Monday, 29 April 2013

Iron Man 3 (2013)

As I understand, I'm a bit of a rare specimen in relation to most other modern cinemagoers. Iron Man 3, last Sunday, became the first film of the recent Marvel pantheon I have got round to see. Having released the original Iron Man, its sequel Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger and the record-smashing megablockbuster Avengers Assemble since 2008, it's actually been quite difficult to avoid, as Marvel Studios' output simply became the superhero genre. As Christopher Nolan was dealing with the darker sides of superhumans in his epochal Dark Knight trilogy, Marvel appealed to the audience who just wanted to see a very strong person tossing henchmen through windows and violently putting an end to a one-dimensional villain's evil plans.

Iron Man 3 might seem like the most random of all of these films to start with. By that point in a trilogy, the writers normally assume that you've seen the rest and are familiar enough with them to identify with the characters and worry about what happens to them without wasting time on establishing a backstory. Handily, I brought along my friend Connor, who I went to see Flight with in January and who has seen and enjoyed all the other Avengers movies. He came in helpful when the film brought up references to stuff that happened before.

This was something that happened rather often as, in fact, some might regard the third Iron Man film more as the seventh Avengers film. From what I've heard, the events of each of the films all interlink, with characters from some appearing as cameos in other before all finally coming together under Nick Fury in Avengers Assemble, the climax movie that managed to become the third highest grossing film of all time. Clearly, I've been missing out on something huge, and Iron Man 3 takes the fair assumption that everyone who sees it has also already seen that. Tony Stark isn't quite as charmingly arrogant as he (apparently) was in the first two films, as he has been hit hard by the dramatic events in New York and suffers anxiety attacks when those nasty days are mentioned.

As such, the film mainly focuses on the struggle of Stark to return to normality in the face of another terrorist threat who appears to be almost completely oblivious to the superhero-versus-aliens Battle of New York which was broadcast around the world. After an admittedly bloody spectacular attack on his cliff top mansion, Ben Kingsley's Mandarin leaves Stark homeless and suitless, and he is forced to escape to the snowy middle of nowhere and rebuild himself to the point where he can face this terribly dangerous man. It was a Nolan-like attempt to get to the deep core of the character, which unfortunately wasn't accomplished quite as well as the character isn't nearly as identifiable and sympathetic as Bruce Wayne. Connor was disappointed. As I said before, Marvel's there to provide for the people who just want to watch someone with super strength beat up arseholes, not an in-depth character study. The narcissistic and flamboyant Iron Man was the epitome of that type of film, as you could just enjoy his one-liners and metallic punches. As Connor said, it made a good film, it just wasn't a good Iron Man film at all.

I thought The Mandarin was a bit wasted, too. A lot of people were getting excited over his appearance, as he was the biggest villain running through the comics, much like The Joker or Lex Luthor. However, he hardly appears at all apart from a few videos sent to the US government, filmed as if MTV did Bin Laden's messages. A monumental twist is pulled off pretty well, but it doesn't distract from the feeling that the story is in the wrong film. Every character is played as typically as possible, with no real imagination given to each interpretation, with the possible exception of The Mandarin himself. Perhaps it's my fault for choosing the most awkward possible Avengers movie to start with, but it wasn't my ideal introduction to the modern Marvel phenomenon.

Follow me on Twitter: @crunro

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Rear Window (1954)

It seems almost futile to write anything about Rear Window. If you've heard anything about it before, which you probably have, you'll have heard about how great it truly is, how it is one of the films that stands to represent the true genius of Alfred Hitchcock. In the near sixty years since its release, it has been written about by many people, highlighting the simplicity of the set up and the plot, which is enhanced and emphasised by masterful direction and acting. All of this doesn't mean too much to me. I've managed to avoid 'great' films for years, preferring to watch the ones I've had my eye on and have always wanted to see. I watched The Godfather Pt II during the Easter holidays simply because it has been hailed as one of the best films ever made, and I didn't think much of it.

Rear Window, however, is one of my friend Michael's favourite films. That fact tells me that I'm far more likely to enjoy it than if it was the favourite film of one of those sneering film critics for a national newspaper. You know the sort. They'll only give a film five stars if the director is from Eastern Europe and possesses a name that no one but them can pronounce. I think it gives them some sort of satisfaction, as if they're waiting for someone to bring up the review at a party and lend them the opportunity to correct their pronunciation. I find these critics loathsome, but many people will read their reviews and think that they must be the dog's bollocks because they've torn the latest blockbuster to pieces with their pen.

