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An effective slow burner
The rather awkwardly but evocatively titled 'I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House' is a slow, relatively uneventful, somewhat opaque but rewarding ghost story. There are few outright scares but the film succeeds in creating a chilling mood aided by effective performances from a small cast and evocative music. I believe 'I Am the Pretty Thing...' is a homage to Shirley Jackson and whilst I have not read her work there are certainly echoes of the film 'The Haunting' based on one of Jackson's most famous stories. The basic set-up was also vaguely reminiscent of 'The Grudge'. Overall, an unusual film that won't be to all tastes but which I enjoyed.
Far from the Madding Crowd (1967)
Quite why this excellent film was little appreciated upon release and remains relatively overlooked in the annals of British cinema is hard to explain. Perhaps it was just a question of timing and a backlash against the brief resurgence of British cinema in the 60s. Whatever the reason, Far from the Madding Crowd remains well worth watching, remaining engrossing for all of its lengthy running time - in fact this is a rare case of a film that could have been longer as some incidents do feel slightly telescoped. As for the performances, Julie Christie is good and remarkably beautiful as the heroine, but it's the men in her life - solid Oak, sexy but impecunious Troy, and obsessive Boldwood - and the actors who play them that make the film really memorable.
Bad Teacher (2011)
Bad Teacher, the title and theme of which seems to pay homage to Bad Santa, is one of the best comedies of the last couple of years. Not saying much I hear you cry and that's true but this is enjoyable from start to finish and Cameron Diaz proves herself an excellent comedienne. Also very good is the supporting cast particularly Lucy Punch as the relentlessly perky but somewhat creepy rival teacher Amy Squirrel. It would be intriguing to see a sequel featuring Amy bringing her own 'brand of zany energy to the disadvantaged students of Malcolm X High'. Justin Timberlake and Jason Segel also do a good job as potential suitors for Diaz's bimbo teacher.
Shutter Island (2010)
A massive slice of A-grade hokum
Shutter Island is one of the biggest loads of old tosh I've seen in a long time. The twist - if you can call it that - can be guessed from the trailer and must have been seen at least 47 movies before this one. There is a strange, artificial feel to the whole film, with the crazily doom-laden music the icing on the bizzaro cake. How this 70s B-movie script attracted Scorsese, DiCaprio, Ruffalo etc who know - perhaps it was just an excuse to camp it up for a while. That said, it entertains in its way, despite its overlength and awkward plotting. Truly a bit of a curio, no doubt it will become something of a cult 'guilty pleasure' down the line.
Youth in Revolt (2009)
A flicker of hope for film comedy...
Youth in Revolt is probably an 8 out 10 really, but the standards of film comedy are so low at the moment I'm giving it an extra point just for not being awful. Incredibly for a recent US effort it does not feature Seth Rogen, Steve Carell, Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Paul Rudd or any of the funny-five-years-ago but now dreadfully over-exposed Frat Pack. Unless you count Michael Cera, who I suppose is the thin, thinking man's Seth Rogen.
Cera, an actor in his 20s doomed to play 16 year olds for a good few years yet, plays a geeky loser called Nick Twisp who devises a cool, criminally inclined alternative persona to help him win the beautiful Sheeni. There's nothing amazingly original here, although some of the dialogue is pleasingly quirky, but there's a freshness and amiability about this movie - a massive contrast to the bloated and self-indulgent Funny People which I also saw recently - that makes it well worth a look.
District 9 (2009)
Certainly one of the best SF films of recent years
I didn't know quite what to expect from District 9, but it's a diverting film and the South African setting and characters sets it apart from Hollywood films (where a happy ending is usually guaranteed) and makes it a more unpredictable experience. The performances are very good for the genre with Wikus a great flawed hero. The SFX are also great with the CGI work much more realistic than has been the norm in recent times. The only thing that kept it off a 9/10 for me was that it did descend into a bit of a chase movie in the last half hour or so. The ending is neatly done though and a sequel can surely not be far off.
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Tarantino gets his mojo back, baby
After the self-indulgence of the Kill Bill films and the drivel that was Death Proof, my expectations were not high for Inglorious Basterds. Trailers and reviews did little to change my mind. Only on the recommendation of a friend did I go to see it, and I'm glad I did. This is an excellent film - tense, funny, compelling. There are some great set-pieces, such as the opening scene of Landa questioning the farmer and the scene in the bierkeller. The ensemble cast is almost uniformly good, with only Mike Myers awful 'Austin Powers at 60' cameo striking a false note, and even Brad Pitt effective in his role. Inglorious Basterds shows that Tarantino has, despite his own best efforts, not lost the talent that produced Pulp Fiction and that when he reigns in his ego he can be a great director.
Pour elle (2008)
Tense and gripping
Another Gallic thriller in the vein of Tell No One, but not to be sniffed at. Vincent Lindon is superb as the ordinary guy trying to bust his wife out of prison. Diane Kruger is also effective, if slightly implausibly beautiful, as the desperate wife. Their sympathetic, believable performances keep what could have been a far-fetched story grounded in reality. Some genuinely tense scenes are also well handled by the director. This is the third foreign language thriller I've seen a few weeks (others were Let the Right One In and Fermat's Room) and it has to be said the continentals are doing it better than the English language cinema. Anything For Her is well worth a look and it doesn't outstay its welcome at 96 minutes.
La habitación de Fermat (2007)
The greatest enigma of all
I heard about this film some time ago and was waiting for ages for it to be released. Whilst it probably wasn't worth such a wait, it's still an entertaining little puzzle movie. This is a genre that is plumbed relatively infrequently - The Last of Sheila springs to mind - but is often quite enjoyable. 'Fermat's Room' sets up an intriguing situation, gets a bit far-fetched to be sure, and shows signs of flagging inspiration when it dredges up the old 'one jailer always tells the truth, one always lies, you only have one question' chestnut, which was done in 'Doctor Who' in about 1976; but it doesn't outstay it's welcome and provides some tension and a few twists along the way. Probably more 7.5 than 8 out of 10 but hey.
Some magic in it...
For some reason I had no great desire to see Stardust, the reviews were lukewarm and the trailers didn't look too interesting (too much Ricky Gervais!), so it was only tonight when it came on TV that I watched it. I was pleasantly surprised; Stardust is a very enjoyable fantasy film, not unworthy of comparison with The Princess Bride. The story maintains interest over almost two hours and satisfies as good fairy tales should. The cast is strong with the beautiful Claire Danes doing a rather good English accent, Charlie Cox a likable hero and Michelle Pfeiffer and Mark Strong appropriately hissable baddies. A candidate for most under-rated film of the last year or so.