Thursday, March 31, 2011

Month 2 - March 2011

Wow, here marks the end of another hectic month in the world of movie reviews.

It's been a busy one of the blog front, serving over 2,000 page views (over half of which have been in this month alone) to 32 different countries. This month I decided to review other films I've been to see as well, which is filed in the Meanwhile section, and I've vastly improved the Statistics page to give out live stats about the challenge. I've also found a design which I'm pretty much happy with so I'm hoping that I won't have to tinker too much with the Blogger modules over the coming months!

I've seen 18 films this month - which is the busiest so far - and that doesn't include the extra ones from the Meanwhile page yet either! As I'm slowly getting into watching a ridiculous number of films, I'm starting to realise how difficult it must be to be a full-time movie magazine writer. Kudos to the guys at Empire for all their hard work in compiling the list!

On the subject of thanks, a special mention should probably go to Matthew Hunt whose blog has been filtering through hits to me like there is no tomorrow. It seems that those looking for the list of Empire's 5-star Movies head there first and onto mine. So... thanks! Keep up the good work.

Also a quick thought about the previous month... if you haven't seen Amélie, please do. It's the best movie so far. By a country mile.

Anyway, more films to watch now. Over and out!

PS, for those of you who have made it this far, please visit this page for an alternative way to view this blog. I thought it was awesome anyway.

033 - The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford (2007)

The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford is the tale about Jesse James (Brad Pitt) - arguably America's most famous gangster - and his murderer Robert 'Bob' Ford (Casey Affleck).

It begins at the end. Jesse and his brother Frank are plotting their final heist and are approached by a 19-year-old Robert Ford. Robert has an unhealthy appetite for Jesse is apparent from the beginning and it is evident that Robert wishes he was more famous like the outlaw himself.

Following the heist, Robert is invited back with Jesse and their friendship peaks, but it cannot last as Jesse is too introvert to trust anyone for too long. As Robert realises that he can't be Jesse's friend, he turns to other ways to make his fame and fortune - The Assassination of Jesse James.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Battle: Los Angeles (2011)

Theatrical Poster
Source: IMP Awards

This film is not in the Empire 500.

OK, so it's that moment again where aliens are attacking earth. This time, Will Smith is not on hand to punch any aliens in the head (as in Independence Day) and former Dark Knight star Aaron Eckhart is left to pick up the pieces of a city that frankly has nothing to do with anything.

While the budget may have been cut by filming in and around Hollywood area, it has been raised in other areas of special effects and CGI that otherwise may have turned director Jonathon Liebesman's film into a catastrophe itself.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

032 - The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

Deep in the underground of the major cities in the world are crime organisations that are hidden away from prying eyes... welcome to The Asphalt Jungle.

Mastermind Doc (Sam Jaffe) has just been released from prison, and he turns his attention back to crime - a major heist he'd planned before he was sent down three years ago. He enlists the help of dodgy bookkeeper Conovan (Jean Hagen) to help him search for Emmerich (Louis Calhern) - the bent lawyer who has kept his head above water thanks to his knowledge of the law.

They recruit Dix (Sterling Hayden), a safe cracker and getaway driver Gus. Upon hearing rumours that Emmerich is planning to backstab him, Doc asks Dix to help him retrieve the money from Emmerich. Although the heist goes to plan, the world of the underground crime starts to unravel as backstabbing takes its toll on the thieves and the police close the net.

Theatrical Poster
The Asphalt Jungle immediately immerses the audience in the action - the heist itself appears towards the beginning of the second quarter of the film. Throughout the film, I had no idea who was going to win - the police or the thieves... and if the thieves, then which thieves. This easily held my captivation at every turn.

A fleeting appearance from Marilyn Monroe is always welcome although her role only ends up as a cameo. The director and writers don't overdo her role and as such she ends up as an extra - just where her character belonged, really.

The starring role went to Sterling Hayden and Sam Jaffe - their double act throughout was joyous as I egged them on to outsmart the ever-tightening net of the law.

A thoroughly enjoyable film.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

031 - Ashes And Diamonds (1958)

It's Poland and the final day of the Second World War, which seems like as good a reason as any for celebrating. The drinks are flowing and the banquette is set, so it's a jolly occasion all round. Not for all it seems.

While most of the country is joyous at the end of the Nazi occupation, a few have realised that during the rebuilding procedure, they could hike themselves a rise to power. From the ashes, diamonds will rise.

Maciek and Andrzej have been assigned a mission to assassinate the communist commander Szczuka. Upon failing their first attempt - where they mistakenly shot two cement plant workers - they are reassigned the mission where Szczuka is staying in Monopol - a reknowned hotel and bar.

