Wednesday, 26 December 2012

The Incredibles (2004)

The 25th of December paid its annual visit to Scotland yesterday, and I decided that this was the year I would make some sort of effort gift-wise. In previous years, my parents have bought presents for me to give to each other member of my family, resulting in the situation where the moment my relatives first lay eyes on their present from me, I was just as surprised. To avoid this, I went into Ocean Terminal (I really don't go there as often as this blog suggests) and had a rake around for gifts my family would appreciate. This meant a pair of anti-slip soles for my dad, who is about to embark on a curling tour of Eastern Canada, and a bundle of DVDs for my sister, consisting of Pixar Shorts 2, The Emperor's New Groove, the splendidly-named Dinoshark Vs Supergator and The Incredibles.

As luck would have it, the latter film appeared on TV later in the evening, and me and my sister both decided that it would be a shame to ignore it just because we now had it at our digital disposal. So, after a day spent feasting on the best food of the year and eating enough pate to make an abbatoir-owner blush, I rested my bloated belly lying on a very comfortable sofa and settled down to enjoy one of the best films of the noughties while my stomach acid did all the work.

I do mean that seriously. Pixar films are up there with the best of recent times, and The Incredibles is certainly up there with the greatest of Pixar offerings. The story is very clever: after the glory days of superheroism, those with superpowers have been forced to live normal lives. Bob Parr, formerly Mr Incredible, is living in suburbia with his wife Helen, formerly Elastigirl, and together they have had three children. Helen has grown to the idea of living an average American family lifestyle, but Bob still yearns for the days long ago when he was admired for his wondrous exploits in the face of evil. This yearning leads him to take on a mission given to him by a mysterious woman, and eventually the entire family gets sucked in and must join together to fight the bad guys. It's so brilliant you wonder why no one's thought of it before.

The idea for the film's villain is smart. Syndrome used to be Mr Incredible's biggest fan, but grew embittered by the constant refusal of his offers of sidekickery. This hate drove him to destroy all the superheroes he could, so that he could be the one who gets all the glory when he arrives to take on a robot which he himself sent to ruin Metroville, home to all 'Supers'. It's rather simple, but that's a reason it works so well.

This is, of course, a film for children, and was made as such. The superb writing and the charm of the story and characters are not lost on older ones. I was half the age I am now when this came out, and I remember being utterly enthralled by it. Now I'm the age I am (see if you can do the maths), I notice a whole new level to it, and I can appreciate the incredible drama in scenes such as that where Bob is led to believe that his family has been killed in a missile attack on their plane. The animated emotions and vocal talent from folks such as Craig T Nelson and Samuel 'Where Is My Super Suit' L Jackson make for a thrilling and vivid movie.

This is a film I'll be enjoying and quoting for many years to come, and it will never lose its heaps of charm. I'll probably take advantage of my sister's present a number of times in the future.

Follow me on Twitter: @crunro

Friday, 21 December 2012

The Untouchables (1987)

Today is the first day of the Christmas holidays, full of gifts, cheer, family and exam revision. I threw the latter two into the wind to celebrate, though, as I first of all braced the bleak and drizzly Edinburgh weather on a visit to Winter Wonderland on Princes Street, then watched Brian De Palma's 1987 thriller The Untouchables.

There is always a happy moment of realisation at the beginning of a holiday when you find that it is, in fact, a holiday, and that means you have time to do whatever you fancy. In my case, this usually involves picking a film off Sky+ to settle down and watch alone. Today was also particularly a cause for celebration as, this being December 21 2012, the rapture decided that we're not quite worth it yet and laid off until the end of the next Baktun. There was nothing for it, a film had to be watched and enjoyed, so I settled for MC Hammer's favourite.

Set in Prohibition-era Illinois, The Untouchables revolves around Kevin Costner's Eliot Ness, a Chicago policeman who decides that the only way to bring Al Capone's violent reign over the city to an end is to assemble a crack team of specialists and keep one step ahead of his exploits. He recruits three others: an accountant, a young sharp shooter just passing through training, and an experienced Irish-American cop with much knowledge about how Chicago operates.

It is a quite spectacular film, in many different senses. The violence is pretty heavy and graphic (a ten year old girl explodes within the first five minutes or so), but it is occassionally also rather touching, shocking in a how-could-they-let-that-happen way rather than the vomit-provoking, eyeball-stomping way. There are parts to bring tears and cheers, and a script with lines that will stick in your head like a trainer to a nightclub floor, including what is one of my favourite last lines from any film.

