Friday, 18 January 2013

Friday Five: Let's Go Die

That scene from The Shining
When Hoggy and his family were here for Christmas, he decided a nice festive family activity would be to watch The Shining – don’t worry; the kids had gone to bed. I’d never seen it before, and he encouraged turning off the lights and jumping at all the scary bits.

Then, when I’d finally calmed down enough to go to bed, he poked his head round the door with a “Heeere’s Johnny!” impersonation that made me scream and him giggle. We may be in our forties, but it seems that four year age-gap will always make me the eminently teaseable little sister.

Now, every time I watch a horror film (and it’s really not that often), I find myself thinking that some of these people who get themselves into spooky situations are pretty stupid – I mean, haven’t they ever watched any of the genre themselves? If not, I thought I would put together a handy cheat-sheet for them so they know what not to do, if ever they find themselves in that scenario.

5 Ways to Avoid Being in a Real-Life Horror:
  1. If the big old house/hotel looks spooky, don’t buy it/stay in it, especially if it is near a lake/ impenetrable forest/ old fairground/ prison/ scared site/ burial ground… in fact, just stay away from the spooky house altogether, okay?
  2. Under no circumstances enter the basement/ attic (don’t even get me started on caves/ tunnels/ dark alleyways/ walk-in freezers). If you really truly must, make sure you take a torch and a back-up torch and several spare sets of batteries. The only excuse for candles is if you live in pre-Victorian times and light bulbs haven’t been invented yet. Then you’re just asking for it, really – your whole life is a horror film. And while we're on the subject, never ever split up. Hold hands if you have to – as long as you can still carry the torch. Don’t bother with the weapon; they’re futile.
  3. Don’t have children – they may look innocent but they invariably turn out to be the devil incarnate. The cuter they are; the more likely this is to be the case. Long/ curly hair is a dead giveaway. If you absolutely insist on having children about the place, never give them talking toys or porcelain dolls, and always take their imaginary friends very seriously indeed.
  4. Always check the back seat of the car/ behind the shower curtain, and if the window/ mirror steams up, always check behind you before you wipe it clear. Don’t bother with under the bed or in the cupboard – the scary dude is never there; that’s reserved for the dead body.
  5. Don’t ever host/ attend a function that calls for people to wear masks. No exceptions. Talking of costumes, wear more clothes – it’s nearly always the bint in the tight white vest and the teeny tiny shorts who gets bumped off first. As a general rule, try not to be female at all. Most directors of horror films are men and they prefer to pick on vulnerable women; I guess they just scream better.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Films Watched in 2012 (Part Three: 51-78)

51. Patricia Cornwell: At Risk (2010) – Andie MacDowell’s character uncovers a cold case that she thinks will help her career as a crime novelist in a film based on a book by Patricia Cornwell. Ho hum.

52. Penelope (2006) – Penelope (Christina Ricci) is born with a pig’s nose due to a family curse, but she learns that true beauty is on the inside, with a little help from some friends. It’s pretty bad but attracted some big names (Richard E Grant; Peter Dinklage; Nigel Havers; Reese Witherspoon; Lenny Henry; Russell Brand) and when James MacAvoy smiles, it gets better.
53. Perrier’s Bounty (2009) – Irish crime comedy starring the usual suspects (Brendan Gleeson; Cillian Murphy) and Jim Broadbent who create good characters out of a mediocre script.
54. Prairie Fever (2008) – Apparently women go mad if they’re left out in the wop-wops for long enough. They just need love and affection to blossom – sensitive little flowers that they are.

55. The Prince and the Showgirl (1957) Sir Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe: a match made in purgatory but a fascinating film – the on-screen action of My Week with Marilyn if you will.
56. Proof (2005) – Definition of proof: fact, evidence or argument sufficing or helping to establish a fact; spoken or written legal evidence; proving, demonstration; trial before judge instead of jury; test; trial impression taken from type or film, for making corrections; of tried strength; able to resist or withstand damage or destruction – rarely has a film been so well-named, and the father/daughter relationship played out by Anthony Hopkins and Gwyneth Paltrow is deeply affecting.
57. Queen Christina (1933) – Black and white epic in which Greta Garbo plays the Queen of Sweden in a blend of history and fiction as she attempts to fit in with the male-dominated world she inhabits. It’s a slight story but a long film full of moody intent.
58. Rabbit Hole (2010) – art house favourite about a couple (Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart) who struggle to relate to each other after the sudden death of their son. Painful.