Don't give them the satisfaction. If you think you'll enjoy a film, go and see it, then decide what you think of it. Those critics decide whether to say they enjoyed a film depending on whether it'll make them look 'cultural' if they do. If I enjoy a film, I'll say so.

In his day, Alfred Hitchcock was known as a director for the public. Surprisingly few of his films were ever nominated for an Academy Award, and he never won best director. He made his films so that people would enjoy them, and they did. His latest film would be a cinematic event. He would appear on the poster, telling the audience how much they'd enjoy it. His name would appear in huge letters above the film's title. People would go to the cinema just because Hitchcock was attached in some way to the film. Nowadays, many people will consider him to be one of those directors whose films are only appreciated by film buffs, whose films are there to be admired rather than enjoyed. If you're one of them, go out and find Rear Window.

Of course, Hitchcock's master direction is evident throughout. There are many decisions that might not seem obvious, but make the film so unique and so enjoyable to watch. The entire film takes place within the apartment home of LB Jefferies, a news photographer who, according to a pan of his photos near the beginning, appears to specialise in pictures of disasters. The camera never ventures out of the room, and every shot is either showing Jefferies and his visitors, or what Jefferies is seeing out of his window. If he looks through his binoculars or his wonderfully huge camera, Hitchcock will make it look like the audience is looking through these things too. The only time he enters the head of someone else is near the end, when we're spectacularly shown the effects of Jefferies' flash bulb on another's sight.

The splendid direction is just a part of what makes the film so great, though. The story is engrossing. James Stewart's LB Jefferies is a photographer who has been confined to his apartment for weeks with a broken leg. We are introduced to his nurse, who has a Holmesian skill at deduction, and the gorgeous Grace Kelly as his girlfriend, who is irritated at his reluctance to get married in one of Hitchcock's famous MacGuffins. Things get interesting, though, when Jefferies, in one of his long spells of boredom, notices one of his neighbours acting rather suspiciously, and with each passing day, he grows more and more convinced that he has murdered his wife. He gets his visitors involved, too, and soon everyone who comes into his apartment is just as convinced as he is. As the film grows in intensity, Jefferies and his friends try to figure out what they can do to prove the neighbour's guilt and stop him.

At the beginning, when we're shown what Jefferies sees of his idiosyncratic neighbours outside his window, the film is as lighthearted as a comedy, and often as funny as the best ones out today. By the end, I was leaning forward in my seat with sweaty hands, wondering what could happen next as the Master of Suspense lived up to his name. Rear Window shows you exactly why Alfred Hitchcock is a name everyone recognises even today. Not because critics can't stop talking about what a genius he was, but because everyone is able to see what a genius he was, quite clearly. When he worked with the best, the films that resulted can be appreciated by all as a masterpiece.

When he was working, Hitchcock was a phenomenon amongst the movie-going public. Why should it be any different today?

Follow me on Twitter: @crunro

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

I have been a big admirer of Edgar Wright for quite a while now. He's pulled off some quite significant achievements in a relatively short career. With Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, he resurrected the British film comedy, which had been lying rather dormant since Richard Curtis' empire of the nineties. With Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, he showed that he doesn't have to rely on Simon Pegg or Nick Frost to make a genuinely great film, and that he could make a film on an international scale. With Tintin, he showed he could write a huge blockbuster which was still a fantastic movie. There's nothing Wright has done that I haven't enjoyed. One thing I hadn't seen until last week, though, was the first on the list and his breakthrough hit, Shaun of the Dead.

I've been dying to see it for a while. It not only launched his movie directing career, but also the film careers of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, who have gone on to become very popular across the Atlantic. It's an impressive wake for a very British comedy that grew from the cult television sitcom Spaced, being considered amongst the best comedies of the noughties, and I still hadn't seen it. When it appeared on television last week, I took the shot.

