Monthly Archives: November 2012

What Dya Mean You Haven’t Seen… The Seventh Seal?

For those who don’t know what these ‘What Dya Mean You Haven’t Seen…?’ posts are about, they are basically me catching up on and discussing films I probably should have seen by now and when I tell people I haven’t seen them, their response is often along the lines of ‘what dya mean you haven’t seen X?’. See what I’ve done?

I chose The Seventh Seal because I have heard so many amazing things about Ingmar Bergman and yet his films remain a bit of a gap in my film viewing. I watched Wild Strawberries whilst I was at university but didn’t really wrap my head around it, so I thought I’d give another of his films a whirl.

Plot: Antonius Block (Max von Sydow) is a knight returning from the Crusades where, on a beach, he is confronted by Death (Bengt Ekerot) who tells him it is his time to go. Antonius then challenges Death to a game of chess, stating that if he wins he must be allowed to go on living, and whilst the game goes on Death cannot take him. Death agrees to the game and the two play at intervals as Block, along with his squire Jöns (Gunnar Björnstrand), go on their travels. Throughout the land, the Black Death is taking hold, killing thousands of people, prompting Block to head for his castle where he believes he will be safer. Along the way, they are joined by others who are promised refuge in their castle. However, the omnipotent presence of Death constantly hangs over their shoulder during their various encounters.

It’s an incredibly difficult film to sum up as it’s easy to not give enough of a synopsis to let people know the story, but equally easy to go overboard and harp on about every last scene. There are many, many themes running through The Seventh Seal and it’s likely that only Bergman himself can fully explain it all. There is so much to contemplate and pontificate on that you could go mad trying to analyse every last shot, but there is also a fairly straightforward story at the heart which folk can enjoy even if they don’t buy into the whole critical analysis thing.

One of the major themes is that of Antonius having a crisis of faith, becoming disillusioned with the existence of God. This isn’t particularly ambiguous as it’s spelled out a few times throughout, and is reported to come from Bergman’s own wavering beliefs. Antonius’s confidence in God has obviously been shaken and it’s an understandable view that our protagonist has. He has just returned from the Crusades where he no doubt saw countless people die and the Black Death is currently ravaging Europe. What kind of a God would let that happen? It’s an argument that is likely as old as religion itself, and some could argue that this is an anti-religion message. This argument is strengthened by Antonius’s constant questioning of a higher power – “Faith is a torment. It is like loving someone who is out there in the darkness but never appears, no matter how loudly you call.”

One of the most iconic images in cinema

However, it could also be argued that the film paints a negative picture of those who are not religious. Antonius is questioning his faith as Death comes to take him away and is distraught at this, suggesting that those who accept God, no matter whether he shows himself or not, will be much less afraid when death becomes them. Furthermore, the family of circus travellers, Mia (Bibi Andersson) and Jof (Nils Poppe) and their child, that Antonius and Jöns encounter are obviously a symbol of a Holy family, representing Mary, Joseph and Jesus. The fact that these three are spared their lives whilst others die, could be read as a pro-religious message. Personally, I believe that it is more anti-religious and the sparing of the ‘Holy family’ is more to do with their kindness and good nature than anything else.

Because The Seventh Seal is also about finding purpose in one’s life and doing good in the limited amount of time we have. Mia and Jof are constantly striving to do good. As circus travellers, their aim is to make people happy, and they are trying to do this during an outbreak of the plague when there’s not much to be happy about. They also offer Antonius and Jöns food and drink even though they do not know them, which leads Antonius to speak some of the most heartfelt lines in the film – “I shall remember this moment: the silence, the twilight, the bowl of strawberries, the bowl of milk. Your faces in the evening light. Mikael asleep, Jof with his lyre. I shall try to remember our talk. I shall carry this memory carefully in my hands as if it were a bowl brimful of fresh milk. It will be a sign to me, and a great sufficiency.” Here Antonius seems truly happy for perhaps the only time in the film and it is because of the generosity of others. He is close to death, literally, and yet he is comforted by people who make him happy; this is his way of dealing with the inevitable.

