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Some of these are particularly shameful, given my tastes. BRAZIL and WINGS OF DESIRE, for example. Others like MULHOLLAND DRIVE, THE BIG LEBOWSKI and ALMOST FAMOUS are more debatably classified as 'classics', but they are referred to frequently in genre discussions and I really should see them. Others - like CITIZEN KANE, ON THE WATERFRONT, IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, SEVEN SAMURAI, and CASABLANCA ... well, it's amazing that I can even call myself a film lover, not having seen these yet. But there it is. I'll tick them off the list as I get around to seeing them. Meanwhile, it's back to 'Films Which Please Everyone', which is our staple diet at the cinema / in the living room / snuggled up in bed. I don't usually get a lot of time to get all selfish, and watch any of the chin-strokers below ...
The moment of impact
After cramming a dozen of the most hoary, hackneyed clichés into its first sixty seconds, I thought uh-oh, here we go. After F1 received the Fisher Price treatment in RUSH, a film which did the sport no real justice at all, it's amateur hour again. Stand by for a 90- minute Sky Sports style montage: fast cars, girls, loud noises, blah blah.. All fast edits, flash camera-work, no authenticity, no substance.
But I was wrong. After the pomp and circumstance of the first minute, '1' slams to a halt, literally, as Martin Brundle's car rises and violently jackknifes through the air and into the Armco at Adelaide '96. Silence .. Surely he's got to be dead. But F1 fans know he's not. In a perfect scene-setting moment, Brundle's familiar voice cuts through the air, tells us he shouldn't be alive today, and we have our context.
And then we're launched back in time, into what turns out to be a journey through F1's horrific middle years, and how a passionate group of drivers and team owners struggled to reduce the death count in a sport which had all-too-often become - at its grisly height in the Seventies - the sporting equivalent of a snuff movie.
Motorsport fans love a good crash, but when a driver is burnt to death, or virtually sliced in half, or decapitated - all of which happen in '1'- it ceases to be entertaining. The film teaches you how Stewart, Fittipaldi and Lauda played their roles in making the sport safer, and how Bernie Ecclestone of all people perhaps made, with his insistence that Prof Sid Watkins (may he rest in peace) rule every race from a medical standpoint, the biggest contribution. Max Moseley, too. I hadn't appreciated all of this.
Nor did I know that Rindt died when he insisted on removing his own rear wing to make the car go faster. Or how much of a superstar Cevert had become before that stomach-churning crash at Watkins Glen which made his fellow drivers cry with the horror. Or indeed many other things, and I am a life-long fan of F1 since 1977, the year of Tom Pryce and Kyalami, although that insane, terrible and unforgettable moment isn't featured in the film.
'1' is wonderful. At times, if you're a hardcore, long-time fan, especially if you experienced the sport through the driver-killing Seventies like my brother Mark and I did, it might put a few tears in your eyes.
It gets compared to SENNA, which is a seminal documentary in any genre, never mind sports documentaries. But I'm not comparing the two. '1' has its place, and in my view it joins SENNA as the second great F1 film in recent years.
It doesn't go for controversy, although there is naturally some finger-pointing. If you're a circuit-owner from the 1970s, or a relative of Colin Chapman, you might not like what you see here. Jacky Ickx, too, is singled out as a reckless Neanderthal who ignored safety and went against the rest - although Ickx magnificently defends his case in a relaxed, rather charming interview, without appearing too self-satisfied.
In fact, Ickx's charismatic and likable turn is suffused with the glow of a man who walked the tightrope blindfold, and didn't fall. The predominant vibe from the interviewees who were around when the others were dying so often ... Fittipaldi, Andretti, Ickx, Stewart, Surtees, and of course Lauda ... is that they are The Survivors. As Andretti says, he dodged the bullet.
That the bullets found so many of the greatest drivers who ever lived, is what gives '1' it's constant air of tragedy.
There is dread when a driver, such as Clark, Cevert or Rindt, receives the in-depth treatment, in the knowledge that the film makers are simply giving us the measure of men who, ultimately, would die horribly at the wheel of their car.
