Tuesday, 30 November 2010

15 Directors Who Went Outside Their Comfort Zone (and Failed)

What makes a great director? Ultimately it comes down to output; great directors make great films. But there is an extra quality that truly marks out the best; range. Take Stanley Kubrick. Kubrick transcended genres and excelled in every new style he attempted. He made classics in horror, comedy and sci-fi, while all the time keeping his own personal stamp on his work. Kubrick wasn't afraid to try something new and different, and that's what made him the best.

Most directors know what they're best at, but a lot also realise that if they stick to that for their whole career people will begin to question their talent. It takes stepping outside of your comfort zone to prove yourself. Often it means less talented directors biting off more than they can chew but sometimes even the best, and there are some fine directors on this list, can try something new and ultimately fail. This list charts 15 directors that went outside their comfort zone, but misfired.

Kevin Smith

The Film: Cop Out

Kevin Smith is cinema marmite. He has adoring fans and hate filled critics. One thing you can't argue with is that Smith's early films were extremely personal; based on his life and with a script written by Smith that he staunchly refused to change. Kevin Smith movies were all about Kevin Smith. For a while this was successful, but after Clerks and Chasing Amy, the noughties were less kind. For Cop Out, Smith tried something new; making a buddy action movie from a script that wasn't his own. What we got was incredibly generic and bland. It hasn't stopped Smith branching out; his next film, Red State, is a contemporary horror film, but only time will tell if he can cut it away from the chummy pop culture referencing tone of his early work.

M. Night Shyamalan

The Film: The Last Airbender

Shyamalan needed a change. His films were becoming a joke, and he was increasingly gaining a reputation as a one trick pony. Shyamalan needed to move away from the gimmicky plot twist movies that had defined his career and went all out with a big budget cartoon adaptation. It failed, miserably. Poor acting, bad decisions and murky cinematography made this the worst blockbuster of the summer and proved that M. Night's name could no longer act as a box office draw. One struggles to see how he can restore his reputation from here. Unbreakable 2 anyone?

Brett Ratner

The Film: X-Men: The Last Stand

This may not seen like too much of a departure for Ratner; he'd done action before, albeit a very different kind of action. However the jump in quality required for X-Men: The Last Stand was just too much for Ratner. The X-Men series may have been 'just' comic book movies but they were built on very solid foundations; previous director Bryan Singer had approached the movies very seriously and produced two great films but it was always going to end badly when handing the series finale to a less talented director. A lot of the blame has to lie with Singer himself, and the script, but Ratner's directing was messy and confused and he has not been trusted with a major franchise since.

Michael Bay

The Film: Pearl Harbor

As much as it will pain people to admit, Michael Bay is good at what he does. His movies are generally explosive and cheesy and completely lacking in substance but that's all you expect from him. That lacking in substance bit is important though, because you need substance when asked to make a film about the deadliest attack on American soil in the 20th century. Pearl Harbor needed to be handled sensitively and subtly; instead we got a fist-pumping action movie with insincere emotion.

Robert Altman

The Film: Popeye

Proving that it can happen to the best of us, Robert Altman, director of The Player, Short Cuts, and M.A.S.H was given the prestigious job of adapting a spinach eating cartoon sailor to the big screen. Whether anyone actually wanted a live-action Popeye starring Robin Williams is a pretty important question but Altman should have known to steer well clear of this. Even the best couldn't make a good film out of this material.

Marc Forster

The Film: Quantum of Solace

I've made this point before but I'll make it again. Marc Forster is a fine director who has made good films, but to give a director with no experience in the action genre the job of directing the new film in a reinvigorated James Bond franchise was wrong. Yes, new Bond has a stronger emphasis on character and plot, which are Forster's strengths, but at the end of the day James Bond is about the action sequences and Forster directed them poorly, taking too big a leaf out of Paul Greengrass' book and giving us dizzying and rather confusing car chases.

Peter Jackson

The Film: The Lovely Bones

Peter Jackson hasn't always been a genre director. While his roots are in horror, and his stardom comes from fantasy, his work on Heavenly Creatures showed he had a gentler touch. He wasn't right for The Lovely Bones though. If anything, Jackson tried too hard, laying on spectacular imagery where it wasn't necessarily needed and valuing visuals over story. Jackson has evolved into a director of big films, and he does that very well, but for a film as emotional and personal as The Lovely Bones, more subtlety was needed.

