Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Review: A Knight's Tale

A Knight’s Tale is truly an underdog story. It follows a working-class lad called William Thatcher who beats the nobles at their own game. He believes that a man can change his stars and sets out to become a professional in the jousting tournaments, with a little help from Geoffrey Chaucer, who forges his patents of nobility so that he can enter. It’s an optimistic tale of a man who achieves his dreams, no matter how impossible they may seem.

Heath Ledger’s first major lead role shows his star potential. The actor’s untimely death in January 2008 robbed us of the chance to see many more wonderful performances. He doesn’t steal the limelight but instead shares it with the rest of the cast who all fit their roles brilliantly. Rufus Sewell is always enjoyable as a bad guy and here he is clearly relishing his role. Paul Bettany is funny and impressive as the eloquent and talkative Chaucer. His improvised hyperbolic preambles to William’s jousts are a joy. Suffering for his craft, Bettany developed laryngitis while filming due to his constant yelling.

It’s a highly original approach, with writer/director Brian Helgeland setting events in Medieval England but filling the film with anachronisms including the costumes, dialect, music and little touches like the blacksmith etching a Nike symbol into her armour. A historically set film using music from the likes of Queen, David Bowie and Thin Lizzy is not to everyone’s tastes though. Some have claimed that it works neither as an exuberant rock ‘n’ roll picture nor as a heroic fable but I think they are clearly missing the point that it isn’t trying to fit into a predefined category or genre, instead opting for something new and original.

The film has been criticised for using classic rock songs to try to attract a young audience. However, other films set in the past don’t get criticised for using orchestral score that wouldn’t have been around at that time. Is there really much of a difference? Helgeland said he felt the use of modern music would show what people at that time felt about their music. When true Renaissance music is used it fails to convey the emotional response so he tried to elicit a response akin to what they felt.

My favourite line in the film is “You have been weighed, you have been measured, and you have been found wanting”, which is similar to a Biblical idiom from the book of Daniel and is a portent of doom or misfortune. Originally spoken by Adhemar, who sees William as an unworthy and weak opponent, it is repeated back to the Count at the end, by the group. This shows that the tables have turned and it is Adhemar who has inevitably lost.

A Knight’s Tale is cheerfully mischievous, unafraid to flout the standard laws and have a bit of fun with the medium of film. It has a charm and an innocence that is appealing and a likeable cast of characters all having a good time. Those who take their historical films seriously probably won’t appreciate its blatant disregard for accuracy in favour of humour and excitement. But those who want an enjoyable experience, watching an original piece of cinema, will find it hard not to raise a smile.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

The British update: Oldman | Thewlis | Isaacs

Gary Oldman, who has been quite quiet in recent years, seems to be getting back on good form with a number of films in the works. After a small reprise as Sirius Black in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II in July 2011, he will then be lending his vocal talents to the Kung Fu Panda sequel; The Kaboom of Doom before appearing in Easter Sixteen, the story of the 1916 Irish uprising. He is also rumoured to be starring in the Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight) directed Red Riding Hood (2011), based on the fairy tale. For 2012 he has the eagerly awaited next Batman film and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, as George Smiley, a role originally played by Alec Guinness in the TV series. Adapted from the John Le Carré novel by Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon) and also starring Colin Firth and David Thewlis, this should be a really good film and a great opportunity for him to get back to his best.

David Thewlis can be seen in the upcoming London Boulevard, out on October 15th here in the UK. Directed by William Monahan, the Oscar winning writer of The Departed, this stars Keira Knightley as an actress and Colin Farrell as an ex-con and has been described as a “very British crime thriller”. It also stars Ray Winstone (that’s how you know it’s a British crime movie) and Thewlis’ partner Anna Friel. After this, you can try to catch a glimpse of him as Remus Lupin in the final two Harry Potter films; unfortunately his appearance is likely to be fleeting, as was the case with The Half-Blood Prince. He will then be in the Roland Emmerich directed political thriller Anonymous (2011) alongside Vanessa Redgrave, Joely Richardson and Rhys Ifans, and the Steven Spielberg directed War Horse.

