Welcome to my blog. Here you will find details of my progress towards watching all films in the IMDB Top 250 List along with other random film musings. Enjoy!

Thursday, 1 September 2011

IMDB Review #33: Leon

When Leon was originally released in cinemas back in 1994, most reviews commented on the fact that it was morally dubious for a film to portray the training of a 12 year old girl as a hitman. It can’t be denied that Leon is amoral by nature - this is a graphically violent film, which also hints at a sexual relationship between a 12 year old girl and a much older hitman – however, what also can’t be denied is that this is a wonderfully entertaining film which breaks many conventions of the modern day thriller.
When 12 year old Mathilda’s family are killed by a drug infused maniac (Gary Oldman) over a drug deal gone wrong, Mathilda (a young Natalie Portman) is adopted by Leon (Jean Reno), the hitman next door. In return for cleaning the apartment and reading lessons, Leon agrees to teach Mathilda some of the secrets of his craft. With an impending sense of dread, the film slowly builds up the tension until a final confrontation between Leon and the man who killed Mathilda’s family.
Everything about this film is over-emphasized, from Gary Oldman’s drug crunching (and completely over the top) manic bad guy to the explosive final confrontation. I must admit that this didn’t really bother me too much as it added to the overall interest and intrigue of the film and resulted in a stylised urban thriller which is clearly devolved from reality (unsurprising given this is a Jean Luc Besson film). Everything in the film is overly stylised, from the character’s clothes and dialogue to the soundtrack and set design. This is an approach which I think works superbly and gives the film a sense of originality and freshness which very few films manage to achieve (although it is doubtful whether any film can claim to be truly original in the modern era).
For me, it was the performance of the two central characters which really drives the film. Many would think that a graphically violent thriller would be strongly driven by story and action, but I think this is one of the few exceptions whereby the strong characterisation is the reason that this film is so highly rated on IMDB. The interaction between Leon and Mathilda is quite frankly captivating and deals with some interesting concepts, most importantly being the appropriateness of the relationship between the two. For me, I think that whilst Mathilda and Leonboth love each other, they are two very different kinds of love. Mathilda clearly logves leon like a lover (even though she is 12), however Leon reciprocates that love as a father figure and clearly demonstrates in the final scene that his only desire is to protect Mathilda from harm.
Overall, I thought Leon was a superb film. It is entertaining, feels fresh and original (or at least I imagine it would have done at the time of release) and has characters which are fundamentally interesting. Sure there may be some plot holes and the whole thing may be entirely over the top and removed from reality but it is that wackiness which captivates. This is one I will watch again.

Rating 9/10

Monday, 29 August 2011

Me and my blog

Well, it has been a long time since I last updated this blog, far far too long. First up, apologies to anyone who has been stopping by to see if I have updated the blog. Firstly, I was on holiday for a couple of weeks and I was then in self imposed exile as I tried to get through a set of professional exams (which I am pleased to say I passed, albeit marginally). Despite this it, I feel I have neglected my blog and my challenge and for that I apologise.

But I am not a defeated man, I am still comitted to my challenge and will be striving to complete it, however long it may take me. Over the past six weeks or so I am afraid to say that I have not watched many films at all. The little free time I have had has been spent watching Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (I may be about four years out of date but that TV program was awesome! - more on that later). Going forward the focus will once again be on my Top 250 challenge (in fact, as I type I am watching Leon) but I will no longer committ to watching the films in order. As long as they are on the list, they will be fair game.

Until my next post, and may it come quicker than the last...


Thursday, 7 July 2011

IMDB Review#244: Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter… and Spring

After a short hiatus (I really don’t know where  the time has gone the past two weeks!) my IMDB challenge continues with Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter… and Spring (let’s call it Spring for short).

Spring is a South Korean film which follows a young boy who is being taught how to be a monk by a wise old master. The film is split into four main vignettes, each one named after a different season, which represent the different stages in the boy’s life. Each vignette deals with a different theme of humanity, including cruelty, love and redemption, and we are shown how each of these impact on the boy as he progresses through life.

I must admit that Spring was a film which I was not particularly looking forward to. I made the classic error of prejudging a film based on its DVD cover and I had decided straight away that this film was not for me. As I started watching the film, all I wanted to do was to get this one out of the way so that I could continue with my challenge but as the film progressed, I found myself slowly falling for its meditative charm and by the end of the film I was taken in by its scope and by the statement it was trying to make about life in general. However, it was only after the credits had rolled and I was reflecting on the film that I started to realise how good a film this is.