Jean-Pierre Jeunet

The Film: Alien: Resurrection

Jeunet is my favourite director purely for his absolute unique style. His films inhabit their own little world of big characters and whimsy. This meant he was a strange choice to revive a big franchise with its own world and back story. In truth, he didn't do a particularly bad job of it, but his own unique directing quirks and style just looked out of place in an Alien movie. Each Alien movie has very much acted as a showcase for the director's own style but while it worked perfectly for Ridley Scott and James Cameron, the glove just didn't fit for Jeunet and David Fincher. Jeunet has not made a Hollywood film since.

Ang Lee

The Film: Hulk

Ang Lee makes thoughtful and intelligent movies and his Hulk adaptation was thoughtful, and to some extent it was intelligent, but for the most part it was just dull. It's easy to see why Lee was chosen, especially after Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, but if you go back and watch it you'd see Dragon is actually something of a slow burner. Hulk is very much a slow burner and while Lee's efforts to delve deep into Bruce Banner are admirable, at the end of the day Hulk is a comic book movie about a big green dude smashing things. It didn't help that the action sequences, when they finally came, were laughably bad. Lee will not jump so easily into Hollywood blockbusters again.

David Lynch

The Film: Dune

David Lynch is absolutely bonkers. David Lynch makes absolutely bonkers films. But the genius about David Lynch is that when he is left to his own devises he makes bonkers films that are really very good. When given a lot of money to work on a big sci-fi adaptation, David Lynch isn't really left to his own devises and instead we get a film that shows Lynch's mad style but limited by the confines of the genre and budget. Audiences just didn't take to Lynch in the mainstream, and Dune became a famous flop.

Roman Polanski

The Film: Pirates!

Polanski did his fair share of hopping between genres but his attempt to make a swashbuckling pirate movie was an unmitigated disaster. Polanski has always thrown up surprises with his work, and he was convinced he could make a great pirate movie, but the material just wasn't right for a man who's directing style has never been a good fit for an action-adventure. Pirates! flopped badly, and effectively killed off the pirate movie until Johnny Depp and co. revived it.

Guy Ritchie

The Film: Swept Away

You can blame Madonna all you want, but Guy Ritchie still made a terrible film and has only himself to blame. Ritchie has always been accused of being a one trick pony and while it is clear that he is most at home with mockney gangster films, you have to wonder how his one time wife ever convinced him to make Swept Away. The jump from gangster caper to island romance is a pretty big one to take and needless to say Ritchie failed miserably. It didn't help that Madonna was atrocious in it, but it must be difficult to tell your lead actress that when she's your wife.

Jim Sheridan

The Film: Get Rich or Die Tryin'

Sheridan was a bizarre choice for 50 Cent's self congratulatory disaster. Sure, I can see the logic on getting a respected director in, especially as Eminem had Curtis Hanson for 8 Mile but this film was such a long way from anything Sheridan had done before it just seemed way out of left field. The transition from powerful Daniel Day Lewis dramas to the tales of a rapper's rise from the mean streets was not smooth and it didn't help that 50 Cent lacked Eminem's charisma. Needless to say, it was no 8 Mile.

Sylvester Stallone

The Film: Staying Alive

It's easy to forget that Stallone is an Oscar nominated screenwriter and when he directs himself in his strongest franchises (Rocky, Rambo) the results aren't too bad. Stallone is more than just an action hero but he should stick to what he knows. What he was doing writing, directing and producing a sequel to Saturday Night Fever is anyone's guess. Stallone has proved he can write, he has proved he can direct, but only with the right vehicle. Staying Alive was a long way from being the right vehicle and was extremely damaging to Stallone's reputation behind the camera.

