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Moments in time, preserved to embarrass me later.

21-12-2006 (archived)

Comedy day. “Starter for Ten” is very sweet, very cringey and very English; a sort of Gregory's Game passage rites picture for undergraduates. McAvoy is excellent, and both Alice Eve and Rebecca Hall are delectable; indeed, the only real problem is that Eve is clearly meant to be far more obviously attractive than Hall, and she just isn't. A really pleasant, uplifting, low-key movie.

The Holiday” has had a considerable kicking from critics, notably for being saccharine, which rather begs the question of what you wanted from a big glossy Christmas romcom. Honestly, have these people not watched many movies? Anyway, we have the two beautiful skinny hollywoody ones, Diaz and Law, and what I rather fear were pitched as the two chubby characterful ones, Black and Winslet. Not that Winslet is actually chubby, of course, but unlike almost any other leading lady she does look like she's heard about food, and these people are bastards.

Diaz's character is a movie trailer director, and rather inventively and effectively almost all the moments from the trailers were here in slightly different versions, so none of it felt stale. Black is more effective than you might think as a romantic lead, Rufus Sewell excellent as a complete bastard, and Jude Law is lovely in the exact opposite of his usual casting. Normally he's the bastard who makes a heartwarming first impression, the smoothie with a heart of darkness, whereas here he starts out looking rather the cad and turns out to be almost unbearably nice. Meanwhile, a 91-year-old Eli Wallach is busily stealing the whole film as the scriptwriter who helps Winslet understand the plot of her life.

While the occasional rants about the evils of the movie business today are probably disposable (albeit true), the film as a whole is enormously effective. There are moments of huge predictability, of course; we learn that Diaz's character hasn't cried since childhood, and of course we know that she'll cry when leaving Law and we'll cry too. And we do. And there are moments less predictable, like the line delivered by one of the little girls that, because of its context, just tore my heart out and has tears in my eyes even now. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, while this is plenty of funny, if you can get through this without falling utterly in love with Winslet, then you have no business watching movies and I have nothing to say to you.

23-12-2006 (archived)

I know I've only just come back, but I'm almost up-to-date on movies (only four behind now!) and it's holiday time. The blog will return in a week or two. In the mean time, why not build a nuclear fusion reactor in your home or give LSD to cats?

29-12-2006 (archived)

Back. Three more:

At least here in England, “Casino Royale” was the biggest event movie of the year, much more so than Pirates; it was still running on four screens, and regularly selling out, a month into its release. I don't remember any picture doing that before. There's been a great deal of excitement about the New Bond, much more than I remember there being in the past, and there's no doubt that Daniel Craig was a controversial choice, apparently not least because he's blond; when you add the overt decision to “do a Batman Begins” and go back to a grittier, less family-foolishness Bond, not just than before Moore turned him into an even cartoonier version of The Saint, this became the first Bond movie in years that was genuinely interesting in advance.

Fleming's Bond was not, ever, a nice man, and while he was capable of excellent manners and fastidious in many respects, he was never the sort of gadget-wielding playboy the films showed almost from the first moments. He was violent, brutal, snobbish, and his only real redeeming feature was that his constant womanising tended to soften into rather pedestal-placing sentimentality around the heroines, though not with other girls who are mentioned in passing. In all of these respects, then, Craig is far more Fleming's bond than any other has been. He's also the best actor and (as the now famous update to Dr No's sea-emergence scene showed) in far the best shape of anyone to take the role, and has been allowed to use his ability unusually fully. Eva Green is an excellent foil, and the way in which she breaks down Bond's self-obsessed distance is entirely and movingly believable.

Sadly the rest of the film is not as strong as its stars and the tone they bring to their roles, but nonetheless, this is one of the better Bond movies, and very probably, not excepting Connery or any other, the best Bond.

There are “because” actors and “despite” actors, and in the case of “Stranger Than Fiction” I was definitely going “despite Will Ferrell”, who had never been more than bearable in anything I'd seen. Here he underplays rather sensitively throughout and is thoroughly good at it, leaving the big comic moments to Dustin Hoffman and the scenery-chewing to Emma Thompson, who does it so well. The film has been written off as Kaufman Lite, much to the annoyance of Joe Queenan in a Guardian piece I've not been able to track down, and indeed that is unfair; what this movie does owe to Kaufman, though, is that without the likes of (most obviously) Adaptation, it would probably not have been funded.