Danse Macabre – The Dance of Death

The threat of death and Death is constant throughout. Antonius’s game of chess continues along their travels, whilst the Black Death is constantly biting at their ankles. It’s speculated that this is Bergman’s response to the new nuclear threat following World War II; death is just around the corner and could call at any moment. Death also doesn’t care who you are, it doesn’t discriminate and doesn’t care whether you believe in God or not; it is inescapable and cannot be cheated. This is highlighted in the scene with the girl who is being burned alive for allegedly being a witch. We’re never sure whether she is a witch or not, but death doesn’t care, he is “unknowing”. The danse macabre at the film’s end is another example of death’s non-discriminating nature – No matter one’s station in life, the Dance of Death unites us all.

There is just so much to think about in The Seventh Seal; I doubt any of this barely scratches the surface. It’s one of those films I thought I would feel indifferent about a third into it, but a few days later I’m still thinking about it, trying to piece it all together, so it must have done something right. I realise I may well have waffled quite a lot up to now, so well done if you’ve stuck it out!

Whilst the cinematography, editing, etc, aren’t anything special, this leaves more for attention to be focused on the themes and messages brought up, rather than being distracted by other things. It’s a film where dialogue is king and Bergman has written some truly superb stuff here. If you miss any of it, you could miss out on something that adds a huge amount to the story. It’s beautifully written, perfectly highlighting Antonius’s inner turmoil and struggles as he battles to make sense of his life before Death inevitably catches up with him. There is also a smattering of humour throughout, particularly from Jöns who seems much more matter-of-fact than Antonius and happy to tell everything as he sees it. This humour is much needed as without it, the film could have become a little too heavy and depressing.

I get the feeling that The Seventh Seal is a film I’ll need to watch more than once to fully appreciate. There are so many different things going on under the surface that one view doesn’t seem to do it justice. Whilst I did enjoy the first viewing, I was sometimes left a little perplexed by certain events and their meaning, which could well be a comment on my lack of critical understanding rather than the film itself. Like I mentioned before, there is a fairly straightforward story at the heart of the film, but it is one that some may struggle to really get into. It’s not one to be thrown on if you’re looking for some light viewing; you really need to give it your full attention. And if you do so, you’ll find a film that challenges you to think, which is something not a lot of films do anymore.

Chris

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Guest Post – The Magnificent Andersons: Paul Thomas vs Wes

Let’s be honest: 2012 has not been that good of a year for the movies.  True, the year isn’t over yet, and the end of the calendar year is typically littered with the films that studios are looking to win Oscars with.  But as of now, the year has been terribly underwhelming.  Sure The Avengers was a lot of fun, but it honestly wasn’t much better than any other Marvel Comics film.  Beasts of the Southern Wild is a solid Sundance film that got far too much hype out of that festival.  Ridley Scott’s Prometheus was good, but it was also little more than a retread of his own film from thirty years ago, Alien.  Even one of my favorite films of the year so far, The Dark Knight Rises, simply pales in comparison to its predecessor.  However, there are two films that have been released this year that stand tall among the rest.  Both were made by innovative auteurs.  Both of those auteurs made their breakthrough in the 90s.  Both auteurs have been praised for their droll sense of humor.  Both auteurs have been praised for their utilization of popular music in their films.  And oddly enough, both auteurs have the same last name.  Those auteurs are Paul Thomas Anderson and Wes Anderson, and their films are The Master and Moonrise Kingdom, respectively.

While those films may not be the absolute best films of either director’s career, they serve as reminders that the Andersons are at the forefront of American cinema.  The Master picks up where PTA left off with his 2007 masterpiece There Will Be Blood.  It’s a gorgeously filmed and expertly performed epic about the American relationship between commerce and religion.  Moonrise Kingdom is a return to live action for Wes, after his hilarious venture into Claymation with his loving adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox.  Whereas PTA’s recent films have been bleak, Moonrise Kingdom is a touching love story about two runaway kids that highlights his eccentric humor and his stylistic quirks.

Frankly, the two directors are very far apart, at least when it comes to visual style.  And while PTA is known for injecting humor into his films, they are unmistakably dramas that touch on subjects ranging from human avarice to drug addiction (Punch-Drunk Love aside).  Wes Anderson’s films are tragicomedies, films that maintain a morose sense of humor, typically set against the backdrop of a neurotic/broken family.  So while their films are largely different, the two men have some striking similarities apart from their surname.