Connery is, of course, one of the sons Edinburgh is most proud of. This film shows there is good reason for that. While he can't seem to decide whether his accent should be Scottish, American, Irish or Dutch, his acting is superb as ever. He has an ability to make any line memorable, and some iconic. He is the best of a wonderful cast, although Robert De Niro does make a convincing Al Capone and Billy Drago's Frank Nitti is very hatable.

The direction of De Palma and the music of the great Morricone builds up suspense and tension almost to breaking point, making for a very well-crafted and enthralling movie. It holds a well-deserved place among the greatest gangster films ever made.

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Monday, 17 December 2012

Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius (2001)

I said I'd write about every film I watch all the way through, so this is really just an exercise of that rule. I'll try to keep it brief, honest.

This really isn't a very good film. Perhaps you could be entertained if your age is a score in ten-pin bowling. Lines such as 'You've covered me in transmission fluid' and 'I do believe he's going to ram us' do hold some comedy value if it's two in the morning and you've had a couple of drinks.

Otherwise, if you're completely ebriated and over 9, write a book, start a business, the list of things you should rather be doing than watching this film is too long to tattoo on the side of a diplodocus.

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Friday, 14 December 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

Thursday night is radio night for me, as I help out new presenters on the ball-achingly awful school show on our local community station. This involves sitting in a warm studio with egg boxes on the walls for an hour and a half with two younger girls and a friend if I'm lucky. At this time of year, however, any warmth is to be appreciated, and often the chat is vaguely good when the microphones are off. There was an atmosphere of anticipation in the room that evening as well, as earlier in the day we had booked tickets to see Peter Jackson's new epic, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, for that evening, the day it came out.

The rather awkward time of the radio show meant that the only showing I could make was the 9pm one in 3D, so me, my sister and my friends Michael and Paul went straight from the studio to Ocean Terminal in Edinburgh to catch it. The hype for this film has been astounding. Apparently, the film underworld has been muttering about it for years, and by the time the premiere came around, people were giddy with expectation. The cast is very impressive, with a number of British actors you thought would remain doing dramas for ITV as well as some wonderful reappearances of actors from Jackson's original Lord of the Rings trilogy. The Hobbit would always have this weight on its proverbial shoulders, with many fans who will be dreadfully disappointed if this trilogy does not live up to the quite astounding heights of those seminal films.

However, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit are two completely different books. The Hobbit, Tolkein's first novel, was written for children and therefore is relatively short, with quite a simple plot and likable characters. The Lord of the Rings, however, is a true saga. It has an immensely complicated and twisted plot, more characters than you can shake a staff at and, when the three books are put together, it is one of the longest popular books ever written. It is for this reason that many were confused by Jackson's logic when he decided to make The Hobbit into a trilogy. This decision meant that each three hour film would deal with roughly just 100 pages of book. Jackson's decision was to stretch out minor parts of the novel in meticulous detail and, where acceptable, adding in extra parts the novel doesn't mention. One of these is the inclusion of the ogre Azog, who is only mentioned briefly in the book but is included in the film as the main antagonist, following Bilbo, Gandalf and the company of dwarves on much of their journey towards the Lonely Mountain, former home of the dwarves and now occupied by an enormous, treasure-hoarding dragon named Smaug.

The characters are charming. The dwarves are great fun, even if they have a habit of breaking into song unfortunately reminiscent of the Oompa-Loompas. Richard Armitage does take the role a bit seriously, and could have benefitted from not being so dramatic, but he fits well into his character. Ken Stott is wonderful as Balin, the oldest, wisest and most cautious of the dwarves. Ian McKellen, of course, leaves you wondering if there is anyone else on Earth who could have played Gandalf. He is kind, quiet but gently powerful, and works the role just as brilliantly as he did in the LOTR films. The true gem of casting in this film, however, is Martin Freeman in the main role of Bilbo Baggins. He is superb. Viewers in the UK recognise him from the fantastic Sherlock on the BBC, and his role as Tim in The Office. You can see the skills honed from years of sitcoms in his performance, the subtle changes in facial expression and voice tone which show you why Peter Jackson was so desperate to get him.

You really should see it in 3D. There are certain sequences in the film which are well worth the extra bit of money on the ticket. One sequence in particular, where Bilbo and company fly over the Middle Earth landscape on the back of giant eagles, can only be described as spectacular, and Rivendell looks absolutely wonderful in 3D. Where many just use it as a gimmick, with bullets and organs flying towards you at any opportunity, Jackson uses it as part of the story, and it immerses you.

