Archive for the ‘Film review’ Category

Oscar predictions 2014

As you probably know, we like going to movies. We’ve seen pretty much everything this year except The Wolf of Wall Street. I just couldn’t summon up the enthusiasm for a three hour film about unpleasant people. Three hours is just too long for a film. Let’s pray that it doesn’t win “Best Editing”, because they obviously didn’t bother. As one critic said “I lost interest in the movie during the third scene of bankers snorting cocaine from a hooker’s arse”. I’m sure Martin Scorsese doesn’t mind; this film has earned more money than every other movie he has made.

Anyway, I’ve take a few minutes to write down my predictions for the 8 top awards. This is obviously a pretty foolish thing to do, as by Sunday night I will likely be proved very wrong.

Best Film
There were a very good batch of movies in the last year, the best for many years. This will probably mean that the awards will be shared by multiple films, rather than one film taking 13 awards.

The best movie last year was undoubtedly 12 Years A Slave. Despite my wife’s protestations, the most original mainstream movie was Her. Both pictures are near perfect. Captain Phillips was good (and Tom Hanks should have been nominated for Best Actor). Philomena, Nebraska, Dallas Buyers Club and Gravity were also very strong. The subject matter of 12 Years A Slave is what usually win Oscars though and it is genuinely the best film.

Best Director
The Best Director nominations are always strange. You would think that the director of the Best Film would always win Best Director, but it is rarely the case (sometimes they don’t even get nominated – Argo). I suspect that artist-turned-director Steve McQueen will be unlucky and that Alfonso Cuaron will win for Gravity. The hardship stories of how long it took Cuaron to be able to make this film will influence the judges. But it should be Steve McQueen.

Best Actor
My favourite actor currently is Matthew McConnaughey. He should have won last year for Mud, a vastly underrated film. In Dallas Buyers Club, he did what Best Actors do to win an Oscar; he suffered for his art, losing a huge amount of weight to be believable as an AIDS-inflicted bigot turned pharmacy saviour in Dallas Buyers Club.

Best Actress
Most Oscars are won by movies released in December, but the nailed on certainty for Best Actress is Cate Blanchett for Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine (released in the Summer). She chewed the furniture and then some.

Best Supporting Actor
This should be won by first time actor, Barkhad Abdi, for his terrifying performance in Captain Phillips. The supporting categories are often close though and Michael Fassbender for 12 Years A Slave and Jared Leto for Dallas Buyers Club also have fine chances. I think it should be Abdi, but I suspect Leto might win it.

Best Supporting Actress
My bet is Lupita Nyongo for 12 Years A Slave, but it might be current darling, Jennifer Lawrence, for the inexorable American Hustle or even Sally Hawkins for Blue Jamine.

Best Original Screenplay
I would really like it to be Her, an original idea that keeps innovating.

Best adapted Screenplay
Again, the Best Picture should win best screenplay so I’m pitching for 12 Years A Slave

I’m sure people will score my predictions come Monday morning. Happy to take others’ thoughts in the comments though.


The opposite of a bucket list

People regularly compile lists of 50 or 100 things you should do before you die – places to visit; films to see; books you really should read; and experiences you should have. The topic of this blog is 7 things I never want to do again in my life.

1. Go Whale Watching. I’ve done this at least twice in my life: once off the coastline of Maine; the second time off the coast of California. Now, undoubtedly, these are better places to see whales than in, say, Oklahoma…..but only just.

It seems to me that whale watching consists of getting in a fairly small boat for several hours. After a short period of time, about half of your party goes green with sickness and retreat inside the boat. They can’t wait for the experience to end. The other half isn’t so lucky. They get to point at objects on the far horizon. While it is quite fun to point at a random point in an excited way to see how many people also see the non-existent whale, you do eventually end up glimpsing a whale tail. At the end of the experience, you are left with very many photographs of the sea where allegedly there was once a whale. Whale watching is a waste of time; go and see Shamu instead.

2. Read The Bible. I’ve also done this twice. Now the Old Testament is pretty interesting in parts, but there is far too much begatting for my liking. The New Testament is just made up, and Paul is a bigot who would be too extreme even for Fox News.

