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Moments in time, preserved to embarrass me later.

20-9-2007 (archived)

Comic-based work with numerals in the titles today. 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer is actually not as bad as people would like you to believe. Jessica Alba shows no signs of acting, but other than that it's perfectly fine. All a bit anodyne, and occasionally rather too kiddy-silly, but shiny enough, and the Surfer himself is rather good. Fine, but profoundly unspecial.

300, on the other hand, is profoundly shiny and does exactly what you'd expect it to. It's not close to as overwhelming as Sin City was, but it's a really pretty good dumb movie, and actually by blockbuster standards it's less stupid than many. This video of the actors' training is really cool too. Also, making the Spartans sound Scottish: master-stroke.

23-9-2007 (archived)

This was, apparently, “the summer of British film”, and to tie in with a BBC documentary about British films of particular genres each weekend, an exemplar was rereleased on the Tuesday only. I saw two, and since I saw them in a cinema they get reviewed here.

The first, Brief Encounter, is a 1945 classic that I'd never seen. All my associations of it were with a tune it inspired by Jan Cyrka, one of my favourites, which appears not to exist freely other than in this pretty good youtube cover (though the original is much lovelier).

Back to the film, then. The audio was odd, the picture black and white and square (pretty much old-TV ratio) and crackly, and the performances are, understandably, tremendously British and mannered. Still, they're extremely good, and Coward's screenplay, Lean's direction, and the Rachmaninov soundtrack combine to make this, still, a tremendously effective and affecting, sad, sweet tear-jerker. Beautiful.

The second, Withnail and I, set in 1987 but evoking 1969, I have seen before, often. Griffiths is wonderful as Monty, Grant gives a performance of perhaps career-restrictingly horrible brilliance as Withnail, and Paul McGann is the heart of the film as Marwood. Many, I know, would opt for a Python movie, but my own view is that this is the funniest British film ever made, and I am not sure the modifier is needed. It is also surprisingly moving and much more intelligent than it at first seems. The screening we saw it at was down to the last three rows when we bought tickets almost two hours before it started, and completely sold out in the end (though, shown without trailers, many missed the beginning); it is still much beloved by a surprisingly large range of people. It is perhaps telling that this was, probably, the high point of the careers of both its stars as well as its writer and director, despite it probably being the only film in history both of whose leads went on to play Dr Who. A one-off, then, of true, heartfelt genius.

29-9-2007 (archived)

Two romcomish films around food today. No Reservations has Catherine Zeta Jones well-cast as a cold, beautiful chef (because, let's face it, she's beautiful and she can't do warm) who ends up fostering her niece. Understandably enough, the kid is not entirely delighted by a parent-figure who's hardly ever in and elegant dinners of, eg, fish with the head still on. Fortunately the could-be-annoying-if-not-so-lovable figure of the ever-charming Aaron Eckhart, who can do warm, makes everything all right again after a fairly predictable story arc.

It's apparently a remake of a German romcom (who knew there were such?), and it's predictable enough right up to the rather unsatisfying if cute ending (are we really to believe that Jones's character no longer cares about serious food? Or Eckhart's, for that matter?), but nonetheless it works pretty well simply because while Eckhart is pretty good, and Abigail Breslin is - again - simply extraordinary, quite the best child actor of the moment. Watchable, but not a film that will stay with you.

Waitress is a horse of an entirely different colour. It's quite unlike anything else I've seen, despite reminding me a little of The Good Girl which doesn't really bear closer consideration (although apparently others were also so reminded). Keri Russell expresses her emotions not through speech but through pies, and through a rather beautiful, restrained performance in this thoroughly unpredictable, bittersweet and charming film. Nathan Fillion's confused but mainly nice-guy shtick is as good as ever, and the supporting cast were all excellent. This is one of the best romcoms I've seen in a long time, and it's a tragedy that anything original and even a little subtle like this has to be restricted to small indy cinemas. So, I paid to see it, and I would do so again.

2-10-2007 (archived)

I have very little to say about This is England except that it is extraordinarily powerful and moving, with an astonishing performance from child actor Thomas Turgoose and unfaultable jobs by the rest of the cast. Like Meadows's last film, Dead Man's Shoes, but if anything even better, this is one of the best of the year, a film that demands to be seen. Do so.

14-10-2007 (archived)

We apologise for the continued poor rate of posting. I seem to be busy almost constantly at the moment. And now my fridge has died. Yay.

Two very different films based on history today. Amazing Grace, about the abolition of the slave trade, was all very well, and nicely enough done, but it was a bit bloodless and, in the end, just a touch bland. Nice. In the bad sense.

A Mighty Heart certainly doesn't suffer from that problem, and benefits hugely from a stunning performance by Angelina Jolie, who every few years decides to remind us that she isn't just sex appeal and Brangelina and little brown babies, but actually one of the best screen actresses of her generation. This is tense, gripping, believable, and incredibly powerful, and Jolie carries every second of it. Superb, and disturbing, and strangely beautiful.

