Friday, June 19, 2015

Fin.

Four-and-a-half years ago, I bought my first Empire magazine. It was a celebration of the first 500 5-star films that they had ever reviewed. As an avid film lover, I set myself the challenge of watching all 500 films and blogging about them.

At the beginning I was joined by my brother, who always thought we should have started a YouTube vlog rather than a written one (in some respects he was a bit of a visionary, as YouTube is now one of the top sources of video content for me). Regardless, he soon lost interest with reviewing, partly due to the unknown quantity to many of the films. Later, other members of my family and my girlfriend were subjected to the same treatment of watching film after film after film.

I continued on throughout 2011, reviewing over 130 films on the list and adding countless other reviews as well. The blog developed slowly and in 2012, I found the April A-Z challenge which gave me an excuse to have a break from my challenge and introduce myself and my writing to a number of prolific members in the blogging community as well as broadening my horizons to a number of blogs covering a huge range of topics throughout the world. As a result, I almost figuratively killed myself watching a film a day in April 2012 and trying to read 10 daily blogs. I almost forgot what the sky looked like.

2012 turned out to be a chaotic year for good reasons. I bought my first house, which was a project requiring copious amount of refurbishment before I could move in. It was only with the support of the blogging community that I was able to continue watching films and reviewing throughout it all. By the end of the year, I had managed to watch over 200 films from the list.

If I thought that 2012 was a good year, then 2013 turned out to be absolute Hell. There are many things that happened that, while I wish I could, I can't actually (legally) write about. I will say though that fortunately it has nothing to do with ill health of me or any of my close family or friends. This issue is still continuing to this day, but fortunately much of the larger issue has been resolved.

Looking back, I have no idea how on earth I managed to complete the A-Z Challenge that year. I guess my stubbornness insisted that seeing as I had signed up, I ought to really complete it.

Later in the year, I watched fewer films and began to write fiction to escape from the frustrations of daily life. I started a new blog, Tales From Far Far Away, where I wrote comedy fairy tales under the pseudonym of a character called Far Far Away. I also started writing an untitled futuristic / dystopian novel which I have aspirations of completing one day.

Throughout 2014 and the start of this year, it has been a case of recovering from the events of 2013. My girlfriend and I have spent much of our time ploughing our way through countless popular TV series and, while I still watch Empire's 500 5-star films, reviewing has taken a bit of a back seat.

In the past month or so, I have decided to start actively revamping my personal website over at my online pseudonym, wizzardSS. This will soon feature parts of the three digital passions in my life - movies & TV, gaming and website design. As part of this, I've built a fully scalable movie database from scratch and I will be gradually migrating my reviews from this blog to the new Review section of my website. Please note that the home page is still being designed but you can still view the reviews alphabetically or search for a specific film.

What this means is that exactly 1,600 days after starting the Empire 5-star challenge, my 452nd post will be my last. However, while I won't be writing any further posts on this blog, I won't be abandoning my readers completely. I will still be writing reviews on my new website, and you can subscribe to its feed by entering http://review.wizzardss.com/ into the Blogger feed, or by entering http://review.wizzardss.com/feed.php into your favourite RSS feed reader.

Before signing off I wanted to thank you guys and girls who have helped me through a hugely difficult period in my life - whether it is by commenting with nice words on my posts or simply by adding content to your own blogs. I hope to continue to read all of the material that you publish - many of my favourite blogs have been added into Feedly and I will read you all on the go. Just remember, while you may just be blogging about your daily life, you're giving someone else an excuse to escape from theirs, if only for a little while.

Keep writing. Keep commenting. Ed - wizzardSS - out.

Fin.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Swiss Family Robinson (1960)


Today's review forms part of a bloghop called "Then and Now" hosted by The Armchair Squid, Suze, Nicki Elson and Nancy Mock (go and visit them!). The premise was to review a film from my youth that I have come to see differently over time. Immediately, I knew there was only one film for this theme: Swiss Family Robinson, Disney's 1960 film based on Johann David Wyss's book of the same name.

As such, I will be reviewing Swiss Family Robinson (1960) in two parts. Firstly, my childhood memories will be written before re-watching the film - there may well be scenes that have been jumbled around or even fabricated by my memory - and my adult self will be reviewing the film later and chastising my youth's naivety!

Then

Ah, VHS. Life was much simpler then. During my childhood it felt like every week when my parents were able to record films directly from the TV and could sit my brother and me down to watch recorded films for hours on end. Parenting sounded like a piece of cake.

