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Archive for the ‘Film’ Category

Gravity: a disappointing film; but a thought-provoking spiritual meditation. You can read this review at Jericho Tree.

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Just a bit of stupid fun, in case you haven’t seen this floating around Facebook: The ‘List Challenges’ site gives you ‘The Top 250 Movies of All Time’, according to IMDB (the Internet Movie Database) – ‘as voted by our users’. Of course I disagree profoundly with the list, but that’s the point of lists like this.

films

You mark the films you have seen as you scroll through, and then it gives you the total. I was disappointed not to get 50% – my score was 117 out of 250. However, I took the moral high ground and decided to exclude from my check list those films I have walked out of and not seen to the end. I think I would have got to 50% with them.

It’s strange what you remember: I can recall the scene, the cinema, and just about the very place I was sitting of almost every film I have ever walked out from. As if the existential anxiety of cutting one’s losses and choosing to leave the ‘hallowed space’ of the cinema puts an indelible mark on the soul.

The first ‘walk out’ I remember was Fatal Attraction. This was when I was an undergraduate, in the old cinema near Parker’s Piece in Cambridge in about 1988, which has since been converted into a Weatherspoons pub on the ground floor and the new Arts Cinema on the first floor.

So you can do the list here. And do put your results in the comment box; and if you have had any particularly significant ‘walking out’ moments, do share them!

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annie hall by lisa norwood

I’m in the process of moving out of Allen Hall after eight very happy years on the seminary staff. I’ve had one or two farewell gatherings, and some lovely gifts. The most thoughtful and unexpected one was from the seminarians themselves.

I thought they might give me something predictable like a bottle of wine or a manual of theology to set me straight after all the wild lectures I have given them. Instead, at a farewell dinner near the end of term, they presented me with a vintage 1977 poster for Woody Allen’s Annie Hall: one of the smaller ‘lobby style’ prints, with a certificate of authentication pasted on the back.

What a great idea! We just happen to have a vintage film poster shop round the corner – Limelight Movie Art (this is Chelsea…). They told me the lovely story of going into the shop. Knowing how particular I am, instead of random buying, they found a post on this blog about my favourite films of all time, and took this list in with them. They showed it to the shop assistant, who spent a few minutes perusing the list, looked back up to the seminarians, and uttered the immortal words, ‘Your friend has very expensive tastes…’ I took that as an indirect compliment from one film buff to another.

In the end, they opted for a small Annie Hall poster rather than a large but apparently less visually interesting poster for 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s mounted, but I need to frame it and hang it in Newman House when I arrive. I’d love to start collecting, but just look at the prices…

This image I’ve pasted above isn’t the poster they got me, but it’s the only one I could find copyright free online. My one is Diane Keaton leaning over Woody Allen on the sofa, with him completely oblivious to her attentions as he reads the newspaper.

Oh, and by the way, in case you clicked on this post because of the title above, my new two greatest films of all time, that have risen quite unexpectedly to the top over the last two years, are The Tree of Life and The Place Beyond the Pines.

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There was an extraordinary moment in the evolution of human consciousness and the sociology of cinema etiquette last week. Perhaps it was the first time it had ever taken place – and I was there as a witness! Like being there in 1903 when the Wright brothers flew their way into history; or sitting in the space capsule as Neil Armstrong stepped down onto the surface of the moon.

754px-The_Wright_Brothers_First_Heavier-than-air_Flight_-_GPN-2002-000128

So I’m sitting in the Cineworld Fulham Road last week as the trailers take place before the new Start Trek film (disappointing: 6/10). The guy next to me takes out his mobile phone, checks for messages, leaves it on, and then – this is the Close Encounters of the Third Kind moment – he places it in the moulded plastic fizzy drinks holder attached to the front of the arm rest between us. No self-consciousness; no shame. The bottom of the phone comes forward, towards him; the back leans against the upper edge of the drinks holder; so the phone is at a perfect 37 degree tilt from the vertical for him to see. And he’s watching the film as he is glancing up and down at his incoming messages – like a driver with the TomTom in the edge of vision.

