Welcome to my movie blog, containing reviews and articles. I've been writing since 2004 - with a short break during 2009.

They come to you with smiles.

Today's post is all about someone you have a lot of respect for letting you down. But more of that later.

Film Studies exam yesterday. Oh dear. Now I want it logged there wasn't much more I could have done in terms of revision. The questions weren't especially nasty, just dull and uninspiring. "How important are film websites for promoting purposes compared to other channels of getting audiences in". "What benefits are there for Hollywood in remaking other things". "How are From Russia With Love's messages and values conveyed through sound and image in the final sequence (this question was evil; I did not do well at it at all...) "Dicuss the depictions of sexual behavior in the films you have studied" NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! What did I say yesterday? Anything except gender and sex, please something I can discuss Hard Days Night, please please nothing about Darling. That was not the most fun three hours I've spent this week. But it's over now. Which isn't exactly a comfort.

Film Studies over. We wrote a very nice letter to our headmistress asking her to continue it for another year, like all the other subjects. Our FS teacher told us, in advance and on the quiet, that she'd turned it down. Which was a bit of a blow, especially as I've got a great coursework essay bubbling under. It's just because our school wants a reputation for doing "proper subjects". Now I feel pretty passionate about this (especially as the school has already discontinued two other subjects me and Friend 2 wanted to take at A-level) and the obvious option is to move to one of our other local schools to continue these subjects. I'd really like to, just to make a point about how the school has just effectively screwed our futures up, but just can't. There's simply no way I could leave this school. In the light of the aforementioned refusals, it's a desperately misplaced loyalty.

It was good of him to inform us, because our headmistress hasn't had the decency to reply herself yet. It's been about two months. I even made a point of marching my co-signatories of the said letter up to assembly every day for a few weeks, in case she announced she wanted to see us. We said in the coda to our letter that we would really like to talk to her about whether it would be possible, and would be happy to talk with anybody else involved in the decision, and we need your help to work out who these other people are. Until she actually replies to us, there's not much else we can do. And it's damn rude of her not to have. More misplaced loyalty badly damaged (at least she hasn't had my family shot though; see below)

Film Studies needs more respect. It merely uses the same skills as English, and applies them to a different medium. Perhaps, in a way, its more worthy. Because you can read anything into books, but if you're reading something into a film, most likely it's been put there. On Friday, I'll be in my exam writing about how Dracula is actually one big metaphor for sex. Now of course Bram Stoker didn't sit down and think "hmmm, lets see whether I can get away with this by pretending it's a monster story" - perhaps it was subconscious, perhaps not. But this reading the smallest meaning into every word and line is tripe. I write, and most of the time that's that. I don't think "if I make the curtains vermillion, it ties in with the underlying theme of futility in the novel". I'll admit there are horrible personal allegories at work under everything I write, but I only ever notice that afterwards.

But in films, if you can see something then it's probably been put there. It's expensive, it involves hundreds of people, and you can't just accidentally use jumpy music and grim mise-en-scene and then claim it was unintentional when peeps get freaked out. I've been told that I can do anything at all I want to do at university, as long as it's not Psychology, or Sports Science, or Media Studies etc...Now I know that I'm eventually going to do English with Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. Not because I like English - I pathologically disagree with it, it's a heap of bull; see above - but because it's easy and the only way to continue my interest in film (most English courses have a few token filmstudies modules thrown in).

To get into university, you only need to demonstrate passion for your subject and get good grades. I'd kinda like to continue Latin, but I know I couldn't survive an interview for it - I enjoy it, and that's my only qualification. I haven't read many other authors, I have no opinion on where the Elgin Marbles should be, I don't care what the Romans ate for breakfast. I just like translating things in and out of the language. I could go and do English, because our teachers have started an "Oxbridge Club" in which we discuss poetry and power-read hypocritically until we can feign an interest in The Impact of Feminism on Medieval American Literature at interview. I love Oscar Wilde, for example. I've got two copies of his complete works, and voluentarily read several biographies, several times. I'm not interested in going and pulling them apart, and reading his life into them. Which is what English at uni will inevitably center around. And film? I use words like chiascuro in ordinary conversation. I have favourite directors I'm willing to talk about. There's probably as much bull about on film as there is on literature, but the point is I can discuss film.