Theatrical Poster
At the bar, a banquette is taking place for the newly appointed mayor, laid on by his assistant, Drewnowski - who himself is keen on a rise to power by any means possible and is pleased to take any side to achieve his ambitions. Whilst spending time at the bar Maciek shows his affections for the barmaid Krystyna and while they end up together Maciek misses an opportunity to kill Szczuka.

Maciek begins to rethink his life, wondering if he should forget about Szczuka and just continue with his own life, not wanting to continue killing and running. He is eventually talked around by Andrzej, who convinces him that what he does is for the people.

After killing Szczuka, Maciek goes to Andrzej, where he sees Drewnowski being pushed to the floor having been disowned by the mayor earlier in the evening for being drunk and causing a scene. Andrzej drives off in frustration leaving Drewnowski alone. Drewnowski calls out to Maciek who runs straight into a group of Polish guards. He is shot and dies.

I figured with this film I'd explain the whole storyline because it is very difficult to follow. There are so many things going on - perhaps 4 or 5 simultaneous scenes - that understanding a single character is difficult.

If you can follow it, however, then the moral of the story is quite rewarding, leading you to believe that your actions should be for the good of your country rather than for your own selfish reasons.

I know this film is considered to be the masterpiece of Wajda - the director - but to me it was a little confusing.

Limitless (2011)

Theatrical Poster
Source: Relativity Media
This film is not in the Empire 500.

By nature, the human brain can hold a whole host of memories. In order to make space for new memories, old and insignificant ones are forgotten, and the memory cycle begins. The possibilities of being able to hold every piece of information that passes through the brain has been briefly touched on in movies before (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), and Limitless attempts to explain the consequences.

As with all stories about a fictional drug that gives superpowers (various examples in Spiderman), the protagonist begins as a down-on-his-luck character. Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) is a writer stuck for ideas. His girlfriend has just left him, but a chance meeting with his ex-wife's brother changes his luck. He's handed a slightly dodgy-looking clear pill and upon taking it finds that he is able to remember everything - including memories that have been locked away in the past.

030 - Army Of Shadows (1969)


Being on 'that' side of the pond, the French had a lot more to deal with than us English. We were let off lightly, only having planes going over bombing our cities and factories. The French meanwhile, had to live with German occupation as part of their day-to-day life. As a result, they set up the French Resistance - an underground loose-knit organisation designed to help the war effort against the Germans by releasing one man at a time. Army Of Shadows tells their story.

The story follows the fictional Phillipe Gerbier, a mid-ranked resistance officer. He begins the film having been sent to a camp and there the narration explains that he has connections and needs to be handled with care. The narration plays a heavy part in the film, preferring to be told more like a traditional play, than an action war movie. This helps to add to the slow, solemn feel of the film.

Theatrical Poster
Gerbier is released, and his first mission is to kill a German informant. Having botched the job, he meets up with his comrades. The film follows this same formula throughout - following the people in the resistance saving their colleagues whilst eliminating those who divulge information to the Gestapo.

Whilst this is original - to me - having told the war from the French point of view, it does have a very French dark attitude to it, making it very slow but to the point. The narration works well - because the actors rarely talk it adds to the secretive plot - but it does feel very dragged out in places.

Despite how it feels dragged out, it is probably worth watching once.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Films 031 - 040

The Asphalt Jungle (1958)
Below is a list of the next 10 films that will be watched in the Empire 500 challenge.
  1. Ashes And Diamonds (1958)
  2. The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
  3. The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford (2007)
  4. Atlantic City (1981)
  5. Atonement (2007)
  6. Au Hasard Balthazar (1966)
  7. Audition (1999)
  8. Avatar (2009)
  9. Babe (1995)
  10. Back To The Future (1985)
Babe (1995)
As I reach the end of another 10 films, out pops another mini-list of 10 films. While none of the previous 10 films matched up to the genius of my current favourite Amélie, there were some good'uns in there!

My previous list of ten films asked why The Apu Trilogy was all under a single number. The answer? I still don't know. Each film was decent enough to have its own crowning glory - much like Lord Of The Rings has been awarded with.

As for the next ten films, well there are a few on there that I know of, and some that I have watched. I am fully aware that I may be severely punished by my girlfriend if I don't watch Back To The Future with her (wish, trust me, is not something worth risking) as it is her favourite film so this selection of ten looks like one of the best ones so far.

Onwards and upwards!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

029 - The Apu Trilogy (1955, 1956, 1959)

The Apu Trilogy is, surprisingly a film about a boy called Apu. It is split into three masterpiece films - each alone worth their own credit.

It begins with Pather Panchali, where Apu is born into a poor family living in the Indian countryside. His family consists of his mother (the housekeeper and cook), his father (a priest and speaker), his crazy old aunt and his sister, Durga.