Some may find '1' ghoulish. I found it a fitting memorial to men both living and dead who are among my sporting heroes of all time.
A world-class line-up of interviewees, more or less everybody you'd want to hear from (except, perhaps, Prost), filmed and edited tastefully. Nobody outstays their welcome. It's a brisk film punctuated by invigorating music and the ear-shattering, primal noises of an F1 circuit. And yes, it sounds amazing on your home cinema.
The men who play their parts in the relative sanitisation of the modern-day sport are reduced to a few interviews early and late in the movie, but although that very sanitisation is clearly where '1' is headed, it also knows that that's not where the story or the entertainment truly lie.
Kudos to the film makers for not producing an F1 retrospective for the YouTube generation.
But, briefly, you're brought to the near-present day by a genius quip from the quick-witted Robert Kubica, near the end. Cue much laughter.
It's a film for me and my big brother, as we were there back in the day. Monza 1977, the year before Sid Watkins arrived, and Petersen died, we sat in that big long old stand among the Tifosi, and watched Andretti beat the six-wheel Tyrrells. We - like a million other men of a certain age - remember those days, obsessively following a dangerous sport in which anything could happen, and which has now become relatively predictable, sanitised and desperately, almost calamitously, commercial.
Maybe death is entertainment, after all. Perhaps that's what we all have to recognise. The Romans had their gladiators, and we had ours. But the Formula One gladiators who died, all died doing something they loved - right up to the moment of impact, the sport to which they had devoted their lives quickly and brutally sending them on their journey into the next one.
Sarcastic, enjoyable take on the End Of The World
THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE is a remarkable little film, and one I have to thank my big brother Mark for. He bought me the BFI Blu-ray version one Christmas, and suggested I'd like it. He was right.
I was surprised by it. The first thing you notice is the terrific, sparky, rapid-fire script written by Wolf Mankowitz and the film's director, Val Guest. It's relentlessly quippy. All three main actors - Leo McKern, Janet Munro and particularly Edward Judd - are memorable. It's all delivered in that clipped Queen's English fashion so evocative of films from that era (pre-Beatles early Sixties), but the dialogue is sarcastic and laddish, not surprising since most of it takes place in a national newspaper newsroom.
But oh that misogyny ... TDTECF is a proper throwback to when men were men and women were grateful. Or at least subservient. Nobody's particularly macho, but the tone switches minute-by-minute from incredible early 60s sexism to 40s romance to 50s melodrama at bewildering speed.
Memories include a LOT of stock footage .. people carrying dead chickens being a common indication that the world is going to pot, weather-wise. Plus flash floods and lots of ruined buildings.
There's some bizarre scenes .. an absurdly white, middle class 'riot' down Chelsea way (it's all set in London), where 100 sweating Beatniks groove around to jazz music throwing water over each other, stands out. One lad makes the worst attempt ever at saving his own life, before falling down a lift shaft. It's the most laughable scene of civil unrest imaginable.
Edward Judd's character, the film's anti-hero, is a complete jerk, to be honest. Rude, lazy, self-centered, pretty much a lech and almost a rapist at one point. He's one of the most unlikeable protagonists I've ever seen, but Janet Munro falls for him because, hey, she likes it rough. Leo McKern gets the best lines and nails every one.
But finally, the plot. Two hydrogen bomb tests go off simultaneously, one USA, one Russian, accidentally. The earth's axis shifts, and the planet's weather changes ... and we're speeding towards the Sun and certain death. Only one thing to do: detonate more bombs, to re-set the earth's tilt, and correct our course before everything fries. Will it work?
The moment the nightmare becomes clear, towards the end of the film, has genuine shock value. From that moment till the terrific ending, TDTECF ratchets up the tension. Time for one last tender moment between, weirdly, two minor characters (bar staff at the alcoholic journalists' favourite pub), and then .... you'll have to see for yourself.
