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December 2011 December 31, 2011

Posted by badblokebob in : Editorials, progress reports, year-end summaries, 2011 , 5 comments

2011 is over. 2012 has just begun. But did I make it to 100 in time?

If you follow me on twitter you know

I did! Just. Three films in the final 24 hours of the year, the last of them finishing just an hour before midnight, see me reach 100 exactly this year. Phew!

In addition to that, six of the finishing eight features listed below were watched in the final three days of the year. Not quite as close to the wire as I had it back in 2008 (11 films in six days, seven of them in the last three), but I didn’t think I was going to get there.

So, my closing salvo included…
The Spider Woman
#93 Diner (1982)
#94 Nativity! (2009)
#94a The Gruffalo’s Child (2011)
#95 Hotel for Dogs (2009)Winnie the Pooh
#96 The Spider Woman (1944)
#97 Faintheart (2008)
#98 The Man from Earth (2007)
#99 Winnie the Pooh (2011)
#100 The A-Team: Explosive Extended Edition (2010)

Where does that leave us in the grand scheme of thi— well, this blog?

Thus, 2011 ties with 2008 as my third-best year. Hurrah! Though to put it another way, 2011 ties with 2008 as my second-worst year, so, y’know…

It does represent the greatest drop off in potential, though. At the halfway point of the year I was further ahead than I’d ever been — in best-ever-year 2007 I’d made it to 60; in second-best-ever-year 2010 I’d made it to 64; but this year I’d reached 68. In tied-with-this-year 2008 I’d only limped to 46. Clearly, I need to keep momentum up into the year’s back half.

But hey, 2012’s another year — who knows what’ll happen next time round!

But before all that…

Screw 2012, I’m not done with 2011 yet! There’s my great big long list of everything I’ve watched still to come, along with all those lovely statistics, and the list of films I didn’t see, and — best of all — the statistics.

Oh, I mentioned those? I love the statistics. But almost as good, my bottom five and top ten for the year.

And having to push hard to cross the finish line means I haven’t even made a start on any of that. This’ll be interesting… for me, anyway — you just have to sit tight ’til it all turns up. Probably not that much later than I usually get round to it.

Until then… Happy New Year!

#89: Gambit (1966) December 29, 2011

Posted by badblokebob in : Comedy, Thriller, Crime, 4 stars, 1960s, 2011 , 2 comments

Ronald Neame | 104 mins | download | 2.35:1 | USA / English | U

GambitI decided to watch Gambit, which I’d never heard of, after it was recommended on twitter by a film journalist and he was greeted with a seemingly-never-ending chorus of “thank you” tweets — my curiosity was suitably piqued. And I’m glad, because Gambit is a ton of fun.

Gambit is, as you may have guessed, distinctly underrated. The huge advantage of this is that you’re not very likely to have had all the twists spoiled, which is wonderful news! Indeed, because the biggest twist is near the start, it’s pretty hard to review without giving it away — as the Psycho-referencing poster promises. But I’ll do my best. Honestly though, avoid other reviews, just in case. I don’t want to oversell it because it’s probably not of quite the same magnitude as, say, The Sixth Sense, or indeed Psycho (pick either of the big twists there), but it is a good’un.

So, it stars Michael Caine as a con artist, and he ropes Shirley MacLaine into his latest scheme for a very specific reason. Once underway, it’s a very funny film, with great turns from MacLaine and Caine. The latter is more subtle, but he’s underplaying beautifully and it really pays off. The humour lures you into a kind of false sense of security, because some bits are very tense (at least, I thought so). You become suitably attached to these characters, giving a nail-biting boost to scenes of them pulling off their con. This is true of the climax in particular, where naturally it’s all on the knife-edge of falling apart.

MacLaine CaineTwists in con movies are par for the course, of course, but here it’s not just the opening that has one: there’s also a salvo in the closing minutes, just to keep you on your toes. You may guess one or two as they rush up on you, but perhaps not all of them. Though as I’ve just warned you they’re coming you stand a better chance than me.

