alanjones792

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Reviews

Un chien andalou
(1929)

Intrigued by the nature of the imagery, left hollow by the experience.
Opening with the celebrated 'cutting of the eye' sequence (above), an image so famous it's been parodied in everything from The Simpsons to Mr Oizo's Lambs Anger album cover, Un Chien Andalou stands as the most famous example of the avant-garde movement of 1920s French surrealism. Described by it's director as meaning nothing, suggesting the only "method of investigation of (the film's) symbols would be, perhaps, psychoanalysis", the film follows a narrative whose logic can only be described as 'dreamlike', jumping skittishly from time frame-to-time frame with no inherent logic behind the need to shift phase so dramatically.

Silent films reliance on imagery as the primary narrative structure means that many of cinema's great images stem from the need for the directors of the time to master montage and form to best present their intended imagery (Sergei Eisenstein being a particularly notable purveyor of this skill). As such, the sensibilities of Dali merged with the directorial skill of Bunuel, who was directing his first picture after working as assistant to Jean Epstien, amongst others, to create a haunting evocation of dream-scape surrealism. Born from a discussion between Spanish director Luis Bunuel and surrealist artist Salvador Dali regarding the nature of dreams, the script was written as an attempt to capture the nature of suppressed human emotions. From a hole in the hand crawling with ants to two characters buried up their shoulders in sand, the range of imagery in the film is quite startling, shifting from nightmarish to bizarre and offer no explanation other than that which the viewer themselves place upon it. The film contains five characters, nominally described as 'the husband', 'the wife', 'the lover', 'the detective' and 'the father', but none is imbued with any particular character nor are we presented with any particular motivation for their actions, instead we are presented with a barrage of imagery with no meaning other than for the viewer to question there own reaction to it.

Surrealism was unpopular amongst the French populous at the time and both Bunuel and Dali attended the film's premiere with rocks hidden in their pockets, wary of any potential backlash from those in attendance and were disappointed to find the film embraced by the public. I myself have some disdain for surrealism and whilst I found myself intrigued by the nature of the imagery I was ultimately left hollow by the experience of watching the film. There is certainly memorable imagery contained within the piece and, therefore, it has achieved its aims, but, unlike, say, Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin (1925) which is as vital as a piece of entertainment as it is a cinematic landmark, Un Chien Andalou is, to my mind, more notable for its legacy than content. However, it is important to note that such an opinion is probably more down to my own limitations and bias regarding surrealism as it is limitations within the film itself.

My Man Godfrey
(1936)

A celebration of the shared humanity of the rich and the poor.
My Man Godfrey, one of the key examples of the screwball comedy genre that dominated Hollywood comedy scene during the late 1930s and early 1940s, sums up it's key concept within it's opening shot, as the waste of the rich is deposited into the city dump in which Godfrey (William Powell) calls home. The idea of the interaction between the two separate poles of modern America, the rich and the poor, runs throughout the film. The first time we see Godfrey (above, with Irene) he is disheveled, replete with scruffy beard and dirty coat. He is approached by socialite Cornelia Bullock (Gail Patrick) who needs a "forgotten man" to win the scavenger hunt taking place in the swanky hotel which overlooks the city dump (another illusion to the thin line between the have and the have-nots, particularly relevant in Depression-era America). Her attitude to him prompts him to push her into a pile of ash, much to the amusement of her scatter brained, but pure hearted, sister Irena (Carole Lombard). Intrigued by Irena's ways, Godfrey agrees to be her "forgotten man", helping Irena to win the scavenger hunt. As thanks, Irena, obviously quite taken by Godfrey, offers him a position as the family butler, which he accepts.

Initially, My Man Godfrey comes across as quite radical for its time: the down-and-out Butler comes in and is more educated, refined and human than those he serves, a timely commentary on the nature of the bourgeoisie and how wealth does not necessarily correlate with a person's inherent qualities. Whilst it certainly does contain inference to these ideals (the Bullock family, who are scatterbrained (Irena), pompous (Cornelia), downright stupid (the mother) and world-weary and defeated (the father), all characteristics associated with the rich in more modern art, whilst the servants Godfrey and Molly are erudite, intelligent and aware) it does not state them openly. However, halfway through the film this bubbling undercurrent of class insurrection is dissipated by the discovery that Godfrey is actually himself from the privileged set and had fled polite society after a bitter love affair. Whilst a 'forgotten man' the optimistic, undaunted attitude of the homeless ("Success is just around the corner!" "Which corner?" being a recurring gag amongst the set) helped re-stir his passion for life and ultimately helps him escape, as he uses his wages to invest wisely, eventually making enough money to save the Bullock family from bankruptcy (a much under utilised b-story) and build a fashionable nightspot on the city dump, giving the forgotten men somewhere to work in the summer and somewhere to live and eat in the winter, an analogy for America's prosperity being built upon the poor.