59. A Royal Affair (2012) – sumptuous costume drama, perfectly paced, excellently acted and raising intriguing ideas about the dawning of enlightenment in eighteenth-century Denmark.
60. Safe House (2012) – Predictable action film with lots of of shooting, fighting and explosions in which a young CIA agent (Ryan Reynolds) is charged with looking after a fugitive (Denzel Washington) with whom he goes on the run after their safe house is attacked.
61. The Sapphires (2012) – Feel-good film about an all-girl Aborigine troop of entertainers performing soul for the troops in Vietnam, under the comic tutelage of Dave Lovelace (Chris O'Dowd) - an Aussie Dreamgirls if you will.

62. Seven Psychopaths (2012) – A struggling screenwriter (Colin Farrell) tries to finish his script by calling in his friends and every cliché in the Hollywood canon - great dialogue and acting (Sam Rockwell; Christopher Walken; Woody Harrelson) go a long way towards excusing the smug self-awareness.
63. Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows (2011) – Enjoyable return of Robert Downey Junior and Jude Law as Holmes and Watson in Guy Ritchie’s stylish second instalment. The humour shines through in the man-disguised-as-a-chair sequence, while the cinematography is not overlooked either, and the chess game/battle with Moriarty is a classic.
64. The Shining (1980) – My brother’s idea of fun family festive entertainment... Interesting to watch over 30 years after it was made to see what all the fuss is about – it’s no longer shocking but is still incredibly influential.
65. Shopgirl (2005) – Working in a department store can destroy your soul to the point that you will do anything to escape the tedium. The precisely observed details of retail bring out a cold sweat in anyone who has undergone a similar experience.

66. Skyfall (2012) - Warning: this action film contains real acting, with limited CGI crap, and a brilliant opening sequence. Daniel Craig brings the sexy back and with director Sam Mendes and proper actors (Dame Judi, Javier Bardem, Naomie Harris, Ben Wishaw, Ralph Fiennes, Albert Finney) it's the best Bond film ever - I'm a big fan, so that's saying something. 'Take the bloody shot'.
67. The Small Voice (1949) – A psychological drama about the guilt of committing a crime in black and white. A couple of escaped convicts take an unhappily-married couple hostage, and then succumb to decency in desperation.
68. Stardust (2007) – Claire Danes is a star. No, really, she is, in this charming piece of fantasy/ whimsy based on the book by Neil Gamain.
69. Stolen Youth (1996) – Woman’s best friend has affair with her teenage (18 and technically adult) son – cue spurious outrage and double standards. Of course a young man couldn’t possibly be interested in an older woman; she must have lured him onto her evil clutches...
70. To Love and to Die (2008) – Utterly ridiculous premise about a young woman trying to reconnect with her estranged father by becoming involved in his contract killing business. Apparently it was a pilot for a series that was never picked up. No surprises there.
71. Unstable (2009) – A spoilt pampered darling daughter has an abusive relationship from which she is trying to recover with the help of a psychiatrist. When she meets a charming man she gets married in haste and then thinks she may be going mad as she forgets and loses things – or is perhaps her new husband manipulating her vulnerability and not quite so charming as first thought? Well, what do you think?
72. Until Proven Innocent (2009) – A New Zealand film based on the true story of David Dougherty who served three and a half years before his conviction for raping his 11-year old neighbour was overturned through the tireless efforts of a journalist and other professionals. The moral is that DNA testing is far more reliable than child testimony, and that the court system is crushingly slow.

73. Up (2009) – A very cute animated tale about an aspiring wilderness explorer (like a scout) and a grumpy old man who becomes a sort of surrogate grandfather to the kid, as they undertake an adventure of danger and (self)-discovery. Future dreams meet past reminisces and youthful innocence balances aged cynicism. It’s all rather lovely and there’s a great dopey (but loyal and adorable) dog. One for kids and sentimental adults.
74. Up Close and Personal (1996) – Robert Redford is an old newshound; Michelle Pfeiffer is the young wannabe and Stockard Channing is the best thing in it as the old has-been. There’s a slight exposé about the decline of hard-hitting journalism in favour of sound-bite flim-flammery, but the most startling thing about it is the total lack of chemistry between the leads.
75. Vanity Fair (2004) – I’m sure I’ve seen this before, but it’s a very passable adaptation of Thakeray’s novel. It’s beautifully shot (Declan Quinn) and directed (Mira Nair), highlighting all the picaresque moments (Julian Fellowes is among the screenwriters), Romola Garai is as fabulous as ever, and Reese Witherspoon as Becky Sharpe gives her best ever performance.