Gambit is imperfect — a romantic angle springs up out of nowhere in the closing minutes that could have done with a bit (well, a lot) more development earlier in the film — but flaws like that barely matter in the face of all the fun it has. I know I haven’t said much, but trust me, that’s for the best. If an amusing heist/con movie from the ’60s starring Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine sounds like your kind of thing, read no more, just watch it. I did, and I loved it.

4 out of 5

Gambit placed 10th on my list of The Ten Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2011, which can be read in full here.

A pair of comedies - one with snow! December 24, 2011

Posted by badblokebob in : Editorials, Comedy, British films, 2011 , add a comment

It’s Christmas Eve! Hurrah! All the best of the season to you, and that kind of palaver.

As I have no Christmassy films stacked up in my big pile of things I need to get round to reviewing, I’ve decided the nearest I can offer to the Christmas spirit is a pair of British comedies (comedies being kinda jolly, see), one of which has snow, which is always Christmassy. Except when it’s just at the North Pole. Like in this film. Oh shh, it’s the best I could do.

Without further witter, then, here are some reviews. Snow first, quality second — it is Christmas after all…

Beyond the Pole

Unfortunately it’s only mildly amusing rather than laugh-out-loud hilarious. Worse still, it’s occasionally a bit thumb-twiddly as the inevitable plot points inevitably happen. In fact, it goes a bit OTT with implausibility for my liking… On the bright side, it doesn’t go on about the green agenda too much

Read my full review here.

Cruise of the Gods

Though the film pokes fun (fairly good-naturedly) at sci-fi obsessives, the underlying story here is about a man overshadowed by his past. In this Brydon gives a strong performance — I think he’s a better actor than he’s normally given credit for — and he’s ably supported by Corden in particular

Read my full review here.

Merry Christmas!

#92: Cruise of the Gods (2002)

Posted by badblokebob in : Comedy, Drama, Sci-fi, 2000s, 4 stars, British films, films about films, 2011 , add a comment

Declan Lowney | 90 mins | TV | 16:9 | UK / English | 12

Cruise of the GodsI’ve debated in the past where the line between what counts as a film and what counts as a TV production falls in this day and age, when a one-off feature-length event programme on a major network could easily outstrip a small theatrical film in both filmic spectacle and budget. So it really comes down to intention and/or place of release: if it’s made for TV, it’s TV; if it’s made for cinema or direct-to-DVD, it’s a film; if it’s made for the cinema but doesn’t really get released and goes straight to TV, God alone knows.

Cruise of the Gods is a clear cut case: it was made for TV, it was shown on TV, it’s a one-off TV programme. But I’m going to say screw that and bend my rules a little, just this once*, because I’ve definitely seen ‘proper films’ that aren’t as good as this (naturally, that could be said of a lot of TV) and, well, because I really liked it and wanted to share.

Rob Brydon stars as the lead actor from a cheap ’80s BBC sci-fi show who’s now working as a hotel porter, while his co-star (Steve Coogan) is off in America starring in popular TV series Sherlock Holmes In Miami. (A modern-day TV series update of Sherlock Holmes? What a horrid idea only the Americas would do!) When he’s invited on a fan cruise (like a convention, but on a cruise ship — these things do exist), an initially reluctant Brydon accepts because he needs some money. There he meets fans of the long-dead show, played by the likes of a pre-Little Britain David Walliams and a pre-Gavin & Stacey James Corden. Events, as they say, unfold.

Cruise of the GodsThough the film pokes fun (fairly good-naturedly) at sci-fi obsessives, the underlying story here is about a man overshadowed by his past. In this Brydon gives a strong performance — I think he’s a better actor than he’s normally given credit for — and he’s ably supported by Corden in particular, though to say what gives his role such quality might spoil a twist. He’s another one who’s actually a very good, but it gets hidden beneath a public persona that led to such dross as that sketch show with James Corden.

