February 2012 February 29, 2012Posted by badblokebob in : Editorials, progress reports, 2012 , add a comment
I watched 13 films this February, exactly the same number as I watched last year. I’ve ended up two behind this point last year, though, because I watched two less in January. Damn you January! Funny thing is, last year it felt like a sprint to get to this point, whereas this year it feels like I’ve been pushing less hard. Either way, I’m seven films ahead of target and that’s always good.
Part of the thanks for viewing going so well can be attributed to the Oscars. Not because I’ve been catching up on the nominees (based on form, that’ll take me the next few years/decades), but because in order to watch the increasingly irrelevant ceremony I added Sky Movies to my Virgin Media package for a month, and that now includes hundreds of movies available on demand. Getting value for money ‘n’ all, I’ve been trying to get stuck in to those — hence lots of watching and not so much reviewing. Everything from #14 on is thanks to that.
#11 The Book of Eli (2010)
#12 Unknown (2011)
#13 Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
#14 Gnomeo & Juliet (2011)
#15 Priest (2011)
#16 Knight and Day (2010)
#17 Unstoppable (2010)
#18 102 Dalmatians (2000)
#19 Devil (2010)
#20 Burke & Hare (2010)
#21 Legion (2010)
#22 The Sum of All Fears (2002)
#23 The Lincoln Lawyer (2011)
The influence of Sky Movies may not be over: I subscribed mid-February and it’s for a minimum of one month, meaning I should have it until mid-March (provided I remember to cancel in time). Hopefully it’ll give a similar kick to next month’s total too.Editorials, Specials, 2012 , add a comment
100 Films in a Year was five years old yesterday, and to mark the occasion I’m having five days of top fives from the past five years. On Monday I bemoaned the five worst films I’ve seen as part of this project, while yesterday I slammed the five most overrated. It’s all nice from here on though, starting with…
I’ve called up Easy Virtue before (recently) as underrated, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing again. I really don’t see why it came in for such a drubbing (see my review for more details) — I thought it was witty and funny, with a distinctly mischievous streak, all wrapped around a surprisingly dramatic core.
Gambit’s underratedness is beginning to be called into question — “thank you”s for Drew McWeeny’s recommendation are still popping up on my twitter feed — but only so many people will see that, so I’m doing my bit. Watch it, but don’t give in to temptation and read about it first — the opening deserves to be seen unspoiled.
The King of Comedy
There are many films Scorsese is praised for, and deservedly so, but having watched Taxi Driver, Goodfellas and more in the past five years, I think this is my favourite. A black comedy about a wannabe-famous comic whose obsession goes too far, apparently “Scorsese has called De Niro’s role… his favorite of their collaborations.” What better endorsement?
Someone somewhere recently commented that if Speed Racer had been a CG ‘toon by Pixar it would be beloved, and they may be right. In fact it’s live action, but exists in the kind of heightened candy-colour cartoon world only the digital era has made possible. It’s fast, exciting, funny, not perfect, but visually astounding, and great.
Stranger on the Third Floor
This only seems to get mentioned as “the first film noir”, a nominal title established after the fact. It was tricky to see too — it’s available on UK DVD now, but I caught it on a rare TV airing, at which point it didn’t even have a BBFC certificate. It’s not the greatest noir, certainly, but I think it’s better than its lowly reputation would suggest.
Read this post on the new blog!
Don’t forget that these posts — and, in time, all others — can be read at my new-look blog here. It even has different content to this one (well, for today only).
For more on why I’ve started this so-called simul-blog, please look here.
Overrated, underrated, wombling free… Wait, what? Sorry. Um, tomorrow — the five films I thought were the best from my last five years of viewing.
5 Years of 100 Films, Part 2 February 28, 2012Posted by badblokebob in : Editorials, Specials, 2012 , add a comment
100 Films in a Year is five years old today, and to mark the occasion I’m having five days of top fives from the past five years. Yesterday I bemoaned the five worst films I’ve seen as part of this project, and today it’s…
March of the Penguins
I think March of the Penguins gained such popularity in America because they don’t have the rich history of wildlife documentaries that the BBC has bestowed upon us Brits. This is a solid documentary, but it has a narrow focus and isn’t a patch on something narrated by David Attenborough. I don’t care for it.
