Saying goodbye to a habit

As 2013 winds to a close I’m in the midst of a major movie binge on Netflix before heading out for a night of fun ‘n frolics. Right now Fast Times at Ridgemont High is on, still a classic movie if just for all the famous faces as they started out their careers. Then, as of midnight tonight, that’s it – subscription over. I’m going cold turkey on streamed movies. Yep, a new year’s resolution of sorts, who’d have thought.

The combination of an Apple TV and Netflix subscription has been a double edged sword this last year. I first signed up to get access to the new series of Arrested Development – the siren call of more Bluth family antics being too much to ignore – and though it wasn’t as funny as the original three series, it was well worth a watch. Since then the easy access for a few clicks to TV series and movies has been a complete time-suck, though an enjoyable one. I do like my films.

Through the complete series of Breaking, with the final episodes available just after they were on in the US, was a classic roller coaster of a show. To everyone I know who has not yet watched it please do, otherwise I’m bound to accidentally spoiler it for you at some point. Dexter, a replacement series once BB was over, was great for the first few series but the finale did not live up to the rest of it. Then there have been numerous random movies from Hollywood blockbusters to classic international movies, from Disney movies that I’d never seen (Lady and the Tramp – seriously, never watched) to old favourites since my DVD collection is in storage as I get ready to move. That’s a lot of time and bandwidth. Perhaps somewhere out there is a site that works out how much time that amounts to, not sure I want to find it though and somehow I doubt Netflix wants to make that figure too easy to see. Someone else had a go at working out the costs and it’s mildly depressing reading.

So, Netflix. Thanks for all the good times and have a great 2014 without me.. Now where did I put those cookery books and knitting needles?

Movie Fest: October 2010

A huge flurry of movies as part of a massive de-compress. Feeling too lazy to write proper reviews for all of them so here’s a brief summary:

  • Toy Story 3: It’s pretty amazing that the Pixar folks manage to constantly outdo themselves from movie to movie, but to have a trilogy of movies that just gets better and better each time is mind blowing. Just think how good Revenge of the Sith would have been if that was the case for George Lucas? Anyways, I digress. Toy Story 3 is beautiful and heart rending to watch, as well as being a kid friendly roller coaster of a movie. A must watch, if only for the Buzz Lightyear secret modes…
  • Ponyo: Another Studio Ghibli classic, the story of a goldfish princess who goes off an adventure and falls in love with a human child, causing havoc to the balance of nature. Beautiful animation style. A wonderful glimpse at life in fishing villages in Japan and a mum voiced by Tina Fey, what’s not to love? Well, the story is a bit derivative and the ending seems to just happen, so it’s not the best Studio Ghibli film ever but worth a watch.
  • My Name is Bruce: Bruce Campbell, star of the Evil Dead movies, stars as ‘himself’ in this send-up of B-movie stardom. A bit flat in places, if you’re a fan of Bubba-ho-tep (“everybody likes Bubba-ho-tep”) then this is well worth watching.
  • Prince of Persia: Great special effects, epic scenes and some of the worst ‘English’ accents you’ve ever heard.. even from the British actors. Ben Kingsley and Alfred Molina I’m looking at you. The storyline is a hodge podge of revenge and mythology in the classic style of Tomb Raider, another game to film conversion. A six beer movie at least.
  • The Last Airbender: M Night Shyamalan has not really produced any classic suspense movies in a while, so I was interested to see how he fired up this new trilogy. The answer? Beautifully shot, with some great special effects, but none of the Shyamalan story magic.

Must spend less time in front of a screen…

Classics: Treasure Island & Vertigo

In the middle of getting ready for an imminent work trip to Israel, I found time to attack a couple of classics from different media; the book Treasure Island, and Hitchcock’s masterpiece of film, Vertigo.

First up, Treasure Island, a book I can’t actually remember if I read when I was younger as the themes are now so familiar; pirates with parrots and wooden legs, buried treasure and heroic cabin boys. Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic is best read at a younger, more innocent age, yet maintains it’s ability to thrill even to us jaded older folk. A fun, lightweight classic but don’t expect anything too mentally challenging.

