Tuesday, July 31, 2012

188 - Goldfinger (1964)

Bond is back to investigate a potentially illegal gold trade.

Auric Goldfinger (Gert Fröbe) has had an obsession with gold since he was young and this has led him to acquire a vast fortune in the precious metal. His latest plan is to increase the value of his own stock.

Bond (Sean Connery) must thwart Goldfinger's plan while dodging Goldfinger's Korean chauffeur, Oddjob (Harold Sakata), and his personal pilot Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman).

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Dr. No (1962)

Theatrical Poster
Source: Wikipedia
James Bond debuts against a scientist who destroys American rockets.

After the British Intelligence chief in Kingston, Jamaica is killed, James Bond (Sean Connery), a British secret agent for MI6, is sent to investigate.

As he digs deeper, he begins to realise that a mysterious island surrounded in local myth might have something to do with it. He teams up with Felix Leiter (Jack Lord), a CIA operative and various local people to help solve the crime.

Friday, July 27, 2012

187 - The Gold Rush (1925)

Blu-Ray Box
The tramp looks for gold.

It's 1898 and the height of the Klondike Gold Rush. The tramp (Charlie Chaplin) heads for Alaska to join the hunt but finds himself stranded in a cabin with a prospector known as a Big Jim (Mack Swain) and a dangerous criminal (Tom Murray) who is on the run.

Later, he finds himself in the nearest town where he attempts to woo Georgia (Georgia Hale) but consistently misreads her signals.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

186 - Gods and Monsters (1998)

The controversial life of Frankenstein's director, James Whale.

James Whale (Ian McKellen), director of Frankenstein, has long since retired from film and is now living at home cared for by his housekeeper, Hanna (Lynn Redgrave). Following a stroke he frequently has flashbacks to moments in his life, triggered by significant present day events.

He regularly entertains young gentlemen who wish to discuss Frankenstein with him, but it is his bizarre relationship with the new gardener, Clayton Boone (Brendan Fraser) that concerns Hanna the most.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Batman Trilogy (Christopher Nolan)

On the 20th of July 2012 The Dark Knight Rises was released, finishing Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy. He is rumoured to be involved with a film based around the Justice League - DC's attempt to compete with Marvel's The Avengers - but for now, Nolan can put to bed the series that he was hired to direct all the way back in January 2003.

Christian Bale as Batman
The series appropriately begins with Batman Begins, detailing the origins of how Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) became Batman. The opening few scenes showing Wayne's phobia of bats and how he later embraced his fear really encompassed the series in terms of effect and emotional impact.

Along with Bale as Batman, other long term stars were recruited. Michael Caine signed up as Wayne's butler Alfred, Morgan Freeman as loyal tech guru Lucius Fox, Gary Oldman as police sergeant James Gordon and Katie Holmes as love interest Rachel Dawes. All of these form the backbone of the cast, but they were joined by other well known faces as the series progressed.

Despite a stellar cast, Nolan's opening film didn't release to a huge fanfare, but it did go on to take nearly $50 million in its opening weekend. Not bad seeing as the Marvel train hadn't yet started rolling and films based around comic books were not yet all the rage.

Nolan soldiered on to create his next film, The Dark Knight. He drew on the success of Brokeback Mountain and brought in Heath Ledger to play the Joker, along with retaining Cillian Murphy's services as Scarecrow. Aaron Eckhart joined the line-up as Harvey Dent, Gotham's district attorney. Katie Holmes was replaced by Maggie Gyllenhaal - keeping the Rachel Dawes character as part of the famous lineup.

The Dark Knight promised to be far darker than the original, with the destruction of parts of Gotham in Batman Begins opening the door to transform the city. It was also more heavily marketed that its predecessor, but before its release it would gain yet more publicity.

Heath Ledger as Joker
All variants of superlatives have described Heath Ledger's disturbing performance as The Joker and some have even speculated that it was this mindset that caused Ledger's demise. Ledger was tragically found dead on the 22nd of January 2008 - 6 months before the release of The Dark Knight. Overnight, even casual moviegoers knew that The Dark Knight was a film they needed to see, even to get a glimpse at Ledger's final hurrah. Ledger - rightly - went on to win the Academy Award for Best Actor posthumously.