3. Go to Disneyland. I have been to all the Disney properties around the globe; California twice; Florida too many times to remember; and Paris, Tokyo and Hong Kong once each. That’s it. I don’t need to do it again (sorry kids). I get that it’s magic; it’s definitely clever, but has anyone ever done the math(s) on how expensive it is? It cost about $400 for my family of four for one day at Magic Kingdom. At most times of the year when you get to take a vacation, the park is really crowded. Almost all of the lines quickly extend to over an hour in length. Maybe you will get to do 8 rides or features that are worth paying for. That’s $50 per feature.

4. Eat a Hershey’s chocolate bar. I’m sorry to break this to everyone, but they taste of vomit.

5. Eat at a Taco Bell. I only attempted to do this once. What a profoundly depressing experience that was. Utilitarian, dirty, ingredients seemingly sourced on the basis only of price. A friend of mine recently told me that he had once gone to Taco Bell but that they weren’t able to serve anyone. Apparently, their meat hose was blocked. Yeuch. Go to Willies or Chipotle instead.

6. Watch a Director’s cut movie or indeed any movie over 3 hours in length. Directors – You should be able to tell your story in 90 to 100 minutes (2 hours max). Producers – Fewer people go to very long films. Cut the film and see your revenues rise. I won’t be seeing Wolf of Wall Street.

7. Go to Las Vegas. Where to start? Let’s start with the positive elements. I like the brash nature of the shows, especially the magic ones. I like that the airport is near to the Strip.

Now, let’s move on to the debit column:
i) Incessant noise everywhere and at all times of day and night. The first two occasions that we went there, we checked out and left the city early. Seeing Las Vegas in my rear view mirror were my favourite memories.
ii) What is the point of a slot machine? It’s just a mechanism designed for you to waste your time. You will eventually lose all of your money. I just can’t see the joy in holding a large cup of grubby quarters and putting them into a machine, or of playing long enough for someone to come up to you to offer you a comp (lementary drink)….Especially, when you are obliged to pay a tip greater than the value of the drink.
iii) The length of the buffet lines at any time you typically would eat. The only more depressing experience is the quality of food from most of these buffets, above that of Taco Bell but only just.
iv) There are some seriously long walks either inside the hotel or between hotels. It doesn’t look too far because of perspective; the length of your walk just looks short compared to the huge size of your hotel destination. Also, I don’t much appreciate all of the fliers for girls thrust in your hand or strewn on the sidewalk.

Besides, I was married there.

I am now preparing myself for all of the responses from Shamu-lovers, Vegas residents, bible-bashers, Micky fans, aficionados of long films, smore gourmands and, of course, my wife. The only fans who won’t object are Taco-Bell lovers (because they can’t read).

Going to the movies

Lorna and I have always been big movie buffs. When we lived in London, we saw 150-200 films a year for many years. We also started a film club which met every month. The principle behind this club was that one member of the club had to show two films with a theme to the rest of the club and also write a short essay before the screening on that theme. It was A for Anouk Aimee; B for Warren Beatty; C for Courtroom Dramas; D for Brian DePalma; E for Extra-Terrestrials; F for Fantasy; G for Cary Grant; H for the Hays Code etc. We did the alphabet twice and it was fun. We saw many films that we wouldn’t have chosen ourselves and expanded our film literacy.

We then moved out of London and had children. The cost of babysitting significantly reduced our desire to go to the flix, so we installed a cinema downstairs in the basement. As the children got older, we introduced the children to all sorts of movies and caught up with the films we had missed from the children’s infant years.

In Hong Kong, it was easy and cheap to see films and we would again go twice a week or more. It was great to watch more Asian films (Japanese, Korean, Chinese), none of them the type that were screened at the Guildford Odeon.

When we moved to Atlanta, we moved within 5 minutes of 22 movie screens of movies. It wasn’t a deliberate choice, just a happy coincidence.