I must also admit that I am not entirely sure I fully understood the film after just the one viewing which creates a little bit of a dilemma for me in trying to review the film. Part of me (the emotive part) thinks this film was great – truly original and fresh. However, another part of me (the rational part) cannot find the reason why I thought that this film was great. Perhaps that is not a bad thing, as Spring is a film which I will definitely watch again (therefore it has the potential for repeat viewings), however, for me, a truly great film is one which has impact the first time you watch it and stays with you long after the credits roll. Therefore Spring is only partly successful in that respect.

Credit must also go to the fantastic cinematography and score which really add to the atmosphere of the film. The location of the film (set on a floating monastery in the middle of a lake) is such a calming location that it really adds to the meditative nature of the film – an important concept in Buddhist life.

Overall, this is a film which I would recommend to those who enjoy slow paced films which grow on you as time passes. However, if you are looking for a film with impact which you can fully appreciate and enjoy as you watch it, then this one might not be for you.

Rating: 7/10

Sunday, 19 June 2011

IMDB Review #245: The Philadelphia Story

James Stewart is by far my favourite actor. He gives such an amazing amount of energy to each and every character he portrays and can turn his hand to such a variety of different genres that I can honestly say I have never enjoyed watching an actor as much as I have enjoyed watching James Stewart. This all bodes well for The Philadelphia Story – the only film that James Stewart won an Oscar for – and when you through in the wonderful Katherine Hepburn and the smooth Cary Grant, this really was a film which had me salivating.

Tracy (Katherine Hepburn), is a wealthy Philadelphian socialite who is about to get married for the second time. On the eve of her wedding, her ex-husband (Cary Grant) turns up along with an undercover reporter (James Stewart) and as Tracy gets to know these two men further through the course of the night she begins to learn the truth about who she really is and what she really wants from life.

Adapted from the 1939 stage play of the same, The Philadelphia story is a romantic comedy (almost farcical in nature) which features some outstanding dialogue. In every scene the witty dialogue flows at such a pace that it is worth the price of admission alone just to allow it to grace your ears. Credit for that has to go in part to the Broadway play from which this film was adapted but also to screenwriter Donald Stewart, who deserving walked away with that year’s academy award for best screenplay.

Likewise, the acting in the film is superb. James Stewart gives what is a contender for his career best performance and Katherine Hepburn is also outstanding in a seductive lead female role. Making up the leading trio, Cary Grant is fine as the role of the ex-husband, however in almost every scene he is overshadowed by Stewart and Hepburn. That is more a compliment to the two leads as opposed to a criticism of Cary Grant, who I personally think gives his best performances in his collaborations with Hitchcock.

With all good things comes the bad and in this case the predictable storyline lets the film down a little. However, it is a testament to the great cast that they keep the film enjoyable, witty and entertaining despite the obvious plot points and I really did enjoy this piece of golden cinema. 

Perhaps it is too generous to call this a classic, but a finer romantic comedy I have yet to see.

Rating: 8/10

Absent Friends #3 – Romanian New Wave

If there has been one movement in film over the last ten years which has intrigued me most, it has been the Romanian New Wave. From about 2005 onwards, Romanian cinema has encountered something of a renaissance, with films winning numerous awards at several high profile film festivals, including awards for five films at Cannes in only 4 years.

Romania is not a country which I had associated with good quality cinema. The country only produces around 4-5 features every year and the average spend by a Romanian on cinema-going in 2006 was only 4 cents, one of the lowest figures in the world (see reference below). These statistics makes the international success of Romanian cinema all the more impressive.

Some critics have debated whether there is a unifying theme to these Romanian films but for me there is obviously one theme which has heavily influenced all of the recent Romanian films: the fall of communism in the country following the death of Dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989. Some films, such as 12.08 East of Bucharest, deal with the immediate aftermath of the death of Ceausescu, whilst others, such as The Death of Mr Lazarescu, focus on the longer term struggles of a country trying to make the change from communism to a free market economy. For me, this is enough of a unifying theme to give Romanian cinema a national identity and I therefore think it is justified to refer to the emergence of Romanian Cinema as a New Wave.

To date, I managed to indulge in the 4 Romanian films which were award winners at the Cannes film festival and there are several more on my list which I would like to see. None of these films feature in the IMDB Top 250 but for me there is one, possibly two, which should feature in the list. So without further ado, the four films are:

The Death of Mr Lazarescu – Cristi Puiu

The film that kicked off the Romanian New Wave, The Death of Mr Lazarescu is a deadpan black comedy about a dying man’s journey through the Romanian healthcare system. At times harrowing, it is remarkable that this film can simultaneously provide moments of genuine humour and genuine sadness. 

Winner of the Un Certain Regard award at Cannes and numerous other international awards, this is a film which deeply moved me. If I have one criticism of the film, it is its length. At two hours and thirty minutes the running time is excessive and as a result the film is slow in parts – particularly the opening hour. But if you stick with it through until the end , you will be rewarded with a fine film which will open your eyes to the deficiencies in parts of Romanian society.