Million Dollar Baby
Bad Best Picture winners are two-a-penny — as most film fans know, the Oscars aren’t the be-all-and-end-all of filmic taste that they’re widely perceived to be. Million Dollar Baby isn’t a bad film, but I don’t think it’s a very good one either. It’s also 161st on IMDb’s Top 250, a list I wouldn’t let it near if it was up to me.
No Country for Old Men & There Will Be Blood
I’ve lumped these together as the two titans of the 2008 awards season, which now sit on the IMDb Top 250 at #131 and #164 respectively. And I didn’t really get either of them. I don’t think they’re bad films, but I struggled to get what they were for (especially the latter), and I certainly didn’t like or enjoy either. You don’t have to like a film for it to be great, but these two… Maybe I need to take the time to re-evaluate them, but I’ve already seen No Country two or three times and I’m not sure I can face it again.
This isn’t overrated in the traditional sense — it only has 6.9 on IMDb for example, far off troubling the Top 250 — but in recent years it’s garnered a significant cult following, praising it as a great action movie. I blame Hot Fuzz, and probably Swayze’s death, and maybe even Bigelow’s Oscar win. It’s mediocre at best.
Honourable Mention: Avatar
Despite being on the IMDb Top 250 when some of my other choices aren’t (#223 at time of writing), Avatar is down here because I think there’s plenty of dislike for it. There’s no doubt those who really praise it tend to overrate it, especially blind followers of Whatever The Oscars Say (even though it didn’t win), but there’s enough people who know it’s good-not-great, or even outright hate it, to balance that out.
Read this post on the new blog!
Don’t forget that these posts — and, in time, all others — can be read at my new-look blog here. Doesn’t it look snazzy even in this little thumbnail?
For more on why I’ve started this so-called simul-blog, please look here.
Tomorrow it’s the turn of the five most underrated films from my last five years of viewing.
5 Years of 100 Films, Part 1 February 27, 2012Posted by badblokebob in : Editorials, 1 star, Specials, 2012 , add a comment
100 Films in a Year is precisely five years old tomorrow!
I’m aware my fifth year ended in December, but here we’re talking about the fifth anniversary of my first ever post, from 28th February 2007, where in one fell swoop I covered most of the year to date. Sometimes I’m tempted to go back to those teeny-tiny reviews…
Anyway, in celebration of me managing to stick at something for so long, I thought I’d have a little week of it: five top five lists (see what I did there?), culled from the films officially counted as part of 100 Films during those first five years. So that’s the 545 films covered on these five lists, not the 585+ on here.
So what five top fives have I come up with? Well, there’s perhaps the obvious two: the five best and the five worst. There’s also my five favourite (distinct from best — essentially, one being Worthy Films and one being Entertaining Films), the five I think are the most underrated and, conversely, the five I think are the most overrated. The only rule is that films are only allowed to appear on one list — so nothing can be both a favourite and underrated, say. These lists are too short to go duplicating things like that.
And at the weekend I may post some statistics, if I can think of something suitably different to say than in my last regular year-end one. I hope I can — I do love some statistics.
If you’re not interested in any of this (party pooper!), normal service will resume next week. And also on Wednesday night, when I post my summary of February.
Before I get on to today’s inaugural list, I’ve decided to take this opportunity to ‘officially’ announce my shiny new ’simul-blog’. Y’see, I say new — I’ve been updating it with new posts for most of the year (it’s currently got everything going back to January 2012), and if you’d known to look (or happened to see me mention it on twitter) it’s been publicly available too.
As FilmJournal sadly seems to be slowly slipping away, I thought it time to start something new. I’ve no intention to stop posting here — hence “simul-blog” not “new blog” — but, yeah, the new one’s there now. It’s got some advantages, like a pretty front page and cool big banner pictures at the top of every page, which I’ve taken the opportunity to customise for every single review (goodness knows how quickly that’ll eat through my WordPress storage allowance, but it doesn’t half look good), and some disadvantages, like my lack of familiarity (and the fact I’m still formatting the posts for this place first) meaning the pictures sometimes look a bit awkward. But that’ll surely get ironed out in time.