With all the extra publicity, The Dark Knight created its own record book for highest grossing film, quickest grossing film and most amounts of theatres showing the film on release. To say it was a success would be to do it an injustice. It took a ludicrous amount of money and earned Nolan a free passage to do what he wanted with the third film.

Nolan finished writing the basic story for The Dark Knight Rises in 2008, shortly after The Dark Knight's release. He moved on to other projects including the critically acclaimed Inception, while his scriptwriters polished off the screenplay.

Tom Hardy as Bane
He continued to use strong actors - from Inception, Nolan took Tom Hardy and used him as another of Batman's nemeses, Bane. Anne Hathaway was also brought on board as Selina Kyle, alias Catwoman.

On July 20th 2012, The Dark Knight Rises was released. Empire Magazine made Nolan's trilogy only their fifth star film series, following Apu, Lord of the Rings, Toy Story and the Trilogy of the Dead into the echelons of cinematic greatness. Despite the hype, the film's opening weekend results suffered because of a shooting in Colorado.

While it didn't receive the same critical reception as The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises was given mostly positive reviews. Bane was praised for being the psychical and mental opposite of The Joker. Of course, it is too early to be talking about the award season for the final part of the trilogy, but undoubtedly it will be nominated for some - even if it falls short.

All that can be said for certain is that the entire series - as a whole - set a new bar for comic book adaptations. Nolan rewrote Batman's past in the original reboot, and battered all similar films into oblivion with The Dark Knight before ending the series in an acceptable and sombre note.

A truly remarkable trilogy.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Theatrical Poster
Source: Wikipedia
Batman must save Gotham for the final time.

Eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, and Harvey Dent is being paraded as the saviour of Gotham with Batman being exiled to a distant memory. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become a recluse, but is roused by the appearance of Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), a master thief.

Wayne learns of an attack on the stock exchange by terrorist Bane (Tom Hardy) that leaves him penniless, and he finds his world crumbling down around him. As he finds that Gotham needs Batman once more, he must find the mental strength to rise up and join the fight.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Godfather Trilogy (Francis Ford Coppola)

Franchise Logo
In 1969, a relatively unknown - but, for the books he had written, well received - writer called Mario Puzo published a book called The Godfather. He used his experience as a journalist to learn about the ways of the Mafia, but his ultimate principal with the book was to make money.

Upon release it spent months on the New York Times Best Seller List and it wasn't long before the big boys from Hollywood came calling. In 1972, The Godfather was released. Directed by relative unknown Francis Ford Coppola, it starred Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone, the head of one of the five (Mafia) families in New York.

Other members of the cast included Al Pacino, who played Corleone's youngest son Michael, Diane Keaton as Michael's love interest Kay and Robert Duvall as Corleone's unofficially adopted son and family lawyer Tom Hagen. Stellar by today's standards, but it was only Duvall that had any real acting credits worth noting.

Like the book, on success it was an instant hit. Not only opening to critical acclaim, it broke countless financial records held by 1939's Gone With The Wind, and later became the highest grossing film of all time. Ironically, it then went on to lose this record a mere three years later to Spielberg's Jaws. The Godfather had truly set a new benchmark for film-makers.

Marlon Brando as The Godfather
Coppola had award ceremonies coming out of his ears, including three Academy Awards (and eight further nominations). As a result, he was now the hottest director in town and just two years later he released another Academy Award nominated film - The Conversation.

Naturally this success led to a dangerous moment for his career - he was approached to make a sequel to The Godfather. Sequels are renowned for being the younger brothers of cash cow films that end up as a flop at the cinema (or, in some cases are straight to DVD releases). For a rising director such as Coppola, this would prove to be the pinnacle moment of his career.

Filming for The Godfather Part II began immediately after The Conversation, with Coppola being afforded far more freedom that in the original's shoot. Al Pacino returned (after having parts of the script rewritten for him), along with many of the others from The Godfather. Marlon Brando declined the offer of a single scene and Robert De Niro took over the role of the younger Vito Corleone.

By keeping the backbone of the story the same, along with many of the actors, The Godfather Part II changed very little in terms of action, but offered a lot of new content that would make fans and newcomers alike fall in love with the films. Again, as with its predecessor, Part II was released to overwhelming critical acclaim.

