Archive for review

Barton Fink

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 10 November, 2008 by Ally

Joel and Ethan Coen, 1991

FADE IN on a bedroom in an Oxfordshire suburb. Mr. Craig sits at a laptop computer. The rain can be heard outside, as can the cry of the fishmongers.

John Goodman enters.


What are you up to there Al?


(Closing the lid of the computer)
Oh, hi there John. I’m trying to write a review of Barton Fink, but I just can’t get started. I can’t decide if I have too much to say about it, or not enough.


Hell, I know how you feel. Reviewing films is damned difficult. Especially that one, even I don’t really know what it’s about and I was in it!

Continue reading

Burn After Reading

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 23 October, 2008 by Ally

WARNING: This review may or may not contain sensitive information. If you want to know absolutely nothing before seeing the film, it is recommended that you do not read this.

Joel and Ethan Coen, 2008

Burn After Reading is the latest film by the Coen Brothers, the two-headed director known to their friends as Joel and Ethan. It’s not an easy one to categorize, other than to say it’s “a Coen Brothers film”. You could say it’s a satirical screwball farce which blends verbal wit, visual gags and moments of genuinely shocking violence. You could say that it’s a high-tech screwball modernization of The Big Sleep, in that it’s difficult to explain but easy to enjoy. The gist of the story is as follows:

CIA analyst Osbourne Cox (John Malkovich) furiously quits his job after being handed an unexpected demotion. As revenge for this injustice, he begins writing a salacious memoir. He is unaware that his wife Katie (Tilda Swinton) is having an affair and intends to divorce him. Having been advised to do so by a divorce lawyer, she secretly copies all his personal and financial files to a blank CD. When the lawyer’s forgetful secretary leaves said disc at the gym, it falls into very much the wrong hands. The wrong hands in question are Hardbodies gym employees Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) and Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt). They decide to seize the opportunity and attempt to blackmail a deeply confused and increasingly furious Osbourne Cox, assuming that they’ve got their grubby little mitts on “secret CIA shit” and not just the egotistical rantings of a lowly analyst. Continue reading

The Purple Rose of Cairo

Posted in Film, Woody Allen with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on 30 September, 2008 by Ally

Woody Allen, 1985

They always say you ought to write what you know, which is why so many films chronicle the creative process. From Sunset Boulevard to Adaptation, Hollywood’s favourite subject is itself. But great as they are, most of these films seem determined to make the audience understand the pain of the artist, the stress of putting together a production, how hard it is to make something look effortless. It’s rare to find a film that appreciates the finished product above all, and understands the spell it casts over the ordinary person sat there in the dark.

Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo is one of those films. Set in Depression-era New Jersey, it stars Mia Farrow as Cecilia. She’s a timid woman with an abusive husband (Danny Aiello), and a stressful waitressing job which she constantly jeopardizes with her clumsiness and daydreaming. Her only comfort is the cinema, where she can lose herself in shimmering Hollywood gloss for an hour and a half.

Continue reading

Ideas, Reviuku and Updates

Posted in Nothing Really with tags , , , , , , , , , , on 23 September, 2008 by Ally

Firstly, a couple of reviuku (haiku reviews).

At the Circus
The great Marx Brothers
In a not-so-great movie
With sporadic mirth

Sullivan’s Travels
Preston Sturges says;
“Laughter, that’s all some folks have”
But then offers more

Secondly, another idea for a line in the screwball comedy I’ll never get around to making.

X: Haven’t I seen you someplace before?
Y: Maybe it was at the Natural History Museum…
X: That’s it! Were you a tour guide or an exhibit?

Thirdly, I’ve been writing a script with my friend Dan. He did most of the nitty-gritty actual work, I just injected some extra jokes. He submitted it to a Channel 4 talent comepetition, and it has been shortlisted as one of five pieces of comedy writing – one of twenty categories, so there’s one hundred entrants overall. The other four shortlisted comedy writers are published professionals, which is funnier in itself than anything anyone could ever have written.

Album of the Day: Charles Mingus

Posted in Music, Of the Day with tags , , , , , , , on 22 September, 2008 by Ally

Firstly, a thousand apologies to any regular readers that may or may not be out there. I haven’t posted anything for several days, and now I return with a post that isn’t even about films? I know, I’m one of those bloggers that can’t stick to the point. As a small consolation, here are some haikus summarizing the films I have seen in the past few days:

Old School:
I chuckled just once,
Wasn’t my choice to watch it.
Do not recommend.

Mystery Train:
Quiet enigma,
Screamin’ Jay Hawkins acting?
I love Mitsuko.

L.A. Confidential:
Corrupt bastard cops,
How modern noir should be done.
Violence with meaning!

Touch of Evil:
Nice Orson touches,
Brownface Heston distracting.
Get over it though.

What did I say about sticking to the point? Okay, on with the Mingus thingus… Continue reading

Withnail and I

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on 12 September, 2008 by Ally

Written and directed by Bruce Robinson, 1986

Withnail and I is the tragicomic story of two unemployed actors struggling to survive in the London of 1969. Their dilapidated surroundings and constant drug abuse sees them “drifting into the arena of the unwell.” Desperate for a change of scenery, they holiday in a Cumbrian cottage owned by Withnail’s uncle Monty, which turns out to be a site with fresher air but equal squalor. And unbeknown to Marwood, he has been promised to Monty in exchange for the cottage.

