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

may roundup


Something of a roundup to make up for the fact I haven't posted during the exam period.

War of the Worlds (the original)
It was better than I thought it would be. The hero was a physics expert, and he stayed true to his character - speaking about it nigh contantly, like all experts who love their subject and will not shut up about it. The inevitable love interest was less sympathetic. Whiny, flirty and with one hell of a scream. She annoyed me no end. Anway, it's got all the inevitable flaws of an older film - stagy acting, glorious technicolour, slightly shoddy effects. But it more than makes up for it by being far better than it could have been. It was also, at times, quite unexpectedly scary. War of the Worlds, I now realise, is an intrinsically terrifying story. It's because they can't be stopped, they win, civilisation nigh on collapses and only by a totally outside stroke of good luck we are saved from being saved from total doom. Especially at the end, when he's wandering around trying to find her...so good, I liked it.

Napoleon Dynamite
A friend leant me this. I have a policy of lying to friends when they lend me dvds. No matter what I actually think of them, I'll always look on the bright side when telling them. There's nothing more depressing than recommending a film to someone who then hates it. It's normally OK, because they've got jolly good taste and they like a lot of decent films.But eeevery now and then, I have to tell eencie white lies. And there's a point at which the lies get far too big. Now I gave Friend 2 a copy of the book Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and she told me I thought it was awful after the first chapter; so I figured in this instance she could take it:

I thought Napoleon Dynamite was absolutely awful. It centers around some quirky characters, who are alternative for alternitive's sake. Our hero is gawky, he takes care of llamas, he draws like a six-year-old, he's a member of the "happy hands" club and he likes dancing. Which all boils down to a series of "lets-prod-and-poke-the-freak" scenes in which Napoleon does funny things and we laugh at him. His brother is also dweeby - he wets the bed, he wants to become a kung fu master, he's got an online girlfriend and later, he tries to go hip hop. It's so far off the offbeat that it's almost back on again.

It's cringe comedy meets prep-Pinter - all those insanely long pauses. Watching this was like having an online conversation when the connection is sulking - you get a 10 second break between speaking and hearing. I believe it was meant to be funny. Sorry, watching a collection of rejects from the World's Wackiest Losers hang around and not do much isn't my idea of fun.

There are those who'd have you believe this is counter-cultural rebellion. Don't believe them. The only humour to be found here is a) for the "cool clique" who'll expire from laughter at all these hilariously uncool people OR b) after having watched it 400 times and quoted the lines at everyone. It's more Shaun of the Dead than Hot Fuzz in humour stakes; only Shaun had redeeming features like rounded characters who existed for more than comedy and some original ideas. Napoleon had neither - or rather, it was only original offbeat wacky ideas and nothing else. I switched it off after 20 minutes, that's how bored I was.

Friend 2 wasn't impressed when I broke the news to her honestly; nor did she come up with any good defences as why it was so great (except "it's not meant to be a comedy". I'm sorry, what was it meant to be? Social commentary? Those characters were absolutely meant to be funny). So I eventually watched the second half, just to please her, and told her that it improved. And it did improve. Just not that much...

Pout. Slouch. Silence. Repeat.

I can see how a film like this could develop a culty following. But I'm sorry guys, this film is lame. With all these limp, lifeless characters, how could it be anything else?

Legend of 1900
My mum can occasionally be something of a good taste doner when it comes to films (quote on Brazil: "the worst film I have ever seen"). But every now and then she redeems herself, particularly for her gushing praise of this wonderful wonderful movie.

As for the cast list, this time, my excuse is that I love the piano. I don’t know why I feel that tracking down an actor’s complete works is less worthy than a director, but there you go. The story of a guy who has lived his whole life on a cruise ship, and just happens to be a self-taught piano genius, was always going to attract me. The fact he also just happens to be played by Tim Roth is an added bonus.

I love the piano, it’s a wonderful wonderful instrument. I got my own finally last month, after about six years of cadjoling. One or two of the notes don’t work, and it’s still out of tune, but that’s not a massive problem…it was love at first clunk. I’m also totally self taught – not a lesson in sight – a fact I enjoy boasting about just before launching into the most complicated piece I can manage. I’m not fantastic, but I am pretty good. I’m not telling you this merely to show off (well…not entirely…) but to justify the insensitive next paragraph.

Being a talented amateur myself, I always really dislike them in film; because while it’s possible to teach yourself piano, it’s improbable that you could be that much of a child genius just like that. Cinema always underestimates how hard anything is (shooting people, hanging on by your fingertips, saying “I love you”, becoming an expert at anything in a short amount of time etc…) Sometimes it’s forgivable, sometimes it isn’t. Here…it’s virtually forgivable, because the whole film is tapping into that genre of cinema whimsy best described as “French”. It’s Amelie on a boat – little improbabilities happen all the time. This is not a film to watch with compulsive goof-spotters or lovers of reality cinema, because there are literally thousands of unlikely moments you can pick up on.