Oh, and there are only about 500 people in London throughout the whole film.
If it were made today, this film would be fantastically spectacular, with CGI opportunities to die for. I wonder if they'll remake it. If they do, I predict many strong female characters and a distinct lack of attempted date rape.
The Grey (2011)
Early Liam man-fun
Caught this late at the charming The Cottage cinema in Leeds, after regretting missing it first time around.
Thoroughly good man-fun.
The early scene in the plane, when Liam tells the dying passenger what is about to happen to him, is one of the more emotionally shocking scenes you'll ever see in what we all thought was going to be a simple genre action film. As soon as you witness that scene you think, hello, THE GREY has the potential to be rather great.
Largely, it delivers on the early promise. You do NOT want to be caught in this situation. However, (** SPOILER ALERT **) on this occasion - and though I like a downbeat ending as much as the next man - I really wanted to see Liam punch out the big wolf, and take a short walk to the nearest Travelodge for a hot shower and a burger in the Hungry Horse next door.
Nolan's my new Spielberg
And so INTERSTELLAR arrived, after spending six years on my IMDb Watchlist, back since it was a Spielberg project.
I'd managed to avoid the spoilers. My sci-fi-immune wife Marie and I went in cold, just like we'd done back when INCEPTION came out. We left that one on a high, practically high-fiving, and wouldn't you know it, the same thing happened again. Marie was silent beside me for most of the film, until ** SPOILER ALERT ** the mind-bending scene with the time-distorted, infinite bookshelves ** END SPOILER **. Then she burst out "That's SO clever!!" and I knew she was along for the whole ride.
Emotionally, it got to me, as I have a young daughter. My man-stare cracked a little at the end, I'll admit. Several times during the film, I thought to myself, hang on, this is actually horrific. Given how I feel about my own daughter, would I do the same? And having done it, how strongly would I want to retrace my steps and scream out no, no, no, no, I didn't mean it??? I felt Cooper's gigantic emotions, and importantly I understood WHY.
INTERSTELLAR, like INCEPTION, is an engage-brain movie. If you've avoided the spoilers you will NOT know where it is going, or how - if at all - it is ever going to bring you back. Yes it is spectacular, yes it is a proper science-fiction film which attempts to put hard sci- fi on screen in a way that has almost never been attempted before. Many draw parallels with 2001 of course, but don't forget CONTACT, which also took you through the wormhole to.... somewhere I found entirely magical. INTERSTELLAR doesn't top CONTACT, for me, at least not on first watch. I still think Zemeckis nailed absolutely every heartbeat of CONTACT, and Jodie Foster's impeccable performance in that film aces McConaughey's nevertheless excellent performance in this (and certainly Hathaway's, who I always find a little lightweight and actorly). Ironically, McConaughey's in CONTACT too...
I ramble. So does INTERSTELLAR. Its pacing is weird, staccato, jumpy. Don't look for plot holes - there are plenty there, but like with all great movies, I rode over the bumps in Nolan's slipstream, happy to allow more or less anything while I hung on for the hoped- for ending. Did I get it? You'll have to decide for yourself, but it has an ending which I liked.
Will it penetrate my top 100? Certainly. It doesn't top Nolan's own THE PRESTIGE, or CONTACT, or SILENT RUNNING, ALIEN, THE ABYSS or CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, among my favourite sci fi movies. but I'm expecting this to settle well inside my Top 100 once I've had time to process it all.
It's up there with INCEPTION - it's cerebral, demanding and thoughtful yet not impenetrable. We both followed it, literally, to another place in the universe. Wonderful ambition, wonderful execution, and staggering to imagine how one might conceive of, and - harder still - execute a movie of this colossal scale. Proof that intelligent life does exist in Hollywood.
In around six years, I hope that we get another imaginative, original, stellar Christopher Nolan blockbuster, just like this one. He's still young, and he's my new Spielberg.