My father used to just buy blank tapes and record directly from television - there were very few films that we owned the "official" versions of. To be honest, I have no idea what the copyright laws surrounding this were; as I said, life was much simpler then, until our house was flooded and we had to start out collection again.

One film we absolutely adored while I was growing up was Swiss Family Robinson. It was a film that seemingly featured everything that a child loves: shipwrecks, pirates, tree houses, animals, Christmas, exploding coconuts and err, perhaps inappropriately, I believe there was even a cross-dressing girl?

To be honest, the nitty gritty details of the film completely escape me, which I guess says a lot about how a child watches a film. I can't even remember why there were pirates, or why they wanted to attack the family. All I remember is that it was a film filled with adventure and more than enough entertainment to keep a young boy happy.

Now

As soon as I decided to watch Swiss Family Robinson I set about tracking down the DVD. Fortunately, a copy was listed online as being in stock in my local second-hand store so, rather than order it online, I decided to save some money by popping down last Friday after work.

Typically, the listed version was incorrect - they only had an animated version in stock. So, after a weekend of scouting around nearby towns, I finally gave up and ordered the DVD online - luckily it turned up yesterday otherwise I would have had to have switched to my second choice - Hook.

Immediately after firing up the DVD, the familiar intro of the film hit the screen and my childhood memories came flooding back. In truth, it felt like only yesterday that I watched the film - I am not sure how much of this is my memory or how predictable family films are! Even the plot, which I scarcely remembered above, came flooding back.

John Mills, the eponymous Father, leads his wife (called Mother), and their three children to safety from a shipwreck on their way to New Guinea from Bern, Switzerland. Their boat was attacked by the pirates that I had previously remembered, and it is these rogues that provide the villainous aspect of the story.

Having watch a huge number of films since I last watched Swiss Family Robinson, I was worried that I might have ruined my childhood by re-watching it back alone. In one sense I did - many of the bits that I had forgotten were highly irritating - Francis, the youngest child, has a very annoying whine, and the length of the storyline means that huge sections of time have to be skipped meaning the plot is occasionally left wanting. It is not a film that lends itself well to critical reviews.

However, it isn't a film designed to be great, epic, or even a smash hit. It is a film built around traditional Christian family values, and I admire this aspect of the film. As well as one scene featuring traditional dancing at Christmas, the film makes a special point of showing the family praying once they are ashore.

Even though it was the highest grossing film of 1960, gathering in $60,000,000 and beating films such as Psycho, it clearly wasn't made to break box office records. Instead, there is a strong focus on educating children about respecting their elders, helping them learn about the trepidations of growing up and even a mild introduction to understanding the opposite sex.

As such, the film has aged extremely well, I wouldn't hesitate sitting my own children down to watch it, whenever they come along. I still find myself absolutely in love with Swiss Family Robinson after all these years and I think that, right there, shows that Disney is the Father of family films.


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Empire's 301 Greatest Movies of All Time

Source: empireonline.com
This month, as part of their 20th anniversary celebrations, Empire Magazine published a list of the 301 Greatest Films, as voted by the readers.

There are a huge number of changes and, perhaps not surprisingly, a lot of new additions since their last poll 6 years ago. Empire even pointed out a number of surprising 'new' additions, including Charlie Chaplin's City Lights, which was made way back in 1931.

Another observation I've made is that sequels have made their originals popular again. Forget King Kong (1933) once again dominating its Peter Jackson remake, this list contains another new addition in the 1980's film Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan, showing the growing popularity of the "geekier" sibling of Star Wars which had never been properly celebrated in film until J.J. Abrams reboot.

This list though, highlights the issues with undertaking polls. A number of modern films have been included that would never make this list in 10 years' time. Both Hunger Games films and Battle Royale? Sure, they're good, but in the top 301? No.

This brings me onto my final point, and an ongoing issue from the 5-star 500. Some films form excellent series, but are reasonably average on their own (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire has no conclusion, for example). The series as a whole forces each film up the list regardless of its individual merits, often at the expense of other very good standalone films.

While I agree it is not right to group the films into the trilogies (each Lord of the Rings is arguably good enough for the list), it doesn't automatically mean each film should be on the list just because the series is good (note the unsurprisingly lack of The Godfather: Part 3).