Jason Isaacs will also be appearing in the last two installments of Harry Potter, after that he will be starring in Abduction in 2011. This film is about a young man who sets out to discover the truth about his past after seeing his baby photo on a missing persons website. Described as a Bourne-style thriller, this will be seen as Taylor Lautner’s first chance to show what he’s made of away from the Twilight series. With a cast that also includes Sigourney Weaver, Alfred Molina and Maria Bello, he has very strong support. Apart from lending his voice to the upcoming Castlevania: Lords of Shadow video game, this seems to be all he has on the cards at the moment…

Monday, 21 June 2010

Review: The Damned United

A film about one man’s obsession and how it almost cost him dearly. Brian Clough was the manager of Derby County Football Club and he took them from the bottom of the 2nd division in 1968 to the top of the 1st division in 1969. Ever since his team was drawn against Leeds United and their manager, Don Revie snubbed him by not snaking his hand at the end of the match, his hatred of them worsened. Yet when Revie leaves to manage England, Clough takes over his job. He is manager for just 6 games, a total of 44 days. The team hates him, they have no respect for him, they play terribly and he is sacked.

This film cuts back and forth between Clough’s surprise decision to take the job at Leeds, and the series of events that led up to it; his motivation for doing so. No prior knowledge of football is needed to enjoy this movie, as there are no long scenes of the teams playing on the pitch. It is more concerned with the characters, in particular Clough and the unhealthy grudge he develops that almost ruins his career.

The fact that Revie didn’t shake his hand seems to have a lasting effect on Brian Clough; he has a loathing for him and Leeds after that moment. He fields a strong side against them ahead of an important match with Juventus, when his chairman doesn’t want him to. As a result, a number of Derby’s players are injured by the dirty-playing Leeds team and they lose in an atmospheric evening match in the pouring rain. The Damned United has a number of great moments like this. Another comes when Clough can’t bear to go out to the sidelines to watch a match. Instead he waits in the locker room, trying to interpret every noise the crowd makes.

The film has a great script, written by Peter Morgan, the man responsible for The Queen and Frost/Nixon. There is some really nice framing of shots and the cinematography is good too. I like the on-screen visuals of the League tables, to show Derby climbing up the rankings. I also thought it successfully weaved old news recordings and new film together, including the montages of football footage.

There is a very strong cast including the unstoppable Michael Sheen, fast becoming a master at playing real-life characters. Already conquering the likes of Kenneth Williams, Tony Blair and David Frost, he turns his attention to Brian Clough in yet another great performance. He also gets solid support from reliable actors Timothy Spall, Jim Broadbent and Colm Meaney.

Not being a huge fan of football myself, I expected to be lost and confused by the end of this film. I was pleasantly surprised when I found myself avidly following the events as they unfolded. Perhaps this shouldn’t be classed as a football film but rather as a character study because it tries to show the mindset of Brian Clough when he made such a shocking decision fuelled by his obsession and ambition. All in all it is a thoroughly enjoyable British film that provided a lot more than I expected.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

The Saturday Screen Shot #2

Back with another great shot, this week it's from one of the best action films of all time, which set the benchmark for the many that followed;

Shot from the Screen: Die Hard

Screenshot: John McClane, jumping off the Nakatomi Plaza building just as the roof explodes

Shot from the Scene: Hans Gruber plans to make his escape with the contents of the vault and sends the hostages up to the roof. McClane saves them by scaring them back downstairs but is fired upon by FBI agents in a helicopter. Jumping to momentary safety, he seemingly has nowhere else to go. There is a feeling of vertigo as McClane stands unsteadily on the edge of the building, then panic as we see the helicopter appear behind him, its occupants ready to shoot once again. With a fire hose tied around his waist, he leaps from the roof with seconds to spare as Hans presses the button and triggers the explosion