The biggest twist, however, is that Coogan plays a nice character. There’s no surprise sting in the tail there, he’s just nice throughout. It’s weird.

As this is TV, the writer gets prominence over the director; indeed, the opening credits follow the title card with a just-as-big “by Tim Firth” credit, while Lowney’s name is relegated to the end credit scrawl. Such is the fate of many a TV director. Their careers have followed suit too: Firth went on to films like Calendar Girls, Kinky Boots and Confessions of a Shopaholic. (Before it he wrote, amongst other things, The Flint Street Nativity — which I probably last saw when it was on in 1999, but remember fondly — and Border Cafe, a forgotten mini-series which I’ve always vaguely remembered watching. I think this is the kind of thing that can happen with writers: they’re so often undervalued that you might end up seeing a lot of their stuff, almost to the point where it could be called following their career, without ever realising all those Cruise of the Godsdisparate things were penned by the same human being. Poor writers.) Lowney, meanwhile, has stuck to TV, with episodes of Happiness, Little Britain and Married Single Other (amongst others) to his name, and most recently some bits of Glastonbury 2011. (Poorer directors.) None of this tells you much about Cruise of the Gods, I’d just observed it all.

There was talk of this being remade as a film, again starring Brydon and Coogan. I don’t know if that’s still going ahead. Really, there’s no need: I think it’s an entertaining comedy and engrossing character drama as it is, easily on a par with similar-feeling British films (and easily exceeding others — Beyond the Pole, for instance). The only benefit would be wider exposure — people seem prepared to visit old films in a way that isn’t felt for most old TV, which is still seen as disposable and transitory by many. Their loss — they’re the ones missing stuff like this, while the more open-minded among us can find and enjoy it.

4 out of 5

* May happen again. ^

#91: Beyond the Pole (2009)

Posted by badblokebob in : Comedy, 2000s, adaptations, 2 stars, British films, 2011 , add a comment

David L. Williams | 87 mins | TV | 1.85:1 | UK / English | 15

Beyond the PoleAdapted from a cult Radio 4 series, Beyond the Pole is a British mockumentary about “the first carbon neutral, vegetarian and organic expedition ever to attempt the North Pole”, starring Stephen Mangan Off Green Wing and other recognisable faces.

In case it wasn’t clear, this is a comedy. Unfortunately it’s only mildly amusing rather than laugh-out-loud hilarious. Worse still, it’s occasionally a bit thumb-twiddly as the inevitable plot points inevitably happen. In fact, it goes a bit OTT with implausibility for my liking. The pair of polar ‘explorers’ are attempting this with no training at all? Their UK base/contact is a caravan in a field with some satellite dishes on top? The performances and shooting style are too grounded to sell this kind of thing to me. Most of the film is asking you to believe that this is, while clearly a comedy, still plausible, but some of these points don’t quite gel.

Even after that, it still goes a bit awry as the story heads into the third act. Events get too serious for the farcical comedy it started out as. I believe it’s possible to make that transition from comedy to meaningful, serious drama — often making the dramatic section all the more effective because it surprises you — but Beyond the Pole doesn’t manage it at all well.

On the bright side, it doesn’t go on about the green agenda too much, which I’d presumed would be half the point. Phone pole... see what I did there?While I’m all for informing people and reminding them Something Must Be Done, battering viewers round the head with it when they’re expecting to enjoy a nice comedy is perhaps not the best way to go about it.

It’s also impressively realised. It’s apparent low budget led me to assume we’d, a) see very little of the actual trip, and b) what we did see would be all inside-a-tent and green-screened. But no, it was really shot on floating sea ice off the coast of Greenland, and it makes for a highly effective polar landscape. Good work, filmmakers.

