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Animal House (1978)
Generally amusing
24 April 2018
This is a very silly movie and it did make me laugh. But not a huge amount. John Belushi is a talented comedian and did a few things that were highly entertaining (perving through a window, smashing a guitar, sneaking around, imitating a zit). But overall, nothing in the movie is particularly sophisticated or brilliant. It's generally fun but little more.

Stephen Fry once compared American to English comedy, referencing this movie. The American style involves loud characters who annoy people. The English approach involves people trying to be clever and successful but failing miserably, often being oblivious to various problems around them. I tend to prefer the latter kind of comedy. In general, I prefer it when I like the characters. In Animal House, many of them are likeable BUT they do a lot of stupid and rude things which makes it less enjoyable. That they annoy arrogant, unpleasant characters makes it more bearable.

This may be one of the better movies in its genre - the teen sex comedy. But it's not that great a genre so it's really not saying a lot. There isn't much heart to the movie. The characters are empty and don't change. And the scenes don't really progress meaningfully with few if any consequences as the movie goes along. For me, it's dated and mildly entertaining with a few highlights.
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Great cinematography and music, my favourite Harry Potter movie
26 January 2018
Chris Columbus did an excellent job setting up the world of Harry Potter and Hogwarts with two exciting kids movies which adults could also greatly enjoy. Alfonso Cuarón manages to capture the same sense of magic while taking things to the next level in various ways.

The kids are given more individuality in the way they wear their school uniforms and also get to wear more casual clothes. Apparently much of the filming was moved to Scotland and there are lots of gorgeous landscapes, some beautiful views. Overall, more time is spent outdoors, showing things we have yet to see. The cinematography is very creative. There are many impossible shots, including some which pass through mirrors. They make you pause and think, wait, how'd they do that? You can't just say "cgi" because you can see the actors clearly and the camera seems to move smoothly. However it's done, it's impressive, draws you in and makes the movie much more fun.

The story is just as good as the first two movies, giving us some more insight into Harry's parents and what happened leading up to the fateful night he received his scar. One of the new characters is Lupin (David Thewlis) who becomes a kind of paternal figure for Harry, helping him develop useful skills and understand his own emotions. Gary Oldman is excellent as always, in this case a crazed murderer but entwined in a mysterious past which we gradually learn more about. There are plenty of twists and turns in the plot. One popular device is made use of, perhaps better than in any other movie. There are a number of nice details which enhance it greatly.

There is a theme of light in the movie. Finding light in the darkness. Finding hope and inner strength at the right time. Lifting yourself up by your bootstraps. This movie is in many ways more personal than the previous two. It is less epic in scope and more focused on betrayal, lies and finding the truth. And also about inner conflicts. It's hard to say much else without giving things away.

This movie touches on themes of sadness and fear more directly than most movies ever do. They're universal emotions that everyone can relate to. Our childhood might not be the same as Harry's, but most of us can relate to distant happy memories which we can't even tell are real. We all yearn for some lost golden age from the past from time to time. Many of us have times when we realise we'd falsely judged someone, not knowing the full truth.

HP and the Prisoner of Azkaban is also full of humourous moments, clever details which are easy to miss in the background, multiple seasons and cool transitions between them, creative ways of filming scenes and moments of true pathos. John Williams' music is great as always with two stand-out parts being when Harry rides Buckbeak and the theme Window to the Past. This is one of the best fantasy movies of all time - I wish Cuarón got to direct more of the HP movies!
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Alien (1979)
Great sci-fi horror
21 January 2018
Alien is one of the best sci-fi movies of all time and it also happens to be a horror, making it all the more tense and exciting to watch. Its strength is its patience combined with top-notch visuals and music and an original plot.

The look of the movie is incredible from start to finish. The Nostromo spaceship, the interiors, the Alien itself. Much of it was designed by H.R. Giger, a German with a unique and fascinating style. He also worked on Jodorowsky's Dune (which never got made) and you can see similarities in the design. They seem to combine the organic with the artificial and often border on the sexual. The inside of an alien spaceship is full of imaginative and strange details like nothing you've seen before. It's a shame Prometheus was such a terrible attempt at expanding on the story behind it...

The score by the prolific Jerry Goldsmith is one of his best. There are faint echoes of more innocent sounding woodwinds with swelling, ominous strings in the background. It's mysterious but captures mankind's natural sense of wonder - it's not completely evil. As one character says at one point, they practically admire the alien, despite its capacity for destruction. We can't help but feel similarly. There's a juxtaposition of beauty and death. In Interstellar as well, the characters go on journeys at the edge of what's possible, seeing incredible things but also facing the serious risk of death. Our universe (and the beings in it) can be a harsh but beautiful mistress.

Like all the great horror movies, the monster or threat is only gradually revealed. We're in the dark along with the characters. The details surrounding the alien, how it reproduces, what defence mechanisms it has, what on Earth it even is are very cool. Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is a strong female character who is forced into a survival situation. She's one of the few to use common sense throughout the whole movie. She's cautious where others aren't. She know why certain rules are in place and gets frustrated that others would prefer to take risks. As it turns out, she was right the whole time.

There are slow shots moving down corridors, letting us take in the designs of the walls, sometimes with emergency rotating lights and gas clouding things a bit. The movie takes its time setting things up and creating a mood. When things do happen, they have more impact because of the calm moments in between. But I enjoy the quiet moments just as much. There's always plenty to take in and ponder.

There are many twists and turns in the plot. This keeps things tense - we don't know what might come out of nowhere, who can be trusted, where are you safe. There are some frustrating horror cliché moments where it seems like problems could have been prevented if the people were less stupid at key moments. But we also get to experience some imaginative situations which aren't yet possible with current technology but might well become realities in the near future.

I have to admit, I don't find the alien itself scary. But I like its presence and the overall mood of the movie - it's a very well made horror. It's more about suspense than jump scares. It builds up the anticipation and a sense of inescapability. The tone is a bit depressing in some ways. These humans are in the middle of nowhere. But we do get the impression they're heading back to Earth and usually spend their journeys in some kind of cryo-sleep. This movie's an exception to their routine. But a film like Jaws is much easier to relate to while still putting the humans in a setting (the sea) where they're out of their comfort zone.

Aliens is a great sequel but the rest are more average. Alien goes down as the best of its genre, a horror sci-fi that takes its time, confident in its story and visuals and creates one of the most memorable movie monsters of all time with characters we care about.
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Terminator 2 (1991)
The definitive action movie
20 January 2018
I grew up with Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Few movies come close to it in terms of style, action and a story and characters that immediately capture your imagination and take you along for the ride.

Re-visiting it, one of the major things which stood out was the complete lack of establishing shots. Practically every movie ever made has at least 10 to 20 establishing shots but T2 has none. Every shot is straight into telling part of the story. It's incredibly focused. I'd say more than 95% of the shots have a person in them. As Chuck Palahniuk once said in an interview about his novel Fight Club, he puts more emphasis on verbs than adjectives. This is a movie of verbs, not adjectives. It's masculine, about function rather than fashion, about movement, about weapons and vehicles, about having specific goals and then achieving them by any means.

Throughout the film, the T-1000 consistently has better vehicles while the T-800 has better guns. It's an interesting imbalance that makes things more exciting. Both terminators are extremely efficient. They waste no time or energy. They know each-other's weaknesses and strengths. They know exactly how to use any vehicle or gun they come across. The T-1000 expertly operates a helicopter and large trucks, the T-800 rides a motorbike while reloading a shotgun with one hand, uses a mini-gun and repairs a car.

