Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Blogging from A to Z April Challenge

Recently I came across a challenge to write one blog post per day in April (excluding Sundays). Well, as you are probably fully aware by now I am not adverse to a challenge, and to the authors of Blogging from A to Z, I'm picking up that gauntlet!

I've sneaked in a cheeky button to the top of the blog to follow the progress in this particular challenge (or, if you can't be bothered to move the mouse that far you could just click here) which will see me watching and reviewing films whose names begin with all the letters of the alphabet. At present I haven't decided on the films I'm going to watch, but it will cover films that I've wanted to see but that aren't on the Empire 5-star 500 (I wouldn't want to ruin my golden rules now!).

So, whether I watch American Psycho or Zoolander, I invite my fellow bloggers to join in the A-Z Challenge and I hope that readers, you enjoy reading about something a little different for those 26 days in April.

PS, just for fun! How many of the films that flash up in the image can you name?

Monday, January 30, 2012

One Year In - What Makes a Five Star Film?

One year (and one day) ago, I sat down to watch A.I. Artificial Intelligence - a film I'd never seen before or really had no intention of watching unless it happened to come on television at the right time. There began my commitment to watch all 500 of Empire's 5-star films - in alphabetical order - in order to expand my knowledge about the origin of film ideas and to impress my grandfather when he asks me if I've seen what I previously considered to be an obscure 1940's film noir.
After scouring the Internet for a picture for this post, I wish I'd made a cake for the occasion
and what better decoration than a Buzz Lightyear candle from Character Cake Decorations.

So, what have I learnt? Quite a lot actually, although I will probably look back in 2013 at how youthful and inexperienced I was back in yonder 2012. Surprisingly with the exception of the 1940's boom there is very little to pick between a adventure film made with tools one feels that Neanderthals would be able to handle (my friends were in fits while watching The Black Pirate), to the latest 21st Century action flicks that forces production to move around a seemingly pointless gizmo that one man in the world can work in order to pan a camera half a millimetre (cue the link to Avatar).

What matters most to a film is the storyline. This doesn't matter if it is Bambi which will have the world's population of Under 3's crying at Bambi's mother's death, The Crucible which has anyone in tears during its closing scenes or the Japanese torture film Audition which will have everyone cringing. As long as the director can make a clear, concise storyline that the audience is willing to empathise with then the majority of the work is done. By adding his or her personal touches and interpretation then something special might be on the cards.

Arguably the next most important details are the actors. A well known cast is more likely to succeed at the box office but the audience could end up being disappointed with the story; whereas a lesser known cast can have the effect of confusing the audience as to the role of each actor. Who outside of the critic's own secluded world would have heard of any of the actors in The Band's Visit? Equally, would Brokeback Mountain have succeeded without Gyllenhaal and Ledger in charge? Probably not.

Any good reviewer worth their salt will make some reference to the soundtrack. As a vital part to create tension during the right places, the backing music has been in film even longer than actor's voices. I, on the other hand have gotten into the habit of skipping the mention of the soundtrack completely; why? Because some films do without it and fare much better for the experience (Dog Day Afternoon). Of course, that's not to say that a film should forget about the work of John Williams' classic five notes in Close Encounters of the Third Kind or exclude more modern music such as Moby's Extreme Ways in the final scene of The Bourne Ultimatum.

A good film does not revolve around its budget. Sure, having a huge wad of cash will entice the big stars and enable science fiction to simply exist on the big screen. Having Apollo 13 filmed with Tom Hanks in front of a black panel with stick-on stars would have completely detracted from the effect, whereas if Clerks had been made with a huge budget it wouldn't have become the cult classic comedy nor have the charm of knowing that the director gave away everything he had in order to make the film that stands today.

A five star film is not something that everyone will enjoy. A five star film is something that critics cannot find fault with. The majority of people that flock to the world's cinema are casual movie-goers who want to see the latest update to a franchise, want to take their girlfriend/boyfriend/casual love interest on a date to see some soppy chick flick that only she will want to see (though he'll probably enjoy it too), or simply go for something to do on a Wednesday afternoon where one can catch up with friends without being forced to make conversation.

There are some films on Empire's 5-star list that I personally cannot see the point of outside of the political connotations (Alexander Nevsky) or simply not even understand at all (Chimes At Midnight). That's not to say these are bad films in the eyes of everyone - the review is only accurate and personal as the reviewer. I'm sure even the guys over at Empire regularly strangle each other with movie reels in order to try and get their point across, but ultimately someone has to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) to get those all important stars across to their paying readers.

