28 August 2014

Good Morning, Vietnam, 1987 - ★★★★

So many films spring to mind when you think about Robin Williams but for me the one that will always have the strongest association is Good Morning Vietnam. It's not my favourite of his films, it's not even a film I'm that familiar with having perhaps only seen it twice before. When I think of Robin Williams I hear him as Adrian Cronauer because of the soundtrack album. It was one of the first CDs I bought and it's still one that I frequently listen to. All the songs are great but it's William's radio segments between the tracks that I've heard over and over and are firmly lodged in my head. It was a bit of a surprise to find most of the CD segments appear in one of the opening sections of the film, others are edited slightly different but all are so familiar and still funny even though the film isn't really a comedy. Once again it's hard to imagine anyone else in the role and one reason I think that this may be Williams at his best, is that he never slips into mawkishness that unfortunately touched so many of his other roles, even the great ones like Good Will Hunting.

August 28, 2014 at 07:10PM

24 August 2014

The Philadelphia Story, 1940 - ★★★★

I'm not reviewing (or rating) this viewing because it was on in the background and didn't have my full attention. Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be a way to remove the rating from a subsequent review of a film so the four stars are from my previous viewing.

August 24, 2014 at 09:23PM

22 August 2014

Svengali, 2013 - ★★★

There's nothing particularly wrong with Svengali but there's also nothing that special either. Painted with broad strokes, the predictable story doesn't offer anything new but is executed with just enough enthusiasm and a great list of substantial cameo performances to make it worthwhile.

Followed by a Q&A with Alan McGee & Paul Dixon

August 22, 2014 at 01:50PM

18 August 2014

The Day of the Doctor, 2013 - ★★★★

Just as enjoyable, if not more so, on a second viewing.

August 18, 2014 at 05:14PM

17 August 2014

Good Will Hunting, 1997 - ★★★★½

The BBC screened Good Will Hunting as a tribute to Robin Williams and like The Fisher King it was a film I remember liking but really couldn't remember much about. The first surprise was seeing Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier (now of Smodcast) as co-executive producers. Then the surprise of not just how young Damon and Affleck are but just how they managed to write such a good film at such a young age. The story itself is fairly straightforward but it's filled with such heart it's impossible not to like. It wasn't surprise to rediscover Williams was great in his Oscar winning role, it's more of what he does so well but once again hard to imagine anyone else being anywhere near as good.

August 17, 2014 at 06:35PM

The Fisher King, 1991 - ★★★★

I'd been wanting to watch The Fisher King again for some time and now in the shadow of Williams untimely death it seemed like the right moment. Gilliam's continued quest for the Holy Grail may be his least Gilliamesque film but it may also be one of his most moving. It's hard to imagine anyone else more suitable than Williams playing the part with such sadness, energy and humour. Perhaps emphasized by the real life news it was also a surprise to see the film is mostly about depression, something I certainly didn't remember from my first viewing many years ago.

August 17, 2014 at 06:26PM

The Eagle, 2011 - ★★

Frequently looks great but ultimately quite dull.

August 17, 2014 at 06:18PM

11 August 2014

Vivian Maier: Who Took Nanny's Pictures, 2013 - ★★★

A fine introduction to the mysterious Maier but it left me wanting to know more. As explained in the film the bulk of the collection is now with one person who's making his own film (Finding Vivian Maier?) so doesn't contribute here.

August 11, 2014 at 01:50PM

10 August 2014

Begin Again, 2013 - ★★★★★

Can A Song Change Your Life? I really hope so, I hope part of what makes anything great is that it affects you in someway and makes you feel or act differently. Begin Again (formerly known as "Can A Song Change Your Life") certainly changed me, those 105 minutes were perhaps the happiest I've felt in a long time (which perhaps says more about my life than the film) and put me in a great mood until the literal storms arrived the next day.

Begin Again wasn't on my radar of films to look out for. That forgettable title, the generic bus posters, "and James Corden", even the pairing of Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo sounded too rom-commy (although this is unfair as neither have really gone down that path before). It was only when I found out that the film was the follow up to Once (why wasn't that mentioned in any of the advertising?) that I became interested. Then word of mouth and reviews started claiming it was good, usually surprisingly good (more evidence that the marketing campaign really got this wrong). I still wasn't sure if it was worth a trip to the cinema though, I put it off but at the last minute decided to go and see the final screening before it disappeared and I am so glad I did.