Made during the Depression, a time when the nature of wealth in capitalist civilisations first became a prominent concern, My Man Godfrey is primarily about redemption. Whether the viewer wants to correlate this to personnel redemption or as an analogy of financial redemption (or both) is up to them. The film is a celebration of the shared humanity of the rich and the poor, and a clear statement that the line between the two realms was becoming so thin in contemporary America that one could so readily become mistaken for the other.

Hancock
(2008)

Everything right, except the most important thing - the script
Alfred Hitchcock, one of the greatest directors of them all, famously answered the question 'What makes a great movie?' with the phrase. 'The script, the script, the script.' Hancock is proof that The Master was 100% correct.

Everything about Hancock apart from the script is in place to make a good blockbuster picture - Will Smith is possibly the best A-List actor going at the moment, Jason Bateman is a fine comic actor, Charlize Theron offers sterling support, the special effects are good, it zips along at a fine pace, Peter Berg's direction is good... everything but the script works. But the script is terrible.

Hancock is a film about the rehabilitation of a drunken, foul mouthed, unloved superhero with no memory of his past (played by Smith) by a PR who's life he saves (Bateman). And the rehabilitation process is fun, witty and well-made and ends with Hancock foiling a bank robbery and becoming the hero he should be. However, this natural conclusion comes at around 45 minutes into the film. Realising that films tend to be longer than the duration of a TV Show something has to be added and it comes in the form of a truly dreadful second half in which it turns out the PR wife (Theron) is Hancock's wife and also a superhero and that, if they are too close a proximity to each other they will lose their powers. Although, in fairness, this twist is hinted at through the first half of the film it still feels like an unnatural attempt to artificially lengthen the movie and spoils much of the goodwill built up in the first half, becoming a generic, uninvolving superhero flick without a proper villain for our hero to contend with.

It's a shame that with superhero films the current rage, and with the talent of those involved, that this film couldn't be a successful parody of the genre's conventions. Hancock has existed, in one form or another, script wise for 12 years. It's been rewritten several times and that probably explains why it's script is such a mess. I love Will Smith. the guy could open a remake of Ishtar at Number 1, and I could watch the guy in pretty much anything, but this is the worst film he has made (through no fault of his own) since Wild Wild West. The first half would get a 7/8 and the second a 2/3 so I'll average the two out to give the film a 5.

Wanted
(2008)

Serviceable, yet soulless, action flick, oddly devoid of a sense of wonder.
Very loosely based upon Mark Millar's comic book miniseries of the same name, Wanted is the story of a white collar office worker who discovers he is actually the son of the world's greatest assassin and sets out to avenge his fathers death with a secret fraternity of assassins who choose their targets from 'The Loom Of Fate.' Yes, seriously, 'The Loom Of Fate'.

Awkwardly pitched somewhere between 'Matrix' and 'Fight Club' (without the sense of wonder of the former or the intelligence of the latter) and directed by Timur Bekmambetov, best known for 2004's Night Watch, Wanted is difficult to judge as a film. It's oddly soulless, inflicted by an over reliance on CGI and A.D.D. direction that seems to infect the majority of modern action films, yet it does have some very good set pieces and a reasonable involving storyline, though the dialogue itself is a bit of a mess and the characters are never explored to their full potential.

James McAvoy, one of the better actors to break through over the last few years, gives a decent performance as the film's protagonist Wesley Gibson, (ignoring his horrific attempt at an American accent) though the support, including a sleepwalking Morgan Freeman as Fraternity leader 'Sloan' and a 'going-through-the-motions' Angelina Jolie, is less successful.

Overall, Wanted doesn't fulfil it's promise (which it may have done had it stuck closer to Millar's original work) but is a serviceable enough summer action film and there's certainly worse ways to spend 2 hours in the evening. Just don't expect anything to make you beg for a sequel (though there's one on the way, natch.)

Cinderella Man
(2005)

Captivating
I went to this film with a certain amount of scepticism having never been a fan of either boxing or Russell Crowe. However, I was hooked from almost the first shot - the acting is top notch from Crowe as the courageous Jim Braddock through Connor Price,Ariel Waller,Patrick Louis as his three children (the first good performances I've seen from child actors all year). The direction from Howard is superb capturing the savagery of the sport perfectly (the theatre I was in gasped and winced during the fight scenes) and drawing the viewer deeply into such a dark period of America's history. This story of Braddock's rise, fall and rise is well-paced, brilliantly scripted and as captivating as any film of recent times. The characters act believably and are crafted to perfectly elicit the required reactions that the film-makers want the cinema-goer to feel. Overall this is a superb must see movie and I hope it garners some Oscar nominations at least, certainly Crowe deserves a nomination(Best Actor) and possibly Paul Giamatti (Best Supporting) for a considered portrayal as Braddock's manager Joe Gould.