The direction is second-to-none in the action genre. The relative positions of characters and objects is always clear. We feel the speed at all times. None of the camera-work is flashy but it's right there among the action. Things are mostly done for real, there are many stunts and probably miniatures as well but they seamlessly mix in. Shots are no longer or shorter than they need to be to help us understand what's happening and feel every impact and beat of the action.

The heart of the movie is the relationship between John Connor and the terminator assigned to protect his life. The T-800 becomes a father figure to John who's never met his real father (but will in the future without realising it, that's time travel for you). John teaches him how to speak more like a normal person. The T-800 learns quickly. "No problemo."

Terminator 2 asks some interesting questions about fate and trying to change the future. Along with the original, it's the best movie in the genre of "robots taking over the world in the future". Is it morally sound to murder someone for their future crimes or devastation that will take place because of their actions? The answer isn't simple. It has similarities to Minority Report in this area.

The tone is dark at times and sometimes I feel this is a flaw. But it also makes it more unique. Movies should explore different human emotions and at one point or another we have to face the reality of nuclear weapons and the potential for self-destruction. It's terrifying but T2 is about hope in the face of this. It's tragic what Sarah Connor has been through and has to live with, being the only one knowing about such a deadly future. Miles Dyson is also a tragic figure, a father and husband who is completely unaware of the massive risks his work entails.

The performances are very good. Linda Hamilton is intense as Sarah Connor. We understand when she tells off her son for saving her - she puts mankind's future ahead of her own life and that means John's life is sacred and can't be risked. Arnold Schwarzenegger is stoic but becomes more human as the movie progresses. A bit like how dogs may learn to "emote" to interact with their human owners, the T-800 seems to gradually understand how human emotions work and respond to them. There are nice details like reloading his weapon when speaking to John, staying up at night to keep an eye out for danger and scanning areas with his eyes - he is always in character, always doing the maximum possible to protect John.

Robert Patrick is calm and ominous as the T-1000. He gives a cold smile a couple of times but comes across as inhuman. He is scarier in many ways than the terminator in the original because his own body can become long, stabbing blades. He doesn't hesitate to kill in cold blood and to imitate people in order to get access to places. Edward Furlong is excellent as child acting goes. He's independent but sad. He's learned to hate his mother, thinking she lied to him. He doesn't like his foster parents or at least hasn't formed close relationships with them - "she's not my mother, Todd" (blatantly refusing to call him Dad).

The special effects pushed the boundaries of what was possible at the time and they're integrated into the rest of the movie really well. The movie is full of iconic, memorable shots, action sequences and lines. The T-800 is "bad to the bone" with his leather clothes, boots, motorbike, shotgun and sunglasses. And the T-1000 is sleek and intimidating in his fake police uniform. As he slides through bars, the only thing which isn't liquid is the gun which he slightly tilts to bring through. There are too many great moments to name and they often come in a flurry at the best parts.

T2 is what gets me excited about movies in general. It's the peak of what's possible in an action film. And on top of that, it has some mature themes, thought-provoking sci-fi ideas and good dramatic performances. It makes it all look so easy. I liked it as a kid but only now has it hit me how epic and one-of-a-kind it truly is. Unbeaten for 26 years and counting...
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The Shining (1980)
Psychotic, menacing, bizarre
19 January 2018
The Shining is a good horror movie, perhaps one of the best. But the horror genre is such a weak genre IMO that, unfortunately, that isn't saying all that much. I like the atmosphere and the many unique, strange and intense moments which are sprinkled throughout. The cinematography is great as are the sets.

The music is effective, often jarring and atonal. Parts of it are like a heartbeat in 3/4 time with coming and going ominous brass sounds. It's easy to not notice and just get drawn in by accompanying imagery which is often mesmerising.

Jack Nicholson gives a maniacal performance but this questions whether he was ever sane in the first place. Perhaps it would have been more effective to have him start out more clearly good so that his fall is more dramatic. Also, it would have been nice to see some more internal conflict, as if there was good fighting evil.

Shelley Duvall plays her role really well, Nicholson observed it was the toughest role he'd ever see someone take on. She ends up hysterical at many times and we can understand why. But again, it may have been more effective starting with an actress who seemed more strong and stable to start with who then changes, rather than someone who already appears vulnerable. Duvall reminds me a lot of Olive Oyl (Popeye's girlfriend) because of her big eyes and long, gangly frame. I was amused to find out that she actually played that role in the Popeye movie.

There is much left open to interpretation in this movie, but I don't think many answers are to be found. It's more about the ride. There is no deliberate underlying logic, although it's tempting to try to figure something out. What's important is that the many strange scenes are memorable and can get under the skin. They get your imagination going. But they don't come together in a deeper coherent story. The Sixth Sense has successful twists and surprises that enhance the movie. The Shining has no such things, just mystery and contradictions.

My favourite parts may be the elevator visions, the twin girls, the room and what we see in it, the intense performances of the leads, the overall music and visuals and a handful of other specific moments and details. This isn't so much a flawed movie as one which you wish had a bit more substance or conflict in it. It's suspenseful and entertaining but doesn't achieve greatness other than surpassing the standards of most horror movies.
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Hook (1991)
A childhood favourite, still magical
19 January 2018
I fondly remember watching and loving Hook as a kid, maybe 10 years old. But re-watching it was a more vivid experience than I expected. I FELT things I hadn't felt since seeing it so long ago. We get excited at that age, we fill in the gaps. We believe flying is possible, why not? As adults, I think we sometimes become more cynical, much like Peter Banning in the movie. That was the irony: this movie is nostalgic for me, but the way Spielberg directs it, the movie itself is clearly about those feelings of nostalgia.

Peter Banning (Robin Williams) has forgotten who he is. As he discovers himself, I was realising how much this movie captured my imagination as a kid. I can now relate to Peter, perhaps more than to his children. Spielberg uses swelling music and close-ups to suggest profound things, as if we should be familiar with something - it creates this feeling of deja vu. For example, when the crazy old man says a riddle ending with "got to save Maggie, got to save Jack, Hook is back..." We feel like we should know what this means. It draws you in. The same for when Peter gets back to Neverland and everyone has sudden moments of realization when they recognize him. The filming exaggerates those emotions, paralleling my own memories coming back as I watch.

I find Dustin Hoffman very funny as Hook. He openly hates the pirates who surround him, but they remain oblivious, taking his insults as merely playful. He is facing a midlife crisis. A proud, successful pirate but with no great enemy to battle. Where's the fun in that? He enjoys the sport in a good fight, which is why he seeks his old nemesis, Peter.

The music by John Williams is among his best which is no small feat. It captures the feelings of loss and sadness that surround Peter's mysterious and forgotten childhood, the pure adventure of flying, fighting and crowing and other things.

The child performances are of a high standard. Both Maggie and Jack come across as real, with mixed emotions. The daughter is more pure, loving her parents, wanting to be saved, being full of hope and strongly disliking Hook. Jack is more conflicted, being somewhat let down by his father being too busy for him at times. He goes through several changes of heart, many of which are quite moving. Hook can't corrupt the girl, but he comes close with the boy.

Hook is more about emotions than the specifics of what happens and why. It's about rediscovering yourself and that place between dreams and reality which Tinkerbell mentions. It's about jubilation, finding your happy thoughts, reconnecting with loved ones, reassessing one's life. There are many moments of humour which I don't want to spoil. There are plenty of aspects of the plot which are silly and may not hold up to scrutiny but it doesn't matter. Hook isn't for everyone, but kids of all ages may well love it if the story suits their taste.
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Rogue One (2016)
Mostly terrible with some decent space battles
19 January 2018
I hated The Force Awakens but Rogue One managed to be even worse up until its redeeming final act. The characters are dull and boring. They have no life to them, no personality, no positivity. They could win a lotto ticket and still find a reason to be depressed.