10-11-2007 (archived)

I suppose it's either having five exam classes, considerably more extra-curricular commitment and a much-increased amount of my mental energy spent on training (of which more to come), but we're not getting much done here. I may have to go over to Zawinski-style one-line movie roundups.

Anyway, the reason I post tonight is simply that we saw a genuinely extraordinary film this week, and so, if you like horror movies even a little, should you.

30 Days of Night is a vampire movie, but not of the usual sort. These aren't elegant transylvanian aristosuckers, or pretty young things who vamp out at appropriate moments, or beautiful troubled romantics brooding on their own immortality. No, these are permanently-vamped (in an understated way), otherworldly creatures with their own language and, apparently, culture, primitive though it may seem. Never has a vampire movie had less of a sexual undertone; there's nothing erotic about the bodily fluids and penetrations here.

The plot is one of those obvious-in-retrospect settings: in the far north, in this case Alaska, it's hard to move around in winter and the sun doesn't come up for a month. Vampires can do well here, without those pesky day-walking hunters. It's based on a graphic novel, and has an incredibly strong visual sensibility; I don't know the source material, but quite a few shots were beautifully staged in a way that suggests they've come straight from panels. The acting is pretty much superb, the gore is appropriate and unflinching (without being anything like torture-porn prurient; indeed, one of the bigger moments of the film happens off-screen), and it is genuinely upsetting. Not as much so, perhaps, as David Slade's only previous full-length film, the remarkable Hard Candy (a film that has grown in my memory, at least judging by my unfrothing review there), but still one of the only horrors I can ever remember evoking actual horror, and pity, and distress. Slade pulls no punches, and his impossibly beautiful film makes us reel.

We are set about, these days, with films that offer no more than spooky kids (all too often damp Japanese teenagers), spring-loaded cats, post-modern irony, or lingering nastiness. Almost the only recent watchable efforts have been comedies. This is a departure, or perhaps a return, as well as marking a true director to watch. Superb.

23-12-2007 (archived)

So, here's the plan. We clear off the (gulp) sixty-three outstanding film reviews as one- and two-liners, generally in no particular order, then start the year fresh (I may have seen a couple of others and forgotten, too. Hey ho). Onwards!

The Good Shepherd. Bloody good, if long, CIA slow-thriller with Matt Damon being excellent and Angelina Jolie almost completely wasted.

Breach. Possibly even better CIA slow-thriller with the ever-outstanding Chris Cooper.

Amazing Grace. All very worthy, but not as good or as compelling, or as horrible, as a film about slavery ought to be.

Blades of Glory. Stupid, funny.

Shooter. Pretty enjoyable conspiracy-theory rubbish.

The Upside of Anger. Really surprisingly good, bitter family-drama romcom with Kevin Costner and the excellent Joan Allen.

Sunshine. Gorgeous, but would have been so much better without Captain Stabby.

Fracture. Anthony Hopkins, Ryan Gosling, not as clever as it thinks it is, but thoroughly watchable.

Zodiac. Just brilliant. Slow-moving, gripping, unresolved but then it'd have to be.

Bridge to Terabithia. Heartbreaking and beautiful, probably the best kid's movie of the year. AnnaSophia Robb is a discovery and Zooey Deschanel continues greatly.

28 Weeks Later. Perfectly-executed big-screen horror, especially the helicopter-splatter, but nothing like as good as its ground-breaking hypertense brother.

Wedding Daze. Nothing like as bad as you might expect. Sweet and stupid.

Die Hard 4. Pretty good, but totters under the weight of expectation. Still one of the better action movies of the year.

Harry Potter and the order of the phoenix. Fine and all, with a gloriously horrible turn from Imelda Staunton, but not as good as the last one.

Hairspray. It is what it is, and very well done too. Good grief but Travolta's creepy in it, though.

Transformers. Stupid, hyperkinetic, eye-candy action, and what else did you expect? Just too empty, though.

The Walker. Woody Harrelson's great and it does what it's supposed to do. Excellently worked, but nobody's favourite.

Eagle vs Shark. Thoroughly enjoyable and all, but nobody's actually this geeky. Sweet, funny, but never quite as good as it wants to be.

Two Days in Paris. This has won awards, and it's funny and clever and all, but I don't care about these people at all. They're not charming, they're just annoying and selfish and silly. Sorry.

Hallam Foe. By contrast, I did care about these people. Weird, watchable, and Sophia Myles is yummy.

Atonement. Another in the sporadic series of proofs that Keira Knightley can act, and a staggeringly, heart-breakingly good film, one of the very best of the year. Essential viewing.

