Friday, December 16, 2016

My Top 25 Favourite Christmas Films

Well... it's that time of year again, and what better way to spend the holidays then with friends and family, with a good dose of mulled wine or egg nog watching your favourite holiday film. We all have that favourite Christmas film we watch (and re-watch) year after year (I'm sure for most people that's Home Alone). Some we grew up with, some are just classic musts, and some which we just plain and simple, love.

I for instance always had a soft spot for the TV special Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, which was aired every year on TV back in Canada when I was a kid. Another which I grew a new love for whilst living in London is Scrooged (Bill Murray!) and then there's just the absolute classic Christmas film, It's a Wonderful Life, masterpiece.

But overall, there's always that one absolute Christmas favourite that everyone has, the film that fills you with joy, brings a smile to your face, brings people together and excites the crap outta you. Well that film is... obviously DIE HARD! BEST CHRISTMAS MOVIE EVER! It even has the best HONEST trailer of all time for cryin' out loud!

Here is my overall 25 favourite Christmas films (in alphabetical order):
  1. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965, Bill Melendez)
  2. A Christmas Carol (1951, Brian Desmond Hurst) 
  3. A Christmas Story (1983, Bob Clark)
  4. A Christmas Tale (2008, Arnaud Desplechin)
  5. Bad Santa (2003, Terry Zwigoff)
  6. Batman Returns (1992, Tim Burton)
  7. Bishop's Wife, The (1947, Henry Koster)
  8. Comfort and Joy (1984, Bill Forsyth)
  9. Die Hard (1988, John McTiernan)
  10. Elf (2003, Jon Favreau)
  11. Gremlins (1984, Joe Dante)
  12. Holiday Affair (1949, Don Hartman)
  13. Home Alone (1990, Chris Columbus)
  14. How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966, Chuck Jones & Ben Washam)
  15. It's a Wonderful Life (1946, Frank Capra)
  16. Lethal Weapon (1987, Richard Donner)
  17. Man Who Came to Dinner, The (1942, William Keighley)
  18. Miracle on 34th Street (1947, George Seaton)
  19. Nightmare Before Christmas, The (1993, Henry Selick)
  20. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010, Jalmari Helander)
  21. Ref, The (1994, Ted Demme)
  22. Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964, Kizo Nagashima & Larry Roemer)
  23. Scrooged (1988, Richard Donner)
  24. Shop Around the Corner, The (1940, Ernst Lubitsch)
  25. Trading Places (1983, John Landis) 


         Christmas in Connecticut (1945, Peter Godfrey)
         Joyeux Noël (2005, Christian Carion)
         Krampus (2015, Michael Dougherty)
         Night Before, The (2015, Jonathan Levine)
         Santa Clause, The (1994, John Pasquin)

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Hell or High Water (2016, David Mackenzie)

"All this way my ancestors land, the lease folks took it, and it's been taken from them. Except it ain't no army doing it, it's those sons of bitches right there." [points to the bank] - Alberto

In a year utterly bombarded by sequels, remakes, reboots and of course, endless comic book film adaptations, it's needless to say that 2016 has come as a major disappointment to myself and all film-goers alike.

Yet amongst the few great surprises of 2016, (and let's face it there hasn't been many) came Hell or High Water (which was opened to a limited release), and man does this flick pack a wallop. It's brilliant character development and dialogue are reminiscent of my last year's favourite film Sicario, which is due to the fact that these two films share the same screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (who has his directorial debut coming to cinemas next year). This guy really knows how to write a gritty thriller.

The premise of this film is simple, there are two brothers, Tanner (Ben Foster) who has recently been released from serving some serious prison time and is a born to be criminal, and Toby (Chris Pine), a trouble-free individual with an ex-wife and two kids. These brothers have been poor their whole lives (as was their family before them) and their mother has recently passed and left them the ranch. However, if the back taxes and mortgage are not paid off in a week, the ranch will be forfeited to the bank, the Texas Midlands Bank.