Al Pacino in The Godfather Part II
In terms of Academy Awards, Part II trumped The Godfather with six wins and a further five nominations. It won Best Picture in the process, fending off fierce competition from Chinatown and Coppola's own The Conversation, proving that it wasn't just a weak year in cinema.

At this point in the series, Coppola and Puzo had decided that the story they wanted to tell was finished - despite increasing pressure from Paramount Pictures to produce a third instalment. Coppola, with his new found fame had other blockbusters to make including his Vietnam War epic Apocalypse Now where he reunited with Godfather actors Brando and Duvall. However in 1990, following the financial failure of New York Stories, Coppola was persuaded to return to the story of Michael Corleone.

Once again, he teamed up with original author Mario Puzo and penned the script for The Godfather Part III. In 1990, 16 years after the success of Part II, The Godfather Part III was released. Immediately it was under scrutiny for the success of the first two films, and in comparison it was a critical flop, achieving mostly average reviews.

The legacy of The Godfather lives on though - and not just in the world of parody. With the rise of the Internet, The Godfather and Part II shot straight to the top of the Internet Movie Database rankings (arguably one of the most highly respected average rating websites), and currently occupy first and third spot respectively.

As for me, I pretty much followed the trend. Initially, The Godfather was  a shock to me. I found Brando difficult to understand (I agreed with Al Pacino's view that it should have been he, not Brando that was awarded the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1972) but it didn't take away from the gritty storyline and iconic scenes. I was far more relaxed during the sequels because I knew what to expect. Part II was, for me, the best film in the series. Part III was acceptable to provide closure on the series, but had a bit of a ludicrous storyline that made it understandably the runt of the family.

I do have one regret though; despite constantly seeing Mario Puzo's novel on sale I have yet to buy it. That needs to change.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Godfather Part III (1990)

Theatrical Poster
Source: Wikipedia
The Corleone family attempts to go legitimate.

With Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) advancing in years, he begins to see the value of his close family, including his daughter Mary (Sofia Coppola), son (Franc D'Ambrosio) and long divorced wife, Kay (Diane Keaton). As a result, he has put the family on the straight and narrow, leaving behind his life of crime.

Meanwhile, his nephew Vincent Mancini (Andy Garcia) argues with the man who has taken over the illegitimate activities, Joey Zasa (Joe Mantegna), proving that going straight will be more difficult than Michael originally thought.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

185 - The Godfather Part II (1974)

The new Godfather lays down his law.

Now under the control of Vito's son Michael (Al Pacino) who is aided by his lawyer Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall), the Corleone family consolidates its grip on the Mafia by extending connections in Cuba and Las Vegas. Following the violence at the end of The Godfather, Michael learns that their is repercussions to his actions.

Meanwhile, there is a flashback to Vito Corleone's (Robert De Niro) arrival in America as a child. He quickly moves to establish himself as a feared leader, eradicating his enemies by necessity and building a huge base of friends.

Friday, July 13, 2012

It Don't Matter If It's Black And White

This post made a visit on Arlee Bird's Tossing It Out one week ago. He asked for guest bloggers... I was fortunate enough to sneak in quickly. Arlee Bird is, according to his bio, 'a juggler of words and phrases'. He also set up the A-Z Challenge single handedly a few years ago, so you might go so far as to say he's an all-round cool guy. So, if you have a few moments, pay him a visit and listen to his words of wisdom.

Last Christmas, my grandfather was looking over Empire's 5-star films. He got excited when he flicked through to 'G' and found a 1926 film I'd never heard of by the name of The General. I assume that this was probably because it was a film that featured at the beginning of his movie-watching life and had fond memories of how 'it was better in his day'.

I reviewed this film on Sunday, 17th June this year. I had a note in the review stating that I'd never heard of Buster Keaton, but here's a review of the film that my grandfather was raving about. Within an hour and a half of the review going live, I was immediately lambasted for having never heard of Buster Keaton. The review was positive but the crime was already committed - I admitted to having never heard of one of the great silent actors.

I would rank The General in the top 5 films I've watched from the 500 out of those I'd never seen before (alongside Casablanca and Citizen Kane, along with the surprise and probably controversial entries of Amelie and The Crucible). Despite being a film about a train going from right-to-left and then left-to-right (the actors famously changed costume after filming a scene and running the other direction), there was more to the story than that. It is about Keaton's daredevil stunts being pulled off with immaculate ease with a loosely connected romantic twist. A scene of him sitting on the runners of a train was immensely dangerous, but only if you understand how difficult it is to start a train without spinning the wheels.