I was too awestruck at the audacity of this technological leap to be shocked. It’s the kind of unforseen improvisation that delights and appalls me at the same time. I bet you big money that within two years there will be dedicated and beautifully designed mobile phone holders on the arm of every cinema seat, but this time just above the fizzy drinks holder. What would my friend have done if he had had a 6 litre carton of coke as well? [Just for the record: This is my idea, and I hold the patent...]

Is this the end of civilisation or the beginning? Is this common in London or New York or Shanghai and I’ve just never witnessed if before?

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The best film of the year? Go and see The Place Beyond the Pines. I know, it’s not even May, and this may be a bit premature. But it’s certainly the best film of my last twelve months, and I’d put good money on it remaining in the top slot until 31 December.

I absolutely cannot tell you any plot, and please don’t read any reviews or watch any trailers, because there were some beautiful moments of revelation that would have been destroyed if I had known what was coming. All I’ll say is this: it’s perhaps the most profound study of fatherhood I’ve ever seen on film. And if there is a topic that needs real consideration in our culture today it is this.

This isn’t meant to be a reflective post, just an advert! If you want to see a serious, thought-provoking, beautiful and thrilling piece of film-making, go and see this before it disappears onto the small screen.

I managed to find a YouTube clip that is not a trailer. Take a look at this bravura extended-take opening scene. The film is much more than this; but what a way to start!

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oblivion Tom Cruise movie by bubbletea1

Oblivion. It’s a good film.

The cinematography is outstanding. Not showy (in fact the first half is minimalist, almost art-house), but clean, crisp, with a breathtaking integration of natural landscape and CGI. It’s way beyond Avatar. And part of the reason is because it is not 3D; how much the director must have fought the pressure from the studio to ‘upgrade’.

The plot rehashes the best elements of 17 sci-fi classics. I won’t even name them, in case you start predicting the twists. There is nothing original here, but it works, it’s well-crafted, and there are only a couple of niggles when you start saying, ‘Hang on a minute…!’ I’d like to spend an evening with a few sci-fi buffs trying to spot the references. You can do this in the comments if you have some spare time.

And Tom Cruise manages to avoid being Tom Cruise. For most of the film I forgot he was Tom Cruise. He was almost the Everyman Hero Figure of Richard Dreyfuss and Matt Damon. What’s his secret in this film? He didn’t try to smile or to look serious; he just got on with the job. And so the Tom Cruise smirk and the Tom Cruise furrowed-brow was kept at bay.

I was going to embed one of the trailers for the film for your delectation, but I can’t in conscience do that. I’ve just watched two official trailers, and they both give away almost all of the most significant plot twists – the ‘aaaahhhh…’ moments that make cinema worthwhile. It’s baffling. I made a point of avoiding every review before I saw the film, and it was worth it.

If you are not into sci-fi, don’t bother. But it’s a beautifully shot and satisfying film.

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It’s good to be ambitious in a film. It takes a lot of courage to deal with sickness, mortality, bereavement, love, friendship, marriage, parenting, creativity, culture, fame, failure – oh, and Beethoven – in under two hours.

An acclaimed New York string quartet have been playing together for twenty-five years. The cellist is diagnosed with Parkinson’s. And with this unexpected crisis everything else starts to unravel – the music, the relationships, even the past.

Most of this works. There are some powerful scenes. But somehow it didn’t quite fit together for me; I didn’t quite believe in the characters. It felt contrived.

Now surely this is an unfair criticism. The whole point of a chamber piece like this is that it is contrived: five characters (there is a daughter too), on stage before us for two hours, everything as carefully constructed as Beethoven’s quartet itself (op. 131).

It made me wonder about what was missing. Why is it that in a classic Woody Allen film (Annie Hall, Manhattan, Hannah and her Sisters, etc), however extraordinary the characters, and however overwrought the plot, you still believe that they have an existence beyond the film, that you are stepping into their life rather than seeing a life momentarily created for your entertainment?

Why does the willing suspension of disbelief sometimes work and sometimes not? I think this was too actorly, in a self-conscious way; verging on the melodramatic; and simply not as funny as Allen. And without the ragged edges that allow the film in front of you to fade into an imagined reality behind the screen. All of this, somehow, takes away from the authenticity that is the mark of a great film.

So it’s a good film! Go and see it. But with something missing…

Here is the Beethoven:

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