But Toby's not done yet. He's come up with a plan and has taken every precaution into consideration. With the help of his brother, they'll knock off numerous small banks (always the Texas Midlands Bank) in the course of one week, always with a stolen car (which is then buried) and only stealing small bills. They then exchange these stollen bills at a casino for chips where the money is then cashed in for cheques made out to none other than the Texas Midlands Bank, therefore buying their ranch back from the bank with the bank's own money. Brilliant.

We then of course get the two Texas rangers assigned to look into the robberies, (as this job is too small to call in the big guns like the FBI) the veteran ranger Marcus Hamilton (who's working on his last case) payed magnificently by Jeff Bridges (who's very much in his element here) and his partner Alberto Parker played by Gil Birmingham. In the coarse of this film, we see these two characters go at each other with race and culture (being that Marcus is a white Texan and Alberto is a half Mexican half Comanche) yet we can see they have a full respect and understanding of each other and the chemistry between the two is first-rate.

One thing is made clear in this film and that is the real antagonist, it's not the two bank robbing brothers, but the bank itself. As is the case in the 1967 masterpiece Bonnie and Clyde in an age where the banks prey on the weak and show no mercy. Whether it's Toby reassuring an old man at the bank that he's there for the bank's money not his, or Texas Ranger Marcus questioning a diner patron, "You all been here for a while?" and the guy says "Long enough to watch a bank get robbed who’s been robbing me for thirty years." To which no vital information is given to the ranger.

The film contains everything you want in this type of picture and more, solid direction that truly takes it's time to build a scene, outstanding performances with Foster & Pine's giving their best performances to date, a well executed and character driven plot, pungent dialogue, beautiful cinematography and to make things better, a musical score by Nick Cave & Warren Ellis. Even towards the end of the picture when the last bank is hit but it's a bigger bank than expected and things get out of hand, but the film stay's on track, nothing is exagerated, it's just well executed to the very end.

This is beyond any shadow of a doubt one of the best films of the year and one film you do not want to miss.

Click here for the trailer

Rating: A

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Vivre sa vie: Film en douze tableaux "My Life to Live" (1962, Jean-Luc Godard)

"One cannot distinguish the thought from the words that express it."

Jean-Luc Godard. Just the name Godard and the word Cinema are synonymous. Godard doesn't simply make films, he creates art in the film medium, and together with François Truffaut, helped mold what is now known as the French New Wave of Cinema and arguably begun the trend of the film geek.

Their love and passion for film has influenced an astounding amount of film directors like Robert Altman, Martin Scorsese and most notably the great Quentin Tarantino (who's film company 'A Band Apart' was named after one of Godard's films).

The story of Vivre Sa Vie revolves around Nana played by Anna Karina (Godard’s muse and wife '61-'67) where in the famous opening scene, is in a café with her husband, telling him she is leaving him for another man, and they are not even facing each other. In-fact we do not even see their faces but their backs.

With her independence now re-gained, Nana yearns to be an actress and is now constantly seen wondering the streets of modern Paris, inhabiting the bars and pool halls whilst chasing numerous men or even dancing to them at a jukebox. And then of course there is her down spiral into the prostitution world which eventually leads her to being owned by numerous pimps.

Yet is seems as if she wants to appear that she has a hard shell, but we get a glimpse of her sensitiveness when see goes to the cinema (with a guy but then ditches him) to watch Carl Theodor Dreyer's masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc and breaks into tears.

This however is a hinting towards her doom, being that in that very scene where Nana weeps, Joan of Arc states that her deliverance is in her death, and yet another hint to her doom is Nana's haircut, which is somewhat identical to that of Louise Brooks in Pandora's Box who also met her doom.

Anna Karina's profile in this film is like that of a fascinating beautiful cover of a book and we are constantly trying to read it throughout the film. The directing in this film is flawless, from the opening scene in the cafe, were are hooked and are itching to see Nana's face. It's tremendously innovative in style and technique to say the least with gorgeous cinematography by Raoul Coutard and the film is even told in the form of 12 sections... kind of like a Tarantino film.