There's another peculiarity; almost all of the character surnames, street names, and so on in the film are those of mathematicians: Pascal, Hilbert, Mittag-Leffler, Euclid; but then we have a handful of non-mathematicians, notably Eiffel, Crick, and Euler, an engineer, scientists, and mathematically-inspired artist. I have no explanation for any of this, nor can I find one. Hey ho. Back to the movie, then. As a love story, it's touching, if a little unlikely. As a comedy, it's very funny in places, with Hoffman demonstrating great timing. And as a serious discussion of the value of art, and whether it can be worth more than life and love, it is surprisingly moving and effective. Films this thoughtful are rare. Recommended.

By contrast, and rather unfortunately, “Eragon” really is a piece of crap. Everything that raised the book above being a formulaic sword-and-sorcery by numbers is gone, leaving just a pretty boy, a pretty girl, some excellent CGI (the fact that first-time director Fangmeier is an effects guy comes through rather obviously) and Irons and Malkovich giving up and 'phoning it in faced with a pretty poor script. Weak, predictable, and dull.

31-12-2006 (archived)

The year's last film review, on the year's last day, for one of the year's best films. Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth is in two interwoven parts. One is a in-itself-strong film about the Spanish Civil War, some of Franco's soldiers, led by a truly sinister performance by Sergi López, stamping out the last popular remnants of left-wing resistance while his wife, ill, prepares to deliver his baby son, his step-daughter hates him, and his house-keeper and doctor covertly aid the guerrillas. In the other, that step-daughter discovers at the centre of the maze in the garden an underground world guarded by a faun, Pan, and must prove herself to win back the love and trust of her “real parents” who rule the magical world beneath.

While it has had a surprisingly large audience, still, it's a Spanish subtitled movie set in a period of history about which many British people know nothing, so nothing like as many people saw it as it deserves. I had one colleague come up to ask me about it, knowing I was one of the few who might have seen it; like me, she was shocked into near-incoherence by it. And rightly so.

The imagination here is unparallelled, from the moment Ofelia asks a large, cricket-like insect if it is a fairy on to and through the amazing creations inhabited so compellingly by Doug Jones, and the images of the fantastic are disturbing, beautiful and horrible. The images of reality are hardly any less so; Vidal the Capit´n is at least as inhuman as any of the monsters, and his fastidious, precise brutality is far more upsetting - these relatively restrained, visually, scenes of violence are much more powerful than any of the gorefests so popular recently. The resonance with both folktales and the less fantastic stories are compelling, and Del Toro has managed to make his twin narratives feed each other in ways that are hard to understand, let alone describe, but that heighten the power of the whole piece. Debate can rage over what the ending “means”, but there is no doubt that it is both tremendously, beautifully satisfying and utterly crushing; I can't remember the last time I was so completely shattered by a film. What is real and what is fantasy stop mattering.

This was the most visually stunning film of the year, and among its best. I have never seen anything that affected me more. It is, unambiguously, a masterpiece.

6-1-2007 (archived)

Well, that was a slightly longer pause than I anticipated. Regular posting should now be back, though who knows. Anyway, since last year I mostly wrote about films, what, at the end of it all, deserves notice?

I thought it was a good year for movies, which is just as well as I saw 106 of them at the cinema (not counting the two or three I saw twice). There were a lot of tedious slash/horror movies, but very little in the way of good horror. Maybe we're growing out of them, or maybe it's just been a bad year for that particular area. Indeed, the only things that really stood out as watchable in the horror area were Hard Candy, one of the better films that nobody saw, and Severance, which was at least as much horror as comedy - but brilliant.

The best film that nobody saw was either Brick or Proof - I can't decide between them, they were so different. The best film that I didn't see was probably Little Miss Sunshine, which I just never quite got to; I look forward to the DVD. The worst film that absolutely everybody saw was The Da Vinci Code, the sort of film that makes you despair for the species.

There were lots of little disappointments; Ultraviolet was beautiful but oh so lazily bad, Eragon was limp and foolish, and perhaps most sadly, The Prestige was not the masterpiece it should have been, though achingly close. Inside Man missed greatness by fingertips. Slither never quite took off. But the worst film I saw was exactly that sort of gory “horror” we talked about above; The Texas Chainsaw Beginning had nothing but pretty people to recommend it, and was both unpleasant and boring.