I’ve not been able to export my blog in a way the new one will accept, for some reason, so transferring will have to be done manually. Which has its advantages — I can re-do all links and re-format pictures as I go — but also its disadvantages — over 600 posts! (Golly!)
Another advantage is that you can easily subscribe to get an email every time I post something new: there’s a little box to the left on the front page, just pop your address in there. That goes some way to getting over the lack of FilmJournal front page (I don’t know about anyone else, but that’s always been my main way of keeping up with other FJ blogs). Emails aren’t perfect right now — I’ve always uploaded pictures at a bigger size then used HTML to make them fit the page nicely, but the emails seem to ignore that and just bung them in full size — something I need to see to going forward. And when I begin back-posting it’s going to flood people with 600+ emails unless I find a way to stop it. Oh dear.
Anyway, please check it out — the URL, in case you somehow missed the link above, is 100filmsinayear.wordpress.com. Any thoughts welcome. (First one: I’m intending to change that big ol’ logo to a banner of thumbnails, a bit like the one on here.)
And with that said and done…
Alone in the Dark
The first Uwe Boll film I saw, and quite possibly the last. It’s not just bad, it’s impressively bad — how do you make a film this shoddy? Of course there always has and always will be bad writing, bad acting, bad directing, but how do you create something with so little awareness of how to tell a story? It baffles me.
AVPR - Aliens vs Predator: Requiem
If you saw Alien vs. Predator when you were about 14 then you might love it. More or less everyone else hated it. That is, until you see this. It’s dull, it’s poorly constructed, it’s so dark you can’t even tell what’s going on… What a waste of the franchises. Bonus disgust for dragging the once-great Alien series so low.
I love Cube; it might be one of my most favourite films. It doesn’t need a sequel, but if it was going to have one it really shouldn’t have been this. The original was great because of its simplicity and ambiguity; this ditches both, being over-complicated and with a woeful explanation ending. Pretend it doesn’t exist.
I despise this film. I think it’s disrespectfully bad. Maybe its poorness has been hyped up in my memory, I don’t know. Thankfully we also have the exceptional United 93, which is an absolute must-see to my mind. Funny that a single true story has inspired both one of my most reviled and one of my most esteemed films.
Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic
Comedy should be funny, but not everyone agrees what’s funny — that’s why some love Frankie Boyle and some wish he would die (insert the name of any comedian/’comedian’ you like there). I quite like Silverman, which is why I was disappointed by this. I don’t think I even laughed once. Maybe out of desperation.
Tomorrow I’ll list the five films from my last five years of viewing that I consider to be the most overrated.
#99: Winnie the Pooh (2011) February 25, 2012Posted by badblokebob in : Animation, Comedy, Musical, Disney, adaptations, 4 stars, 2010s, 2011 , add a comment
Winnie the Pooh, as many reviews on its release were keen to point out, is for small children. It doesn’t have the attempts to placate adults with their own jokes that elevate/plague most American animation; it’s only an attention-span-friendly hour long; and it has a lovely, genial, friendly tone, with brightly coloured characters, plinky-plonky songs and heartwarming moral messages.
The thing is, I don’t hold that this makes it “just for ickle kiddies”. Sure, it can, and when it’s done poorly it most certainly does, but that’s not Winnie the Pooh. Look back to A.A. Milne’s original stories and you see the same thing: ostensibly it’s just for the kids, but there’s actually all kinds of wordplay and (admittedly, gentle) subversion that’s clearly targeted at the adult reading the book. This new film captures that same effect. Naturally this means it won’t work on the cynical or black-hearted viewer, or the Mature type whose favour isn’t even curried by the adult-targeted jokes in a Pixar film, but for the rest of us it can make it a delight.
