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Favourite movies: Pulp Fiction; Memento; Apocalypse Now; Annie Hall; American Beauty; The Big Lebowski; Million Dollar Baby; Reservoir Dogs; Citizen Kane; Paris Texas; Lost in Translation; Rear Window; Fargo; Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; A Clockwork Orange; The Godfather; Dr Strangelove; Full Metal Jacket; The Apartment; Anatomy of a Murder; Short Cuts; Sin City; Modern Times; Stagecoach; Ikiru; The Search (1948); Glory; Monty Python and the Holy Grail; The Wrestler; The Usual Suspects; Up; This is Spinal Tap; Taxi Driver; Mr. Smith Goes To Washington; Gettysburg; Fight Club; Treasure of the Sierra Madre; La Strada; The Deer Hunter; The Sixth Sense; To Kill a Mockingbird; Tora! Tora! Tora!; The Best Years Of Our Lives; Still Life; Witness for the Prosecution; Stars in my Crown; All About Eve; No Country for Old Men; M; A Tree Grows in Brooklyn; Stalker; Wild Strawberries; Saving Private Ryan.
Prefer clever dramas with good plots, character depth and/or a profound point, gritty crime dramas, edgy comedies and realistic war movies. Movies that make me think and/or feel.
Favourite directors: Quentin Tarantino, The Coen Brothers, Woody Allen, Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, Orson Welles, Charlie Chaplin, Billy Wilder, Christopher Nolan.
Favourite TV drama series (incl. mini-series): The Sopranos; Band of Brothers; Breaking Bad; The Wire; Firefly; Generation Kill; Stranger Things; Black Mirror; The Americans; Peaky Blinders; Narcos; Sherlock; The Night Of; Chernobyl; After Life; Fargo.
Favourite TV comedy series: Monty Python's Flying Circus; The Simpsons; Seinfeld; Chappelle's Show; Friends; Fawlty Towers; Arrested Development; Scrubs; 30 Rock; The Thick Of It; The Mighty Boosh; Family Guy; The Office (UK series); Black Adder; Yes Minister; The Colbert Report; Cheers; Action; The IT Crowd; Veep; Married With Children.
Intelligent and/or edgy comedies, plus gritty dramas, in general. Documentaries, esp on military history.
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Great documentary: interesting and edifying
The history of Skunk Works, the top-secret division of Lockheed that specialised in extreme, highly classified military aircraft design. Lead by the legendary Clarence "Kelly" Johnson, a titan of the aircraft industry, Skunk Works produced such revolutionary planes as the U-2, SR-71 Blackbird and FB-117 Nighthawk.
Great documentary on an organisation that, until recently, it would have been difficult to produce a documentary on, such was the clandestine nature of its work. Very interesting and edifying, as we follow the history of this organisation and some superb, ground-breaking aircraft.
Its not just a story of Skunk Works and planes like the SR-71, but the history of Kelly Johnson too. Following him gives the story a human angle and shows his genius for aircraft design and development and his influence on US airpower, and the aircraft industry in general.
They Shall Not Grow Old (2018)
Superb documentary: edifying, engaging, gritty, emotional and timely
World War 1, as seen from the perspective of British soldiers fighting on the Western Front.
Superb documentary, directed by Peter Jackson (of Lord of the Rings fame) and released to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of WW1. I was expecting a conventional documentary on WW1, but this is so much better than that.
Rather than dry narration, everything is told through the voices of British soldiers. This makes for a very engaging and realistic portrayal of what life was like for the average soldier.
Not that its quality was evident from the start though. The first 20 minutes or so, showing recruitment and training, were quite dull. I was starting to lose interest but then the setting changes to the trenches of the Western Front and the tone and engagement factor change dramatically. Things become grittier, the horrific conditions the soldiers lived under become starkly apparent and the terrors and wastefulness of war are brought home.
This then continues for the rest of the film. Battles are vividly told, with the help of rare archival footage. There are also some quite emotional moments, as we hear of friends being killed and the impact of the end of the war. So interesting, gritty and engaging it feels more like a drama than a documentary.
This tone is helped by the excellent video footage. Much of it is quite rare and has been colourised for the film. The footage is so good I thought it was mostly recreations, rather than actual WW1 footage.
A timely reminder of the sacrifices that were made over a hundred years ago.
Doom Patrol (2019)
Good fun, though the novelty wears off after a while
A group of five seemingly unrelated and dissimilar individuals find themselves drawn together, assembled by the mysterious The Chief. They all suffered traumatic, near-fatal accidents but now have superhuman abilities. The Chief has something in mind for them.