Ultimately though, this is all besides the point. I never set out to discover what makes a five star film, and frankly, nor should I care. Choosing what to go and see at the cinema should never revolve around what a magazine says or what that guy writes in his blog (whoever he is...). Watch the trailer, read a brief summary of the plot and go and watch the damn film. If you hate it, then you'll learn from it and perhaps realise that comedy is only funny if you understand it.

That said, despite the real stinkers, I am eternally grateful to the guys and gals over at Empire for opening my eyes to the world of Amelie, The Apu Trilogy and all the other foreign films I would never have watched in a million years. Perhaps the biggest thing I've learnt is that English isn't always best.

Thanks to a combination of everything in this post, The Artist will sweep the board at the Oscars. That's what makes a five star film.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Empire's 100 Best Films Of World Cinema

79 remaining
In 2010, Empire produced a list of their 100 best films that were not written in the English language. This list is below.
  1. Seven Samurai (1957)
  2. ✓ see review ★★★★★ Amélie (2001)
  3. ✓ see review ★★★★ Battleship Potemkin (1925)
  4. ✓ see review ★★★★ Bicycle Thieves (1948)
  5. Pan's Labyrinth (2006)
  6. ✓ see review ★★★★★ The Battle Of Algiers (1966)
  7. ✓ see review ★★★★★ City Of God (2002)
  8. The Seventh Seal (1957)
  9. The Wages of Fear (1953)
  10. Spirited Away (2001)
  11. ✓ see review ★★★★ La Dolce Vita (Federico Fellini, 1960)
  12. Metropolis (1927)
  13. The Rules of the Game (1939)
  14. Three Colours Trilogy (1993-1994)
    1. Three Colours: Blue (1993)
    2. Three Colours: White (1994)
    3. Three Colours: Red (1994)
  15. Let The Right One In (2008)
  16. Tokyo Story (1953)
  17. ✓ see review ★★★★★ The Apu Trilogy (1955, 1956, 1959)
    1. ✓ see review ★★★★★ Pather Panchali (1955)
    2. ✓ see review ★★★★★ Aparajito (1956)
    3. ✓ see review ★★★★ The World Of Apu (1959)
  18. Oldboy (2003)
  19. Aguirre, Wrath of God (1972)
  20. Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001)
  21. Nosferatu (1922)
  22. Rashomon (1950)
  23. Spirit of the Beehive (1973)
  24. ✓ see review ★★★★★ Come And See (1985)
  25. ✓ see review ★★★★★ Das Boot (1981)
  26. ✓ see review ★★★★ La Belle Et La Bête (1946)
  27. ✓ see review ★★★★★ Cinema Paradiso (1988)
  28. Raise The Red Lantern (1991)
  29. ✓ see review ★★★★ The 400 Blows (1959)
  30. Infernal Affairs (2002)
  31. Godzilla (1954)
  32. ✓ see review ★★★★ La Haine (1995)
  33. M (1931)
  34. Waltz With Bashir (2008)
  35. ✓ see review ★★★★ La Grande Illusion (1937)
  36. Dekalog (1988)
  37. Rome Open City (1945)
  38. ✓ see review ★★★★★ Ashes And Diamonds (1958)
  39. Le Samourai (1967)
  40. L’Avventura (1960)
  41. My Neighbour Totoro (1988)
  42. In The Mood For Love (2000)
  43. ✓ see review ★★★★ Cyrano De Bergerac (1990)
  44. Ikiru (1952)
  45. Suspiria (1977)
  46. Jules et Jim (1962)
  47. 10 (2002)
  48. Downfall (2004)
  49. M. Hulot's Holiday (1953)
  50. Closely Observed Trains (1966)
  51. Akira (1988)
  52. Touki Bouki (1973)
  53. ✓ see review ★★★★★ All About My Mother (1999)
  54. Festen (1988)
  55. Lagaan (2001)
  56. Belle de Jour (1967)
  57. Central do Brazil (1988)
  58. Persepolis (2008)
  59. Heimat (1985)
  60. Jean de Florette / Manon des Sources (1986)
  61. ✓ see review ★★★★ Knife In The Water (1962)
  62. 8 1/2 (1963)
  63. A Prophet (2009)
  64. Wings of Desire (1987)
  65. Un Chien Andalou (1929)
  66. ✓ see review ★★★★ Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
  67. The Vanishing (1988)
  68. Solaris (1972)
  69. Ringu (1998)
  70. Hard Boiled (1992)
  71. Persona (1966)
  72. Ten Canoes (2006)
  73. Hidden (2005)
  74. Devdas (2002)
  75. A Bout De Souffle (1960)
  76. The Idiots (1998)
  77. House Of Flying Daggers (2004)
  78. Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown (1988)
  79. Bande A Part (1964)
  80. Mother India (1957)
  81. The Host (2006)
  82. Battle Royale (2000)
  83. Xala (1974)
  84. Orphee (1950)
  85. ✓ see review ★★★★★ The Conformist (1970)
  86. Run Lola Run (1998)
  87. ✓ see review ★★★★★ Andrei Rublev (1969)
  88. Leningrad Cowboys (1989)
  89. Loves Of A Blonde (1965)
  90. Rififi (1955)
  91. Goodbye Lenin (2003)
  92. Ghost In A Shell (1995)  
  93. The Fourth Man (1983)
  94. Yeelen (1987)
  95. Way Of The Dragon (1972)
  96. Delicatessen (1991)
  97. Farewell My Concubine (1993)
  98. Ran (1985)
  99. Iron Monkey (1993)
  100. Night Watch (2004)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

