Sunday, February 27, 2011

Month 1: February 2011

Seeing as I won't be having time for any more films this month (today is Carling Cup final day of course, and I will - presumably - need at least one day to recover from Arsenal's first silverware in six years), this post will go up a little early. Technically, I did start the challenge on 29th January but I'm writing this on 27th February so that counts? Right? Right?

So far it has been a pretty interesting challenge. There have already been some high moments (All About My Mother) and some low moments (Alexander Nevsky) but overall I am quite enjoying myself.

Obviously quite a lot of my life over the past month has been watching DVDs - in the past week alone I have watched the Alien double along with four more additional films - effectively one on every evening.

I am starting to find more and more that my life is starting to be planned around the films ("if we go to the gym earlier, I could watch a film later in the evening" or "I can last two more hours without dinner"). That said, my other commitments (work, gym, girlfriend, sleep) don't seem to be suffering as a result (of course, had my girlfriend had the unfortunate task of watching Alexander Nevsky with me, this could be a whole new story).

So, anyway, at the rate I'm going I should have the challenge finished within 3 years (hopefully earlier!) so there will be a lot more of me yabbering on this blog yet.



Update 28/02:
Arsenal did not win the Carling Cup final, but I still need one day to recover from the shock of losing ;-)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

015 - All That Jazz (1979)

All That Jazz is a semi-autobiographical musical about director/writer Bob Fosse. It follows his story - through the character life of Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider) -  about how he literally dances with death throughout his life; how he lost his wife through his adoration of the sexual nature of dance, and how he carried this on through his personal life with an inability to stay faithful to the mother of his daughter.

Despite his obvious brilliance, his bosses are unable to control his film, instead letting him roam free, directing the dance as he pleases. While his superiors are more concerned with gaining popularity, he prefers to concentrate on the deeper, artistic sides of his performances.

Theatrical Poster
The dances, and in fact the music, throughout the film are excellent. Fosse shows a real talent for creating beautifully choreographed performances to music with a clever upbeat tempo. Many of the moves are original, and even when the scene suggests that the actor is not up to the correct standard in the dance they are still doing it with some style.

The film's greatest flaw comes in the way it tells the story. In comparison to Grease, also in the Empire 500, All That Jazz is sometimes very confusing as one scene flutters to the next. Flashbacks are commonplace and it can leave the feel of disorientation and it is only in the last five minutes that the story starts to feel more connected.

Despite this, All That Jazz is a musical that, if only for the music, needs to be seen.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

014 - All Quiet On The Western Front (1930)

All Quiet On The Western Front is a harrow tale of life during World War I. Oddly, the film, despite being made during the start of Mr. Hitler's rise to power and being an American appears to be a neutral recount - in fact, it is told entirely from the German point of view. This is a pleasant change from other films that were being used as propaganda all over the world (see Alexander Nevsky).

The film begins showing how many young men were signed up during the war - under the influence of the men they looked up to, their teachers. Rallied into believing the war was good for both their countries and their reputations, privates were signed up en mass, unaware of the horrors in front of them.

Theatrical Poster
Interestingly, All Quiet On The Western Front, while having a storyline, often appears to be more of a documentary and doesn't wrap up war in cotton wool. Many of the horrors the soldiers faced are shown - from shell-shock to nightmares, and from rats to amputations. Because it doesn't glamourise these (see Inglourious Basterds), the film is awarded a PG rating, and all the better for it.

Finally, I should probably mention the ending, which is as uninspiring towards war as the rest of the film. It is shocking, and leaves you thinking while the film simply says "The End". Even the credits don't roll as they are at the start.

For simply leaving me with a whole new respect for those at war now, the film can have no other rating than the full five stars.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

013 - All About My Mother (1999)

Sometimes in life a film comes along where, when it finishes, you just don't know what to say. Well, I've just reached that moment.

...unfortunately, I've made it my job now so I'll make something up.

All About My Mother is, frankly, depressing. The movie follows Manuela, a mother whose child has been run over while he was hunting for his idol's autograph. Young Esteban dying is one of the most poignant scenes I have ever had the pleasure of watching. The way that director Pedro Almodóvar uses the camera in first person at the critical moment is a tribute to the fine directing throughout the whole film.