So what’s different about going to the movies in America? A few things:

1. There are fewer local adverts. I miss the local adverts that UK or HK show for the local Tandoori and jewellers. It’s mostly corporate adverts here. Actually, as we don’t subscribe to American TV, it’s good for us to see a few American adverts.
2. The food is similar, but the popcorn is sold in bigger buckets – containers genuinely the size of small dustbins. Even Nancy cant eat her way through a bucket. Usually there is a choice only of salt or butter. I confess that we smuggle in food and drink from home, something that in the UK you probably wouldn’t get away with.
3. The price is quite a bit lower ($8 or £5 per ticket). One of the movie theatres near us is a $1 cinema. It shows movies that are a few weeks old. I’ve not been to this one yet, as I always have seen then first time around
4. Audience reaction is more vocal in the US. It’s not that unusual here for people to burst into applause here (if the film is good). We went to see the latest Lasse Hallstrom film a couple of weeks ago. Unlike some of his previous films, it wasn’t great. The audience of mainly High School children loved it however. They screamed at the scary bits and reacted to every turn of the plot.

They also have a drive in movie theatre in (Southern) Atlanta, something of a rarity sadly in America now. I love drive in movies. People arrive very early at the drive in movie here with deck chairs and huge picnics. I see that there will be some dive-in movies in the summer. What could be better than watching an after dark showing of Jaws in a pool?

Film review – Police, adjective

A better Romanian film about linguistics and semantics you could not hope to see.

One third of the audience left before the end, but I quite enjoyed it. Lorna fell asleep (and snored).

I’m looking forward to the sequel Police, preposition

Film review – Take the money and run

“Random” is Tilly’s latest (overused) word. It’s used to describe something that is different from normal structures. It’s not pejorative, but more typically a statement describing something that is new to her. Above all however, it is very much an apt description of Woody Allen’s debut as a director that we all watched at the weekend.

“Take the money and run” is a mock documentary of an incompetent bank robber (played by Woody Allen). I saw it when I was about 15 and remember clearly laughing too loudly at many of the sketches. This type of humour was new to me and some of the scenes were indelibly carved into my memory. For example, the scene where he plays the cello in a marching band and another when his escape from jail is thwarted when a gun he has carved from soap froths in the rain.

The film generated quite a few laughs from our family. However, the structure of the film is poor. Allegedly, the first Director’s cut of the film was unwatchable, and Ralph Rosenblum was brought in as editor to bring greater structure into a series of sketches. They continued to work together until Annie Hall, a genuine masterpiece.

film review – Sky kids (aka Flyboys)

I’d never heard of this film, but it was the best available family DVD at the library according to IMDB.

The film tells the story of two young teenagers and their adventures with the mob and aeroplanes. It has a great plot (which you will not be able to guess), good action sequence, some good laughs and the more sensitive of my girls cried.

It’s the second film from a South African film maker that I had never heard of (Devilliers). I plan to rent his first film and will see a future film on the basis of this effort. I don’t think it had a wide release on issue and may not yet be available in the US. Given the rubbish that is in every multiplex, this is a travesty.

8 out of 10. Good family fare.

film review – Salt

With bags of cheap popcorn secreted about our persons, the four of us slipped into the theatre to see Salt this afternoon. I’ve been doing my best to educate my daughters so that they don’t just request RomComs when they date (much) later in life. We’ve watched lots of Bond, all the Bournes and 2 different varieties of Italian Job (remake is very different and not as bad as you might guess incidentally).

Salt deserves better reviews than it has attracted so far. Originally written as a vehicle for Tom Cruise, they changed the gender for the eponymous CIA agent and Angelina carries this action movie. There’s a lot to like. It keeps a tight fast pace throughout; there’s bags of tension; plot development is far from obvious; and it’s only 100 minutes long. I must have watched a thousand car chases, but this film managed to produce an original chase section.

My only qualm was the unsubtle way in which they set up the sequel. Don’t film makers realise that a film should have an original ending too? One of my friends in the film world talks about franchises as if they are the Holy Grail. I’m sure they are for the money men, but they seem to be the enemy of creativity and non-cliched film making.

This is no Citizen Kane, but it will hit the spot if you like the Bourne trilogy. 8 out of 10.