Chris Weitz

The Film: The Golden Compass

The Golden Compass should have been a sure thing; a beloved children's book, in many ways better than the Potter franchise, with an epic quality that everyone wanted post-Lord of the Rings. Weitz, however, managed to kill the franchise before it even got going. Weitz had done very little to prove he had earned the right to direct a major franchise; American Pie was good but just a teen comedy and About a Boy was fairly diverting but little more than that. In more experienced hands, The Golden Compass could have started a major money-spinning franchise, instead it just reflected the mediocrity of the director.

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Monday, 29 November 2010

Some Classic Leslie Nielsen Lines

As you have no doubt already heard, legendary comic actor Leslie Nielsen died today at the age of 84. A master of the deadpan delivery, his roles in Airplane! and the Naked Gun series will go down in comedy history. I figured the best way to pay tribute to him was to repeat some of his best movie lines. They're even funnier if you read it to yourself in Nielsen's voice...

Airplane! (Dr. Rumack)

Rumack: You'd better tell the Captain we've got to land as soon as we can. This woman has to be gotten to a hospital.
Elaine Dickinson : A hospital? What is it?
Rumack: It's a big building with patients, but that's not important right now.

Rumack: Can you fly this plane, and land it?
Ted Striker: Surely you can't be serious.
Rumack: I am serious... and don't call me Shirley.

Rumack: What was it we had for dinner tonight?
Elaine Dickinson: Well, we had a choice of steak or fish.
Rumack: Yes, yes, I remember, I had lasagna.

The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (Frank Drebin)

Frank: It's the same old story. Boy finds girl, boy loses girl, girl finds boy, boy forgets girl, boy remembers girl, girls dies in a tragic blimp accident over the Orange Bowl on New Year's Day.
Jane: Goodyear?
Frank: No, the worst.

Frank: It's true what they say: Cops and women don't mix. It's like eating a spoonful of Drano; sure, it'll clean you out, but it'll leave you hollow inside.

Frank: Jane, since I've met you, I've noticed things that I never knew were there before... birds singing, dew glistening on a newly formed leaf, stoplights.

Frank: I'd known her for years. We used to go to all the police functions together. Ah, how I loved her, but she had her music. I think she had her music. She'd hang out with the Chicago Male Chorus and Symphony. I don't recall her playing an instrument or being able to carry a tune. Yet she was on the road 300 days of the year. In fact, I bought her a harp for Christmas. She asked me what it was.

The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear (Frank Drebin)

Lt. Frank Drebin: Now, Jane, what can you tell us about the man you saw last night?
Jane Spencer: He's Caucasian.
Ed Hocken: Caucasian?
Jane Spencer: Yeah, you know, a white guy. A moustache. About six-foot-three.
Lt. Frank Drebin: Awfully big moustache.

Lt. Frank Drebin: I'm single! I love being single! I haven't had this much sex since I was a Boy Scout leader!
Lt. Frank Drebin: I mean at the time I was dating a lot.

President George Bush: Frank, please consider filling a post I'm creating. It may mean long hours and dangerous nights, surrounded by some of the scummiest elements in our society.
Lt. Frank Drebin: You want me to be in your cabinet?

Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult (Frank Drebin)

Tanya Peters: What are you doing?
Frank Drebin: Oh! I was, uh, just conjugating my next move.
Tanya Peters: Your bishop's exposed.
Frank Drebin: It's these pants.

Frank Drebin: Cheer up, Ed. This is not goodbye. It's just I won't ever see you again.

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Wednesday, 24 November 2010

10 Minor Characters Given Overly Dramatic Death Scenes

So you're an actor and you're struggling to get your big break. Your agent calls and they've got you a part in a big new Hollywood film. The only problem is that you only have a handful of lines of dialogue and have barely any influence on the main plot. However, the director wants a tacked on, emotional scene to give a false sense of pathos. Your character gets to die and you get to make tragic faces despite the audience knowing barely anything about who you're playing. It's win-win.

Welcome to the world of the overly dramatic death scenes for minor characters. Here are some of the most notable:

Haldir in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

For the climatic battle of Helm's Deep, Peter Jackson and co. had a problem. Aragorn and friends were facing a battle against overwhelming odds but, as fans of reading will know, no-one particularly important was going to die. How are we meant to get our emotional kick when the only one's dying are a few grizzled peasants? Craig Parker, that's how.