At least Rogue One isn't a remake of A New Hope the way TFA was. But it's story didn't interest me much. It has a lot of little references to the original Star Wars trilogy, perfectly matching the details. From the little black robot that buzzes around to the cool style of door that closes after Vader fights Obi-Wan in ANH, from the costumes and hairdos to the bright lights and machinery of the Death Star. But it lacks the life of the original movies. It's all style with no substance. Half the costumes look like they've just been made and are being worn for the first time. It lacks the dirtiness of Star Wars, where everything looks used, likes it been through a lot, even though it's futuristic.

The music is terrible. Michael Giacchino has composed great music for Pixar movies like Up and Inside Out, but this score sounds uninspired. He references the first few notes of various Star Wars themes, only to fall flat with some other vapid theme. There's no impact, no energy. No chills down your spine moments like John Williams' scores are full of.

The finale brought this movie from a 1/10 up to a 4/10. That's impressive. Parts of it are quite exhilarating, but only briefly. There are inspired shots that take you back to childhood for fleeting seconds. It's not because they imitate the spaceships from the older films, it's because space battles are exciting, especially when the effects, editing and cinematography are good. Having sophisticated vehicles juxtaposed with palm trees and a generally tropical location is also refreshing.

Rogue One lacks the intrigue of the force. One character repeats the mantra "I am one with the force, the force is with me." over and over again. This is more grating than interesting. The story is often far-fetched, falling into a common problem where we constantly feel we're simply at the mercy of the writers. Maybe a character will dramatically die, maybe they'll have a miraculous close call, maybe they'll do that thing where they shoot and get shot at while having a conversation. The danger is only there when the script calls for it. It's shallow and inconsistent.

What made the original movies so great was a combination of rare things: good characters, great music (amongst the greatest ever written IMHO), state-of-the-art special effects, iconic heroes, villains, vehicles and gadgets and good direction. At best, Rogue One has some sections of good special effects combined with good directing and some decent dramatic moments. But otherwise, it is woefully subpar for most of its running time, on the level of a TV show. I think it will age poorly.
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Bold, patient, moody - a worthy sequel
10 October 2017
This is a great film, the visuals alone are incredible. But the thing that sets it apart is the same main quality that set Blade Runner (1982) apart - its unique mood. It's not uplifting but not depressing either. It cuts deeply, makes you feel something real. It isn't manipulating your emotions. It really captures that broken feeling of being a flawed human, looking for meaning in your life, lost in a dangerous world full of contradictions.

The music is perfect for the movie. It's reminiscent of the Vangelis score for the original but doesn't just repeat it or rip it off. Its a continuation of the previous score, acknowledging it and moving on. A lot of it is loud rumbling or Inception-style BWAAARMS but it feels right. Then there are moments of near-silence. We hear things whirring past, slowly. As if some huge hovering spacecraft is visiting overhead. Is it part of the music or a physical sound the characters can hear? We can't tell, they blend together.

There are interesting themes. It's a movie about cyborgs but delves into real questions about the nature of being human. How do we know if our memories are real? If there are gaps, does that mean that our memories are fake? Or do our emotions naturally cause gaps and inconsistencies anyway? If our memories have been implanted, then who are we really? Can our emotional reactions to fake memories be real and does that somehow validate them?

Can you love a program? Can you bond with "her", become comfortable with each-other developing your own brand of playful banter, miss her when she's gone? Can love be reciprocated by a program? More importantly, does it even matter? Is loving someone really just a way to indirectly love ourselves?

Will cyborgs ever be able to feel real emotions, reproduce, be whatever that combination of emotional/rational is that we call "human"? Is human irrationality a strength or would cyborgs with absolute concentration be superior to humans in every way?

The imagery is striking - like a collection of dystopian sci-fi paintings. A futuristic car, a man, a desolate landscape and a deadwood, for example. The film takes its time, letting the images wash over you. If you appreciate the style and the tone of the story appeals to you, you'll be in heaven. Others may start to get impatient. The movie isn't afraid to keep things hidden or vague from time to time, to allow rain to distort images, to dwell for a long time on a still frame before a character finally speaks. This movie exists outside the regular pace and tropes of what we've been trained to expect from typical movies. No one-liners, no obvious final looks or grimaces before cutting to the next scene. More like a loud, ominous build- up of music and then a bizarre panning shot into another scene - this movie has a vision.

I saw Prisoners (2011) recently and was impressed by its patience, good acting and willingness to go into dark subject matter. I immediately wanted to know who the director was so I could see more - I could tell this wasn't a fluke, this was made by someone who knew what they were doing. There are too many pointless remakes, reboots, sequels and prequels these days. Numbers in titles become redundant, it's all about colons now. But when I found out Villeneuve was the director of Blade Runner 2049, I was suddenly very excited and this movie truly delivers. He's a serious contender for best current film-maker, second only to Nolan IMO.

The acting is good. Ryan Gosling comes across as human but subdued. Not overly excited about the world he lives in or his job but with kindness in his eyes. We feel intimate with him but distant as well. He's doesn't really connect with his emotions. Maybe that's the point. We can sense they're there under the surface. It's certainly something I can relate to, feeling things but not always expressing it or understanding what they mean. Harrison Ford is given a dignified, meaningful role. He doesn't just have a cameo, nor is he merely lending his fame. This movie adds to Deckard's personal story and our fascination with it. Ana de Armas is equal parts sexy, playful, innocent and sensitive. I like when movies capture those universal, timeless, powerful moments in life - like looking into a beautiful girl's eyes the first time - it's a raw human experience and we are dwarfed by its power. In the movie, holographic attractive women the size of buildings tower over the people.

Finally, the plot is intriguing if confusing at times. Its generally easy to follow but it can feel like some threads are missing at times. But the plot is secondary to the tone. I do like the mystery. We get to fill in many of the blanks for ourselves and its not too hard to do. It's more about understanding the characters, their motivations and how they're affected by the things they find out. Trying to piece the whole thing together seems unnecessary - there's no grand scheme, just individuals finding their way through the fog. Those expecting a completely coherent, dialogue-heavy movie will be disappointed.

This must be a first. A sequel to a one-of-a-kind movie 35 years later which matches or even outdoes it. It respects the original but isn't bogged down in attempts to reference or imitate it. It continues the story in interesting ways. It captures something of that unique mood but in its own way. This is a movie that will age very well for a long time to come. Its contemplative, philosophical, ambiguous and enigmatic. It will only become more relevant as time goes on. But only time will tell quite how far ahead of its time it really is.
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15 August 2017
Walter E Williams is right up there with Thomas Sowell and Milton Friedman. They're highly intelligent but explain things really well and they're very accessible. This documentary was a nice summary of the ideas Williams has developed professionally as well as his personal life experience. It's well-made and very rewarding to watch.

I think it would also make a pretty good introduction to Williams himself and the truth which goes against so much of what gets said about black people these days. If only people took a bit of time to understand the actual effects of minimum wage laws, the welfare state and labour unions, they might comprehend why trends have gone backwards for blacks since around the 1960s.
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Dunkirk (2017)
Relentless, realistic, unforgettable
25 July 2017
I'm a huge Nolan fan. Almost all of his films are in the IMDb top 250 and deservedly so if you ask me. Dunkirk lives up to his high standards but it's different from anything he's done before, including the fact that it's based on real events (during World War II no less).