76. We Bought a Zoo (2011) – When his wife dies Benjamin (Matt Damon) has a change of direction and seeks an adventure by buying a zoo and moving his young family to the sticks. The little girl is particularly cute (Maggie Elizabeth Jones); the zoo inspector is a pantomime villain (John Michael Higgins); the chief zookeeper is a sorely miscast Scarlett Johansson. The messages are obvious, the metaphors palpable and the moral clear – This isn’t Disney but it might as well be.
77. Wedding Wars (2006) – Best man wedding planner is organising his brother’s wedding when he discovers the future father-in-law politician is dead set against gay marriage. It is probably meant to deal sensitively with an issue, but it manages to make a distasteful mockery of everything.
78. Wicker Park (2004) – American psychological romance/ drama featuring obsession, deception and mistaken identity; not your usual rom/com puff.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Films Watched in 2012 (Part Two: 26-50)

26. Fool’s Gold (2008) – A mindless Friday night film about treasure hunting with Kate Hudson for the boys and Matthew McConaughey for the girls.
27. Friends with Money (2006) – better than expected considering the four female characters range from vapid to vile.
28. The Good Times are Killing Me (2009) – a top-notch lawyer comes to terms with her alcoholism while still solving cases.
29. The Guard (2011) – Is Brendan Gleeson one of the greatest masters of comic timing ever? He makes drugs, blackmail and police corruption as darkly entertaining as the accompanying Guinness you should be drinking.
30. Heartbreaker/ L’Arnacouer (2010) – French romantic comedy about a bloke (Romain Duris) who’s hired to break up unsuitable couples (usually by seducing the woman away from the man). Of course it all goes wrong when he actually falls for the woman in question (Vanessa Paradis).
31. The Help (2011) – It’s okay, but did it really deserve all the plaudits? It looks wonderful and the cast work really hard but none of them seem to be given enough depth by the writing. I broke my rule of always reading the book before I see the film, which I fear may have been a mistake, as I’m sure the book must have more subtlety and be a little less black and white (do you see what I did there?).
32. Holy Motors (2012) – utterly bonkers, and the most interesting and challenging film I've seen in ages

33. Horrible Bosses (2011) – Neither good nor bad; watchable but not particularly memorable comedy about three blokes who try to get rid of their bosses – the fun is in seeing said bosses (Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell, Jennifer Aniston) play against type.

34. Hugo (2011) – Delightfully well-filmed and acted piece of brilliance for children and adults from Martin Scorcese. It features a fantasy world filled with train stations, early film-making, automatons, fatherhood, friendship and clocks. You can watch it in 3D if you like, although it is magical enough without it. Incidentally, this includes an example of what Sacha Baron Cohen does really well in his fine study of a character of a villainous station master with hidden vulnerability.
35. In Her Shoes (2005) – Toni Colette and Cameron Diaz play unlikely sisters who discover they have a grandmother (Shirley MacLaine) still alive. All three reactions to their re-introduction are touchingly honest – some good honest acting and direction (Curtis Hanson).
36. Incendies (2010) – Canadian drama about twins travelling to the Middle East on learning about their mother’s past and the existence of a hitherto unknown brother well deserves its Oscar nomination for best foreign film.
37. Jane Doe: How to Fire Your Boss (2007) – a curious number about a secret US government experiment in mind control; curious as in how on earth did this ever get made?

38. A Kiss Before Dying (1991) – A remake of a 1956 film based on an Ira Levin novel; quite creepy in a soft focus Matt Dillon sort of a way.

39. Lawless (2012) – The collaboration of Nick Cave (screenwriter and soundtrack supplier) and John Hillcoat (director) is not quite as powerful as in the kangaroo Western, The Proposition, but once again the redefine the concept of blood brothers, this time set during prohibition in Virginia when bootlegging outlaws became the new heroes. All the acting is stellar, but Guy Pearce steals the show as sadistic, maniacal, lavender-gloved law-enforcer Special Deputy Charlie Rakes, and should earn great plaudits as screen villain of the year.
40. Lethal Vows (1999) – Psychological drama based on a true story about a woman who suspects her husband is trying to poison her with selenium. It’s a wonder anyone gets married at all in Hollywood.
41. The Lion in Winter (1968) – Watched as part of my on-going self-taught history of cinema. King Henry II (Peter O’Toole) dithers over which of his three sons to name as his successor, while his estranged wife (Katharine Hepburn) pops out of her tower of imprisonment to provide a meddlesome sparring partner and remind him of her previous affair with King Philip II of Spain (Timothy Dalton).

