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#20: Once (2006) May 5, 2011

Posted by badblokebob in : Music, Musical, Drama, Romance, 2000s, 4 stars, world cinema, 2011 , add a comment

2006 | John Carney | 83 mins | TV | 15 / R

OnceOnce is a very modern indie musical. And I mean indie as in “indie film”, not “indie music”. Lord save us from a musical of indie music.

The musical bit is both traditional and revisionist. The songs still reveal character and emotion, in the way they do in all good musicals, but here the lead characters are a pair of musicians and the songs are (mostly) placed in a plausible context — strumming on the bus, writing lyrics to a tune, recording in a studio, that kind of thing. The songs are of a folky variety. I don’t know how essential it is to like this style of music to enjoy the film — there are quite a few songs, but by placing them in a real world way Carney largely avoids the allegations of implausibility that are usually levelled at musicals. Perhaps this is a musical for the non-musical-fan, then. Personally I liked them enough to buy the soundtrack… but I suppose that’s meaningless if you don’t know the kind of music I like.

The visual aesthetic of the film is even more unlike your standard musical, shot handheld and digital video-y, it could almost pass itself off as a documentary. Carney and his cast don’t overdo the storytelling either, allowing looks and scenes and montage to do the work when others would’ve plumped for expositional dialogue. One of the film’s big reveals isn’t even in English, and nor is it subtitled, making for a “whisper at the end of Lost in Translation” moment (except you can hear this one, so a translation can be found online if you want to know). Once on a hillsideIt’s a testament to the strength of the lead performances and the story they create that it’s not until the end credits roll you realise you never even knew their names.

The most ready comparison is Before Sunrise — “Before Sunrise with songs” might be the pat way to describe it. It’s not a rip-off — not Before Sunrise: The Musical — but there are plenty of similarities in terms of style and content. It didn’t quite click with me in the way that Linklater’s film did, perhaps because I’m not a musician. Equally that’s placing unfair weight on Once: there’s absolutely no need to be a musician to enjoy it; it’s a solid romantic drama, a very real-world (as opposed to rom-com) romance.

I’m beginning to think I’ve underrated it, actually…

4 out of 5

#17: Saturday Night Fever (1977) March 25, 2010

Posted by badblokebob in : Music, Drama, Romance, adaptations, 4 stars, 1970s, 2010 , add a comment

1977 | John Badham | 114 mins* | TV | 18 / R

Saturday Night Fever couldn’t be more ’70s if it were made today as a period piece (if you can see how that isn’t a contradiction). From the posters on Tony’s walls, to the fashions, to how it’s shot, it seems to have been designed specifically to exude seventies-ness in a way few other things seem to. It feels natural, then, that some of its original elements have become shorthand definitions for the era: the Bee Gees music, the dancing, and in particular that pose.

The side effect of these, I think, is that some still think it must be a Grease-a-like jolly musical love letter to the past. Maybe that’s what it somehow became in the kid-friendly PG-rated post-Grease re-edit (I wouldn’t know), but in its original form it’s certainly nothing of the sort. It’s a whole lot seedier, in fact, with dead-end jobs, late-night fights, turn-taking back-of-the-car sex, and other unsavoury pursuits. It’s no wonder Tony wants to escape.

The film it most reminded me of (for some reason) was Mean Streets. I’m not sure that’s anything like an accurate comparison, but it popped into my head more than once.

4 out of 5

* There are multiple versions of the film. This is the uncut one in PAL.

Saturday Night Fever is on Film4 tonight at 12:55am.

Three in 3D November 23, 2009

Posted by badblokebob in : Editorials, Music, Horror, 2000s, 2 stars, 1 star, 1980s, 1970s, 3D, 2009 , add a comment

As you may have noticed, Channel 4 have just had a 3D week. Arguably lacking in content, it included three films. I subjected myself to all of them to provide you with the following…

Flesh for Frankenstein

1973 | Paul Morrissey | 95 mins | TV | 18 / R

“The best thing about the extra dimension is that it provides some genuinely impressive visuals throughout, and not in the gimmicky, thrust-stuff-into-the-audience way — naturally there are some of those shots, but… there are also shots that demonstrate why 3D could be genuinely valuable, to visuals if not necessarily to storytelling.”

2 out of 5

Friday the 13th Part III

1982 | Steve Miner | 91 mins | TV | 15 / R

“They have a whale of a time shoving stuff out into the audience for almost no reason — just like the stereotype of 3D films, of course. That’s part of the fun of trashy 3D movies so I’m not criticising it, but what sadly doesn’t work is the ColorCode 3D system chosen by C4.”

2 out of 5

Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour

2008 | Bruce Hendricks | 72 mins | TV | U / G

“The only real exception is the 3D — being a very recent production, that was flawless.”