The Hobbit never was going to live up to the reputation of The Lord of the Rings, just like it is unlikely that any other fantasy movie trilogy will. It remains to be seen how the sequels play out, but I remain positive about them and I'll certainly be going to have a look when they are released.

Follow me on Twitter: @crunro

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Forrest Gump (1994)

Yesterday was quite a day. I caught one of the best episodes of one of the best TV shows ever made, The Simpsons, took home this year's Christmas tree and watched a cracking episode of Pointless before I turned over to find that I had missed a considerable lump of Back To The Future, just finding Doc Brown dangling by a wire in front of the Hill Valley town hall clock during the lightning storm. So as you can tell, a day of extremes.

But as if my parents knew I needed a bit of cheering up, we ordered a Chinese and picked up Charlotta, a Swedish girl I met when she came to our school on exchange, to have it with us. She may not have enjoyed her chow mein, but she pretended to, and we went through to the front room once all the prawn crackers were out of the bowl and into our mouths. There's a bit of a tradition that I'll put on a good film to watch when she comes round, often on Netflix, but Sky One tossed us a blinder yesterday with Robert Zemeckis' other masterpiece, Forrest Gump.

This is one of the few films I already have on DVD, and one of the even fewer that I actually bought myself. This by no means means I should ignore it when it's on TV. No opportunity to watch it should be passed. We even missed the first ten minutes, and thus the line about the box of chocolates. As if that matters.

Forrest Gump is a true epic in every sense of the word. The scale of it is staggering (a fleet of helicopters flying past an army camp in Vietnam, a packed anti-war protest in front of the Washington Monument), the scope is incredible (covering just about every major American event and cultural shift from the end of the Second World War to the early eighties), and there is not a shoddy performance from anyone anywhere. It is both one of the funniest and most heart-wrenching films ever made, as Forrest watches his Lieutenant struggle his way through life wishing he was dead and his girl, Jenny, fall from innocence quite spectacularly.

Gary Sinise and Robin Wright's performances are particularly of note, as well as, of course, Tom Hanks in the lead role. It is difficult to imagine a Gump not played by Hanks, with his now iconic Southern drawl and deeply emotional acting, especially in the outstanding scene taking place underneath a tree towards the end of the film. The script is one of the best, covering such an enormous number of issues whilst including some quite brilliant lines ("I'm sorry I had to fight in the middle of your Black Panther par-tay"), and all with the casualness of a man retelling his story at a bus stop.

Zemeckis uses his (in)famously frequent special effects for realism rather than for spectacle here, putting Gump in the background of various newsreels throughout history quite convincingly with a subtleness many of today's CGI-mad directors could take note of. To take on a film of this scale must have been quite a challenge, but Zemeckis pulled it off in spectacular style, taking the Academy Award for Best Director as his reward.

Forrest Gump is a true achievement among films, and I'd be quite happy for it to sum up all that's remarkable about cinema. It is near flawless in almost every aspect, with the acting, special effects, direction, script and plot all among the greatest. I'm very glad to have stumbled across it, albeit 10 minutes late.

Follow me on Twitter: @crunro

Friday, 7 December 2012

Rain Man (1988)

To kick this off, I'm going to talk about the film during which I decided to write this blog, Barry Levinson's Rain Man.

As per usual, I recorded this film after seeing it in the Sunday Post's short guide to the films that are appearing somewhere on TV over the week. It's not a particularly fantastic or definitive list, but it occassionally mentions films that I've been meaning to watch for a while, and I go straight through to the TV to record them. This particular issue of the Post was published quite a number of weeks ago, and Rain Man has been saved on my Sky+ box for some time, but I've never found time to watch it until today. I love these days, when you realise there's enough time over the weekend to push back all the homework for the following week and watch a film. Although I had been meaning to watch The Untouchables (which I recorded only yesterday on Film4), it turns out that you need to enter a PIN to view films with a number as a certificate, and this PIN was undisclosed to me and all of my family. Not terribly helpful. Thankfully, Sky doesn't realise that Rain Man was a film and thus didn't lock it away, and so I got to watch it.