42. Maytime in Mayfair (1949) – When a penniless man-about-town is left a Mayfair fashion salon and decides to try and get to grips with ladies’ couture rather than selling off the business. They don’t make films like this anymore – it’s billed as a comedy musical and although it’s perfectly pleasant (Michael Wilding and Anna Neagle have pretty good chemistry) there’s barely a smattering of comedy or music.
43. The Mermaid Chair (2006) – Kim Bassinger had a good run, but has been gasping for breath since 8 Mile, which came out four years before this dead fish flop.
44. Midnight Run (1988) – Robert de Niro stars in the comedy action film (a genre that was phenomenally popular in 80s America) as a tough bounty hunter charged with bringing an embezzler (Charles Grodin) from New York to Los Angeles for justice. The handcuffed journey provides top action and dialogue as the ‘real’ story comes out.

45. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011) – It’s still a good franchise with benchmark action sequences, and Tom Cruise remains committed to his performances as Ethan Hawke. It may be the fourth instalment, but it’s still stylish solid entertainment.
46. Murder in Greenwich (2002) – Some say that money talks, but in this based on truth film it pays people to keep quiet about a murder committed 25 years ago. It’s narrated by the dead woman in a way I find tastelessly twee.
47. My Fellow Americans (1996) – Not as schmaltzy as you might expect considering Jack Lemmon and James Garner play feuding ex-presidents who try to overcome political and personal differences for the greater good ole’ U. S. of A. Every single review refers to it as ‘Grumpy Old Presidents’ so I shall too.

48. My Week with Marilyn (2011) – An entertaining and engaging film, in which Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), an employee of Sir Laurence Olivier’s (Sir Kenneth Brannagh), documents the tense interaction between Olivier and Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) during production of The Prince and the Showgirl. Of course, Marilyn is the star of the show and Williams outstandingly captures her allure and vulnerability, but the whole cast are expertly directed by Simon Curtis, and Dame Judi Dench gives a star turn as Dame Sybil Thorndike.
49. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011) –Perhaps it’s just me; everyone else seems to think this Turkish police investigation film is a ‘slow burning work of genius’. Apparently there is a fine line between creative and dull: I think this crossed it.
50. Our Guys: Outrage at Glen Ridge (1999) – Another of those based-on-a-true-story movies, about a pack of high-school jocks who raped a mentally handicapped girl and were protected by the school because they were going to win a football trophy and she asked for it. Heather Matarazzo is excellent in the main role, while Ally Sheedy and Eric Stoltz are also good as the detective and prosecutor who confront the smugly conservative suburban majority.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Films Watched in 2012 (Part One: 1-25)