In 1996, both Paul Thomas and Wes released their debut features, Hard Eight and Bottle Rocket, respectively.  For Hard Eight, PTA expanded on a subplot he used in his 1993 short film Cigarettes & Coffee.  He was allowed to do this after that short became a Sundance sensation, and investors at the Sundance lab gave him enough to make a feature.  In 1994, Wes Anderson directed a short named Bottle Rocket.  Academy Award winning director James L. Brooks saw it, and found Anderson the financing to expand his short.  Both Hard Eight and Bottle Rocket were met with positive, if unspectacular reviews.  It wasn’t until their second films, Boogie Nights and Rushmore, that the filmmakers received the acclaim they are now used to.

Since then, both directors have received Academy Award nominations (although PTA has three more).  They also have both been called the next Martin Scorsese by a man that would have some authority on the matter: Martin Scorsese.  Both Paul Thomas and Wes would be the first men to admit the influence that the great Scorsese has had on them.  Boogie Nights at times feels like the collaborative film Robert Altman and Scorsese never made, while Wes frequently employs the use of Rolling Stones songs in his films (sound familiar?).  Paul Thomas is well known for his use of music in film as well.  In fact, PTA and Wes mailed each other back and forth on ideas for songs that could be used in Wes Anderson’s most iconic film The Royal Tenenbaums.  This is the only time the two are known to have collaborated.

As far as American directors are concerned, Scorsese had quite a few extraordinary directors that he could have picked from as a standard bearer for the new generation of American auteurs.  Darren Aronofsky, Alexander Payne and Quentin Tarantino would all certainly qualify.  But for many film enthusiasts, the Andersons represent the cream of the crop.

About the author: Zack Mandell is a movie enthusiast and owner of www.movieroomreviews.com and writer of movie reviews. He writes extensively about the movie industry for sites such as Gossip Center, Yahoo, NowPublic, and Helium.

If anyone would like to be featured as a Guest Post, just give me a yell!

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Film Review: Frankenweenie

Back in 1984, a young Disney employee named Timothy Walter Burton came up with Frankenweenie, a live-action short about a boy who tries to bring his dog back from the dead after being run over by a car. However, Disney deemed Frankenweenie to be too frightening for children and promptly sacked Burton for wasting company resources. Fast forward nearly 30 years and Burton has finally brought his project to the big screen and, interestingly, prior to the film, you may notice a certain famous castle made squarely out of humble pie.

The core story of Frankenweenie remains the same. Victor Frankenstein’s best friend is his dog Sparky, but when Sparky gets run over fetching a ball, Victor is devastated. However, when he learns in school that electricity can reanimate dead organisms, he decides to try it out on his late best friend. When Victor’s classmates get wind of what he’s doing, they too decide to bring their pets back from the dead, with varying degrees of success.

The film starts off with more of a fairytale feel about it, but soon twists in elements of horror, some of which are pretty dark, without feeling too scary to frighten children. The fact that it’s the corpse of a lovable family pet being reanimated definitely allows darker themes to be explored without it feeling inappropriate at any point. Who’d have thought we’d see gravedigging in a modern Disney film? Frankenweenie isn’t as scary as, say, ParaNorman, but it doesn’t need to be; it’s a fairytale that, aside from a couple of jumpy moments, leaves the horror for the proper horror films and instead creates a beautifully twisted universe inhabited by beautifully twisted characters. The conniving Edgar ‘E’ Gore is a perfect accompaniment to Victor’s more honorable personality, whilst their teacher, Mr Rzykruski (a clear nod to horror legend Vincent Price), is mysterious and intriguing, offering a social commentary on society’s attitudes towards science and the fear of questioning firmly held beliefs.

Whilst Burton’s original version of Frankenweenie was live-action, his 2012 iteration is a return to his beloved stop-motion, and it’s this that provides much of the film’s charm. The animation is absolutely impeccable throughout, and even when the action becomes much more hectic in the final third, it remains mesmerisingly faultless. There’s something beguiling about stop-motion, almost a purer form of storytelling that appeals to adults just as much as children, and that’s another of Frankenweenie’s strong points: that there is just as much for adults here as children. Just like ParaNorman, there are nods to classic horror films, some subtle, some blindingly obvious even for those without an encyclopaedic knowledge of the horror genre.