The story continues with Manuela hunting down her son's father, whose identity she had fought to conceal from him throughout his childhood. Her journey takes her to Barcelona - from where she'd fled during her pregnancy - where she meets a few other women whose stories are equally desolate.

Theatrical Poster
The film follows a set pace throughout, showing the highs and lows of all the women's lives, with some ending peacefully and other's ending as forlorn as at the start of the film. The plot is serene throughout broken with intelligent sections of humour from the brilliant transsexual character of Agrado (so called because she 'always tried to make everyones life more pleasant'). Her monologue in the centre of the film is a masterpiece of a soliloquy.

All About My Mother will touch every member of an audience, enabling them to empathise - or sympathise - with at least one of the characters.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

012 - All About Eve (1950)

Let me start this review off by saying that I'm not overly keen on black and white films - it's not because they're inferior to modern colour pictures, but because I find it difficult to hold attention to a film that is lacking in vibrant shades of technicolor. All About Eve is in black and white... and I enjoyed it.

All About Eve tells the story of Eve (Anne Baxter) trying to emulate Margo (Bette Davis) who is a famous theatre actress. From the outset we learn that Margo is much like the stereotypical modern movie stars - moody and demanding - but despite this, Eve is just pleased to be her friend. The storyline gradually changes through the film as Eve starts to move further into Margo's life, attempting to take her fame, relationships and ultimately her career.

Theatrical Poster
The movie has an element of disturbance about it, showing life in show-business is cut-throat and that it is every actor/actress for themselves. As Eve gently grabs parts of Margo's life she leaves us - the audience - still feeling like she is the good guy in all of this.

Slowly Eve's lies start to unravel themselves and she finds herself on the end of her manager's on scheming ways and the ending is clever - further displaying elements of the shallow lives of those in the theatre.

Recommended to anyone who is interested in getting into show business.

011 - Aliens (1986)

As previously mentioned, I watched Aliens straight after Alien - and it had a lot to live up to.
The story continues immediately from where Alien left off - Sigourney Weaver is back and is roped into removing the 'Alien' nest following a tragedy involving a human settlement being used to host larger numbers of Aliens.

Firstly, it should be noted that Aliens is a completely different genre of film to Alien. There are still elements of the original's anti-climaxes and tension-building but the action sequences are much more explosive and a lot less subtle. More Aliens generally equals more bullets.

Theatrical Poster
This time, Weaver has to compete with more actors alongside her, and she shows a different side to her acting when she has to care for Newt (Carrie Henn) throughout the film. They compliment each other well, with Newt guiding Weaver's character, Ripley, through the hostile land.

Unlike most sequels, this fits into the storyline brilliantly with the previous film, expands on the theories set out in the original but doesn't add or remove anything too over the top.

A shining example of how a sequel should be made.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

010 - Alien (1979)

Nowadays the following storyline is not original:
A mysterious lifeform takes over a restricted area with no route for escape. There are a limited number of protagonists, who slowly get picked off by mysterious lifeform one-by-one. Eerie atmosphere is matched only by short moments of panic from said protagonists while they watch - or hear - their friends die to the mysterious lifeform.

While the recent efforts of Deep Blue Sea and Anacondas have been suspect to say the least, Ridley Scott's Alien brought this genre alive with its truly frightening extra terrestrial.

Sigourney Weaver - Empire's 5-star actress - takes the reins of leading actress, third in command on a freight spacecraft sent to investigate a distress signal. The above story takes place, with 'Alien' as the mysterious lifeform, Nostromo - the crew's gargantuan craft - as the restricted area and her other six crew members (and cat) as the protagonists.

Theatrical Poster

Much of the film is spent in wonder at what might happen next as the tension is slowly built using many techniques that are commonplace in modern film. Chains are gently rattled, a shadow passes across the shot and the music slowly rises in tempo and volume.