It's a pure movie. It captures events as accurately as possible with little artistic "interpretation". The enemy acts like the shark in Jaws or the Joker in The Dark Knight, they appear at any time, without a face, and cause havoc, fear and destruction. The planes in particular are terrifying as they scream from afar and get 10 times louder when they pass overhead, dropping bombs or strafing along the way. The soldiers drop in anticipation. Most of them get back up once it's gone. Also, it captures the loudness of the bullets and explosions in a way that I think hasn't been done before. It's in-your-face from the beginning.

Many films try to affect us by having characters *emote* and tell us their thoughts and feelings. Nolan understands that evoking emotions is really about creating striking images and situations with characters we can relate to. No-one screams out "NOOOO!" or sobs as a friend says their last words. It's like classical music in its restraint. The movie is emotion-less in a way but I found it powerful and moving. I don't need "sad music" and melodramatic acting to tell me to cry. Simply understanding what is happening and why, how it relates to world history and what I might do in such a situation is enough. We feel the continually alternating terror and relief of the characters all the way along.

There is little if any CGI in the movie (I can't tell because all of it looks completely real). It's depressing the extent to which movies depend on CGI these days. It frequently doesn't look real at all and can take you right out of a movie (the Justice League trailer shown before Dunkirk was a good example of this). As a result, Dunkirk looks spectacular.

The music makes use of ticks (from Nolan's personal watch), constantly reminding us of the scarcity of time and the impending doom surrounding the soldiers. Like the opening of The Dark Knight, there's a lot of string ostinati, gradually building tension as the events unfold and lives are on the line.

The movie is made up of three main aspects/locations which unfold in parallel but on different timescales: land (a week), sea (a day) and air (an hour). Nolan has done this several times now. In Inception, dream layers occur at different paces from each-other and reality. In Interstellar, time dilation causes great discrepancies in the passage of time between characters. Memento is made of two main story-lines (one going forwards and one backwards) which eventually meet. Many of the climaxes in his Batman trilogy involve multiple events occurring in parallel. Dunkirk similarly cuts between multiple lines but it is easy to follow and it helps build suspense and connect the parts of the story.

There is little dialogue. And that's appropriate, there isn't much to talk about. Characters exchange looks and that's all they need. They're alive. The stranger next to them may as well function as their best mate for now but who knows what will transpire.

Dunkirk is a profound experience. It doesn't try to be beautiful or sad or triumphant but just real. And yet, I think it's all of those things. It's thought-provoking and haunting. It's about one of the darkest periods in human history and the biggest evacuation of all time. It's incredible film-making and a serious contender for Best Picture IMO.
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Very enjoyable comedy horror
20 March 2016
This is only time Bela Lugosi played Dracula apart from the 1931 original. And Lon Chaney plays the Wolf Man. It makes the movie much more fun that they have these original actors and I think they do the monsters justice. A big part of comedy is juxtaposition and this is a perfect situation for Bud Abbot and Lou Costello to be thrown into. I loved the way Costello kept seeing the monsters and going crazy and then the monsters were conveniently hidden when the other characters looked. His imitations of Frankenstein and Dracula are hilarious. His mania can be over-the-top in other movies but here he has very good reason to be afraid, barely able to stutter any useful information.

There's an effect where Dracula transforms into and out of a bat which I found pretty awesome and impressive for the time this movie was made. It was also cool seeing glimpses of the monsters battling each-other in the background as other things happened.

Some of my favourite comedic moments are: Costello unknowingly sitting on Frankenstein, the rotating hidden door, the coffin that keeps creaking open and the fact that Costello gets both women (Abbott makes up a story about a beautiful third girl to entice Costello to swap but Costello generously insists that Abbott can have her).

I think the film-makers understand how tension works and use it well. There is real suspense with the monsters and how far they'll get with their scheme. Dracula has his haunting eyes, Frankenstein's monster is imposing and inarticulate, The Wolf Man is conflicted by day and uncontrollably violent during a full moon.

Costello bases his comedy on emotions. His character is childish and simple. He's the first one to see everything but nobody listens to him. There are jokes but that's just one aspect. His style of comedy is timeless and silly. The main thing he needs are serious situations and characters to play off and this movie is a one-of-a- kind where his comedy especially shines. The fates of the monsters and the climax of the movie are also satisfying.
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Affecting story about love and memory loss
2 March 2016
I found the idea at the core of Random Harvest pretty moving. What if the person you loved couldn't remember you? There's something mystical about memory. We're nostalgic about our favourite things from childhood. It's a profound feeling when very old memories are triggered by a sense or a thought. Luke believed there was good in Darth Vader despite an overwhelming lack of evidence. We want to believe everything is remembered, somewhere deep down. True love cannot be entirely forgotten. It must live on somewhere.

Ronald Colman walks out of an asylum when nobody is watching. He was there because he lost his memory near the end of the war. Maybe from an injury or from stress or shock. He doesn't talk much. But he meets a friendly lady (Greer Garson) by chance and she goes out of her way to help him. She trusts him for some reason. He appreciates her kindness and seems to recover his mental stability. Eventually, they fall in love.

The movie maintains tension as we don't know where it is heading and we know nothing about this man or his nature. More stuff happens and his memory problems become an issue. The movie takes place over many years. It's a little tricky piecing things together as the film is indirect with a lot of information. It's not always obvious how much time has passed or what has happened to people. But it does make sense overall.

One part of the plot in particular seems far-fetched. I'm skeptical about whether it's possible or has ever occurred in real life. But it creates the situation that the romance and drama reside within. If we simply accept it, the concept is powerful and affecting. The important thing is that the story and acting are very good. And the music is also very nice. I was unexpectedly moved to tears by the end of the movie. The feelings of Garson's character really resonated with me. And it's just a wonderfully beautiful story anyway. I was frustrated that Garson wasn't saying certain things but now I think I understand why. I'm very happy I discovered this movie. We watch movies to be affected and this one did that in many ways.
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Sleuth (1972)
A weird but interesting movie
2 March 2016
You can tell this movie was based on a play because it's all set in one place and there's a clear turning point in the middle. The performances are theatrical, not over-the-top but with wide ranges of emotions. There are so many swings of power between the main characters. They are cocky and childishly gleeful when they're in control and miserable or desperate when they're being taken advantage of. It's impressive that Sleuth consistently maintains our interest with so few actors and only one location.

I'm not sure there's much depth to the story. It's more psychological, about the way we manipulate each-other or try to get the upper hand. It reminds me of The Prestige where two magicians try to outsmart each- other, weaving traps for each-other, hopelessly falling into them and growing ever more spiteful. The ironic thing with so many of these endless, spiraling conflicts is how similar the two parties are. Palestine and Israel, Serbia and Croatia, Borden and Angier, Andrew Wyke and Milo Tindle. Why must they be antagonistic when they have so many common interests and could help each-other immensely?

The mansion has a personality of its own. The dolls, toys and collectibles are given screen-time of their own. It would be a mistake to read too much into those close-ups. It works simply in creating mood and giving us time to think. Plus, it adds a bit of creepiness. As if all the events are being watched. There are certainly some aspects of horror to this movie. The music is nice as well although I don't think there was much. The cinematography is simple but effective. It feels non-intrusive but makes the scenes more dynamic somehow.