It's directed in a very entertaining manner by Wright, very similar to Spaced. The shots are paced according to the speed of the action, and are dynamic when they should be. The writing is smart. It assumes you already know the premise of a zombie apocalypse, and plays with that in the first part of the film when life is actually pretty normal. The message is that essentially, we're all zombies anyway, as we stand mindlessly in the street, listening to music with a barely conscious expression, or play video games with no sense of anything happening around us. Even before the disease (which is thankfully never explained to the audience; that would detract from what the film actually concerns) takes hold, Shaun lives in a world populated by the undead.

Not least, including himself. Simon Pegg's Shaun is a loser, a man who is too lazy to make any effort with his girlfriend of a number of years. Inevitably, she leaves him, and only then does he realise what a total arse he is. As he tries his hardest to win her back, the dead inexplicably begin to rise back to life. Without time to explain, Shaun and his immature ape of a best friend Ed begin fighting their way through wave after wave of the living dead to rescue his parents and his ex. Still in his tie and white shirt from work ('you've got a bit of red on it'), he finds himself desecrating corpses with a vinyl records, a parasol stand, his flatmate's car and a baseball bat. Whilst not quite as gory as the sequel-but-not-a-sequel Hot Fuzz, it still gets ridiculously bloody.

Famously marketed with the description 'a zom-rom-com', Shaun of the Dead never loses its initial plot line of the hopeless boyfriend trying to win back his bitter ex, even as the circumstances get madder and madder. Shaun is still trying to impress Liz until the dead become too much of a problem to solve with just a swipe of the bat. When they're hiding behind the bar of the Winchester pub, with most of their friends dead and zombies scraping to get at their necks, the film becomes almost tender in its depiction of Shaun and Liz's unique relationship, dismissing the absurdity of the situation for a minute to focus on the pair's feelings for each other. It's brave, but rewarding.

Shaun of the Dead is fun even just as a zombie smash-em-up, but it works just as well on other levels. It's as much a romance and a clever satire as it is a comedy horror, which makes it stand high above most other modern comedies, which appear to have been produced from a conveyor belt of genre cliches and gross-out toilet gags. It's nice to appreciate that such intelligent talent can come out of the UK. We can thank people like Edgar Wright for that, and there's much to be thankful for.

Follow me on Twitter: @crunro

Juno (2007)

It was halfway through the week when I texted Swedish Charlotta, letting her know that Jason Reitman's 2007 teen comedy Juno. For a few months, she had been looking around for the DVD to show me, but to no avail - mainly down to the sad decline of HMV. She was adamant that she would have to show me Juno before she has to go back home to Sundsvall in June, as she is quite a big fan of the film. She has the hamburger phone and everything. Given all this, she was understandably keen that I should record it so that we cold watch it together the next day.

And thus, that Sunday, we were sitting in my living room watching Ellen Page's belly slowly get bigger. After her debut in the disturbing and creepy horror Hard Candy, it was this film that made her the darling of many a director. Both Brett Ratner and Christopher Nolan were impressed enough to cast her, and you don't have to strain to see why. As the eponymous pregnant teen, Page gives the film its distinctive sense of humour, with a lively bounce even when she's carrying a heavy belly and quick, extremely quotable lines. Juno's connectable and likeable from the moment you see her swigging her Sunny D, and you follow her through the film actually caring about the decisions she makes.

When Juno discovers she's pregnant at 16 from a quick fling with her scrawny high school friend Paulie, played by the terrifically enjoyable Michael Cera. After quickly dismissing abortion following a nasty experience in the clinic waiting room, she decides adoption is the best option, and sets about finding a suitable blue-eyed, smiling couple in the newspaper. Finding one in the Lorings, she gets to know them and makes unlikely friends. The film follows her nine months and how those around her react to the news. Teenage pregnancy might not seem like a typical subject for such a whimsical comedy, but the awkwardness surrounding it is just what makes it brilliant.

Another key part of Juno's appeal is the wonderful soundtrack, full of cheery indie melodies, all acoustic guitars and tambourines. I knew I'd love it as soon as I heard Well Respected Man by The Kinks (my favourite rock band of the 20th century) introduce Paulie. It was a perfect choice, as if it was written for the character despite having been written forty years earlier. The soundtrack managed to reach number one in the USA, and includes brilliance such as Mott the Hoople, Buddy Holly and the great Scottish band Belle and Sebastian. Charlotta was one of those who bought the album, and she can now sing along to just about every word. What does that tell you?