In few other films would you see the characters interact with the narrator; see them scramble across the words in the pages of the book their story comes from; indeed, see the presence of those tangible letters help along the plot — I won’t spoil how. You don’t have to love Winnie the Pooh in an ironic still-a-child-at-heart kind of way, even if the presence of real-life Manic Dream Pixie Girl Zooey Deschanel on vocals suggests you might — it’s clever and witty enough to transcend that.
The majority of the film’s other elements click into place nicely too. The traditional animation is gorgeously executed, the voices are the ones we surely all know from growing up alongside Disney’s Pooh output, particularly Jim Cummings pulling double time as both Pooh and Tigger, as he has for decades. The exception I’d make is Bud Luckey’s Eeyore. I don’t know if he’s always sounded like that and I’d forgotten, but his voice didn’t work for me. It’s not the only problem: the songs can be a bit insipid; equally, a couple transcend that to work beautifully; and there’s no denying that it is a bit short; but then it doesn’t outstay its welcome, and hey, Dumbo’s no longer.
The American Academy have overlooked Winnie the Pooh in their nominations this weekend (not to mention Tintin, and probably some other stuff I’ve forgotten), I imagine writing it off as “just for little kids”. And that’s a shame, because I don’t think it is. I certainly loved it more than Rango and it’s definitely better than Kung Fu Panda 2, to pick on the two nominees I’ve seen. I struggle to believe I’ll find Puss in Boots more endearing.
Nonetheless, as much as I would dearly love to give a new Winnie the Pooh film full marks, there are a few niggles that hold me back — the songs, Eeyore’s voice, the length. But it is ever so lovely, and it came ever so close.
The 2012 Oscars are on Monday at 1:30am on Sky Movies Premiere.
#62: Ip Man (2008) February 23, 2012Posted by badblokebob in : Action, Drama, 2000s, 4 stars, true stories, world cinema, Biography, Historical, 2011 , add a comment
I liked Ip Man, but as we know from experience there are times when I find myself with little to say about a film, or I fail to make any notes, and this was an example of both. So I’ve decided to try something a little different.
I’ve read several different reviews of the film, found by various means, and have compiled a selection of quotes from them below. These are all segments of those reviews that I agree with or found to be an interesting point — I’m not trying to accurately represent each reviewer’s opinion, but instead using their words to enlighten my own. Each quote is, of course, credited and linked, so if you want to know their full opinion you can click through.
They’re arranged in an order that I think makes sense, too — by which I mean, rather than just bundle a selection of quotes in any old order, I’ve sorted them so that if you read them through as presented they should form a structured (more or less) piece.
Biographical martial arts drama starring Donnie Yen. China in the 1930s: Ip Man’s reputation as a martial arts master has brought fame and fortune to the city of Foshan. But hard times are ahead, as the Japanese invasion brings the once prosperous city to its knees.
Donnie Yen plays the eponymous Wing Chun master, who stove off hunger, poverty and half the Japanese army during China’s WW2 occupation – by kicking ass!
Though that’s an amusing thought, the film’s not quite that simplistic:
As he rallies his people to stand up for themselves, Ip Man becomes about how war pushes a peaceful man into action, but also how he tries to maintain his faith in what it means to be civilized.
Ip’s transformation from diffident bourgeois to symbolic man of the people is rendered as compelling period melodrama
There’s a pleasing playfulness about the opening scenes, which contrast… with the downbeat mood that follows during the occupation.
Not everyone was so impressed:
In transforming a humble real-life martial artist into the type of the reluctant hero (and nationalist icon), screenwriter Edmond Wong has turned his subject not only into something that he was not, but also into an overfamiliar kung fu movie cliche. This is an impression not helped by the film’s desaturated period look (yet another cliche), and a drift in the second, war-set half towards melodrama
a shameless hagiography that only bears a passing resemblance to history.