Some genius remembered the character of Haldir, played by Parker for all of two minutes in the first film in the trilogy and decided it would be a great idea to bring him back and swiftly kill him, just so the audience has something to be sad about. Said genius probably didn't stop to think that the audience might not really care too deeply for that elf that was in Lothlorien for a bit. So, Haldir returns to honour an allegiance between men and elves and then dies in a way that is something of a running theme in this list; fighting heroically until his last breath and passing away in the hero's arms. Absolutely no-one was upset about this.

Mifune in The Matrix Revolutions

Having killed off most of the poorly fleshed out supporting characters in the first film, the producer's of the Matrix sequels decided to introduce thousands more supporting players to be poorly fleshed out, but this time with with stupider names like Ballard or Sparks. One of the characters to get a better deal was Mifune (Nathaniel Lees). Not only did he get to make a rousing speech, he got a pretty good death too. Not from the character's point of view of course; having your face cut up by Sentinal tentacles must sting, but Nathaniel Lees must have loved the opportunity to show off his range of facial expressions, which vary from 'stern' to 'angry.'

Needless to say, Mifune dies fighting heroically until his last breath, only this time he doesn't die in the hero's arms but in the arms of the tedious kid that no-one likes.

Hagen in Gladiator

Having failed to turn the phrase "Hagen dies" into some sort of joke involving ice cream, I'll cut straight to the point; Hagen (Ralf Moeller) was doomed from the start. Hagen is a classic bad-ass with a good heart. At first he gives Russell Crowe a good kicking and the audience thinks he's kind of a dick but then he turns out to be a good guy and a fierce warrior. He's willing to fight with Maximus to the death, and, as with a lot of characters willing to fight with the main character to the death, he dies. Hagen defends Proximo's Gladiator school as Maximus attempts to escape, showing how much of a bad-ass he is along the way before ultimately dying fighting heroically until his last breath. Again.

Ben Hayes in King Kong (2005)

This was never going to end well. Peter Jackson had shown in The Two Towers that he would never be happy with just letting faceless expendables die so one or two of the not-so-important supporting players were doomed the minute they set foot on Skull Island. Jack Black's film crew got a pretty unfair deal but it was Ben Hayes (Evan Parke) who was there to pack an emotional punch. A wise and weary mentor and father figure to Jamie Bell's Jimmy, the audience was instantly made aware of him being a good guy because he knew stuff about books.

Having established this bond between Hayes and Jimmy, Jackson proceeds to kill Hayes in a horrifying way; first being crushed by King Kong and then thrown to a bottom of a canyon. Needless to say, Hayes died heroica...well you know the rest.

Tommy Ryan in Titanic

Tommy Ryan (Jason Barry) DID NOT die heroically fighting until his last breath, thus making this list less monotonous.

Having established himself as a man of good character based purely on the fact that he was Irish, Ryan epitomised the fun and exciting ethic diversity of steerage class and how far it was removed from the evil and boring rich people. He was doomed, however, along with his partner in crime Fabrizio, who suffered death by funnel.

It was a tall order for Tommy Ryan to have a distinctively tragic death in a film full of tragic deaths but being shot by 1st Officer Murdoch in the scuffle for survival is pretty tragic. Murdoch shooting himself afterwards didn't help either.

The Not-So-Important Jedi in Revenge of the Sith

There's nothing like a good montage of mass murder to tug on the heartstrings. George Lucas even went one step further and decided to get younglings involved. But for the actors who had endured hours in make-up to play background Jedi with only the occasional cool looking lightsaber kill to show for it, this was their moment in the sun. Order 66 is executed and the Clone Troopers turn on the Jedi and kill them one by one in a series of cowardly ways. We don't know anything about these characters, but it's kind of sad in a way. Well, a bit. But not much.

Rest in peace pointy headed beard man and kind-of-hot blue woman. Rest in peace.

Dr. Satnam Tsurutani in 2012

Remember when Jimi Mistry was going to be the next big thing in Hollywood after he made East is East and set off to make the god-awful The Guru? Well this is where he ended up. Tsurutani is pretty much responsible for finding out the world is going to end. He has a nice family too. Chiwetel Ejiofor really wants to save him but he encounters the evils of bureaucracy and doesn't. Thus, Tsurutani, nice family and all, dies with everyone else, leaving the many dislikeable and undeserving characters to survive on the arks.