Juno is made up of many layers of brilliance. There's the music, the witty writing on top of that, the charming story and acting on top of that. It takes skill to balance so many layers and still be able to pass it off as simple enough for everyone to be able to enjoy. There isn't a cheap joke in the one and a half hour running time, yet it runs as smoothly along as the songs in the soundtrack. The humour is as subtle as Juno isn't. The drama marks it out as a brave social discussion of a subject usually treated with scorn. When comedies as smart as this come along, you need to appreciate them.

Follow me on Twitter: @crunro

Monday, 22 April 2013

Alien (1979)

As it turned out, Nausicaä was part of a miniature science fiction season on Film4, taking place within the confines of a day. Checking the line-up, and realising that I've never actually written about a horror film on here, I decided to catch Ridley Scott's classic of horror Alien, which started at nine.

Everyone knows about Alien. That's the one where the wee slug thing bursts out of John Hurt's tummy. That's the one where... yeah, the little fella pops out of John Hurt. As much as it pains me to think, that's all most people could come up with when they think of the film. There's Sigourney Weaver, of course, whose name has become synonymous with the series, there's the really classy tag line that ran on the posters ('In space, no one can hear you scream' - love it), but what actually happens in the film? If you'd asked me before, I'd have said, 'Well, John Hurt gets an alien clinging to his face, which, it turns out, actually impregnated him, so an alien pops out his stomach during dinner. Then the alien grows up quite quickly and everyone chases it about for the rest of the film.'

I've seen it now. And there's really not that much more to say. The acting is tremendous, particularly from Hurt and Ian Holm as the profoundly irritating Ash. It's a cast you wouldn't expect to see in a horror film, one which most films would be envious of, and there's only seven people in the entire film (plus the alien and the cat). But there's just nothing to go with. The spaceship lands on the moon of a far off planet after hearing what the crew thinks might be a distress signal. Whilst exploring the moon, a crew member gets a newly hatched alien to the face. When they let him back on the spaceship with the alien still attached(??), he goes into quarantine for a few days before the facehugger leaves him alone and he seems to be fine. Then an alien comes out of him, and he dies. The alien proceeds to grow up quite quickly and everyone chases it about until, gradually, almost everyone is killed by it.

That's it, that's the plot. There really aren't any subplots to speak of, and very little filler between Sigourney Weaver running about corridors with a gun. And what strange corridors! Is it a rule of science fiction that spacecraft corridors cannot be shaped like corridors anywhere else? In Alien, they're octagonal, with white padding along he walls. Why? There's just less floor to run along, and you can't hang anything on the walls. Doors have to be an awkward shape to accommodate the shape of the walls, too. It's unnecessary. In the future, we'll have improved on almost every detail of our lives that can possibly be improved. I can't wait. But corridors are already at their ideal shape, thanks.

Alien is a horror film with the bare minimum of horror. Horrendous architecture beside, I'd argue it's far more an action film than anything else. Unless Film4 decided to cut every remotely gory frame, it's all guns and explosions and no blood. The exception, obviously, is the dinner chestburster sequence, which everyone's already seen anyway. There are seven characters, and all but one of them die. You'd think each death would become a major event in the film, each a countdown to Ripley's inevitable one-on-one showdown with the monster. But they're just wasted, usually nothing more than a slow turn around to find the alien in the same room, a sharp scream then a shot of the alien with another little mouth coming out its normal one. Every one is a missed opportunity.

After hearing so much about Alien being counted among the true masterpieces of horror, I couldn't help but be disappointed. I don't think it's tense enough to qualify as a psychological horror, and it just isn't disturbing enough to be ranked amongst the best. Paul Brown, our local explorers unit leader, told me he had nightmares about the alien for weeks after he saw it when he was ten. I probably would have too. Perhaps it's all a matter of perspective and relativity, but just now, I won't be worrying about any of that. I slept particularly well after finishing Alien. That shouldn't have been the case.

Follow me on Twitter: @crunro

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

Digital television's best film channel, Film4, has recently been entertaining its fans with a season of Studio Ghibli films, during which all the classic films from the famous Japanese anime studio would be broadcast over the course of a month or so. Swedish Charlotta, who I've mentioned a few times here, is a big fan of the studio, and she introduced me to it in the form of the very kind gift of a Spirited Away DVD. When we watched it, I was amazed by the creativity and prettiness of the filmmaking, by the celebrated director Hayao Miyazaki. It was a total coincidence that Film4 was showing the films at the same time, and so I took the opportunity to catch at least one new one. When the terrific Twitter account @TopFilmTip advised watching the 1980s anime Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, I decided that was the one. And since it was another Miyazaki, I couldn't resist.