I was pleasantly surprised at this series, initially. Certainly not your average superhero story, especially due to the dialogue and humour. Definitely not for kids, there's some great one-liners and barbs and the dialogue is expletive-filled and wonderfully irreverent. Allied with this, there's a non-serious tone to the whole thing, making it pretty good fun.
The novelty doesn't last though. Eventually it does become more a drama than a comedy and start to resemble your average superhero/comic book story. It was good while it lasted though.
La règle du jeu (1939)
Not sure what all the fuss is about
A group of people meet at a chateau for a hunting weekend. Among them is a celebrity, Andre Jurieux, a man who has just flown solo across the Atlantic Ocean. As the weekend progresses, animosities and rivalries come to light.
Written and directed by Jean Renoir, this movie is lauded as a classic and one of the greatest movies ever made. However, I really don't see what the fuss is about.
The story is hardly interesting or profound. There were some interesting and/or amusing scenes but the film often felt like a soap opera, with overblown, relationship-based machinations and melodrama. None of the characters were worth following and engagement was very limited.
The film was supposed to be a biting commentary on French social mores but I didn't see that. The actions of the guests hardly seemed laughable, even by today's standards, and there was no us vs them atmosphere between the guests and the staff.
Maybe the film just hasn't aged well. Whatever the reason, it is only moderately interesting and hardly profound.
The Duellists (1977)
Great debut from Ridley Scott
France, 1801. Due to a minor, perceived slight, mild-mannered Lieutenant d'Hubert is forced into a duel with the hot-headed, irrational Lieutenant Feraud. The disagreement ultimately results in scores of duels, spanning several years.
Based on Joseph Conrad's book 'The Duel', which was based on true story, this was Ridley Scott's first film as director. And a great debut film it is. Intriguing, engaging story, spanning 15 years.
The contrast between the two combatants is stark, the reason for the duel so arbitrary and the potential outcome of the contest so needlessly wasteful that you're invested in the outcome, and a bit angry that this is even taking place.
Scott and writer Gerald Vaughan-Hughes give the character of d'Hubert a fair amount of depth, adding to the engagement and investment.
Another great feature is the cinematography. Some great shots and scenes.
Solid performance by Keith Carradine as d'Hubert. Harvey Keitel doesn't have much dialogue as Feraud but he is well cast as the hard-headed, actions-rather-than-words character.
Judging by Ridley Scott's next two films, The Duellists clearly lifted his profile. His next film was Alien, his third was Blade Runner.
El ángel exterminador (1962)
A wealthy couple throw a large dinner party at their house. Things go well but when it is time to leave, nobody does. This reluctance to leave carries on to the next day, at which time it is apparent that they CANNOT leave. An invisible force seems to be preventing them from leaving.
Written and directed by Luis Bunuel, a movie that kept me intrigued for most of its duration, only to let me down at the end. It doesn't start too coherently, feeling very clumsy in its initial setup. This is deliberate, it turns out, as the later plot development explains this clumsiness. Once it gets going it is very intriguing, as the guests are trapped in a room with nothing physically stopping them from leaving.
It also becomes a good study in human interaction and behaviour, as the guests turn on each other and self-interest overrides the greater good.
Everything was set up for a great revelation and solution to the puzzle, plus a moment of profundity. However, none of these really came. The solution to leaving the room was incredibly weak, and we never get an explanation for the entrapment. The conclusion gives some indication to what it was all about, but it is hardly revolutionary or overly profound.
Great Expectations (1946)
Good adaptation of the classic Dickens novel
Young Pip is an orphan and lives with his aunt and uncle. One day he is sent by his aunt to entertain Miss Havisham, a wealthy spinster. There he meets Estella and is immediately infatuated with her, but she does not feel the same way about him. Years later and Pip is now a young man, working for his uncle. He receives news that will change the course of his life: an unknown benefactor is sending him to London to become a gentleman.
Written and directed by David Lean, a good adaptation of Charles Dickens's classic novel. Interesting story, given a very authentic early-19th century feel by Lean. Some good comedic moments too. Great cinematography: the graveyard and interior of Miss Havisham's house scenes are particularly well done.
Not exactly compelling viewing though. The romantic and social machinations are a bit dull and I felt the ending was a bit too neat and cheesy, a bit of a cop-out after all that went before.
Good spin-off of Breaking Bad: interesting and entertaining
A sequel, of sorts, to Breaking Bad following Jesse Pinkman after the events captured in the finale of Breaking Bad. Jesse is now on the run, as a massive police manhunt for him is in operation. He has a plan to get out of Albuquerque, but he'll need heaps of cash to do it. Luckily, he knows where some may be stashed.
