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500 Five-Star: Black Narcissus (1947)

November 23, 2012

Another day, another B.  I have been stuck on the Bs for over a year now, and if I continue at that rate for the rest of this project, I will be 53 years old by the time I finish.  Terrifying.  That might be a sign that I should really get my bum in gear (I know, I keep saying it.  One day I’ll mean it).

So, Black Narcissus: a film I had heard a lot about, and which I was looking forward to finally experiencing.  Did it live up to my expectations?  Yes, though not in the way you might think.  I went in with the belief that it would be a very admirable piece, that it would look beautiful, and that Deborah Kerr would be superb in the lead role.  All of those things came to pass.  I didn’t expect to be emotionally gripped or ferociously entertained, and I wasn’t.  I was surprised, admittedly, by the blatancy of the sexual overtones.  For a film made in the first half of the twentieth century, it’s really quite shocking, and I was fascinated by the use of colour and sound to represent the characters’ individual strains and desires.  The cinematography is rightly still celebrated to this day; once seen, it is impossible to forget the stunning drawn landscapes and intense use of shades, and while I might not have felt swept along by the plotting, I certainly was by the film’s design.  The only thing I really didn’t like about Black Narcissus was David Farrar’s performance, which was gratingly over-the-top, but the rest of the film is so impressive that this is forgivable.

Verdict:

Black Narcissus is a film to be impressed by, rather than gratuitously entertained, but it’s so impressive, that nothing else really matters.

*****

500 Five-Star: Brazil (1985)

September 13, 2012

I very much wanted to love Brazil.  Sadly, it was not to be.  I liked it, I was intrigued by it, I was at turns amused and disturbed by it…but at no point was I even remotely close to loving it.  Part of this is down to the fact that I can be the most horrendous snob when it comes to films.  Low budget British films just don’t always excite me that much because they feel too much like something I might flick past on the TV while on the hunt for something more glamorous or exciting.  That’s not to say that it isn’t any good, but I’m a person that tends to need proper escapism on a regular basis, and that means something that doesn’t feel like it could potentially happen down my very own street.  The other, main, reason though is that Brazil is way, way too far from a great film for me to really fall for it.  While there are some very interesting and original ideas in there it all ends up becoming a bit too surreal, too crazy, too ridiculous.  It’s also very disjointed: lots of great characters and great scenes that never quite manage to come together and make a coherent whole.  Director Terry Gilliam has the ideas, but not the craft to make a film worthy of them.

Verdict:

Too long, too weird, too flawed.  Just not to my taste.

***

DVD Round-Up: 21 Jump Street, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Somewhere, Tin Tin: Secret of the Unicorn

September 5, 2012

21 Jump Street:

 

I’ve been going through a pretty bad time over the past few weeks (I suffer from both GAD and OCD, and the two combined have been sending me a little doolally of late), and when that’s the case, a film like 21 Jump Street is really a godsend.  It’s not a masterpiece, of course, but what it is, is a polished, clever, and seriously funny movie.  I was amazed by how much I enjoyed Channing Tatum’s performance, especially (HE CAN ACT!), but the whole film was really just a treat.  The best piece of switch-off-your-brain entertainment I’ve encountered in a long time.

4/5

 

We Need to Talk About Kevin:

 

…And now for something completely different.  We Need to Talk About Kevin, especially for someone like me with a young child, is a disturbing and impressive account of a tragic mother/son relationship, which, while a bit heavy-handed on the symbolism, is very intelligently done.  Tilda Swinton is reliably brilliant in the lead role, and as long as you can cope with a few sleepless nights afterwards while you overanalyse your own relationships, it’s a memorable and intriguing watch.