Once again, I was relying on the subtitles writer to capture the essence of the Japanese script. I could not tell you who chose 'Nausicaä' for the English spelling of the main character. In the film, it's pronounced 'nao-OOSH-coh'. Impress your anime-loving pals by pronouncing her name correctly when bringing up the film. When we begin, a millennium has passed since the Seven Days Of Fire, a great big war between all humans that destroyed the Earth's ecosystem and left it covered in infertile desert. The Toxic Jungle plagues the surviving humans, a vast forest populated by insects which are deadly to humans. This forest is slowly taking over the Earth's surface, and the humans are trying to find a way to stop it.

Nausicaä is the princess of the titular Valley of the Wind, a little town of windmills that gets its energy from the wind coming off the sea. She's very keen on nature, and has a way with the insects and creatures of the post-apocalyptic planet that means they don't want to attack her. Every opportunity she gets, she escapes the Valley of the Wind and explores the caves and deserts beyond the hills on her funky floating windboard. However, her nature-loving values are challenged when a group of foreigners arrive in the Valley, asking for the locals' help with their ambition of burning the Toxic Jungle permanently.

It is a fashion amongst science fiction films to feature a little subplot concerning environment issues. Directors like to take the opportunity offered by setting a film in the far future to show us the errors of our polluting, fly dumping ways. Miyazaki likes to hammer these messages home pretty hard, showing shamelessly what a bunch of tossers we are to the world around us. We take advantage of everything we can squeeze out of the planet, then destroy it when it doesn't work the way we want it to. As Nausicaä finds out late into the film, the Toxic Jungle is actually nature's method of restarting its cycle, as it grows from the last morsels of nutrients left in the soil and begins again. The insects are defending the forests from the humans that are its only threat. It's a depressing vision, but it certainly hits where it hurts.

As always, Miyazaki's animation and drawings are masterful. While it might not be as smooth as future Studio Ghibli productions (this is usually regarded as their first feature), it certainly lends the film some charm that is lacking from the flawless, realist computer generated animations that have almost completed their total takeover of the commercial animation market. The Ohmu, Nausicaä's beloved insects (picture a cross between a crab, a wood louse, a headless armadillo and a spider the size of the Royal Albert Hall) are a remarkable show of the director's creativity. Though silent and unable to show emotion, you can tell how they're feeling and they play a major part in the plot. It's just another demonstration of Studio Ghibli's outstanding animated output, which I dare say is matched only by Disney and Pixar for influence and emotion. Considering the low number of films in the category, I'd be confident to nominate Nausicaä for the title of greatest animated sci-fi film ever made.

Follow me on Twitter: @crunro

Monday, 15 April 2013

The Cinematic Easter

It wasn't always going to happen. It was only a couple of days after the holidays started that I decided to try and cram as many films into my free time as possible. Because, as I've said before, the holidays are for watching movies. So I sit here, just under a week after school has restarted, having watched No Country For Old Men, Back To The Future, Bugsy Malone, The Godfather Parts I and II, Miller's Crossing, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Inception, Winter's Bone and Fargo, all within the space of a fortnight. I know that I promised to look at every film I see. How do I handle this? One big chunk of 97% pure reviews. I called it the Cinematic Easter, and this marks the very end of it.

It started the Friday that school finished. I decided that it was as good a time as any to finally watch No Country For Old Men, so I did, and I wrote about it the next day. Here it is. I'm quite glad I did that, as it saves a few lines here, and it means I can start with,

Back To The Future (1985)

In my first post on here, I mentioned that I have four movie posters in my room. One is for The Hobbit, Peter Jackson's 2012 Tolkien epic, one is for The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan's 2011 Batman epic, one is for Jaws, Steven Spielberg's flawless magnum opus, and one is for Back To The Future. Put quite simply, it is the greatest teen comedy ever made, and it is tied with Raiders of the Lost Ark for greatest movie of the eighties. It is significant not least for being the film that launched Robert Zemeckis' career, without whom we would have never seen Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Forrest Gump, Cast Away or Flight. He could have chosen a worse career-starter than this.