An interesting and entertaining spin-off of Breaking Bad, written and directed by Vince Gilligan (the creator of Breaking Bad). Not an essential spin-off, I might add: the series ended superbly in a wonderfully poetic manner. I never felt I needed to know what happened to Jesse after he escaped the events of the final scene. Still, I don't mind the idea of us following Jesse's story post-Walter White.
An interesting story it is, filled with tension, action, tricky situations, twists and a few good comedic moments. Very engaging for all of the 2 or so hours of the movie. Nice ending.
Not brilliant though. While Gilligan largely manages to capture the atmosphere of Breaking Bad, this being a movie he doesn't have the same amount of time to construct the storyline that made Breaking Bad such compelling viewing. The movie never rises above being more than entertaining. There's no great profundity or payoff, it's simply a good drama.
Le samouraï (1967)
Jef Costello is a professional hitman. After completing his latest job he is seen by a few witnesses. The police then pick him up when rounding up people who fit the description of the killer. Will the witnesses identify him?
Stylish thriller, written and directed by Jean-Pierre Melville. Good scene setting and plot development with Melville ramping up the tension throughout. Great, cool atmosphere created by Melville through keeping dialogue to a minimum and drawing out some scenes.
This coolness is helped by a spot-on performance from Alain Delon as Costello. Plays the sauve, unflappable professional perfectly.
Not a perfect movie though, largely due to the plot. Some things don't really make much sense. What really annoyed me was that Costello would allow himself to be caught. He is an experienced, professional hitman, can be identified and would know the police's methods. Yet he allows himself to be easily caught and, not only that, still has the same clothes on as when he committed the murder. Surely the best plan would be to lie low and, at the very least, get rid of the incriminating clothes?
Costello's actions throughout the movie seem not well thought-out for someone generally plans ahead well and inconsistent with someone trying to avoid being caught. The ending is also rather puzzling.
This all said, it is a well-made, classy film that is highly engaging. Definitely worth watching.
Not great, but reasonably entertaining
A spoof of several horror movies. Kids at a high school are being murdered by a maniac in a mask. A TV reporter investigates.
Not exactly original: horror spoof movies were dime-a-dozen in the early 2000s, and almost as common as horror movies involving crazed mask-wearing killers bumping off high school kids. Isn't too bad though: some good laughs and is reasonably entertaining. Never takes itself seriously, which is a very useful quality in a parody.
Much more watchable than I expected.
Tengoku to jigoku (1963)
Superb: great police-drama mixed with an interesting social and moral angle
A wealthy businessman is told his son has been kidnapped and he will have to pay a very large sum for him to be returned safely. It is then discovered that his son is safe at home: the kidnapper took his chauffeur's son by accident. The kidnapper says this makes no difference: pay up or the child dies. This leaves him with a moral dilemma, as he really needs the money to conclude a very important business deal.
Written and directed by Akira Kurosawa, High and Low is superb. It mixes crime/police drama with human drama incredibly seamlessly. As a police drama it is about as perfect as they come: shows the deductive reasoning, hunches and meticulous grunt work required in a criminal investigation. Incredibly engaging as you follow the police chase down their leads.
That alone would have made this a 10/10, but the greatness of this movie doesn't end there. We have the moral dilemma the businessman must face: whether to pay to have his chauffeur's son released or use the money to conclude the business deal of a lifetime (with the added incentive that, if the deal doesn't go ahead, his career is over). Interesting social commentary too, especially when the kidnapper's motives are revealed.
Might be nearly 2½ hours long but certainly doesn't feel like it, it's so engrossing.
Despite the animation, still pretty much your average comic-book movie
Miles Morales has just started at a new school and is struggling to fit in. Then he is bitten by a radioactive spider and he obtains certain powers, similar to those of Spiderman. He doesn't know what to do with the powers, or how to control them, so naturally he turns to Spider-Man for advice.
Had some potential, initially, to be an original take on Spider-Man and comic book movies in general. The story doesn't follow Peter Parker, so is not the same Spider-Man story that's been told over and over before. Is animated, so original in terms of production (ironically, considering what comic book movies are based on...).
However, despite these differences, it ends up being pretty much same old, same old: a linear, action-based story. Character development is token: everything is just a set up to get to the next action scene. Plot, what there is, is what you'd expect from a comic book movie: rambling, basic. Quite unengaging.
Is fun at times, but certainly no more than your average comic-book movie.
Hardly revolutionary, despite all the hype that says it is.
Cast a Giant Shadow (1966)
Good story, clumsily told
1947. An American Army officer, Colonel David 'Mickey' Marcus, is offered an advisory role with the Israeli Defence Force. Israel is about to gain its independence from Britain and faces overwhelming odds as it faces powerful enemies on all sides.