  1. Albert Nobbs (2011) – Glenn Close is a really good actor, but she’s not great at pretending to be a man in 19th Century Ireland so she can get a job in a posh hotel in Dublin. It’s still a good film though for the dialogue and the cinematography.
  2. Annapolis (2006) – Chap from the wrong side of the tracks promises his dying mother he will make it to Annapolis Naval Academy, which he does. His admittance is particularly surprising as he’s not actually good at anything, except boxing, by which he supports himself. Due to resentment from his ship-building father, antagonism from his classmates and his own chippy attitude, he drops out – but guess what..?
  3. Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012) – This has the potential to be an excellent film (despite the pretentious faux poetic ‘everything is connected so climate change is bad’ philosophising) with some superb acting from the young star (Quvenzhané Wallis) in New Orleans on the brink of the devastating hurricane. It is shot in queasy cam, however, so a total waste of time for me.
  4. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011) – starring Maggie Smith, Dame Judi, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton, Celia Imrie and Dev Patel, there is very little not to like in this film about a group of oldies who go on a retirement holiday to the recently-opened eponymous hotel where ‘nothing works out quite as expected’. The word charming is overused in film reviews, but it is perfectly apt in this instance.
  5. The Bourne Legacy (2012) – Tagline: there was never just one, and this one is Jeremy Renner doing a perfectly adequate job as Aaron Cross. It runs concurrently with the last Matt Damon one (The Bourne Ultimatum) so it helps to have seen them, although most people watching this are already fans of the franchise. With Edward Norton and Rachel Weisz it displays some flair, but suffers from sequel syndrome. Jason Bourne may have been the tip of the iceberg, but I’m not sure we really need to see all the stuff underneath.
  6. Breaking and Entering (2006) – Written and directed by Anthony Minghella and starring Jude Law, Juliet Binoche, Martin Freeman, and Robin Wright Penn this is meant to be a gritty modern parable with single mothers, tough relationships, Bosnian refugees and parkour galore, but it is ruined by over-earnestness.
  7. Brian’s Song (2001) – a remake of the apparently far superior 1971 version. It tells the story of two (real) American football players, Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo, who were forced to room together and thus overcome racism and personal antipathy, but one wonders why a remake felt necessary?
  8. Bruno (2009) – Sacha Baron Cohen is one of those comedians who have fabulous ideas for sketch shows which don’t stretch to full-length films. This one about a self-styled Austrian fashion guru outstays its welcome by a good 70 minutes. (It has a running time of 81 minutes.)
  9. Carousel (1956) – Blimey, 1950s musicals were sexist (hitting your wife is acceptable as long as you love her), which leaves a very sour taste. It includes some great song and dance numbers though, such as June Is Bustin’ Out All Over, Clambake and, of course, You’ll Never Walk Alone.
  10. Cartoches Gauloises (2007) – A touching depiction of the friendship of two young boys whose parents are on opposite sides of the conflict in the lead-up to Algeria’s War of Independence in 1962.
  11. Le Concert (2009) – Highly enjoyable and completely unrealistic comedy about a Russian orchestra passing itself as the Bolshoi to play a concert in Paris.
  12. Concrete Canyons (2010) – Small-town tracker goes to big city Chicago to find his son who has gone into hiding as he is wanted for murder. At first he is not appreciated by the pretty female detective, but guess what...?
  13. Contagion (2011) – Kate Winslett is woefully underused in this film about a deadly airborne virus that can destroy humanity; the community falls apart rapidly in a way that is not so very far-fetched. Civil defence and public health services must have been terrified.
  14. Contraband (2012) – American action film starring Mark Wahlberg and Kate Beckinsale. I watched it on a plane where I gave it the attention it deserved.
  15. The Dark Knight Rises (2012) – Sadly overshadowed by the Colorado shootings, this was an excellent instalment in the Batman franchise. Anne Hathaway is rubbish as usual (although director, Christopher Nolan, made the most of her leather-clad booty) but Christian Bale and Tom Hardy are outstanding as the caped crusader and the new baddie respectively.
  16. Dark Shadows (2012) – Johnny Depp makes a pretty good vampire, but (as is often the case with a Tim Burton-directed film) the overall tone lacks cohesion: is it comedy, kids’ entertainment, or something altogether darker?
  17. La Délicatesse (2011) – Audrey Tatou in another French romantic comedy, but it has a little more bite and less whimsy than the nauseating Amélie. Perhaps it’s the introduction of the too-dull-to-be-true Swede as the love interest.
  18. The Devil’s Whore (2008) – released in the U.S.A. as The Devil’s Mistress (Because that sounds so much better?) this is an excellent drama about the personalities in the English Civil War. It’s interesting to see Peter Capaldi play something other than the foul-mouthed spin-doctor Malcolm from The Thick of It (he plays Charles I here) and I love watching Maxine Peake and John Simm in anything.
  19. Down and Out in Beverley Hills (1986) – I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this before, but even if I haven’t it was all underwhelmingly familiar. It’s quite a nasty piece of 80s American capitalist propaganda promoting shallow lifestyles and negating the value of charity.
  20. Dreamgirls (2006) – 1966: Showbiz is superficial and entirely based on looks. If you’re female, it doesn’t matter if you’ve got a great voice and are a brilliant performer: all the attention will be on your size. Fast forward forty years to the Oscar-winning performance from Jennifer Hudson in the film based on the Broadway musical and you’ll find showbiz is superficial and entirely based on looks. If you’re female, it doesn’t matter if you’ve got a great voice and are a brilliant performer: all the attention will be on your size.
  21. Empty Nest/ El Nido Vacío (2008) – Argentinean drama about a couple struggling with their own relationship once their children leave home and they realise they actually have very little in common. Interestingly, critical reviews are fairly evenly split: women like it; men don’t.
  22. Enid (2009) – Helena Bonham Carter is fantastic in this biopic about Enid Blyton. Society’s views on raising children are so different now from Edwardian times that she is pilloried for sending her children to boarding school and having a nanny so that she could actually – shock horror – work fulltime as a writer.
  23. Family Sins (2004) – Kirstie Alley is wonderfully evil in a made-for-TV movie based on a true story about an ostensibly happy family with horrible secrets in the basement.
  24. First Do No Harm (1997) – another made-for-TV movie, this time starring Meryl Streep as a mother of a boy with severe epilepsy, which doesn’t seem to respond to drug treatments. She tries to opt for natural therapies, but the medical profession fights her right to make decisions. It’s very one-sided, showing the herbalists to be the goodies with the doctors as the baddies, and although Meryl is as good as ever, the casting of ‘real people who have been through this’ lessens the overall acting factor.
  25. Five (2011) – Five individual stories (with different directors for each segment) about women affected by breast cancer – my favourite is (surprisingly directed by Jennifer Aniston) the woman (played by Patricia Clarkson) who recovered after giving away all her possessions and telling everyone exactly what she thought of them. Ooops!