As soon as I had watched this film, I couldn't stop thinking about it and I wanted to talk to people about it, which is what happens every time I watch a Godard film. This is the sign of a great artist.

Click here for the trailer

Rating: A

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Green Berets (1968, Ray Kellogg & John Wayne)

"Out here, due process is a bullet!"

The Vietnam war, spanning from 1965 to 1975, was one of America's most controversial wars, not to mention biggest mistakes in American war history (and that's saying a lot). From this disgraceful war, rose some of the greatest war films in film history such as The Deer Hunter, Platoon (which was actually written partially as a reaction to this film), Full Metal Jacket and my personal favourite Apocalypse Now. All of these of course being anti-war films considering the subject matter. In-fact just about every single Vietnam war film is an anti-war film... except for the first.

Well, in 1968 the first Vietnam (pro) war film The Green Berets... this heavy-handed, incredibly old-fashioned, anti-communist piece of garbage crapfest of a film was released to an already angered public. Yeah... I didn't like it.

At the time of it's release, the public had already shown it's disgust for the war and had it's far share of anti-war protests, including young men who fled to Canada or cut off their index (trigger) fingers in-order to dodge the then compulsory war draft. The public had even bore witness to the horrific footage from the war that was being shown on television at the time, so people were expecting something like Hearts and Minds (which took another 6 years).

Instead they received a film full of insanely cliched characters (not to mention the dialogue), including Jim Hutton playing what looks like an Elvis Presley like character (maybe they couldn't afford Elvis), the 'not convinced yet journalist' and endless others. It over simplifies the image of the Vietnam war as we all know this was no ordinary warfare, and what's worse, nothing is explained in this film about the war itself, it could be any war. Instead it comes off as an incredibly patronising 'cowboys and indians' style film with non other than John Wayne in the title role, which by the way was his idea to make the film. Whilst we're on casting, why is it also that most of the green berets in this film are shamefully portrayed as middle aged men? The fact is most men who were drafted to Vietnam were between the ages of 18 and 25. On a personal note, I was also very sad to see Aldo Ray (who I'm a fan of) and George Takei (aka Mr Sulu) in this film.

On a film perspective, the Green Berets was released the same year as the space operatic masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey, which was a giant leap into the future of cinema. This film however took cinema back another 15 years into the early 1950s where everything is black and white and there is no in-between. But people in 1968 were no longer that naive or ill-informed and it was rightly panned by critics upon it's release. For instance, the great Roger Ebert gave it zero stars and called it "offensive" and even went on to place it on his "Most Hated" list.

This film is basically nothing more than a right-wing propaganda film blindly glorifying the green berets, stating that Americans should not question their government and just go where they are asked to go, you know like an idiotic American fighting robot. This is probably the worst war film I have ever sat through, and yes I have seen Pearl Harbor.

Click here for the trailer

Rating: F

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Films of the Year 2015

Here is the list of my top 10 favourite films of the year 2015

10. Bridge of Spies (Steven Spielberg )
With the exception of the highly entertaining TinTin, Spielberg has not really been at the top of his game for the past 10 years after Munich. With Lincoln that has a powerhouse performance which is the only attraction of the film, the majorly unwanted reboot of Indiana Jones (which I've still not completely recovered from) and the terrible Warhorse. Now he has come back with a rich, highly entertaining cold war drama and has set the tone perfectly for East Berlin with a pitch perfect performance from Mark Rylance.

09. The Big Short (Adam McCay)
Funny man Adam McCay (director of hilarious films such as Anchorman & Talladega Nights) now takes on the 2008 financial crisis, and is spot on. The cast is amazing and everyone is doing great work here. We are shown the fancy yuppies in wall street who brag about how they sold family huge homes, knowing they won’t be able to pay the whole payments and banks who are over confident in the market system. Dr. Michael Burry (played by Christian Bale) however is the first one to notice something fishy, along with then a few others, simply because (as stated in the film’s dialogue) they looked.