I've heard much praise being dished out to this movie, and its generous helping of awards (four Academy Awards, including Best Picture) only added to my stellar preconceptions of Rain Man before I saw it. My knowledge of the actual plot, however, was less than impressive. All I could have told you was that Dustin Hoffman plays the autistic older brother of Tom Cruise... and nothing more. I admit that I was unsure of how this fact would translate into an interesting plot line, whether they fall for each other's wives, accidentally discover time travel together or embark on a catastrophe-strewn road trip around Europe.

It turns out the plot is a lot more simple and interesting. Cruise begins the film as a slightly repulsive LA car dealer named Charlie Babbitt, who is irritated by the mere thought of someone deciding not to buy one of his products and reacts passively when he receives news of his father's death. It turns out that Charlie and his dad didn't have the most idyllic of relationships (a fact that isn't too hard to believe) and haven't spoken to each other for a number of years. Bibbit's coldness towards his father is thrown back in his face when he discovers that he has been bequeathed next to nothing in the old man's will, with the entire $3.5 million fortune left to his brother. This is a problem, as Charlie always believed that he was an only child. He goes on the hunt for the elusive sibling, finding him as a resident in the Walbrook Mental Institution.

Hoffman is quite extraordinary as Charlie's autistic brother Raymond. To some, his performance may seem over-the-top and robotic, but it is quite clear that he did his research on the condition. His character is based on the real life case of the incredible Kim Peek, a man certainly worth Googling if you've never heard of him. Although unable to converse normally with other people, Peek had a variety of amazing abilities, such as his well-known trick of being able to tell what day of the week a person was born on incredibly quickly from their date of birth. Raymond exhibits similar talents. In one scene taking place in a restaurant, he recalls a waitress' phone number after remembering her name in the directory he had been given to read the previous night, and correctly counts the number of toothpicks she drops on the floor (246) within seconds. I know a couple of autistic people personally, and Hoffman does a very accurate job of acting the condition throughout the film. He rightly won the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his work.

Tom Cruise, however, is less enthralling in his role as Charlie Babbitt. He is suitably nasty at the beginning, quite happily irritating Raymond as he mocks his obsessive routines and mannerisms. He quickly grows irritable when Raymond's idiosyncratic behaviour gets in the way of his ambitions. The thing is, Cruise never quite gets out of this character of a snarky, ignorant sod as the film carries on. Towards the end, exchanges from Charlie to Raymond that should sound loving and brotherly just sound sarcastic and patronising, as they would at the start. I never found myself truly liking Charlie as I perhaps should have.

This hardly even tarnishes the film, though, and a story that could have quite easily become unbearably corny is, in fact, thought-provoking and thoroughly pleasant. The character of Raymond Babbitt is fascinating, and he is played with understanding and sympathy. Certainly one to watch again.

Follow me on Twitter: @crunro

Pardon My Galoshes

Yeah, why not.

I was in my living room earlier today, watching the film 'Rain Man'. This is one of the several films I have saved on my Sky+ recorder, including The Departed, One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, Full Metal Jacket and Brassed Off, and the one I wasn't actually planning to watch. As it turns out, you have to enter a PIN if you want to watch a film with a certificate of over 12, and neither of my parents claim to have set one...

This resulted in my choosing of Rain Man, the only film I had saved that Sky didn't realise had a certificate. It was while I was watching that I had the idea of starting a little blog, writing what I thought of all the films I watched. I realise that the world of blogs (the 'blogosphere'!) is a crowded one, and it's unlikely that anyone will notice the clumsy shuffle I make past everyone as I try to find my seat, but I'll happily write to myself as if someone's listening. If nothing else, it might help me decide which films are worth watching again.

So... in terms of films, I'll introduce myself. I've got a rather limited (read: pathetic) collection of DVDs in my room, most of which don't really reflect my taste in movies. I have four film posters in my room: for Jaws, Back To The Future, The Dark Knight Rises and The Hobbit. The first two I bought myself, as they are for two of my favourite films. The latter two came with issues of Empire magazine, to which I have a year-long subscription and read avidly at the end of every month. My favourite actors are Tom Hanks and Gary Oldman, my favourite actress is Natalie Portman, my favourite directors are the Coen Brothers and my favourite film is Fargo. Mind you, these nuggets are subject to change during the course of writing this blog. I'll be writing on old and new, stuff I see on telly and stuff I see in the cinema, all genres, whatever I feel like watching. Might do the odd television show or episode if I get suitably wound-up about it.

Let's just hope it all works out well for everyone involved.

Follow me on Twitter: @crunro