Buster Keaton's famous stunt - simple, dangerous and very funny

After watching the film, I showed my 14-year-old brother the DVD case and told him that this was a film he needed to watch. Unsurprisingly, he turned up his nose. Not because he doesn't trust my judgement but because I would have done exactly the same. After showing him Keaton-on-the-runners, I then showed him another 4 minute scene I'd found on YouTube. When this was over I was ordered to return to fetch him the DVD box - he wanted to know what happened. Later, he realised that he'd just enjoyed a film that is 71 years old than him.

Of course, The General isn't the only pre-1940's film that I've enjoyed since starting the challenge. The Cabinet of Caligari (1920) I awarded 4 stars - which was the same for the Russian epic Battleship Potemkin (1925) and Douglas Fairbanks' The Black Pirate (1926). Moving into the 1930's and the majority of films have been given 5 stars and thus agreeing with Empire's reviews, including another silent masterpiece - Charlie Chaplin's City Lights (1931). In fact, the only pre-1940's film I haven't awarded 4 or 5 stars to is Alexander Nevsky (1938) which dubiously holds the honour of Worst Film Played Through The Family DVD Player.

Obviously I am watching the pick of the crop according to Empire Magazine and there are bound to be a few rotten tomatoes out there, but at the end of the day a film review is just one person's opinion and their view is not necessarily one I might share. How is it then that these golden oldies regularly score so high in my view too? More importantly, why is nobody watching these classics any more?

Undoubtedly TV companies could pick up cheap deals to broadcast these older films, or potentially show out of copyright films without costing them a penny. Many though, choose not to for fear of losing out in hotly contested ratings battles leaving these films to be picked up by collectors and shown in local cinema clubs. Meanwhile, James Bond plays on a continuous loop picking up the latest film when it becomes available. Could we at least have a chance of seeing the origins of cinema rather than Sean Connery being served his hundredth Vodka Martini this week?
This is where you have to ride if you drink too many Vodka Martinis

It's all well and good the youngest generation enjoying the latest 3D film to be shown at their local IMAX - in films such as Prometheus and The Avengers the graphics are simply brilliant - but films are more than just about the latest technology. Chaplin, Keaton and co. didn't have IMAX, 3D, colour or even sound and their movies are just as watchable today as they were eighty years ago.

Over the next month I challenge you to watch at least one pre-1940 film. Here's a link for the out-of-copyright The General available for free on YouTube so if you are running low on imagination, you still have no excuse.

Don't make my mistake of forgetting where the latest films came from. Spread the love for the origins of cinema.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

184 - The Godfather (1972)

The Don is soon to retire, but there seems to be no-one competent to take over the family business.

Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) is a generous man; he grants wishes to those that have asked (nicely) on the day of his daughter's wedding, and expects only one favour in return - to be there when he needs them. Despite this generosity, as the head of the family of the New York Mafia he is a man under huge scrutiny, not least from the other four crime families in the city.

Corleone realises he is an aging man and wishes to hand over control of the family business. However, his son Michael (Al Pacino), freshly discharged from the army, has no interest, preferring to spend time with his girlfriend, Kay Adams (Diane Keaton).

Monday, July 09, 2012

183 - Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

Four salesmen compete for a car, with the loser being awarded the sack.

In the sales game, leads are everything. In a Chicago office selling land, Shelley Levene (Jack Lemmon), Ricky Roma (Al Pacino), Dave Moss (Ed Harris), and George Aaronow (Alan Arkin) have been told that they must sell as much as they can - or face the sack.

The stakes are high, and someone is willing to break the law and in order to get at the golden "Glengarry" leads, stealing them from under the nose of office boy John Williamson (Kevin Spacey).

Just remember the ABC of sales techniques - Always Be Closing.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

Teaser Poster
Source: Wikipedia
Spider-Man faces off against The Lizard.

Following the disappearance of his parents, Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is brought up by his Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen).

He craves information on his parents whereabouts, and when he finds a bag linking them to Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) he tracks the scientist down to Oscorp where he is working on attempting to prolong the life of his boss.