The story rattles along and never gets boring, picking up pace significantly in the second half. The film’s length is spot on; perfect for keeping children’s attention whilst still providing a deep enough narrative for ardent film-goers. However, the ending is perhaps Frankenweenie’s biggest sticking point. Without wanting to spoil anything, the ending is likely to divide many, particularly adults, who could accuse it of dodging important issues it had the opportunity to confront. Despite that, it doesn’t take too much of the gloss off a thoroughly enjoyable film that marks a real return to form for Tim Burton.

Burton has made some incredibly memorable films but he’s also hit a few bum notes recently, notably Alice in Wonderland and Dark Shadows. However, this is the Tim Burton that brought us Edward Scissorhands, the one under the hood of The Nightmare Before Christmas, and the one that still retains the storytelling prowess he had all those years ago when Disney decided he was doing nothing but wasting company resources.

Chris

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My Movie Alphabet

My Movie Alphabet is a blogathon started, as it says in the above graphic, by Mettel Ray and really encapsulates the true meaning of the word ‘blogathon’. In others words, it’s taken me bloody ages to put this together. Not that I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed it, of course! This is a pretty changeable post, to be honest, and if you were to ask me to do it again in a couple of months, it may well change, but for now, this is how it is. For more info on how to get involved, have a gander here. So, without further ado, here are my entries.

Yes, numbers technically aren’t part of the alphabet but it just wouldn’t be fair to leave out some great films, just because they they’re different. I’m not a numberist. This is the first of several Stanley Kubrick entries and where better to start than 2001? It’s one of the finest sci-fi films ever made and contains some of the most recognisable shots in cinema. It’s a film that amazes and intrigues and if you claim you completely understand it, well, you’re lying.

In contention: 28 Days Later, 21 Grams

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Film Review: Looper

“This time travel crap, just fries your brain like a egg…”

This is a line uttered by one of the characters in Looper and pretty much sums up the problem with time travel films. They don’t make a huge amount of sense and the more you think about them, the less sense they make. Looper suffers from the same problem, but if you can just sit back and take the film at face value without trying to analyse it to within an inch of its life, then there’s a decent sci-fi action film with an intriguing premise.

Thirty years in the future, time travel has been invented and immediately outlawed. However, it’s still used by the criminal underworld to dispose of targets who are sent back and killed by hired hitmen or Loopers. Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a Looper who breaks the most important rule – don’t let your target get away. Joe’s predicament is made all the more complicated when he discovers that the person sent back for him to kill is actually his future self. Old Joe (Bruce Willis) has engineered the time travel himself in order to kill a child who will grow up to be an organised crime leader known as The Rainmaker who caused the death of his wife. When young Joe becomes emotionally involved with the child’s mother (Emily Blunt), he has some tough decisions to make about whether to protect his own future or that of an innocent child.

Looper does an excellent job of creating a believable universe that’s not too removed from the one we live in, but removed enough to have a unique futuristic vibe. It looks superb throughout; writer and director Rian Johnson has done an excellent job of realising  However, the time it takes to establish this universe is at the expense of the narrative, particularly in the film’s first third. There is a lot of playing around with the time travel and the subject of Loopers that never really goes anywhere and feels little more than a showcase of the films central ideas, albeit it in a fun and fast-paced way. It’s not for quite a while that old Joe actually shows up and the narrative gets some driving force.

Oddly, when the narrative starts to move forward, the pace of the film actually slows and we’re invited to invest more in the characters than the overall plot. This is particularly the case once we meet Emily Blunt’s character, Sara, and her son Cid who old Joe believes will grow up to become The Rainmaker. In fact, it’s Sara and Cid who actually offer the most emotional involvement in the film. Both young and old Joe aren’t particularly identifiable characters and their fate becomes rather less interesting than that of the young boy. Old Joe, especially, is a rather forgettable character, only really given gravitas by the presence of Bruce Willis.