Whatever. They’re there to be ignored. Quite aside from the spurt of loathing I felt for 8-year-old 1900 (it wasn’t so bad when he grew up, because by the time I’m 40 I hope to be able to play like that) this is a truly enchanting film. I really want to review this (it’s early in the morning, I watched it last thing last night, my sister’s still asleep so I can’t play the piano till she wakes…), but it’s turning into one of those films I just can’t without resorting to merely recounting incidents. Which is a waste of time for both of us. Save to say it has hundreds of wonderful, wonderful moments. Cinema is all about what you see. Some films go past and you can’t remember a single memorable scene. This one is filled with images that I just can’t forget. Particularly the piano waltz scene, although…nope, I can’t do it, I’m just going to go into a resume of the best bits. “Particularly the piano waltz scene.” I’ll just leave it at that…

1900 is just so nice it’s insane. I really sympathise with him not wanting to be recorded or get famous (the difference being that nobody would ask me…). And despite my view counting for nothing, TR is a very good actor, because…ah, I just heard the curtains open downstairs! That’ll be my sister up. Excellent…because I managed to watch the entire film and only once felt like quoting anything from R+GaD (which has an extended scene about boats). Because…oh no, it’s just the workmen outside. Sounded like curtains. Jeez, it’s 11 already…I’ve always been impressed at his jumpy, suppressed hostility (see: everything. You just know it could change on a whisper), and here there wasn’t any hostility in sight, suppressed or otherwise. If I had to boil his acting down to a single adjective, it would formerly have been “edgy”, which just goes to show why boiling acting is a bad idea. His attitude to the piano duel is…nope, that was a door opening, back in a minute…

OK, I feel better now. In case you lost track up there, TR has proved he can act because here he’s completely different from everything else I’ve ever seen him in. I even managed to keep out of crush mode.

Oh yeh, and apparently he can’t really play the piano. Could have fooled me. In Chicago, Catherine Zeta Jones insisted on a short hair cut so everyone could tell it was actually her doing the steps, and so they couldn’t cut to a double. Well here the director does a similar sort of thing, with lots of lavish pans up and down, the type of shots I’d use just to prove my lead actually was playing the piano. For the record, he trained for 6 months to fake it, and he must have trained pretty damn hard because had I not known, I’d have been convinced.

The film is structured as a series of recollections. Here’s where my capacity for belief dims a bit – wherever Max goes, he seems to find an ear for his tall tales. It’s worse than Ted Stryker in Airplane! (he keeps reminiscing at length to passengers, all of which kill themselves as a result.) Cue flashback! It’s annoying – despite some nice acting, Max is never really a character in his own right, just a vehicle for 1900’s story – but at least it means we keep returning to the ship and the interest. And I almost got bored after the first 20 minutes, because Max was asking us to care about things we didn’t yet care about, and the music was just so predictable. But who cares, because after that it gets good, and I’d probably appreciate it more in light of the second half. And it’s the only film this year which’ll feature anywhere near a scene as romantic as aforementioned piano-waltz.

And it’s all so damn important. You forget it’s just a guy on a boat, because it feels like *waves hands*. It’s like Baz Luhrmann movies. They always feel like they have a religious significance.

Overall analysis: if Amilie made you sneer, then this is possibly not a film for you. Indeed, if you’d count cynicism as a key personality trait, and habitually get annoyed when characters crash through glass windows without a scratch, you might want to give this a miss. Which is a pity, because you’re missing some stunning piano music, and really a very good perfomance in the central role.

OK, I’ve found stacks of the sheet music. I’m gonna go practice now…

(incidentally, after I’d finished writing this, my entire family insisted on preventing me from playing in various ways for the entire day. I still haven’t recovered…)

Finally, a pair of film news items.

One bad:

Some more Grindhouse fun. Harvey Weinstein, you are hereby awarded the Airplane! Memorial "What A Pisser!" Award.

One good:

HOT FUZZ IS OUT ON MONDAY! By the power of Greyskull, OH YEAH! Now that's what I'm talking about...

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

So excited about Hot Fuzz? I think the best part was ripped from the (original) Wicker Man. Some funny parts but mostly annoying and nowhere near as good as it is believed to be.

www.bcarlier.be

Ninquelosse said...

Which bit? Apart from Edward Woodward's presence and the general plot of the film, I didn't notice any specific nods. As for the film itself, each to his own - I absolutely loved it, but fair enough if you didn't.

Ninquelosse said...

Wowie, your pictures are amazing!

Benjamin said...

Thank you!
Returning the compliment: being a journalist (amongst other things) myself I certainly admire your creative writing here, which is (while not always very structured) certainly interesting and proof of a clever person behind the nickname.

Ninquelosse said...

I haven't posted your other comment (just in case...) but thanks for it. Have you seen (and what did you think) of Shaun of the Dead?

Benjamin said...

After it showed up on the IMDB top250 recently I got curious and watched it (SOTD). Rather silly satire sticking it to so-called suburban (wage) slaves. However, as zombie-flicks I rate Romero's anthology or even 28 days a lot higher. Of course SOTD is a parody on those movies, but I guess it's just not my cup of tea. Fear not, I do agree with you on the greatness of Donnie Darko (the soundtrack, yumm).

 
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