I'm fairly sure it will be my favourite film of the year. There are other films that I know are "better", those receiving all the critical acclaim and awards but none of those made me feel the way this film did. I'll happily admit there are many things wrong with Begin Again but none of them stopped my enjoyment. Throughout the film there were many times when I was on the edge of the seat, not really for the story (as was the case earlier this year with Godzilla) but praying that writer-director John Carney wouldn't screw it up. Carney constantly flirts with cliche, teasing his way through a scene so the outcome feels inevitable but then always make the smart choice. It often feels the filmmakers are standing up to the studio system and cookie-cutter story telling in the same way the characters stand up to the record label, refusing to sell out and do what they know is right in their hearts.

The day after I saw the film I caught up with the Guardian Film Podcast (I’m weeks behind) and they happened to be reviewing the film. None of the (older male) critics sounded as if they liked it and it genuinely made me sad that they didn't “get” the film in the same way I had. One issue I agreed with is that the music isn't as strong as it needs especially when there are a good and bad versions of the same song it wasn't immediately clear. This should be a bigger problem but it doesn't detract from the story because the characters always know and react to the songs in the correct way. There is also too much of Adam Levine singing and I can’t see his songs growing on me like I think the rest will (I've already bought the soundtrack) but perhaps that was the point.

There is so just so much more to enjoy. Ruffalo is completely fantastic (although at one point he says something along the lines of “You wouldn't like me when I'm angry” which was a little distracting) there’s a scene in the park, where I don't think he even speaks, which is one of the greatest performances I've seen. The rest of the cast are great, even James Corden didn't annoy. The introduction of Ruffalo's character is a wonderful start to the film but when it's explained it's just pure cinematic magic. Even when the film ends it continues to be great by having a fantastic scene over the credits topping the whole experience off perfectly.

I can't wait to see it again.

August 10, 2014 at 05:13PM

08 August 2014

The Producers, 2005 - ★

A waste of time. Neither the jokes or the songs work. Go and watch the original instead or even better season 4 of Curb Your Enthusiasm.

August 08, 2014 at 03:12PM

06 August 2014

Magic Mike, 2012 - ★★★

After hearing so many surprisingly good things this was quite the disappointing. The first half, if not the entire film, is incredibly formulaic (although I've never seen it with male strippers before). Things pick up both stylistically and story wise in the second half but there's not enough to live up to the praise or Soderbergh's reputation.

August 06, 2014 at 08:41PM

Guardians of the Galaxy, 2014 - ★★★½

I didn't expect Guardians of the Galaxy to work. It sounded like a hard sell: a crazy concept based on a largely unknown series, no big names on screen and the trailer looked like a horrible mess of style and tone. I fully expected it to be a huge flop so it was a pleasent surprise then when all the good reviews started appearing and the film opened with some of the biggest box office takings of the year. All this meant that for the first time in a long time I was actually quite excited to see a film.

There's an awful lot to like but taken as a whole I'm not sure it works as well as Avengers, Iron Man 3 or even The Winter Soldier. The strengths are in the characters, their interactions and the dialogue which not only feel genuine but also fresh in an over saturated genre of comic book action films. Unfortunately these are mixed up with mostly uninspiring action sequences (only the prison break really stands out - and that's not even the best prison break of the year), dull and confusing villains (who's he again?) and a muddled plot (although not understanding what was going on had little impact on the enjoyment of the film). Perhaps the biggest let down is yet another final sequence on a collapsing space ship above a populated city; isn't there somebody overseeing the Marvel Universe who could've stepped in and mentioned that this had already been done in at least two of the other films.

Despite all the flaws when it's good it's really good and a whole lot of fun. I suspect a lot of people will end up liking and revisiting the film over the coming years and I'm left with high expectations for the sequel.

August 06, 2014 at 08:33PM

03 August 2014

Fantastic Voyage, 1966 - ★★★

Solid and classic science fiction which is very much of it's time but also doesn't feel dated. Although after Airplane it is hard to take the control room sequences seriously, "What a time to run out of sugar".

August 03, 2014 at 06:23PM

What Maisie Knew, 2012 - ★★★★

At one point (it's a scene with a drawbridge) it becomes really apparent how the rest of the film is going to unfold. Yet, despite this obviousness, What Maisie Knew remains a surprisingly original tale about childhood and divorce. The biggest surprise is that this story hasn't been told before (although I'm sure it must have come up in the world of soap operas), twisting the usual expectations and caricatures to deliver something that is predictable but also refreshing, full of charm and wonderful heartfelt performances from all of the cast especially Onata Aprile as Maisie.

August 03, 2014 at 06:19PM