To a certain extent, everyone is entitled to an opinion. But the more films you watch, the more informed your opinion can be. Same with books, art, opera, whatever. I've been reading through the "1001 books you must read before you die". I know whether I liked them or not, but I couldn't review them as fully as any film. Take a Certain Scene in Pulp Fiction. On one level, it's just a bog standard question of "what's easiest to kill people with: bats, chainsaws or swords?" but once you appreciate QT's love of Eastern cinema, and general superiority on all things film to everybody on the planet, the choice of a samuri weapon becomes more meaningful. It doesn't make the uninitiated's opinion less valid, but it does enhance your understanding. You can say "Jackie Brown was good", but if you've seen Foxy Brown, Coffy and sat through the Pam Grier conversation in Dogs your take will be far better informed.

Until you know there are Directors of Photography, and people whose job it is to light scenes or design sets reflecting the protagonist's mindset, how can you be expected to pick up on these things? Recently, I've caught Friend 4 using the word cinematography on occasion - I must have accidentally indoctrinated her.

Casual film watchers only appreciate the superficiality of film, but once you pick up on these things it's like a third eye opening - suddenly, you appreciate the bigger picture. It's about more than "just what happens". Can you remember the first time you realised what I director actually does? For me, it was the last 30 seconds of The Sixth Sense. It hadn't occoured to me that films were actually good before that. I'd enjoyed them, but not truly thought they were "well made". Until then, I didn't have a concept of what "well made could mean". It's the difference between saying "then she was attacked" and spending a paragraph of onomatopoea building up suspense. It's the difference between Ed Wood plonking his camera down and getting people to act in front of it and Spielburg holding the camera at child's-eye view in Close Encounters. It's why I can say "Heat and Broken Flowers were good, but I didn't like them" whereas for the latter, my mother's comment was "that was a bad film". Wrong.

I'm a casual reader - I want a good story, and most likely I miss the things which better readers pick up on which makes "great novels" great. But I'd trounce them at discussing Birth of a Nation any day. But that's it for me and film studies. Not that you need it to become a great director (QT left school at 16, so I've a year up on him...) but it's pretty unlikely I'll manage it anyway (being female and British, but especially female), and it would be more useful for the kinda journalistic work I'm going to end up in.

I've always said I wouldn't become a journalist; it's a running joke between me and the world, which keeps recommending me for journalism competitions, workshops et al. Upstairs, I've a plan a teacher drew me of the best way to start my career as a journalist. But lookie-do at this. Online movie review-and-rant blog and reviewing films for the local paper. Shitake mushrooms. How the hell did that happen?

Last night we watched Road to Perdition. I’d like to say there were a lot of things which could have been better: actually, I think it’d be closer to say there was a lot of things which could have been different.

“Gangster” isn’t one catchall category. You get cool ones, gritty ones, cheery ones. You probaby shouldn't show a girl Goodfellas on a first date - conversely, my sister is addicted to The Black Donnellys*, a now-cancelled gangster show aimed squarely at teen girls. Well this is a gangster film for mums – primarily a sentimental movie-cum-period drama about the relationship between father and son. I’d compare it to The Pursuit of Happyness, only I haven’t seen it so I can’t with any fairness. This isn’t a blinding criticism – some people will love the family focus. But the side of the story which interested me wasn’t the inevitable growing bond between our heroes, but the deep, deep betrayal between Sullivan and his own family. Sullivan loses everything. I like a good friendship, and a good friendship gone sour and broken is even better.