Frank Harris in The Day After Tomorrow

While we're on the issue of Roland Emmerich disaster movies, we best cover The Day After Tomorrow. What Emmerich really, really, likes to do is take a small character, give him the slightest hint of emotional depth and pathos, and have him die in a sad yet contrived situation and expect the audience to feel bad about this. We saw this with Satnam Tsurutani and we saw it with Frank Harris (Jay O. Sanders).

Harris is a grizzled old timer, loyal to the end to Dennis Quaid. We know very little about him, but he's a good guy. So when he falls through glass and is left dangling high above a shopping centre and threatens to pull his colleagues to their doom with him, he cuts the rope and falls to his death to save them. Note the variation from the common theme; Harris sacrifices himself heroically, rather than fighting heroically.

Stan Olber in Volcano

Staying on the theme of heroic sacrifices, Stan Olber (John Carroll Lynch) saves a bunch of people from a subway train being consumed by lava (for those that haven't seen it, Volcano is about a volcano erupting in down town L.A., for some reason). As a reward for his valiant efforts, he slowly burns to death after jumping into a pool of lava. You can't help thinking that Stan should have made a better job of his jump but this scene has the distinction of being one of the only memorable things in Volcano. Thus a small character is transformed into a tiny redeeming feature of an otherwise terrible, terrible movie.

Ivan Dubov in Face/Off

The character of Dubov is instantly rendered cooler by the fact that he's played by Frank Subotka from The Wire (Chris Bauer). His role is small, but important to the plot and featuring an impressive amount of drool. Dubov is an enemy of Nic Cage's (except Nic Cage isn't really Nic Cage, of course) but when the idea is suggested that they work together on a escape, he come's around to the idea pretty quickly and all of a sudden Cage and Bauer are best buds. Dubov does most of the hard work in helping Cage escape, but is thrown off a walk-way and dangles over a big drop with only a gun and Cage's hand between him and falling. Naturally, he falls and Cage is briefly sad before forgetting about him completely.

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Confessions of a Film Fan

Forgive me film world for I have sinned. Not since I admitted to enjoying Alien 3 has such a wave of guilt washed over me. But the truth must out.

So here goes; my confession, or to be more precise, confessions.

Confession Number One: Until last week I had not seen Inception or Toy Story 3.

Confession Number Two: When I did finally see them, I saw them on a plane.

On top of the shame of committing such a mortal sin, I actually managed to rationalise my decision. I had suffered the misfortune of not getting the chance to see two of the best reviewed films of the year in cinemas over the summer. Don't ask me how this happened, or how exactly I managed to catch mediocre fare like Prince of Persia and miss these gems, but I did. So when I heard that both films would be showing on my British Airways flight to Dubai, I let my excitement get the better of me. Sure the DVD and Blu-Ray releases of the films were only weeks (and in the case of Toy Story 3, days) away but I was finally getting my chance to see two films that I had completely failed to see in their rightful place on the big screen.

After all, I have a long-standing theory about great movies. They should be great, no matter how you view them. If you have a film that is great in 3D on an IMAX screen but is actually kind of dull when you stick it in a DVD player (Avatar) then it is not great film. Inception and Toy Story 3 are great films; they hold up entirely on their own merits. But now I wish I'd seen them in the way they should have been seen.

I have no problem with in-flight movies. If I am going to be sitting in one place for 7 and a half hours with barely any room to move I'm going to want something to watch. What's more, it's great that technology has moved on in recent years and you can actually choose what film you want to watch on a screen right in front of you. No more craning your neck because you're so bored you actually decided to watch the Katherine Heigl film that's on a monitor 8 rows in front of you. But, if I have learned one thing, it is NEVER watch an in-flight movie if you actually have high expectations for it.