4/5

 

Somewhere:

 

Oh, I wanted to love Somewhere.  I did.  I love Elle Fanning, and I always have such high hopes for Stephen Dorff…and to be fair, they were both great.  The film as a whole, though, was just not as important as it wanted to be.  Like Sofia Coppola’s biggest (and best) film to date, Lost In Translation, it’s a story about a boring actor leading an unfulfilling life, but without Scarlett Johansson, or the city of Tokyo, to spice things up.  I’m tempted to hope that Coppola made ‘Somewhere’ boring on purpose, to really drive the message home to the viewer-but then I realise that would be pretentious beyond belief, and would probably make me dislike the whole thing even more.  Oh, and also? Chris Pontius (of Jackass fame) is a dreadful actor, and I do not care how realistic a hanger-on he may be: I do not want the bloke stinking up my film time.  Disappointing.

2/5

 

The Adventures of TinTin: The Secret of the Unicorn

 

Being a Spielberg dork of the highest order, I was very excited to finally see this (the combination of Christmas and motherhood making it impossible for me to catch it at the cinema on release), and thankfully, it didn’t disappoint.  Is it full-on, vintage Spielberg?  No, of course not…but it’s an exciting, fun, action-packed, humourous film, and most enjoyably, it actually makes a strong case for the benefits of full motion-capture (something which Robert Zemeckis completely failed to do in his efforts).  Simply, as with just about everything Spielberg puts his hands to, it reeks of effortless quality.

4/5

500 Five-Star: Babe (1995)

August 30, 2012

Empire’s 500 Five-Star magazine does not include every film they’ve ever given maximum marks to.  With numerical constraints come editorial decisions, and so, perhaps unsurprisingly, the likes of An Inconvenient Truth, Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones, and numerous others have been pushed out.  I was very surprised on first reading the magazine that Babe was not one of these films.  I had somehow managed to get through the past seventeen years without seeing Babe, but surely, surely, if any film had received five stars based on hype and d’aaaaaaaw-factor, that was it.  Apparently not.  Babe was considered worthy of a spot in the 500, and as a result I found myself eagerly awaiting its arrival from LoveFilm, assuming it must be way more brilliant than I ever suspected.

…Sadly not.

Babe is cute.  It’s definitely cute.  It’s very well-constructed.  James Cromwell is superb.  The animal models are quite masterful.  However…it’s still just a sweet little film about a talking pig that I’d forgotten about within minutes of watching.  It’s hugely entertaining, and a very solid piece of filmmaking, but there’s really nothing that takes it from ‘very good’ to ‘masterpiece’.  I don’t mind the fact that films sometimes get five stars based on hype; it’s inevitable, really.  Everyone LOVED Babe back in 1995, and there were probably five star reviews shooting out from every corner.  However, almost twenty years on, I don’t think anyone seriously regards Babe as a true Hollywood classic.  It’s nostalgic, it’s fluffy, it’s lovely as can be, but a five-star film, it is not.

Verdict:

Babe makes the grade but Finding Nemo doesn’t?  Screw you, Empire.  Screw you.

****

500 Five-Star: Blood Simple (1984)

August 23, 2012

I’d seen Blood Simple before, probably about five years back, and I remembered thinking it was pretty good.  Not my favourite Coens film, but a solid entry in their back catalogue.  Watching it again, I realise that I have been massively undervaluing it all this time.  Blood Simple, especially when you consider it was the brothers’ debut film, is actually a bit brilliant.  It has all the hallmarks of classic Coen: visually inventive, with an intelligent and quirky screenplay, memorable characters, and a storyline which gets under your skin way more than you might expect.  Frances McDormand, in the lead female role, is wonderful (and insanely young), and to top it all off, there’s a magnificent buried-alive sequence which wouldn’t be attempted by most seasoned directors, never mind a couple of young upstarts.  A must-see.

 

Verdict:

It’s the Coens, ergo, it’s awesome.