About two thirds into the film, something strange happens. It sheds some of its sci-fi leanings and adopts a horror element that brings it closer to films such as Children of the Corn. This takes it in a direction different to that painted by what’s occurred previously, which may not be to everyone’s tastes. At times it feels like the film is having some kind of identity crisis, unsure of what it wants to be, although it manages to keep on track just enough to maintain overall focus.

Some have said that Looper is ‘the new Matrix’ but those claims are a little misguided. It doesn’t have the originality of the Wachowski’s 1999 mindbender but is still a worthy addition to the sc-fi genre, more akin to the likes of Twelve Monkeys, although again, not quite up to those standards. Yes there are plot holes if you go looking for them and plenty to debate but if you enjoy the film for what it is and put the urge to pick it to pieces to one side, then it’s a movie with plenty of merit even if it fails to be the classic many predicted it would be.

Chris

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Film Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a WallflowerThe trials and tribulations of high school are something that pretty much everyone can identify with. Whether you were (still are?) one of the geeks, captain of the football team or always the lead in the school productions, high school has plenty to challenge and test you. There have been myriad films exploring this and at first glance The Perks of Being a Wallflower doesn’t seem like anything we haven’t seen a number of times before. However, there is more to the film that meets the eye and some key central performances ensure it isn’t your average, run of the mill high school flick.

Charlie (Logan Lerman) is just starting high school and has a hard time settling in. He struggles to fit in and doesn’t really have a strong identity – he’s a wallflower. That is until he joins up with two older students, Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller), who take him under their wing and expose him to a life of fun, frivolity and friendship. However, a dark secret from Charlie’s past threatens to bubble to the surface at any moment.

One of the triumphs of the film is that it has something that almost anyone can identify with, particularly if you are under the age of, say, 30. even then, there are still likely plenty of moments that will jog memories back to your own time at school. This is helped by the unidentified time period which, although is somewhere in the early 1990s, does well to create a setting that lends itself to a much broader era.  Virtually every high school demographic is covered in some form, allowing a different people to get different things from the film when they watch it. However, the film is mostly geared towards those who had a hard time fitting in and didn’t find that time in their life particularly easy. If that sounds like you for whatever reason then there is plenty to associate with.

Perks is full of heart and takes you through the full spectrum of emotions across a number of different characters. Happiness, despair, confusion, jealousy: they’re all there and more besides, perfectly encapsulating the various emotions those of high school age go through. However, at times it does feel a little schmaltzy and saccharine, although this, in part, does come from the transition from book to screen. Elements of the book that felt empowering and uplifting do come across as corny in places, although that is purely subjective and others may feel they hit home as intended.

When a popular book gets adapted for the screen, there are always an army of dissenters who call for blood over how much the film has changed compared to the source material. Well perhaps the best way to avoid that is for the book’s author to pen the screenplay himself, and that’s precisely what Stephen Chbosky did with Perks. It sticks about as faithfully as one could hope to the storyline of the book; all omissions are ones that in no way hurt the story and are completely understandable. Charlie’s home life probably takes the biggest hit in terms of cut content but if something had to go then it’s probably a fair decision.

The three leads in the film all portray their characters superbly, with Logan Lerman and Ezra Miller in particular turning in superb performances as Charlie and Patrick respectively. Miller’s flamboyance and exuberance is a world apart from 2011’s We Need to Talk About Kevin showing that he has some serious acting chops for one still so young. Emma Watson, in her first lead role since Potter, can be a little hit and miss at times, particularly to start with although she grows into the character as the film progresses.  Some may find it a little farfetched to imagine such attractive leads as social outcasts but that’s mere finickiness in otherwise impressive scripting and casting.

Whilst not likely to set the world on fire in terms of high school drama films, there is a lot to like about Perks. It feels very much like an indie movie through most of it, so don’t expect any Hollywood gloss. The superb soundtrack featuring The Smiths, David Bowie, Sonic Youth, among others, is a high point, and the dark undercurrent it exudes also helps steer it away from others in its genre and makes for a genuinely surprising ending. It’s presented slightly differently in the film compared to the book, but it still packs a punch and effectively rounds off a film that succeeds in being anything but a wallflower.