Marty McFly is introduced flicking on, and destroying, the largest guitar amplifier in cinema history. He then picks up his skateboard, travels to school, meets up with his quite good-looking girlfriend and auditions with his rock band in front of Huey Lewis ('I'm afraid you're just too darn loud'). Already, we're quite jealous of the boy, and that's before we find out he's friends with Dr Emmett Brown, an eccentric scientist who has stumbled upon the secret to time travel. From there on, it just gets worse and worse. Marty accidentally travels back in time thirty years to a wonderfully-crafted 1950s Hill Valley. There, he gets his dad beat up, gets into an odd relationship with his mum, harnesses the power of lightning and influences both a future mayoral election and popular music. I've said this before, with The Dude and Ferris Bueller, but Marty McFly is one of the coolest characters ever to grace the cinema screen.

The plot is very clever, with an intricacy that has become a rarity. It is written with humour and smarts and directed with love. Back To The Future is a film which can be watched an infinite number of times and only get better. Believe me, I speak from experience.

The campaign had got off to an enviable start, and it continued the next afternoon.

Bugsy Malone (1976)

In primary seven, the final year of primary school, my class decided to put on a show to mark the occasion. That show was a rather abridged version of Alan Parker's brutal 1976 vision of gang warfare in Prohibition-era Chicago. Although I only had a limited role as a butler and auditionee (for a show at the seedy, illegal booze house Fat Sam's Grand Slam), the show seemed to be a success with the parents in the audience. And why shouldn't it have been, since we were roughly the same age as the actors in the original film.

I can't imagine who came up with the idea of filming a violent gangster film as a musical with a cast of children and why. They must have had a pretty nasty knock on the head from that toilet bowl. Nevertheless, it managed to make it to the cinemas and became very popular, as evidenced by the fact it was shown on TV just a couple of weeks ago, a full 37 years after its release. The acting is as faulty as you would expect from a group of 12-year-olds (bar Jodie Foster, who had already made a magnificent impression in Taxi Driver with Robert De Niro), the adult voice used to dub the children's singing couldn't be less convincing, and it falls a bit flat when trying too hard to be serious. However, it is these idiosyncrasies that give Bugsy Malone its charm. There has never been another film quite like it, and it's uniqueness that many film makers crave, but usually fail to achieve.

A majority of the songs are a joy, particularly Bad Guys and its reprise at the ending, Good Guys, which finishes with the famous refrain that was used for a Coke advert a few years ago. Unfortunately, the gimmicks decided upon during production outweigh the story and characters for interest. It wasn't helped by the fact that the same night, Film4 was showing the gangster film that all others look up to.

The Godfather, Parts I and II (1972, 1974)

Film4, over the first week of the Easter holidays, were showing two of cinema's greatest trilogies. The first was Francis Ford Coppola's Godfather trilogy, followed swiftly by Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy. For the sake of variety, I decided only to watch two of the six, namely the first two that were shown. These two films, incidentally, both occupy a place in the Internet Movie Database's top three films of all time. Arguments to decide which is the better out of the two often end up declaring the winner the greatest film ever made. It's one of the great debates of the film world, and I wanted to have an opinion. Having seen the original before, I took the opportunity to catch the sequel the following night.

Hardly a scene goes by in The Godfather that isn't already iconic. We start at the wedding of Don Vito Corleone's daughter, where we are introduced to the dark, totally unfamiliar world of the leader of a Mafia family. We meet a man who is growing tired of the violent surroundings he has grown old in, who loves his family so fiercely that he wants nothing more than to see them leave his brutal world and live in peace. His dream collapses, however, when he falls victim to rival families, and he watches his youngest and most innocent son, Michael, replace him in the bloody and dangerous position of the Corleone family patriarch. The Godfather's carefully maintained family crumbles in front of him. Al Pacino's outstanding performance as Michael makes for the most spectacular character arc ever committed to screen.

His story continues in the sequel/prequel, Part II. Michael is suffering from his deep descent in the first film. The dark consequences to becoming a Mafia family leader are becoming evident in all aspects of his life, as things spiral further and further down. This story is juxtaposed with the telling of Vito Corleone's origin story, a fascinating tale that shows in great detail how he went from a child in Sicily to one of the most powerful men in New York City. It is this prequel story that I enjoy most about Part II, possibly because it is so similar to Michael's story in the first film.