Anyway, enough nattering - here is the list in full:
  1. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back
  2. The Godfather
  3. The Dark Knight
  4. The Shawshank Redemption
  5. Pulp Fiction
  6. Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope
  7. The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring
  8. Jaws
  9. Raiders Of The Lost Ark
  10. Inception
  11. Blade Runner
  12. The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King
  13. Goodfellas
  14. Fight Club
  15. The Godfather Part II
  16. Avengers Assemble
  17. Back To The Future
  18. Jurassic Park
  19. Aliens
  20. Apocalypse Now
  21. Alien
  22. 2001: A Space Odyssey
  23. The Matrix
  24. The Big Lebowski
  25. Schindler's List
  26. Casablanca
  27. Gladiator
  28. Terminator 2: Judgment Day
  29. There Will Be Blood
  30. American Beauty
  31. Lawrence Of Arabia
  32. The Usual Suspects
  33. Citizen Kane
  34. Forrest Gump
  35. Gravity
  36. Heat
  37. Seven
  38. The Breakfast Club
  39. Die Hard
  40. It's A Wonderful Life
  41. One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest
  42. Once Upon A Time In The West
  43. Vertigo
  44. Taxi Driver
  45. Skyfall
  46. The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers
  47. The Good, The Bad And The Ugly
  48. Magnolia
  49. Drive
  50. Pan's Labyrinth
  51. 12 Angry Men
  52. Gone With The Wind
  53. The Shining
  54. A Clockwork Orange
  55. The Departed
  56. Leon
  57. Seven Samurai
  58. Toy Story
  59. Memento
  60. Trainspotting
  61. OldBoy
  62. Titanic
  63. Ghostbusters
  64. The Thing
  65. E.T. — The Extra-Terrestrial
  66. The Lion King
  67. The Silence Of The Lambs
  68. Amélie
  69. Raging Bull
  70. Psycho
  71. Rear Window
  72. The Dark Knight Rises
  73. Lost In Translation
  74. Stand By Me
  75. Reservoir Dogs
  76. Saving Private Ryan
  77. The Third Man
  78. Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind
  79. L.A. Confidential
  80. Some Like It Hot
  81. Inglourious Basterds
  82. Spirited Away
  83. North By Northwest
  84. Donnie Darko
  85. The Wolf Of Wall Street
  86. Django Unchained
  87. The 400 Blows
  88. City Of God
  89. Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan
  90. Serenity
  91. True Romance
  92. Withnail And I
  93. Fargo
  94. Kill Bill Vol. 1
  95. Rocky
  96. Singin' In The Rain
  97. Almost Famous
  98. No Country For Old Men
  99. The Blues Brothers
  100. Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade
  101. Mulholland Dr.
  102. Once Upon A Time In America
  103. The Truman Show
  104. The Apartment
  105. The Master
  106. Brazil
  107. The Terminator
  108. Predator
  109. The Green Mile
  110. Avatar
  111. Up
  112. Evil Dead II
  113. The French Connection
  114. Groundhog Day
  115. The Princess Bride
  116. Requiem For A Dream
  117. Good Will Hunting
  118. Chinatown
  119. 12 Years A Slave
  120. Star Wars: Episode VI — Return Of The Jedi
  121. Superman: The Movie
  122. Ferris Bueller's Day Off
  123. The Wizard Of Oz
  124. Robocop
  125. Annie Hall
  126. Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy
  127. À Bout De Souffle
  128. Dirty Dancing
  129. Life Of Brian
  130. In Bruges
  131. Boogie Nights
  132. To Kill A Mockingbird
  133. Halloween
  134. Wall•E
  135. The Royal Tenenbaums
  136. The Exorcist
  137. Amadeus
  138. Batman Begins
  139. Close Encounters Of The Third Kind
  140. Scarface
  141. The Goonies
  142. Zulu
  143. Dawn Of The Dead
  144. Children Of Men
  145. Hot Fuzz
  146. Moulin Rouge!
  147. Toy Story 3
  148. The Social Network
  149. Cinema Paradiso
  150. Unforgiven
  151. When Harry Met Sally
  152. Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows – Part II
  153. Watchmen
  154. American History X
  155. Airplane!
  156. American Psycho
  157. Beauty And The Beast
  158. The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford
  159. Frozen
  160. Casino Royale
  161. A Matter Of Life And Death
  162. Shaun Of The Dead
  163. Her
  164. The Thin Red Line
  165. The Deer Hunter
  166. The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug
  167. Monty Python And The Holy Grail
  168. The Last Of The Mohicans
  169. Clerks
  170. Edward Scissorhands
  171. The Raid
  172. The Searchers
  173. (500) Days Of Summer
  174. Braveheart
  175. Dr Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb
  176. Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid
  177. Downfall
  178. Dazed And Confused
  179. Indiana Jones And The Temple of Doom
  180. Silver Linings Playbook
  181. The Great Escape
  182. Sin City
  183. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  184. Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl
  185. The Fifth Element
  186. Top Gun
  187. City Lights
  188. Star Trek
  189. Sunset Blvd.
  190. Kick-Ass
  191. Field Of Dreams
  192. Grease
  193. Point Break
  194. The Sound Of Music
  195. 8 1/2
  196. An American Werewolf In London
  197. Synecdoche, New York
  198. The Fountain
  199. The Lives Of Others
  200. Ben-Hur
  201. Platoon
  202. Little Miss Sunshine
  203. Princess Mononoke
  204. Les Misérables
  205. Let The Right One In
  206. Planet Of The Apes
  207. Life Is Beautiful
  208. Moon
  209. Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas
  210. Miller's Crossing
  211. Rushmore
  212. Cool Hand Luke
  213. Full Metal Jacket
  214. The Seventh Seal
  215. Suspiria
  216. My Neighbour Totoro
  217. On The Waterfront
  218. The Incredibles
  219. The Sting
  220. The Maltese Falcon
  221. Goldfinger
  222. Brokeback Mountain
  223. Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone
  224. Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge Of The Sith
  225. Black Swan
  226. Dances With Wolves
  227. The Tree Of Life
  228. Finding Nemo
  229. Grosse Point Blank
  230. The Untouchables
  231. Tokyo Story
  232. Zodiac
  233. Before Sunrise
  234. All About Eve
  235. Casino
  236. Akira
  237. La Règle Du Jeu
  238. Moonrise Kingdom
  239. Iron Man
  240. JFK
  241. The Crow
  242. Iron Man 3
  243. The World's End
  244. Dumb And Dumber
  245. Star Trek Into Darkness
  246. The Warriors
  247. The Graduate
  248. The Red Shoes
  249. District 9
  250. Home Alone
  251. Metropolis
  252. Scream
  253. The Hunger Games
  254. The Wild Bunch
  255. Transformers
  256. Eyes Wide Shut
  257. South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut
  258. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
  259. Atonement
  260. Blazing Saddles
  261. Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior
  262. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
  263. Dead Man's Shoes
  264. Labyrinth
  265. Rio Bravo
  266. The English Patient
  267. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
  268. Dirty Harry
  269. M
  270. Blue Velvet
  271. Network
  272. The Little Mermaid
  273. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
  274. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World
  275. The Lost Boys
  276. The Wicker Man
  277. Sideways
  278. BeetleJuice
  279. Fantasia
  280. How To Train Your Dragon
  281. Persona
  282. The Grand Budapest Hotel
  283. In The Mood For Love
  284. The Bridge On The River Kwai
  285. 300
  286. Man Of Steel
  287. Prometheus
  288. Batman
  289. Battle Royale
  290. Come And See
  291. Conan The Barbarian
  292. King Kong
  293. Local Hero
  294. Back to the Future Part II
  295. West Side Story
  296. Love Actually
  297. A Nightmare On Elm Street
  298. Captain Phillips
  299. 28 Days Later...
  300. Andrei Rublev
  301. Bicycle Thieves