08. Room (Lenny Abrahamson)
In this film we are focusing primarily on a very limited amount of characters. Two of which are fresh new actors and give out outstanding performances, Brie Larson (from The Spectacular Now) who won the Academy award for best actress of the year as a woman taken captive and made to live (along with the routinely rapes) in a room for seven years. Jacob Tremblay who was also nominated as the young son who is born and raised in Room (and has never been outside of Room... ever). We also get some unsurprisingly great work from Joan Allen who plays Larson's mother.

07. The Martian (Ridley Scott)
Have you ever been left behind? Well let’s just say Robinson Crusoe (not including Robinson Crusoe on Mars) had it easy compared to this guy. Matt Damon is presumed dead and left to battle the harsh conditions of Mars alone. So he either gives up all hope or does everything in his power to make contact with Earth (and does so) and is then forced to use his ingenuity to stay alive until help arrives. 

06. Ex Machina (Alex Garland)
In a world where everything is possible or at least within reach, film like Ex Machina can really send a chill down your spine. At the back of our heads we’re thinking, “This could happen soon couldn’t it?” or “I bet this already happened and nobody said anything”. With demanding work from Oscar Isaac and a genuine innocent performance from Domhnall Gleeson, this new director has given us an eerie piece of memorable sci-fi.

05. Macbeth (Justin Kurzel)
One of Shakespeare’s most legendary plays, most notably played by the great Orson Welles back in 1948, now has been given an update. Not since the great Japanese masterpiece Throne of Blood by the great Akira Kurosawa has there been a more gorgeous take on Macbeth. It’s well acted, poetic and beautifully shot directed by Justin Kurzel.

04. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (J.J. Abrams)
Dear J.J. Abrams, thank you for bringing back the spirit of the original trilogy in this outstanding spectacular reboot and helping us forget the terrible latter trilogy. I could not help but notice how the audience’s faces just lit up as soon as the legendary Hans Solo showed up… needles to say that my face lit up like a friggen spotlight! I was one majorly satisfied fan.

03. Spotlight (Tom McCarthy)
It’s not everyday that an amazing piece of journalism is put onto film with such precession, like that of All the President's Men. It shows the unveiling of a massive scandal of child abuse in the catholic church and how deep the rabbit hole goes. With an outstanding cast and great performances, most notably by that of Mark Ruffalo, it’s no wonder this film went on to take home the gold (winner of best picture).

02. Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller)
It’s very rare that a trilogy is brought back to life after 30 years of it’s last film. As a major fan of the original trilogy… ok the first 2 really, I have to admit, I was incredibly sceptical about this film when I first heard of it’s release, but boy was I wrong! This is one awesome, wild and mad masterpiece and it is actually Charlize Theron that shines here as a pure badass. Mad Max is back, and it kicks some serious ass!

01. Sicario (Denis Villeneuve)
There is one particular scene in this film that is so tense, so full of tension that in that moment, whilst watching that scene, I could not breath. That is was Cinema is all about. This is a very tense, complex and masterful film on the Mexican cartel by one of our great new directors, Denis Villeneuve. It’s a no holds barred thriller that has the punch and pace of The Hurt Locker with a taste of Traffic. This is my kind of film!


Other Big Thumbs up of the Year (alphabetical order)

45 Years (Andrew Haigh)
Amy (Asif Kapadia)
Brooklyn (John Crowley)
Creed (Ryan Coogler)
Legend (Brian Helgeland)
Listen To Me Marlon (Stevan Riley)
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (Alfonso Gomez-Rejon)
Shaun the Sheep Movie (Mark Burton, Richard Starzak)
Slow West (John Maclean)
Steve Jobs (Danny Boyle)
Straight Outta Compton (F. Gary Gray)
The End of the Tour (James Ponsoldt)
The Look of Silence (Joshua Oppenheimer)
The Walk (Robert Zemeckis)
Trumbo (Jay Roach)
When Marnie Was There (Hiromasa Yonebayashi)
Youth (Paolo Sorrentino)