Best Sci-Fi Film since INCEPTION
Yes, better than MELANCHOLIA, MONSTERS, SOURCE CODE, DREDD and AVENGERS ASSEMBLE - all good science fiction, but not up at this level. Way, way better than LOOPER, PROMETHEUS, SUPER 8 and Kosinski's own TRON: LEGACY.
OBLIVION was a total surprise. Intelligent, exciting, properly large- scale spectacular and ultimately thoughtful, and rather heartbreaking.
Cruise is magnificent, Riseborough is magnetic and enigmatic, and Morgan Freeman's brief screen time stays just the right side of Hollywood cliché.
The M83 score is beautiful .. and in the final twenty minutes, OBLIVION does exactly what you want it to do - it goes big. Very big. It really gives you everything.
There are surprises - stay clear of spoilers - which are handled intelligently and logically. Think it through afterwards, and you'll find the normal slightly head-scratching plot holes, but really very few.
I expected 2013's best science-fiction films to be ELYSIUM and GRAVITY, and went in confident that OBLIVION would look gorgeous, but mean nothing. I was wrong. This sets the bar very, very high for Neil Blomkamp and Alfonso Cuaron. 2013 may just be the best year for science fiction in a very long time.
Bigger isn't always better
How I pine for the old-school thrills of a simple CGI blockbuster, like INDEPENDENCE DAY.
Give me just ONE awesome thing to look at on a movie screen: I don't need 500 things on the screen, all happening at once, just because you CAN.
2012 may the year's most spectacular movie, and admittedly it delivers visuals on a consistently gigantic scale which we've simply never seen before, but like a greedy trip to McDonalds, the sensory overload leaves you feeling stuffed, rather than well-fed.
Note to self: go and re-watch RUNAWAY TRAIN...ALIEN...PREDATOR...THE ABYSS and even ID4. They don't make them like they used to - sadly.
Flawless. But I Had Read The Book...
I should say that, when I like something, I tend to be completely uncritical. It happens rarely, though. The first time I saw CONTACT, the night I saw DOGVILLE, and AI, the night I was at the London celebrity premiere of THE ABYSS, and when we watched .REC one dark night. There's plenty more, but nowhere near enough. My perfect movie drug is a hard fix to find. When it happens, I'm happy for days afterwards.
Last night, I saw Zack Snyder's WATCHMEN, and it's going to be a happy weekend. Last weekend I finished the WATCHMEN graphic novel for the second time (1st was 10 years ago), and loved it again. NB: I am not generally a fan of comic books, or superhero movies. I thought BATMAN BEGINS was way, way, way better than the hugely over-rated DARK KNIGHT. The only other comic book series I have ever read was SPAWN, fifteen years ago, when I was in the toy business and we were working on the action figures... (still got some in mint cond, and a pair of SPAWN tracky bottoms which I've always been too embarrassed to wear...). But I had a feeling, going in to the movie, and having read plenty of reviews, that once again this was going to be one where I bucked the critical trend ... I approached it ready to experience an uncritical, complete pleasure.
WATCHMEN delivered it all. For me, Snyder is three-for-oh ... DAWN OF THE DEAD and 300 were superb, but WATCHMEN is a step up. I loved every second, but here's the catch: it's because I had just read the graphic novel. IMHO, watching WATCHMEN without reading the original first, you're more likely to hate it. The film is so full of flavour if you've read the book, in almost every scene a character mutters something, or there's a scenery detail, which gives a spark of pleasure to the book's fans...but which would be lost on the unprepared. Me, I was enthralled as, time after time, the movie brought so many key scenes - and tiny grace notes - to life from the graphic novel. Faithful to the source? Hell yes, and brilliantly too.