The Bourne Supremacy. A masterclass in action movies, with the popular trust-no-government-agency theme of the moment.

Shoot 'em up. Brilliantly stupid, perfect in almost every way. Genius.

Disturbia. Great fun, a really solid thriller, even if the trailers did give away far too much.

I now pronounce you Chuck and Larry. Not nearly as funny as it needs to be, even leavened with large amounts of Jessica Biel's skin. And, really, does anybody buy this Adam Sandler with incredibly hot women thing he insists on being in every movie? Dude, if you're not rich and famous, it's not happening.

Death Proof. Started badly but persist, it gets much better (and he stops fucking with the video quite so much as the plot starts to happen). Not good enough though.

Planet Terror. Y'know, I know the crappy picture quality is deliberate, and I know the missing reel is on purpose, but damn they're annoying (especially the latter). Still, this is really good fun, and quite a bit better than Death Proof.

Run Fatboy Run. I mean it's funny and all, but it's not top-of-the-box-office-for-weeks funny. Well worth seeing until we get another proper Simon Pegg movie, though.

War. Shiny but shit.

Michael Clayton. Clooney is a credit to the species, and this is another very good serious-ish film.

The Brave One. Thoroughly good revenge-thriller with Jodie Foster on staggering form.

Day Watch. Pretty good, but it didn't strike me as anywhere near as good as Night Watch was.

And When Did You Last See Your Father? Beautifully executed and acted little character piece. Kermode observed that it wasn't really much more than a TV play, and this is true, but I don't really care.

The Kingdom. Another slice of gulf-fuelled politics, widely criticised for not knowing what it wants to be. I agree that it's hard to pigeonhole, but is that really a fault?

The Heartbreak Kid. Not funny enough. The guy is an arse. Really.

The Invasion. Oy, what a mess. Shot one year and massively reshot another, and boy does it show. Incoherent and half-assed.

The Counterfeiters. Very, very good, but not quite great.

Black Sheep. I think this was pretty good, in a small-budget New Zealand comedy horror way, if not quite up to Bad Taste. It was hard to tell, as just as it began a guy sat right behind me (in a near-empty theatre) and proceeded to SNIFF incredibly SNIFF loudly every SNIFF five seconds all SNIFF the way through the SNIFF film. It was still drowning out dialogue after I moved to the opposite side of the room. Cunt.

Stardust. Very thoroughly enjoyable fantasy, though the whole camp pirate thing is getting old (even in this very un-Depp-like form).

The Dark Is Rising. Watchable and all, but dead from the neck down.

Resident Evil: Extinction. Computer game adaptation. I quite enjoyed this, but I probably shouldn't have. Fast zombies are a goodness.

Hitman. Computer game adaptation. I quite enjoyed this, but I probably shouldn't have. Overwhelming visual style is a goodness.

Eastern Promises. A staggering loose companion piece to A History of Violence, which was one of the best films of its year. This is one of the best of this. I can't decide which is better, but then I don't have to. Magnificent.

Rendition. Heart very much in the right place, and makes you as angry as it should, brilliantly acted by just about everyone concerned. A great cause, but not quite a great film.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age. If you cut out the ludicrous quarter-hour of Blanchett in armour on a white horse and Owen pretending to be in Pirates of the English Channel, it's a pretty good film. Sadly they didn't, and it rather spoiled the rather good character study at court that takes up the other 100 minutes.

Death at a Funeral. Laugh-out-loud funny, and roles for Alan Tudyk to give of his considerable best are to be encouraged, but not really memorable.

Ratatouille. Oh, sure, it's the best cartoon of the year, but didn't we expect so? It's not a Pixar classic for the ages though. Still, better than Cars.

The Nightmare Before Christmas. Speaking of timeless classics, we caught a midnight showing of this rereleased in 3D. Perfect in every way, and the 3D does add to it, albeit not quite as eyepoppingly as:

Beowulf. Damn but the real-D stuff is good, and the visuals are just incredible (not least Angelina), and I really enjoyed it, though my companions were disappointed by everything but the visuals.

1408. A good-fun one-man-show from the excellent John Cusack, but not really memorable.

American Gangster. I find it very hard to be just, here, because this is an extremely good movie. It's just that it needed to be great, and it isn't, quite. It really is very very good though.

St Trinian's. Silly, slightly shonky, but with plenty of laugh-out-loud fun moments and not nearly as leery as you might expect. Not by any means a good piece of cinema, but not nearly deserving of the kicking it's been getting.

The Golden Compass. I wasn't expecting all that much from this, but actually I thought it was bloody good. To knock it for not being as good is the source novel seems harsh when that source novel is one of the very best child/young adult books ever written. It's not quite as good as, say, LotR, but that had the advantage of being better than a weak book (of a strong myth), not weaker than a great one. I await the sequels with interest.