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Olly Moss - Alternative Movie Posters

Olly Moss is a British artist/ designer currently involved in a feature for Empire magazine called 'Ollywood where every month he redesigns a poster for an upcoming movie release. So far he has worked his magic on The Wolfman, Alice in Wonderland, Clash of the Titans, Hot Tub Time Machine and Sex and the City 2;

He did a great series called 'Films in Black and Red', redesigning posters for famous films including Die Hard, The Deer Hunter and Taxi Driver;

He has also designed t-shirts for companies including Threadless. His 'Spoilt' t-shirt is my favourite, featuring spoilers for lots of different movies - from Star Wars to Psycho, Fight Club to The Usual Suspects (don't take a look if you haven't seen many spoilerific films like these - you have been warned!);

I really like his work, they are like modern pieces of Pop Art, taking movies as inspiration and creating minimalist pictures that encapsulate the spirit of the film so people can still guess the title. Visit his website at and keep an eye out for this guy.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Review: Cloverfield

“This is important. People are gonna watch this.” Cloverfield claims to be a tape from a video camera chronicling events on the night that a huge attack took place in New York. It has been obtained by the military and is being shown to us privileged few. The film takes the premise of an all-action monster movie and brings it down to Earth with a personal story of one group of friends filmed on their camera.

The tape switches between April 27; showing footage of a young man (Rob) and woman (Beth) spending the day together, and May 22; a monster attack on the city, filmed by Rob’s best friend Hud. The latter being the primary focus of the film. The main characters are Rob, his brother Jason, Jason’s girlfriend Lily, Hud, and Hud’s crush Marlena. Also, there is Beth, who is the ‘Holy Grail’ Rob is trying to find once all hell breaks loose. Beth appears at Rob’s going-away party at the start of the film with another man and it is revealed that although they spent that day together, Rob hasn’t called since. They have an argument and she storms out. Rob didn’t call because he is leaving for a new job in Japan but once the attack happens, he realises that Beth is the most important thing to him. The group’s quest is to get to Beth and make it out of the city safely.

The camerawork has a deliberate low-budget feel, with slanted angles, sudden zooms, a shaky camera and lack of focus in parts. The ‘cameraman’ Hud talks a lot to those around him, there are often people walking in front of the camera or generally getting in the way of the shot and when he runs we can’t see clearly at all. All of these things add to the film’s feeling of realism and the sense of immediacy and fear. It is as if the audience is on ground-level themselves, in the streets, witnessing what is happening first-hand. What also helps is that the special effects are clearly at the other end of the budget scale, with some truly fantastic shots ensuring the film packs a punch.

When the group goes down into the subway, it is a chance for both them and the audience to take a breather. It has been frantic and suspenseful up until this point and a moment of relaxation is needed before another onslaught of action. When the tape switches back to April 27 to show us more of Rob and Beth’s day together, we also get a break, as well as when there are rare moments of humour. In the pitch-black tunnel we are on high-alert, and Hud delivers my favourite line “Do you guys remember a couple of years ago when that guy was lighting homeless people on fire in the subways?” It is so out of place and inappropriate that it makes me laugh every time and the tension is lifted. That is, until something appears out of the darkness moments later...

Nothing is explained about the monster, all we as an audience know is what the group know, what the video camera shows us. The film doesn’t stop to explain the origins of the monster, why it is here or where it came from. This intensifies the belief that we are right there with them and have no idea why this is happening, we are just willing them to get away.

Underneath the monster movie there is also a love story, just like underneath the footage of the attack there is a recording of the day they spent together. It is the tale of one man going to rescue his love from the tall tower, so they can be together and live happily. The two dates on the video camera are probably the best and worst days of Rob and Beth’s lives, captured on film. The last line of the film is from their day out, “I had a good day.” I don’t think they’d say the same thing about the day the monster attacked their city.