Chris

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Guest Post: Star Wars Goes Disney

“Star Wars” fans freaked out when news broke that Disney bought Lucasfilm for an estimated 4.5 billion dollars. On top of that, fans rejoiced that there are new “Star Wars” films expected to be released in the near future.

George Lucas, former Lucasfilms owner, said he wanted to give his company a “larger entity that would protect it.” Let’s take a look at some reasons that makes this Disney buyout of the “Star Wars” franchise good news.

Protecting the Lucasfilm brand – Like Lucas said, Disney can act as a protective shield for Lucasfilm. Take the last prequels as an example; the prequels were dissatisfying to many fans. According to these sites, the prequels lost the magic and fun that the originals had. Because of this, some fans might feel that Disney might put “Star Wars” in an even worse shape. At the very least, Disney could inject some new life into the films. Take a potential story about Darth Vader, for instance. If Disney can create a villain like Scar from “The Lion King,” who killed his own brother for power, they also have the ability to create a great story about the most villainous guy in the universe.

New Fans — By partnering with Disney, “Star Wars” could reach new fans. For instance, younger audiences who haven’t been introduced to “Star Wars” by their parents might soon be able to turn to The Disney Channel to see “Star Wars”-themed shows, like “The Clone Wars,” which ScreenRant reports will be moving to The Disney Channel from Cartoon Network.  If Disney wanted to, they could even go further and create educational cartoons based around the “Star Wars” universe. There could be television shows for teenage audiences and cartoon crossovers, similar to the upcoming “Phineas and Ferb”/Marvel crossover “Phineas and Ferb: Mission Marvel.” It also wouldn’t be surprising if Disney decided to create some “Star Wars” animated shorts to play before future feature films.

 New Merchandise – Disney and Lucasfilm are two companies that are masters at merchandising, and together, they’ll be able to create even more opportunities. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Disney Stores soon flooded with Mickey Mouse figurines in Jedi clothes, or special editions of Padme dolls (sold with her Queen Amidala and senatorial outfits and accessories), or even “Star Wars” play sets.

New Parks – Disney has been working on regaining ground after The Wizarding World of Harry Potter became serious competition. By acquiring Lucasfilm properties, Disney can not only expand on their “Star Wars” themed experiences at their Florida and California theme parks and create a whole “Star Wars” immersive park, but they can also create parks based on other Lucasfilm properties, like “Indiana Jones.”

Jedi-worthy stories – Disney has already proven they can handle complex storylines, but with some fans, the company had to prove itself again when they acquired Marvel. After the release of “Marvel’s The Avengers,” worried fans realized their favorite superheroes weren’t in any danger of being “Disneyfied.” Now, some fans are worried again about the future success of “Star Wars.” Disney might be in the process of telling new “Star Wars” stories, but more than likely, there’s no need to worry about a “Star Wars” animated musical coming anytime soon.

What do you think about Lucasfilm’s deal with Disney?

About the Author:  Lisa is a content writer for Satellite TV.com, and has a weekly column at StarPulse.  When she isn’t working, she is catching up on her favorite TV shows and films with her new husband. A massive thanks to Lisa for getting in touch and sending this over. It’s always great to feature other people’s stuff on the site, so if you’d like anything published, just give me a yell.

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Nostalgiathon – Ghostbusters II

This post is part of Nostalgiathon 2012, an excellent blogathon from the brains of Andy at Andy Watches Movies and Misty over at Cinema Schminema. Very briefly, The purpose of Nostalgiathon is to relive things from your childhood through the eyes of an adult. For more information on how to get involved, click here.

So yes, the first Ghostbusters is probably the better film, but when I was younger it was always Ghostbusters II that I enjoyed the most and would watch on repeat. Like, literally on repeat. Apparently I would watch it and then as soon as it finished I would put it on again. I also had all the toys, the Proton Pack, the trap thingy. Yep, I was ace. My parents must have gone out of their minds.

I’ve not actually seen Ghostbusters II for quite a while but I can still recall it pretty much scene for scene – an honour held by only a select few films. From start to finish it’s filled with scenes that invoke pangs of nostalgia, from seeing the crew have normal every day jobs and Dana’s pram go hurtling down the street to all the ghosts showing themselves around New York and bringing the Statue of Liberty to Life. Absurd I know, but when I was seven or eight it was pretty cool.