During my flight, I found myself watching two amazing films on a 7 inch screen with a brightness adjuster that ranged between "pitch black" and "brighter than the sun" with nothing in between. My viewing experience was hampered by the rather large lady in the seat in front with a remarkable resemblance to Meatloaf who decided to recline fully and place her hands on the back of her seat, which just happened to be where my TV screen was. The sound was either whisper quiet or ear-bleedingly loud and the already quite difficult to understand Ken Watanabe was completely indecipherable. Important plot points or emotional scenes were routinely interrupted by bad food or somebody trying to sell me cheap booze.

Of course, I knew my viewing experience would be like this. I've been on a plane before. But somehow, I cheated my brain into thinking this was the best way to see these films, even Inception, which requires a lot of concentration at the best of times. I also happened to catch tedious crap-fests The A-Team and Predators on this flight, and I had no problem with seeing them there. Heck I missed Laurence Fishburne's entire appearance in Predators because I was distracted by a muffin the cabin crew had given me. I didn't care; the films were bad and I expected them to be bad so seeing them on a plane didn't matter.

Inception and Toy Story 3, on the other hand, are a different case. First chance I get I'm getting hold of them on Blu-Ray and finding the biggest TV I can. It's the least I can do to atone for my sins.

Oh, and while I'm getting things off my chest:

I've never seen Citizen Kane.

I'll go now.

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Friday, 12 November 2010

Ealing Studios is a Monument to Great British Cinema

So I've just arrived back from a stopover in Ealing. It's a great part of London to visit, not least for a chance to walk past one of the most legendary studios of them all. For an outsider there's not an awful lot of see, just a building with the iconic "Ealing Studios" logo on its front, but you can't help but think of the legendary films that have been made there and, for me at least, it sends a shiver down my spine.

Ealing Studios is truly something Britain should be proud of. It is, after all, the oldest continuously working film studio in the world. That's an impressive record, but more impressive has been the level of quality of its output. In recent years there have been lapses; the St. Trinians revival was unnecessary and the recent Burke and Hara was not well received considering the talent it boasted, but for a time in the late 40's and early 50's, Ealing Studios arguably produced some of the most unique and witty films around.

The Ealing comedies such as The Lavender Hill Mob, Kind Hearts and Coronets and The Ladykillers seem just as sharp and infused with bitingly black humour today as they were more than 50 years ago. They were showcases for perfect writing, pushed boundaries and superb acting. Watching the Ealing comedies you can understand why Alec Guinness was so appalled that he became remembered chiefly for the Star Wars films. His performances in some of these films (memorably playing 8 roles in Kind Hearts and Coronets) were some of the best that Britain has seen.

If you're ever in Ealing and you have some time to kill, make sure you stop by to have a glance at the studios. To still be making films today is remarkable, but the history and quality of output of these studios make it a monument to truly admire.

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Tuesday, 9 November 2010

The Birdsong film edges ever closer.

Sebastian Faulks ever-popular 1993 novel Birdsong has had a bit of a troublesome time in making its inevitable appearance on the big screen. The rights were sold not long after the book was published but still we have not yet seen a finished product. There's been plenty of aborted attempts, but the Birdsong film has found it as difficult to be made as other troubled adaptations such as Watchmen and Don Quixote.

This did, however, look set to end when Rupert Wyatt, director of the excellent Brit prison escape flick The Escapist took the reigns. Michael Fassbender and Paddy Considine became attached to the project and there was even talk of the cast beginning to flesh out. But things have fallen eerily silent. Birdsong's IMDb page no longer lists the director or stars as being involved with the project, however it does still list a tentative release date of 2012. This seems optimistic.

As this excellent Independent article documents, this could be yet another one of Birdsong's false starts. However, progress is being made in other mediums. In September, a stage adaptation of the novel began a run at the Comedy Theatre in London, starring Ben Barnes (of Prince Caspian fame) as the novel's protagonist Stephen Wraysford. Reviews have been fairly mixed, but if the novel can be adapted for the stage, there is hope it can be adapted for the screen.

It will be a challenge to make, there is no question about that. To shift from the erotically charged first 100 pages of the novel to the horrors of the First World War requires no small amount of subtlety. Some of the book will of course have to be trimmed to make it manageable to movie audiences, but which bits? Will the producers, for instance, choose to skip over the story of Elizabeth Benson, the 1970's woman looking for clues about her grandfather's time in the war?