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

To Stream? Or Not To Stream?


When I first began the Empire 5-star challenge, one of the conundrums facing me was that I had to legally acquire each film to watch. The costs of this challenge was potentially astronomical; at £10 for your average newly released DVD it could be easy to spend in the thousands of pounds.

Streaming is, of course, the logical solution. A simple monthly fee would unlock a huge library of movies, television shows and other media content that can be watched directly through the Internet. It would be downloaded on demand and I could watch it on a huge array of screens, from my projector, to my computer and even on my smartphone.

In fact, the competition for your on-demand money is so high that monthly subscriptions are laughably cheap. Some providers offer free introductions, but even after this at, around £6 per month for an unlimited subscription it is a fantastic price. With 720 hours in a 30 day month and 1.5 hours in your average film, you could stream films around 480 films for just £6. As I say, a fantastic deal.

Of course, that ludicrous analogy would mean you have no sleep and probably an extortionate broadband and electric bill. So, in reality, how good a deal is £5 a month? Well, it's still half of a single newly released DVD, so in that respect it is still not bad. Even if you only watch a film once every 2 months you are still getting your money's worth.

In addition to the cost advantage, streaming brings a host of other benefits. Foremost is that you won't have DVD boxes cluttering your living room. You just need a screen, and a streaming device and an internet connection which is more than likely wireless. Minimalism and technology suddenly go hand in hand.