The presence of young Zhun [Ip Man’s son] suggests an eyewitness veracity to the events as portrayed on-screen — after all, Zhun himself, now a much older man and a wing chun master in his own right, served as a consultant on Ip Man. The film, however, does not hesitate to sacrifice the truth to the demands of dramatic entertainment.
almost none of what you see in Ip Man actually happened, and in some sense that’s too bad, because the real Ip sounds like a fascinating figure. He was a pre-revolutionary police officer, a reported opium addict, and a refugee who fled the Communist takeover in 1949 for a new life in British Hong Kong. But all those factors make him undesirable as the hero of a work of rousing nationalist agitprop. So instead we get Yen’s remarkable performance as a man of prodigious Buddhist-Confucian composure and tranquility, who goes from wealth to poverty to near-slave status, and finally must fight a public gladiatorial match against a sinister Japanese general
disappointingly simplistic. Yip, Wong, and Yen never develop any real tension between Ip’s true story and the exaggerated myth-making of a martial-arts movie. But as an exaggerated, myth-making martial-arts movie, Ip Man is often thrilling.
True-to-life or not, action star Donnie Yen largely shines in the lead role:
Donnie Yen delivers a charismatic portrayal of Ip Man, the martial arts master of the title.
Man is the role Yen was made to play: a stoic tough guy that everybody in the community knows is the best
Yen’s performance is also a bit one-dimensional as the modest wing chun expert, but at least he gives a good account of himself in the finely composed and inventive close-combat scenes — an impressive highlight being when he wipes the floor with ten soldiers with methodical precision.
Indeed, fighting is still what the film does best:
As a showcase for the distinctive moves of Wing Chun, or more generally for some formalised (if largely wire-free) chopsocky, Ip Man is exemplary, thanks to the action choreography of cult Hong Kong star Sammo Hung.
Hung’s fight choreography is clever and exciting, with sequences that have Ip felling a sword-wielding rival with a feather-duster, or holding off two men with a 10-foot pole.
That final conflict between evil General Sanpo and Man — who of course still has to fight the biggest bad guy since the locals are too incompetent to even fight a group of disorganized bandits — is also curiously ruthless. Sanpo is likened to Man’s coat rack-like training apparatus, making the flurry of blows Man rains down on Sanpo’s head a vicious attack on a dehumanized piece of furniture. It’s a fittingly abstract and totally brutal finale.
There are definitely better kung-fu flicks in terms of pure action spectacle, but Ip Man delivers as tremendous entertainment even if you don’t much care about martial arts.
It’s not all rosy:
The film was a box office hit in China… That may have had less to do with the excellent fight sequences, directed by Sammo Hung with the help of one of Mr. Ip’s sons, than with the appeals to nationalism and, particularly, the heavy-handed depiction of the occupying Japanese as giggling sadists or implacable killing machines.
The Japanese themselves couldn’t be more stereotyped in their presentation, with the honourable-but-brutal general and his cackling, sadistic henchman
On the other hand, as that “sinister Japanese general”:
Hiroyuki Ikeuchi… imbues what could have been a cardboard villain role with dignity and grace
To revisit Film4’s point about the “desaturated period look (yet another cliche)”:
Yip’s aesthetics are more muted and traditional than those of well-known florid imports Hero and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Yet such modesty is in tune with his soft-spoken protagonist, and also provides clean, sharp views of Yen’s awe-inspiring skills
But in conclusion:
a throwback to those chopsocky Hong Kong films of the 1970s - a period piece filmed on obvious but eye-pleasing studio sets with wall-to-wall kung fu and a simplistic, philosophical message.
I’m not qualified to judge whether [Ip Man] belongs among the top martial-arts films ever made, an opinion that’s been gaining credence as the movie bounced around the world… But there can be no doubt that director Wilson Yip has crafted a gripping, rousing, beautifully structured yarn, built around a calm but charismatic star performance by Donnie Yen and magnificent action sequences choreographed by the legendary Sammo Hung.