Then there is the war itself. The intensity and fear of the Battle of the Somme, described in Faulks book could well be adapted into an epic portrait of war, in the right hands, but the book is extremely graphic in its detail. Will this be toned down for today's audiences? If so, will the film be able to do justice to the horrors of war and the sacrifices made?

It's been many years since a great First World War film was made. A good adaptation of Birdsong could not only be a fine story, but could serve as intense portrait of what people went through in the war. It will make it to the big screen one day, but for the moment we are still waiting.

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Thursday, 4 November 2010

A.I: A Fascinating Mess.

It's fair to say, that if you wanted one director to make a film Stanley Kubrick wanted to make, then Steven Spielberg wouldn't be an ideal choice. Sure, Spielberg is probably second only to Kubrick himself when it comes to his track record but their styles were completely different. Some say Kubrick's films are cold and even heartless, I would say they are detached. Spielberg's biggest fault is his sentimentality that despite his best efforts, he has never completely been able to reign in. As such, the directed-by-Spielberg, imagined-by-Kubrick A.I. Artificial Intelligence was always going to be a clash of two schools of thought.

The result is a mess. But it is a fascinating mess. I hate to sound harsh but the faults most people find with this film do seem to stem from Spielberg's own flaws. The completely needless tacked on ending, the overly cute teddy bear sidekick - things you wouldn't see in a Kubrick film. But it's not as if Spielberg made a hash of things; his flair for visuals and emotion shine through, arguably showing a side that Kubrick could not.

At the centre of the film is Haley Joel Osment's David, a truly underrated performance that, whilst bordering on annoying hits the uncanny valley of portraying an imitation of the real thing. The best way to think of it is like the creepy motion capture characters in Robert Zemeckis films; impressively real, but not quite human. Osment nails this.

Other characters are not so great. Jude Law's Gigolo Joe is apparently far removed from what Kubrick conceived. I am not surprised. His light hearted, cartoonish nature just doesn't seem to fit into Kubrick's conception of this world. Robin Williams cameo as the holographic Dr. Know is more distracting then it is engaging.

So how did a film with great visuals, an interesting concept and input from two of the greatest directors of all time turn out to be such a mess? Well, simply that; it was born of two directors. This film could have been Kubrick's last hurrah, an epic story of what it means to be 'human.' It could also have been an upbeat Spielberg fairytale, minus the darkness and menace that Kubrick would have wanted. Simply put, this film could have worked if it had been the baby of either of these two great men alone, but with Spielberg trying to carry on Kubrick's legacy it does not. It will still always be a fascinating lesson in what happens when two very different directing style clash.

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Tuesday, 2 November 2010

The 10 best Nicolas Cage films.

Nicolas Cage isn't exactly the most popular actor to ever make it big. Sure, he's appealing enough to land big budget roles, but there are plenty of people who'd much rather be forced to wear a helmet full of bees than sit through one of his movies (especially The Wicker Man).

Nic Cage is marmite. He's eccentric, he's weird, his hair is a bird, and he doesn't help himself by making some terrible, terrible film choices. I must admit it would be much easier to make a list of the 10 worst Nic Cage movies, but I won't, because in the last year or so Cage has made two films to help restore his reputation. They're in this list so I won't mention them here but they served to remind us that when he picks the right role (which he hadn't done for a very, VERY long time), Cage can be a damn good actor.

Over the years, he's had the mid-life crisis, made big budget duds (which despite a return to form, he is still doing), but in a career spanning over 20 years he has had his fair share of good movies. Below are 10 of his best:

10. Face/Off (1997)

Absolutely ridiculous. This is literally one of the most unbelievable plots an action movie has ever produced. Yet it is the best film John Woo made in a rather ill-fated spell in Hollywood, purely because it is an awful lot of fun.

Cage and Travolta are given the opportunity to ham it up and they take it with relish, producing cartoonish performances as a heroic cop and demonic villain who trade faces in a top secret undercover operation. It all gets very complicated but there are some genuinely good action sequences (Cage's prison escape is a highlight) and for a man who's made some pretty bad action movies, this is easily one of the better ones.