127 Hours (2011)

Theatrical Poster
Source: Wikipedia
When Aron Ralston (James Franco) sets off into Canyonlands National Park, Utah he neglects to tell anyone where he is going. After a brief meeting with a couple of girls he shows that he is more than capable in the environment.

When returning to collect his bike, he falls through a chasm, bringing with him a heavy rock which falls on his arm, crushing it and trapping him at the same time. He is left with limited food and water and after over 5 days alone, he is forced to make life or death decisions.

Monday, January 23, 2012

145 - Dogville (2003)

A fugitive seeks refuge in a small Colorado town called Dogville.

Grace (Nicole Kidman) is on the run from the mob and ends up in a small town called Dogville. There she meets Tom Edison (Paul Bettany) who persuades her that the town can keep her in their protection from her prosecutors.

Grace agrees to stay if all the townspeople can agree. In exchange for her staying Grace picks up the jobs that no-one has time to do, and while the townsfolk are grateful at first, they soon turn on Grace as her pursuers pile on the pressure.

As Dogville begins to maltreat Grace, they are unaware of her secret that could have dire consequences on their mountainside retreat.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

144 - Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

After a robbery goes wrong, the whole affair becomes a circus sideshow.

Sonny (Al Pacino) and Sal (John Cazale) walk into a bank in Brooklyn expecting a quick robbery where noone gets hurt and they can make a quick few dollars.

Little do they know that luck is not on their side and after being spotted by a local police officer, they soon have a troop of officers and the FBI to negotiate with as well.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

143 - The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie (1972)

A dinner between a group of friends keeps getting interrupted.

After six wealthy friends decide to make plans to eat dinner together, they find that they have they dates mixed up and rearrange.

Further plans for dinner are interrupted in increasingly bizarre ways and one has to wonder, will they ever sit down to scoff their caviar together?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

142 - Dirty Harry (1971)

A San Francisco cop tracks down a serial killer who is sniping random victims.

Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) has little regard for the law, preferring his version of justice instead. He famously wields a .44 Magnum which he uses with devastating accuracy, and his partners rarely last longer than the criminals he brings to justice.

Scorpio (Andy Robinson) is a new serial killer in San Francisco shooting random victims and demanding a ransom of $100,000 to stop. It's a game of Cat and Mouse between Callahan and Scorpio and only one is likely to survive.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

141 - Die Hard (1988)

A New York police officer attempts to thwart a group of terrorists in Los Angeles.

John McClane (Bruce Willis) is going to see his estranged wife (Bonnie Bedelia) and children for Christmas and decides to visit her at her place of work where there is a party happening n the thirtieth floor to celebrate record sales.

While at the party, a group of terrorists led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) take hostage of the entire building but McClane manages to slip away unnoticed. There he must overcome the odds to beat the twelve terrorists.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Films 141 - 150

The next ten films in the Empire 500 5-star challenge are:
  1. Die Hard (1988)
  2. Dirty Harry (1971)
  3. The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie (1972)
  4. Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
  5. Dogville (2003)
  6. La Dolce Vita (1960)
  7. Donnie Darko (2001)
  8. Don't Look Now (1973)
  9. Double Indemnity (1944)
  10. Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde (1931)
After a brief dip in the quality of the last ten films towards the end, it was a pleasure to see that one film I thought would be bad actually turned out to be pretty good (Departures). I was also introduced to, and loved, the second and third installments in George A. Romero's Trilogy of the Dead (Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead), and I'm now thoroughly looking forward to the original. Also highly recommended is Dead of Night which turned out to be one of the best films I've seen so far.

As for the next ten, Die Hard and Dirty Harry and perhaps the most popular here (both of which I'm a big fan of). I've sadly never seen Donnie Darko despite its high reputation and Double Indemnity comes with further recommendations as it makes its way onto various lists of great films. When the DVD for Dog Day Afternoon arrived, it certainly looked like a laugh.

