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!

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

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

IMDB Review #247: Shutter Island

There are some films which are difficult to discuss without giving away a spoiler, and Shutter Island is one such film. It is one of those films that the less you know about it, the better the first experience; therefore if you have not seen the film, please stop reading now.

Set in the 1950’s, US Marshall Teddy Daniels (Leonardo Di Caprio) and his partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) are called to investigate the disappearance of a young woman at a mental asylum on the mysterious Shutter Island. Upon investigation, it soon becomes clear that things are not as they should be on the island and Teddy begins to suspect that the mental asylum, headed by Dr Crawley (Sir Ben Kingsley), is actually being used for some mysterious government tests.

Shutter Island is by all means a good film. The story is excellent (as one would expect from a Dennis Lehane adaptation), it contains some excellent performances, most notably by Di Caprio who is outstanding in the title role, and the production design is so lovingly rendered that the film really brings to life its 1950s setting.

Out of all of Scorsese’s films, Shutter Island is perhaps most close in style to Cape Fear. It is a psychological horror which harks back to the classic suspense of films of the great Alfred Hitchcock, whose work clearly has a large influence on the film. The score in particular recalls the work of the great Bernhard Herrman, a long-time collaborator of Hitchcock and one of the highest regarded film composers of all time.

The film does have its flaws; my main issue being that it is over long and suffers from slow pacing in places. However, overall this was a film which I really enjoyed the first time I watched it, and, unusually for a ‘film with a twist’, it retained its appeal on a second viewing (unlike The Sixth Sense for example). 

Not a classic by any means, and certainly not Scorsese’s best, but overall Shutter Island had enough period authenticity and atmosphere to keep me entertained. 

And that much debated final line? – well, let’s just say it stayed with me for days. Definitely worth a watch.

Rating 8/10

Friday, 10 June 2011

Absent Friends #2 – Gomorrah

From a quick glance down the IMDB Top 250 list, it is apparent that ‘gangster’ or ‘crime’ films are heavily represented on the list. From The Godfather Parts one and two, to Goodfellas, City of God and even Pulp Fiction, it is clear that the gangster genre has had a profound impact on the history of film. However, when looking closely at these films, the vast majority of them are over-stylized, glamorous portraits of the gangster lifestyle and it is hard to accept that these accurately portray the reality of a life of crime.

Now I am not for a second suggesting that such films are overrated or not worthy of a place in the Top 250. Many of the films I mention above would feature highly in my personal Top 250 films as they have all of the elements of fantastic filmmaking; great acting, scripting, production design, cinematography etc. What is missing from this collection of films, however, is a sense of gritty realism and that is a deficiency which Gomorrah superbly films.

Based on the bestselling book by Robert Saviano, Gomorrah is a series of inter-woven stories about various aspects of the Camorra crime syndicate, also known as the Neapolitan Mafia. Each of the different strands of the film highlights a different aspect of organized crime in Italy; the highly profitable trade of illegal waste management, the counterfeit goods market, the savage impact of crime on local youths and the brutality dished out in local turf wars. 

Heavily influenced by the neorealism movement in post World War II Italy, the film rejects any urges to glamorise organised crime and instead focuses on portraying the harsh realities of the criminal underworld. The film invokes such realistic visuals that the whole cinematic experience of the film is entirely realistic and engrossing from start to finish. The film also features some fine performances from a largely Italian cast, most notably from Toni Servillo who won a European film award for his portrayal of an illegal waste management consultant.

In my opinion, this is a seminal film about crime which provides a fascinating juxtaposition to other, more glamourized, crime films such as Goodfellas and the Godfather. I would urge anyone who has not seen this film to go out and find a copy – you won’t regret it. 

Just don’t expect Goodfellas 2…

Rating 10/10

Thursday, 9 June 2011

IMDB Review #248: Rain Man

It has been a rather busy week for me and unfortunately this has result in the neglect of my blog. However, now that the weekend is near, I am back in business and will be continuing with my Top 250 challenge. On that note, let us move on to number 248 on the list: Rain Man.

In Rain Man, Tom Cruise plays Charlie Babbit, a self-obsessed car dealer who would do anything to make a quick buck. When Charlie’s father dies, Charlie is outraged to find out that an unnamed beneficiary is to inherit his father’s $3m fortune. When Charlie finds out that the unnamed beneficiary is an autistic older brother, Raymond (Dustin Hoffman), who never knew, he sets out to obtain guardianship of Raymond in order to obtain the cash.

The performances in the film are fantastic, with Hoffman in particular standing out, and fully deserving of his Oscar, for his portrayal of the autistic Raymond. Hoffman plays the character with subtlety when it would have been very easy to overstate the impact of autism on the character of Raymond and this results in a completely believable performance which engrossed me from start to finish.

Tom Cruise is also in good form as Raymond’s brother Charlie, albeit the character arc he is given is a very familiar story of redemption – changing from a selfish egotist into a loving brother during the course of the film. Whilst he is overshadowed by Hoffman, Cruise still manages to hold his own and plays the self-centred Charlie superbly.

Aside from the performances, Rain Man is a pretty bog standard road movie which lacks any real originality. In one sequence, we find Charlie exploiting Raymond’s numerical abilities to count cards in a Las Vegas casino, thereby winning a small fortune. This riffs off the common perception that people with autism have savant skills when perhaps a more original take on the issues of autism would have been more rewarding (albeit it is probable that Rain Man helped to create that perception in the first place).

Having said that, Rain Man does have some genuinely funny moments and some moments of real emotion – the scene in which Raymond imitates sex noises made by Charlie and his girlfriend (Valeria Golino) is particularly amusing. However, despite the odd moment of humour and emotion, I cannot say that I loved this film and it is certainly not one which would make it into my Top 250 films of all time. 

Overall, the performances of Cruise and Hoffman lift Rain Man above mediocrity, but there are many other elements of a good film (such a strong storyline) which are missing. Dustin Hoffman’s performance is definitely up there with the best and is a career defining role, but apart from that there really is not much else in this film to suggest that it should be considered a classic.

Rating 7/10