one is. It has been a long time since I last saw, yet the impact I had felt watching it remains years after that first and only viewing. Pearce is amazing as Leonard Shelby, a man obsessed with hunting down the murderer of his wife, said murder being the last true memory he retains. Subsequent to this, he rarely remembers incidents for more than ten minutes of film time. Apparently, I have read that as such, this is one of the most accurate portrayals of a memory loss condition ever presented on-screen, a list that also quite pleasantly surprisingly includes Dory from Finding Nemo.
The film does open with a literal bang, as indicated above, with Leonard taking out his vengeance when finally at the end of his quest. He is an interesting character, tattooed with the more significant clues he has discovered, always checking his photos that remind him who people he has met are, and whether past experiences tell him he can trust them or not. Some segments open quite kinetically, which in itself keeps the audiences curiosity piqued wondering how these action sequences even started. It is basically a film that heralds the amazing output of cinema that Nolan has now been recognised for.
It is difficult to say more without delving into the motives of each character, friend and foe. All I want to say, giving away no spoilers, is treat yourself to this film, and let the mystery unfold… backwards.
5 stars out of 5.
Film Nerd’s Choice: The Thing
I needed some help from the IMDB on this one. I am a person who does not keep restricted to watching one genre, but I must admit, aside from drinking nights with friends over Freddy and Jason marathons, I have never actively considered which horror films strike me as the best. The IMDB top rated horror films as of this time are Psycho, Alien, The Shining, and The Thing, in that order. I jumped to number four on the list as I consider Psycho more of a thriller, Alien more of a sci-fi thriller, and though I appreciate the quality of the Shining, on a personal scale I rate The Thing higher.