Then we have Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. As someone who watches a lot of movies I’m slightly embarrassed to say that I’ve not watched any Hitchcock films. This is something I realise I now need to rectify, as Vertigo is visually sumptuous, engaging with great acting from James Stewart, and a thrilling soundtrack. There’s also a classic early intro sequence from Saul Bass. The story follows Stewart, who plays a detective on retirement due to the onset of crippling vertigo which caused the death of a fellow officer. Stewart, for want of anything else to do, accepts a friend’s request to follow his wife, Kim Novak, who has been acting strangely and apparently is possessed by the suicidal spirit of a dead woman. Stewart accepts, and in carrying out his duties falls in love with the wife and things progress from there.

Although the film is now over 50 year old it is still a joy to watch. The speed of pacing may put off some viewers, but Hitchcock was well ahead of his time and if you’re not addicted to jump cuts then all will be well. Happily for me this now means I have the rest of Hitchcock’s back catalogue to watch as well. Splendid stuff.

Film: Two Days in Paris (3/5)

Last night we watched the interesting indie flick Two Days in Paris starring/written and produced by Julie Delpy, and co-starring Adam Goldberg. Delpy and Goldberg play a couple who met in New York, but are visiting Delpy’s parents in Paris for a two day stopover at the end of a European trip. Delpy plays an artistic, slightly dippy photographer, and Goldberg a hyper-neurotic, hairy Jewish Interior Designer.

Paris, as always in such films, is the real star here. Beautiful angles of lesser seen arondissments and a wonderful glimpse into real Parisian life and apartments as we follow their whistle stop catch-up with the town Delpy grew up in. Delpy gives us all a look at how life can be if you’re young, artistic and Parisian, all of which plays nicely off the counterfoil of Goldberg’s closed, paranoid and generally rude boyfriend. That said their dynamic is enjoyable to watch, if slightly forced and leaving a feeling you’re watching a movie that Woody Allen might have done were he this young now. No bad thing in itself. That and the fact that most of the characters talk little English and Goldberg makes no real attempt to learn himself gives much of the film its meat, that and the wonderful characters of Delpy’s parents.

Well worth a watch if you like indie European flicks with a Woody-Allenesque feel.

The Imaginarium Opens Tomorrow – Friday 16th

Terry Gilliam’s latest magnum opus, featuring Heath Ledger in his fateful last ever role, is opening tomorrow in cinemas across Britain. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is a beautiful gothic fantasy set in modern day London. The story revolves around the mysterious Doctor Parnassus who has the skill to guide your thoughts to reveal your inner imaginary world. Parnassus was once a monk who made a deal with the devil for long life, and many other deals and bets since then, one of which involves the soul of his first child due at the age of 16. Parnassus tried to prevent this by never having a child, but (un)fortunately he did – a daughter played by the sparkling Lily Cole. And so the scene is set for the story.

As Parnassus and travelling show troupe try to save his daughter’s soul they come across Tony, played by Heath Ledger, hanging from Southwark bridge. They save him and he, in turn, acts to save them – or does he? All is not clear as Tony’s character evolves. Along the way Tony finds out about Parnassus’ magic mirror that reflects your innermost mind and enters it himself – and it is here that Terry Gilliam’s genius saved the movie when Heath unfortunately passed away – every time Tony enters the mirror he becomes another actor; Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell all take up the reigns to play the mirror Tony and to great effect.

Go and see this movie. You won’t see much press about it as Terry Gilliam is one of the most talented Directors in the world today but his movies never sit comfortably in the ‘blockbuster’ genre and so marketing departments seem to give up in despair – instead he makes us pay attention to the wonders he creates on screen and use our brains and imaginations to full effect. Parnassus sits with Gilliam’s classic fantastical movies; Time Bandits, Brazil, Baron Munchausen and the Brothers Grimm – all wonderful flights of fancy and visual feasts. More info on the film and a larger copy of this wonderful poster can be found here.

Don’t Burn After Reading!