Until next time!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

140 - Departures (2008)

After his orchestra is dissolved, a cellist takes a job preparing the dead for funerals.

Daigo moved to Tokyo to take his dream job as a cellist in a major orchestra, but when the orchestra is closed down he is forced to move back to his dead mother's house and look for work.

He answers an advert to work 'with departures' but is horrified to find that it is preparing the dead for funerals. The pay is good however and he becomes intrigued alongside his disgust.

As news of his job filters around the community he begins to feel the disapproval causing him to question whether this is the right job for him after all.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

139 - Deliverance (1972)

Four city-based men get more than they bargain for after trying to take on nature during a canoeing weekend.

Ed (Jon Voight), Lewis (Burt Reynolds), Bobby (Ned Beatty) and Drew (Ronny Cox) decide to canoe down a fictional river before it is flooded to make way for a damn and lake.

In order to get home safely before the big game on Sunday they must overcome unfriendly locals while trying to survive nature's wrath in the river's raging rapids.

Friday, January 13, 2012

138 - The Deer Hunter (1978)

Three best friends who head into Vietnam together come out with very different lives.

When Steve (John Savage) gets married, he turns his wedding into a double celebration, marking the day when he and two of his best hunting friends, Nick (Christopher Walken) and Michael (Robert de Niro) go to Vietnam to join the war.

While out there they experience the brutality of the events, with all three of them finishing the war with very different outlooks on life.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

137 - Dead of Night (1945)

An architect visits a house where he realises he has previously dreamt about the inhabitants.

After his arrival at the house, Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns) has 'lightning' remembrances of the occupants and can eerily predict much of the night's events.

Each occupant tells their own story of psychological terror before Walter remembers how it is all supposed to end...

Friday, January 06, 2012

136 - Days of Heaven (1978)

After finding their rich boss is about to die soon a Chicago couple hatch a plan to get rich quick.

It's around the time of the Great Depression and a young couple stumble upon work at a farm gathering the year's harvest. Bill (Richard Gere) and Abby (Brooke Adams) pretend to be brother and sister to stop people talking and are joined by Bill's real sister Linda (Linda Manz), who acts as the movie's narrator.

The landowner takes a shine to Abby and when Bill overhears that the landowner is due to die within a year he encourages Abby to marry him so that they can all stay on at the farm.

However, jealousy soon sets in, leaving Abby torn between the two men.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

135 - The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)

The Earth has been invaded by a humanoid and his robot and they're not leaving until peace is confirmed.

Now that Earth has developed nuclear weapons it is established that it is only a matter of time until nuclear powered vehicles can hit the outer reaches of space and threaten universal peace.

As a result, Klaatu and his robot Gort have come to Earth to ensure that Earth remains a peaceful planet but, because of international cold war, no-one will listen. As a result, he decides to force Earth to pay attention for to ignore him is at its peril.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

134 - Day of Wrath (1943)

Day of Wrath is based on the true story of a witch hunt in 17th Century Denmark.

A woman convicted of being a witch is burned on the pyre but not before she reveals she is aware of a cover-up from local pastor Absalon Pedersson who saved his young wife's - Anne - mother from a similar fate.

Meanwhile, Absalon's son Martin returns home from abroad and he falls in love with Anne, with Anne wishing her husband dead in order to run away with Martin. After Absalon dies, will Martin take sides with his lover, or join his family and condemn her of witchcraft?

Monday, January 02, 2012

133 - Day of the Dead (1985)

Day of the Dead is the final film in George A. Romero's Trilogy of the Dead.

The dead have now taken over all of the known world with the exception of a small bunker in Florida. The inhabitants are a combination of scientists and the military who are divided on how best to deal with the invasion.

The scientists have been ordered to carry out experiments to try and find a cure or vaccine against being turned into zombies and the armed personnel must protect them during their tests.

After the leader of the military dies, the new man in charge decides things are better his way, forcing the scientists to wonder which is worse - death by zombie or death by mutiny.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

132 - Day For Night (1973)

Day For Night tells the stories surrounding the complications of creating the latest cliché film, Meet Pamela.

The director (Francois Truffaut) is being consistently harassed to get the film finished because the insurance is about to run out, while the actors all have their own problems forcing the director to try to stay ahead of the game by moving his schedule around.

One actress signs her contract while a few weeks pregnant, with her ballooning belly being a challenge to keep hidden. Another proposes while on set and is left devastated when she leaves him camping himself in his room. Combined with this, even the film's cat decides it would be better not to behave.