It’s not exactly the film’s fault it didn’t cater to me personally, but it could have tried harder to wring something new about the bonding thing. Having decided to make the journey the center of the story, the plot needed a trim – indeed, they needed to cut back on the scenes I liked. It took far too long to get going. The instant wow is sadly lacking – it falls back into the Godfather tradition of “lets have a party to introduce everyone”. The joy about, say, Run Lola Run is that the first thing that happens is the plot. Straight away, you get to see what you came to see. Road to P makes you wait for about half an hour until the setup ends and the story actually begins. While a leasurly pace can sometimes be praised, this film feels sorta uncomfortable until you get there, on tenterhooks waiting for it to start properly. The plot lurches horribly between upbeat family movie and uber-bleak crime epic. Paul Newman, Daniel Craig and Stanley Tucci (characters I wanted to see more of) disappear for the entire center and are brought back for a tidy resolution. And they make little sense in a film structured as Michael jnr’s nostalgic recollections – how much of those happenings would Mike snr have shared with his son? None whatsoever. So how did he find out about them?

Even the script needed a bit of a polish. Some of the lines were awful, especially between father and son. Not stand-out clangers, but predictable and tired. Here's a sample - it's in spoilertext just in case, but it won't significantly ruin your watch:

Michael Sullivan, Jr.: Did you like Peter more than me?
Michael Sullivan: No. I loved you both the same.
Michael Sullivan, Jr.: You were always... different with me.
Michael Sullivan: Was I? [Sullivan thinks for a while] Well, I suppose it was because Peter was just... such a sweet little boy, you know? And you... you were more like me. And I... didn't want you to be.

Even if you're thinking it, you're hardly going to say it, are you? Especially not Sullivan, who'se not a chatty emotive person. Anything else I can complain about? Seriously, I did like this film, but you wouldn’t know it to read the review, would you? Jeez…I remember. Thomas Newman…
There are very few film musicians I can say “oooooh that’s him!” before the name comes up on the credits (Danny Elfman’s a notable exception). I’ve done it twice for Thomas Newman recently – during Shawshank, and this evening – and it’s because I’ve never been comfortable with him as a composer since I mistook his American Beauty music for A Series of Unfortuante Events and realized they were identical.Is he widely respected? His music seems samey and false to me. Road to Perdition used the same piano motifs as American Beauty – I don’t like to criticize, as this complaint could be leveled at most composers, but he does seem to only ever use the same sound palette.

American Beauty wasn’t meant to be real. The locations were too perfect, the characters virtual archetypes – the plot a deliberate satire on modern life. This isn’t meant as an insult – and the surreality of the whole thing suited Newman’s style (the sad piano, the wistful strings, the occasional tang of glass, metal and I don’t know what suiting the ironic tone. Even the cheesy “perfect movie music” he creates complimented the “perfect life” veneer that that film was all about. In Road to Perdition, the same ingredients went wrong – the strange modern noises were at odds with the sepia tone, and cheesiness tipped over into uncontrolled sentimentality without the acerbic wink to reel it back. Film music should be undetectable. It should support the scene, not prop it up, except where being deliberately contrapuntal with the images. When you notice it, it should be because it is beautiful and perfect. Not because it is mistimed, too intrusive and you want it to go away.

This is a case of the parts being greater than the whole - the plot is, on the whole, average, but the film is still worth a watch for all the trimmings.

The supporting cast are uniformly fantastic - Daniel Craig, who was disappointing in Layer Cake, turns up a relistic and strangely sympathetic performance in what could have been a pantomime role. Stanley Tucci is unrecognisable, but still very impressive as the Corleone-style businessman, with sympathy and practicality turning on a knife's edge. They come to you with smiles, they come as your friends, the people who've cared for you all of your life. And they always seem to come at a time that you're at your weakest and most in need of their help.

Paul Newman is naturally all star. He just can’t say one thing and mean it – he delivers a line, yet always says at least two other thoughts with it. His paternal twinkle at the wake is charming, even as you know that he most likely had the guy scrubbed. I didn’t just enjoy the piano scene because I have a thing for pianos – it was the warm, fuzzy love you could feel. Rooney is stuck neck deep in moral turd for most of this film, and I would have loved to see more of it. As it stands, the basement conversation, the car in the rain, the moments with his son and his beautiful freefall in the Stanley Tucci scene stand out as the best damn bits of the film. I would have like liked much more of him.