Overall, Cloverfield has a good story, some great special effects and it delivers on shocks. It is a monster movie for the social networking generation, the ones who would be filming it like this themselves if something similar happened in real life. It is a new way of reworking an old formula and it makes for an enjoyable movie.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

The Saturday Screen Shot #1

Welcome to a new feature, which does exactly what the title suggests! On a Saturday (maybe not every week but I'll try to keep it regular) I will pick a shot that I like and comment on it. It's a simple idea that I hope will remind you of classic moments from the movies, as well as introducing you to some ones you may have missed. So here's this week's Screen Shot;

Shot from the Screen: Jaws

Screenshot: Chief Brody on the beach at Amity Island, with his wife trying to relax him, and a look of horror on his face

Shot from the Scene: This is the moment Brody realises that young Alex has been the victim of a vicious shark attack. The tension has been building up throughout the scene, with people falsely alarming him by screaming and others blocking his view of the sea or distracting him. It is also the moment after the camera has tracked forward, whilst simultaneously zooming out - a powerful and unsettling cinematic effect that changes the field of vision and gives the audience a sense of the internal turmoil of the character (this dolly zoom was invented by camera-man Irmin Roberts and pioneered by Hitchcock in Vertigo)

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Barclays adverts

Remember those Barclays adverts shown in the UK a few years ago with Donald Sutherland playing a wise old man, teaching a cynical Gary Oldman about money trees? Getting to see these two great actors together really cheered up my television advert viewing, if only for a minute! If you missed them or would like to see them again, follow the links below:

Advert 1:

Advert 2:

Advert 3:

Monday, 7 June 2010

Favourite Movies by Favourite Directors

I found this great post over on the blog - Life of a Cinephile and Bibliophile here: which asked for other people to join in. (Note: I've changed the spelling of the title because I'm from the UK!)
So here are a few of my choices for the best movies made by my favourite directors:

The Director: Tim Burton
The Movie: Edward Scissorhands
My reasons: It was the first film of his I saw and it really struck me that this guys vision and imagination is amazing. The story is so wonderful, full of funny and sad moments. It also introduced me to Johnny Depp in a brilliant role.
Other films: Beetle Juice, Batman, Batman Returns, Ed Wood, Mars Attacks!, Sleepy Hollow, Big Fish, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Corpse Bride, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

The Director: Luc Besson
The Movie: Leon
My reasons: My favourite film ever, so I had to pick it! It has a great story and a cast giving awesome performances. I really like his style of directing.
Other films: The Fifth Element, Joan of Arc, Angel-A

The Director: Bryan Singer
The Movie: The Usual Suspects
My reasons: A brilliant suspense thriller with a great twist at the end. I love the cast and the funny, intelligent script.
Other films: X-Men, X2, Superman Returns, Valkyrie

The Director: Christopher Nolan
The Movie: The Dark Knight
My reasons: A truly epic movie - the high point of the superhero genre, which I don't think will be beaten. Awesome ensemble cast giving their all.
Other films: Memento, Batman Begins, The Prestige

The Director: Alfred Hitchcock
The Movie: North by Northwest
My reasons: An exciting thriller with a great cast, story and musical score. Funny and immensely enjoyable, with some of the most beautiful and iconic shots ever seen on screen.
Other films: Blackmail, The 39 Steps, Sabotage, The Lady Vanishes, Rope, Rear Window, Vertigo, Psycho

The Director: Ridley Scott
The Movie: Blade Runner
My reasons: A dystopian sci-fi extravaganza, adapted from one of my favourite author's novels - Philip K. Dick's 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?' Harrison Ford and Rutger Hauer are both incredible and the film is beautifully shot.
Other films: Alien, Gladiator, Hannibal, Black Hawk Down, Kingdom of Heaven

The Director: David Fincher
The Movie: Se7en
My reasons: Really like the premise of this film. Love the dark, rainy setting and the thrilling action and suspense, plus the twist!
Other films: Alien3, Fight Club, Panic Room, Zodiac