Lions for Lambs. Yes, it's effectively a stage play, but none the worse for it. It's a bloody good one, and deeply serious too.

Sleuth. Another stage play, second adaptation thereof, and I don't have to make invidious comparisons to the original as I haven't seen it. I liked it a lot.

We own the night. Good, but it wants to be great and isn't. The acting is.

3:10 to Yuma. Third-best western of the year, but what a good year. Just too empty to rank higher.

Seraphim Falls. Second-best western of the year, mostly for the staggering performances of Brosnan and Neeson, and that almost-dialogue-free first reel. No, I didn't understand the end. No, I don't care.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. The long film with the long name is the best western of the year too, if it really is a western. Magnificent acting and storytelling that takes its time, with incredible cinematography.

Southland Tales. Incoherent crap. Apparently the original cut was even worse. Wow.

The Darjeeling Limited. Not funny enough, but well worth sitting through.

Superbad. A slightly uncomfortable start, I thought, but develops well into a sweet and incredibly funny film. Not quite as funny as its uncle, though:

Knocked Up. Possibly the funniest film of the year, and it's sweet and full of heart and tells a story. Great.

And breathe.

1-1-2008 (archived)

Last year I saw, and eventually reviewed, albeit often briefly, 107 films, one more than 2006. Many people are calling this the worst summer ever for film, and they may have been right; all of the threequels were disappointing at best, and Pirates 3 might have been the most disappointing of the lot. Breaking it down by category, then:

Best cartoon was the rereleased-in-3D Nightmare Before Christmas. If I can't have that, it gets difficult. It has to be Ratatouille, but that wasn't nearly as good as it should have been. Best kids' film, however, was definitely Bridge To Terabithia.

Best exploding stupid movie was probably Die Hard 4, best ironic stupid movie was definitely Shoot 'Em Up, and best exploding non-stupid movie would be The Bourne Identity.

Best romcom, almost without competition, goes to Waitress, with the slight reservation that it might not be a romcom at all.

There were a few first-class serious and often political American movies too. Babel, Lions for Lambs, The Good Shepherd, and The Kingdom were all good, but Breach was the best. Zodiac deserves a mention in the seriousness stakes too. However, the best serious picture of the year was probably This Is England.

Prettiest film of the year was Sunshine, with honorable mentions to 300, Beowulf and the astonishing and completely insane Apocalypto.

Worst film (that I saw) would be Southland Tales, an infuriatingly incompetent effort. Some people claim this will be a cult classic; I just can't see it, but of course I am often wrong.

Most surprisingly strong genre was the western, with three very convincing films of which The Assassination of Jesse James was the best, but also the least western. I remain enthralled by Seraphim Falls.

Performances of the year: it is impossible to overlook Forest Whitaker in The Last King Of Scotland, much as I loved Peter O'Toole in Venus. Newcomer of the year is clearly James McAvoy, superb supporting Whitaker and dominating Atonement. For the women, we could look to either performance in Notes On A Scandal, to Jodie Foster's Brave One, or various others, but I think Angelina Jolie's Mighty Heart might be the pick of the very strong bunch. Actor of the year may be Edward Norton, who was uniformly brilliant.

Comedy was easily the strongest genre. I probably can't have Withnail And I as the pick of the year, since it was only a one-day rerelease. It's not Hot Fuzz (and it's really not Run Fatboy Run). It's certainly not any of the cartoon contenders. First place is a near-tie between Superbad and Knocked Up; I think the latter was better, but it's very hard to be sure.

I saw very few horror pictures, because the genre's being dominated by torture-porn (about which I do not care) and routine slasher movies (likewise). 28 Weeks Later was good, in a bigscreen way, but there was one better we'll come to later.

Film of the year could have been Atonement, and for a long time I thought it was going to be. It could have been the long western with the long title. It could very easily have been Eastern Promises, and probably should be. Any of those would be a worthy pick for the best film of the year. But of all the films I saw in 2007, the one I liked most was a little genre picture that as of today earns only 52% on rottentomatoes. Nobody else liked it anything like as much as me, but I don't care. 30 Days Of Night is a masterpiece.

2-1-2008 (archived)

Onto films which are, in my book, of 2008, since I saw them on New Year's Day or later. Enchanted is an unusually witty Disney piece in which a cartoon prince and princess end up in flesh-and-blood New York. Amy Adams is perfectly cast as the gradually-less-vapid Giselle, and the whole thing is delightful for the kids while being thoroughly enjoyable for real people. I didn't guess the ending until almost an hour in, either. Really rather good, and certainly the pick of this year's Christmas kiddie-films.

4-1-2008 (archived)

The Kite Runner is a shocking and disturbing film with strong performances, and a great advertisement for the book (I have now bought it and shall eventually read it). It held me completely riveted while I was in the theatre, but it is not a film that I think will haunt me. Very good, then, but not quite great.