The story tells of a young boy growing up, and having to deal with everyday problems. Most of these are completely foreign to Western society, but as his family's numbers slowly diminish it becomes a story that becomes easy to relate to both in sadness and in pity.

Aparajito tells of Apu's progression into adolescence. His family move to the city to try and earn a better wage, but they barely fare any better off. His father soon dies, leaving his mother seemingly Rupee-less. They move back to the country with their landlady, and Apu develops a taste for education. This natural inquisitiveness is rare in modern culture, where technology has often replaced desire to learn and it is refreshing.

Apu's education comes to an end in The World Of Apu as he finds he cannot afford it anymore. He ends up getting married - albeit almost accidently and apologetically - only to find more sorrow in his life as his wife dies in childbirth. Finally, he is reunited with his son, leaving the trilogy on a happier note.

Satyajit Ray's work with this famous Bengali story is extraordinary. He has taken mere scribbles from a piece of paper and transformed them into arguably India's finest cinematic export. While it may seem slow on the whole, it is a thoroughly rewarding story that feels both foreign and empathetic simultaneously.

The World Of Apu (1959)

DVD Box - The Apu Trilogy
This film is not in the Empire 500 - it is part of The Apu Trilogy which is in the Empire 500.

The Apu Trilogy is completed with The World Of Apu (Apu Sansar). In every sense, this film is more mature that the previous two. Satyajit's directing moves the film into a new direction - away from the innocent boy and into the man.

Theatrical Poster
Apu is growing up. Following a whole host of deaths around him in the previous films he moved onto study but finds himself short of money again, forcing him to leave education and try to find work. His landlord is chasing him for money and he is being stared at by the girl across the street.

Just as it seems Apu's luck is running out his friend Pulu visits, who has been looking for him for a few weeks. Apu is invited back to Pulu's village for a wedding, and ends up being the groom himself after the pre-arranged husband turns insane. Having never been in an emotional relationship before, Apu struggles to show his true self to his new wife Aparna, and tries to put her off by telling her of his poverty. Failing this, he brings her back to Calcutta where they begin to bond.

Without trying to give too much of the story away, it continues in the same humble state as the previous two films of the trilogy. Apu's life continues on a seemingly downward trend - with the occasional lift, before finishing the film with a smile on his face.

Not as good as the first two, but it does the trilogy proud with it's continued flow of emotion.

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Please note that once a new review has been added, you will still need to refresh your page manually to get the most up-to-date stats. But still... impressive, huh?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Keeping Mum (2005)

Theatrical Poster
Source: Wikipedia
This film is not in the Empire 500.

Maggie Smith, Rowan Atkinson and Patrick Swayze headline in an all-star cast in this comedy set in rural England.

The dark, British humour is evident from Emila Fox's cameo at the beginning of the film where a suitcase oozing with blood is found aboard a train belonging to Thomas' character Grace Hawkins. She is immediately arrested and charged with murder.

Forward a few years, in a world where Grace is now played by the irreplaceable Maggie Smith. She comes to visit a family with it's own set of problems - the Goodfellows. Walter (Rowan Atkinson) is the naive father whose play-away sexually frustrated wife, Gloria (Kristin Scott Thomas), is having an affair with Lance (Patrick Swayze). Petey, the son, is being bullied at school while his sister, Holly (Tamsin Egerton) is with a different boyfriend every week, making her mother jealous.

As the film progresses, it begins to show it's dark side once more as mysterious things begin to happen in order to bring the family good luck. Maggie Smith is at her best as her seemingly unaware housekeeper character is given more ridiculous situations to help the Goodfellows.

Atkinson's shy and retiring Vicar makes a change from his most famous role as the calamitous Bean, and he laps it up, showing a distinct lack of emotion and a lot of blank, confused face.

Good, British comedy with a clever end.

Aparajito (1956)

DVD Box - The Apu Trilogy
This film is not in the Empire 500 - it is part of The Apu Trilogy which is in the Empire 500.

Aparajito continues where Pather Panchali left off. Apu is in the city with his parents living in relative poverty. His father is barely scraping together money to let the family live on, his mother is being hit on by the man living upstairs and Apu is just happily enjoying company of children his own age.

It continues in the same slow, plodding pace of the first film, which I found made it easier to get straight back into watching it, having only watched the first one yesterday.

Theatrical Poster
Early on in the film, the bad luck continues for the family as Apu's father dies, leaving him and his mother fending for themselves. They move back to the country with their landlady, and Apu finds a passion for education. The rest of the film continues in a manner that is certainly relateable for those in further education in present-day England. Apu's mother struggles as Apu leaves for Calcutta, missing her son greatly.

A much easier film to get straight into, but I would recommend watching Pather Panchali first so that you understand the background story first.

Highly emotional, down-to-earth tale of Indian life.