Last night we went to see the Coen Brothers’ latest, Burn After Reading, at the Curzon Soho – after an abortive attempt to go see it at the over-mirrored, off-putting Apollo Picadilly. For those of you who don’t know, Burn After Reading is a dark comedy set around the ‘Intelligence’ scene in Washington DC, with a roster of acting stars the likes of which is normally only seen in Soderberg movies – Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, John Malkovitch, Frances Dormand and many more. With all those talents vying for space you’d think the movie might end up over-baked, but it’s an amazing set of twists, turns, laughs and surprises as you might expect from such talented film makers as the Coens. Definately a must see, especially for fans of the Coens.

The Curzon was, as usual, showing an interesting range of previews most of which looked like great films. One in particular caught my eye – Steven Soderberg’s two part epic Che. This true to life biopic, previously called ‘The Argentine and the Guerilla’, follows the life of Che Guevera from his early days as an Argentine doctor through to cultural icon that he is now. Che is played by Benicio del Toro and goes through an amazing range of body sizes along the way. All looks very exciting, although the early reviews are somewhat mixed.

BTW, How come it costs £12 or more to go to the cinema in London these days? This comes as a brutal shock after getting used to $12 in New York for, what I’d imagine, is the same film just with bigger, more comfortable seats (to fit the larger gentleman). I don’t think cinema’s can blame pirates for a decrease in film attendance when they’re gouging us like that!

Future Awesome: Burn After Reading

I just stumbled across the trailer for the new Coen Brothers film – Burn After Reading – and I am mighty excited. It’s a comedy spy movie starring Brad Pitt and George Clooney amongst others, and it even has an Elbow song on the trailer. What more could you want? Oh. You want more? OK, how about Frances Dormand and John Malkovitch then. Good enough for you now? Well OK then!

Twin Towers Tighrope Movie

A new documentary, Man on Wire, has just been released that describes how tightrope walker Phillipe Petit carried out his audacious high wire act between the twin towers of the World Trade Center back in 1974. You can see another interview with Petit and director James Marsh over at the BBC, where there are also a few clips of the movie. It looks stunning, and for me certainly very emotional to see down from the views that we used to have looking out of the 96th floor.

Wall-E: More Pixar Wonder

To help pre-celebrate tomorrow’s Canada day, we went along to see Wall-E, the latest masterpiece from Pixar. I don’t know how Pixar always make me think their movies will be a bit crap from the trailers, but they do. Thankfully the movie is wonderful. The story follows a garbage collecting robot as he scurries around a trash covered planet Earth sometime in the future. An inquisitive chap, Wall-E collects trinkets, repairs himself with parts from his fallen colleagues and has a pet cockroach. Yes, that’s right. Pixar are so damn good these days they can make you emotionally connect not only with robots, but cockroaches. In fact for the first half of the film you hardly see a human at all and there is very little spoken – the epic scenes of abandoned cities full of garbage, with a futuristic sound track just fill you with wonder and sadness at the same time.

Wall-E is an ecological love story between two robots – one the red-headed step child of Number Five from Short Circuit, the other the evolved pinnacle of iPod style design. The film tells us the ultimate end point of our consumerist obsessions, but never preaches and offers a hopeful ending as the credits roll. It’s a heart achingly beautiful movie, yet fun to watch. What more could you want?

Terry Gilliam’s Latest Film to Continue?

Following on from Heath Ledger’s unfortunate, accidental death the filming of Terry Gilliam’s latest epic was put on hold. With one of his lead actors dead, Gilliam and the rest of The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus team were faced with an awkward and probably uncomfortable decision – stop the film entirely, or find some other way to do it without Ledger, perhaps using computer animation or a new actor.

Well, according to the BBC they’ve decided to push on with a typically Gilliamesque solution. Ledger’s character will be played by not one, but three of the most outstanding actors in film today – Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law! Depp comes as no surprise, as he and Gilliam work together regularly, but the other two are somewhat from left field. As a Gilliam fan I’ll be waiting to see how he pulls this together, and as a fan of Heath Ledger’s work it’s great to know that his final legacy will make it to the screen with such a ‘supporting’ cast paying tribute to him along the way.