Thanks to MovieNut14 for coming up with the idea!
Add your views and comments, including what your choices would be.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Review: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Terry Gilliam's film is a visual feast, as wondrous and eclectic as its title suggests. It is a tale about a group of theatrical players who travel around the deep, dark corners of London. They transport their unsuspecting audiences through a mirror into the magical Imaginarium - a world where their imaginations come alive but also a place with a hidden threat. The group's wise, old (and recently often quite drunk) leader Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) is troubled by a deal he made with a sinister fellow (Tom Waits) that could result in him losing his daughter Valentina (played by model-turned-actress Lily Cole).

Tragically the star of the show, Heath Ledger (playing Tony - an amnesiac with a shady past who joins the group and could either help or hinder Parnassus' plan to save his daughter) died aged just 28 part-way through filming, leaving the director thinking the film was over and that it would have to be shut down. But the cast and crew convinced him to rethink and because anything can happen inside the Imaginarium, he came up with the idea that it could alter people's appearances once they stepped inside. After that, it was just a matter of casting three actors for each time Tony entered the Imaginarium. Gilliam turned to three of Ledger's friends; Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell, who all do an admirable job of extending the character in different directions. All three donated their fee for the film to Heath's daughter Matilda. They each look very similar to Heath's Tony (helped by magic or make-up), especially Depp, who made me do a double-take before I realised who it was.

Gilliam's Imaginarium harks back to his earlier films, although not quite reaching the dizzy heights of Brazil. It makes sense when you learn that he explored his archive of unused ideas for inspiration when he first started work on it. There are also moments in the film where the visuals are very Python-esque, particularly the stunning world inside the Imaginarium (with some of the sets looking like real creations of his 2D animations) and most notably the singing and dancing policemen wearing skirts and stockings.

Overall, the film is as fantastical and surreal as has come to be expected from Terry Gilliam. The cast all give strong eye-catching performances and although the story gets a bit tangled, it ends in refreshingly non-Hollywood fashion. The cast and crew have done their friend Heath Ledger proud by finishing his final film and creating a fitting tribute and a thoroughly enjoyable cinematic treat.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Classic A-Team

With a big screen outing for The A-Team coming up over the Summer (due 30 July here in the UK) I wanted to put together a list of what could be expected if it follows the same structured episodic nature of the TV series;
  • It starts off by showing honest, defenceless victims being bullied or threatened by a gang of thoroughly nasty men, led by one who is especially evil.

  • They decide to hire the A-Team and are tested by a disguised Hannibal until he is sure they are genuine at which point he reveals himself, pops a cigar in his mouth and proclaims "You've just hired the A-Team".
  • Murdock makes an ingenious escape from the psychiatric hospital, usually helped by Face.
  • The team then gather supplies and intelligence needed for the mission. They join their clients (if they need to travel by air, B.A. is drugged or knocked out after shouting "I ain't gettin' on no plane!") and assist them in their job. There is often a lady for Face to flirt with, and Murdock annoys B.A. with his constant 'jibber jabber', causing him to be called a "crazy fool!"

  • The gang of ruffians show up, the A-Team confronts them and sends them off with their tails between their legs.
  • The clients that hired them are amazed by the team's strength and skill, Hannibal cackles and someone announces that he's "on the jazz!"

  • The baddies launch a counter-attack, which succeeds in either capturing the team/ a client/ or causing another negative effect.

  • The A-Team need to get creative! They think up a winning idea and Hannibal states "I love it when a plan comes together". For the big rescue/ escape/ showdown at the end they build some sort of weapon or machine from whatever they have lying around, shown brilliantly through the use of a musical montage.
  • The A-Team succeed in their endeavour, defeating the bad guys (but never killing any of them) and the clients are forever grateful.

  • Then the team either leave happily or are chased out of town by the Military Police.

I wonder how many of these aspects will be included in the movie? Can't wait to find out.

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