1 out of 5

It’s quite easy to see why 3D’s never taken off before. Even here, there are some good and/or notorious 3D films they haven’t bothered to show, which is a shame. Now they’ve distributed all those glasses, maybe they’ll consider just slipping some 3D films into the schedule now and again in the future. Doubt it, but it could be fun.

#78: Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour - 3D (2008)

Posted by badblokebob in : Documentary, Music, Disney, 2000s, 1 star, 3D, 2009 , add a comment

2008 | Bruce Hendricks | 72 mins | TV | U / G

Rubbish. In almost every way possible.

I could expand on that in numerous ways, but what would be the point? The only real exception is the 3D — being a very recent production, that was flawless.

Take solace in the fact that one day — hopefully, one day soon — Cyrus, Montana, this ‘movie’, and all the rest, will be completely forgotten.

1 out of 5

This featured on my list of The Five Worst Films I Saw in 2009, which can be read in full here.

#2a: Some Like It Hot (1959) March 22, 2009

Posted by badblokebob in : Music, Comedy, Romance, Crime, 5 stars, 1950s, remakes, 2009 , 2 comments

1959 | Billy Wilder | 117 mins | DVD | U / PG-13

Did you know that Some Like It Hot is a remake of a 1951 German film, Fanfaren der Liebe? I didn’t. Anyway…

The first (and last) time I saw Some Like It Hot was so long ago that, even when watching it again, there are whole swathes of the film I didn’t recall. How few clothes Marilyn Monroe wears, for one thing. I guess I was quite young first time. The only thing I did remember was enjoying it immensely; and, enjoying it again, didn’t want to skip the chance of handing it five stars in this pathetically brief review.

To be concise, it’s a very funny film even 50 years on. It rattles from situation to situation at an occasionally surprising pace, literally without a dull moment. Not that there’s anything wrong with slower old films, but its certainly spritely for its age.

And with it, a genuine classic. Never mind some — everyone should like it a lot.

5 out of 5

Sorry for that final pun.

#99: The Blues Brothers (1980) December 31, 2008

Posted by badblokebob in : Music, Comedy, Musical, 4 stars, 1980s, 2008, alternate & director's cuts , add a comment

1980 | John Landis | 142 mins | DVD | 15 / R

Cult comedy musical, with a more-than-healthy dose of the surreal, about two brothers on a mission from God, here watched in the extended DVD version (full details at IMDb). Maybe this is why it takes a while to get going — the first hour or so could do with a kick up the proverbial — and has a tendency to sprawl like an unruly first draft.

On the other hand, its insistence at being random, crazy, and incessantly silly throughout is beautifully anarchic. There’s an array of fabulous cameos — Ray Charles! Aretha Franklin! and Carrie Fisher, feeding the anarchy with her ludicrous attempts to kill one of the titular pair. While there were fewer songs than I’d expected, they’re all classics rewarded with infectiously fun performances. Then there’s the climactic car chase, which surely challenges many more serious examples for pure excitement value.

And any film which sees Neo-Nazis jump into a river to avoid being run over has to be good.

4 out of 5

(Originally posted on 24th January 2009.)

#41: Almost Famous (2000) June 19, 2008

Posted by badblokebob in : Music, Drama, 2000s, 4 stars, 2008 , 1 comment so far

2000 | Cameron Crowe | 118 mins | DVD | 15 / R

Sometimes I find I have quite a lot to say about a film when it comes to writing my review for this blog — recently, witness Cloverfield, Transformers, or Indiana Jones 4 (of course, using Indy 4’s full title more than once guarantees a long review). Other times it’s a struggle to come up with anything at all — try the relatively brief comments on The Fountain, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes or Field of Dreams. Almost Famous falls into the latter camp. Not because it’s no good, or because it’s middle-of-the-road, but because there’s nothing I’m dying to praise or slate about it.

Everything about it is solidly done. Patrick Fugit is an engaging and relatable lead, ably supported in the acting stakes by a good ensemble, especially Philip Seymour Hoffman (unsurprisingly) and fellow top-billers Billy Crudup, Frances McDormand and Kate Hudson. And there’s Zooey Deschanel, who doesn’t have many scenes, but, y’know, still… Crowe’s autobiographical screenplay is a good one, with plenty of amusing and dramatic moments to keep it ticking over — the most memorable, on a crashing plane, manages both with aplomb. Likewise, his direction is rarely flashy but always works. The music, costumes, design and cinematography evoke the period well (to me, at least, who didn’t live anywhere near the ’70s). There’s probably some life lessons in here — it’s a coming-of-age film after all (as well as a rock & roll road movie, of course) — but they’re not over-laboured.

In short, I really liked Almost Famous. It’s the sort of film that might creep in at the lower end of a (relatively long) list of favourites, not because there’s anything exemplary about it, but because the cumulative effect makes for an enjoyable experience.

4 out of 5

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