Maybe it's because it went on too late, but I found myself confused by Michael's story in the second film. A minor concern, but enough for me to say that I much prefer the original Godfather. The plot is so rich and powerful, and so brilliantly controlled by Coppola, that it is as close to perfect as popular films have managed to come.

The gangster theme that had inexplicably appeared in my viewing continued the following night, on Tuesday.

Miller's Crossing (1990)

When I won an Amazon voucher at a university competition day, I used it to buy as many Coen brothers films that I could buy with the funds. Out of the four I could afford (along with the cheapest DVD player on the internet), three were watched by the end of Easter. Miller's Crossing was my second, part of a box set of three along with Fargo and Raising Arizona. It just seemed the most appropriate after the three I had watched beforehand, and, to my surprise, it sat along the might of the previous two quite comfortably.

There is a special aspect to the films of the Coen brothers that can't quite be pinpointed, but that makes them unmistakable. It's something in the quickness of the speech, the darkness and wit of the script. Miller's Crossing is a prime example of it. Violence is sprinkled throughout it with merry abandon, such as in the wonderful sequence in which a glorious shoot out is performed in Albert Finney's home, to the strains of Danny Boy. Gabriel Byrne's Tom Reagan is the sole sane man surrounded by a mad world, a character archetypal to the brothers' films. He plays around with his gangster superiors with intelligence and quick wit. Watching the best of actors work with such terrific writing is entrancing.

I'm pleased to report that my love for the Coens has not dwindled since watching this, and I'm sure it would do no harm to keep watching it many times over. The next film that week came from a different angle, altogether more subtle.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

I was really treating myself this week. The Coen brothers the day before, and on Wednesday I decided to allow myself a healthy dose of my very favourite actor, Gary Oldman. He was Oscar-nominated for this, Swedish director Tomas Alfredson's take on John le Carré's classic spy novel Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but lost out to Jean Dujardin. If you're listening, Academy, I should point out that that award is long overdue for our Gary.

Skyfall this is not. Rather than dangling a Union Jack from every available surface, Tinker presents an altogether more seedy British secret service, beige walls dimly lit by dangling light bulbs. While it might be more bleak, it is no less dramatic. The film begins with an agent being shot in Budapest, by people who could only have known who he was if they had a contact in British Intelligence. Oldman's George Smiley is brought out of retirement, as there is no one on the inside who can be trusted, to find the mole. Smiley is reluctant, quiet and reserved, but highly intelligent and wise after his long years at the highest level of British Intelligence.

The ensemble cast is, predictably, superb, with such folk as John Hurt and Colin Firth giving it their best, Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hardy standing out, and Kathy Burke being wonderful in her one scene. Although I lost the story a bit towards the end (probably more to do with tiredness than anything else), it didn't detract from how enjoyable it turned out to be overall. The next day, I visited a completely different genre of cinema.

Inception (2010)

Occasionally, I'll see a film in the shops that I just pick up and get as an impulse buy. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was bought in the Scotmid up the road during my lunch break in school, and Inception was bought when my mum and I were in Asda getting something for dinner. My sister had mentioned it after she had seen it in a friend's house, saying that it was both quite difficult to get your head around and very enjoyable.

Both, quite an understatement. Breathtakingly intricate, incredibly intelligent, technically innovative and utterly spectacular, Inception is one of the greatest films of the 21st century. The brainchild of one of the few true geniuses of modern popular cinema, Christopher Nolan, it takes some effort to believe that such a magically imaginative tale could be made up. Leonardo DiCaprio's Dom Cobb is a man who has mastered the technique of entering the dreams of those sleeping around him and stealing ideas from their heads for use by others. However, he needs to perform the impossible when he is asked to actually plant an idea inside another's head - inception. He and a group of fellow dream invaders climb deeper and deeper into their victim's psyche to persuade him to destroy his father's business.