However, probably the scene I always looked forward to the most was the courtroom scene. The Ghostbusters are on trial for causing a blackout in New York and generally just being a nuisance (in the eyes of the lawholders). As the judge gets more and more irate, the jar of slime, that is affected by negative feelings, starts to bubble until it finally explodes releasing the ghosts of two murderers whom the judge sentenced to death by electric chair. Sweet. I always found this the most exciting scene in the whole film and loved how freaky the two ghosts were.

I always thought the big bad guy, Vigo was really quite frightening, especially when he started to emerge from the painting, but Janosz did do my head in a bit. You’d think an evil spirit of a 17th century Carpathian tyrant would pick someone a little better to do his duty. Still, Janosz gets the job done, I guess, and you can’t really be that picky when you’re trapped inside a painting. Thinking about it now, what would Vigo have done had he actually have possessed Dana’s baby? Would the baby have adult thoughts? If not, presumably Dana would bring him up to be an upstanding member of society, thus negating the effects of Vigo’s evilness. And times have changed, tyrants of old wouldn’t stand a chance in today’s world. Chances are, some kid would come along and pop him one a la Omar in The Wire (apologies if I’ve just spoiled The Wire for you).

Still, Ghostbusters II remains one of my favourite childhood films. There was no Stay Puft Marshmallow Man this time around (another massive childhood favourite of mine) but it’s still a rollicking good time. Bill Murray is as witty as ever, Janine (Annie Potts) is still strangely attractive, and Rick Moranis saves the day and gets the girl. Good ol’ Rick Moranis.

There’s been plenty of talk of a third Ghostbusters film but I really hope it doesn’t happen. Apparently Murray has said he doesn’t want in and Dan Aykroyd is up for replacing him with someone else. I couldn’t think of a better way of completely destroying a franchise without using the words ‘Jar Jar’. If they absolutely have to do it, they should completely reboot it with new actors and leave the old films as they are. Even better, they could just leave everything as is and leave this part of my childhood in tact and unspoiled.

Chris

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Film Review: Skyfall

As the 50th anniversary film of England’s most famous secret agent, it was important that Skyfall, the 23rd in the series, did the franchise justice. Many hailed the return of Bond with Daniel Craig’s first outing in Casino Royale but it took a big step back with the incredibly underwhelming Quantum of Solace. Now Skyfall has finally hit screens after being dogged by studio problems, it gives fans a perfect anniversary celebration whilst offering plenty to keep the series moving forward.

After Bond is accidentally ‘killed’ trying to retrieve a stolen list of embedded NATO operatives, M (Judi Dench) comes under pressure to resign. However, when an explosion at MI6 kills eight people, Bond resurfaces to protect her from cyber terrorist Silva (Javier Bardem) who is making her face up to her past.

Skyfall moves away from the Quantum storyline of the previous two films, acting as a standalone piece whilst still retaining the gritty feel and realism that distinguished them from pre-Craig films. Some have said that it doesn’t feel like a Bond film, but it features everything that makes Bond such a beloved franchise. There are car chases, shoot-outs, great cars, a superb villain, and a Bond girl (although maybe not the one you might expect), but updated for this generation. Only perhaps on the gadgets side of the things does the film lose its roots, but, again, this is part of the new direction the films are being taken in and is something that is specifically referenced in Bond’s conversation with the new Q (Ben Wishaw).

It’s an important direction that the films are going in. The last of the Brosnan films were pretty terrible and a re-imagining was sorely overdue. Casino Royale brought a more realistic Bond and Skyfall is a further extension of that. Bond’s humour is darker with fewer pithy quips (those that are there now feel somewhat out of place) and he’s now more rugged action hero than suave super spy. This may irk some but Bond films are a product of their time and it simply wouldn’t be possible to create a film nowadays that felt exactly the same as those from the Connery, Moore or even Dalton era. Skyfall manages to take just enough from its predecessors to feel loyal but presents a refreshing take on the Bond formula.