A good story, largely based on historic events. Covers the formation of the state of Israel and its initial military struggles against massive odds.
However, doesn't cover the events in much depth though. Much time is wasted on sub-plots, almost all of which add nothing to the story.
These sub-plots, especially the romantic angle with Marcus and Magda Simon, not only use up film time that could have been better spent, but make the film quite clumsy. So many contrivances and Hollywoodisms. Just about every piece of dialogue seems written as a soundbite, a one-line zinger. It all just seems so cheesy.
Johnny Cash in San Quentin (1969)
Great music, interesting social commentary
A capture of Johnny Cash's famous concert at San Quentin prison, performed on 24 February 1969. Song list: I Walk The Line, Folsom Prison Blues, Orange Blossom Special, Jackson, Darlin' Companion, Will The Circle Be Broken, San Quentin, Wanted Man, A Boy Named Sue, Peace In The Valley, He Turned The Water Into Wine.
This was the second of Johnny Cash's two famous prison concerts, both of which were recorded and released as albums. The first was at Folsom Prison in 1968.
Great music, covering most of Johnny Cash's more famous tracks. Cash and his band are in fine form, with Cash every bit the showman and troubadour.
Interspersed with the songs are interviews with inmates and guards, talking about life in prison and, in the inmates' cases, the circumstances that brought them there. Quite illuminating.
The interviews do often ruin the flow of the music though, as they are often injected into the middle of a song, rather than between songs. I don't mind the interviews at all, just wish they were placed better.
Weird, and mostly not in a good way
A businessman accidentally kills a metal fetishist. The businessman then starts turning into a half metal-half human monstrosity.
Well, that's about as much plot as there is. The rest is random stuff, largely taking advantage of the fact that the main character is metal-human mutant. Incredibly weird with no discernible storyline after a (quickly-reached) point.
Pretty quickly I gave up trying to figure what was going on and just went along for the ride. Even then it wasn't worth watching, just being weirdness for weirdness sake. There are one or two scenes which are reasonably funny, but that's about it as far as the entertainment value goes.
Rokugatsu no hebi (2002)
Dull, pretentious and weird just for weirdness sake
A woman is being stalked by a stranger. His stalking turns to blackmail when he sends her copies of photos of her in an embarrassing position. Now he controls her and she has to do anything he says. Anything.
Had some potential but from the start this movie is more about style than substance. Imagery and arty shots just for the sake of it, plot twists that are more about an excuse to have a weird scene in there, a plot seems random at best.
Ultimately quite dull and pretentious.
Great drama, with a stand-out performance from Joaquin Phoenix
Gotham City. Arthur Fleck works as a clown and is also an aspiring stand-up comic. He has mental health issues, part of which involves uncontrollable laughter. Times are tough and, due to his issues and occupation, Arthur has an even worse time than most. Over time these issues bear down on him, shaping his actions, making him ultimately take on the persona he is more known as...Joker.
Great drama. While the movie fits into the Batman universe, and this could easily be seen as a prequel to Joker's character in The Dark Knight (where Joker was played superbly by Heath Ledger), this is not a comic-book movie. If it was a comic-book movie, it would have ended up another one in a long, seemingly endless line of them, one hardly discernible from the next.
No, this is a human/psychological drama, and a very good one. Writer-director Todd Phillips creates a dark, depressing world with Arthur Fleck one of its primary casualties. The slow, inevitable progress of Arthur Fleck from innocent man to master-criminal is an interesting journey as Phillips rachets up the tension.
What was then required was a performance that captured that darkness, helplessness and gradual disintegration and Joaquin Phoenix gives that, perfectly and spectacularly. Spot-on casting and delivery.
Not quite the perfect movie though. Pacing was a bit off: some scenes seem dragged out too long. I know Phillips was drawing it out to create tension and atmosphere, but on a few occasions it feels like he overdoes it.
It is also difficult, from a point, to be sympathetic towards Arthur Fleck. You start out supporting him, feeling that he is a victim rather than a villain, but, as his actions become more extreme, that engagement wanes.
The story also feels like it is missing something to make it 100% complete. No, I'm not expecting this to link in with The Dark Knight. In fact, many of the Batman references actually seemed unnecessary, more there for audiences to gasp and say "Oh, so that's how Joker fits in with Batman", rather than adding anything to this story. A few scenes beyond the final scene might have been in order, to see more of Joker's history.
Overall, still a great movie though.