Overall, I would say along with Crash this is the best film of 2005 so far and, in the genre of Boxing films is second only to (obviously) Scorsese/De Niro's Raging Bull.

8/10 - Highly recommended.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
(2005)

Massive disappointment.
About 30 minutes into the film the Oompa-Loompa's sing for the first time. Anyhope this film deserves to be mentioned in even the same breath to the 1971 original goes out of the window. One particular Oompa-Loompa sequence, just after Violet Beauregarde has been turned into a giant blueberry, is so bad it is actually probably the worst thing I have ever seen in a film that I have paid to see. But its not just the Oompa-Loompa's that will leave anyone with a genuine love for such a classic story cold.

Depps fans won't like to admit it, but his performance is completely wrong. His pale skin, unclear motives and childish behaviour (giggling, for example) bring to mind a rather more famous man child of recent times. In fact, Depp would only have had to burst into 'Black Or White' and I would have been convinced this was Michael Jackson and the Chocolate Factory. Where is the slightly eccentric uncle with a secret past that Wilder played so perfectly in the original? Instead we are given an incredible inept attempt to explain Wonka's past which removes any sort of interest the viewer might have in the character by explaining away the myth (although Christopher Lee's turn as Wilbur Wonka is brilliant).

The script on the whole is awful, falling on clichés and uninspired, dull dialogue and focusing too much on Wonka. This is meant to be a film about Charlie NOT Willy, hence the CHARLIE in the title (it's ironic that 1971's Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory manages to focus on Charlie more. Its also far to Americanised - if Charlie must be offered dollars at every opportunity, told to 'clean his pants' and we hear 'jerk' bandied around Willy nilly then set the film in America... don't create some strange hybrid Eng-America where your too lazy or stupid to localise the script properly.

The acting (apart from the two mentioned earlier) is mostly unremarkable, though special mention must go to the kids who all manage to be terrible, especially Julia Winter whose acting is stilted and unconvincing. No wonder, as a whole, the children spend so little time on screen. Also why has Violet Beauregarde suddenly become a karate expert? I'm all for updating the ideas to fit in with the modern world (Mike Teevee's obsession switch from TV to Videogames is a good example of this) but don't do it at the expense of the story.

Good points? There are some - the whole world is wonderfully realised, exciting and imaginative and some of the special effects are genuinely special and Burton's trademark direction is there helping to create a film that is, at least, a visual treat. In fact, its only because of him that the film has managed to score as high as a 3.

Yes it REALLY is that bad.

Solo
(1996)

Mind-numbing
Solo is a poor film - that cannot be ignored. The acting for the most part is very wooden (the only exception is Adrien Brody's performance as Solo's creator Bill) and the story is slight enough that you would probably forget it WHILST you where watching the film. That said, such films are more about the action than the plot/acting and, as such, live or die by the action set pieces - that after all is the point of such films - to give 14 year-olds something to smile at whilst the adults watch films of actual substance. And even on this Solo fails to deliver - what little action there is is poorly done, dull and uninspired. After seeing the trailer for this on television I was hoping for something along the lines of Predator with a robot replacing the Predaot. Instead I got a fairly lifeless action film with a poorly constructed attempt at depth by taking on message that robots can feel too. Watch Terminator II or Predator instead.. both classics that this film desperately wants to be except it lacks the inspiration or, to be fair, the budget.

War of the Worlds
(2005)

Disappointing
It is very rare for the modern cinema goer to be truly impressed by the image in front of them when going to the cinema but I was by War of The Worlds. The effects where incredible and imaginative creating the type of awe-inspiring feeling that has been missing in recent cinema. However, this doesn't extend to a fairly mediocre script and performances. Tom Cruise fills the 'all-American' dad role well enough without ever having us care about his character and the development of the relationship with his children is clumsy and negligible. It must also be noted that the children are perhaps the two most irritating characters in any film this year and it doesn't help the flow of the story when you are actually hoping they get killed.The end of the film is too abrupt and feels rushed (though in fairness this is due to the way the book ends - at least Spielberg stayed faithful to this) but doesn't explain it clearly enough to people who haven't read the original book.In summary this is worth seeing for the effects but doesn't have the substance to extend it pass a 'popcorn movie' and into the realms of all time classics where some of Spielberg's other Sci-Fi epics (Close Encounters/E.T.) reside . Read the book for a fully appreciation of the story.

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