For a long time it looked like the near-brain-dead but gorgeous The Lake House was going to be the best romcom of the year, but happily The Holiday came along and proved that you can have romance and actors who can act.

There were lots of cartoons, but only a few really good ones. Opinions vary as to which was best, but I don't think many will agree with me that it was Hoodwinked. I'm still right, though.

The comedy of the year is so obviously Borat that it's not worth discussing further.

For the last several years, the most stylish, beautiful, evocative movie of the year has been Chinese. This year, and in a completely different way, it might have been Miami Vice, a hymn to masculinity. The other, utterly unique, competitor is Gaiman's Mirrormask.

There were an astonishing number of outstanding films this year; as well as some of those I've already mentioned, Jarhead, V for Vendetta, Capote, Volver, The Departed, Good Night, and Good Luck, and The Proposition were all extraordinary. On an even higher level, it is almost a tie for my film of the year. Children of Men, far the best SF of the year, was deeply serious, political, shocking, and brilliant. Brokeback Mountain, robbed of last year's best picture Oscar, completed an extraordinary year for Gyllenhaal. Either of these could have been the best movie of the year, and they both almost were. Like last year, though, I have to go with a film quite unlike anything I've seen before, and so tremendously emotionally powerful that I still can't talk about it out loud coherently. Pan's Labyrinth is a true masterpiece, and that is was seen by so few is a tragedy.

8-1-2007 (archived)

I know it's too late for Christmas present-giving, so you'll have to save this idea, from SNL, for birthdays. Or maybe Valentine's, that would work well. Anyway, here's Justin Timberlake. Possibly.

10-1-2007 (archived)

Perfume was famous for being an unfilmable book, and to be honest they were probably right, though for the wrong reasons.

Of course the film is centered on scent; Grenouille is notable only for his lack of either humanity or odour and his impossibly fine nose. Astonishingly, director Twyker manages to conjour up all of the smells, the stenches, of 18th-century Paris, not so much through John Hurt's excellent commentary as his lingering shots of the putrescent and foul. Along with Ben Wishaw's stunning performance, we can almost smell it all too, and the amazing, filthy, crystal-clear visual beauty of the film is no distraction; for the first two hours, everything is superb.

The problem, though, is that last half-hour. As Grenouille finally manages to capture, indeed, the scent of a woman, and concocts the greatest perfume ever known, the book soars into raptures of magical realism; and the film, trying to follow, falls into something that is laughable without being funny. Two hours of brilliance and a half hour of failure; perhaps 80% filmable, then.

13-1-2007 (archived)

Well, of course people with strong beliefs shouldn't have to treat gay people the same as others and, for example, let them share rooms in their hotels. They'll be making us admit blacks and Irish next.

15-1-2007 (archived)

It's hard to truly judge “Flags of our Fathers” in advance of Eastwood's companion piece, Letters from Iwo Jima, which will tell another side of the story; it may yet be revealed as a true masterpiece. In isolation, it is a haunting, sad, and occasionally horrifying or inspirational piece, about bravery, cynicism, survival, war, and spin. While it is always slow-paced, from the early moment that a young serviceman falls over the side of a troop carrier sailing to Iwo Jima and is simply and without comment from authorities left to drown, it grips the attention entirely. It will not be anyone's film of the year, but it is undeniably brave, important, and almost completely successful.

18-1-2007 (archived)

At post number 700, time for another brief introspect. The proportion of posts that are film reviews is up slightly less than I thought (“feared” might be a better term here), at 64 remaining less than two thirds, which is the arbitrary threshold I'm trying to beat. The real difference in this last stretch is, of course, the November hiatus. November was a funny month, with constant unwellness, almost no blogging, and essentially no training; I do not want or expect it to happen again. I have no idea how many of you stopped reading, as I still don't have access to my site stats. At least my email now works properly, since I took it away from my domain registrars completely.

I do keep a training journal elsewhere, which I'm not linking to for a variety of reasons; if you want to know about it and don't, ask me. There is some original writing in the pipeline, I think (and hope) and there might even be some music. Don't hold your breath. Regular film-and-link blogging should now continue to schedule. Onward to the next 100.