The film currently has a rating of 7.8 on IMDB and it is therefore not far from making the Top 250 list. For me, if the film had been edited more thoroughly and given a shorter running time, this would definitely have made my list. It may still creep in near the bottom of my Top 250 list but regardless of whether it does or doesn’t, this is still a film which I would recommend to those who wish to broaden their international cinema horizons.

Rating: 8/10

12.08 East of Bucharest - Corneliu Porumboiu

A black comedy about a TV talk show programme which tries to decide whether there was a revolution in one small town at the time of Ceausescu’s death, or whether the revolution seen in other parts of the country was absent. The second major film of the Romanian New Wave and winner of the Camera D’Or at Cannes, 12.08 East of Bucharest underwhelmed me slightly. 

The film appears to be influenced by Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon (which is not a criticism given the profound impact Kurosawa has had on all aspects of modern cinema) in that the film is about the different versions of the same story told by different people, but whilst Rashomon told its story through Flashback, 12.08 East of Bucharest simply has people telling their story to each other. 

This was not a particularly great film for me.

Rating: 5/10

California Dreamin – Cristian Nemesu

California Dreamin tells true story of a Nato convoy which is trying to deliver an American radar system by rail to war torn Kosovo in 1999. The convoy gets held up at a border post in Romania for four days by a corrupt border official, even though it has been authorised to pass by the Romanian Prime Minister. 

Tragically unfinished due to the death of director Cristian Nemescu in a car crash, California Dreamin feels as though it is unfinished work. All the signs of an excellent film are present here - good acting, moments of excellent black comedy and an interesting storyline which ultimately turns into a tragedy – however at 155 minutes, the running time is overlong. Had Nemescu survived to finish his film, I have no doubt he would have cut out a lot more of the padding in the film, but as it currently stands, this is a film which has lots of potential but ultimately fails to deliver.

Rating 6/10

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days – Cristian Mungiu

Perhaps the pinnacle of the Romanian New Wave, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is an outstanding film which looks at the issue of illegal abortion. A deserving winner of the Palme D’Or at Cannes and tragically overlooked for the Oscar for best foreign language film, this is a film which I rate extremely highly.

The film is minimalist in nature and is an excellent example of fine social realist cinema – I for one was enthralled by the purity of the storytelling and the honesty with which this film tells its harrowing story. This is not a film for the weak-hearted. It shows some genuinely distressing imaging on the screen which all add to the hard hitting impact of the film.

Rated 7.9 on IMDB, the film is just outside the IMDB Top 250, however I suspect that if more people had the opportunity to view this magnificent film it would be rated much higher. Personally, this was one of the top 5 films of the noughties for me and would certainly find its way into my personal Top 250 and would likely make it into my top 50, if not higher. This is a film which I cannot recommend more highly and is certainly a criminal omission from the IMDB Top 250.

Rating 10/10

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

IMDB Review #246: Beauty and the Beast

It is so much easier to write about a film when it stirs something inside you – when you feel so much passion for the film that all you want to do is shout about it for days after. For the first time in my IMDB Top 250 challenge, I have found such a film in Beauty and the Beast.

I remember watching Beauty and the Beast with my little sister when I was a kid. Day after day we would watch the film (along with many other Disney classics) over and over again and would never tire of the story of Belle and her Beast. However, as I grew older, Disney became less cool and other interests took over my spare time, mainly computer games. As a result, it must have been about 15 years since I last watched Beauty and the Beast.

And boy have I missed it. Beauty and the Beast is a fantastic film, simultaneously magical, moving, engrossing, uplifting and beguiling. From the opening musical number as Belle makes her way through the sleepy village where she stays, right up until the magical conclusion, Beauty and the Beast captivated me. The musical numbers made me feel good, the storyline enchanted me and for 90 minutes all of my troubles evaporated. What more do you want from a film?

The animation in the film is superb and some of the cinematography is quite simply breath-taking. The characters are so well scripted that they are instantly loveable; I even have a fondness for the dastardly Gaston despite his role as the films antagonist. Not since Walt Disney’s death in 1966 has Disney made a better film (excluding the work of Pixar) and it is doubtful that they ever will top this wonderful film.

Overall, I have no hesitation in calling Beauty and the Beast a bone fide classic. It is the first film in the IMDB Top 250 list which I think truly deserves it place on the list – in fact it should be much higher than its lowly 246th position. Even as I type this review, I have the film playing again in the background and I can guarantee that the film will grace my television within a much shorter period than the 15 years since my last viewing.

I think I may have fallen in love with Disney all over again…

Rating 10/10