This movie plays out a bit like a mystery thriller, a whodunnit. An investigator comes regarding a possible murder but indeed, the plot thickens. It's hard not to give anything away. But movies shouldn't lean too heavily on twists lest they are predicted and that was an issue here. The movie is perhaps too clever for itself. It becomes a pattern and loses meaning and realism to the point that I didn't believe anything the characters said or did. For all I knew, it was just another part of their game.

I actually expected more twists than there were. So I felt a bit let down. It seems to go 3/4 of the way and then back down. There's no clear message, it's just entertainment, but then why not bring down the house with a great surprise ending? Nevertheless, Sleuth manages to keep things tense and interesting all the way through. The directions it takes you are certainly creative and unexpected. It gradually evolves through many different atmospheres. Laughter gives way to shouting or crying or relief. The actors do a very good job. But it's all merely an exercise, albeit a fun and unique one.
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Dodsworth (1936)
Mature and timeless film about love, happiness and life
28 February 2016
Dodsworth doesn't fit into a genre. It's just about real people, relationships, emotions, problems, conflicts, love. Specifically it's about Samuel Dodsworth (Walter Huston) who has just retired after 20 years of owning a successful car manufacturing company. He goes on a cruise with his younger wife Fran (Ruth Chatterton), planning to explore Europe for some time before returning to America where he feels he belongs. It's a chance to spend quality time with his wife and to get to know himself. But it doesn't go perfectly and there is tension and problems arise.

Perhaps their marriage was never ideal but they never spent enough time together to find out. She wants to stay up late, flirt with other men. She says she doesn't like the way he goes on about business. But it's not really true. He has a lot of energy for his age and his love for her is unconditional.

Even though this movie is about a rich American retiree traveling in Europe, the themes and issues should resonate with most people. It's about life and happiness. What do we really want? What's life really about, what was the point? Where do we belong? I think a lot of people find meaning in their soul mates. They strive to keep a marriage going if only to have a companion going into old age. Many must fear loneliness or isolation especially as an elderly person. So it can be scary if a marriage falters after decades.

Dodsworth meets Mrs. Edith Cortwright (Mary Astor) who is immediately endearing and friendly. She livens him, brings a spark to his eye. And she enjoys his company as well, sees the kindness and love in him. Apparently Chatterton wanted Fran to be clearly a villain while the director (William Wyler) felt her character should be more sympathetic and flawed. It seems he won out, her character is selfish but human. She has to do what makes her happy and she's not nearly as appreciative of Dodsworth as she should be. But I don't think she realises how selfish she is being. It might dawn on her as she grows up.

It's interesting that Fran is paranoid about aging or looking old. That's part of what makes her uncomfortable being too close to Dodsworth in public. It seems Chatterton herself was in a similar situation and this was actually one of her last movies. One of the best scenes is where she meets a Baroness (Maria Ouspenskaya) who touches a nerve with her. It's such a quiet, calm scene but devastating in its impact. The polite manners makes it all the worse.

Movies like Dodsworth are rare. It's not necessarily a directorial tour de force or some major artistic breakthrough. It's got solid directing and some great acting. And nice music as well (including a Ravel piece I really like). But most importantly, it stares straight down at life's big questions and doesn't veer away. It's like a very good soap opera. I was invested completely in these characters, hoping things would turn out well for them. I feel like it gave me new insights on life and love. For example, I think you can love more than one person (in different ways) and find happiness without compromising your desire to be kind to everyone.
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Funny and heart-warming
26 February 2016
I laughed quite a lot near the start of this movie. It clicked for me right away. It's a simple story with an inherently funny concept behind it. A nice man from a little town inherits a large fortune that he doesn't particularly want. He doesn't blink an eye when they tell him how much money he now has. He sits and plays his tuba a bit. The city people don't think he understands. But he does, it just doesn't affect him. His new acquaintances take a while to get used to his personality and its hilarious seeing their reactions at his unexpected behaviour.

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town is full of hilarious moments. Several adults have fun creating echoes in a mansion. Deeds looks around to make sure nobody is watching before he rides down a stair railing. He plays the tuba at his own farewell party even as he gets on a train and then later worries about where they'll find a replacement tuba player. He points out the personal ticks of multiple people who then struggle to keep still without involuntary movement arising again. A very touching moment is followed by some perfectly executed slapstick comedy that comes out of nowhere.

I find the most annoying kind of people are those that overact to everything, going through extreme emotions constantly. Panicking, complaining, gossiping, getting over-excited. Mr. Deeds is the opposite - always calm and collected and very direct with what he says. But he is passionate about justice as well and throws a punch several times in the movie. He enjoys a simple life but is not stupid in the way people expect him to be. He sees through people and calls them out on their hypocrisy. He can tell when he is being manipulated.

I really liked Gary Cooper in the title role. He makes the character seem innocent and charming. Jean Arthur has a funny, high-pitched voice but she's likable as the conflicted love interest. She is also like a child, spending free time trying to shake a rope into a knot. Frank Capra's direction is effective, keeping the focus on the main characters and their emotions.

Mr. Deeds is a funny movie with a powerful message. It's full of nice details. There is even some darkness and tension. His purity and simple refusal to lie or do things for personal benefit shames others into becoming better versions of themselves. His life was rich before he inherited the money and he enriches the city with his outlook on life and incorruptibility.
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Mildly amusing with one or two big laughs
25 February 2016
This is the first Laurel and Hardy movie I've seen. Of course, I might judge it differently after I become more familiar with them. But that's the thing with watching classic movies - I'm constantly jumping in the deep end and there's always more to learn and understand. For now, I've got to trust my feelings and interpretations as they stand.

I didn't like Stanley Laurel at all. I found his character overly stupid. A complete and utter moron but not in a funny way. His existence is unrealistic. He doesn't learn from his mistakes and he's unlikable (he eats fruit without asking and he's clumsy and useless). He always has a fake, blank expression on his face. As a performer, he is too one-dimensional and obvious. He didn't make me laugh once.

On the other hand, I warmed up to Oliver Hardy pretty quickly. By halfway through, I was laughing at many of the things he did. His character is not an idiot. His acting is very natural and not too over- the-top. I enjoyed most of the times he fell or got hurt because they didn't look put on and his reactions were realistic.

It's funny seeing someone get frustrated as things go wrong for them. Hardy opens a prank cigarette pack and then jumps when something suddenly pops out. He looks annoyed at the camera as he settles his nerves and then gives a fake smile and laugh to the person that pranked him. He also joins in on a prank call and the look on his face when he realises who he's talking to is priceless. I also love the look of curiosity/apprehension/confusion on his face as he watches his wife gathering all their plates and bowls in the kitchen.

I think the material with the wives is quite dated. Aspects of it are funny. The idea that the men can't stand up for themselves is amusing. But the violence and anger of the women is too much and distracts from the otherwise innocent comedy that's going on.

About 20 minutes into Son of the Desert, I was worried that it was going to be another huge disappointment similar to Duck Soup (I was excited for that movie but then found out that I abhor the Marx Brothers). But it picked up and Hardy kept me entertained. Laurel left a lot to be desired - his character is a cardboard cut-out and his comedic style is tired and obvious. I look forward to seeing some of their other films and finding out if my assessment of them will change or grow.
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Deadpool (2016)
Excellent comedy and action
19 February 2016
Deadpool was entertaining from start to finish. It immediately establishes its tone - immature comedy mixed with over-the-top violence. It "breaks all the rules" successfully. The opening reminded me of Monty Python and the Holy Grail - they can't even take the credits seriously. The humour reminded me of the first few (best IMO) seasons of South Park - happy to offend anyone and everyone but with the focus still being pure comedy. I don't usually like dick and fart jokes much but Deadpool makes them hilarious. It's the juxtaposition of such immaturity with a well-made action movie that makes it work. And it has a story and dramatic moments as good as any recent superhero movie as well.