*****

500 Five-Star: Battleship Potemkin (1925)

August 18, 2012

The pram falling down the steps.  Soldiers marching down said steps with guns pointed at their countrymen.  Bloodied women screaming.  The Odessa Steps sequence is such a famous one, that I have to be honest and admit that I’d assumed the rest of Battleship Potemkin would be poor in comparison.  I was wrong.  Battleship Potemkin as a whole is brilliant.  It’s just that the Odessa Steps sequence is *so* brilliant, that it would really be impossible not to focus on that ahead of everything else.  It made me, someone who has studied Soviet society and its inherent miseries for years, want to become head of the Newcastle Bolshevik League (don’t worry, that probably doesn’t exist.  At least, I really hope it doesn’t).  Its portrayal of the evil Tsarist henchmen and their brutality towards the poor, innocent Russian people makes for a stunning, stunning piece of propaganda; I’ve honestly never seen anything like it.  The editing, the score, the overall horror really has to be seen to believed…and to think I thought the effect of the sequence would have been dulled due to my familiarity with it.  Not in the least.  The rest of the film, though, is also spectacular.  From the building tension on board the Potemkin to the final mutinous victory, it’s incredibly hard not to be swept along by the film’s remarkably simplistic characterisation and clear intent.  Having been more amused than impressed by the previous Eisenstein film on this list (Alexander Nevsky), it was a delight to see just how good a director he actually was.

Verdict:

It’s hyped for a reason.  A must-see for any lover of cinema.

*****

Cinema Review: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

August 9, 2012

(Yes, I disappeared again.  Not my fault this time, though.  Nope.  This time we can blame my husband for leaving me without internet for over a week…the modem-frying fiend that he is)

If you don’t think that The Dark Knight Rises is worthy of five stars…well, then, you’re a fool.  No exceptions.  Harsh?  Not at all.  I mean, what more can you possibly want from a summer blockbuster?  A better cast?  Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Marion Cotillard, Gary Oldman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway not good enough for you?  How about a more meaningful, multi-layered story?  Because, yes; explorations of mass terrorism, class relations, and the value of revenge are ten-a-penny in Hollywood.  More dramatic set-pieces?  I guess that intense street battles and the part-destruction of Gotham City don’t exactly match up to a car loudly turning into a robot 100 times, right?  Less plot holes?  Oh yeah, I…actually, ok, I’ll give you that one.

Here’s my point, though: The Dark Knight Rises isn’t perfect.  Of course it isn’t.  How many films are, though?  And while The Dark Knight Rises may, MAY, not be quite at the same level as its ‘trilogy’ predecessors (I’m still to be convinced that it isn’t at least the equal of Batman Begins), that doesn’t mean it is automatically downgraded to a lesser star rating.  It’s pretty much common consensus that The Two Towers isn’t as good as Fellowship of the Ring, but that doesn’t mean that film isn’t still a bonafide classic.  There are just different levels to these things.  I adored Avengers Assemble, and I’m sure it will be in my top five of the year, but put it next to The Dark Knight Rises and it looks almost embarrassingly childish.  Take away hype, take away comparisons, and just judge The Dark Knight Rises on its own: it, plot holes and all, is a tremendous piece of cinema.  It’s emotional, it’s fun, it’s surprising, it’s funny, and Joseph Gordon Levitt as Blake is probably the best piece of casting in any blockbuster ever.  He’s just ridiculously good.  The whole cast, though, are predictably brilliant.  Bale, raspy voice and all, is still the best Batman in cinema history, Anne Hathaway makes quite the impact as Selina Kyle, Michael Caine proves to be a master at making an entire cinema well up, and Marion Cotillard has possibly never been lovelier (though, given that I LOVE HER, I’m slightly biased).  The cast is so amazing, that I even forgot about Morgan Freeman in my list at the top…that shouldn’t even be possible!

The Dark Knight Rises has its flaws, and I don’t deny that.  Nolan seems a little snowed under with pressure to make this a fitting finale, and yes, in trying to achieve perfection, he has made a few strange, implausible, choices.  However, every other element of this, frankly, astonishing production makes up for those little annoyances.  The set-pieces are phenomenal, and most importantly, all entirely necessary to the telling of the story.  The score is spectacularly good.  The writing is witty, emotive, and powerful.  Tom Hardy’s Bane is s**t scary.  As I said, I really don’t know what else people want.  Christopher Nolan’s efforts were worth it: a fitting finale, it most definitely is.

*****