Sadly, being impressed they managed to get some good locations and a recognisable cast (Mark Benton! Helen Baxendale! Alexander Skarsgard! (Random.) Lots of newsreaders from the BBC, Newsnight, Sky — clearly someone had favours to call in) does not make up for the lack of serious laughs in a comedy. Oh well.

2 out of 5

Beyond the Pole featured on my list of The Five Worst Films I Saw in 2011, which can be read in full here.

#84: The Brothers Bloom (2008) December 22, 2011

Posted by badblokebob in : Comedy, Drama, Romance, 2000s, 4 stars, Adventure, 2011 , 1 comment so far

Rian Johnson | 114 mins | Blu-ray | 2.40:1 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13

The Brothers Bloom“Crikey, time flies!” I thought when I compiled this listing and saw that The Brothers Bloom was released in 2008. Somehow it felt like it was only last year, not three (or, if at the start of 2008, closer to four) years ago.

Then I happened to spot the UK release date on IMDb: June 2010. That explains that then.

From the director of the acquired taste that was Brick, The Brothers Bloom looks like it might be a little more mainstream: it’s got a lead cast who are all Oscar nominees, and half of them winners too, and it has a con/heist plot — always popular — and a light tone — a very funny and enjoyable trailer, I thought. But while it’s not as specialised as Brick’s near-impenetrable dialogue and considered (over-considered?) tone, it’s certainly Quirky.

The capital Q may give a clue that I think it may be too forcibly quirky at times. Genuine quirkiness can be a lot of fun, though there’ll always be people who don’t get it, but if you force it then it comes across as weird; silliness for the sake of silliness; trying to be Cool. I don’t think Bloom goes quite that far, but I did feel those involved were trying too hard.

Despite that, it can be surprisingly dramatic in places, at least more so than the trailer suggested. It’s not quite as all-out-fun as it looked… The titular Brothersbut then the job of a trailer is to sell you a film, so if the end result doesn’t match it 100% is that a failing? How are you meant to summarise the entire tone of a film in a two-minute spoiler-free sales burst anyway? That dilemma is emphasised in this case because it’s the opening that feels least like the trailer. I mean, the pre-titles is kinda quirky-fun, but then it gets a little serious and slow, and later — perhaps half-an-hour or three-quarters of an hour in — you get to all the stuff the trailer was selling. And then the last act is back to something more unusually — or, if we’re to be unkind, unevenly — paced and toned. I can imagine the marketing meetings for this were a struggle…

Despite (or perhaps because of) all those shifts, it drags a bit at times, but it still has lots of amusing, quirky and fun moments to help make up for that.

I’d heard the last act was incredibly twisty; too twisty, according to some. Perhaps it was because I read that and was prepared, but I didn’t find it to be so. It has twists, sure, but this is a con movie — con movies have twists. That’s almost the point. They weren’t all the twists I was expecting either, which is probably a good thing.

The cast of the conPerhaps the problem for others was that the ending doesn’t quite spell everything out. I’m certain every question you might have is answered, more or less, but it doesn’t lead you by the hand back over the film pointing everything out, as many twist-endinged films do. Part of me appreciates this assumption of intelligence; part of me would like it all handily explained so I don’t sit here wondering it for myself. I don’t feel completely lump-headed not wanting to do that — there’s no Deeper Meaning or Philosophical Insight gained from sorting this out, I don’t believe; just an understanding of who was being conned and when and who knew what and why.

I score most films right after watching them, even if I don’t post the review for many months. I thought I’d given The Brothers Bloom a three, but coming to write this I find it has a four. Make of that what you will.

4 out of 5

#90: Cars (2006) December 14, 2011

Posted by badblokebob in : Animation, Comedy, Disney, Sport, 2000s, 3 stars, 2011 , add a comment

John Lasseter & Joe Ranft | 112 mins | DVD | 2.39:1 | USA / English | PG / G

CarsSince the creation of the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, only two Pixar features have failed to win: Monsters, Inc., which lost to Shrek — surely a key computer-animated film in anyone’s book — and this, which lost to Happy Feet, which was… well, it was quite good…* Obviously this does nothing to help dismiss Cars‘ reputation as Pixar’s worst film. But then, that reputation doesn’t warrant dismissing.