Tragedy strikes soon after for Parker and he finds himself transformed into Spider-Man, seeking revenge and justice.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

The Millennium Trilogy

Cover Art for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Source: Wikipedia
The Millennium Trilogy tells the story of Lisbeth Salander, a genius computer hacker declared incompetent by the state, and Mikael Blomkvist, a investigative journalist working for Millennium magazine. Written by Swedish journalist Stieg Larrson, the manuscript for his books were found on his computer after his death and released under permission from his father and brother.

I became interested in The Millennium Trilogy when I noticed that the Swedish film adaptation of first of the novels, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, was listed on the Empire 5-star 500 list. The books have been heavily marketed in the United Kingdom so I picked myself up a copy of the trilogy and raced through them before I got to the film.

I know this blog tends to focus mostly on film, but I figured that I ought to say something about the books before moving onto the movies. I would thoroughly recommend them. At present, I don't have any of the books - they have all been leant to friends and colleagues. Obviously, I don't know how the words and phrases translate over from Swedish, but each book is an edge of your seat thriller you don't want to put down.

After reading the novels I set myself the challenge of watching the Swedish adaptation of the trilogy, along with the American take on The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. I watched the Swedish films with my family, beginning with The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo on a Thursday. The following Monday I was asked to show The Girl Who Played With Fire and we concluded the trilogy with The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest on the Tuesday. Over the weekend between the first two films, I watched the American adaptation with my girlfriend. Four films, six days.

Now, I'm not a huge fan of comparing films to books or vice versa for that matter. I feel that each medium should remain separate and tell the story in its own right. What I will say though, is that because of the in depth story, none of the films capture the book in its entirety.

The film that does come closest is actually the American version. Most of the characters are translated onto the big screen and the story is pretty accurate to the events in the book. Bizarrely though, the American version is the worst film. Turns out, trying to make a film to please fans of a book doesn't always work.

This takes me back to another film trilogy (although soon to be quadrilogy) based on a series of books - Robert Ludlum's Bourne. Having thoroughly enjoyed the books, I watched the films and thought they were all excellent too. Thing is, barring a few moments in the first story, the film and book series arc off at completely different tangents.

That's where the Swedish adaptations come in. All three films exceed two hours running time (the first and last even sneak an extra half an hour over, in fact) and they still don't have time to put all of Larsson's vision into moving pictures.

Where they do succeed is in making the best of what they have. The script follows the skeleton of Larsson's writing but changes vital points to make it work for the big screen. The actors, relatively unknown to the English-speaking world upon release, took the parts they were given and made them their own. Noomi Rapace has even gone on to forge a successful career in Hollywood working for Ridley Scott on Prometheus and starring in the Sherlock Holmes sequel.

On the other hand, although he was always guaranteed to sell DVDs, choosing the man who will go down in history as James Bond to play Mikael Blomkvist wasn't the wisest decision in Hollywood's casting department. Still, with two sequels on the card, Daniel Craig might be able to shake some of the suave 007 image and replace it with an investigative and horny European. No, not really much to change there, then.

It's a bit upsetting now, though. The last six weeks of my life have revolved around the literary genius of Stieg Larsson and this brief essay, bashed out in half an hour at 1am signals the end. I'll be sure to revisit it at some point, and with rumours of a fourth, unfinished manuscript on Larsson's hard drive, here's to hoping Salander can install Asphyxia2.0 and retrieve it for the world.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Theatrical Poster
Source: Wikipedia
A disgraced journalist investigates a 40 year old crime.

Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), editor of the political Millennium magazine,has just been found guilty of libel against respected journalist Hans Erik Wennerstrom.

Under the advice of computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), Harold Vanger offers Blomkvist a secure job looking into the disappearance of his niece almost forty years ago.

As Blomkvist delves into the case, he enlists the help of Salander in the hope that together they can solve it once and for all.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest (2009)

Theatrical Poster
Source: Wikipedia
Lisbeth Salander awaits her trial.

As Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) sits recovering in a hospital bed, her nemesis is also recovering just down the corridor. The police are waiting for her recovery, however, ready for her trial under the charge of attempted murder.

Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) is determined to prove Salander's innocence, dedicating an entire issue of Millennium to ensure justice prevails. As he digs deeper into the the mystery he begins to piece together a picture involving a fourty year Government cover up.