Let's list the key criticisms which others on IMDb have aimed at WATCHMEN:
Boring - I was wide awake and engaged throughout. Inappropriate music - the music rocks, the only bum note is Leonard Cohen (come on, he's rubbish). The sex scene - trashed as being cheesy and corny...I disagree, you need it, at that point in time, as much as they do...and it ends on a killer, laugh out loud flamethrower joke. Slow motion action - again, why people have trashed this is beyond me, it's part of the film's core visual style, you go with it, it's spectacular. Hard to follow - if you've read the book, it's a piece of cake. Different ending - Snyder's big ending is better than the book's, sorry Alan. Manhattan's willy - I mean really, it's there on screen, what, ten times? And not for long... A few sniggers in the cinema, but the good doctor's willy isn't THAT in your face. Dodgy CGI - Again, for me, part of the film's style, there's some photo-real stuff and some stylised CGI which is clearly part of the cartoon look.
And the actors. Look, I already told you, when I love something I love everything. Kudos to every single one - and special mention for Jackie Earl Haley and Patrick Wilson. And Malin Akerman, as they say in Barnsley, you'll do fo me lass.
I'll stop now, I loved it, WATCHMEN was staggeringly good, the special edition DVD just has to be a classic (come on guys, get it right). I wouldn't change a second of this film.
Astonishing. The real deal - but warn your puppy.
The movie equivalent of being beaten to a pulp by ten drunken shouting Glaswegians after a night out on the Tennants. REC plants its foot on your jugular and you quickly realise it's just not going to let you off. Mercifully, death follows swiftly - you're terrified, but not for long (it's only as long as one and a half episodes of ER).
We sat there last night, special edition DVD, lights off, DTS sound, big screen, snacks... IE: optimum conditions. We gave REC our best attention, and we were thoroughly rocked, especially my wife - 26, feisty, usually quite cynical (names and shames plot holes mercilessly) - who hid behind her hands and, basically, lost it. When it finished, neither of us could remember breathing recently.
Oh it's brilliant, do it properly, suspend your normal disbelief, and go with it. We loved it, but Marie will NEVER watch it again...
Footnote: our puppy wasn't impressed. Visibly and audibly traumatised, he left a huge pooh on the living room floor which we discovered when we turned the lights back on. 16 weeks and already a critic...
Utter, utter, utter rubbish (and I'm being kind)
First there's a steaming cesspit of fresh crap, and underneath that there's all the fresh collected crap of the world, then there's a giant stinking reservoir of all of last week's crap, then there's a deeper layer of the hardened, putrid crap since the beginning of time, and underneath THAT there's Severance.
UN-believably bad. Fundamentally, deeply embarrassingly terrible.
Some films are so bad that they're funny. Severance is not funny, not clever, not frightening, not good schlock, a completely amateur and weak contribution to the genre.
WHAT a good way to spend our National Lottery money here in the UK.
Congratulations to all involved.
Grizzly Man (2005)
A new treasure in my DVD collection
Strange, this hobby of mine, watching films. I saw two documentaries in one year about men obsessed with grizzly bears. Grizzly Man is the better of the two in every conceivable way.
Shortly after seeing Project Grizzly (do a search), an empty, unfunny, uninspiring and poorly made documentary about an idiot in a tin suit, I heard about Grizzly Man. I heard it was a class act, and I heard right.
I'll leave the detail to other, far better reviewers. But I've just watched Grizzly Man for the first time - I'm a fan of Werner Herzog, I believe Aguirre Wrath of God to be one of the finest, most scorchingly memorable films that I've ever seen - and I am deeply touched.
To those who simply want to "hear the tape" ... you are categorically wrong. Watch this personal, moving, surprising, shocking, unpredictable film, and maybe you will understand Herzog's tasteful decision to leave the tape unheard. I hope Jewel Palovak has destroyed the tape, because nobody with compassion needs to hear it. Hearing the sound of Tim and his girlfriend being attacked and eaten by a grizzly would have destroyed the film's (and Timothy Treadwell's story's) dignity, and would have reduced Grizzly Man to not much more than a snuff movie.
This is a beautiful film, an instant top five in all the documentaries I have ever seen, it has great intelligence, humour, shake your head in disbelief moments, and it is paced by a great director, a story teller. My respect to Herzog, and to Treadwell's friends who helped bring his story to the screen. A new treasure in my DVD collection.