Much has been criticised by others, but my biggest problem is that it’s a bit predictable, kinda like Pixar/any kids’ movie by numbers. Pixar are usually better than that. There may be one or two slight surprises along the way — mostly in aid of a Good Strong Moral Message for the kiddies — but at times it’s a bit thumb-twiddly as you wait for characters to reach the point they’re inevitably headed for. It goes about these in such a long-winded fashion that it drags in the middle.

In a special feature on the DVD, Lasseter talks about how it was a very personal film, with a story inspired by his own family and past, as well as the Pixar crew’s road trip along Route 66, with events from that directly inspiring elements of the final story. I think this shows on screen, but not in a good way. It’s another reason the film is allowed to be occasionally long-winded and indulgent. No doubt it led to some of the best bits — the sequence where The Girl Car (I forget her name) tells The Main Car (McQueen! I remember that one) how the building of the interstate killed off so many small towns is both Everybody's friendshistorically accurate (more or less) and emotional — but I imagine it also explains why the film can feel so long.

This could be alleviated by the characters, but they’re not all that. Every one is lifted from a book of stereotypes, with such unfailing tedium that I can’t be bothered to list them. Some are moderately likable and occasionally they’re nice to spend time with, but it’s not a patch on any other set of Pixar characters — it can’t reach Ratatouille, never mind the Toy Storys.

The races — read: action sequences — are exciting and fluid. But then, would you expect anything less from Pixar? But then, with the film’s other failings, it’s good to see they haven’t lost all the magic.

I’ve often heard people criticise the world of the movie for not making sense but never understood why, because it doesn’t necessarily matter. But it does play on your mind while watching, and because it shouldn’t matter I think it’s indicative of faults elsewhere: if the characters and story were keeping your attention, if the film was consistently funny or exciting or engrossing, you wouldn’t be wondering who built these cars, or where their builders went, or how they reproduce… It’s like a child’s game writ into film: you can imagine a young boy playing with little toy cars, The races are goodhaving them talk to each other and giving them personalities, and it doesn’t need to make sense because his age isn’t even close to double digits and he’s just playing. But does that make it a viable idea for a film?

Aside from being Pixar’s Bad Film, Cars has become best known for the marketing machine it turned into, in particular the masses of high-selling model cars that have been churned out on the back of it. I don’t know how intentional this was — not as intentional as it seemed to be for the sequel, I suspect — but once you know where this ends up it’s reflected back into the film. McQueen sports at least three different paint jobs, for instance — that’s a handful of model cars right there, and if you make them in different sizes… Disney accountants must have been rubbing their hands in glee when these things started selling. It’s disappointing that this seems to have been the motivation for Pixar creating their second franchise, but hey, if the money brought in by a Cars movie’s merchandise every five years allows them to keep pushing (albeit gently) at the boundaries of mass-(Western)-market animation with the likes of WALL-E and Up, then I guess we shouldn’t complain too much.

Cars in loveCars is undoubtedly a below-par Pixar movie. It’s not a bad film — it has funny bits, exciting bits, a good moral message, some nice cameos and references and that kind of thing — but it doesn’t stand comparison to even a regular Pixar outing, never mind the best of their output. But hey, if you can produce 10 features that manage a 90%+ score on Rotten Tomatoes, I think you’re allowed a 74% slip-up.**

3 out of 5

Cars is on BBC Three today at 9pm, and again on Sunday at 7pm.

* Based on its reception, Cars 2 may well be added to this list. Potentially beaten by Happy Feet Two. That’d be kinda funny. ^

** Other review comparison and aggregate websites are available. Does not include Cars 2, which scored 38%. (Ouch.)

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