Consulted sources (including some unquoted)
- Abrams, Simon ‘Ip Man’ ushers in the return of the tough guys (New York Press)
- Adams, Derek Ip Man (2008) (Time Out)
- Cook, Simon IP Man 2 (Empire)
- Ebert, Roger Ip Man 2 (rogerebert.com)
- Film4 Ip Man Review
- Glasby, Matt Ip Man (Total Film)
- Hale, Mike Mastering Martial Arts (The New York Times)
- Healy, Jamie Ip Man (Radio Times)
- Johnson, G. Allen Review: ‘Ip Man’ is a fun kung-fu throwback movie (SFGate / San Francisco Chronicle)
- Jolin, Dan Ip Man (Empire)
- Murray, Noel Ip Man (A.V. Club)
- O’Hehir, Andrew “Ip Man”: A dazzling martial-arts epic (Salon.com)
- Schager, Nick Bruce Lee Mentor Ip Man Gets His Own Kickass Movie (The Village Voice)
#74: Glorious 39 (2009) February 7, 2012Posted by badblokebob in : Drama, Thriller, War, 2000s, 4 stars, British films, Mystery, films about films, 2011 , 1 comment so far
“This year’s Atonement,” proclaims the poster, and DVD cover, and probably much more of the marketing for Stephen Poliakoff’s first venture into the cinema for 12 years, in the process probably explaining why he’s made (or “how he found the funding to make”) the return-jump from exalted TV auteur to cinematic hopeful: the titular “39″ means “1939″, the year World War II began. Throw in a plot that concerns the aristocracy and an ‘English rose’-type to stare thoughtfully open-mouthed into the distance on all the posters, and Poliakoff’s film is automatically lumped in the same ballpark as Joe Wright’s Ian McEwan adaptation. Only this one comes light on awards nominations.
I was going to add “light on star power” too, but whereas Atonement could only offer Keira Knightley and a still-rising James McAvoy, Glorious 39 offers a host of above-the-title names: trailing behind Atonement’s own Romola Garai we find Bill Nighy, Julie Christie, David Tennant, Jenny Agutter, Jeremy Northam and Christopher Lee, not to mention a host of other recognisable British faces. If the combined cult might of Mr.s Tennant and Lee wasn’t enough to make this a hit, nothing could be. Some quite critical reviews obviously didn’t help.
I, however, thought it was rather good. I can see what turned some people off though. It’s a thriller, but it moves leisurely, especially early on. It’s also quite elliptical at times, not so much requiring you to pay attention as put the pieces together yourself. Plus it lacks a grand finale in which the hero triumphs, or at least loses in dramatic style — it’s quieter than that. Yet I liked the ending, finding it triumphant in a whole other way. But I won’t go spoiling that here.
It’s very much a Poliakoff work, I think. Perhaps that catches some film critics unawares: as noted, he worked solely in TV for over a decade before this, albeit in an auteur mode, writing and directing his own TV movies and miniseries, and perhaps this means he passed them by. But then that’s just about managing expectations. It’s not a melodramatic epic love story like Atonement, nor is it a pacey wartime thriller like… no example comes readily to mind, actually. Can someone please make a pacey wartime thriller? Or tell me which I’ve missed/forgotten?
By taking its time it creates a mood of creeping terror and dread; of an oppressive conspiracy that our hero, who’s just a fairly ordinary girl, has no chance of overturning — if it’s even real, and if she can find details about it if it is. And, by extension, by taking its time it’s being A Bit Different, and that means you can never be sure where it’s going to go; never be sure who’s on the side of the angels and who of the devils; of who is reliable and what is really happening; of who will survive. What’s better in a thriller than not actually knowing what will come? There should be twists in this genre — genuine twists when possible, not a stock array of “small character played by famous actor turns out to be vitally important” or ” good guy is actually bad guy” or what have you — and Glorious 39, with its balanced uncertainty, pulls some of those off.
It’s also well written, prettily shot, and expertly performed by that array of quality performers. I don’t recall a weak link.
Ignore the critics, ignore the comparisons to Atonement, and give Glorious 39 a chance on its own terms. I very much liked it.
* I own Glorious 39 on DVD, but watched it on TV when it premiered because it was shown (and available on iPlayer) in HD. There is no UK Blu-ray of the film, but I believe one is available in America. Such a fate seems to have befallen several British films of late — Easy Virtue is another example that quickly comes to mind. ^