Jude Law. He’s young, he’s hot, he’s in the glossies all the time, ergo he can’t act. Right? Wrong. This wasn’t Brando by any means, but I loved his character. Even the way he moved, and drove, and put masses of sugar in his tea and had a really unusual-looking gun were all tiny wonderful character quirks. It’s a beautiful films, and his death photos were wonderfully alluring. I don’t think he’s particularly handsome meself, but in this film he just looks mean.

With such a great bunch of interesting and complex characters waiting on the sidelines, it's a pity they had to focus in on the two worst and least interesting performances of the film. I mean, Tom Hanks. Can this man act? He wasn’t bad, but he was far from good – he rarely changed his expression. Argue, if you like, that it was the Al Pacino school of acting with the eyes, and you’ve got a fair point, but still…he was always wearing a costume. He looked like he was acting; at least, he never ceased looking like Tom Hanks. I didn’t believe him, he felt wrong and uncomfortable. The son too wasn’t great – pretty good by childactor standards, but Dakota Fanning could trounce him any day – which left me unsympathetic to the central plot. At times, this film is like being at a bad party - you're just hanging around hoping somebody interesting's going to show up and start dancing. It remains watchable for these brief, great boogies.

This goes without saying, but the subdued browny colour scheme made me very happy indeed. It's very very pwettyful - reminded me of M Night's films at time, perticularly Unbreakable and Sixth Sense. In fact, now I think of it, there were lots of M-Nighty touches throughout. Conrad L. Hall's a name I'm familiar with - and checking imdb, it seems he's the guy who did Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. What a legend. The ending by the beach is beautifully shot - predictable, but perhaps the fact we know exactly what's going to happen is deliberate? Even if the plot's a drag, its very watchable just for all of this prettyness. This film contains the coolest reverse dolly zoom I have seen in a long time.

Jeez, now it sounds like I didn’t like it. I did like it, It was good and I recommend it to certain people. There's a hell of a lot of fantastic things, let down by the central plot.

It's definitely not recommended for your "cliche crime-fan" who likes their gangsters to be cool, ruthless wiseguys. There's hardly any swearing, very little blood and the mobsters are all thoroughly decent blokes underneath. More Godfather than Goodfellas - more family and rose-tinted glasses, with no street-smarts whatsoever. It's a good gangster film for people who don't like gangster films - it takes out the politics, and focuses on the emotions. And even though this post has been stack full of complaints, I'd be willing to watch it again for those little moments that almost made it great.

*(Take Goodfellas, but remove the music, the slick editing and give it all the little things which make TV inferior to film. Now take a plot surrounding four brothers, including say, the nice one, the impulsive one, the fanciable-doesn’t-want-to-get-involved-but-is-secretly-a-calculating-gangster-genius (now try not to think the words Fredo, Sonny and Michael) Oh, but make it about the Irish mob so nobody notices. And structure it around an unreliable-narrator recounting the events from jail. So the Usual Suspects influence isn’t quite as jarring as the others – Joey Ice Cream is pretty cool. I’m not saying that it’s bad. It has lots of merits – particularly how Joey’s dodgy memories are woven into the storylines. The frenetic story arc (one episode=one day as the various consequences of one little murder gradually get more and more convaluted) is fun to watch, and it has some amusing moments. But it’s got the emotional complexity of a soap opera. Impulsive-brother Jimmie is just vile. His brothers love him, because he's a brother, but we aren't invited to share this affection - compare to Sonny in the Godfather, who makes as many mistakes, but is still ultimately loveable somehow. It really wants to be hip and streetwise, but doesn't manage - the criminals are all desperately nice. I'm not saying that real life criminals are irredeemably evil, but still... Meanwhile, the plot doesn't tally - the brothers are really small-time - they don't have soldiers, or even body guards yet the death toll keeps rising and they certainly don't have the clout to pay off the police. Surely somebody would start investigating if 6 people died in under 2 days? Not to mention the characters left without fingers and toes. It's E.R. meets crime epic, and compared to The Sopranos, it just can’t compete....)


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