During the scenes of action, the audience is rarely treated to a full shot of the 'Alien', instead having to piece together an image in their mind of the monstrocity. This technique was replicated cleverly in the 2009 film, Cloverfield.
Throughout it all Weaver rises in confidence - both the actress and her character. To me, she is noticably more expressive as the film goes on as her crew gets slowly whittled down. She seems much happier on central stage rather than playing second fiddle to her male 'superior' officers.

Despite all this, there was one final nag... I am about to watch Aliens - how could that improve on the original?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Films 011 - 020

20. American Beauty (1999)
Below is a list of the next 10 films that will be watched in the Empire 500 challenge.
  1. Aliens (1986)
  2. All About Eve (1950)
  3. All About My Mother (1999)
  4. All Quiet On The Western Front (1930)
  5. All That Jazz (1979)
  6. All The President's Men (1976)
  7. Alphaville (1965)
  8. Amadeus (1984)
  9. Amélie (2001)
  10. American Beauty (1999)

Wow, so the first 10 films will be completed this weekend, so here is the next 10 films on the list! Obviously Aliens will be watched immediately after Alien so that will be down already by the weekend.

13. All About My Mother (1999)
I haven't previously seen any of the films on the list, so I'm going into this next batch with a clear head.

I have been quite excited about seeing American Beauty as it is a much-hyped film and it features one of my favourite actors of all time - Kevin Spacey. The other film on that list that I'm really looking forward to is All The President's Men which I understand is about the Watergate scandal - and seeing as this only occurred 15 years before the film's release it will be interesting to see a contemporary version of events.

As for the others, Amélie is probably the most well known out of the rest - although that's probably because it's the most recently released.

Either way, I hope it'll get better than the current average of 3.5 stars (as at film 009)!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Shameless Blog Plugging

Since starting the challenge I have found a few other people that are keeping blogs along similar lines (movie lists and movie challenges) so below are a few that should start you off if you're interested!

Matthew Hunt writes a blog about movies. On his blog there are a lot of lists of movies from the classic "Greatest Movies" lists to more specialised lists about the best films of specific genres. Once I've completed the first 500 films, I will look to this blog for inspiration about where to take my movie watching next (no pressure!).

Championship Celluloid has previously undertaken the Empire 500 (2008) challenge, and he completed it in a single year. While I have a massive disadvantage in that he manages a film theatre and therefore can watch films whenever... I will be looking to this blog for the willpower to continue when certain films appear to be rubbish (Alexander Nevsky, I'm looking at you).

My Brother's Blog is tracking the same films I'm watching, simply because we're undertaking the challenge together (of course, it was my idea as I'm the big brother...). His reviews will tend to be much more critical than mine, but it should help to offer opinions other than my own on the films in this challenge.

The list of inspirational blogs will continue to grow, but rather than blog about them continuously please see the list that has appeared in the right-hand toolbar.

Challenge Update:
9 films down - The Alien double will be watched back-to-back over the weekend!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

009 - Alexander Nevsky (1938)

Alexander Nevsky tells the story of a Russian fisherman who is chosen to lead his army against the Teutonic invaders (Germany).

Does this storyline sound familiar?

Now, imagine it's 1938. Didn't something happen around then? Perhaps... World War II?

If you hadn't guessed, despite the film being set in 1252, Alexander Nevsky is a very political film.

It is also in Russian with subtitled biblical English, which makes the storyline difficult to understand (luckily, the entire story is told on the blurb of the DVD box so actually, I might as well have just read that).

Theatrical Poster
The film is sped up, slowed down and in some places it's even reversed. The 'epic battle scenes' are more ebbing (no, that word isn't used in the correct place in the subtitles either) than the actors, and for such a simple film continuity errors are commonplace.

The costumes are probably about right for the era, but they are just comedic. The variety of helmets helps somewhat to decipher who is who, but then people seem to just come back to life mid-shot anyway so who knows?

It comes to something when the scene which drew the biggest laugh was when a baby was thrown into a fire. We're still not entirely sure if there was anyone off camera who caught it.

Halfway through the film my 13-year-old brother walked into the room, boldly declared that he could do much better, and walked out.

I hope he sets his aims higher.