The other huge benefit of streaming is that it brings smaller films to the masses. On an unlimited subscription, you are far more likely to take a punt on a less well-known movie that you would have passed over in your local store. There are a lot of little gems out there and for that I applaud what streaming can do for the industry.

Yet, as the eagle-eyed visitor will have spotted, my third rule is that each film must be bought as a DVD. I think it is quite easy to conclude that, judging by everything I have just said, I must have more money than sense, hate the film industry, and I must be living in a house propped up by keep cases.

Admittedly, I do have a lot of DVD cases. In fact, I have so many cases that I have taken the security precaution of removing all of the disks from them and putting them in secure storage in case any opportunist decides to take advantage. Yes, it's annoying, but there are still plenty of other reasons why I still won't stream.

First and foremost, by streaming I would find myself at the mercy of a single company. It would require me to adapt my equipment in order to be able to stream, and by setting myself up on just one company, it would make it harder to get out. What happens if that company decides to increase their prices to appease shareholders? I would face the expense of updating or replacing equipment, or simply just accept their price hike.

Because of complicated licencing issues, streaming companies are also limited on their library. So, if a particular company doesn't have the film I want to watch I'd still have to find it on DVD.

If they do have the film, it might be that I want to watch it in High Definition (HD), or possibly even 3D. Lots of companies fail to offer this and, even if they do offer it, there is no guarantee my copper wire broadband will be able to cope with it. In addition, a lot of people have a capped download limit that streaming will quickly fill.

Despite the expense there are still plenty of places to buy physical copies of movies at a reasonable price. If you want the latest and greatest technology, then sure, it'll be expensive. I recently saw Beauty and the Beast on 3D Blu-ray for £45... second hand. That's not an excuse for piracy, mind. Shop around, use second hand shops or online auctions. If it's too expensive then simply just wait until the price drops.

I am proud to be able to say that so far I have been able to locate every single film on DVD from the 5-star 500. Rarely do I spend more than a couple of pounds and only exceptionally have I spent over £10 on the most rare of films. I have also found a whole host of smaller shops selling rarer DVDs online, which are quite often cheaper than going to the mainstream.

Hunting high and low for cheap films even enables me to do a lot of research on a film before I've even watched it. Of course, if you don't have time then streaming is probably the ideal solution. Unfortunately, it's just not for me.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

Despite my protestations about being too tired after an hard day's work, I was forced out of the house kicking and screaming last Friday to watch X-Men: Days of Future Past.

Despite everything that X-Men has done for the comic book sub-genre, I have never really been a huge fan. X-Men is similar in a way to Spider-Man in that it seems that no-one can agree exactly how the story should go.

While the original trilogy provided a nice linear storyline (even though it was getting a little tired towards the end), we were then forced to consume two Wolverine specific movies and, of course, 2011's prequel First Class. Days of Future Past is a sequel to both the latter and the original trilogy.

Of course, being in two different timelines is always going to be difficult to explain, but fortunately Days of Future Past has more than a little comic book magic on its side.

Following the events in the original trilogy, humanoid robots known as Sentinals are gradually exterminating the X-Men, who have only been able to survive due to the introduction of Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page). Kitty can project a person's consciousness back in time to pre-warn the group about an impending attack. Due to being a fan favourite his regenerative abilities, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is sent back to just after the events of First Class where he must put a stop to the fighting by preventing the original creation of the Sentinals by Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage). Simple.

I feel I ought to commend the writers for doing very good job of unifying the storylines, even though the plot now does tend to negate the events of the two Wolverine movies. The best way to look at Days of Future Past is as a film that enables the X-Men franchise to move on without the old guard of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen (even though there is still a possibility for them to return at a later date).

What bothers me is that nobody wants to move on without Hugh Jackman. Sure, he's a great actor and Wolverine is a great kick-ass character, but X-Men should be able to survive without its main character. That's the point of X-Men - there are plenty of great characters, so it is a shame that the franchise is still relying on Wolverine to sell it.

... and that brings me nicely to the point of this. Other than the "old guard" (Magneto, Xavier, Storm etc), can you name any of the other X-Men characters? Sure, there's Kitty Pryde, but I mentioned her. Then there's the guy with foresight, the one that can turn into ice, the one that can turn into fire and the one that can turn into metal. Oh, and of course Beast (Nicholas Hoult). Even Quicksilver's (Evan Peters) character development was hugely disappointing, especially as he looked like one who could actually put some life into the series. In fact, he was the only one to rival Hugh Jackman in turns of screen presence.

Despite that, Days of Future Past still provided some decent entertainment - it just didn't raise my expectations for the future of the franchise.