Every intricate detail is fully thought out and developed, from totems (small items carried by the people entering the dream to let them know if they are in the dream or in real life) to dream architects (the people who map out the place where the dream will take place; a place where the laws of physics and logic don't necessarily have to be adhered to), lending the film a complex mythology that, nevertheless, can be understood and accepted by the viewer in the space of one film. It is a truly remarkable achievement. The next film of the cinematic Easter was rather more downplayed, and in a very different environment.

Winter's Bone (2010)

For a laugh, a group of friends who make up a proportion of the local Explorer group decided to take a short break on the island of Arran, off the west coast, in one of our number's family holiday home. As nice a place as Arran is, with waterfalls and deer and golden eagles and views and all sorts, it does suffer from being relatively small and full of dull people. This means that, unfortunately, there isn't much to do once the sun has dropped behind Holy Isle, and we ended up lounging in Michael's (the co-owner of the holiday home) comfortable living room with only a guitar, a Bop-It and a television for entertainment. Handily, the latter was in working order on that Saturday night.

As it turns out, one of the group (Finlay, a co-Wreck It Ralpher) has quite a thing for Jennifer Lawrence, star of The Hunger Games and 2013 Best Actress Academy Award winner for Silver Linings Playbook. Her breakthrough film, Debra Granik's bleak drama Winter's Bone, was on TV that night, and without much else to do, we decided to give it a watch purely for her sake. As it began, the 'independent production' nature of the film was really made clear. It is set in the Deep South of the USA, where your uncle lives in a trailer in the garden and six-year-olds are shown where to shoot to kill. There is no music, just the intense nature of the performances to heighten the tension. Lawrence plays a young woman who is told she will be evicted unless she can tell the police the whereabouts of her father, who has been missing for quite some time. She sets out to confer with creepy relatives and her father's creepy associates in order to find the truth and keep her house.

Winter's Bone wouldn't be a typical choice for a film to watch on a boy's weekend island holiday. Perhaps American Pie or The Hangover would have come to mind a bit quicker. It maybe wasn't perfect to watch as the night was drawing deeper and you're trying to keep yourself awake. A Nightmare On Elm Street would certainly have done that. But while I wouldn't recommend it under the circumstances, you could do a lot worse than giving it a watch. Lawrence demonstrates why she is much more than just a tween girl's icon, and the final scene, which explains the title pretty starkly, is gritty and harrowing in a way that silenced the four teenagers and one grown man in the room. Certainly worth a look at.

Fargo (1996)

It had been a week since Winter's Bone. A week of desperately scribbling down the silly amount of homework I had been given to complete over the holidays, and a week of realisation how much I could have got done rather than just watching films at every opportunity. As Saturday came round again, I decided that it was time to reward myself for all my hard work, and so I cracked out the DVD of my very favourite film, the Coen brothers' masterwork Fargo. This would be the final one, the climax in a fortnight of great cinema.

The drama is flawless, the comedy blacker than Zorro's wardrobe, the writing unbeaten and unbeatable, the acting, the directing, a masterclass. Take a look at the meetings of William H Macy and Frances McDormand in Lundegaard's office, watch McDormand's long, poignant speech towards the end as she drives her police car through the snowy wilderness of North Dakota. There isn't a mildly flawed performance to be seen anywhere, and the greatest ones truly are the greatest. As Peter Serafinowicz put it, the music sounds like God shaking his head in dismay, the melancholy and simple theme piercing through as Jerry Lundegaard's ridiculous plan to get a share of his father-in-law's wealth goes horrifically wrong. Not an element of Fargo doesn't work. By the way, if you do decide to watch it, look for Mr Mohra, the greatest single-scene character in any film ever made.

I try to be wary of bigging up a film too much, in case someone expects a mind-blowingly brilliant film when they only get a pretty good one and they think that they would have enjoyed it more if it wasn't for my gushing over it. All I want to say is, watch Fargo. Decide what you think of it. In all likelihood, it won't become your favourite film. You might actively not enjoy it. No one shares anyone else's opinions completely, and I'd be frightened of anyone who shared mine. All I can say is, there are one hell of a lot of films out there, so when you find your favourite, you're going to bloody enjoy it. I bloody enjoy Fargo.

And thus, Fargo ended the glorious Easter of cinema. Two days later, I was back at school. I felt better for it. At another unarranged date, another cinematic holiday will occur. Hopefully then, I'll have sorted out my writing so it won't arrive in such an unwieldy block. I'm looking forward to it.

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