9. Bringing Out the Dead (1999)

Will not be the film Martin Scorsese will be remembered for, nor Nic Cage for that matter, but this film definitely had it's moments. Cage plays a paramedic haunted by visions of the people he's tried to save. Moody and atmospheric, it was a welcome change of pace for Cage, who was well into a string of ridiculous movies at this point. It gave him an opportunity to flex his acting muscles, resulting in one of his better performances.

8. The Rock (1996)

Probably the film that created Cage the action star, for better or worse, The Rock is an over the top Michael Bay film that came before Bay really lost it. After 81 tourists are taken hostage on Alcatraz island, Cage, a biochemist, must get to the site to disarm some stolen gas warheads, but he needs help. The interplay between Cage and Sean Connery in this film is great, and The Rock just works as a boombastic and entertaining action movie; a formula Cage would struggle to find in future movies.

7. Matchstick Men (2003)

Once again, a film that finds Cage working with a top director for a smaller, less spectacular film. What Ridley Scott's Matchstick Men lacks in big budget excess it makes up for in charm and wit. Cage is perfectly cast as an obsessive compulsive con-man, playing up to his trademark quirks and neurotic style. The twist is somewhat disappointing, but Matchstick Men makes for an entertaining and diverting conman movie that works well because it plays to Cage's strengths, offering great support from Sam Rockwell and Alison Lohman.

6. Lord of War (2005)

A film that is arguably best remembered for its inventive opening credits sequence if anything else, Lord of War may have glossed over a serious issue, but it certainly left the viewer with something to think about. Cage gleefully plays an amoral arms dealer, charting his pursuit by an interpol agent, his family relationships and the inner conflicts of his job. At times both funny and haunting, it's an entertaining way at confronting an issue that is at the forefront of modern conflict.

5. Kick-Ass (2010)

The first of the redeeming films I mentioned earlier, this is Cage demonstrating he has a sense of humour, and moving away from the overly serious roles that almost led to him becoming something of a self-parody. In a film with so many great bits in it, Cage is one of the best. The Adam West-style voice he uses in his Big Daddy alter-ego is hilarious and his bizarre relationship with his daughter is as touching as it is twisted. This is exactly the sort of role Cage needed to help restore a damaged reputation with the movie going public.

4. The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009)

The second of the redeeming films. This is Nic Cage at his crazy best. Too easily dismissed as an unnecessary remake of a not-that-brilliant film, it actually shares little in common with the Harvey Keitel original. Cage makes the role of the bad lieutenant his own; a drug addicted weirdo with a very loose sense of morals. The crucial thing is that he remains likeable, with a shred of decency that shines through and keeps you rooting for Cage's character. It's the strangest role Cage has taken since Adaptation, which is a shame because nobody does strange better than Nicolas Cage.

3. Leaving Las Vegas (1995)

The film that won Cage an Oscar. It's depressing, often heartbreaking, and a difficult watch but features powerful performances, with Cage putting in a career-best performance as an alcoholic screenwriter looking to drink himself to death. Darker and more personal than anything Cage had done before or since, the chemistry between Cage and Elizabeth Shue is great and Cage was deserving of the recognition he received for a very challenging role.

2. Adaptation (2002)

The film for which Cage received his second Oscar nomination, it marked a brief return to form after a mid-career slump. The famously complicated and highly unique plot charts screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's (Cage) failed attempts to adapt a Susan Orlean's 'The Orchid Thief' into a screenplay. The film features a wonderfully offbeat performance from Cage, playing a meek and uncertain man, and getting the opportunity to act against himself as Kaufman's (fictional) brother. The most original film Cage has starred in, with Nic at his oddball best.

1. Raising Arizona (1987)

Whether there is something to be said about the fact that Cage's best film came out 23 years ago is up to you but it is one of the Coen Brother's best and certainly Cage's funniest performance. Cage and Holly Hunter but in wonderful performances as an ex-con and ex-cop who steal a baby. The chemistry between the two actors is superb and despite their twisted actions, there is something very sweet at the heart of this movie. It's the kind of role Cage needs to be in again at some point, but with a Ghost Rider sequel in the works (who asked for that!?) we might need to hold our breath.

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