It is the very definition of a cult film. Its fans are not as numerous as those of the Stars (Wars and Trek) but they are just as dedicated, and able to recite screeds of the endlessly-quotable script. They are known to make pilgrimages to Penrith to find the grotty little cottage; to find potatoes in the mud, and see the front door now bearing a plaque reading “Here Hare Here”. Many have even died playing the drinking game in which viewers match either of the title characters drink-for-drink. Well perhaps not died, but wished they had. Either way it is not recommended to drink as Withnail, who at one point resorts to downing a canister of lighter fluid. Continue reading

You’ll Never Get Rich

Posted in Film, Musical with tags , , , , , , , , , on 10 September, 2008 by Ally

Directed by Sidney Lanfield in 1941, credits courtesy of the local council...

You’ll Never Get Rich is the first of two pictures Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth made together. It launched Hayworth as a major star and pinup icon, and gave Astaire a much-needed boost in a career suffering from the lack of Ginger Rogers. Rita was truly beautiful, and a talented dancer as it turned out. Fred was as graceful and charming as ever, and the dance routines are magical. Problem is, all these great ingredients are dumped into a picture that isn’t very good. And… why is it called You’ll Never Get Rich anyway?

The plot is a standard farce based on love, lies and misunderstandings. Robert Curtis (Astaire) is a choreographer in a fancy night club owned by Martin Cortland (Robert Benchley). Mr. Cortland is rather fond of Miss Sheila Winthrop (Hayworth), one of the girls in the chorus line. He buys her an engraved diamond bracelet, but Mrs. Cortland (Frieda Inescort) finds the bracelet and demands answers. Martin spins a web of lies, telling his wife that Robert is courting Sheila, and asking Robert to play along. After being threatened by Sheila’s actual suitor (John Hubbard), Robert is only too delighted to be drafted into the army. This is clearly an exercise in morale-boosting, it being made “during the war”. Continue reading

Angels With Dirty Faces

Posted in Film, Film Noir with tags , , , , , , , , on 9 September, 2008 by Ally

Michael Curtiz, 1938

There’s these two kids, see, Rocky and Jerry. They’re up to no good, pickin’ on girls and gettin’ into mischief. One day these two kids try to rob a railroad car full o’ fountain pens, but the guard spies ’em and they gotta make a break for it. Jerry can run just a little faster, so he gets away, but Rocky ain’t so lucky. He’s packed off to reform school and grows up to be a notorious gangster. Jerry’s life takes a completely different path.

All grown up, Father Jerry Connally’s (Pat O’Brien) pet project is a bunch o’ kids he’s hoping to keep on the right side of the law. When Rocky Sullivan (James Cagney) gets outta the slammer, he heads back to his old neighbourhood and meets up with Jerry for old times’ sake. The kids get a kick outta Rocky, see, they start to idolize the guy. Well what can he do? He’s a charismatic guy fergodssakes! Continue reading

Sherlock Jr.

Posted in Buster Keaton, Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on 7 September, 2008 by Ally

Don't you miss the days when films were "attractions"?

Sherlock Jr is only 44 minutes long, including credits. Buster Keaton manages to cram so much into just five reels, it boggles the mind. Not a second is wasted, from small-scale gags involving lost dollar bills or poisoned drinks, to a nailbiting sequence in which Keaton unwittingly rides the handlebars of an unmanned motorcycle. The cycle miraculously dodges perilous obstacles, clearing an oncoming train and driving along a collapsing bridge before he finally realises the driver has fallen off. These stunts were genuinely performed by Keaton. He only once used a stunt double (for a pole vaulting trick in College), and he would frequently even stand in for the other actors. Throughout his career he risked his life countless times for the sake of a laugh. Years after filming Sherlock Jr, he would discover that one stunt fractured his neck – that very take is in the finished film!

Buster Keaton’s nameless character is the projectionist at a movie house, as well as an amateur detective. He is also rather fond of a young lady (Kathryn McGuire), but he has a rival suitor (Ward Crane). When the suitor steals and pawns a pocket watch belonging to the lady’s father (Joe Keaton), the evidence is planted on Buster and he is ejected from the family home. Heartbroken, he goes back to work in the projection room. Here he falls asleep and dreams of stepping into Hearts and Pearls, the film he has been projecting. He becomes Sherlock Jr, a detective hired to solve the mystery of the missing pearls, while the other characters take on the images of their real life counterparts. But as Sherlock Jr, Buster is able to outwit his enemies at every turn. Continue reading

North By Northwest

Posted in Film, Hitchcock with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on 6 September, 2008 by Ally
(Alfred Hitchcock, 1959)

There is actually no such direction...

There is nothing I could say about North By Northwest that hasn’t already been said. Well, that’s not strictly true, it has probably never been said that Cary Grant’s stunt double was just a suit stuffed with pork sausages, but apart from absurd lies there is nothing I could say about North By Northwest that hasn’t already been said. It was written by Ernest Lehman with the express intention of out-Hitchcocking Hitchcock. As such, it features all the director’s hallmarks in spades; a case of mistaken identity, a sexy blonde, unsettling events in familiar surroundings, plot twists, suspense, murder and intrigue. And a few giggles along the way.

Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) is an advertising executive leading a busy but fairly ordinary life, until he is mistaken for government agent George Kaplan by enemy spies. This happens because, whilst lunching with his high-powered businessman friends in a hotel, he calls for the bellhop who has been paging Kaplan. All Thornhill wants to do is send a telegram to his mother, but the spies make an ass out of you and me, ya dig? After being kidnapped, interrogated by someone claiming to be “Townsend” (James Mason), force-fed bourbon and left in a car to have a near miss with the edge of a cliff, Thornhill is arrested for driving under the influence. The police are skeptical about his kidnap story, as is his mother (Jessie Royce Landis), but he is determined to find the real Kaplan and clear his name. He tracks down Kaplan’s unoccupied hotel room, but is again mistaken for him after foolishly answering the telephone and finding his captors on the other end. He is even blamed for the murder of the real Townsend, a United Nations representative who doesn’t look a bit like James Mason. And all for a telegram! Continue reading