I'm not familiar with Deadpool but it sounds like he's a very popular comic book character. The film-makers (and perhaps Ryan Reynolds in particular) have tried their best to do the character justice. He is irreverent, wise-cracking and likable even if he isn't exactly noble. He says and does what we're too afraid to say and do. He only fights bad guys. And he lives for the woman in his life. Where other superheroes are hypocritical and maintain a facade of moral superiority, at least Deadpool can admit what he is and make fun of everyone including himself while trying to fight evil and help the innocent.

I liked the many times the fourth wall was broken. The film-makers know their audience and what kind of movie they're making and it shows. They use the device effectively where appropriate and without it becoming routine. It makes the movie more fun and the darkness easier to swallow. There are so many lines from the movie that I loved, both in concept and delivery. Comedically, it was very satisfying. I don't remember any missed jokes; every chance for irony or sarcasm was taken advantage of.

The action was engaging and cool even if similar things have been done before. Every sequence is creative and infused with Deadpool's humour. In one part, he has only 12 bullets and counts them as he uses them. He wastes some and chastises himself but then makes up for it by killing 3 henchmen in a line with one bullet. It's a good sign if you can't tell whether you're enjoying the action or comedy more. I liked the fight choreography and even though some CGI must have been used, there seemed to be a lot of impressive stunt work. Seeing bodies flip and impact solid objects is just inherently exciting.

This movie was a great introduction to Deadpool. His origin story was well done. It's pretty dark but it's nice to see something so odd and unique being presented sincerely. Comic books deserve proper film adaptations. The film makes good use of non-linear storytelling near the start. It's never confusing and the order of events is logical in balancing action and getting to know how Wade Wilson became Deadpool.

You could say every person is flawed with good and bad qualities. But some people make you feel good, they make you laugh. And some people are self-deprecating and accept their mistakes and are open about their short-comings. Deadpool is like one of those people whose company you always enjoy.
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Subtle humour but maybe too subtle
19 February 2016
Kind Hearts and Coronets is funnier in concept than in execution. I can think of things from it and laugh at the idea but thinking of the scenes doesn't make me laugh. It leaves me confused. I found the movie a bit slow and boring. Perhaps I need to know more about England, literature and class systems to properly appreciate it. Some humour may have gone over my head. But good comedy should transcend barriers, it should speak to every keen audience member. And it should fire on all cylinders if possible. This Is Spinal Tap has funny dialogue, sight gags, a mockumentary style, funny gestures and facial expressions, everything. But this movie seems to depend almost solely on words with only a handful of visual gags.

Alec Guinness doesn't get to do a whole lot. Mostly he wears various costumes and sits and talks like an old man or says nothing at all. It's an acting job that many would be capable of. Why not make better use of him? Dennis Price is too plain and calm for my liking. I found this to make him forgettable and uninteresting. He doesn't seem to feel anything. I get that there is subtlety but then it should be witty or ironic the whole way through. The problem is that half of the lines aren't funny at all and we're left with too many dull moments. There is no drama or romance to speak of so why not go all the way with the comedy? It's confusing. I spent scenes trying to find the humour and couldn't. What are those scenes there for?

A handful of parts were hilarious. Price puts gasoline in a photographer's camera. Eventually the photographer goes off to develop the film. We hear an off-screen "boom" and then smoke slowly rises in the distance. The characters barely notice but eventually Price goes to investigate. "Needless to say, it was too late." One character he wishes to execute is in jail. So he helps petition for her release. He expresses his gladness when another one of his targets dies. He somewhat liked them and is now relieved from the duty of murdering them. A captain of a ship confuses the sea terms for left and right and gives instructions that lead to an easily avoidable crash with another ship. Both sink and everyone comfortably survives except for the captain - he stubbornly chooses to go down with his ship. The image of him saluting as he goes down is hysterical.

I can see what Kind Hearts and Coronets is trying to do. But that's the problem - I should love this movie. I love sarcasm and irony and subtle wit and juxtaposition. The idea of a gentleman planning the vaguely justified murder of a series of rich relatives (played by one actor) and then running into numerous little difficulties is appealing. But this movie feels a bit too slow and pretentious for my liking. It presumes our attention rather than working for it. Not all of the jokes are great and I think most could be done more effectively. Too many scenes are unnecessary and waste time. They don't build tension or develop important plot points.

I definitely need to give this another viewing at some later date, perhaps after becoming more familiar with Ealing movies and British humour in general. But I also have to trust my current judgement and say that aside from an overall mildly amusing undercurrent and some laugh out loud moments, Kind Hearts and Coronets is quite plain and underwhelming.
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Awesome film-noir, dark and tense
19 February 2016
Edward G. Robinson is a quiet, friendly professor who sometimes lectures on murder. One night, his friends discuss the fact that they're too old to go on any "adventures" anymore. Lately he has been fascinated by a portrait of a lady in a street window. One night, he is admiring the painting again and then sees a real woman appear in the reflection next to it, like something out of a dream. But he turns and she's really standing there. Even though he knows he "shouldn't", they go out for a drink. The movie seems harmless enough, a lonely older man befriending a younger lady. And then something happens and they're in a tricky situation. He hesitates to call the police. Perhaps he should have.

Based on the plot, you would guess the director was Hitchcock (but it's Fritz Lang who does an excellent job here). It's exactly his kind of movie. An innocent man gets mixed up in some nasty business. He just wants out but he's stuck and the pressure builds on him. He becomes overcome with guilt and worries so much that the police will find him out.

In this movie, the professor meets a detective working on the case and hears the details of exactly what they've found out. Your heart falls into the pit of your stomach when you realise how much they've figured out and so quickly. He stumbles with his words a number of times, nearly giving himself up. He is not stupid, he is gripped by intense paranoia and uneasiness. There is awkward humour as he and the police joke about him having committed the act. In a couple of instances, he seems to be trying to get caught, he just wants it to be over. The threat is worse than the thing itself.

It's a curious trick of the mind that the word "murder" comes up in other reviews. A murder has to be planned and that clearly wasn't the case here. Robinson feels guilty about trying to cover up an accident but then that guilt seems to turn it into a murder for a lot of people (including the character himself) and they start to see him as an evil criminal. He is innocent except for trying to cover up what happened and avoid going to court and explaining the truth.

I greatly enjoyed this movie. It had many surprises and the tension was high all the way through. There is an instance where a woman tries to poison a man. It avoids clichés, the focus is on whether he suspects or not and we can't tell. The movie is not about the fates of the characters or what they deserve. It's not about murder or the police. It's about the way lies grow and come back to haunt you. The psychology of guilt, how it never fades and constantly eats away at you. The way the truth is usually inescapable. The harshness of the outside world and how difficult it is to outsmart people. How impossible it is to get away with a crime.

The focus of the movie is Robinson's state of mind. He is a fly caught in a web waiting for the spider to slowly, inevitably eat him up. We feel his guilt, his dread, his relief and his hope as they cycle between each-other. We don't want him to get caught (although he should have called the police) but it seems that will be his only escape from the unbearable guilt and apprehension.
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Othello (1951)
Great cinematography, a tragic but flawed story
16 February 2016
Right from the start, Othello has a striking visual style. Oblique camera angles (from low and high, close and far), nice use of shadows, a cool-looking castle. Really nice black-and-white imagery to look at.