La belle et la bête (1946)
Good adaptation of the classic fairy tale
After picking a rose from his garden, a lost traveller is told by a beast that he will die unless one of his daughters returns to take his place. Against her father's wishes, one of his daughters, Belle, returns to the beast's estate. The beast then asks Belle if she will marry him, offering her untold wealth if she accepts. She refuses. He asks the same question every day with the same response. When Belle returns home to visit her ailing father, Belle's scheming sisters and brother see a way to exploit the beast's generosity towards and fondness for Belle.
A good adaptation of the classic fairy tale. Entertaining plot with solid direction from Jean Cocteau. Some quite innovative effects for 1946. Good performance from Josette Day as Belle.
Is just a fairy tale though, so nothing too profound or gritty. As you would expect, is quite schmaltzy, but this is kept to the minimum allowed by fairy tale standards. It could have easily degenerated into a schmaltz-fest.
House of Usher (1960)
Great adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's classic tale
Philip Winthrop calls upon his fiancée, Madeline Usher, at her family home. His presence is unwelcome, especially to Madeline's brother, Roderick. Roderick explains that the Ushers are cursed, suffering from hereditary physical defects. By Madeline marrying Winthrop this would only likely continue the affliction. It soon becomes clear that something sinister is afoot: not only due to Roderick's determination to prevent Madeline from leaving but also due to the evil that seems to lurk in the house itself.
Directed by Roger Corman, this is the definitive adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's classic short story. The plot, as you would expect from a Poe tale, is wonderfully dark and intriguing. Corman manages to slowly rachet up the tension without giving much away. He manages to make what must have been a small production budget go quite far, due to simple yet effective effects.
Poe's plot and Corman's directorship are aided and abetted by a quintessential Vincent Price performance. Simple in delivery yet massive in presence and menace, Price shows why is regarded as one of horror's greatest actors.
This was the first of seven Poe-Corman-Price movies. The seven were made in the space of only four years! The movie also changed the status of Roger Corman, from relatively unknown director of cheap C-grade movies, to a major force in Hollywood.
Edgar Allan Poe is probably the most abused author in history. While his works are regarded as literary classics, movies based on his books or short stories are often b-grade, at best. This movie is no exception.
I haven't read the Poe short story but I am sure it would be fairly unrecognisable from this movie. The central plot is okay but the sub-plots and detours are often nonsensical and random.
Direction is sloppy, while trying (and failing) to be clever. The whole movie feels like a late-night made-for-TV movie.
Acting is so-so. The presence of Eric Roberts should tell you this is crap. Michael Madsen must be desperate to be in this. Madsen and Roberts are minor supporting actors, however. The leads are unknowns, which says a lot.
The Haunted Palace (1963)
Another Roger Corman-Vincent Price combination, and another good one. Not as good as Tales of Terror, but quite entertaining nonetheless.
Good direction by Corman. Plot can be a bit contrived at times. (Note: though Edgar Allan Poe shares some of the writing credit, this largely based on an HP Lovecraft book). Vincent Price gives his usual perfectly commanding yet chilling performance.
Tales of Terror (1962)
Excellent horror movie, based on three Edgar Allan Poe stories. Great plots and scripts, but what do you expect from Edgar Allan Poe?
Perfect pacing in all three, gradually building up to the gripping finale. Roger Corman's directing talents are on full display.
Vincent Price stars in all three, as is superb. His presence generates the terror.
Thrilling, fun, and in even funny (in the second story), this is what horror movies should be like.
Random and pretentious
Random and pretentious. Either of these alone would have been bad enough. Together they make this movie atrocious.
Ignore the fact that the movie is "loosely" based on two Edgar Allen Poe short stories. Poe would turn in his grave if he knew that he was somehow being credited with this pile of excrement.
In the Shadow of the Moon (2019)
Initial intrigue quickly turns to dull derivativeness
1988. A police officer investigates a series of murders. The only thing connecting the victims appears to be the murder method. The police manage to piece together an image of the murderer from one of their would-be victims. Now the hunt is on.
Was drawn to this by the trailer, as the movie looked like a good murder-mystery. Unfortunately, it turns out this is much more a sci fi thriller than a murder drama, and I'm generally far more into the latter than the former.
This said, the movie still had potential, but this potential was wasted. It becomes quite dull and derivative. Throw in some twists for twists sake, plot developments that don't make much sense or are just there for empty sentimentality's sake, an irritating, unconvincing performance from Michael C Hall (of Dexter fame) and a tame conclusion and it is all quite unsatisfying.
Pork Chop Hill (1959)
Excellent war drama
Excellent Korean War drama, based on a true story. While showing the courage of those that fight in war, it also explores the political nonsense that often determines that men fight and die for no apparent reason.
Well directed, well written. Realistic action and military tactics.
Gregory Peck is, as always, excellent in the lead role.