The opening scene of a Bond film has a certain responsibility to be exhilarating and exciting and Skyfall’s doesn’t disappoint. There are guns, bikes, cars, trains, the lot. Following this, however, the film struggles to find its feet a little and does plod along at times. That is until we meet Silva and we’re treated to arguably the best villain intro in a Bond film yet. Javier Bardem is superb as Silva, perfectly encapsulating what it is to be a classic Bond villain but also giving it his own spin. Silva’s opening scene is also yet another example of how far the series has come – no spoilers here, but it includes a moment that would never have happened in Bond films of the past.

Bardem is a scene stealer and his interactions with Bond and M are some of the finest moments in the film. He manages to invoke the creepiness and sinister side of his role as Anton Chigurh in the Coen brother’s  No Country For Old Men, whilst still managing to retain a  However, whilst his backstory is integral to the film’s overall narrative, it’s perhaps not quite as developed as it could be. He’s an incredibly intriguing character, but a little more character development and exposition could have made his motives and relationships that bit more effective.

Skyfall is more character driven than perhaps any other Bond film, particularly in its second half. However, this in some way negates much of the work done in the first half. With talk of lists of secret agents and cyber terrorism in the film’s first hour or so, these become incidental to other events later on to such an extent that they do feel like a little forgotten. This does make the film feel slightly disjointed but if these aspects are treated as merely a set up rather than integral to the plot then it really doesn’t become a problem.

Despite the many dissenters upon Daniel Craig’s announcement as Bond following Brosnan’s departure, it didn’t take him long to settle into the role and, again, he provides another excellent, high octane performance. However, it’s the subtleties he brings to the role that enable him to stake a claim for the best Bond yet. A wry smile here, an adjustment of the cufflinks there, and also a fragility that reminds us that he is human after all. Skyfall also marks the seventh film for Judi Dench as M and this is finally her time in the spotlight. She has a much more involved role than in any of her previous Bond films, so much so, in fact, that this is perhaps just as much her story than anyone else’s. Ben Wishaw as the real successor to Desmond Llewelyn as Q is also worthy of a mention and looks set to be a notable addition to the series.

Something that can’t go without praise is the stunning cinematography of Roger Deakins. From Shanghai to Scotland we are treated to a a rich and visually arresting mise-en-scene that results in a Bond film that looks head and shoulders above the rest. Simply put, Deakins’ cinematography is just as important to Skyfall as any other element, be that the villain, the cars or James Bond himself.

Skyfall very much feels like a celebration of all things Bond from over the past 50 years. There are nods to several previous films which, although might send the heads of those looking for a coherent Bond timeline into a spin, add a layer of pleasing fan service and pangs of nostalgia. Is this the best Bond film yet? Well that, just as whether Craig is the best Bond, purely comes down to personal preference, but there can be no doubt that it’s one of the highlights of the entire series and a perfect way to mark half a century of being licensed to kill.

Chris

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Quickie: The Sweeney

Jack Regan (Ray Winstone) is an old-fashioned cop who plays by his own rules. He, along with partner George Carter (Ben Drew), are investigating a lead on a bank heist when a robbery and murder at a jewellery store causes them to pull the plug, leading Regan to believe they are connected through old foe Francis Allen (Paul Anderson). Regan tries to solve the crime the only way he knows as his superiors to try to shut him down.

The hardest thing to do when watching The Sweeney is having to suspend your disbelief. It gives the impression of a realistic cop drama but if you go into it expecting that, you’ll be disappointed. That these guys solve crimes with a baseball bat to the cranium makes you wonder why they haven’t been sacked and locked up. This is not The Sweeney of old but a re-imagining for the Danny Dyer generation. However, if you can overlook all that then there’s enough here to enjoy.

The film is much more character driven than one might expect from a film of this nature. As much a crime caper, it’s about a dinosaur of a cop whose methods and way of thinking have become obsolete. This plays into the film’s favour as, in terms of action and story, it blows its load too early, with the best set piece, a shoot out through London, occurring too early and leaving everything that follows a little underwhelming.

It also suffers from a truly awful script – “oi oi savaloy” is just one stereotypical retort embarrassingly wheeled out. Winstone and Drew are decent enough but they’re characters we’ve seen plenty of times before. Despite that, for a couple of hours of mindless entertainment, there are worse films to plump for; just don’t expect anything with brains.

Chris

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