On the other hand, I wasn't as convinced by the story and acting (but they grew on me as the film continued). There are many parts where actors seem to rush or mumble their lines. Shakespeare is hard enough to follow and a good performance should draw you in and make the dialogue *easier* to understand. Characters are often facing away so we hear their lines but can't see their mouths or their facial expressions. What's the point of acting then? I can act if acting means reciting lines from a Shakespearean play.

I have since learned that Welles was struggling with funds for the movie and that explains some of its short-comings. Especially with sound. He had to dub some of the lines himself and there remain parts which are clearly out of sync. It's hilarious to learn that he borrowed/took costumes from another movie to use on Othello. And that costumes weren't ready for one scene so he changed the location to a bathhouse with the actors in towels.

I find the story flawed. Iago is single-handedly able to manipulate Othello to his will. Iago is unlikable because of his misanthropy but Othello may be even more unlikable in his stupidity. He never thinks to properly analyse or question what Iago presents to him as the truth. He barely seems to communicate with his wife at all and becomes consumed by his obsessions and assumptions. But I do somewhat admire Iago's patience and intelligence, he makes a good villain. And there is real tragedy to what happens. It's conceivable that some unfortunate coincidences could help a seed of suspicion grow into the full-hearted conviction that you're being lied to. And to desire revenge is all too human. It's just funny that nobody suspects Iago. Othello would prefer to believe that everyone else is against him.

I found the ending climactic and meaningful. Some of it took me by surprise, other parts felt inevitable. I'm aware that Welles shortened the play a lot and may have taken liberties with it. At least I now have a rough idea of what Othello is about; I feel more educated. I liked all of the actors but Micheál MacLiammóir (a Dublin actor in his only feature film role) stands out as the antagonist. There's something about his eyes and calm indifference. Less is more.

Summarising, Othello is rewarding for its villain, its believable tragic turn of events and the enjoyable, creative cinematography. Now if only Othello could learn the scientific method...
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A romance and a thriller
14 February 2016
Foreign Correspondent has a story that takes many unexpected turns right up to the end. It refuses to fit into any simple categorisation. It has aspects of a thriller but also a fair amount of romance, drama and comedy. And I suppose it is partially about war and politics and spies as well. I really enjoyed the way it unfolded. The start of the movie is harmless enough but then an attempted murder jolts us into a mystery.

John Jones (Joel McCrea) has been sent to England from America to get the inside word on the impending war in Europe (I guess it must be late August 1939 in that case). But he gets more than he bargained for, seeing things that don't add up and becoming aware of some kind of devious plot. He wants to report it but some of the evidence conveniently disappears. Corruption must be at work. George Sanders (playing ffolliott, with a double f instead of a capital) later helps him. He reminds me of Christopher Nolan, dapper and intelligent.

Among all this, John falls in love with Carol Fisher (Laraine Day) who works with her father in trying to maintain peace. Their romance is more light-hearted and comedic compared to the rest of the film which creates an interesting dynamic.

The dialogue in the movie is witty and entertaining. I enjoyed Hitchcock's twisted sense of humour which is sprinkled throughout. A person is inconveniently delayed in crossing the road by a car chase. A man is provided as a bodyguard for John but he behaves rather suspiciously. It's both tense and funny as we try to guess his intentions and what will happen. Even in deadly or threatening situations, the movie has an light tone.

One highlight is an unexpected set piece on a plane. The special effects are impressive (and hold up surprisingly well for their time). The scene is very dramatic and exciting. It comes out of the blue and makes the movie more entertaining and original. Foreign Correspondent is not as dark or deep as some of Hitchcock's other films but it's still intriguing and suspenseful. It succeeds in what it tries to do and I haven't seen many other films like it.
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Swing Time (1936)
Great dancing, a light-hearted funny and romantic vibe
14 February 2016
This is the first Astaire/Rogers film I've seen and I'm not quite sure how I feel about it. The dancing is great, of course. They seem to float or glide above the floor. I was impressed by both of them, the way they make it look so effortless. It's exciting and makes you want to get up and somehow be a part of it. They spin so quickly but their heads remain steady and controlled. Rogers never seems to hold onto Astaire but is always in the right place. She contacts him via her waist and with that connection they seem to get all the leverage they need.

I enjoyed the Jerome Kern songs. They're catchy and memorable in a nice way. I liked some of the locations, outside in the snow, the dance studio and the stages. It was cool seeing the three shadows dancing above Astaire. They eventually diverge from his actions and then you realise he's been dancing in sync with a pre-recorded silhouette the whole time. Some of the comedy moments were quite good, especially with the supporting cast. I loved the dance lessons manager and the dirty looks he gave to his employees as they kept being negative towards customers.

But other aspects didn't impress me as much. The love story is very thin and artificial. It feels completely arbitrary. It's given no meaning or significance. Both lovers end up easily getting engaged to people they apparently don't love. Their friends have no problem sabotaging their weddings for personal benefit. It didn't strike me as funny so much as flippant. Astaire makes me smile or laugh occasionally but not enough. I also didn't like the gambling. It's highly unrealistic and promotes a dangerous habit. Bond movies are different somehow, they're more psychological and sexy. This movie feels too random and I found I didn't like all of the humour and had to keep waiting for the brilliant dance sequences.

I didn't even notice it but the dances are generally filmed in continuous takes and capture the full bodies of the performers. One scene uses a crane to go from a lower stage to a higher one. No cutting away to an audience or close-ups of faces or legs. It goes to show that good film-making is seamless and makes you forget you're watching a movie. All I remember about the dances is how fun and incredible they were. If they were badly filmed, I would have been distracted and picked up on many little details.

I'm looking forward to seeing more Astaire/Rogers movies. I did enjoy Swing Time but it seems flawed to me. I don't think the duo is great at comedy. It's too obvious or predictable. Astaire keeps pulling funny faces and only some of them surprise me or feel like genuine character moments. With Keaton and Chaplin, you always sensed the love in their films was sincere. Their characters were truly affected by things. They never simply played to the audience.

But Astaire and Rogers seem more like cartoon characters. Frivolous and back to square one after each scene. Maybe they're together, maybe they're apart. I guess I'll just try to enjoy the jokes and singing and dancing along the way.
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Exciting, colourful, thought-provoking and mysterious
13 February 2016
I just saw Forbidden Planet for the first time and I think it is now one of my favourite science fiction movies of all time. It was exciting and engaging all the way through. I loved the music (apparently the first purely electronic soundtrack) because it was so unique and weird but appropriate. Seeing the tilted yellow titles with the starry background and hearing the strange music drew me straight in.

The plot is mysterious and keeps you guessing. A crew has been sent to investigate the status of a planet's colony - why have they become silent, are the people alive, is the planet safe for humans? When they arrive, they are warned by a transmitted message from a man, Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon), that they would do best to go away from the planet and move on. This creates tension immediately - why shouldn't they land, what's the danger or what is he hiding?

They land and the intelligent doctor explains many things to them. About how the others have died but he has survived. He seems to be telling the truth but perhaps there's more to the story. We meet his beautiful, inexperienced daughter who's never seen any humans other than her father. The men who have spent months or years in space are strongly drawn to her, she is also curious about them.

We learn about an ancient and vastly intelligent species that seems to have disappeared or self-destructed. It makes me wonder about the future of humanity. What will we do when we master the laws of the universe? Can we avoid self-destruction whether accidental or deliberate? Some of the concepts remind me of Inception. The power of the subconscious, the inability of a person to completely control or subdue or even understand it.

Many movies have stupid or obviously flawed characters and the plot flows based on their mistakes and misunderstandings. Forbidden Planet has intelligent characters that don't smoke or drink whenever they feel bad (okay, one drinks) and who actually communicate with each-other constructively. All of the tension arises from real danger and mystery. It's kind of a fairytale or parable. It explores what can go wrong when one acquires too much power. Super intelligence and access to unlimited resources seems appealing but may have its downsides. Most of the dialogue is really interesting and only a handful of parts are scientifically a bit silly.

Leslie Nielson (before he became famous for being in parody movies) is an appealing leader who is clearly concerned and suspicious and makes good decisions to try to keep his crew safe and find out what's going on. Robby the Robot is super awesome. He is so calm and friendly and obedient but he can do anything. He casually carries tonnes of metal in one hand, he can analyse a substance and reproduce gallons of it, he can speak hundreds of languages.

The planet looks very cool with its greenish sky and rocky landscape. There is a nice garden with red trees that is apparently on the same set as Munchkin Land from The Wizard of Oz. And Altaira is beautiful in every scene she's in. There is an impressive monster as well and I really liked the way they built him up. The special effects are cool and exciting. The explanation of his nature and abilities is satisfying and logical. We get more suggestion of his presence than direct visuals which is all the more effective.

Forbidden Planet delivered in every way I could've expected it to. It has an interesting soundtrack, lots of cool visuals, an engaging story, respectable characters that aren't idiots and plenty of food for thought. It's impressive that it's stood the test of time. Very few movies can achieve more than two or three of these things let alone all of them.
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Who Done It? (1942)
Silly but very amusing
12 February 2016
I admire and enjoy Costello's manic energy. He may do a lot of the same things again and again but certain humorous ideas never get old. He must execute 30 double-takes throughout the movie but they're all amusing. He's like a child with constant ups and downs of excitement and confusion. He often becomes flustered and then grabs his hat, needs to be held back, bumps his head into something or falls over. It's very silly but the way he does it is inherently funny.

The story here isn't of much consequence. You really have to suspend disbelief because the plot has huge gaps and the characters put up with all kinds of ridiculous things. Abbott and Costello movies seem to function by taking a standard movie format and sticking them in the middle, free to roam and tinker, create any skits or jokes they might imagine.

Here they're thrown into a murder mystery, a whodunnit. They work in an ice cream parlour as a way to be close to a radio station. They like writing murder mysteries and want to get a chance to be on the air. A man is murdered during one of the night shows (about murder) and then they pretend to be detectives investigating the crime. They run into the murderer a number of times as well as many suspects. But even more often they have hijinks with the actual detectives working the case.

Many of their movies feature a famous movie monster like Frankenstein or The Mummy. We still get the aspect of horror in this movie via the murderer. Abbott and Costello remind me of Scooby Doo cartoons, the way Shaggy and Scooby are constantly running into ghosts or monsters and scaring themselves silly. The format seems very similar with a lot of the same gags. Costello often becomes speechless and starts to stutter and then either faints or sprints away.

Highlights would include Costello leaving silhouette outlines after bursting through doors and then getting stuck in a wall, the water bubbler bit, the accidental or intentional playback of radio recordings which someone then thinks is really happening, tricking a police officer into cuffing himself, jumping around on stage during a show as part of a chase sequence. There's also a funny bit about Watts and Volts which is reminiscent of their famous skit about baseball positions. In fact, they overhear their baseball skit on a radio at one point and Costello remarks that he doesn't like it much, that the short fat guy isn't any good.

This isn't a brilliant satire or even a parody of whodunnits, it's purely a lowbrow comedy. But it's got a lot of energy and funny ideas. As long as you're willing to be patient with its silliness and not worry about the story or characters making sense, you should have a very enjoyable time. I found myself laughing at many points without knowing or caring exactly why.
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Amazing ape performances, some stupid humans though
12 February 2016
Dawn follows on 10 years after Rise. A large part of humanity has been killed by a deadly virus which swept the globe and Caesar and his ape community live somewhere in San Francisco. The apes teach each-other to read and write and most are fluent in sign language. They hunt other animals en masse with well-timed plans. Meanwhile, the humans are in a dystopian society, hanging around in an enclosure with limited electricity and no communications with humans in other areas. In fact, their power supply will run out in a few weeks unless they can reactivate a dam near where the apes are located.

A mishap occurs where an ape ends up dead (due to a guy called Carver) and Caesar confronts the humans with his army warning that they should never again go into ape territory. It's a powerful and convincing moment.

I've never hated a character more than I hated Carver (Kirk Acevedo) in this movie. He is loud, stupid, arrogant, rude, aggressive, dismissive of anything he doesn't agree with and almost single- handedly causes a war between apes and humans. He's antogonistic with the other humans and adds nothing of value to the movie. He cuts off Ellie (Keri Russell), emphatically proclaiming that obviously the apes are responsible for the simian virus (he is incorrect). I can't stand when movies turn to devices like this. It's unnecessary and cheapens the existing tension in the film. The other humans are stupid by extension by putting up with him and seemingly forgiving his countless mistakes, constant risk-taking and unpleasant negativity.

The apes themselves represent a major achievement in film-making. The cgi is incredible although the chimpanzee faces are more obviously fake. The orangutans are especially unbelievable. I was really blown away. It's important to give credit to the sound design as well. The sounds give the apes weight and presence. You don't think about the breathing or the steps or the subtle shifting of weight but they all make noise which is critical to making it seem real.

And the ape performances are great. The eyes of the apes are intense and knowing. Their movement is very natural, both with the body and the face. They put so much expression into what they say with sign language and also when they actually speak. Andy Serkis is the go-to man when it comes to ping-pong-balls-on-a-green-suit acting and he must have delivered here because Caesar is a powerful character with a demanding presence. Koba is also excellent but then so are all the apes. They're incredible to watch and ironically bring a lot of humanity to the movie, moreso than the humans.

The way Koba eventually leads a battle against the humans is very logical and devious. I felt like it echoed WWI in some ways. But there are many gaps in logic in the movie. The humans are far too lazy in protecting a weapons depot. Malcolm (Jason Clarke) does a reasonable job of trying to connect with Caesar and the apes but he fails to warn that the humans are arming and preparing for a likely battle. He doesn't do enough to initiate diplomacy and communication between the apes and humans. Why aren't the humans more excited in finding intelligent, speaking apes? This is a major revelation! A chance to connect with a separate species.

Gary Oldman is one of my favourite actors but he can only do so much with so little screen time and such weak lines. His character ends up being disappointingly short-sighted.

The music was disappointing. Parts of it sounded like Agent Cody Banks or something - like a goofy kid's spy movie. Michael Giacchino seems inconsistent, perhaps it depends on the director or kind of movie he's working on. Some of the more sentimental parts were okay but most of the music sounded tired, contrived and forgettable.

In summary, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a mixed bag. It has the makings of a great film with the potential to give profound insights into how conflicts grow and wars begin. Caesar's growing moral compass is powerful to watch. The apes make the movie worth seeing alone. But the humans are dull and stupid by comparison. The acting, lines and characterisation is weak for the humans. The action scenes are really well done. The relationship between Caesar and Koba is perhaps the core of the movie and it's very well done. Take out 40 minutes of weaker material and substitute 20 minutes of smart ideas and motivations and Dawn would be a masterpiece.
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